Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008; 3:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. ET, takes your questions about the Nationals, Redskins, the Ryder Cup and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

Boswell Discussion Archives


Central Virginia: Mr. Boswell, I don't think averaging 29,500 in attendance is bad this year. Yeah, there's a brand new stadium, but the team has been equal parts awful (Strasburg Race) and boring (on offense), and realistically has been out of the playoff picture since the spring. Am I wrong?

Tom Boswell: I think you are wrong -- by 10 percent.

The Nats are 18th in attendance. If they had drawn just 31,000 a game, they'd be 14th -- top half, though barely, and nothing to brag about. If the team hadn't collapsed and been so hard to enjoy, then normal summer attendance patterns should have pulled them up to an average of 32,000 for the season. That's the lowest acceptable level, in my opinion.

However, here's point of (pleasant) interest. What is the Fairest Ballpark in baseball? The one that is most perfectly balanced between pitchers and hitters? And what park is second?

First: Nationals Park with a "Park Factor" rating 1.023, where 1.000 is perfect balance.
Second: Camden Yards: 1.029.
Third: Toronto: .966.
Fourth: San Francisco: 1.039.

Nice that Nats Park has one added advantage in appealing to fans. After 99-100 loses, every little bit helps.


Farmington, Conn.: Mr. Boswell, should fans be concerned about Portis's comments in The Post article I read today? It seems to me everything he says about not finding holes open is right, but is it concerning that he's speaking so openly about the failures of everybody else on the offense (but him)? Thanks from a concerned fan. Feeling Trapped in Tight Spaces: Daylight or Not, Portis Must Carry Redskins' Offense (Post, Sept. 12)

Tom Boswell: It certainly made my hair stand on end, and I'm not an offensive lineman getting my brains beaten out trying to get him room to run. Clinton also said some positive things, but he's a veteran -- he knows that the sharp edged comments are the ones that will be remembered by fans, but more importantly by teammates and coaches. But Clinton always has "talked first..."

Also, as Barry's story made clear, Portis is not a practice player. This drove Gibbs crazy until he realized how tough Portis was in games, what a ferocious blocker. So he lived with it, but he didn't like it. And he certainly thought that "you play like you practice." When you bring such a well-known negative to the table, and like to wear gold shoes and talk a good game, you probably need to soft-pedal your fantasies about playing for a different team with a better line, a better passing game, a better system...

Ouch. This one may leave a mark.

But, give Clinton credit -- he certainly has made Game Two more interesting! And it was a really well-reported piece by Barry.


New York: Remind me again how not signing Crow increased the chances of drafting then signing Strasburg? It's a common spin, but I find it bizarre, if not pathetic.

Tom Boswell: After further reporting, I don't buy it. And, as far as I can tell, it played no part in the failure to sign Aaron Crow.

Strasburg is a Boras client. That alone reduces the Nats' interest in him. Same problem with Teixeira. Boras clients, the day they go with him, become "last-dollar" guys. Teixeira left Atlanta -- where he and his wife had lots of college and family connections -- because they didn't get a deal done.

The Nats side on Crow -- and even they cringe, I think, when they tell it, or rather, when others in the industry say "well, this is what the Nationals seem to think" -- is that the Hendricks brothers, after their nightmare with Clemens in the last year, have had to "reposition" their agency as more of a tough-guy Boras-style operation. (Which doesn't suit their personalities, as I knew them.)

The Nats say that the Jason Castro offer was $9 million until 16 minutes before the final deadline. I've heard that in the past day. I read Bowden's 3,700-word interview with Chico (excellent), but I boil it down to this: The Nats, in those final minutes, offered $3.3 million. (Maybe it was $3.5 million. Who cares.) That would have made Crow, taken No. 9, the highest-paid player in the draft. The Hendricks dropped their offer to $4 million. Then the deal didn't get done.

Bad black eye for both sides. The Nats (Bowden) may have gotten the other side annoyed by making contact with the father/family -- i.e. going through outside channels. Maybe the Hendricks just haven't learned how to run a bluff, then still get a deal done. If the Nats look somewhat bad, the agents look like absolute idiots. Their kid has nowhere to go for a year and, by any account, he turned down a decent contract. The Nats would say generous.

Anyway, the Nats then made two last-minute signings of other players who they previously didn't think would fit in their budget.

Their budget? What budget -- for building the farm system? They have a budget for that, too. Okay, everybody has a budget for everything in every business, but the Nats budget -- it has now become clear -- is Too Damn Low, and they better figure it out. This is just one example. I'm sure I'll return to this.


Baltimore: Some pretty scary stuff watching the 'Skins down the stretch in the Giants game, and Zorn's explanation after. The confusion and lack of urgency was all too familiar. Zorn speaking about it afterward was equally troubling and confusing. It's always the same around here. Any chance Snyder fires himself, just for the sake of his beloved 'Skins, so we can have a chance to be a winner? How is it possible for someone who knows zilch about the intricacies and nuances of football to make personnel decisions? When I hear that Snyder is really high on someone, I want to vomit! It's perplexing! He is the joke of the league!

Tom Boswell: Gosh, my high school team -- where I was a bad quarterback -- had a hurry-up offense with audibles at the line, and a sequence of several plays that I could call automatically.

But then, Sonny Jurgensen once told me that "you have to remember, your Sleepy Thompson had a more complicated offense than Joe Gibbs." And we learned the system from the JV up, just like they do at DeMatha, etc.

Still, I was stunned at the confusion -- or just lack of preparation. You haven't "installed" part of your offense if you can't use it when you need it. So, the Redskins began the season without installing a hurry-up offense? What, they didn't imagine that there might be a close game where they were behind by nine points with six minutes left?

Sorry, this is the Washington reaction to all things Redskin. Calm down -- they play again Sunday.

Of course, it goes without saying that the majority of Redskins fans, like the majority of Oriole fans, have wished for many years that their owner would fire himself. This is now in the "goes without saying" category. At least Peter hired Andy MacPhail, who had superior credentials, including two World Series rings...


Manassas, Va.: Hey Tom, why isn't the Post covering the Mills Cup Championships? The Potomac Nationals are in the championship series, and you barely find a blurb in the newspaper! They've played some extra-inning stunners too. (Last night's for example!) The Nats are out of town, and its real baseball, real close to coin a phrase! Go P-Nats!

Tom Boswell: I'm gonna have to catch up on the Mills Cup Championships. Nice to see we've got some real grassroots fans developing.


Fairfax, Va.: I think Bowden has run his course. The debacles that are Young, Kearns, Lopez and no return for Cordero makes me cringe to think he will be making free agent acquisitions with the limited amount ownership will allow. Would they promote from within, or is a Brian Cashman figure in the equations?

Tom Boswell: I'm always fascinated by the lynch mob outside Bowden's office. It's a common fate for all GM's of 100-loss teams, but what is his big mistake? Not little ones. He got Young for nothing. He got Dukes for nothing. The Rauch trade, plus the other fast middle-infielders he picked up, are part of the reason the team has played 18-19 for the past six weeks. Ayala is doing well in New York and Lopez is contributing in St. Louis -- for now.

Remember that Mock -- who's looking useful -- was part of the Livan trade. Would you like to reverse Schneider-Church for Milledge? I wouldn't. Who brought Guzman here, at a reasonable price, in '05? So far that's a poor-to-mediocre signing, but it led to re-signing him for the next two years at a fine price, which I think that was a total steal. I think Guzman hits .300-to-.315 over the next two years.

By next Friday, I'll try to work up a net-net view of the team Bowden inherited in '05 and the team -- plus farm system -- that now exists. Given that he has had no budget to compete for free agents above the Lo Duca level, I think you have to grade him on a curve. Also, the Nats have now passed 1,000-player-games lost to injury in '08, yet may lose only eight to 10 more games than they did last year in what was considered an overachieving year. So lets see: They add nobody of consequence in the off-season, get nothing in 2008 from Cordero, Hill, Nick Johnson or Young, lose Zimmerman for 48 games, lose Dukes for more than half the year, trade the back end of their bullpen (Rauch and Ayala) by Aug. 1, to improve their middle infield ... yet find bullpen replacements in-house, including Hanrahan, Mock and maybe Hinckley, and then play better after Aug. 1!?

Oh yeah, fire this guy for sure -- he can't improvise at all! Bowden's life in Washington has been one continuous low-budget fire drill. Let's see what comes out of MLB's investigation into the Winter Ball problems. Nothing has come out yet. If there's no problem there, I don't see why people don't get (halfway) off Bowden's back.

Okay, that's this week. Next week I'll probably be in the mood to make the opposite case. That's the nice thing about chats -- they have the Plausible Deniability factor. "What can you expect? I was typing as fast as I could. You expect me to think, too?"

But what would a chat be without Bowden? After all, you can't blame the manager. It's amazing that this team hasn't quit at all on Acta. They may play the last third of the season near .500 after there was every reason to pack it in -- including subtracting your closer at the trade deadline.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Boz. If pitchers do these wild dances in celebration when they strike out the last batter to win the game, why can't a batter beat his chest in celebration when he gets a bases-loaded walk that drives in the winning run?

Tom Boswell: I kind of liked the walk-off walk chest beating. "What a great batting eye I have!" The problem is that Elijah still is thought of as a rookie, and even a vet hitter doing that might annoy a pitcher in that situation.

But you're right, that's minor. Dukes has gotten much better about fussing with umps. But he hasn't completely solved the problem. They'll figure out by next year that he has a good eye and, if he hasn't gotten himself a bad rep with them, he'll start seeing a "normal 16-inch plate" when he bats, not the rookie's 18-to-20-inch plate.


Petworth, D.C.: Real baseball fans developing? Dude, we're four D.C. residents who have had a ticket package at Potomac for more than 10 years now -- we had to get through the time of no baseball in Washington somehow. And seriously, we are very glad that they affiliated with the Nationals, although we would have preferred they would have keep their own name. We hope to see you in Potomac this evening, as it is possible that the P-Nats will take the Mills cup tonight!

Tom Boswell: Petworth, you're double-welcome in this chat any Friday!


Alexandria, Va.: I think your column today on Dukes had too much of a hand-wringing quality to it. So Dukes showed some emotion -- it was certainly nothing that would be noticed outside followers of the Nats. The kind of jawing between Dukes and the pitcher happens daily, and blowing kisses to the fans while being taunted ... if this is his worst behavior, I'll take it.

Tom Boswell: If Dukes has a long great career, as everybody hopes, they will still be booing him every time he comes to bat in New Shea Stadium in 2018. That's why it was an awful idea to blow kisses to the Mets and then to their fans.

In New York, there is only one rule: "Don't react. Don't react. Don't react." (Or maybe that is three rules.) Once you react to a New York crowd, they win. And they know it. And love it. They have for generations. Look at the faces of the Mets fans taunting Dukes in the paper this morning -- they are in heaven. "We've found another victim!"

My ex-sports editor, George Solomon, who knows New York as well as anybody, walked by a few minutes ago. I asked him "how long until the Shea fans forget what Dukes did?" He laughed and said "they'll remember forever."

Why couldn't Dukes have done this in a baseball town where the fans have high IQs but short memories, where they don't care fanatically about the team and are too sophisticated to hold silly grudges, where they aren't sadistic by nature? "Oh, you mean like Washington?" said George.


Time for some Boz-bashing: Actually, I like you, I just have to ask you a tough question. Given the overall numbers regarding fan interest for the Nats (decent attendance, horrific radio and TV ratings) that indicate the moderate interest they're getting includes a lot of people just checking things out (the team, the ballpark) without really showing any form of commitment, right now Washington doesn't look like such a great baseball market. Are you ready to concede you may have been wrong during all of those years when you kept saying it would be, if it got a team?

Tom Boswell: Not at all -- 2005 got an A-plus. That happened. It wasn't a mirage.

The ballpark got built on time, on budget and is a pleasure. As the Southeast neighborhood grows, it will improve and widen the experience.

There is no problem whatsoever with 29,500-a-game at big market prices. The issues are What happens to attendance over the next couple of years? Does it contract some or collapse? And what happens when the Nats (like every franchise) have a winning team? Will it be embraced?

Washington will be a perfectly fine baseball market. Will it be a great market, as almost everyone thought just three years ago? If Southeast develops well, the Lerners spend appropriately and the Nationals improve enough to get even a sniff of a wildcard race, I don't think there will be any questions like this on our chats in a very few years.

Baseball grows roots over time. It always has always been that way -- everywhere, every generation. Affection for a game, and a home team, that is played every day grows with time. As you know the players better, watch them arrive and come to sense that the ballpark itself is part of your life, your interest increases. But it isn't a sudden event like "baseball is back" -- it's a process, one that takes years. Always has.

Here is what matters: A team is back in town, a first-rate ballpark has been built and, after a third of a century, the process of growing those roots and creating that relationship between town and team has started again. In the next 33 years, Washington will be very happy that it has. Just my opinion.


Bethesda, Md.: I did a bit of research about this year's attendance. The number's that struck me the most were how the Nationals' attendance compares to other clubs with similar records. San Diego, 30,135; Washington, 29,486; Seattle, 29,442. Those numbers are pretty close, considering that those three teams are vying for the worst record in baseball. However, Safeco Field has been open since mid-1999, and Petco Park has been open since 2004. So, even with teams competing for the worst records in baseball in what I would call "non-baseball towns," the Nats are running neck-and-neck in terms of wins and attendance.

That's pretty startling in the first year of a new ballpark, and does not bode well for attendance in 2009 and beyond. The San Diego and Seattle markets are not quite identical to Washington (especially with another major league team so close), but the reality is that as far as I can tell, the new stadium did not give the Nats much of an attendance bump.

Tom Boswell: Don't let the Lerners off the hook like that!

Look at ticket prices and sky suite prices -- up to $330,000 for a suite. The Nats got a 20 percent to 25 percent attendance bounce, but a huge total-revenue skyrocket! To have the same revenues as they have pocketed in '08, the Nats would have had to fill RFK with 45,000 for every game in '07.

Don't forget to add the large increases in cut-of-concessions and merchandise. When you ask "how well did Washington support baseball in 2008?" remember to compare Fan Dollars Spent to Fan Dollars Spent, not just attendance to attendance.


Southeast: Thanks for the chat, Boz. What are the chances the Lerners will allow Jimbo to go after Teixeira? He would look awfully good in a lineup with Dukes, Zimmerman and a healthy Wily Mo Pena. That type of move will satisfy the group that wants a free agency splash as well.

Tom Boswell: Teixeira would be the perfect fit. How often do perfect things happen?

The Nats will probably have to pay above top dollar for their first major free agent, and perhaps their first couple. Big free agents don't come to 100-loss teams unless the price is right. So maybe, just once, you want to go after a "gimme the last dollar," Scott-Boras-agent player like Teixeira. Some players you can't just buy -- you have to say "come here and win the pennant." To Teixeira, at least in theory, you can say: "Come here and set the market for free agents. Help every player in your sport financially ... and help make us a .500 team quickly and a pennant contender in a couple of years. So, you'll be a hero, too. And didn't you grow up in Annapolis?"

Hey, it's a pitch!

Whether the Nats get Teixeira or not, it shows how radically one excellent player in the middle of the lineup can make everybody else look.

However, baseball is a game of pitching. History says that you can buy hitters, but you probably have to develop (or steal in trade) your best pitchers. That's why losing the signing of a No. 1-pick pitcher hurts so much. But it's why having one of the top three picks next year, as well as the 9A pick in the first round, gives you hopes.

This is more information that you folks want, but I'm going to give it to you anyway because I'm slightly nuts and spend my time working out such things.

I wanted to see just how bad it was for the Nats not to sign the ninth overall pick. So, I looked up every ninth-overall pick since '83. How much value do you think they have?

Here are the names, starting in '83: Matt Stark, Alan Cockrell, Mike Poehl, Derrick May, Kevin Appier, Ty Griffin, Kyle Abbott, Ron Walden, Mark Smith, Preston Wilson, Matt Branson, C.J. Nitkowski, Geoff Jenkins, Mark Kotsay, Michael Cuddyer, Sean Burroughs, Barry Zito, Mark Phillips, Colt Griffin, Jeff Francis, John Danks, Chris Nelson, Mike Pelfry and William Rowell (O's).

That's less than half as much "value" as I thought.


Tom Boswell: To finish by continuing a discussion point from a mid-summer chat: Should Mike Mussina be in the Hall of Fame?

Mussina is currently 267-152, or 115 games over .500. (Jim Palmer was 268-152.)

Here are the pitchers since 1920, in the Lively Ball Era, who are the most games over .500 in their careers.

1. Roger Clemens: 170
2. Lefty Grove: 159
3. Randy Johnson: 135
4. Whitey Ford: 130
5. Greg Maddux: 128
6. Warren Spahn: 118
7. Pedro Martinez: 117
8. Jim Palmer: 116
9. Mike Mussina: 115
10. Mordecai (Three-Finger) Brown: 109
11. Tom Seaver: 106
12. Bob Feller: 104
13. Tom Glavine: 102
14. Juan Marichal: 101
15. Carl Hubbell: 99

Nobody else is even over 90.

See you next week.


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