Ask Boswell: Nats, Wizards and Orioles

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, June 18 at 11 a.m. ET, to take your questions about the struggling Nationals, the U.S. Open, the Orioles, the Wizards and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: Any update on the progress of signing Strasburg? I am shocked we don't see daily updates in the paper.

Tom Boswell: You will see l,ittle or nothing for the long time. It will take weeks to decide who visits who first. Boras shields his players from the team that wants them -- as he should. The team tries to "deal with the player" because it's assumed he is always the weak link -- wants to play, doesn't want to alienate his new team. I'm planning to take my summer vacation during this period and, probably, return on August 15th. I think that will be plenty of time to deal with every aspect of the Strasburg negotiations. 48 hours before the Crow deal died the two sides had made almost no progress. If this isn't an 11th hour standoff there will never be one. But the odds are very high that it will get done. Because, among other reasons, there have been many tough No. 1-overall negotiations in the past, and some with Boras in them, like Ben McDonald, and they almost all got finished.

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Section 309: Last night's game was the kind that tantalizes fans of bad baseball teams. A lot of fun mixed with a ton of anxiety and glimpse of what can be. Will another win today save Manny's job for this season or was the media buzz about his imminent demise unwarranted (and poorly sourced) in the first place? Who would leak something like that to Ken Rosenthal and why?

Tom Boswell: Last night was fascinating. I thought Manny made a bad -- and classic -- managing mistake by letting Lannan start the 9th inning. Weaver called it "sentimental managing" and hated it. That's when you say, "He deserves to finish the game" or "he's been so good, lets stick with him" rather than following the plan you always use for such situations. He'd thrown 100 pitches, hadn't gone over 106 all year and had the extra strain of pitching in the park and to the team he'd rooted for as a kid. So, go get Beimel to start the inning with lefty Damon up first. I actually tried to post this in real time on Nats Journal, but before I could finish typing, Damon had homered, so it seemed pretty silly. And, then as now, I couldn't prove I'd actually written it before the fact!

That win, and the very lucky way they got the GIDP to save it, should give them a boost regardless of today -- if they play. It's raining like heck here at Bethpage Black and play was suspended at 10:15.

IMO, it's pretty clear now that the Manny's Job story was a rumor that somebody managed to get into the 24-hour loop. And, of course, once there, it doesn't go away. The leading rumor about the rumor -- and don't disproved rumors deserve to have their own rumors? -- is that Bowden was behind it in some way. Or Boras. Or Omar Minaya! Theory 1: Bowden may have felt that during the Dominican issues in February that Manny's connections worked against him, not for him. So, he got caught in the rumor mill and "resigned" in part because "the story wouldn't die." So, turns about is ... 2. Boras. Everything that upsets Natsville until August 17th with be attributed to him. I don't buy it, but.. 3. (You'll love this.) The Mets GM still wants Manny as his manager at some point, so why not help him out of the job now.

Oh, and theory 4, my favorite, None of the Above.

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The Palisades: It's a bit early, but assuming the Nationals start shopping around Nick Johnson, any ideas on who they'd be looking to trade for? And has Kearns played himself out of a potential trade?

Tom Boswell: Recently the Nats were rumored to be in a mating dance to deal Nick. But that's all. Just a pretty-good rumor. However, if so, that means they are no longer as committed to waiting until the trade deadline -- supposedly better leverage and six weeks less salary for the new team to pick up -- than previously thought. They need (in order or urgency, a reliever, even a solid middle reliever, a middle infield prospect or a CF prospect. Kearns is untradeable.

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Great Falls, Va.: What free agent should the Nationals pursue this offseason?

Tom Boswell: More interesting, the Nats themselves are already talking about it. The general assumption in the front office is that they will go after, and land, a reliever just as they were determined to go after Teixeira-Dunn in that order. You can almost book that. They need a middle infielder for the future. They blew Orlando Huidson. They could have had him at a fine price but they said he failed their physical -- and thought his injury last season "might be career threatening." Well, either that's a cover story or the physical ain't lookion' too good. for Hudson's been on fire. On other FA players, one veteran Nat suggested Xavier Nady. Everybody would like Matt Holiday. Oh, are they outfielders? Interesting. Some Nats think the OF may change quite a bit. There is no CF of the future unless Maxwell starts to hit. And he's .224 at AAA now. Looked totally lost on his call up. A real blow if he can't be a .260-15-70 guy and that's all he'd need to be.

I said to one Nat, "Isn't it a little early to be thinking about a free agent list?" "No," he said. Maybe when you're 17-46 there isn't much else to discuss!

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Arlington, Va.: Do you have any sense of whether Selig or DePuy have seller's regret in choosing the Lerners over the other potential owner's groups? Clearly Selig made the right choice in Boston with Henry/Werner/Lucchino since the Red Sox just celebrated their 500th consecutive sellout. And what is your sense of how the Lerners are viewed by others in the baseball establishment? Are we truly the laughingstock of baseball?

Tom Boswell: Selig was totally sold on the Lerners. The one area where a commissioner has almost complete and sole control of a major issue is in MLB in frachise relocations and new owners. Especially in Bud's case because he's so senior to almost all the owners. They just say, "You decide." And he decided he wanted the Lerners with Kasten as their baseball expert. In retrospect, nothing else had any chance. But Bud wanted to see how everyboldy an dled the mating dance. He liked that the lerners were a family (continuity), that they were very rich and that they pitched their case in private. Selig knew they loved a budget but thought that Kasten would come with conservative financial credentials and that they'd just take his advice. Oooops. Bud connected one dot too many. Six months ago, Bud was probably getting very worried. Now, if Strasburg gets signed on top of the other $$$ deals I always mention, including Zimmerman's $45M, he'll probably let out his breath. Sort of. Then the Nats will have a lot of young pitching. We'll see.

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Downtown, Washington, D.C.: Did you watch Virginia's rather unfortunate choke job last night? They had a really great run, but to lose like that (in the top of the ninth, they were one strike away from the win; in the bottom of the ninth, they were one ball away from a win)--ouch.

washingtonpost.com: Cavs Reach the End Of the Line in CWS (Washington Post, June 18)

Tom Boswell: Yes, I watched some of that game because in the USGA "media hotel" the TV system doesn't get 1) The Golf Channel, 2) the yankee games or 3) the Mets games! Nice work. So I thought I'd be watching Nats, O's and Open preview last night and ended up with some UVA and "Slumdog Millionaire" instead. I really liked Slumdog. Somehow, I got talked out of seeing it in the theater. I just wish they hadn't had that ridiculous Hollywood dance number for 500 as the credits rolled at the end. Really undermined the serious elements of a film that needed to maintain the gritty reality of poverty in India with the national love of fantasy and fate in its story-telling. Oh, don't miss the 97 hours of "India" on PBS.

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Washington, D.C.: Doesn't Phil's interaction with the fans hurt his game? If he can't focus as well as Tiger does, I don't see how he ever will truly challenge Tiger.

Tom Boswell: Phil really is like Palmer (Okay, Arnie was before my time) in interacting with fans -- especially New York fans -- between holes as he's playing crucial rounds, even on Saturday and Sunday. I stand right there and see him shaking hands, looking people in the face. He thinks he feeds off it. And to a degree he does. But, on the closing holes, it has usually ended up feeding on him. He become too united to the crowd and its over the top emotions. At Winged Foot on the last four holes, he twice was running up fairways, pushing screaming people out of the way, to see where his crazy recovery shots had ended up. I'm running behind him, pushing the same people out of the way. It's great for me to be excited, caught up in the thrill of it. But it is disaster for any athlete in any sport to have the same feeling under intense crisis as the crowd.

I was talking about this to Joe Beimel, the Nats reliever, the other night. He said that, with 50,000 screaming at you in the late innings, "You have to slow everything down. If you get cuaght up with the crowd, you'll just walk back up the rubber as soon as you get the ball back and you'll throw it again. The count will be 3-0 in one minute and you'll say, 'How did that happen to me?' The (Nats) kids fell into that. You want to work quickly when you're not in a jam. (So the same thing happens -- but in reverse -- to the team at bat.) But you want to slow down when you're in a jam. Watch Tavares."

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Washington, D.C.: Let's just fantasize for a moment. Say the Nats get both Strasburg and Bryce Harper and they are almost as good as advertised? Best case scenario, when realistically could the Nats achieve the goals of "The Plan" and become at least a competitive team in the NL East.

Tom Boswell: Ryan Zimmerman thinks 2011. On Tuesday, he said, parapharase, that Lannan was really learning how to pitch, get DPs, use his two-seam fastball more, and that the young (startingt) pitchers were really impressive and coming fast. He's not normally an easy sell and has been quite clear-eyed about the team's limitations in the past, to the point where he said last year that, much as he liked this area, he was going to sign a long-term deal "if we're going to lose 90 games every year." (How about 110?)

Anyway, since I thought you'd enjoy Z's view more than mine, he's very encouraged right now. No, he can't believe all the close games they are losing, but thinks it's ready to turn around. "We're not going to be a GOOD team this year, but we're going to be a lot better before very long." And he was talking about '09. Dunn's arrival changes his whole view of the middle of the lineup -- not just helping him but, when Flores returns (eventually) "lengthening" the lineup. He had an interesting thought with what may almost be a glut of decent-to-good young starting pitchers next year -- what do you do with Colin Ballester who is 4-0 in his last 6 starts with a 1.60 ERA? Is he a reliever pitcher? "He throws 95 and he's got that good hammer," said Z.

Well, you could tell him, 'You see these next three guys? Get pumped up and strike 'em all out.' You know, Bally might have a relief pitcher's makeup. But the way he's going at Syracuse, he'll be up getting some starts at some point this season. Just turned 23.

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Washington, D.C.: How much of the Nats' current situation can be traced to Bowden's decision to keep Alfonso Soriano and not trade him? It still seems like one of the worst decisions of Trader Jim's tenure.

Tom Boswell: One of the Nats' best decisions was not signing Soriano -- which would have cost at least $90-million for five years back then and ended up being more like $115M after he went free agent. Nobody ever mentions that. Look up his numbers since then in Chicago. Not anywhere near being worth that kind of money. His steals have almost disappeared. His on-base percentage is poor. He can still only play LF. He's had HRs this year but dropped off a lot the last two years. One of the effects: Dunn arrived. Did his HR last night almost go out of Yankee Stadium? I've seen the replay three times. Looks like the ball went over the RF overhang and that the fans in the last two or three rows got it. Another 15 feet and it would have been the first ball ever hit out of any of the three versions of Yankee Stadium.

As for "trade Soriano," for whom? Look up what Milwaukee got for Carlos Lee from Houston. Soriano would have fetched less. Instead, the Nats got two draft picks: who turned out to be Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Burgess.

So, as far I'm concerned the verdict is in. Z'nn's 60-16 K-BB ratio --as well as what my eyes tell me -- says that he is going to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. I've looked up the first years of every pitcher with a top 50 ERA and the ones who had anything approaching Z'nn's K-BB ratio in their first 10-12 starts turned out to be stars. Oswalt was even better. Jake Peavy was comparable. If healthy (like all of 'em), Z'nn will be special.

I'd rather have Z'nn and Burgess (still young, lots of power but far too many Ks) than Soriano at huge cost or players similar to what Mil got. And I think they got a fine closer in that trade.

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Washington, D.C.: Drew Storen. Do you think drafting college relievers to be major-league relievers is, overall, a bad draft strategy? I was under the impression that most of the successful relief pitchers, including closers, were converted starters.

Tom Boswell: Chad Cordero worked out. But the converted-starter theory is the general rule. Pitchers like Cordero and Storen may change that. Attitude is so crucial to being a closer. He clearly feels he has that.

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Lastings: Will we ever see Lastings Milledge in a major league uniform again?What is he doing in AAA these days? I've heard nothing since an article about how he was going to ignore his hitting instructors and do things his way.

Sounds like a Hall of Fame career in the making.

Tom Boswell: Somebody will want him somewhere sometime. But his supposed "five tools" don't exist. So far, he shows 15-20 homer power, not big power. Defensively, he's just another corner outfielder and probably more a leftfielder. If he can hit a breaking ball consistently he certainly hasn't shown it. And his speed looks like the 25 SB type, but not big impact. He's not a bad young man at all, very bright and likeable, actually, but just spoiled rotten in a sports sense. He felt "entitled" before he had done anything significant. He liked the big league life more than the game itself. If that changes, his future may change, too. He can be a good player if he works very hard. If he doesn't, he'd be one of those "oh, that's too bad" guys whol gets forgotten.

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Fairfax, Va.: When you are in the stadium, Redskins' games are deafening when they play the piped in music, so are Caps' games. This is like putting lots of !!!!!!!!!!!! in a boring blog to make the readers think it is actually exciting. Are our local fans so out of it that they need to be psyched up to cheer?

Tom Boswell: At times we appear to require assistance.

(Personally, I never have had this problem. And at Caps, Skins, Nats, Terps games, etc., I kind of have to calm my son down because he takes after his dad and has a few things to say to the other team, the refs, etc., and not quietly.)

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Washington, D.C.: Glad you liked Slumdog; I've been to India and it seemed very real.

Now, can you explain why the Nats' record is so bad? When I look at the parts over the past month--starting pitching, bullpen, hitting--they don't seem so bad. Oh, yes, I forgot the dreadful defense. Is that the reason?

washingtonpost.com: Trying Really Hard To Like India (Slate, September 27, 2004)

Tom Boswell: The Nats are 17-46. Abolut six games of it is fluke __weird run distribution. Can't score when they pitch well and visa versa. There are stat formulas to tell you that. So, think of them as 23-40. Still very bad. Some of that was in the awful Baby Bullpen which has now become the Old Age Home, but it far more effective. Part of that was the 1-14-1 (including the 10-10 game) record in starts by DCab and Olsen. So, if you think the bullpen is now merely poor, not atrocious and that the arrival of Detwiler is an upgrade and that, someday, the month-long team hitting slump will end, then your view may be vindicated.

But that new-old bullpen could blow a couple of tires in a week.

As for defense, the '07 team that gave Manny a reputation as a good fundamental manager, had a far better OF. "Logan, Church and Kearns," said Manny the other night. "They could all play CF if they had to. That was a very good defensive OF." So, they made him look good, just as this OF is making him look bad.

Zimmerman said, "This team wasn't build to have a good defense. It was built to give us a much better offense. And that has worked. The problem is that we shouldn't be anywhere near this bad on defense. We have to get better." Paraphase, but very close.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, I've heard Wilbon and Kornheiser say repeatedly when comparing the difficulty of playing in a pro golf tournament vs. playing in a grand slam tennis tournament. They always state that it is much harder for a golfer who has to beat all 100+ other golfers while a tennis player only has to beat seven other players to win the tournament. I disagree. Golfers really don't play against other golfers in the sense that a tennis player is in active play against an opponent during a tennis match. In truth don't golfers play against the course and not other golfers?

Tom Boswell: Nice question. Golfers play against other golfers to a degree -- if the "other golfer" is named Nicklaus or Woods.

However, I covered a lot of Grand Slam tennis in the '80's and I thought that the two sports were roughly equal in major-winning difficulty, but in different ways. Tennis is "over-determined." In a five-set match, you hit so many balls, like the great Wimbledon final in '84, that you feel like "the better man will win." Almost every time. So, if you really are the best in the world, you can go on a run of majors and dominate your competition 1-on-1. Golf is the ultimate "under-determined" sport. Four days is a long test, but not THAT long in a sport where the No. 1 players and the No. 50 player may a stroke average that is only seperated by a couple of strokes. In any one week, a top player can have a coluple of bad shots, or bad bounces, that cost him 2-3-4 strokes. Or he can catch the worst of the weather and be at a 2-3 shot disadvanateg for the week. yes, Tiger and Jack could overcome this. But when even a Tiger does not have his "A" game, the under-determined nature of golf can contribute to denying him a title.

But it's hard to say that on TV in 10 seconds. (Rim shot.)

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Kalorama, Washington, D.C.: Does the organization have a pitch count on our young staff? I'd rather have Martis tough it out since this season is over already. In other words, if I see Owen Wilson on the street, I'm giving him a deadbolt to put on our bullpen and throwing out the key.

Tom Boswell: Sorry to disagree -- completely. There is only one right answer here. It's not a point for discussion. At least not with me in the room! Studies have been done (Tom House, among others) that show that high pitch counts before the age of 25 have a high connection to arm injuries and short careers. You can't prove that Dusty baker ruined Mark prior and hurt Kerry Wood with high pitch counts -- trying to reverse the Cub curse. But you can believe it. And I do.

If the nats current starters keep developing, then there will be plenty of time after age 25 to see how many innings they can handle. Letting a Martis, Lannan or Zimmerman "tough it out" for the sake of a couple of more win in a bad season is about as...lets say "non-smart", since you were nice enough to ask the question...as i can imagine.

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Washington, D.C.: I thought Chico's notebook had an interesting take on the O'Connor deal and the Syracuse rotation. JD Martin was not mentioned and he's having a great year (you like your K/BB ratio, check his out). Does he figure to get on the roster and be the spot starter while the others (Balester, Mock, Estrada) get a full year of starting in in AAA?

washingtonpost.com: Team Plans for Another Wave of Young Pitchers (Washington Post, June 18)

Tom Boswell: I checked olut JD this a.m. and was surprised. Something like 45-6 ratio in about 60 IP. Gotta find out more about this. Of course, Stammen had a 1.80 ERA there.

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Pittsburgh, Penn.: Likelihood of the Penguins repeating as Stanley Cup champion in 2010? When is the team coming to visit the White House?

Tom Boswell: I was delighted to see the Pens win. Nothing damages a team's motivation more than reaching its Ultimate Goal.

Or at least the Caps can hope so! Sure, many of the Pens will revive their engines. But few teams can do it right through the whole club. A few guys will be satisfied.

One reason the Blue Jays repeated was that Pat Gillick went out and got 12 new players, including Molitor, after Joe Carter's walkoff homer had given them their first Series title

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Interleague Play: Ok Tom, how many of the Nats/Red Sox games are you going to attend next week? How about the wife?

Tom Boswell: Covering one or two. Attending one with the better half. She's from New England and is the No. 1 sport-jinx human being I have ever known. When the Pats were going for perfection, she refused to watch ("I'll jinx them") and read a book in bed while I gave her updates. She still blames herself anyway. ("I was thinking about it.") So I may insist that she wear the Sawx hat and cheer for my father-in-laws former employer.

I once called her in to see the last batter of a Mussina no-hitter or perfect game -- don't remember exactly. As soon as she stepped in the room, base hit.

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Washington, D.C.: ESPN pointed out that in addition to all the circumstantial commonalities between Mark Prior and Mr. Strasburg, their throwing motions are similar. Specifically, as both start toward the plate the right elbow is 'high.' Some have attributed Prior's arm problems to this motion. Should Nats fans be worried?

Tom Boswell: Nats fans should be very happy if Strasburg has as good a career as Andy Benes. (That's a compliment.) The SI piece on Strasburg-comp flameouts was chilling. You'll noltice how many of them threw 100-101 or very close. It's Strasburg's command, late movement, composure, ability to learn and adapt that will take him from good-to-very-good. Or better. As for injury, that's in the hands of the gods. And in baseball, they are not nice gods.

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Washington, D.C.: Could you please have your wife watch the 'Pens next year? A lot?

Tom Boswell: She loves hockey. But she really likes the Caps. The only sports event she actually wants to go to is "more Caps." This could become a problem of metroplitan-area proportions.

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Sec 114, Row E: Bos, I saw that the Nats were looking to cut off many of the young starters in late August or early September.

I'm with you on pitch counts. But what is the harm of continuing to let Lannan, Martis, Detwiler go out there every 5-6 days and getting their 100 pitches in? Statistically, is there an increased danger from 180 innings vs 160 - assuming pitch counts continue to be monitored?

Tom Boswell: Aaaaaarrggghhhhh!!!!

In '07, the Nats cut off Lannan late in the season after he'd made several promising starts for the Nats because he'd hit his innings limit for his age. How's that working out? Pretty well, right? He gets better every years. Arm still connected to body. Now 24 with, as Casey once said, a chance to be 25. Actually, Stengel was asked about the future of a young player whose chances did not excite him and Stengel said, "In 10 years, he has a chance to be 30."

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Frederick, Md.: Hi Tom -- Love your stuff.

This question is largely unanswerable (like so many good sports talk questions) but I'd love to hear your take.

What professional sport do you think requires a mindset and execution most like what it takes to be successful in life? My take would be baseball because you have to do the boring preparation and positioning all the time, and you have relatively few opportunities to really shine.

Of course there are so many lines to argue for and against this point. What do you say?

Tom Boswell: It's baseball. No question in my mind. And that's the one central reason that I decided, long ago, to cover it more than any other sport. It was a conscious decision. I've written a couple of long pieces on this. Maybe I'll do it again. But to recap! The "daily" quality of baseball; the constant need for resilience in the face of failure; and above all the need to combine relaxation and concentration -- to set the tuning fork of temperment at the proper pitch -- as the "gamer" does, all set baseball apart. For a writer.

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Boston: The media up here is having a field day- what would you do with Beckett, Wake, Matsuzaka, Lester, Penny, Smoltz and Buchholz? Can't have a 7 man rotation, and Beckett doesn't work in a 6 man (effects his game).

Tom Boswell: Well, you can let Dice-K use 100 pitches to work the first three innings, then use another starter on his day. So, see, I've already gotten them down to a 6-man rotation.

Tim Wakefield: most underrated player of my lifetime.

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20005, Washington, D.C.: Who is leaking the info on A-Rod, Sosa and the other 102 players who tested positive in the "anonymous" MLB drug test of 2003? Selig? the Union? Lawyers?

Tom Boswell: I'll take "lawyers" for $100.

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Sec 114, Row E: For the record, Soriano got 8 years and $136M from the Cubs - including $18M each year in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. I think that's going to be a pretty ugly contract come 2012.

Tom Boswell: Thanks. It's already homely, maybe heard toward hideous.

But a $50M contract to a college pitcher would be dumber.

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Topton, Penn.: I love your columns... Keep up the good work. My question is do the fans even care anymore about all the steroid issues from way back when? Why can't we make a clean slate, institute testing, and move forward. Frankly I'm so tired of hearing it... Maybe Mr. Selig needs to step down and let someone else handle this. Please offer your opinions.

Tom Boswell: This a.m. I was talking with a fellow scribe who covers several sports, not just baseball. "Nobody cares anymore," he said.

Baseball wasn't "saved" by steroid home-run records as the vidiots love to repeat. By '98, the strike-aftermath had worked itself out. And baseball doesn't need to be "saved" now. What it does need is to find a way to cut 10-15-20 minuites out of the cotton-pickin' game and start post-season earlier at night. They're workin' on the second part.

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Mr Boswell,

Do you thinks there is any chance the Wizards will select Tyler Hansborough in next week's NBA Draft? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: No. Like Danny Ferry -- great guy and family, wonderful executive -- Tyler looks like a player who maxed out with a magnificent college career. This is just the "conventional wisdom." Maybe he'll disprove it and be Dave Cowens or Shane Battier instead.

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On the farm: It was finally nice weather last weekend so I took a drive up to Hagerstown to see our young pups. Man, those guys play really good defense. It was nice to see Matt Chico pitch well but my comment is on the kid, Storen. Very nice kid. Most reports said so but he was very pleasant and signed autographs and chatted up fans along the railings. I thought it was nice to see, especially since Strasboras seems to be alienating everyone.

Tom Boswell: Thanks for the report.

"Alienation" or the appearance of it between player and team is a basic part of Boras strategy. You can read a chapter on it in "A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez." If you want the last dollar, Boras is your man. But when you choose "the last dollar" as your trademark, and you pick Boras tactics, then you have made a statement about yourself and your priorities. And you may have to life with them, as Ben McDonald did -- in his case in the form of hostile teammates. But if Strasburg pitches well, you'll see alienation turn to gratitude might fast. He seems like a good enough kid. Everything between now and Aug 17th will be right out of the playbook -- from both sides. Yawn.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom,

Have you ever attended a DC United game? I know Goff has the beat, but you obviously have roaming privileges. They are quietly doing well so far this season and may become the Nats foil this summer as the Caps were this past winter/spring.

washingtonpost.com: United Salvages Tie After 2-Goal Deficit (Washington Post, June 18)

Tom Boswell: I covered two previous D.C. pro soccer teams in leagues now long departed from this earth. I remember asking a D.C. coach about the 1-0 and 2-1 scores. He shrugged and said, "It is easier to destroy than to create." Always enjoyed the people. However, the passion for (international and local) soccer, which includes my son, has taken the need for sophistication in coverage to a much higher level. So, a United column seems like a good idea. As long as Goff helps me (as he has in the past) with the hard stuff.

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Burke, Va.: Nice column by Sally Jenkins on Lefty today. You going to be covering the Open this year? Who you got winning it?

washingtonpost.com: Not the Left Coast, but Lefty's Course (Washington Post, June 18)

Tom Boswell: I'm listening to the rain on the roof at Bethbage right now. (Tiger is one-over par through six holes when play was suspended at 10:15. Phil hasn't gone out.)

I liked Andy North's analysis that gave Geoff Ogilvy a great chance. (He's one over through five.) I always look for Furyk at the Open. Everybody is pulling for Phil. Impossible not to. Tiger looked as close to unbeatable at Muirfield as golfers ever get. But he was all over the place the first six holes and didn't seem "grooved" like he was two weeks ago. Okay, a very small data sample!

In Tiger vs. The Field, I'd call it even, but take the field.

Okay, that's it for today. I'm abusing your patience even though there are too many questions to answer. Chatting certainly is a lot more fun than watching rain! See you next week.

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