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Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; 11:00 AM

With the spring training debut of the Washington Nationals, a professional baseball team is representing Washington, D.C., for the first time since Sept. 30, 1971.

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, March 18 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments on the team, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.


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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: What did you think of Sen Jim Bunning's comment at the steroid hearing yesterday about asterisks in the record books? He said that anyone that is proven to have used steroids should have their records erased, not simply noted with an asterisks. Sounds fair to me, but I'm not sure fans really care about playing fair anymore. They just want to see towering home runs.

Tom Boswell: Bunning's comments were excellent. But I doubt that it's practical to put asterisks on such a great number of statistics. Baseball fans have always been able to "adjust" for the conditions of different periods. No one doubts that Ta Cobb was a great hitter even though he played in "Dead Ball" days. Of course, this is a much greater problems because, with only a few exceptions, we don't know who "did" and "didn't" and in what seasons. We know Conscious whole career was stereotypist, but he wasn't going to the hallo of Fame anyway. And we come very closed to knowing that Ken Giraffe got his 500 home runs the old fashioned way. But, I'll grant, it's a mess. We'll have to depend on to common sense -- always a last resort!

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Pentagon City, Va.:
If a deal is not struck with Peter Angelo$ and ML works out a local Nats TV agreement separately, do you think that he would exercise the "nuclear option" and try and get an injunction to prevent the Nats from playing? Would he be successful? Lastly, how would MLB respond? My hope would be they would suspend all play until it got resolved and put it all on Angelo$, but that may be expecting too much.

Tom Boswell: According to a highly placed source, there is "some chance" that Angelos' brilliant intellect will win the day over his emotions and that a sane settlement will be reached well before opening day. But this source also put the chances of that at "less than 50-50."

So, baseball is assuming that Angelos will probably sue the sport and perhaps the Nationals, too. In my opinion, Angelos is making very poor choice. I don't mean from a Washington point of view, but from HIS point of view. I think he, and his suits, will simply become a sideshow that will detract very little from the season. I can't find one person in baseball who thinks he has a case. (But then baseball's opinion on the law has a very poor batting average.)

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L Street, Washington, D.C.: Mr. Boswell - Could you describe the media atmosphere in the hearing room yesterday? I'm wondering if it was mostly sports reporters/columnists or national news/congressional reporters (or a mix). Thanks for your great baseball coverage! Got to think you're headed for the Hall of Fame wing that Murray Chass entered last year.

Tom Boswell: When the first wave of photographers all shot pictures of the five ballplayers at the same table, they did it simultaneously. Maybe they were given a signal. Don't know. But it was an alarming almost frightening sound that I've never heard before. And I've heard a LOT of camera assaults. It sounds like several dozen rattlesnakes all simultaneously warning that they were about to strike.

There were more requests for press credentials than for the Clinton impeachment hearings!

Ah, modern times.

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Washington, D.C.: When did Jose Canseco become radioactive? He's orange!

Tom Boswell: Ha! He's also as wide as several houses -- I sat about two steps behind him -- and his lawyer is even "bigger" than he is. Quite a sight.

Also it was one of those head-shaking moments to hear him -- over andover -- paint himself as the Muckraker who was trying to clean up a steroid problem. His entire book is, of course, a celebration, glorification and ad for steroids.

By the end of the hearing he said that he'd "started writing the book two years ago" and had now completely changed his mind!



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Alexandria, Va.: I wouldn't be surprised if you already know this quote, but one of your recent columns reminded me of it. In Shoeless Joe, the W.P. Kinsella book that Field of Dreams is based on, one of the characters says, "Have either of you spent any time in an empty ballpark? There's something both eerie and holy about it." Then he goes on to say, "A ballpark at night is more like a church than a church." That's one of my favorite baseball related quotes.

Tom Boswell: My dad loved football, my mom baseball. She loved to go to church and to ballpark. She said the experience on a summer night in RFK when the moon rose over the leftfield roof was an almost identical experience for her as going to church at St. Mark's on Capital Hill. And she wasn't sappy about baseball. It was a sense of peace in the midst of a community -- "the grace of God that passes all understanding," she would have said. You get it where you can, I guess.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Can you tell me what other commercial enterprises Peter Angelos has a financial interest in? I had hoped to be a Nats fan and an Orioles fan, but since Peter the Greed's attempts to hurt the Nat's fan base by stonewalling on the TV deal, I have decided that I will not attend Orioles games, not watch them on TV or listen on the radio, or even attend games of the Keys, Bay Sox, Shore Birds or any other affiliate. But it just doesn't seem like enough, so ... are there any other Angelos businesses I can boycott? Thanks, Bill.

Tom Boswell: Hmmm, I think I'll start assembling a list for a future column!

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

Will the radio dispute (among others) between Angelos and the Nats be resolved soon? Thanks and keep up the great work.

Tom Boswell: Yes, it will. Because, at some point soon, Selig knows that he has no choice but to slam the door in Peter's face. Of course, Angelos knows this, too. He probably considers it a success that he has dragged this whole thing out this long -- delaying all the Nationals plans for TV advertizing, etc. A better commissioner would have usedd his powers properly at least a month ago. But Bud's what we've got.

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Northern Va.: Boz,
What do you think is the most interesting home series the Nationals will have this year? I've got 20 tickets to the Cards' series in August, and an Aaron-chasing visit from Bonds in September could be interesting. What's your fave? A NL East matchup?

Tom Boswell: The Nats really have an excellent '05 schedule with the pennant-winning Cards and Bonds/Giants as well as a ton of A.L. East games.

Did you see that Bonds had ANOTHER knee surgery yesterday. I've been sayingfriendsinds ever since his use of steroids -- the clear and the cream -- was leaked to the S.F. Chronicle that I thought there was a chance that he would never play another game. Just a gut feelings. Never pass Ruth or Aaron. Just a chance, not a probability. But it's increasing.

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Waynesboro, Va.: Compared to what's been happening on Capitol Hill and the continued TV imbroglio with Cuban Pete, it may seem kind of irrelevant, but have the Nationals made any attempt to pursue a lefthanded starter, especially since Hinckley is not quite ready? I realize decent lefthanders are few and far between, but I'd rather go after one than obtain yet another outfielder, thank you.

BTW, kudos to the Phillies for letting Del Unser throw out the first ball on Opening Day (he also played on the 1980 World Series-winning Phils, whom I'm sure will be commemorated all season long on the 25th anniversary) and Mickey Vernon on April 6 (Tom, if you've never heard Harry Kalas' story about Mickey Vernon and the first big-league game Harry ever saw, make sure and ask him).

Tom Boswell: The Nats want a lefty starter so badly that they semi-seriously considered signing Denny Neagle in the off-season. Now that's desperate.

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Yesterday: Well, that was fun wasn't it?

Tom Boswell: That was the longest day of my life.

However, if a good documentary movie maker chopped the whole 11 hours down to the best two hours, you would be on the edge of your seat the whole time. I've never attended anything that was so boring in person, but so fascinating when you added up everything that you had scene.

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Severna Park, Md.: Does Congress have nothing else to worry about other than steroids in baseball? I think there is a war, budget issues, social security and medicare problems that need their attention more than this does. Grandstanding at its finest!

Tom Boswell: That hearing was EVERYTHING. It was grandstanding and (in McGwire's case) certainly turned out to be witch-hunting. But it was also a very well-deserved public bashing for baseball on its very weakest issue of the last 20 years. I've gotten hot under the collar about the game's lousy labor-management relations and the dismisal of Washington's merits for a baseball team. But the sport's willingness to cash in -- for years -- on a major health epidemic that was right under its nose, is by far it's worst hour in my time.

Last week, I was on the phone for a long time with Selig talking about some of everything and he began his riff on how the problem of steroids really only began to grab his attention about seven years ago. I stopped him and told him that in '88 a player who is now in the Hall of Fame took what he claimed were steroids -- in powdered form then in a drink -- while I stood right there and talked to him about it.

Bud had an answer, of course. But it didn't leap out real quickly. I ive him credit for at least pausing a second in his spiel.

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Falls Church, Va.: What exactly was the point of the hearing yesterday? Hearings of this sort are usually intended to be a fact finding mission (at least officially) on an issue of concern. But I'm not sure any new facts were discovered yesterday, nor am I sure anyone should have thought there would be any new facts to act upon. So what was the point, other embarrassembarass baseball and try to make Congress look competent in their concerns?

Tom Boswell: Unfortunately, baseball has a history of reacting to pressure -- and only pressure. Nothing gets done until there is no apparent choice. Several times in the past very similar Congressional "Humiliation Hearings" -- with the usual threats -- have led to progress in baseball. Sad, but true. I ended up thinking that, as clumsy and pompous as they were, the hearings will probably serve the same purpose this time. Congress, or at least this committee, has put itself on the line in public. So, not the players and owners, when their representatives meet, can say to each other, "You know, we really have to appease these political #%^&@s because they've backed themselves into a corner and if we DON'T give them something, they might actually carry out some of their threats.

Hard to believe. But that's how it's worked for my 30 years of watching this same show -- in different forms -- time after time.

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Chicago, Ill.: I just want to put forward the somewhat contrary view that McGwire did make the honorable choice of not lying. It sure did not look good, effectively effctively admit to steroid use. To suggest otherwise is legalistic nonsense. Is it possible that one of the other witnesses did much worse?

Tom Boswell: Yes. It's certainly possible. And scary.

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Manassas, Va.: Hi Tom!

Do you think the current City Council will put up anymore roadblocks that could jeopardize the NATS future? They didn't like the two Private Financing deals that Ghandi picked.

Why don't they understand that development in that area will bring more people to the city and add to the economy. Besides, they ended up with a surplus. Use that for all the libraries and schools that were having problems.

GO NATS!

Tom Boswell: If you think the "politics" of the steroid hearing were knee-deep, then that's nothing compared to the D.C. City Council where, in my opinion, several of the votes are decided entirely and only by "nose counting." If it "plays," then that's the stand you take, even if you know better.

The Mayor is extremely aware that he has a Council whose last vote was 7-6. The more successful the Nats are on the field, the more the problem will go away. And that's as it should be. In a way, by delaying everything, Angelos has actually given Washington more time to make a WISE decision about the civic value it places on the Nationals. We get to see what the naturaenthusiasm enthusiams and attendance is under conditions which are much less than optimal. After all, we don't want to spend $500M+ for a ballpark that is a financial burden to to D.C., do we? I certainly don't. The more info we have at our disposal, the better decision the city can make. And a LOT of unexpected data is arriving -- primarily that support seems stronger than almost anyone expected. To date, at least.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Boz -- read your column today. It was great ... had a thought as I was watching the hearings ... maybe Sammy can't read?

washingtonpost.com: Boswell: Players of Stature, Feats of Clay

Tom Boswell: That thought raced across my mind for a second. I was in the Dominican about 13 months ago. Very poor country, as everyone knows. It's conceivable. But I doubt it. Sammy speaks English perfectly well but may he sensitive about his accent. Just another of the many moments I won't forget from yesterday.

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London, UK: Tom: Do you think baseball will have to go back to the record books now on McGuire just the way it did on Maris and the home run mark?

Tom Boswell: Everybody will have his/her own opinion. For now, I throw out both Bonds and Mcgwire as the single-season home run leader. I think others will, too.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: If you had to pick a number, how many games do you think the Nats will win this year? Any chance at .500 ball?

Tom Boswell: 75

That's 10 more than last year. Which is a pretty big jump. Everybody in the organization, not matter what they say, would take 75 in a heartbeat.

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Baltimore, Md.: Was it possible yesterday that the look on Bud Selig's face expressed a visceral sense of betrayal? That being skewered by his old-boy network peers -- financially lesser men whose unquenchable thirst for power leads them to any manner of questionable and ethically challenged behavior -- screwed tight the commissioner's face and bowels.
Which was Sen. Bunning, the pot or the kettle?

Tom Boswell: Good question.

Someone near the top of baseball said to me at one point, "This hearing is a complete disgrace."

Naturally, that is what they would think. But this was a case of "consider the source." And I think he's a very sharp fellow.

Bunning was excellent, but I wished that someone had asked him, "It is generally believed that a high percentage of players in your generamphetaminesmphetimines and that one pitcher famously said, "I was never out-pitched. I was just out-greenied." Could you name the players that you know took steroids in your time? Unless the oral history of the period is completely wrong, you probably knew quite a few, didn't you?

Naaah, nobody would ask that.

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Woodbridge, Va.: If you throw out Bonds and Mcgwire, do you throw out Sammy too and still recognize Maris as the home run champion?

Tom Boswell: Ohhhhh, we're probably not going to be chewing on this one for more than the next 20 years.

Who is the REAL all-time single-season home run champion? And what determines "real." Maris had 162 games and played in an expansion year in '61. Ruth never played against African-American players.

I saw one writer who said that he had to go down into the low 50's to find a completely untainted "legit" all-time champ.

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Tired: I'm tired of hearing about how "the fans don't care" about this or that. Who says? Is a "fan" someone who acknowledges a passing interest in the sport to a pollster over the phone?

I think anyone who is a real fan of the sport and its history would like to erase all the tainted records of the past 20 years.

Sports are like politics. Although you always want to expand your appeal, you cannot do it at the expense of your core (fan) base. I would love to see someone in baseball just stand up and do what everyone knows is right -- erase the records and keep the violators out of the HOF. Laws aside. They knew they were cheating and getting an unfair advantage when they did it (or else why did they hide it?). They don't deserve the records.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Tom Boswell: Things change. But as of now, I don't think that any of McGwire (or Canseco's) numbers will be looked at the same. And I also assume that at least 100-to-150 homers will be mentally subtracted from Bonds -- who is a first-ballot HOFer in my book regardless of the steroid issue.

Fans DO care. And they should. (Although I wonder for 10+ years when a critical mass of them were going to get around to it.) ALL of this is VERY healthy for baseball in the long run. Last year's run by the Red Sox -- who have no players in the steroid spotlight -- was as high a point as baseball has ever reached. So, that served as innoculation for the current harsh medicine that must be taken.

After the game gets tougher testing standards, what will be left to bitch about except slow play?

By the way, the Olympics may have an effective testing p;olicy, but the NFL -- which has a much better system than baseball -- is getting a humongous free pass on all this. Yes, those 370-pound linemen are all natural. And it was amusing to hear an ex-Nebraska coach, now in Congress, make pious noises about steroids. Nebraska linemen can lift TRACTORS. In fact, some of them are bigger than tractors. Okay, I know it's all the farm work. That could be the answer.

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Baltimore, Md.: You seem to be on the fence about Palmeiro? If it's possible that he took steroids, then how can we tell who did and didn't take them? After all, Palmeiro doesn't have the usually tell-tale misshapen body/head of a steroid abuser. And it seems possible that his home run totals come from that near perfect swing.

Can it be that there are others, that fans never would have remotely imagined, that might have been on the juice?

Tom Boswell: Until Canseco's book, I'd never heard ANYONE mention Palmeiro as a suspected steroid user. And, along with Griffey and Thomas, he was the most frequently mentioned slugger who was widely believed NOT to take steroids. But, these days, nobody any longer KNOWS anything.

However, in '91, the year BEFORE Canseco came to texas and claims that he shot up Raffy with steroids, Palmeiro had 79 extra base hits and 336 total bases. His career highs were 81 and 350. Not much difference.

Also, Canseco also gave himself "credit" for educating Juan Gonzalez. Canseco got to texas on 8/31/92 -- barely before the end of the season. That year, Gonzalez, at 22, won the HR title with 43. And he never hit more than 47.

Canseco may be right or wrong, but it's much harder to back his case with stats than most fans think.

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Washington, D.C.: What possible basis is there for retaining baseball's antitrust exemption? Given that a distressingly large number of the overpaid players are artificially bulked up, and that the owners are a veritable multi-millionaire's club that seek to extract absurd concessions from bankrupt cities, why not force baseball to compete like other professional sports?

Tom Boswell: I've been in favor of repealing it for so many years I can't remember when I first took that position. Among other things, without the exemption, Washington would have a team MANY years ago.

Baseball's rationalization for reattaining it -- to protect the health of the minors! -- reattainingarent nonsense.

HOWEVER, it's a small positive counterbalance that Congress can make baseball JUMP every few years by threatening to take it away.

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Northern, Va.: Do you think Brady Anderson was on the Juice most likely in '96 with 50 homeruns?

Tom Boswell: NO. I've heard this a million times. I get sick of it. Nobody can know these things. But you can have opinions. Brady nver even weighed 200 p;ounds. He was constantly trying to gain 10+ pounds and COULDN'T. His workout regimine was amazing and he was a HEALTH food nut who didn't want to do anything to hurt his body. Look at the ESPN Classics of the Jeffery Maier game in yankee Stadium in '97. Look at Brady and Raffy. I did last month. They practically look skinny compared to the Big Guys.

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Homer King: Oops, scratch Cecil. How about George Foster's 52 in 1977?

Tom Boswell: I think it WAS Geroge Foster that the perverse writer gave the "crown" to.

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Orlando, Fla.: I hope Peter Angelos realizes that he's driving away Orioles fans near and far. I went to the Orioles vs. Nationals spring training game last Sunday as an Orioles fan, but after hearing about his newspaper ad stunt, I came home as a Nationals fan.

Tom Boswell: He's damaging his own product and doesn't know it. After all the pleasure that the Orioles have given, and will continue to give so many of us, that's a shame.

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Garden City, N.Y.: Tom: As a now-retired colleague from the baseball beat at SI, I wonder about your opinion of the way baseball handled the "suspension or fine" issue yesterday. Were baseball and the players association caught trying to get away with something? Murray Chass writes that they weren't.

Tom Boswell: Some real digging needs to be done on that one. Congress claims they "caught 'em." Baseball says it was grandstanding and nobody intended the "or" to be in effect.

One thought. The "or a fine" might have been put there not toi protect a Bonds but, rather, to protect some poor slob who tests positive but something about test is slightly fishy.

On the other hand, after covering Collusion, I'll never again assume that baseball is telling the truth.

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Foster: Of course, Foster's 52 came in an expansion year, too. Pitching would have been diluted, even if he didn't bat against the Blue Jays and Mariners.

Tom Boswell: Rats. Maybe it was really Home Run Baker.

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Still Tired: I hate when you say the bad numbers "won't be looked at the same again."

That means to me that baseball will keep them on the books. In 50 or 100 years, they will still be there and the controversies will be forgotten or will be a footnote.

It's a game based on history. We need to be more careful about preserving the integrity of that history. Every era has its own issues (smaller parks, over-expansion, also helped the homers) but given the numbers, I think it is safe to say that steroids are in a class by themselves.

Will baseball ever do the right thing? Why Will sportswriters?

Thanks again.

Tom Boswell: It's interesting to me that while individual records will now have problems of "tainting" that none of the recent World Champions or great post-season has any taint on it. And we have seen some of the most amazing baseball in history in recent Octobers.

Let's not worry TOO much. This Steroid Era WILL be worked through in time. And, meanwhile, it doesn't seem to be diminishing my enthusiasm for the coming season AT ALL.

That's it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. See you next week.

P.S.: That link for my e-mail newsletter thing was screwed up for a while. Even my wife couldn't subscribe! It's working again. www.washington.com/newsletters. (This isn't a plug. It's free and nobody gets paid.) Cheers.

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