washingtonpost.com
Ask Boswell: Cerrato resigns

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Dec. 17 to talk about the Cerrato resignation and take your other questions about the Nats, Tiger Woods, the NFL and the Caps.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

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Woodbridge, Va.: WOW! How did this happen?

Tom Boswell: Cerrato's "resignation" is the best news I've heard since I learned that Santa Claus was real.

Of course, like hundreds of millions all over the earth, I've been beating the drum that the Redskins problem is "at the top" with Snyder and cerrato. Since Snyder isn't going to fire himself, this is the next best thing.

"How?"

Among 100 reasons -- foremost the 4-9 record and the consistently awful play the last two seasons when the Varsity was healthy -- I think that Marty Schottenheimer's remarks last week resonated. Schottenheimer basically said on his radio show that Cerrato was a palace intrigue guy and buddy of the owner far more than he was a qualified GM. He quoted Cerrato -- whether accurate or not -- as saying that while Marty might have Dan's ear before the season, it would be Vinny who'd be sitting next to him during the season and get the last word.

Maybe I should have smelled something Sunday in Oakland when Cerrato was in the press box before the game --rather than where he usually is (in hiding) -- chatting up a local writer (not me). I walked past him and caught his eye during his off-the-record chat (bashing Schottenheimer) and looked at him so, if he had anything to complain about he could do it.

"They learn to say 'hello,' when it's time to say 'goodbye.'"

What's fascinating about Cerrato is how he lasted so long. He was just under the radar, or in and out of power, in Snyder's early years with the war With Marty the most visible episode. Then, when Gibbs came back, he got a free pass for four ears because (obviously) everything was ultimately Joe's call. So the last two years were the first time he and his record were squarely in the gun sights. By the time the Skins were 2-4 this year (and maybe by the Lions loss), it was obvious he'd built a car with seven wheels and no motor. But the deeper problem is that everybody knows Cerrato was a froint man for Snyder.

Will Bruce Allen really get to make his own calls? Or, like cerrato, will he be in constant "negotiations" with whatever view Snyder expresses. The last thing the Skins needs is another GM whose first words in the a.m. are "Yes, Dan. Great idea, Dan. Whom do you like better, Clausen or McCoy."

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Snyder and big names: Why does Snyder feel it necessary to only go for big names? Holmgren, Shanahan, Cowher... these guys were nobody's before being hired by visionary men and given a chance to grow. Why not an Eric DeCosta, Bill Polian (his kid is already in place in Indy), Mark Ross... these guys are highly regarded and can turn around this franchise!

Tom Boswell: There's certainly a logic to hiring a son of George Allen who has run a team that won a Super Bowl. Also he and Gruden were a team with the Bucs. I've really enjoyed Gruden on MNF. He's a nut. Much more self-depricating and appealing than in his "Chucky" mode 100% of the time. Boy, Gruden would be a lot more fun to cover than Shanahan who always looks like somebody just stole his trick-or-treat candy.

Don't think the Skins next coach will be another inexperienced semi-unknown.

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Herndon, Va.: Are the just more options for a good GM or Coach in baseball than in football, the Nats took a very deliberate approach to finding both and probably got a lot of free information in the process while in the NFL there seems to be a rush at the end of the year to hire someone. With Vinny gone I fear that Snyder will rush to hire a flashy retread or worse the dreaded GM/Coach. Can the Redskins take the time and find their own Rizzo?

Tom Boswell: They've already "found" Bruce Allen. It's a logical choice as well as a "flashy" pick. By getting cerrto out the door now, you get in the "next coach" game early.

Cerrato picked (supposedly) Zorn. Though of course Snyder did. Not a good day for Zorn either. Now he has nobody left who is invested in his success -- that is, if you think a 2-1 or 3-0 finish could still somehow save him.

Allen has nearly 10 years as an NFL GM with two teams, so he'll have his own ideas about a coach. No reason whatsoever to think it would be Zorn. S, bring on the new System, the roster turnover.

However, now the Skins can say -- if they choose -- that it was that awful Cerrato who thought Jason Campbell was a lousy QB. This, at least in theory, lays some groundwork for mending the relationship with Campbell.

But if there's a way he can get himself out of town -- nobody knows for sure yet if '10 will be an "uncapped year" or what the rules will be this off season -- I assume JC wants to hit the road. There will be a few teams, at least, that want him. He's up to 14th in QB rating and, more to the point, ranks that high by every meningful QB measure. 8th in completion percentage, 15th in yards, 13th in yards-per-attempt, 14th in TDs, 9th in Ints (not good) and doing it while being 5th in most times sacked.

JC got the heck beaten out of him in Oakland, including a sack on his first pass and getting driven face and shoulder first into the turf by two Raiders on his second pass. Watching the tape, he got blasted at least eight times. Several of his best passes just barely "got out" by a fraction of a second. If he's mediocre under these conditions, what would he be with an above average offense? Maybe not much better. But there are teams who will want to find out.

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Skippack, Penn.: I see a lot of people asking the "Why now?" question and wondering about the timing of the whole thing. The timing is perfect..... for Snyder. Think about it. He LOVES the splashes and the press. So he makes the Bruce Allen move right before the Redskins play on Monday Night Football. The added bonus is that Bruce Allen brings with him a high probability of hiring John Gruden. Conveniently enough, John Gruden happens to be in the booth announcing the game. So the timing of this move is PURE SNYDERIAN!!

Tom Boswell: Exactly.

Maybe Gruden will actually coach and broadcast the Monday night game simultaneously.

"The reason I just called that last play, Mike, is because the Sam Backer has been out of position. Excuse me. Be right back. I think I need to call in a fake punt."

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Cumming, Ga.: Mr Boswell:

Are we realistic in our hopes that Dan will let Bruce conduct the search for and ultimately be the "decider" on the Redskins' next coach? And wouldn't Russ Grimm be perfect to get the team back to its roots of tough, no nonsense football with a strong running game and defense and special teams?

Tom Boswell: It's the holiday season. We can make all the wishes we want.

And maybe Dan can make a New Yar's Resolution. Let the professionals run the team.

What are the odds?

Peter Angelos had to get beaten up in the W-L column for a l-o-n-g time before he got the message. Snyder is "young.' He can still learn. Maybe losing to the Lions when they were 0-19 and the Chiefs when they were 2-28 crystalized the idea that, "Maybe Vinny and I aren't so great at this."

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Sec 114, Row E: Bos, I hate the MLB umps. Fat. Lazy. Cantankerous. Baiting players. Just plain awful. I'm all for more instant replay, there's a way to do this that will make it seamless.

But there's a simpler answer: Better umpires. Forget the process that ends up where once hired, umps have a job for life. Make the umps work hard to keep their jobs. You know, just like you, me, the players, and everyone else in this country.

I'm sick and tired of umps having their own strike zones, I'm tired of umps baiting players, following players instead of walking away from a grumbling player. Tired of umps that complain about getting showed up.

Tom Boswell: I agree with a good deal of that. In a column during the Series on More Instant Replay for the post-season, I talked about the ump problem. After MLB busted the ump's union, they thought they'd saved money. Instead, they got worse umpiring. It became like a government job where it's almost impossible to get fired. The game's investment and interest in minor league umps went down. Almost none of the older umps retired. And post-season gigs were no longer linked to in-season performance. Good lord, what a prescription for bad umpiring.

The best umps, by in-season grading, should get the post season. And while I don't think that many umps should be fired, they should be evaluated strictly and, if they fall below a certain threshold, they should be retired/fired.

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Alexandria, Va.: I hope you've got time for a non-Redskins question today. Who owns the Wizards, right now?

I assume when Mr. Pollin passed, ownership of the entire estate transferred to Mrs. Pollin. Is that accurate? Is Mrs. Pollin locked in to selling the Wizards to Ted Leonsis soon, is the sale on her timetable, or can she decide not to sell at all?

Tom Boswell: I haven't looked into the timetable but the probability that Ted Leonsis will buy the team in 99.9 per cent. The Wiz were the main reason he got involved in the first place. Though he certainly loves hockey. The economies of scale when you have both teams that play in the same building are so compelling that the Wizrads are worth much more to him than to anybody else.

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Woodbridge,Va: Does the hiring of Bruce Allen eliminate the possibility of hiring a Mike Holmgren,Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan who would undoubtedly want a major say so in personnel matters

Tom Boswell: The more these big names want a combo GM/coach role, the more of an issue it would be. And all three of these have shown interest in having more than "just coach" authority in the past. They haven't always gotten it, but they've wanted it. But maybe we should wait to hear what Bruce Allen says about his role and how he wants to handle things.

Can't we just be happy for, oh, a day?

My wife, who's not interested in football, saw Cerrato on TV a few months ago, speaking in his normal cliche mangling manner, and said, incredulously, "Who is THAT?"

"He supposedly runs the Redskins," I said.

"That explains a lot," she said.

You don't have to be articulate or have original ideas to be a successful coach-manager-GM. Casey Stengel sure didn't. You can just have an exceptional "feel" for your sport or for talent. But Cerrato's quotes from his own radio show, which Steinberg loves to quote for their absurdity value, seem to represent him fairly well.

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College Park, Md.: Why couldn't Mr. Snyder have just waited a couple more weeks until season's end, take Redskins 1 straight to Indianapolis, present Bill Polian with a blank contract and tell him to name his price? It's not like Polian is averse to moving - he's bounced around, great as he is. And the bonus is that you'd probably lure Dungy out of "retirement". Seems that a Polian/Dungy combo is much more enticing than Allen/Chucky. Why couldn't we be more patient?

Tom Boswell: Patient?

There are a lot of Bill Polian fans, including me.

I'm often guilty of giving people a fair chance. This seems like an appropriate time of year for a little good will toward men. We can always be disappointed and beat our heads against the wall later. I'm generally in favor of a limited amount of self-delusion. It makes life go down easier. We'll all have to be "realistic" about the Redskins soon enough.

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Boston: I am a fan of Red Sox and Redskins (there is no baseball team when I lived in the DC area). I always appreciated your analyses and opinions of both football and baseball. I wish Vinny good luck, but he is not GM material. I have a baseball question: Is it possible to get the video record of the moment that a baseball passes the strike zone? Like the TV replays that try to confirm whether a pitch is a strike or ball? I want to do a statistical analyses of the umpires' performance relative to the "objective" strike zone. Thank you very much!

Tom Boswell: Don't know where you could find that.

I like human umps for balls and strikes.

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Centreville, Va.: Boswell,

With Gruden signing a three-year extention to stay with MNF, if Bruce Allen decided to pursue hime as a coach how would the buyout of Gruden's contract work? What if Gurden says, "No"? Who is the next guy on the radar, Shanahan or someone else?

Tom Boswell: Gruden may have an "out" in his contract. Nobody wants an unhappy employee who feels like a prisoner. With Allen on board, I suspect we're digging on finding out the terms of Gruden's contract as we speak. Or chat.

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Stafford, Va.: I don't know if I would be happy with Gruden. He took a team mostly built by Tony Dungy and tweaked the offense enough to get to the Super Bowl after a few years of "almost there" previously. Afterward, things went back to mediocre. I think we need someone who can show aptitude at building (Cowher, Holmgren) great teams, not just inheriting them.

Tom Boswell: If you've coached more than 10 years in the NFL, you are your record. Gruden has coached 11 seasons -- 4 in Oakland and 7 in TB. He was 57-55 in Tampa and 95-81 overall. His teams finished first five times in 11 years and were 5-4 in the playoffs. The last two years (after a 4-12 year in '06), the Bucs were 9-7 and 9-7. After Bruden-Allen left, the Bucs blew everything up and started over. Now, they're 1-12.

His record isn't Lombardi. Or Gibbs. More like a Schottenheimer, but with a Super Bowl ring. That's an improvement.

Of course, Gruden's stock as a coach probably isn't as high right this minute as that guy out in San Diego. Norv Whatshisname. How things change. Oh, and good players sure help.

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El Segundo, Calif.: Tom,

Can we give the owner credit for one thing, he's smart. He was smart enough to become a billionaire and leverage huge sums of money to buy the team. Then smart enough to double the team's value. His personality traits aside, I always held out faith he would be smart enough one day to learn how to run a team. Let's see now if he's smart enough to keep his hands of his new GM. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Good point.

If I remdember correctly, he was also smart enough to sell Snyder Comunications near the top during the stock market boom of the late '90's. (If that's a virtue.)

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Baltimore: Allen didn't win a Super Bowl with Tampa. He was hired after McKay was fired. It was McKay who was Super Bowl GM.

washingtonpost.com: Bruce Allen (Wikipedia)

Tom Boswell: You're right. Thanks.

After the '03-'04 season, the Bucs released Rich McKay who'd been the Super Bowl winning GM. He and Gruden didn't get along well anymore. The '02 team won the Super Bowl. Allen came to Tampa in '04.

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Elinville, Sweden: The possibility of Tiger Woods using performance enhancing drugs was unthinkable a few weeks ago. With all that's transpired since, what say you about this?

Tom Boswell: In all walks of life, one of the reasons who want an excellent reputation is so that, when things hit the fan, you get the benefit of the doubt.

However, we should remember that one of the two things for which the doctor in this case is best known is a new treatment to speed up the healing of injured joints. He supposedly worked with Tiger when he was recovering from major knee reconstruction. So I think that jumping to conclussions here is even more dangerous and irresponsible than usual. Let it play out.

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washingtonpost.com: Hi everyone-

In addition to the incomparable Mr. Boz right here, we also have another Redskins chat starting up right now, with Bucs blogger and The League contributor Matt Loede about Bruce Allen's tenure in Tampa Bay, and how he will lead in Washington.

Redskins: What to expect from new VP Bruce Allen

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Jackson, Mich.: Tom, what are the chances that the following will happen: 1) Eliminate the DH;

2) Eliminate interleague play;

3) Reduce number of regular season games;

4) Have the All-STAR game become meaningful again by not placing restrictions (other than pitchers) on the number of innings starters play?

Tom Boswell: 1) 0%

2) 0%

3) 0%

4) 0%

However, I did mention my "solution" for the DH problem yesterday and he was polite enough to listen and not laugh at me. Yes, it's crazy. But it just might...

Let the home team pick the rules before every game of the season: DH or no DH.

It would introduce an element of stragey into every game. Is our DH much better or much worse than theirs? Is our starting pitcher a much better or mch worse hitter than theirs?

For years baseball has tried to find a way to reduce the prominence and value of DH's without kicking them out of the game -- which the union would fight. The reasoning is that someone who only plays "half" of the game SHOULDN'T be worth as much. Under my idea, if you had a great DH, you could be sure he'd start 81 games at home and probably pinch-hit 70-to-80 times a year on the road at an absolute minimum. That's still> 425 plate appearnaces. But it's not 625. It might de-emphasize the DH just enough to appeal to common sense while unifying the DH for both leagues and making baseball One Game again. (Or, if letting the home team have the choice three hours before every game seems like too much of an advantage, then alternate the choice between the teams from game to game. Or let the visiting team choose if that's more appealing.)

Or maybe this whole idea is completely nuts. But it is the first time since 1973 that I have had ANY idea on the DH.

What do you think.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: I am quite frustrated that the Nationals are ending the "Nat's Express" from RFK. I thought that it was a wonderfull experience to tailgate at RFK and then take the bus to the game.It helped to offset the overpriced tickets that are charged for the good seats.Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: It couldn't last forever. It was an expense. And no other team does it. Also, there is now so much parking near the new park that it is a joke. It is AWASH in (safe) parking.

The Nats are reducing the price in two lots from $10 and $15 to $5 and $10. The new $10 lot is, I believe, just a nice 10-minute walk down M St. One of my friends loves it. Says the short walk lets him void all of the post-game traffic.

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Triangle, Va.: Morning Boz,

Good insights in your column today, I wholeheartedly agree that pace of play is a huge problem. I've gotten to the point that even if I'm home at game time, I'll still TIVO it and start watching 30- 45 later just to fast forward through the lulls. My biggest beef is the amount of time between pitches. Way too many hitters do the "Nomar", stepping out after every pitch to perform an elaborate batting glove adjustment routine, even if they don't swing at the ball. They never do this in BP, the coach would probably bean 'em. Any ideas on how to fix this problem??

Tom Boswell: There needs to be a Nomar Rule. Maybe, if you step outside the batter's box, except when you hit the ball (whether fair or foul), then it's a "strike."

I do just what you do. I start watching the game 45 minutes late and fast-forward through commercials and "delays." That's one reason I'm so aware of how long everything takes. My Fios system has a 30-second "jump" clicker. So I've figured out every time that 30 seconds is about to be wasted and click past it.

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Manchester, N.H.: One fixing baseball: I think the biggest problem that needs to be addressed before someone gets killed is the shattering bats.

Tom Boswell: Absolutely. I keep harping on it. Like now. Never hurts to say it again. There isn't enough money to get me to take my family and friends to a game now in a seat that is in the Flying Spear Zone.

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Tinton Falls, N.J.: Phillies get Halladay, Yankees get Granderson, Red Sox get Lackey. Is it too simplistic to say that the rich are getting richer? I know the MLB Players Union says it will be a cold day down south before they agree to a salary cap, but it seems like baseball is getting dangerously close to 10 super teams and 20 others who might occasionally dip their toes in the playoffs.

Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: We're getting closer to a salary-cap showdown every year. The next CBA may be when the fuse reaches the dynamite.

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Tiger's Xmas: Hanging with his Boys: People Magazine has just reported that Tiger will spend the holidays with his close circle of friends, a "just the guys" thing, but he's looking for a "safe" place. Psst, Tiger - I've got a little Cape Cod in Wheaton, the yard needs work, the mailbox is askew and the driveway has some old plants on a stump and my Weber grill still there; the 'hood is very diverse, and it's very low profile, so no one will notice you. Let me give you my wire transfer instructions - how's $13,000 for the week - that keeps it square with the IRS!

Tom Boswell: You're good to go. Tiger never misses the chat, I'm sure. You should be hearing from him in 10-15 minutes, I'd guess.

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San Francisco: Isn't this just another example of the Redskins winning the offseason? It's just that the offseason has started a bit early.

Tom Boswell: It's certainly another case of the Redskins spinning the PR battle when things get too hot. On the other hand, something major had to be done at the top. So, we're allowed to hope it will work.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Loved the column this morning. Two questions: Is there any timeline in place for this, or could this drag on for years? Also, regarding your idea that relief pitchers have to face at least 2 batters, does that mean that if there are two out that a relief pitcher cannot come into the game? Or would he have to start the next inning to get to the two batter minimum?

washingtonpost.com: Boswell: Under Selig and newly formed committee, the fix is finally in for baseball (Washington Post, Dec. 17)

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

On the two-batter rule suggestion, I'd say, "Two batters or the end of the inning." You don't want to create a rule that forces a mid-inning pitching change in the NEXT inning.

The time line is "before Bud leaves" at the end of '12 and the sooner the better. So I'd say that anthing that's going to get done would happen in the off seasons of '09-'10 and '10-'11. Lots of time to debate and lobby. But not too much.

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Bucs Fan: Tom, This is a good move by the Redskins. I am/was a Dungy fan but it was Gruden that put them on top. In my opinion, Dungy was never going to get the Bucs to the Superbowl. Gruden was the last part to complete the team. If the talent is here, Allen and Gruden will get it out of them.

Tom Boswell: Nice to hear some enthusiasm for a change. Man, the city-wide depression was getting to be too much.

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Fairfax, Va.: Boz, you imply that making baseball "one game" again is a good thing, but to me the DH and having (at least the illusion of) distinct cultures in each league is one of the greatest things about the game (and a reason why I hate interleague play, which has killed the All-Star game). Eliminating or modifying the DH would be classic Selig -- trying to fix what isn't broken based on superficial complaints at the expense of the things people actually enjoy and value about the game.

Tom Boswell: Actually, Bud agrees with you but tries to hide it. He quotes Bill Giles to the effect that variety is good. Thus one DH league and one non-DH league is actually a plus. This is a cop out. But for many years I have tended to agree.

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Arlington, Va.: The 45 minute delayed viewing start is now standard practice in our house. And that 30 second jump button is perhaps the most beneficial piece of technology I own!

Tom Boswell: The 30-second jump makes watching Redskin tapes a joy not a job.

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The reason? Jerry Jones envy: Bos, my view on this is that Cerrato is gone now because Dan knows that Jerry Jones will act quickly to bring in a new coach, basically as soon as it's clear the Cowboys are going to underachieve again. He may already have made his move or there is word on the grapevine that he's ready to move, even if he didn't announce it until after the season.

Dan decided he couldn't wait to get who he wanted so Vinny goes now. The question is, who did he want? I can't believe it's Bruce Allen, it will be whomever is hired as the coach.

Tom Boswell: Good point about Jones envy. The week after the Skins came back from the Palace in Dallas, the food in the Skins press box took a huge jump up. It's true Texas Wretched Excess, but it also makes FedEx look like a dump.

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Leesburg, Florida: What's with Cerrato not acknowledging Zorn in any way?

Tom Boswell: Just showing his class.

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Lord, No!! Not to the PHILLIES!!!!!!: Boz,

Roy Halladay is going to be a member of the Phillies until perhaps 2014. Is this going to be as miserable a piece of news as the Nationals and their fans get all winter or is there another large, depressing, dropping shoe up there that you might want to warn us about?

Tom Boswell: The hilies are very good. But, over the long term, they are not unbeatable. It's not like the poor Orioles locked up with the Yanks and Bosox. Also, when you're winning, you are selling out your park and making more money. Tht's where the Phils are now. So, you try to keep the run going.

You have to spend money to make money, I'm told. Perhaps you'd like to drop the Nats a nice holiday note to that effect.

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Anonymous: I liked your column today putting forth your suggestions as to how to improve baseball on the field. A few have been discussed before such as waiving a batter to first on an intentional walk. Its amazing that it has never been adopted. Other than tradition, what's the contituency that favors a pitcher throwing four balls.

washingtonpost.com: Boswell: Under Selig and newly formed committee, the fix is finally in for baseball (Washington Post, Dec. 17)

Tom Boswell: There is none.

A few folks have noted that they think baseball "should be a slow game." Just wanted to note that, for the first 75 years, the average time of game (Babe Ruth) was about 2:00. So, as invented, it sure wasn't "slow." Maybe that's part of why it became so popular. And people even wanted to go to two games -- and called it a doubleheader.

Even in my youth the average time of game was about 2:15. Its only with each passing decade that the game got close to 3 hours.

So the PUREST position is that the game should go back to way it was origianlly, or in its Glory Years after 1946 -- MUCH faster paced than it is now.

That's it for today. Now that was fun. But we have to go Xmas shopping. See you next week.

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Terjinista, Afghanistan: Hey, for some Redskins fans fighting over here ...

What are Zorn's chances of staying head coach now? We all seem to think that he's gotten a raw deal all along from Vinnie and Snyder. What would you say are the odds he'll stay?

Our early thought is the Allen won't say no to Snyder so there goes any shot at Shanahan etc.

Tom Boswell: Hello Terjinista,

Zorn is growing in the job just as it seems to be leaving him. If the Skins react well to the Goodbe Vinny News, and I think many will be full of holiday cheer when they hear it, and also finish with at least two wins in the last three games, it may be tougher than I think to fire Zorn. You have your mandiotry scapegoat in Vinny after an awful year -- and he's the right scapegoat. You have your new GM. If keeping Zorn helps you keep Campbell (and keep him happy, too), then that's in Jim's corner.

However, in these early hours after the shake up, Bruce Allen's view on ANYTHING regarding the Redskins is a mystery. He could want his own coach, system, draft-pick QB. On the other hand, Allen could think that Gruden is so happy having a shot at being The next John Madden for the next 25 years that he doesn't even want to come back to coaching at all; in that case Allen may opt for "continuity."

We'll know a lot more soon.

Good luck over there. Come "visit" here any time.

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