Ask Boswell: Nats Make Outfield Moves, Tiger and the AT&T National, More

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 2, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, July 2, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Nats trade of Lasting Milledge and demotion of Elijah Dukes, Tiger Woods and AT&T National in town this week at Congressional Country Club, as well as the latest sports news and his columns.

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Boswell Column Archives

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Manassas, Va.: What do you think the Nats should do when Dukes comes back? Of course his return depends on whether they can get him to stop trying to pull everything!

Tom Boswell: The issue is bigger than Dukes. And I think just figured it out last night at midnight. Don't know why I didn't see it sooner. Sitting here with Barry at Congressional, and he saiud something like, "Yeah, that's it." So here's the midnight musing.

Blow up the Nats.

They're no good together. So why not take them apart?

All season everybody has said that they've seldom seen a team that is so much less than the sum of its parts. Why? Jim Bowden and Stand Kasten built an incoherent team. It had no 'theme' __except 'develop young starting pitching' and make any opportunistic trade that seemed to 'add value.' Beyond that, it was a mess. This week's trade and demotion of Dukes is a first step. More, much more to come, I suspect. The Nats have no bullpen. They have no defense at any position now that Zimmerman seems to be catching a dreaded throwing disease that will, for now, remain nameless here. They had no offensive speed (now they've added Morgan). They have no situational hitters. They have no leaders. One of the reason that Acta appears completely unable to manage __even though he seemed to handle a game perfectly well in '07__ is that he has no Team. He has a monstrosity, a random collection of pieces that don't interconnect and can't, in any normal sense of the word, be 'managed.' The Nats are live driving a car with two steering wheels, three engines, four sets of breaks and NO WHEELS. "Why doesn't it go anywhere?" B-e-c-a-u-s-e i-t i-s n-o-t a c-a-r.

So, keep the starting pitchers, including those in AAA like Balester, Mock and Martis and, for heraven sake, sign Strasburg. Keep Zimmerman, Flores and Dunn, unless you get a huge offer from an A.L. team who wants a DH. And look for ways to trade Nick Johnson, Cristian Guzman, Joe Beimel, Willie Harris and anybody else with value to close out. There will need to be some releases, too, at a later date after you see what you get back in trade.

I'm starting to think the Nats may be ahead of me on this and that the 'breakup' is already on the way. You may see a column on this.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it just me or should the Nats pretty much stand pat with the offense they have moving into next season? Seems like this recent move is in anticipation of moving Nick Johnson and shifting Dunn to first, going with an outfield of Willingham, Morgan and Dukes. While on the face of it, that seems like a good idea if Johnson can be flipped for a good, young pen arm or two-- I would submit Johnson is the guy you want to keep around and they should cut their losses with Dukes.

Nick is an OBP machine and a real cog at the top of that line-up. Finding guys capable of an .400 OBP isn't easy. There are only 15 qualified hitters with OBP over .400 and Nick Johnson is one of them and likely will be for the next few seasons. You keep him with Dunn and you've got guys on base all the time-- setting up Zimmerman and Willingham (who's raking right now and only getting better.

I think the priority should be to keep Johnson, who seems to like Washington and this club.

Tom Boswell: Johnson is the Nats most valuable trade piece, especially with the Mets and Red Sox in the market for somebody like him. Al,so, the Nats have pieces to pair with him __Harris, Beimel__ to get a better return. I just think that the Morgan trade makes it clear that Nick is probably leaving. Morgan at leadoff pushed Guzman to No. 2. Where does Johnson go? He's nevber been a good enough RBI guy to bat 3-4-5. When he was with the Yanks in the Series he was hitting No. 2. Can you sign him to a new deal? Do they want to? I doubt it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I've seen all I need to of Mike Rizzo. The trade with the Pirates was an embarrassment and the Dukes demotion utterly nonsensical. Could you perhaps wring some twisted logic from these moves for me? Maybe Nyjer Morgan is really a well-rounded starter cleverly disguised as a late-innings defensive replacement? And the burned-out arm of Sean Burnett is... worth more to a rebuilding team than Hanrahan's? And Dukes will learn exactly what in AAA? I guess the lesson is "don't get injured because if you come back slow, you'll lose your job to a 29-year-old with 3 lifetime homers".

Tom Boswell: Sending Dukes to AAA is interesting on m any levels. If Dukes reacts to the demotion like a normal player, then it makes him both more valuable to the Nats (he really is making progress as a person) and more tradeable, too, since he'd no longer look like a ticking bomb to teams that don't know him. Another angle to view it from: If you wanted to bring up Tim Foli (the Syracuse manager) to replace Acta between now and the All-Star break, maybe you wouldn't want Dukes in the picture for the new manager to 'handle,' whether its Foli, Riggleman or someone else. Just because Manny hasn't been fired on a schedule that suits the bloggers and guessers doesn't mean that he's safe indefinitely. If my earlier post about "blow up the Nats" __or even semi-blow them up__ is actually what's going to happen in the never 30 days, then a new manager might be part of it. OR keeping the old manager, and giving him a chance to run something that actualloy resembles a team, might be a fair approach. On August 1, the Nats might have less hitting, better defense and some semblance of a bullpen. Plus a young starting staff that has been very promising since the day D Cab left.

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Sec 114, Row E: Manny's Job - if he is any good at it - would be to make a "team" out of the parts.

Instead, he kept batting Austin Kearns 5th - providing no protection for Dunn and thus, no protection for Zimmerman.

As for situational hitting, maybe Manny needs to go out there when the count gets to two strikes and remind the hitters to choke and poke. If the hitters don't like being embarrassed like that, then they need to learn their job without having Manny hold their hands.

Right now, Manny does nothing and the players do what they want.

Manny needs to be the parent here.

Tom Boswell: The Nats certainly seem to need tougher love. But, as I noted in a column from Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, the Nats have had so much change in recent months and are spread so thin in the front office that I really don't think they want to remove another (calm) authority figure. Kasten-Rizzo-Acta still resembles a major-league structure. Kastem-Interim-GM-and-Interim-manager looks like chaos.

The obsession with ripping Kearns, because he's paid $8M and has completely lost his way, is fascinating. This is a team on pace to lose 1115 games. And the fourth outfielder is a problem worth much attention! I get it. He's hit .211 the last two years combined. But the problems are bigger and go higher.

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Tysons Corner, Washington, D.C.: Boz, I just can't get over Kasten. The guy is even arrogant when he's calling himself the Village Idiot! He does realize that what happened in Atlanta isn't necessarily destined to repeat itself here, doesn't he? Couldn't he stand to be a bit more humble during his Village Idiot phase?

Tom Boswell: Stan doesn't do humble. Even when he's trying. As he is now. But he is smart. He isn't The Reason for the Braves success. But he was the guy at the top of the decision-making pyramid.

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Washington, D.C.: Amen on the blowup. It is not a car, it is a rickshaw with a motor but it runs over anyone (like starting pitchers) who actually try to get in front and steer it. So keep Manny, dump the junk, start over. It's not like the fans will stop attending, they already have. Except for those from Boston.

Tom Boswell: If you have eight credible starting pitchers (counting AAA)__two of them good already (Lannan and Zimmermann) and a third (Olsen) who may be coming back to his old form__ and you also have a 3-4-5 middle of the lineup (Z, Dunn and Willingham, uless you trade him), then you ought to be able to reshape an actual t-e-a-m around that core which loses less than 100 games.

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Sec 114, Row E: Bos, what was the last straw for Milledge? Was it when he was late for his own surgery? Or is there more drama that happened in Syracuse with Milledge?

I ask because he is still a touted youngster. Certainly more upside than Nyjer Morgan. So, did Millz kick Rizzo's dog?

Tom Boswell: Late for his own surgery was probably the last straw. The FO got Milledge and his agent on the phone after that for a major reality check __long overdue. Maybe if it had been done a year sooner, there wouldn't have been a divorce. But that was never going to happen with Bowden who relationship with Milledge was to tell him every day how great he already was and how much greater he would soon become.

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Arlington, Va.: "This is a team on pace to lose 1115 games"

The Nats are bad, but not bad enough to lose over a thousand games this season!

Tom Boswell: Now that's a Freudian slip!

Thanks. Now I get to enjoy my own chat. Though it's a little disappointing when your best line of the day is a typo.

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Arlington, Va.: Is Tiger going to win his own event, Boz?

washingtonpost.com: The Ace of Clubs(Washington Post, July 2)

Tom Boswell: Tiger's going to have to go out in a little while and flat out burn up Congressional because others already are. Of course, he can come from behind in Tour event. That 0-for-26 inm ajors when he isn't leading or tied for the lead after 54 holes does not apply on Tour.

At -5: defending champ Anthony Kim (thru 13), Cameron Bechman (12), Points (15) and Chopra (15). Bonus credit if you know their first names. No, the correct answers are not "Extra" and "Deepak."

At -4: Jim Furyk.

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W/L Prediction Revison?: Good morning Tom,

Though it is not September yet, I am willing to give you a mulligan on your first try. New prediction on the Nats final W/L count?

"The current team is far better. It's not GOOD. But it's not going to lose 100 games or close to 100 games. Write it down. Come back in September and let me 'review' my words!"

Tom Boswell: Now, 22-54. If they go 38-48, they'd still be 1/2-game better than last year! At 60-102.

No, I'm not even going to predict that. One pie in your own face per season is enough. But the Nats do tend to surprise everybody almost every year. (Is that good?) Nobody had them 19 games over .500 on the Fourth of July __and in 1st place__ four years ago or even 81-81 at the season's end. Nobody (and I mean nobody) had them 73-89 in '07 when the team itself had DESIGNED a 105-to-110-loss team to get the No. 1 overall drfat pick. After 73-89, "everybody" thought the Nats would be better in '08. Maybe not much, but some, for sure. Internally, they sold a delusional .500 in the new park __really, they did. Oooops. Then they lose 102.

Interesting sport. As I mentioned once, Sports Illustrated before the '08 season was off by 12 wins or more in its predictions on 14 of 30 teams! Missing a prediction by a dozen games is a lot. To do it on nearly half the sport is incredible. That tells you more about the game itself than about SI which didn't suddenly get extra-special dumb.

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Fairfax, Va.: The Society for American Baseball Research Conference is in D.C. from July 30-August 2. Will you be making an appearance or checking out any part of it? I'd think any baseball fan and any baseball writer would enjoy it and even learn something!

Tom Boswell: Thanks for pointing it out. Maybe others here will be interested, too. I may have a hard time telling my wife, "About goinmg to the beach on vacation...hmmmm...I learned that SABR is coming to town then." She might look for a sabre. Or saber. Well, a big sword.

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Sec 114, Row E: Hey Bos, if the Nats don't sign Strasburg, you want my seats? Because, I'm pretty sure that I won't renew.

Tom Boswell: After they blow up the team, the Nats will have even more money than they do now. So many salaries going bye-bye next year __Dmitri, Kearns, Johnson, Belliard, etc. (The Nats have moved 'up' to 24th or 25th in attendance and by Strasburg signing time might be as high as 20th or 21st, though I think they'll fall back with September disinterest.) So the odds on failing to sign him go down. Sure, in a year as unique (cursed) as '09, I guess anything can happen. But it really is rare for No. 1 overall picks not to get signed __especially when they come with attendance-boosting potential as big strikeout artists. Even if you worry about the long-term career history of pitchers similar to Strasburg __like Prior and McDonald__ they still cause a big buzz in their early years. Whatever the Lerners spend to get him, they're probably going to draw 5,000-a-game more every time he pitches. That's (ballpark guess) $200K-a-game, before merchandise on 16 home starts a season. Say he remains a phenom like Woods or Prior (whom I think he most resembles), then that's about 50 starts in his first three MLB years. Isn't that $10M more at the gate, just for his games? Would +5,000 be the right number? Just a guess.

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New Franchise: Let's say you're starting a new franchise, and you can have your pick of these GMs, who do you take?

Kasten, Eptstein, MacPhail?

Tom Boswell: Kasten isn't a GM. His specialty isn't player evaluation. Ultimately, he defers to the GM. One reason Selig thought Kasten would be a match for D.C. is because he had overseen multiple ballpark and arena building projects for Turner and could help "brand" the team with fan-friendly policies, community outreach with a conscience, etc. Also, he had the connections and experience to decide who the eventual GM would be (presumably after Bowden, whom few in baseball thought would last in DC until '09).

So it's between Epstein and McPhail. Andy's doing a fine job in Baltimore. Jones, Weiters, Markakis and Reimold may be quite a core regulars for a long time with The Arms still in the minors but on the way. Losing Uehara to arm problems until September will hurt their chances of getting to .500 this season. Just as the Nats dreamed they could finesse (ignore) the bullpen for a season, the Orioles thought they could do it with a hunt-and-patch rotation. The Nats explosion has been much worse. But the O's run-differential __a predictor of where they end the season__ isn't pretty. But they sure are fun to watch. I caught the end of the 11-10 comeback from 1-10 live on TV. Wow!

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Arlington, Va.: If you had to choose either Pujols or Hanley Ramirez to build your team around, who would it be? And, how can you explain how certain teams seem to "own" another team year after year, like apparently how the Marlins own the Nats!

Tom Boswell: I'd take Ramirez. Younger. A shortstop. Maybe I just see him destroy the Natsd so often that I overvalue him.

One key the Marlins domination is a match of weakness vs. strength in the late innings. Florida has one of the best bullpens. The Nats have.... So, the Marlins always believe they will come back and win in the end.

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Washington, D.C.: How much of a difference in the win column would a good 8th inning set-up man and a real quality closer have made for the Nats this season? I'd be interested to see some statistics on how many games the Nats have blown in the 8th and 9th innings this season.

Tom Boswell: The normal stat measures say the Nats have had five games worth of bad luck with weird run distribution. So, how much is the adequate bullpen that you posit worth on top of that? And if you win 10 more games by July 1, how much dopes that improve morale, etc? Everything in baseball snowballs and compounds on itself. That's how the Rox and Rays can end up in the Series in back-to-back years. Part of it is actual improvement in players. But part of it is the "chemistry" elements of 25 people performing together every day for six months. The Nats are now on the negative side of as bad a reinforcement-cycle as you will ever see. They have even dragged Zimmerman back from a break out season to a (temporary) breakdown.

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Annapolis, Md.: Morgan would seem to have a full-time grip on the CF job. Any indication of how the other OFs work into the mix? Will Willingham and Harris share RF? Will Dunn sit more? Does Harris drop to 4th OF status?

Tom Boswell: I assume that Dunn should be given a chance in the second half to figure out if he likes 1st base and whether 1st base likes him. Unless he's going to be a DH after 30, that's his future. And he thinks of himself as an athlete, not a big donkey who hits HRs. Everybody who knows his history says he's a fine all-around athlete __the usual Next QB at Texas stuff. So, find out.

I can't believe that some contender hasn't figured out how valuable Harris is. With Morgan duplicating most of his skills, I'd think the Nats would want to trade Harris. And he should want it, too. He has 'winning player' written on him. But he's 31. Time's a wastin'. By the time the Nats are good (if ever), he'll be old.

So, you'll see Willingham in LF, Morgan in CF and __if a bunch of trades are made by Aug 1__ Dukes and Kearns in RF. That's another reason Dukes should just go to Syracuse, work on nothing but hitting the ball alley-to-alley (not pulling everything) then come back to an outfield that may be understocked by then. Also, at some point, don't we all want to see Justin Maxwell get a chance to prove if he can hit. Last time, it sure looked like he couldn't, but he's done better since at AAA.

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Oakton, Va.: So was Snyder only half joking when he told Campbell he wouldn't trade him if he shot better than Romo yesterday?

Tom Boswell: The shrinks all talk about "truth in jest." I wouldn't take any Snyder "joke" lightly.

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Morganton, N.C.: Hi Boz,

Is the All-Star game giving home field in the series justified or could it revert to an exhibition(it used to be for bragging rights). We do have significant inter-league play. I see the home field series thing as a knee jerk reaction to the Selig imposed tie a few years back. Give home field to the deserving team not the league. Any thoughts?

Tom Boswell: I've come to like the current goofiness. Lets give it a few more years. Baseball long ago abandoned the idea of "fairness" when the unbalance (inherently unfair) schedule came into existence. The "wildcard" is supposed to compensate for this element of injustice. And the frequency of wildcard Series winners is supposed to reinforce.

See: Two wrongs can make a right.

Hmmmm, there's something about this that makes me think I may be changing my mind at some point in the future.

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U Street, Washington, D.C.: Tom, when the Lerners were awarded the franchise, Ted Lerner said at a press conference that he viewed owning the Nats as being responsible for a public trust. I found it inspiring and exciting to hear.

But the Lerners have not acted that way. Instead, we have rock-bottom payrolls, unsigned 1st-round draft picks, and owners who now use the team's profits to finance their initial investment in the team, as you explained last week. Do the Lerners understand how much goodwill they have squandered, and how Nats fans feel about them?

Tom Boswell: Baseball teams are never as good as they look when they are winning and never as bad as they look when the losing.

The same goes for owners.

The Lerners almost certainly ment what they said. The issue, perhaps, is finding a way to meld their good intentions with their long-ingrained and successful business practices. "Everybody" knows that owning a major sports franchise seldom resembles owning any normal kind of business. You have to unlearn half of what you think is central. As I keep saying, we're going to learn a lot about the Lerners between now and next Opening Day. The Strasburg outcome and their willingness to join the FA party __especfially during a recession when prices will never be lower__ will tell a lot. With their tiny '10 payroll, they could be loaded for bear __if they understand it and can bring themselves to pull the trigger.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: I've finally figured out how to explain to friends what it's like rooting for the Nationals: it's like rooting for Wile E. Coyote. The Nats have a plan, they have the equipment, it looks like it's finally going to work, and then it explodes and they fall off a cliff. Will we ever catch the Road Runner?

Tom Boswell: This is certainly the Roadrunner Phase for the Nats. Will there be a subsequent phase? I certainly assume so. It's really hard to STAY bad when you have adequate revenues even as you lose 100+, have a low budget in future and also benefit from a new ballpark where attendance could go up a lot and have young pitching already in the pipeline. Maybe the Nats can pull it off. But remaining awful should present quite a challenge, even for them.

I actually had a good friend and long-time baseball fan, who also likes the Red Sox, come back from a game last week and say, "I just love this. There's nothing like rooting for a team when nobody understands them and everybody hates them. You get in on the ground floor. How can you look at the young poitching they already have and not see where this is headed. If you have pitching, you can get everything else. They are so much closer than people think. Someday, that ballpark is going to be full __but for the Nationals." I almost fell over. He is a professional investor with a value approach. So, being "contrarian" is his natural turn of mind.

Well, that is certainly contrarian.

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Arlington, Va.: How about a little ice on a hot summer's day! You have to like what the Caps did yesterday in picking up Mike Knuble. Having a veteran leader who can plant himself in front of the net may be just what the Caps need to get us over the hump.

washingtonpost.com: Caps Add Knuble To Skilled Top Line(Washington Post, July 1)

Tom Boswell: Everybody has been on the same page about this since the second that Game Seven of the Penguins series ended. Sometimes a really painful defeat makes it obvious what has to be done. But GETTING it done is a seperate issue.

Just reading Tarik's lede this a.m. made you feel like...well..."rugged veteran...6-foot-3, 230-pound ex-Flyer...muscles his way...deft touch to slip in rebounds...at least 21 goals past six seasons and 30 twice...also a locker room leader."

Looks like somebody in town is doing things right.

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Character or characters?: Boz, I'd be interested in your take on Mike Rizzo's approach to team-building, given the limited data that we have to date. Seems that he may have a strong focus on character (as opposed to "characters") as well as talent. Also, for extra credit, compose an essay comparing and contrasting the approaches of Rizzo and Bowden. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Rizzo is certainly a "character" GM. And Acta always said he was a manager who believed in character and chemistry. Bowden looked for "tools" and bargains and, since he was smart but never had the results (or budget) to prove it, he probably also looked for longshot deals that could make him look like a genius. Rizzo is about 10 times as self-secure as Bowden, who probably wouldn't evenm claim mthat quality for himself. Rizzo is comfortable in his skin, Bowden's was on fire. Yes, there's an essay there. Doesn't prove Rizzo will be successful. Part of the reason Acta was hired was because he was the opposite of Frank Robinson in every way.

Anthony Kim has a chance to shoot 61 if he can complete a birdie-birdie-birdie finish at his 18th hole. Just got time to get there. And Tiger is on the course. I'm outta here. See you next week.

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Tom Boswell: Just got back. Kim missed about an 8-footer for birdie at the 9th hole, his 18th, and finished with a course record 62 at Congressional. He missed just right lip. Maybe a little quick on the putt. Only took three seconds after he was squared up before putting. Birdied his 16th and 17th holes and shot 29 on the front (his back.)

"It was a good day. I thought my way around. It's been a tough year (with a thumb injury). I'm just looking forward to keeping it in play and, hopefully, making a few putts," said Kim after he walked off the last green.

His interview room session should be fun. Ironically, the crowd around the 9th, while large for Kim (62), Furyk (66) and Love (69), clearly didn't understand that the last putt was for 61 at Congressional! There was a fairly big "Ohhhh," but not what you'd expect for such a memorable local moment. Then nice applause. Crowd may not have known that par is 70 here this week and that -8 was 62, not 64.

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Severna Park, Md.: Bos, the carryover from that amazing Orioles comeback Tues. night sure didn't last very long, did it?

While Acta and Trembley seem to be decent people, I'm not sure either is managerial material. Acta's teams seem to reflect his flat personality. And the Orioles have made so many base running and other gaffes over the past two weeks that it's getting difficult to watch.

I'm old enough that I actually saw Connie Mack manage (that'll date you!) when I was very young and he was very old. I remember him as another perfect gentleman whose teams were truly awful.

I think the measure of a manager should be if he gets his players to play up to their potential. Using this standard, I think Acta scores better than Trembley. But good managers often look for opportunities to challenge umpires in an effort to spark their teams. If Manny did that, even on rare occasions, I think he/we would be pleased with the results.

Tom Boswell: Well, my mom, at Duke, had breakfast with Connie Mack when he was very old! I think she was dating the captain of the basketball team.

It was always said of Mack, in his last years as manager, that nobody actually knew if he was still alive or if they just propped him up in the corner of the dugout because it seemed like the right thing to do because he had always been there.

Nice comparison to Acta. Except that he leans forward on his knee.

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