Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, March 31, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.

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The transcript follows.

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Brad, Pa.: Tom, I appreciated your column today. I am from Southern Pennsylvania and Baltimore was the closest team for me. It helped that my Dad was an Orioles fan, too. I also lived in DC for a year or so and have continued to read the Post online. I am probably around your son's age and Memorial Stadium was the venue for my first ballgame as well.

I am still an avid O's fan and am excited that DC now has a team. I can't see myself really getting fired up about hating the Nationals, in fact I am following them a little and would like to see them do well.

It is spring and the beautiful weather this week has me optimistic about the coming season in Baltimore. Markakis and the starting pitching give me hope for at least a .500 season. Do you see the Orioles headed in the right direction or do you think that as long as the "unnamed rival" is around that they will continue to struggle?

washingtonpost.com: Rivals Share Common Enemy (Post, March 31)

Tom Boswell: I actually think there will be progress for the Orioles this season. My guess is that the O's will be a mild surprise, a few games over .500. Until proven otherwise, I think Leo Mazzone is a remarkable pitching coach, not just a "very good" coach, but someone who does things in a radically different way. It may be mid-season before the results start to show, but they might have a fine rotation. There's certainly plenty of talent. If they DON'T pitch well, that will be a surprise and reverse the question. Then we'll be asking how much of the Braves success was the Braves organization and NOT Mazzone. He (and his new tatoo) deserve the benefit of the doubt: He'll make more difference than a coach usually makes.

Also, Perlozzo is a big upgrade at manager, even though he's never managed a game in the big leagues. What does that tell you about the last manager? Mazzilli was one of those hires that, years from now, we'll say, "What on earth were they thinking?" Of course, they had to justify firing Hargrove by getting somebody with a younger, flashier image. Otherwise, why fire Hargrove? They went for "image" all right. And got burned. (Mazzilli is a very nice guy. But every manager I have EVER met taught me things. Mazzilli is perhaps the only veteran baseball person I have ever spent time around who didn't teach me even one thing.)

The two times I saw Markakis is Florida, he hit a homer to straight center one day and went 4-for-4 the other. Impressive, but at this stage of his career, more of a .300-hitting, 15-homer guy, when he's ready to play every day.

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Mechanicsville, Va.: Tom, how are you?

I'm a native Washingtonian. I lived in Baltimore from 1986-1989. Can't tell you the amount of grief people like me caught from the general citizenry up there when I mentioned how DC deserved a team. I'd hear the ususal "you lost 2 teams already, you're not a baseball town" nonsense.

Poor Phil Wood. He took it on the chin when he had his radio show up there. Whenever he plugged DC as a baseball town, he'd get hammered by the callers.

For this & other reasons your column today frankly ticked me off. I think The O's should be booed, & there's nothing wrong with it. Frankly, there's everything right with it. We rewarded that town for decades with attendance from DC that by some estimates was over 30% of their gate. In return, their owner blocked DC from having a town for years (doubly bad in lieu of how The Senators "allowed" Baltimore to get a franchise in the 50s.).

I say boo the Birds, boo loudly, boo often. Am I wrong?

Tom Boswell: Good to hear the other side of a fascinating question: How do Washington baseball fans react to the Orioles tonight. I'm going to be fascinated to see what happens.

The Orioles and Baltimore have both been quite dismissive and provincial over the years when Washington is mentioned. Of course, that's because they feared exactly what has happened. Washington looks like it's going to be a major market. However, I STILL don't think that there is evidence YET that the Nats have had a significant effect on O's attendance. BUT that may arrive this year or next.

Somehow, this winter, I forgot to renew my Orioles season-ticket mini-plan (four seats to 13 games). It wasn't a protest, just a drifting away that was years in the making. When the Council signed the lease for the new park, that sealed it. I wonder how many other Orioles fans with Washington roots will feel the same. Boy, it all hits a lot of nerve ends. The last 2-3 years it became very difficult for my wife and I to find people who even wanted to go with us to see the O's games. The Orioles, despite that magnet of a ballpark, have come to represent so many ugly things __before Ponson, Palmeiro, the Comcast-MSN fight, etc., last season__ that plenty of people just didn't like the "feel" of supporting the team.

I found that odd. I'm perversely able to seperate the baseball itself from ALL the rest of it. But that's just me.

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Temple Hills, Md.: You wrote an article about John Patterson early last season titles "An Exciting but Uncertain Reclamation Project". How do you feel about Patterson now?

Tom Boswell: If he's healthy, he'll be one of the dozen best starting pitchers in the National League. He was last year. And I see no reason why he won't be again. He was always a great prospect but had injuries, lost confidence. I was actually glad that his ERA went up late last season because he doesn't have astronomical '05 numbers to "live up to" this year. But the deeper you dig in his '05 stats the more remarkable you'll see that he pitched. The percentage of his starts where he was overwhelmingly strong __six or more innings and two or less runs, or seven-plus innings and one run or less__ were as high as almost anybody in baseball.

He's seldom been entirely healthy in his career. But he's moved into his prime. He's one of the half-dozen Nats keys to the season.

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Washington D.C.: Boz,

I thought it was interesting you mentioned the fact that some people still insist in saying O during the national anthem. Fortunately, in my view it is declining precipitously as it should since it is disrespectful to the national anthem. I surely hope your mention of it wasn't an endorsement, is it?

Tom Boswell: I always thought the "O" was great. Still do, although I expect we'll see less and less of it.

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Springfield, Va.: How do both Matt LeCroy & Daryle Ward make the cut? Thanks!

Tom Boswell: LeCroy can hit. Ward hit in spring training. I'm surprised Ward stuck and will be surprised if he stays very long. But I'll be glad to be wrong.

The real surprise __to Ryan Church anyway__ is that once Soriano agreed to play the outfield it was suddenly a competition between Watson and Church for an outfield stop. I don't think Church realized that possibility __thought it out__ in time. By the time the light bulb went on in everybody's head, Watson was hitting .300 and Church .200. My guess is that Watson will hit his way back to the minors and Church will hit his way back up. If Watson pans out __and a slap hitter needs at least a .360 on-base percenatge, a bunch of steals and good outfield defense to justify his existence__ it will be a large plus. I thin a juan Pierre, Brett Butler type is wonderful. But a player who is 80-percent of that leadoff "type" is a negative. On the other hand, someone who is 80 percent of 30-home-run hitter is still a plus.

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Washington, D.C.: I agreed with your columns about the World Baseball Classic and I too admired the kind of situational baseball with outstanding fundamentals that the Cubans and Japanese played. That's also not too far from what the Pale Hose did last year (although that great starting rotation helped a lot). Do you think it will have any effect on the AL obsession (i.e., Moneyball, or, more correctly Earl Weaver baseball), of walking and waiting for the three-run HR?

Tom Boswell: About the A.L. I don't know, though you'd think the success of the unselfish "situational" White Sox (and the very similar Angels world champs) would be notice.

All these trends are a vote for "National League ball." Give some credit to the Nats front office. They like RFK's size, as well as a fairly big pitcher's park on the Anacostia, to play into these trends. It's a tight, exciting style when it's played well. But when it's not __and you lose those 4-3 game instead of winning then__ the fans can get grumpy.

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Cumberland, Md.: Your email article this week was confusing. It seems the message was that spring training stats do not count (for example Nick Johnson's 170BA) unless they do count (like Patterson's pitching stats this spring). And in some cases they simultaneously count (7 Zimmerman HR) and don't (7 Zimmerman errors). Is this what you were trying to say?

Tom Boswell: Yeah, you got it.

Actually, the headline was misleading. (That's how writers always pass the buck.) It indicated that spring stats don't matter. The point of the column __which, obviously, I didn't make clear enough__ is that there ARE stats which jump out at you so strongly in March that they DO matters.

The strong pitching of Livan and Patterson matters, as do Zimmerman's seven homers. But the poor showings by Armas and Astacio (so far) makes the back end of the rotation look very scary. That matters.

Also, seeing just a couple of sharp relief appearances by Chad Cordero this week was meaningful.

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Ashburn, Va.: So what is your prediction for the Nat's record this season? Where will they finish in the division?

Tom Boswell: I went through our (very fine, I thought) baseball section this week and jotted down my guesses for every team's record. No, I am NOT going to give you THAT kind of ammunition to throw back at me in September! My gut level was that the Nats had lost too much pitching to free agency (Loaiza and Carrasco) and injury (Lawrence and Ayala) to stay above .500. The lineup looks better, maybe even much better. But a lot of things have to pan out in the pitching for the Nats to match 81-81, even if an owner sholws up soon. I'll guess a few games under .500 __78-84. I still think they're a solid presentable team that is FAR better than we ever dreamed we'd get if Washington returnded to the majors. It's just that '05 was utterly remarkable.

Fourth. Thanks to Fish favors.

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Fairfax, Va.: "My guess is that Watson will hit his way back to the minors and Church will hit his way back up. If Watson pans out __and a slap hitter needs at least a .360 on-base percenatge, a bunch of steals and good outfield defense to justify his existence__ it will be a large plus. I thin a juan Pierre, Brett Butler type is wonderful. But a player who is 80-percent of that leadoff "type" is a negative. On the other hand, someone who is 80 percent of 30-home-run hitter is still a plus."

I think that's the most sane and clear explanation of the situation I've seen. So why don't Bowden and Robinson get it? Maybe we should explain it to them in body language.

Tom Boswell: Oh, they've heard this from me. But watson played and it his way onto the team. You have to respect performance on the field, not projections or theories. Also, it's very disturning to players throughout an organization when someone seems to "win a job" then isn't given that job because the brilliant decision makers and theorists ignore what he's done. Church left the door open. Watson kicked it down and got into the Opening Day lineup. Good for him. Now, he has to continue for a season. Hey, maybe he WILL be 100 percent of a Juan Pierre.

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Washington, D.C.: The Lerners have been described as media-shy and they have been reclusive throughout the entire ownership selection process. I remember some city council members saying that they have never seen either Lerner. Yet there is a lot of buzz recently that the Lerners are going to be the ownership choice. It would seem that MLB would prefer an owner that is more accessible and media-friendly given that the Nationals are essentially a "start-up" organization. The team needs to heal some wounds within the community given the acrimony surrounding the stadium deal. I read occasionally about one ownership hopeful or another showing up at various community events and public hearings, but never the Lerners. Is this cause for concern within MLB?

Tom Boswell: Selig LOVED John Fetzer, one of the quietest and most invisible owners ever. (Name what team he woned.) Fetzer was a Bud mentor. So the commissioner loves 1) family ownership, 2) genuine wealth, 3) modesty, 4) lack of meddling with the people who actually run the ballclub.

Also, IMO, Stan Kasten has been the Larry Lucchino wildcard. MLB knows that owners are meaningless UNLESS THEY ARE BAD. If you can avoid naming a bad owner, but actually have the team run __with plenty of financial backing__ by a PROVEN operator, then it's very hard to screw up the franchise.

Who in management was vital to the '04 Red Sox? Not owner John Henry. He stayed out of the way. hence, he gets an A+. Lucchino and Theo Epstein made the decesions. The owner doesn't matter, as long as he's not an obvious negative __cheap, meddelsome. But naming an owner, so the franchise can start functioning normally, is very important.

MLB believes that Lerner has lined up a broadbased group of community-oriented and minority participants in his bid. Well, the Lerner's BETTER. (Anybody world.)

Still, the reclussiveness and, as yet, absence of people like Powell, raises question marks.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Boz -- On the owner front. The news note printed recently stated that MLB has opened the books on the Nats for the ownership groups, and that this is part of the selection process. Is this the beginning of the end?

Tom Boswell: "Is this the beginning of the end?"

It damn well better be.

Bud can't "juggle." Keepingf one ball in the air at the same time is his maximum ability to multi-task. So (believe it or not) until he got this Steroid Study monstrosity planned and announced, he was ob sessed with that one "ball" that was in the air.

Guess what!? An owner for Washington APPEARS TO BE the next ball for Selig to juggle. Smulyan, no. Lerner or Malek, yes. Stan in the mix, maybe. Come on, Bud, you can do it!

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Reston, Va.: How long until Fans turn on Soriano for his woeful defense? My expections for his OF play are low but I think he will perform even lower and Bowden will get hammered in the press. Sure some doubles and bombs are nice from his bat but when you can't shag a fly ball hit twenty yards to your left your in trouble...in that park your in big trouble.

Tom Boswell: As long as Soriano gives an effort, that's all that can be asked. He didn't ask to be put in leftfield. And he settled this nightmare situation well before the season began. He's entirely off the hook as the Bad Guy as long as he tries. There's no indication that he won't.

If he miss plays balls or gets hit in the head with a fly or (and this is what worries me) runs into a wall or a teammate, that is a problem that points straight to Bowden. He mad the trade knowing Soriano had never played the outfield and didn't want to make the move.

This is simple: If Soriano TRIES, he deserves to be cheered or at least encouraged. Sure he moaned about moving. But HE DID IT. Yes, he had to be threatened. But he got the mesage and went along with the program.

Does he have to set a world record for shagging fly balls? In a perfect world, yes. In the real world, he just has to put in a professional amount of work. This situation was jammed down his throat. His job ius to hit. And play defense at least as well as Frank Howard. Gee, I think he can do that. There was a brown spot in leftfield where Big Frank had killed all the grass because he played every hitter in the same spot. Of course, once he got moving he was always a threat to back up a base. I sometimes expected he'd end up running until he backed up home plate.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Mr. Boswell,

Just want to know your honest opinions on the MLB Investigation into steroid use. Sorry to say, it's too little too late, and everyone from the fringe players to GM's, owners, and Selig himself are responsible. I don't know how well you know Selig, but for all the good he's done for the sport (yes, he has), do you think he's like a bumbling fool when it comes to issues of PR and especially the outcry that he may or may not have expected from the events of BALCO, and everything that has gone on in the last 3 years?

Right now, perception is reality, and Selig does not look too good at all...

Also, I am going to the O's/Nats game tonight - the response should very telling.

Tom Boswell: The No. 1 villain in the almost-20-year steroid scandal is the union. Powerful agents have always had large influence with the union. They don't want an ything done that will decrease they star players performance __or their cut.

The union consistently hid behind a lot of hot-air "ideals," when, in my view, their primary responsibility was to their members: to keep them from killing themselves or damaging their health with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Everybody enjoys jumping on Selig now. But, until recent years, he wasn't in a position to face down the union on this. He needed the help of Congress and finally got it. Bud is DELIGHTED that all of this seroid fury has hit the fan the last couple of years. Nobody seems to get this. This is just what he wanted. It's given him cover to do what he's always wanted to do. It's (incredibly powerful) union that always blocked any whispers of stopping styeroid use. Any kind of meaningful drug testing was always a "deal breaker" in contract talks. And the union had the muscle to back it up.

Selig and the sport look silly right now. But it's important to put the majority of blame where it belongs. Management was complicit. They were happy to see home runs and the attendance it generated. BUT the union should ALWAYS have recognized that it was their responsibility to be concerned about health in the workplace. They were negligent for 15 years. They didn't want to face their own players or the agents. They didn't want to appear to violate anybody's liberties or rights to privacy.

They missed the big picture. Now everybody has to clean up the mess. Or, more likely, try to pretend that it's being cleaned up.

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McLean, VA: I wish we'd put the "white Sox Small Ball: myth to rest. Here's how they ranked in the AL in 2005:

9th in runs scored

4th in HRs

11th in OBP

They were a mediocre offensive team that depended more on the long ball than getting on base.

1st in SHs

7th in SFs

3rd in SBs

1st in CSs

11th in SB%

They did lead the league in sacrifice bunts, and stole a lot of bases, but they also were caught stealing a lot too.

The White Sox won because of good pitching (1st in the league in ERA) and power bats, not because of smallball.

Tom Boswell: Good numbers.

The ideal these days is to be able to score BOTH ways. The Big Inning has always been central to baseball. In about 50 per cent of all games in baseball history, the winning teams has scored as many runs in ONE inning as the other team did in the whole game. BUT when you have strong pitching __like the White Sox__ it's also important to be able to generate 1 and 2-run rallies in close games. That's why the White Sox rank high in BOTH home runs AND stolen bases/sacrifice hits. They both have their place these days.

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Section 122: Boz,

I too was ticked off by your column today. In general, the DC media has failed to recognize that there are thousands of NEW baseball fans who have never rooted for any team other than the Nats.

Is there a chance those of us who are new to baseball could get some attention? What is the infield fly rule? How does a double switch work? etc. etc.

These things that thousands of new fans need to know have simply not been addressed in DC.

I'll hang up and listen.

Tom Boswell: New fans might want to protest the current TV situation. There's no reason they should be nostalgic (or appreciative) for 1983!

As for "teaching" new fans, one of the reason I do these chats and the e-mail column is in hopes of contributing to that process. In this area, the Post is certainly TRYING. There's really an exception amount of baseball writing talent combined with extremely hard work from Barry, Dave and Jorge. And Post has been generous with space (which costs money).

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Mudville: Has the impending divorce of Anna and Kris Benson cast a pall over the Oriole beat writers? The columns about her troublemaking had probably already written themselves! What is anyone going to cover in August now?

Tom Boswell: I'm sorry about any divorce. But I'm not sorry that I won't get to write about Anna. August will have to be hot without her.

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A Nats fan with a visceral dislike of the Orioles...: I have lived in Washington my entire 24 years. My father has lived here his entire life. He was at the last Senator's game, and the first Nats game. Finding those of us with a genuine hatred for the Orioles is not hard.

The Orioles - it should be reminded - are only in Baltimore due to the graciousness of the Senators. Those people who lived in the Washington region and supported the Orioles for so long sold out the city and empowered a guy like Angelos in the first place.

I'll be at the game tonight, and I am gonna boo. I'll boo when they take the field, and I'll boo when their confused fandom shouts O!

The name of the team is the Washington Nationals, and dammit, if you read the Washington post or watch the TV in Washington, you had no business selling your allegiance to Orioles in the first place.

Tom Boswell: If the Washington media had ignore baseball, and the Orioles, from 1971 to 2004, I PROMISE you that there would not have been a Nationals team in D.C. in '05.

Even WITH 33 years of extensive coverage of the sport __and the baseball-for-Washington story__ we STILL heard decades of "Washington isn't a baseball town." Without that coverage, there's probably be a tractor pull in RFK tonight.

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Section 419: Boz,

I love you man, but you are dead wrong. I grew up in MoCo, was watching games on 33rd St since before I can remember LOVE Cal and Mickey T. That was a long time ago. I HATE THE ORIOLES. Go Nats Go. As far as I care, Mr. Angelos and all of Bmore can go jump off a cliff. O's fans will benefit from the colony like grip they have on the Nats TV contract for years to come. But what do you expect, DC does not have voting rights either, why should we have TV rights. Go Home O's.

Tom Boswell: Hey, hey, hey. Do I detect a "restless element?" Hmmmm, maybe trouble's a brewin' And it's not even my fault.

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Washingotn, D.C.: As a native Detroiter, I know that Fetzer owned the Tigers back when they actually finished above .500 some times and even won the occasional Series.

Bud -- give us an owner!

Tom Boswell: We have a winner.

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Washington, D.C.: Boz - I was in Tokyo during round one of the WBC and part of Round two (when the Japanese team got robbed against team USA). The reaction for the WBC in general was incredibly positive - even for a reserved country like Japan, the passion was clear. I think that the next WBC will get a lot more MLB players than this past one. I just hope it can recapture some of the magic that really wasn't seen here in the US.

Tom Boswell: I'm jealous. Some of the WBC (which I saw on TV) were extremely exciting and well-played. I was scheduled to cover some of it, but the stadium lease battle and new ballpark design (correctly) took top priority.

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RFK, Sec. 106: How many of us (I'm in this category) began the drift away from the O's when Angelos canned Davey?

I've been to one game at Camden since then, and that was only because Bonds was at Camden and I was driving back from York, PA to DC at exactly the right time.

Tom Boswell: That was certainly a more important juncture than many realized at the time. That's one reason i wrote about Davey recently. Angelos may be stubborn and hate to admit he's wrong, but he's smart. He'd take a redo on that one any day.

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Baltimore, Md.: Speaking of Watson winning the job, Boz, what are your thoughts on "winning a job"? Is an open spring training competition a particularly good idea, i.e., to reward or punish guys based on a couple or three weeks where a guy might be hot or might be cold? Also, it seems like Church and Watson started out on equal footing in the team's eyes. Is this wise? Everybody talks about how Church didn't hit coming back from injury. The fact of the matter is that, in about 300 total plate appearances, Church was one of the team's best hitters last year. Thoughts?

Tom Boswell: When a team is in the middle of the pack, like the Nats, but has reason to believe (thanks to a new owner) that it may be "moving up" in the hierarchy eventually, then it's very important to find out what you are holding. If you're not going to win the pennant, then you can afford to let Watson have a fair shot to show what he can do. And Church, like many others, can try to take a lesson and battle his way back to the bigs with his bat.

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Alexandria, Va.: So, how about explaining the double switch. I'm an AL guy, and even though I watched the Nationals all year last year, I still don't quite get it.

Tom Boswell: Ya substitute two players simultaneously, but ya flip 'em in the batting order.

Oh, this is a tough one all right.

Next week, the infield fly in 10 words or less.

Way, way too many great questions this week. Sorry, it's time for me to cut off. Can't wait for Opening Day.

But tonight should be pretty cool in its own way. Cheers.

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Washington, D.C.: Please say something to temper everybody's expectations for Ryan Zimmerman, unless he actually is as good as advertised and truly has a chance to be special.

Tom Boswell: Zimmerman: This time, don't bother to temper too much. He's the real deal. Be patient. But, mostly, just enjoy.

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes today's discussion with Thomas Boswell.

Join author Frederic J. Frommer online to discuss the history of baseball in Washington, D.C. Frommer is taking your questions and comments.

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