Rizzo’s stock is high now, but where will it be in six months if the Nats miss the playoffs? There’s a line of gloaters ready to say, “Their big chance was ’12. But Rizzo took it on himself to shut down Strasburg.”
That’s why, in baseball, you show appreciation to a Verlander or Posey before he can start a season in a slump or get injured. And you often, though not always, show it to a GM who has done the truly remarkable. That’s how you build goodwill for the day — which always comes — when the leverage switches to the person on the other side.
Sometimes, the Lerners forget who takes the heat while they stay silent for years (but enjoy the 98-win product) and who makes the hard decisions for them, yet sometimes has solid baseball proposals rejected by them. Only a year ago, the grapevine buzzed about Rizzo going ballistic just to get the Gio Gonzalez deal done, using prospects that he and his staff had amassed.
In every aspect of the Nats’ operations where he has control, Rizzo tends to act decisively and quickly, often before other teams react, as in his early signings of Denard Span and Dan Haren, or opportunistically, as with Rafael Soriano and Adam LaRoche.
In areas where Rizzo doesn’t hold sway, not much happens — for years. Everybody knows that a top-tier team shouldn’t have spring training in Viera, Fla. The reasons range from ridiculously long rides to every away game to Viera’s lack of top-flight rehab facilities. Stephen Strasburg drove to Clearwater and back for one start. Haren, a veteran with back and hip problems, came up “stiff” after a 21
2-hour drive to pitch, got bombed, then had to face the drive back. That’s amateur-hour baseball.
Yet the Nats probably won’t find a new and better spring training home until 2015 or ’16. The team still isn’t putting up any money to make it happen.
When will the dispute over regional TV money between the Nats and MASN, the Orioles-owned network, be resolved? Ownership is handling that. Will the fight even be resolved before Commissioner Bud Selig retires? Oh, it couldn’t take that long, you say. Why not? It’s already two years late.
Rizzo has never been a squeaky wheel. When you’ve driven thousands of miles in the frigid upper Midwest as a lowly area scout, you keep your own counsel. But he’s not modest or meek, he’s just muted, strategic, glad to let you undersell him. Rizzo flies so low under the radar that the Nats’ own media guide mistakenly says he became GM in ’08. No, it was ’09. Rizzo, who obsesses about every other detail, didn’t proofread his own biography. Why would he? Every Nats player who won a major award is on the cover of that media guide — except the executive of the year, Rizzo.
“Mike’s a lot smarter than people give him credit for because he surrounds himself with smart people,” said Zimmerman, a backhanded compliment in itself.
Such people, who are microphone-shy, who enjoy praising subordinates, who forget to answer reporters’ phone calls, who make fun of their own bald heads, are easy to take for granted, easy to overlook, and someday, easy to misplace.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.