Ray Ratto

When it comes to Harbaugh, you're in or you're out


When it comes to Harbaugh, you're in or you're out

This is your litmus test as a 49er fan, and its not one youd planned on taking this soon into the new boys tenure.

But you dont get to pick the missions you take, you take the missions youre given, and this is yours:

Are you okay with Jimmy (Knuckles) Harbaugh, the guy whos spoilin for one, because he doesnt seem ever to lose, or are you more prone to liking the more traditional cool, stylish prototype, the Walsh 380-I?

The answer determines exactly what youre about, and we make no judgments either way. We just show you the facts, and the facts are that this is no coach like youve ever had before. In fact, for you old-timers, this is the antithesis of the coach you grew up with, whether you grew up with Dick Nolan or Bill Walsh.

In fact, there may be only one 49er coach who comes close to Knuckles impolitic but effective approach, and that was Red Hickey in the late 50s and early 60s.

Red, though, was more cornpone than attitude, and his great contribution to global peace and harmony was the shotgun formation, which won them three of their last four games in an otherwise lost season. He talked up the shotgun like it was polio vaccine, and after trading Y.A. Tittle IN 1961, he also came up with the less revered three starting quarterbacks plan in 1961 (John Brodie, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Waters) that got them four wins in the first five games. A revolution was born.

And killed in week 6 when the Chicago Bears readjusted their defense and Hickeys career readjusted him right into a scouting job with the Rams and later the Cowboys by the end of September 1963. He was fun while he lasted, though.

This is Jim Harbaugh today, although his gimmick seems to be a defense that eats human beings and an offense that does just enough, enough times to get the day won.

Oh, and theres that con-mans grin, the one that says, I know it, and you know, but you cant prove what we both know, so I win again. Its Red Hickey for the new generation Im doing this until you stop me, and Im betting you cant.

It worked at San Diego, though nobody was really looking that much at the time and even though it wasnt nearly the moribund operation that Stanford and the 49ers were when he arrived there. It worked at Stanford, and now its working at San Francisco, with the common theme being him putting a stick on his shoulder and daring everyone else to knock it off and shut him up.

And he knows thats the dynamic, and you know it too. You knew it before the Schwartz Moment, and know it is inescapable. Hes all in, and so are you you either stand by your guy and take whats coming, good or bad, or you disavow any knowledge of his actions and pine for the days when George Seifert was cooler than the underside of a trilobite.

Its called connecting with the fan base. Not be amusing it, but by grabbing it by the shirt front and saying, You in or out?

And right now, because he thinks this decision is binding, youre in. You like being 5-1, and you like the league looking at your team with respect and your coach as though he is a hope chest full of damp dynamite, a man who throws a dinner party and serves Molotov cocktails.

But what is likely to happen is that when the adjustment comes, and it always does, some of you are likely to bail not because youre suddenly a little queasy about Knuckles methods, but because youre not getting the instant gratification youve become accustomed to. He made you like Alexander D. Smith in record time, and dont you deny it, but you will dive off his bandwagon the first chance you get, because youre not really true believers in him.

You are in Harbaugh, though, and he will take you through some lofty highs and some depressing lows. Remember Bill Walsh won a Super Bowl, then went 3-6 and 10-6 before nailing down the second Super Bowl, and dont forget that Eddie DeBartolo fired him a good four or five times between hiring him and watching him retire in 1989.

Point? Nothings always perfect. But for now, Knuckles Harbaugh has you as part of the crew, and if you were a little queasy about the Schwartz thing and Harbaughs mischievous did-you-see-me-school-that-guy postgame smile, youre going in anyway, because Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary didnt work for you at all.

Youll adjust. They all do.

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Matt Joyce said the word, he did the apology, he’ll do the time, and then we’ll see if he’ll get the forgiveness he asks.
Joyce’s two-game suspension by Major League Baseball for using a gay slur at a fan during Friday’s Athletics-Angels game in Anaheim is well within industry norms (though it might have been more tactically impressive if the club itself had issued the suspension), and his apology did not deflect blame or contain the always-insincere caveat “if I offended anyone.” He did offend people and he knew it, so he didn’t couch it in the phraseology of “I don’t think what I said was improper, but I’ll do the perp walk just to get this over with.”
He even offered to do work with PFLAG, the support group that supports the LGBTQ community, thereby putting his time (which is more meaningful than money) where his mouth was.
In other words, he seems to have taken his transgression properly to heart, which is all you can really hope for, and now we’ll see if he is granted the absolution he seeks.
You see, we’re a funny old country in that we talk forgiveness all the time but grant it only sparingly, and only after a full mental vetting of important things like “Do we like this guy?” and “Is he playing for my favorite team?” and “Do I feel like letting him up at all?”
In other words, forgiveness is very conditional indeed.
Joyce said what he said, but his apology seemed to be given freely and unreservedly rather than crafted to meet a minimal standard of corporate knee-taking/arse-covering. If he follows through on his offer to do face-to-face work with PFLAG or an associated group and absorbs the lesson of not using other people as a weapon for his own frustration, then he ought to be acknowledged for doing so. That’s what forgiveness is.
But if the principle you adhere to is “once guilty, forever doomed,” then you’ve succeeded at giving in to the mode of the day, which is jumping to a conclusion and never jumping back because it’s just easier and more convenient to do so.
It’s up to him. But it’s also up to you.

Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports


Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports

There is no inherent reason why you should care about Miami FC or Kingston Stockade FC, two lower level professional soccer leagues in the lower right quadrant of the nation.

But when they joined together to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international governing body for any sport not run by Americans for Americans, to demand that all American teams submit to the concept of promotion and relegation, from MLS to, presumably, your kid’s under-8 team, they became interesting.

And the best part about soccer, except for Neymar being worth twice as much as all other humans in the history of the sport, is promotion and relegation.

In fact, it would be a great idea in all sports – although the idea of the Giants and A’s in the Pacific Coast League might scare the bejeezus out of Larry Baer and John Fisher.

Now we are not optimistic that the CAS will see this Kingston and Miami’s way. Americans like their sports top-heavy, where only a few megaclubs get most of the money and attention while the rest sort of muddle along, safe but unremarkable. And to be frank, promotion and relegation is most a fun media construct for making fun of bad teams – say, like the A’s and Giants.

But we can agree, I think, that having Jed York pay Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to keep his football team out of the Canadian Football League, or better still, the Mountain West Conference, would add to healthy dose of spice to what promises otherwise to be a pretty humdrum year.

And promotion/relegation would certainly reduce all that troublesome tanking in the NBA people endlessly whinge about.

So here’s to Kingston Stockade and Miami FC. Your cause is just. Persevere. After all, in this rancid period for American sporting culture, someone's got to stand for the quixotic yet indisputably correct thing.

And when it fails, and it probably will, just know you sleep with the angels -- if that’s what passes for fun at your house.