Ratto: Temperatures run warm and fuzzy for A's, Ellis


Ratto: Temperatures run warm and fuzzy for A's, Ellis

Feb. 24, 2011RATTO ARCHIVEA'S PAGE A'S VIDEORay RattoCSNBayArea.com

For teams that have been off the grid for the last several years the way the As have, expectations tend to be frothy-headed cobra venom. Looks like a nice cold beer, ends up laying you out.But there Mark Ellis is anyway, the longest-running Elephant, noticing not only that this is the warmest, fuzziest spring he can remember in years but that all the things that tend to beat the As down can now be used as shoulder chips. Like the relentless anonymity. Like the minimal crowds. Like the general unfashionableness of As-hood. This is honestly the most excited Ive seen things around here in years, the veteran second baseman said before Thursdays intrasquad game won by, well, the As of course. You always come to spring hoping for good things, but I dont even remember things humming like this in 06. Ellis enters his 10th year as an Oak-towner, if you count the year he missed after tearing his labrum in a spring training collision with Bobby Crosby. He has known good times and bad ones, the years when Oakland was a destination and when it was a place to avoid. But now, with a pitching rotation of considerable note and new bats in place of no bats, the As are one of those stealthyfashionable next-big-thing picks that occasionally hit but far more often miss. And hell take it for what it is. I remember when it was Mark, Barry and Tim, we were a pretty promising team but they were the ones who got the notice, Ellis said, referring to those halcyon days of MulderZitoHudson. This feels different to me, with getting DJ (David DeJesus) and (Hideki) Matsui and all our pitching. Its like weve got something going here, and people are ready for it all to hit. Now we sort of look at the things that used to keep people away and say, Fine. It doesnt matter. Nobody pays attention to us? Nobody comes to see us? Fine. The stuff that people used to whine about, now we can use it as motivation, like Youll find out about us. He says it with not with a grimace but with a knowing smile, as though he sees something the rest of us can only guess at. The As have had pitching before but no bench or bullpen. Theyve had hitters with no bench or enough pitching. And they always manage to find the disabled list in droves. They may do so again; health is as predictable as an agitated chicken, and until they prove they can stay healthy, the logical person must assume the As will not be. But Ellis believes that health is the only thing keeping them from being a real deal. And he got that sense in the most counterintuitive way. I got a good feeling about us when the Rangers got to the World Series, he said. I thought when we played them that we were as good as they were. I know Cliff Lee is a hell of a pitcher, but we hung with them the whole year. The As, in fact, were 9-10, and the run differential of 76-88 wasnt so overwhelming that Ellis is wrong to believe that the As could be the 2011 Rangers. Or the 2011 Giants, for that matter. And yet almosts and if-onlys more often end up in what-the-hell-happeneds and how-did-it-all-go-wrongs. Teams win when they win, and for all the metrics that accurately measure what did happen, guessing in advance when it will is more a matter of art. Spring training is the time when fanciful thoughts make the most sense, but players like Ellis arent so prone to romantic imaginings. Theyve seen too much, they recognize all the ways things can go south. So it is that when he stands in front of his locker and laughs as easily as he does about the season ahead, he gives off the aura of someone who knows something but hasnt quite figured out how to express it, let alone prove it. I think the only way I can explain it is that you get a feeling when you see everyone walking around like they know they belong, like they know they have an important place on a roster. Last year, guys like (Trevor) Cahill, (Gio) Gonzalez, (Brett) Anderson looked like they could, but they didnt really carry themselves like they knew it. Now they do. They know it, and we know it. Now we have to go do it. And thats still the hardest part of all. Which is why expectations really are cobra venom. If the moment hits when everything comes together, as it did in Arlington in San Francisco, its perfect. But if it turns out to be a false positive . . . well, you know. Mark Ellis knows the difference. At least he thinks he does. This year will prove how much he knows, and how much he still has to learn.Follow Ray on Twitter @RattoCSN

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.