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Nyjer Morgan, Redskins, Stephen Strasburg, and more -- Ask Boswell

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online to take all your questions about the Nyjer Morgan brawl, Rob Dibble's comments, the Redskins preseason game against Arizona, Stephen Strasburg's surgery and more.

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Nyjer: Your take?: At first, I thought Nyjer was just losing it: going off the deep end.

Then, after reading the quotes from the Marlins in Kilgore's article, I was more sympathetic. Apparently, they (Marlins) were annoyed by Nyjer, particularly because he stole two bases, and decided to throw at him again! That is completely uncalled for and I see why Nyjer was furious. Thoughts?

Tom Boswell: My first reaction to the last several days of off-the-rail behavior from Morgan __on top of everything else this season from the inside-the-park tantrum to the seven-day pending suspension for hitting a Phils fan with a thrown ball__ was: bench him, suspend him or release him, but get him out of my sight.

I'm still not too far from there. I thought it was clear that his play against the Cards Anderson was more than "unprofessional." It was an attempt to be dirty that failed. So, the Marlins were already watching him. Then he puts their catcher out for the season with another borderline dirty play. Every fan makes their own call on those two plays. It's a judgment. I'd say, "Way too close to dirty." And if I were on the other team, I'd probably say, "Are you kidding? Absolutely dirty. And he HURT our guy. We're going to get him. And he deserves it."

Perhaps because he's a little guy who thinks of himself as an underdog who has no other way to make it in MLB, Morgan feels that he can never back down. But, recently, that's been a disaster. After he was hit, and not hurt, he immediately stole two bases. That's like being told to sit in the corner by the teacher, then making faces at her behind her back. You are not taking your deserved punishment. So, you have to be punished again. Yes, childish. But that's Morgan __childish. He's charming when it works, like "Tony Plush," "Jeezus" and the silver Elvis wig. He's a pain and a danger to his terammates when it doesn't work.

The 20th best player on a team can't make himself the center of everything every day for more than a week. Riggleman already had to appologize to the Cards, bench Morgan and call him unprofessional in the St. Louis series to prevent a brawl in THAT game. Then last night it happened. Did you noltice that Ryan Zimmerman was given the day off? They probably/maybe didn't want him in the middle of it.

But look who was out there risking injury to defend Morgan who was probably 70-80-90% wrong. Espinosa, in his first game in the majors, is right in the pile. Livan Hernandez, just days after getting a contract extension, is grabbing people. And Adam Dunn, the guy sholuld have been in the dugout filing his nails or watching cable TV in the clubhouse. They won't offer him a contract. They're treated him like a non-person all year in his walk season. And where was he? Risking injury as much as anyboldy (except Pat Listch) by pushing right into the middle of the scrum __like the seas parting. He grabbed a Marlin player off the Morgan-Listach pile, flipped the guy over backwards like he was a rag dog. But in the process, Dunn fell down, too. Then he gets into a finger-pointing thing with the Marlins manager. Does he get drilled when they play in DC next weekend? You'd think the big guy's heart was 100% Nat, contract or not. Well, actually, it is. Hey, Big Dunn-key, way to go. But if Nyjer starts another fight, let him finish it alone.

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Section 215 Row A: It strikes me that the Nationals are being a little thin-skinned in their dismissal of Dibble. He is entitled to an occasional moronic comment isn't he? Controversy is good for the ratings isn't it?

Tom Boswell: It's fascinating how personal everybody's reaction is to a home-team TV announcer. That's because it's like inviting somebody over to your house for three hours 81 times every year! If he's great company __by your standards__ you love him and he becomes a reason to follow the team, turn on the game. But if he's not, if, over time, he annoys you or insults your intelligence or if he just drives you nuts for reasons you can't put your finger on, then he really spoils the experience and, if it gets bad enough, you finally turn off the sound. (Or maybe don't even watch the game.)

Last year, I was 50-50 on Dibble and there were times when he really spiced it up. But, over time, it got to the point, byt the middle of this season, that I just couldn't stand to hear him say one more word. And I turned off the sound. He's gone now. No need to illustrate. It was his "opinions" that bothered me, just the enormous percentage of the time when what he said was __top my thinking__ flat wrong, uninformed or just bad baseball thinking.

So, for me, it's a relief that he's gone. But plenty loved him. That's ALWAYS the way it is with controversial announcers. If he was canned for one controversial comment on one subject, then that's wrong. If he was fired because the Strasburg comments were the last straw, then that's fine. I'll bet it was the later. But can't prove it.

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Olney, MD: Why did they give RZimm the night off last night? I remember they've done it at least one other time. He's a strong, young guy. And they need his bat. Why, Bos?

Tom Boswell: Z'man was something like 11-for-16 off the starting pitcher Volstad. He hits better in Florida than any other park. He hit a ball that broke a light on the facing of the upper deck earlier in the series. And they had a day off today.

Do you think maybe part of the reason was to keep him out of the brawl they assumed might be coming? Again, they'd say, "No way." I'd say, "Way."

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Navy Yard: Isn't it time to say goodbye to Nyjer Morgan? What happens if a team decides to retaliate against his reckless play by throwing at Ryan Zimmerman? What happens if Ian Desmond gets hurt in one of these brawls triggered by his crazy actions?

Tom Boswell: The Nats plan to look into all the possible explanations for his recent behavior, I would assume.

Sometimes the sport, when you're having a bad season, just becomes a mountain on top of your that feels like its crushing your life, killing your future. And people snap. Or show the worst sides of themselves. Or just "get lost" in all the emotions eating at them. For now, from those I've talked to, that's the way the Nats are leaning. But Morgan has gotten so out of control that you have to show proper concern for him but also for the team. You can't have a guy, who'd be a 4th or 5th outfielder on a good team __if he was on the team at all__ getting seven minutes at the top of Sports Center. And you can't risk a pattern of brawls or a list of teams with whom you have bad blood. Cards (maybe) and Marlins (for sure) is already too long a list.

It's hard to believe that a guy who seemed to have a perfect sparkplug attitude last year, and real gifts as a leadoff man and defensive CFer, can fall this far this fast. Last week, Mike Rizzo said, "The real player is probably somewhere in-between last year and this year."

If so, that player is just good enough that you don't want to give up on him too soon. As a Nat, before last night, Morgan had completed the equivalent of one full 160-game season as a Nat: 630 at bats-86 runs-180-22-9-1-32 rbi-.286-.341-.354 with 55 steals in 77 attempts and 42 walks vs. 100 K. Just good enough that you don't want to give him away or give up on him. Just mediocre enough that, if he does One More Thing maybe you just release him and say, "We told you over and over to get yourself under control. You didn't. We're sorry. We like you. But goodbye."

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Ted Lilly: I know he's a veteran with a big contract and he would rather go to a contender, but should the Nats have at least considered putting in a waiver bid on him? Seems like he could be a good stabilizer/veteran presence guy on the staff.

Tom Boswell: If, by a miracle, you can get a star pitcher in tarde or (and it will never happen) Cliff Lee, then do it. But Lilly, no.

Next year, you have Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Livan H, Marquis (who'll probably be back to his normal useful .500 self) and Maya (0.79 ERA in 12 IP at AAA and coming up to replace Olsen in the rotation __I sure hope__ next week). Also, Detwiler if he produces. And the rest of the nusual suspects. That's plenty. You don't need to pay the high ;price of mediocrity.

You need to sign Dunn, that's what you need to do.

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Rockville, MD: Hi Boz, I was really struck by this comment on Nats Journal last night: "I didn't want to be the first one to invoke the name 'Jimmy Piersall.' But, man, that's been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. Hope the Nats are offering Nyjer at least a fraction of the care and support that they've extended to Strasburg."

I guess the team would be less likely to say somebody's going to see Dr. Melfi than Dr. James Andrews, but goodness, Nyjer's new hostility is really troubling, and I have been wondering where it came from. Any thought?

Tom Boswell: I saw that comment last night, too. (Really a great long all-night-and-into-today discussion on Nats Journal last night. Proves how on-line journalism and reader participation really can invent a new valuable venue.)

As far as I understand it, the Nats do NOT think "Jimmy Piersall." But as one TV commentator said last night after showing the fight footage, "This young man may have some issues."

My wife listened to the story and said, "Maybe they ought to give him a new nickname, like that character in the TV commercial: "I'm Mayhem."

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Singapore: Hi Tom, one of your biggest fans living in SE Asia, but disappointed since the Nats arrived that I don't get to see your write about the O's much anymore. What do you think of their chances for improvement in 2011 and is the young pitchers the saviors they have been touted to be? Also a golf question....who is struggling more with their game right now Tiger or smilin Phil?

Tom Boswell: Despite last night's implosion, it's certainly nice to have two teams on TV that are worth watching and have a future. Partly because they are in the N.L. East, not A.L. East, the Nats have a much better chance to actually win something __especially in the '13-'14-'15'-16 window when they have (assuming he recovers, and I do assume it) Strasburg, Z'mann, Z'man, Harper, Desmond, Ramos, Espinosa, Storen, Bernadina, Dunn (ha), etc. But the Orioles revival is what I was talking about earlier this year. But there Sept sked is tough. They may flatten out. Avoiding 100 loses is still the goal. Buck is a blast. He has theories on everything: "Never draft a player with blue eyes." He's so all-baseball it's hard to tell if he's joking or not.

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washingtonpost.com: Nationals Journal - Nyjer Morgan's long week and thoughts on the brawl

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Dunn: Bos, what do you make of this notion that the Nats need to sign Dunn to keep people coming to the park? Do people really come or not come to games based on a single slugger? Certainly, you'd go see a guy like Bonds or McGwire back in the juiced-ballplayer era, because it was just an amazing show. But I consider myself to be a baseball fan, but I would not, for instance, go to the park just to see Pujols or Ryan Howard or, uh, Jose Bautista (And what is the deal with his crazy breakthough, anyway? is JOSE BAUTISTA Spanish for BRADY ANDERSON?).

Tom Boswell: Good point. But you do go to the game hoping to see a team that could actually score more than two runs. And when you have Zimmerman and Dunn together, plus Willingham, etc., then you have a chance to see a fun competitive game. And when you are behind early 3-0, the game isn't over. Dunn has driven in more than that in one game several times this season.

Right now, assuming it isn't too late already to sign him, the Nats are having a classic "Internal Debate" about Dunn. But it's been going on all year.

One Nat decision maker, everytime I say "Dunn," responds by saying, "I'm going to get myself a T-shirt made that says, 'Choir,' because when you talk to me about extending him that's who you are preaching to."

I think they've been crazy not to sign him. I tell 'em, "I'll volunteer to speak in 2030 when Dunn finishes with 600 homers __6th on the all-time honest-slugger list after Aaron, Ruth, Pujols, Mays and Griffey__ and gets into Cooperstown in his fifth year on the ballot."

Hey, after this year, he'll only need 240 more homers and he's still just 30 with no history of injury to any part of his 275-pound body. And now he's a 1st basemen where your chances of getting hurt are even less. I'd sign him for four years, through age 34, maybe get to celebrate his 500th homer in '14, and have no "age risk" from 35 on. And he's STILL tradeable to the A.L. as a DH in those years if he shows wear. He'd understand and OK it. Oh, well.

Bill James has a Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards measuring stick that's semi-infallible for telling who'll make the Hall. After this season, Dunn will look like he has a better than 50-50 chance by both those metrics. Neither Reggie Jackson nor Harmon Killebrew aged particulalrly gracefully. Both ended up at DH for about 500 games at the end of their careers. But they were very productive from 31-34. And if Dunn duplicates their #'s after age 30, he'll have>600 homers,>1700 RBI.

But what the Nats are going through is an honest sensible discussion. Sure, partly it's money, but money-for-value. You can spend that $42M/3-yr on somebody else and get the compensation picks, too. Also, Rizzo wants the team to have a cohesive pitching-and-defense identity so the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Think of a defense with Ramos, Mr. X at 1st, Espinosa, Desmond, Z'man, Bernadina (in left), maybe Morgan/Mr. Z and Harper. That's above-avergae to GG almost everywhere. (Harper has a big RF arm.) Do you want Dunn undermining that mix? I don't think he would hurt it much. I prefer the 40-105. But a case can be made that less offense and better defense at 1st would create better total chemistry.

I don't buy it.

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Morgan 55 for 77?: I didn't realize it was that bad. That's a 71% success rate. I have heard that you got to steal successfully at an 80% rate not to be detriment to your team's offense.

Tom Boswell: No, 66% is considered break even. 71% is okay, especially if it disrupts other teams and helps you win the 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 games when top pitchers shut down your big hitters and you have to manufacture a run out of next to nothing.

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Gaithersburg, MD: Between Tony Plush's antics, Dibble's dismissal and Strasburg's surgery, how did a season that started out so pleasant turn so ugly?

I don't think anyone was expecting a pennant run, but it honestly seemed like the organization was taking big steps forward. And now it looks like the whole club is regressing.

Dunn or bust.

Tom Boswell: The Nats have two less wins than all of last year and more than a month until Oct. 3 to surpass that 59 total. And they did it with Lannan and Marquis, their two top pitchers (supposedly) useless or worse until recently.

They have improved __in the present. But they have improved a ton __for the future. Strasburg turned lout to be as good as thought. Man, that was no gimme. Z'mann looks like he;s going to make it all the way back. In one year, it looks like you've found or traded for long-term regulars in Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos, Storen, probably (at worst) a Bernadina/Morse platoon at one OF position.

Did you see Espinosa in his first inning in the big leagues. He turned a bad-hop grounder to second base into a head-first RBI double. Never saw anybody go home-to-second base much faster. Perfect technique. Then he came within inches of turning an unbelievable DP at 2nd. His arm really IS bedtter than Desmond's, like Rizzo said. Ray Knight almost lost his mind. "That kid has a CANNON." And, yes, with Knight I can now turn the sound on my TV back on.

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Section 215 Row A: I used to be mystified by the Nationals efforts to keep giving Bernadina chances. I can now see that they were correct to do so. But now I am equally mystified by their efforts concerning Maxwell. Will I be proven wrong again?

Tom Boswell: Rizzo was always big on Bernadina. I didn't get it. Now I do. Can he hit LH pitching? Don't know. Nothing wrong with a fine platoon player. In>490 ABs, Bernadina and Morse have 20 homers, 66 RBI and are hitting about .280.

Just a bit more to add on that previous question about "progress in '10." Has there been enoughj/

Hard to believe all the under-the-radar changes in the Nats in the last couple of years. Player development __below the superstar level__ is like a handful of lottery tickets. The more you have, the better your chances. Now, guys like Chico and Martis can have nice AAA years and not even get in the conversation. Sinkerballer Josh Wilkie at AAA __1.72 ERA, great GO/Ao ratio, 1 HR in 68 innings and perfect gradual minor-league development__ will probably be called up, too. I hope so.

Now the Nats actually have pitchers with obvious MLB stuff __Detwiler and Balester, both 24, and even Mock__ and they can wait to see if "the light goes on." If it does, you've added a puzzle piece. If not, that ticket didn't pan out. But now, at least, they're in the game.

And they always seem to have a Plan B. They aimed for Pudge and got him. Don't get Chapman, then get Maya. (Now Ted lerner will see that when his people say, "This guy is worth $25M," he'll see that he's getting good advice. Too bad the Reds went to $30M.) Don't get Wagner, get Capps and turn him into Ramos. Don't get Garland, get Marquis. (Win some, lose some. He may still help next year.) Need insurance, resign Olsen and Livan. Take a flier: Add Wang. And the industry really thinks that, below Harper, they had an excellent draft, full of above-slot grabs.

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NW DC: Really? It's an unwritten rule that you can't steal a base after a pitcher intentionally hits you? That's preposterous. The Marlins look as petty as anyone in this episode.

Tom Boswell: Actually, I'm not sure Morgan did much wrong last night __except beating his chest as he came off the field. It's everything that he di BEFORE last night that helped PRODUCE last night that's quite a problem pattern.

The Marlins hit three Nats, including Morgan, then threw behind Morgan. Well, come on, lets go! At that point you've got to have a fight. The Nats are too placid a team. That won't hurt them at all, assuming three guys don't show up injnured before tomorrow's game in Pitts.

As for Morgan's steals, yes, he was giving the bird to the Fish. But I liked Riggleman standing up for him and saying, "Nobody is going to tell us when we can and can't run."

How much of what Rig said after the game was True Feelings and how much backing up your players and putting the best face on things. I'm going with 60-40 at the most.

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Espinosa: Wow, nice debut for the kid! Like his attitude and LOVE that ARM!

Tom Boswell: It happens every September __with actual real MLB teams. TYhey call up 2-3-4 players who might be the breal thing and fans fall in love with at least one of 'em real fast.

Lets see, a switch-hitting middle infielder with above average power and speed for his position, a hell-for-leather attitude, a huge arm and...Looks like a No. 2 hitter.

Lets not get too carried away. His minor league OPS wasn't as high as Desmond's in his last year in the bushes.

Uhhh, Desmond looks like a No. 2 hitter, too.

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Lexington, KY: Since you brought it up, what is the status of Wang? Will he ever pitch as a Nat?

Tom Boswell: Not this year. Still "throwing off a mound." Maybe the Nats, who already gave him $2M this year, will offer him a much smaller amount to stsy with them next year and see if he can make the comeback in '11. He should be appreciative. They'd probably like to do it. But not at anywhere near $2M. I'd go maybe $600K on that lottery ticket. Nobody else wanted him much at all last year. IMO, if offered, he oughta grab it.

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Sec 114, Row E: Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus does the math and says the needed Stolen Base success rate needs to be closer to 75%.

Tom Boswell: Thanks. Another opinion.

The stats guys would like to play the game with everybody wearing a ball and chain when they run the bases.

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Fairfax Station, VA (again): Michael Morse is only twenty-eight and without question the most unexpected and pleasant surprise of the this past season. Why does he get zero respect from all the sports writters and is not considered as a one of the keys to the Nationals winning in the future?

Tom Boswell: This month, I want Morgan out of sight and Morse and Bernadina in the starting lineup everyday. They've earned the time. He's earned the pine.

_______________________

Dunn: What are the odds that the Nats resign Big Bad Dunn? Less than 50%? If he actually hits free agency do they drop below 5%?

Tom Boswell: "Yes" on both.

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The Other Zim: Consider me a believer, now if we can only get him and Strasburg healthy at the same time. Livan, Marquis, maybe Lannan or Wang, sign me up.

Tom Boswell: "I don't know how we could possible feel better about him after that start," said one Nat.

Actually, if all goes as it usually does with TJ surgery, Strasburg's sked will be about two weeks behind Z'mann's this year. That means he'd getting 10 minor league starts next July and August and is back in the rotation next September. He's going to be in the conversation, if not on the mound, a lot sooner than most think.

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Bethesda: Isn't it time to end the Scott Olsen experiment? There have to be better options for the Nats than him.

Tom Boswell: Yes, certainly for this season. Right now, there are a lot of better options. Maya should take his next start. Detwiler's still waiting.

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Arlington, VA: Why Dibble why. Outside of Gus Johnson, there is not another person I would rather have making the call than Dibble. Its been a mostly boring and depressing season (except for a couple glimpses of hope) and he was a major reason to tune in.

The Marlins announcers, by the way, completely overreacted to a fight their team provoked. They all but wanted to have Nyjer placed on the do not fly list as a threat to society.

Tom Boswell: Ha!

I saw Dibble's statement this a.m. He said his comments on Strasburg were "inappropriate and disrespectful."

At one level, that shows how ridiculous this all is. Isn't that what's on his business card? "Rob Dibble: Inappropriate and Disrespectful Announcer"

At least you can say he's one announcer who can really roll up his sleaves.

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Dibble: I hope the first person to call him and tell him to shut up was Jose Rijo, a brilliant pitcher who was washed up at 30 because he tried to pitch through elbow pain.

Tom Boswell: Rijo had Tommy John surgery 4 __f-o-u-r__ times.

That's the record.

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Aroldis Chapman: So what's the assessment of Aroldis Chapman's throwing motion? Any red flags that he's headed for a Strasburg-type blowout? And from a technical, physics standpoint, where's he getting those extra couple miles per hour from?

Tom Boswell: It's really important to be able to say, "I wish I knew. But I have no idea. Seek an informed opinion elsewhere."

"Pitching mechanics" is a lifetime subject. And then you'll just find out that Mike Marshall disagrees with everything you say. And he might be right.

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Washington, DC: Is McNabb OK?? Will he be in the Dallas game?

Tom Boswell: I think Donovan will start. As I've written, I think he'll be ones of many, many good-to-great quarterbacks who were traded when they were 31-to-34 and went on to have SEVERAL more outstanding seasons.

My 2 cents is that McNabb will have a longer and better time as Redskin QB than most people think. But will that good performance start against Dallas in his first game in a new offensive system with a gimpy ankle?

Big-time players rise to the moment. Really looking forward to the Opener. But then I actually do hate the Cowboys. I was in line at a Verizon cell phone store the other day and the guy next to me said he was a Cowboys fan. I offered my condolences and asked whether I should send flowers or a contribution to a favorite charity.

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Stats and your eyes: A few quick Qs from baseball and golf:

Which is more surprising, Jeter's rejuvenation in 2009 or his decline in 2010?

Who will be performing at a high level later, Jeter or Rivera?

Is Rivera the MVP of the last 15 seasons, or is his value only that high in the playoffs, when he can perform in such a higher percentage of innings?

Is Phil Mickelson's record in majors the product of randomness? Clearly he's very good. But he's not consistently great.

How much of putting at the PGA level is random variation?

washingtonpost.com: From Slate: Moneygolf: Will new statistics unlock the secrets of golf?

Tom Boswell: Nice questions. I may think on 'em and answer more next week.

I've been a little shocked at how far and fast Jeter has fallen this year. Maybe a one-year jump like Stan Musial at age 41 in '62 with more normal career deterioration on either side. No, Jeter is nearly that old yet. But the Yanks need him to play young in October. Can he?

Rivera is the miracle of the age. I will never write him off __even after he is retired. He's the most valuable post-season player in history. To a team like the Yankees that only values world titles __and that's all they should value with their huge unfair money advanatge__ no one is close to his total value. However, if you are measuring the other 29 teams in baseball, I'd rather have 15-20 years of Pujols for 160 games with a GG at 1st base than 15-20 years of Rivera.

I'll look forward to reading the "Moneygolf." Thanks.

About done here. One more.

_______________________

Blacksburg: Who do you have for the VT/Boise State game and the MD/Navy game?

Tom Boswell: I'll take VT and Navy.

Talk about conflict. My son is a Md grad. We lived 1000 yards from the Navy football stadium for 10 years, I admire the program and they play a variation of the same offense we had in high school back in the Iron Age. Sat down with Dobbs last year and asked him to diagram a few triple option plays. They'd barely changed.

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Fortaleza, Brazil: Come on, go out on a limb: who do you think, as of now (always subject to change), will meet in the World Series, and who do you think will be in the Super Bowl? I'll go out on a limb and say that neither the Nationals or Redskins will be involved.

Tom Boswell: Well, ya pretty much gotta answer the questions from Fortaleza, Brazil:

I'll exclude the Yanks from the discussion on moral grounds and go with the Rays (who really are very, very good) and the Padres because they get no respect.

Subject to several revisions in the next six weeks!

Super Bowl? Lets wait until the season starts. The Skins won't be there, but I plan to enjoy the battle for 7-9 or 8-8. If they can do better, more power.

See you all next week. Thanks.

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