Giants win World Series, Redskins bench McNabb, more -- Ask Boswell

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 12:00 PM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online to take all your questions about the Giants victory in the World Series, the Donovan McNabb controversy and more.

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No DC World Series or Super Bowl Ever: Given the now-obligatory downtown rioting after winning a major sports title (even if it was "isolated" in SF that's still a lot of property destruction), a part of me kind of hopes that DC never has to suffer through that. I understand that the sports media gets to roundly condemn the "fan" behavior after-the-fact, but that doesn't avoid the cost of the riot police, the property damage and the injuries. Man, I feel old. There's no solution, is there?

Tom Boswell: The problem is smaller than it was in the '80's when the damage was extensive in Milwaukee, Detroit and other towns after the Series and other major events. It was actually frightening to leave the last game of a Series. It was like a bad guys convention and "open season" on looting, etc. I haven't seen the criminally-oriented motorcycle gangs show up in more than 20 years. I think the police, teams, etc., have learned how to do a decent job. But it is amazing that "happiness" can bring out so much damage.

Big public celebrations are "cover" for a small number of people to go crazy and let their demons out. It's always been that way. Yankee Stadium has never been a problem. Fenway was a major bad in '04. Don't know who was worse __ the non-fans there to make trouble or the cops who were out of control at times. Phillie was a problem in '08, but not anymore since they got used to winning. Interesting.


Baltimore, MD: Wasn't pulling McNabb with 1:50 to go in a "still-winnable" game a colossal blunder? Regardless of outcome, it shows a clear lack of faith in McNabb (either his ability or his conditioning, perhaps both). It also shows that the coaches still don't appreciate how awful the OL is (or at least how awful it was playing that day). So how do they rescue the situation "going forward," as the ugly phrase puts it?

Tom Boswell: Those are some of my feelings, too. I've tried to see the Shanahan side, but so far I can't find it under the rubble.

I watched the tape twice yesterday. The offensive line was awful. Granted, the D-line is Detroit's strength, bt it really exposed the Redskins O-line. McNabb's ability to avoid the rush, go 17-for-31 for 209 and only 1 INT was remarkable. How he managed to generate two TD's and two FG's deserves praise, not a benching. What game was Shanahan watching? McNabb has had poor games. That was one of his GOOD ones. Except for the late interception __which lost the game__ I'd say it was a really fine game for a QB who was getting killed. The idea that he had a "cardio" problem is ridiculous. Shanahan should look at the film. (Oh, he has and made that excuse anyway.) McNabb's in much better shape than he was last year. I hope Shanahan wasn't just reacting to the terrible pick. I doubt it.

It's a shock that the Skins can add a coach as fine as Shanahan and a QB as good as McNabb and, after eight games, there is a legit controversy between THEM!

If you were McNabb, would you want to resign with the Skins? And do the Shanahans want him to?


Washington, D.C.: Tom, In baseball, when a star pitcher (Sabathia, Lee, Lincecum, etc.) has a bad outing, the manager won't hesitate to pull the starter even after a few innings and try a long reliever. Star basketball players will also get benched if they're having a rough night. Why is there such a cultural difference in the NFL where benching a star quarterback who is having an admittedly poor game creates such drama and perceived disrespect?

Tom Boswell: There just is. And always has been. In baseball, the "confidence" issue shows up with the closer. The psychological damage to a baseball teams when it starts blowing 9th inning leads is enormous. So, when the manager changes closers or goes to closer-by-committee or does anything to show a lack of confidence, it sends a chill through the entire team.

But in the NFL, the QB issue is a multiple of the impact of the out-of-favor closer. I was in Dallas, following the game on and assumed McNabb was hurt. I was as amazed as everybody else to learn that he wasn't.


Arlington, VA: What are your thoughts on the Shanahan father/son relationship and its complicating the McNabb situation. There is something odd going on here and my gut increasingly says that the father is protecting his son. The comments about Grossman being better prepared and the pointless insults about McNabb's conditioning make me think he won't say what the real reason is.

Tom Boswell: The expression "blod is thicker than water" has deep roots.

What amazes me is that somebody as football smart as Shanahan would open up such a problem for himself for no apparent reason. There is a what's-really-going-on-here element that I can't ever remember with a Redskins controversy. Nobody doubts that Shanahan's offense works. Nobody, that I know, doubts that Kyle is qualified to be offensive coordinator. He earned the job. So why blow everything up?

Also, the Redskins schedule, which looked so tough at the beginning of the year, is looking more manageable. This hapens every year as you find out which teams are really good as opposed to just good on paper. And you start to find out who's going to get killed by injuries, etc. Look at the point differentials of the team's left on the Skins sked, not just their records. Only Tennessee (224-150) is impressive. The Vikes and Cowboys are in big trouble. (I want to scream every time I hear Favre's name. I'm so sick of that guy. Just retire. But less than a year ago I was as psyched as anybody about his comeback with the Vikes. Strange how fast you can blow up your reputation.)

Some other point differentials of future Skins foes. ampa Bay (136-163) despite a 5-2 record and Jacksonville 165-226 despite a 4-4 record.

As long as you have a semi-happy McNabb at QB, no big controversies, this is still a team that might find a way to get to 9-7 and make the playoffs. Assoon as Haynesworth starts playing better and that problem seems sort of solved, not you have a bigger one. Wel, it'll be fascinating.


Millersville, MD: During the Series broadcasts, Tim McCarver consistently commented that players with a 3-1 count against a good pitcher should "take the next pitch and force him to throw two strikes." Doesn't that contradict what your early-season research about how crucial the second strike is? Or is there an exception when you're facing a Lincecum or a Lee?

Tom Boswell: Nice point. Conventional wisdom is that you make him throw two strikes. But with great control pitchers, like Lee, that changes. ou're going to have to hit. So,if the 3-1 is a good pitch, go after it. If you swing and miss, you aren't out and have another chance.

With Lincecum, who does such a good job of starting his pitches in the strike zone, then getting them to break outside it, I'd say that 'taking' on 3-1 is a much better ideas. Some teams have meetings and discuss how to attack a particular pitcher. I doubt the Rangers do. They feel more like a team with different hitting styles __to each his own.


Crystal City, VA: The storyline goes like this. "The Giants grew their pitching and bought their bats. They had an excellent manager who utilized a bunch of cast-offs and no-names to produce wins in the second half of the season and post-season, when it mattered. Good pitching beat good hitting." Yada yada yada. If it's that simple, why doesn't every team do it?

Tom Boswell: The theory really is that simple. The execution, and the luck, involved in getting it to work is the problem.

For example, Aubrey Huff was considered to be a poor clubhouse influence in Baltimore. Thought he was a star because he'd had 100 RBI a couple of times and that they should be lucky to have such a wonderful hitter on their losing team. Now he gets to SF, after having no contract offers last winter except the Giants, and he's reunited __at mid-season__ with an old college buddy Pat Burrell and he seems to be an excellent "clubhouse guy." How on earth does that work? If you could actually explain the "human chemistry" of 25 people, plus coaches, manager, front office, you could probably rule the world.

The Nats are certainly going the same path of "grow the pitching and buy the bats." (But they probably could have bought Dunn's bat for three years at mid-season but didn't do it. You need to be consistent.)

The Orioles ar doing a nice job of growing arms. You'll be surprised how much difference one big (purchased) bat in the middle of that lineup would improve them. If they can get it done.

When you look at the teams that have made the Series in the last 10 years, it really does show that, if you can just get your foot in the door of the playoffs, you can get to the Series. In the case of the wonderfully awful Cards, you can even win it!

This is another reason why it's important for the Nats to get to .500 by '12 when Strasburg returns. From .500 as a launch point, good things can happen in one year with the right moves, the right luck or both. But from 69-93, you can have a season when "everything" falls in place and the result is 86-76. And you probably don't even make the playoffs in most seasons. Then the next year you aren't so fortunate and fall back again.


Sec 114, Row E: So, Riggleman says that the Nats may compete in mid-2012... is that going to help the Nats sell tickets in 2011?

Tom Boswell: No.

But it may reflect Mike Rizzo's desire to have an organization that is more candid with its fans than Kasten was. Stan had a lot of salesman in him. And he was optimistic by nature. Rizzo just has very little "baseball baloney" in him and that encourages others, who understand the game, like Riggleman, to be more sane in their comments. Rizzo can really judge talent. And he knows the Nats have a long way to go. And it takes time to see the final product in players like Espinoza, Desmond, Ramos, Bernadina, Storen, Morris, etc. They are not going to be as good in '11 as they will be in '12 and they probably won't be as good as they'll get until '13 or '14. Look up the careers of a dozen good players. (Chase Utley comes to mind.) A few reach their peak very quickly. Most don't.

The company line for an MLB team gets set at the top. In Kasten and Bowden, you had guys who "sold" everybody on the best possible scenario, including themselves. You had to discount what they said. That's not Rizzo. If anthing, he might undersell.

I'd rather buy my tickets, or not buy them, based on an honest evaluation of the team, rather than salesmanship.


Cabin John, MD.: Hi, Boz - On Tuesday, I was amazed to see Rex Grossman, a backup qb, looking at the camera and saying of Donovan, "He knows he's not playing his best." I've never heard of such a thing. At least #5 can take a hit and hold onto the ball. What do you think of this? Is he speaking for Jr. Shanahan?

Tom Boswell: Grossman looked amazed and shocked to find himself in the game. The sideline shots of the last 3:00 when you watch the replays are amazing. Shanny whispers to McNabb that he's out. Rex tries to get loose in a micro-second. The Shannys look excited at their great idea. Then the sack-fumble-six __exactly what such a lousy decision deserved__ and Shanahan is looking at the jumbo screen hoping for a reversal. Then reality hits him. Everybody gets to read his face their own way. What I saw was: "Boy, did I screw up. How am I going to spin this mess."

Just one note. Shanahan won his last Super Bowl in the '98 season. He had several good seasons in Denver after that, but not much post-season success. The NEXT year, in '99, McNabb came into the NFL. He's taken the Eagles to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. So, you have a great Coach of the '90's, whose stock dropped considerably until he was fired in Denver, yanking a star QB of the '00's.

You have to love the Skins as theater. Meanwhile, Jason Campbell's QB ratings the last three years are now 84.3, 86.4 and now 82.5 in Oakland where he's won back the job from Bruce Gradkowski (71.1) Ganted, Campbell is just average. Is it possible that the Raiders, who have outscored the league by 44 points and are 4-4, are a little better now than the Redskins?

Do the Rams (4-4) and Lions (much better than their 2-5 record), with their young high-pick QB's, have a better future than the Skins? Things sure can change fast in 14 months in the NFL.


Home grown pitching: It is the hardest thing to do in baseball. "Money Ball" Billy Beane was a genius when he had Mulder, Zito and Hudson. Now, not so much.

Tom Boswell: Young pitchers will drive you crazy.

Example: If Ross Detwiler, a No. 6 overall draft pick, were 35 pounds bigger, he'd be a lot like Madison Bumgarner, a No. 10 overall pick. (But he isn't.) Both throw across their body, though Detwiler more. At their best, Bumgarner probably throws 2 m.p.h. faster. But Bumgerner, drafted out of high school, filled out to 215 pounds and developed a wonderful changeup. Detwiler never got bigger and has hip problems.

Will the Nats' Zimmermann or the O's Tillman turn out to be Matt Cain in 2-3 years? Their stuff is very similar (if Z'mann gets back to full strength by next spring). But nobody can really tell you.

Nobody in Texas, except Nolan Ryan, though C.J. Wilson could go from a reliever to a starter. But he did. What if Tyler Clippard, who began as a starter, or Storen were switched to being a starter? Would it work? Or just blow up their arms (and your improved bullpen.)

The Rangers got Colby Lewis from the Hiroshima Carp. The Nats got Maya from Cuba. Lewis is a post-season hero. Maya looks disappointing, so far. I promise you that in February plenty of teams wanted Maya and only the Rangers wanted Lewis. Baseball is pitching. And pitching is a mystery.


Rockville: Got any good Sparky Anderson stories to warm the broken hearts of us Cincinnati (or Detroit) natives?

Tom Boswell: Rockville,

Very sorry to hear about Sparky.

For me, he deserved more than "stories," though I know you mean that well. I talked to him a million times from '75 to '95. He was the same person everyday __a wonderful person. He could be tough when he needed to be with players. But he was just a good strong man and his players respected it. He was funny. He could tell great stories. He always had that "twinkle." He never seemed down. Or if he was, he'd say, "I'm kinda down today. Sorry." He put everybody else first, then worried about himself. He loved the game and felt an enormous responsibility to it.

For a utility man to be able to control a clubhouse with Rose, Morgan, Benchand Perez was amazing. He handled stars as well as any manager ever __yet he'd never been one, except as a manager. He'll be known as "Captain Hook" for using so may relievers. I'll remember him as the manager that I most looked forward to meeting every single time I encountered him. Not an iota of malice or anger. Always wanted to talk baseball. Remembered everybody. Thougt the best of everybody. (Not a bad flaw, since we all have to have 'em.) He once told me, "Don't worry about Pete's gambling. You can't go broke at the $2 window and that's the only place Pete feels comfortable." (Rose got comfortable at the $100 window, unfortunately.)

Every good thing you hear about Sparky is true. If you hear anything bad, which I doubt, cut it in half.


College Park, Md.: How awful was Pat Burrell in the World Series? That was painful to watch.

Tom Boswell: That's the worst I've ever seen anybody look in the Series. The whole post-season he struck out 50 per cent of the time. Maybe his last K got him over 50%! But it's probably also the most fun Burrell has ever had on a team. He thought his career was over. He thought he'd never be a core figure on a champion. (He was a secondary star on the Phils and he never got along with the town.)

Don't feel bad for him. After he struck out in the seventh inning of Game Five with men on second and third, he grabbed Renteria as they passed in the on deck cirlce and screamed, "Come on, Edgar!" (Of course Renteria homered.)


Washington, DC, Eyestreet: This is why I try to avoid using professional sports, especially our local teams, as a model when I talk to my kids. So much ranting, raving, complaining and criticizing about decisions (Shanahan, McNabb), management (Rizzo, Dunn), performance and attitude (Arenas, Blatche), etc., when the truth is all of the fan moaning stops instantly with winning. It is all about, and only about, winning. Get to 9-7 and Shanahan is a genius. Get 80 wins and Rizzo is brilliant. There is a built-in hypocrisy to professional sports as a model for kids.

Tom Boswell: Unfortunately, I agree completely. I always told my son, "They're just people. No better, no worse. And everybody overeacts to everything."

For example, Shanahan/McNabb. It could be nothing more than "it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ooooops."

But in this case I think it's more.


Pulling the QB in football: Another element, Boz, that doesn't make as much sense unless you played the game in college or NFL is the limited amount of reps that backups get in practice, especially with the first unit.

Most casual fans would be surprised at how few plays get run in a typical "week" (field days) of practice. Of these, the starting QB typically gets +75% of the snaps and walk-throughs. Granted, this doesn't make a huge difference when you're ahead and running the ball, but does make a big difference when behind and throwing it. The plays and routes a coach can call are really limited, and little things like the snap counts and ball exchanges create opportunities for screw-ups that get magnified unless called for.

Tom Boswell: Absolutely true.

This goes all the way down to the high school level. It's just a universal football truism. I covered "highs" for six years for the Post and coaches always told me how terrified they were to switch QBs because it was almost impossible for the 2nd-stringer to have any sense of how to play with the 1st team. Sure, the problem isn't as great for a professional. But it's significant.


No Shanny Kool-Aid Here: What exactly are the Redskins getting from Mike Shanahan?

Compare his situation to Zorn's--he's been empowered, was able to handpick his staff, has a legit GM, has been able to pick his QB and drafted the best O-Lineman in the draft. The results??? A defense that has regressed and an offense that very closely resembles the units of the past few years.

Oh, and he's likely driven the recently-proclaimed "Franchise quarterback" out of town. This guy, I don't know about this guy...

Tom Boswell: A lot of people this week are thinking to themselves, "Mike Shanahan....hmmmmm????"

No coach, who arrives with so much credibility, should want that. But, after the Skins beat the Eagles and MnNabb throws three TD passes, it will all be seen as part of the Motivational Master Plan.


DC: How can it be obvious to me - and you - that Renteria should have been walked, but not Washington? Brain freeze/choke?

Tom Boswell: Cliff Lee is vain about not walking anybody. And Lee is a post-season superstar while Rentria is looked at as an old guy who may retire. Washington may simply not have wanted to irritate Lee or try to make the situation more complex than it was. It's easy to think "Cliff'll get him out."

As I always say, "Lose the right way."

The Rangers lost the wrong way.


Harper...hanging in there: Seems like Harper is holding his own in the AFL against other top prospects. I know this doesn't really translate to being sure fire superstar, but do you think he's a safe bet to make the squad in 2011?

Tom Boswell: I'd like to see his AFL stats. Good that he's coping. No way he makes the '11 team. He NEEDS the minors.


Cliff Lee: So I guess we're not going to be talking about him in hushed tones as the next coming of Koufax or Gibson anymore, huh ?

Tom Boswell: Cliff Lee is a very, very good pitcher. He is not an immortal pitcher. He should get MORE credit, not less, for his 7-0 start as a post-season pitcher.


McLean, VA: Is it just me or has the media gone a little overboard in their interpretation of the McNabb situation. I've watched every down of every game this season. McNabb is great at avoiding sacks and he has a beautiful long ball. But his inaccuracy on short passes is very frustrating and he doesn't seem to have good decision-making. I don't see anything wrong with benching McNabb to send a message. I disagree with the timing of course and the wishywashy excuses provided by Shanahan.

I keep hearing folks in the media saying "McNabb isn't going to want to stay here anymore after being treated like that." #1 - If he's that thin-skinned (which I don't think he is) then he's in the wrong business. #2 - He really hasn't shown me enough at this point to think he's worth signing to a long term deal.

Obviously I don't think Rex Grossman is the answer but I think Shanahan is doing his best to evaluate McNabb and see how he handles certain situations. Maybe he figured this was a good opportunity to see if he could light a fire under him.

Tom Boswell: McLean,

Nothing crazy in anything you say. That's part of why everybody enjoys debating it so much.


Fairfax, VA: Bos,

So the Giants win the Series... this isn't a moneyball team, it's not a homegrown team, it's not a big money player team? Is this some sort of new model for baseball success or just one of those flukes that the baseball gods allow?

Also, what are my Mets going to do to get themselves out of the lower half of the National League East. As we all know, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Please tell me I'm not going to have to suffer through another year of this disaster!

Tom Boswell: Sandy Alderson will help the Mets plenty.

Alderson and Kasten were among the half-dozen logical people who might have become commissioner after Selig. But it's now become clear to insiders (or maybe to everybody) that Bud is in fine health, the owners love him (he made

'em a lot of $$$) and he has no intention of retiring when his contract is up. I talked to a lot of people in the last three weeks about this. Selig will re-up. Write it in stone. The only reason this isn't a news story is that it's entirely a debate between Bud and himself. Until he says it, it's not fact or news. But everybody close to him knows it.

As for the Giants, they are absolutely a homegrown team: Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Sanchez and Posey ARE the team.

That's it for this week. See you in two weeks.


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