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British Open 2010, MLB All-Star Game, Stephen Strasburg, Nats and more -- Ask Boswell

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, July 15, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online Thursday, July 15 to take all your questions about Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, the British Open, Stephen Strasburg, the Nats, the MLB All Star Game and more.

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A transcript follows

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Lincoln Park/Capitol Hill: I'm submitting early in the hope of being the first to point out that Mike Capps is the second Washington pitcher to win an All-Star game by facing just one batter.

In 1954, Dean Stone of the Senators came in to face Duke Snider with Red Schoendienst on third. Before Stone could throw a pitch to Snider, Schoendienst tried to steal home. Stone threw him out at the plate, ending the inning. In the next inning, the AL went ahead, and Stone became the winning pitcher.

Tom Boswell: Lincoln Park,

Good to hear from the old stomping grounds.

Nice point. Someone else e-mailed with the same memory. And STONE was certainy the winning pitcher in '54.

Matt Capps actually deserves plenty of credit, even though it was a 1/3 inning win. The A.L. was hitting Halladay hard enough to get Charmlie Manual to switch pitchers. Elvis Andrus over-slid 2nd base on a steal and got himself out or it would have been a bigger jam. (Make up your own 'Elvis has left the...' jokes. There must be a decent one.)

Capps didn't just strike out any hitter. It was David Ortiz who'd won the Home Run Derby the night before and also led off the 9th with a line single off Broxton. Capps fell behind 2-0, fought back to even the count, 2-2, all with 91-94 m.p.h. fastballs away. Then he came inside at the belt with a perfect backdoor two-seam fastball. Would have made Greg Maddux proud.

"That's the first time I ever threw to (Ortiz)," said Capps.

Capps and McCann are old ftriends from Georgia, but falling behind 2-0 "was not what we wanted to do," he said. His eyes got a little big as he said it.

So, we can call it a little but of a fluke that he won. But it was a big out in the game and a great memory for a good guy.

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Appreciate the wordplay: First off, applause for the pun in today's column, Boz: "you don't leave whales adrift on the basepaths in the last inning or the game will gaffe 'em." Juxtaposing "gaffe" as in "embarrassing error" with "gaff" as in "a pole with a sharp hook used by fishermen to land a large fish". Nicely done.

Second off, would you care to revisit any of your predictions for the postseason based on first-half performances?

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

Of course, I've already gotten e-mail wailing that I didn't spell "gaffe" correctly. Sigh. What are you gonna do.

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Norfolk, Va.: Tom,

I don't remember; was the Cubs All-Star center fielder and ex Nat, Marlin Byrd, traded, released or did he go via free agency. If traded, what did we get in return?

Tom Boswell: Byrd is a fine story. I was tempted to do the whole column on him. The Nats let him go after the '06 season (for nothing). He'd hit .224. I liked him. Very smart and accountable. Just couldn't get his hitting figured out. Great ex-football physique.

"After the Nationals let me go, I didn't know what was going to happen. I was getting my tapes ready for Japan. Then Texas gave me one shot in spring training in '07. But Matt (Kata) beat me out. I cleared waivers and went to (AAA) Oklahoma City. I was 29 and in AAA and that is not going to cut it for anybody."

Byrd said that coach Rudy Jarimillo worked with him on his hiutting and "helped me get my confidence back."

"I saved my career in '07," he said, getting back to Texas and hitting .307 in 414 at bats. "I gave them three good years." And got $8-million for it.

Then the Cubs signed him for three years for $15M and he made the All-Star team. Besides his excellent play to throw out Ortiz at 2nd in the 9th, he also fought back from 02 to draw a walk off Valverde and load the bases in the seventh to set up McCann's three-run double.

"I thought I was a track str out there," said Byrd of the first-to-home sprint on which he was safe by a yard. "I felt like I was going 100 m.p.h.

Byrd was especially proud to get on base against Valverde, just about the hadest pitcher to hit in baseball this year, and an old friend. "He was teasing me before the game that he was going the strike me out on a splitter. I just kept fighting (down 0-2) because I didn't want to give him a chance to do his dance (after K's)."

There was some by-play between them during the AB.

Byrd really liked his time in D.C., had no hard feelings and said the Nats were justified in letting him go considering how he'd hit in his time with them. Class act.

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Rockville, Md.: Does Ted Lerner realize that if he allows Dunn to become a free agent, he won't get the same great deal this time around? Boston, the White Sox and the Cubs are all big market teams that may be looking for a first baseman this offseason. Unless Prince Fielder is traded, Dunn may be the best option available and could easily secure the kind of money he's supposedly asking for.

Please tell me that the Nationals' front office doesn't think it can fill out a winning roster entirely based on bargain deals.

Tom Boswell: Thgis is one of my "long" answers _-and stat nerdy, too. So, just skip it if you are not inclined that way.

Within the Nats organization there are serious stat folks who agree with the Dunn Is Limited school of thought and regard his clutch-hitting and/or defense as a problem. I think the clutch-hitting knock on him is a base canard. (Always wanted to use "base canard.")

The best stat for "clutch hitting" is probably the "leverage index" which calculates the "win probability" for every possible game situation. Then it measures how much that probability CHANGES with various outcomes __from GIDP to HR.

In his career, Dunn (career OPS .905) has had an OPS of .926 in High Leverage (clutch) situations. In Medium Leverage, his career OPS is .889. In low leverage (blow out games, nobody on base, etc.) it is .909.

So, he is very consistent. But he is BETTER in the clutch than at any other time. Not by much, but by alittle.

In 1,232 high-leverage plate appearances, he has an on-base percentage of .399, a slugging average of .526 and has driven in 315 runs in 965 at bats. (The other PA's ended in walks.)

So, in high-leverage situations over 10 seasons, he's driven in one run for every three at bats! Is that good enough?

FWIW, Dunn also has had an OPS of .900 in his career with nobody on base and .909 with men on base.

In contrast, Mr. Walk-Off Clutch, Ryan Zimmerman, is actually worse in the clutch than he is at other times. Career OPS .835, but only .806 in high-leverage situations.

People get hung up on sub-categories of clutch hitting and rant about them. For example, last year, Dunn was great with men on base (.949 OPS), two outs and RISP (.976) but in the relatively small # of at bats that you get "late and close" he was bad (.687.) This year, it's flipped __great in "late and close" (.931) but awful in 35 at bats with 2 out and RISP.

What does it mean? In Dunn's case, it means all the stat nit-picking is baloney. Dunn's failures make a bigger (280-pound) impression than he's successes. Apparently, it's just a fact of psychological human nature. He is exceptionally consistent across all metrics for his whole career. But in any one year, there will always be some sub-category to nag Goliath about. However, with Dunn there is always some comparably good sub-category __but why look for it? It's more fun to rag on the huge slugger (imo). This year, he's come up 52 times with MORE than one man on base. He's .289/.385/.533/.918 with 28 RBI.

Maybe here's what ought to matter most to the Nats. Since he came to DC, Dunn is getting better as a hitter. OPS in Cincy was .900 on the nose, but .930 in DC, despite being in a bigger ballpark. And he's learning to expand his strike zone, walk less and slug more __just like everybody's always bugged him to do. Be more like Ryan Howard. Well, he is. Howard career: .281/.372/.577. Dunn this year, .279/.365/.568. Dunn's on pace for 93 extra-base hits! (Ted Wiliams never had 89, neither did Aaron or DiMaggio. Dunn's previous highs were 80, 77, 70. (And 67 last year.) He is getting better before our eyes, changing as a hitter, and nobody sees it. It's a fluke that three of his doubles hit the top inch of fences or he'd be leading the majors in HR and be right behind Wright in RBI in the NL. Another factoid: in Cincy, he had 1 RBI every 7.06 plate appearances. In DC, it's an RBI every 6.38 plate appearances.

"Big-bodied guys get old fast." That's another Dunn knock. Oh, they do? I've only seen one player as big as Dunn __Frank Howard. Dunn is 30. Howard's three best years, by far, were at ages 31-32-33, when he hit 44, 48 and 44 homers with 106, 111 and 126 RBI. What other tall huge smooth-swinging LH-hitting first basemen have I actually seen who were somewhat similar to Dunn? Willie McCovey's only three sluggging (and OPS) titles were at 30-31-32. Willie Stargell's three best years, by far, were 31-32-33 when he was 2-3-2 in MVP.

What about the players who are most statisticlly similar to Dunn at age 30? Reggie Jackson arrived in New York at, yes, age 31. He still won HR titles at 34 and 36. Harmon Killebrew won home run titles at 31 and 33 and age 33 was his best year. Jose Canseco had his highest HR year at 33. Only Strawberry (cocaine) doesn't fit the pattern.

I can't prove what will happen over the next three years. Dunn could get hurt or wake up one day with his eyes going bad like Jim Rice. You never know. But I do KNOW that Dunn hits just as well, or a little better, in the clutch __in high-leverage moments__ as he does at all other times. He's not a great player, he's just a very, very good slugger. But he's way undervalued in the market. You can't replicate him for what you can still sign him for now. He's gotten better the last two years. And this year may actually be a kind of mini-mid-career break out season for Dunn when he walks less, goes sky-high in extra-base hits and, pretty soon, goes from a 100 to a 110-115 RBI hitter __like Frank Howard at 31.

Frank used to say, "Too soon old, too late smart." If the Nats let Dunn go, when they could have him on a three-year deal for ages 31-32-33, they are the ones who are probably going to be "too late smart."

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Mt. Lebanon, Penn.: What happened to NL and AL pitchers like Evan Meek (Pittsburgh) who just went to the All Star game and sat there?

Do they get a T-shirt that says: "Went to the All Star game - all I got was this lousy T-shirt."?

And coach class airline tickets.

Tom Boswell: The Meek don't inherit the All-Star mound.

A couple of players always get left out. With rosters up to 34 with (I think) 14 pitchers, it was a good job just getting 20 (!) pitchers into the game.

But maybe T-shirts for the did-not-play group would be an idea for their teammates when they get back home.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Hi Bos,

I'm looking at the scores for The Open this weekend and I'm surprised that the scores are so low considering the weather reports for the tournament. Is the weather playing a factor in today's scores? Do you anticipate that scores will go up or stay low going forward in the tournament?

Tom Boswell: There is no wind at all today at St. Andrews. Or there wasn't in the a.m. when Roy McIlroy shot 63 (to tie for the low round ever in a major) and John Daly had 66. Tiger got the best of the condityions and shot 67.

With no wind, St. Andrews is a flat, open, defenseless course with big greens. And everybody rips itr apart. I covered the '84 and '00 British Opens at St. Andrews and remember that calm days brought out very low scores __by players who were not going to win unless the winds stayed away all four days. Which it never does. I don't think you'll see Tiger (or Daly) win unless it stays very calm.

"Wind is the truth serum of golf." I don't think Tiger's swing can take very much truth serum yet.

BTW, as I've mentioned before, St. Andrews is one of the ugliest golf courses I have ever seen. If it were two miles from my house, I wouldn't play it once a year. I don't mean humble or not beautiful. I mean burn-it-down ugly. Except it's so flat and barren that it would look the same after the fire, if you could even start one.

Nicklaus always told the story about how average golfers hate St. Andrews and "championship golfers" worship it. When Jack was a teen, his dad and a bunch of golfer friends went to St. A's for a week. When they came back, Jack's dad said it was "the worst course I've ever seen." Or some such words. There was no "scenery." Every hole was flat/bumpy looked the same. And "everybody four-putted all week and we're good putters." Again, a paraphrase.

When Jack went for the first time, he said he thought it was the greatest and most subtle golf course in the world and that, "for a golf course architect," there was more to learn at St. Andrews about design than at any other course. Jack said that the bogey golfer will never play the game well enough, or shoot at targets small enough, to be able to grasp St. Andrews. And he worships the greens. (Which seem too slow this week, BTW.)

So, come on, who are you going to believe, me or Jack?

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Alexandria, Va.: Good Morning, Boz,

What should the Nats do with Dunn and Willingham? Considering how difficult it is for this team to score runs, I don't see why they would not extend two of their most productive hitters. So I say re-sign them both!

Tom Boswell: The Nats keep saying (leaking) that even if they don't resign Dunn by the end of the season that they still may be able to sign him after the season.

To which I scream: BUNK!

This is the standard con job. There are just enough rare examples of this coming true that reporters don't like to blow the whistle and say, "The team doesn't want to sign Player X at a market price. But they don't want to take the blame for it. So, they let him go free agent then say, 'If he'd wanted to stay here so much, he could have resigned with us. So, he's a phoney. He took somebody else's money and left. He's the bad guy. Not us."

That's such a crock. And I think the Nats are setting up to use it if they have to. This is a negotiation. Say the word slowly. You have to give something to get something. By signing Dunn 50-60-70 games before the end of the season, the Nats would be taking on the risk of a long-term contract if he got hurt. By trading him for prospects, they aren't giving him anything. They are just making him uproot himself and play 2 more extra months with the risk of injury/slump or whatever. And the Nats would save $4M in salary.

Yes, players have come back and resigned after they were free agents. But I'd love to see a list of the 10 biggest names. Very few, if any, were 40-home-run hitters.

You extend this guy or you'll lose him. And, imo, you should. If I were in his shoes, they'd certainly lose me. (But Dunn is a MUCH nicer person than I am.)

Sometimes the simple obvious answer is the correct one. That is the case this time: extend them both. And I wouldn't wait for July 31. Just do it, for crying out loud.

Sorry, I'm going to inflict one more stat tangent on you long-suffering chatters.

This is turning out to be a very bad year for stat nerds who've made a cottage industry of hating on Dunn.

As of July 11, Dunn's "ultimate zone rating" (UZR-per-150-games) as a first baseman was -1.1. So, after damning as virtually the worst fielder in history, the sacred UZR stat now thinks that Dunn is supposedly within one-run--season of being an average defensive play!

So, now, all the "he's a DH" people have to eat their words. Or they have to recant on the accuracy of UZR. (I'd go with the later.)

Also, for years, Dunn has been knocked for refusing to expand his strike zone for the sake of the team and try to get more RBI, even if it hurt his walk totals and exposed him to the mockery of even more strikeouts __like 200 Ks.

Well, guess what, Dunn has changed this year. His percentage of swings on balls that are outside the strike zone has increased from 17.8% (career) and 19.4% last season to 28.6% this season __which is about the league average in this "O-swing%" stat.

It looks like he's finally doing what everybody has begged him to do __expand his strike zone so he can hit more and walk less. If this is true, and it's probably too soon to be sure, it's a spectacular success. He's at the top of the N.L. in slugging percentage, total bases and, as I mentioned, is on an astronomical extra-base-hit pace with 26 doubles, two triples and 22 homers.

The reason Dunn's season is being overlooked is because his RBI are at his normal pace __108. That's because __though he normally hits slightly better with men on base than with nobody on, and his Leverage Index numbers are slightly better in the clutch than other situations__ he's hit a weirdly high number of solo homers this year and has hit somewhat worse with men on base.

Perhaps his career-best slugging and XBH production will come down. But what if they don't? Or if they just come down a little? Then he'll probably start getting a normal # of RBI for such high power production.

If so, he may evolve in his 30's into a hitter more like Ryan Howard __a huge RBI man.

Look at the contract Howard got __and he's roughly as poor a fielder as Dunn. And look at the far-lower price that the Nats could get Dunn for TODAY.

Okay, the guy isn't Babe Ruth. The franchise will go on if they lose him. But if they are dumb enough to lose a player this good, this popular with fans and this good in the clubhouse, then how many other dumb things will they do? And how many smart people in their FO will they lose over time?

Willingham is a very good hitter and an improving outfielder. But you can replace 28 homers, 85 RBI and 95 walks a lot easier than you can a LH-hitting 40-homer slugger who fits ideally behind Zimmerman at cleanup.

The Nats have about a three-year window here (before Z'man's contract is up and Dunn/Willingham start to show age) to be quite good __a wildcard contender at worst and a playoff team with a fast-growing fan-base at best. In modern baseball, you can't plan much more than 2-3 years into the future. You just can't do it.

The Nats, with Strasburg and Zimmermann throwing well, have a chance to be what they should be __and soon. If not in '11, then '12. Don't squander it.

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Washington, DC: What effect will the past two offseasons' depressed FA market for DH/1b/OF types and the number of older FAs (Guerrrero, Ortiz, Konerko, Damon, etc...) have on the Dunn market? Is he so clearly the best guy out there that he'll get paid and the others will get scraps, or will the glut keep him from not only "Ryan Howard" money but also "Jason Bay" money?

Tom Boswell: So many stat people hate him for so many reasons that you can still get him at a fair-to-cheap price.

But if he finishes the year with <10 errors, a UZR near 0.0, 90 XBH and 110 RBI and it will be a different market for him.

Not man BELIEVE in Dunn. That why, if you show him that you DO believe in him, you get him at a discount to (my view of) intrinsic value.

Okay, enough with Dunn/Willigham. I'm going on some vacation and I'm going to assume that sanity will prevail.

Oh, and please don't tell me about the great value of compensation picks for Type A free agents. Look at the picks after No. 30 in the last 10 drafts and tell me how many of them were any valid "compensation" for a Dunn.

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Reston, Va.: Besides keeping the core together, who do you see the Nats going after in free agency to help the club for next year? Are FAs interested in coming to the Nats?

Tom Boswell: Major free agent pitchers, like Cliff Lee, are beyond the Nats reach __even in their own view. That's another reason to keep what you've got and go hard after the international market and a not-quite-great FA RF or 2nd baseman to hit behind Z-D-W.

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Colesville, Md.: How is Lannan doing? I hope he gets his stuff back. He was a good competitor. Any chance we will see him again this year?

Tom Boswell: In '07, on his way to the majors, Lannan's #s at Harrisburg were: 3-2, 3.25 ERA. 36-31-(14-13)-15-20.

This time, in four starts, 1-2, 4.50 ERA. 26-28-(13-13)-5-16.

I like him. I worry about him. He needs to get back up as fast as possible and reestablish himself before the August tsunami of pitchers arrives. And after going 4 IP last night, I suspect that Jordan Zimmermann, with normal progress in his next three minor-league starts, will be put in the MLB roster when his rehab time runs out on August 1 and make his first Nats starts within a few days after Aug. 1. I forget the exact "list" that Z-mann is on __60-day or rehab, etc. But it's over on 8/1 and, if I've got it right, they have to make a decision.

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New York, N.Y.: I just want to say how hypocritical it is for LeBron to act all noble for wanting to win a title for "the team." That's BS. How can you be so loyal to a team you've never played a game for? That's not loyalty.

Like he so desperately wants to bestow a title on Miami, a city he's not connected to in any way, and which has been bereft of an NBA title for all of four years. No, he wants a ring for himself.

Tom Boswell: As LeBron (Third Person) James might say, "Lebron James has done himself some image damage in the last week."

Call me when the Heat wins a title. The Caps will win one before that and the Nats and Redskins may both make the playoffs. Three stars, plus "the best bunch of bums we can add on the cheap," will be fortunate to win next year.

Then, after the two-year work stoppage...

Okay, it won't be that bad.

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El Segundo, Calif.: Tom,

I can't decide if Steinbrenner's legacy is more positive or negative for MLB and its fans. He clearly has many positive marks on the ledger, like more money to go around for free agent players and luxury tax recipients. But a rising tide lifts all boats and that is not the case here. Competitive balance and relative finanical parity among teams is gone, perhaps forever. There's also higher ticket prices and premium cable channels for all fans.

Did he help many perhaps all in baseball but did the most for his team at the lasting expense of many others and maybe the league? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: The best thing about Steinbrenner's 37 years running the Yankees was that he only won about HALF as many World Series (7) as he probably should have for the amount of money he spent.

He had the correct central (business) idea __"buy the pot." He had a sustainable competitive revenue advantage as long as he ALWAYS kept his teams in the hunt. That was smart. However, for his first 20 years, his personality and baseball judgment were an absolute nightmare. His money helped his team enormously. Everything else about him was a huge anchor. After he came back in '93, he was only about 2/3 as much a nightmare. But the guy really was a TERRIBLE "boss" who damaged his product far more than he helped it. Do you know how hard it is to have a $200M payroll and NOT win the Series! t's a kind of reverse genius. And The Boss had it!

Net/net, Steinbrenner was a plus for baseball because he brought the Yankees back as The Villain that animates so much fan interest in the game. But he was even better for baseball because he was controversial/borderline-incompetent in every other respect as a business manager.

Baseball's concern should be that his sons, without so much of the insecurity, success-mania that drove III, will actually be much better as the "boss" than dad. Maybe they won't capitalize the "B" in boss.

They say "speak no ill of the dead." At least not the first 24 hours for heaven sakes. I tried to find a balance in my column on him. He was wonderful grist for the mill. That helped baseball. But, as we all saw from '01 through '08, that extra Steiunbrenner pressure served no positive purpose at all. Without Joe Torre, the Yankees probably wouldn't have won as much as they did in the late-'90's.

Still, George was less manic and intrusive after he came back from his two-year ban. He was less a problem. And his checks all cleared! I'll just add that "celebrate" is probably not the correct word for any final evaluation of him. He's a much tougher and more complex subject that that. Perhaps you need to "calibrate" the various kinds of impact that he had on his team, the sport, salaries and even the general culture. There are many imitation III's, including buffoons like Trump.

Of all the "signature" quotes I've ever heard in sports, I'd say that the one which contains the least wisdom and the greatest potential for unhappiness is, "Winning is the second most important thing to me __after breathing."

I suspect we're going to be re-re-re-visiting George for quite a while. And I suspect I'll look at him a bit differently on Friday than I did on Tuesday or today.

_______________________

Pleasantville, NY: Lots of talk about Steinbrenner in the Hall of Fame (at least in NY). Do you see him in there and how about Marvin Miller before him?

Tom Boswell: They might go in together! The two best friends that a ballplayer's wallet ever had.

Of course, it was Marvin's JOB to get them better pay! And, as history has proved, players were grossly underpaid when Miller first came on the scene.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Any reason to think the All Star game television ratings would have been higher if Strasburg had been selected? Wouldn't that have been good for the game?

Tom Boswell: We'll find out next year!

Here's what Andy Pettitte had to say when I asked him about Strasburg:

"For years it just seemed like the hitters were dominating. Now, this is the best set of young arms I've seen. I've seen Strasburg (on TV). It's amazing. He's got it all, just unbelievable stuff. I know everybody says that, but it's true.

"We'll see how he gets through his tough outtings. Everybody struggles at some point. That will let you know (how good he'll eventually be). But the sky's the limit for him. He can already make ther ball move both ways with the changeup and curveball. He's getting righthanded hitters out with changeups! You never see that.

"For me, the most remarkable thing about Strasburg is to have that kind of command of that kind of stuff __and so young. He's as polished as they get."

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L'enfant Terrible: If Girardi's last sub was Rodriguez, then who could have run for Ortiz? Was there somebody else on the bench?

Tom Boswell: The problem: In a two-run game which could go extra innings, why are you down to one position player left on your bench when you have a 34-man squad?

I still want to hear more on whether or not A-Rod had some minor injury. I haven't gotten up to speed on that yet.

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: Do you think Lannan is in the hurt-but-hiding-it camp?

Tom Boswell: No.

I think he's in the "where did my sinker go" camp.

Pitchers can "misplace" pitches. But rarely their BEST pitch. Pettitte said that, when he came up to MLB, he had a fastball, chanegup and curve, but that after he learned the cutter in '92 and had so much success with it, that he neglected both his changeup and his two-seam fastball. He said he lost the "feel" of his changeup and seldom used it for SIX years before finding the "feel" of it again enough to trust it in big game situations.

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Washington, D.C.: Bos,

Thanks for writing one of the few balanced pieces on George Steinbrenner that I read. From everything I read, the guy was a total jerk, albeit a rich jerk. People don't focus on his free agent signings that failed, because he went right out and bought someone else.

I was a serious fan for years who now barely follows the game, though the Nats may bring me back. It's just no fun to watch the rich guys beat up on the poor guys so consistently.

Tom Boswell: I hope it was balanced. That was the goal. He deserved a fair handling.

Since I never called to interview him about Yankee controversies, but about state-of-the-game issues __labor fights, revenue sharing, expansion, etc__ we always had really good conversations. And he always wanted to know the gossip about what other teams were doing, what other owners thought about those subjects.

As long as you didn't work for him __which put employees in the same position that he found so uncomfortable with his hyper-demanding father__ then he was often a pleasure.

_______________________

Hua Hin, Thailand: Not much has been mentioned about the Asian culture and the loss of "face" as a result of Tiger's actions. As I watch him it seems that this embarrassment is having a big impact on his psyche and therefore his game. Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: Interesting. Like many athletes, Tiger tends to be his father on the outside and his mother on the inside. And "face" was/is enormously important to her.

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Virginia: Is there any truth to the rumor that George Steinbrenner has already fired Billy Martin from the afterlife Yankees? I am one of the many that both loved and hated what he did for baseball. As an owner, I loved his passion for winning and doing what it took to put a winner on the field. Then I hated the way he spent money and turned many of the other sports markets in this country into a small market that cannot compete. How will you remember him and his impact on baseball?

Tom Boswell: Well, if Billy isn't in hell, then there isn't one.

So, you'll have to figure out if they've met yet.

They really did hate/need eachother. Saw the Post chat comment the other day that George thought Billy was a thug and Billy thought George was a spoiled meddling rich kid. But George needed a raise-hell manager for his rich players and Billy needed to be a Yankee more than most people need water.

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Long Island, NY: Tom, What do you attribute Phil Mickelson's poor British Open record. He's won the Master's and the PGA, and he's contended many times at the US Open, but he never seems to contend at the British. Is it the rough, greens, and wind, or is it a biorhythm thing based on the time of the year?

Maybe after the US Open he should just move to the UK for a month. Pete Sampras never won a French Open, but he did put everything he had into it.

Tom Boswell: Among other things, Phil hits the ball high. Bad in the wind. lso, the Bitish greens tend to be slower. Phil's master on fast greens. And maybe he doesn't like the cold.

But, even so, shouldn't explain why he's been so utterly awful __one third and no others in the top 10.

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Arlington, Va: Boz--a friend just sent me this--an exchange with the Pirates beat writer:

Tim: Who has the best work habits (works hardest away from the public eye) on the Pirates?

Dejan Kovacevic: This is a lame answer, Tim, but this is a really hard-working group. If you think about it, that makes sense, as very few of them could possibly feel secure in being on a major-league roster.

The one I'd single out for people in this answer, and just because it might surprise some given his history, is Milledge. Guy never stops, never complains, just keeps working. I have no idea about the player who was in New York or D.C., but I've never seen that version.

Tom Boswell: If so, and I hope it is, just proves the value of the famous Wake Up Call. I hope Lastings got it. He was fun to be around, but just seemed to be in love with his own talent, while simultaneously, wasting a lot of it.

That's it for this week. Thanks agin.

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Bethesda, Md.: Last night I caught the segment of Ken Burns' baseball re Willie Mays. In once again watching Mays' swing, fielding and perhaps most of all, his base running, I had the feeling that I was witnessing a player for the ages, one who was truly unique and one whose like we have not seen since and are unlikely to do so in the future. Now I must admit I am unabashed Mays fan who cried when Stoneham moved the Giants west. But, am i wrong in my assessment that Mays was one of a kind and that his skills, flair and his enthusiasm for the game was unprecedented?

Tom Boswell: Mays is still the best I ever saw.

If Ichiro in his prime had been a step faster, played CF, carried 25 pounds more muscle, had hands twice as big and hit 660 home runs, he'd be Mays.

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