Ask Boswell: Hall of Fame, the Nats, more

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online Thursday, Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about baseball, the Redskins, the Wizards and more.

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Tom Boswell: Hope everybody's off to a good New Year.

Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar certainly are off to a good start! Lots of good topics today. Just to get us started:

*The Nats now have a remarkably improved defense with Adam LaRoche at first base. Rookie Danny Espinoza fielded 1.000 in 25 games at second base after he came up last year. He's one of the more spectacular young second baseman en I've ever seen. One of the few who might actually become 90% of Robby Alomar with the glove. Jayson Werth is a big upgrade in RF. And by trading Josh Willingham the Nats will now have Roger Bernadina in LF for perhaps 120 games. With rookie Wilson Ramos behind Ivan Rodriguez at catcher, Nyjer Morgan in CF (for now) and Zimmerman-Desmond on the left side of the infield, this could go from a terrible defense in '09 to a poor defense (126 errors last year) to a slightly above-average defense in terms of errors (meaning <100) and perhaps quite a bit above average in terms of range at almost all positions.

That's fun to watch. And it helps a poor starting pitching rotation __just "poor," not "bad"__ aspire to becoming mediocre. (Hooray, mediocre! Hooray, beer!)

*The Redskins final game was a perfect example of how your expectations for a team color the way you look at every aspect of their play. Before the season I thought, and wrote, that the Skins would be doing well to improve to 7-9, even with the big names they added __Shanahan and McNabb. I thought there were a decimated franchise at the end of last year. So, I consider it progress that __except for all things McNabb (what a disaster)__ that they now have some discipline and order. I rewatched the 17-14 loss to the Giants. They could easily have won, probably should have and played 13-of-16 respectable-to-pretty-good games, considering their talent level.

But those who thought they had 9-7 or 10-6 potential, and plenty of people did, think this was an awful season and that Shanahan is half-way to being a failure in his return. Id say that the first year of Shanny II is a lot like the first year of Gibbs II __both 6-10 with a lot of problems. Gibbs looked he'd lost the feel of the sport after 11 years away and had to hire Al Saunders to run his offense. Shanny looks like he's about as bad a "people person" as you'll find when there's a controversy with a big personality on his team. In '11, how many "big personalities" will the Redskins have left? I'd say, "None." So, I guess that problem is solved!

*The Hall of Fame voting yesterday gave me a lot of satisfaction, though Post writers haven't voted in about 10 years due to a (correct imo) change in policy. Sometimes, things go about as they should. Alomar was one of the greatest 2nd basemen ever. But, a baseball, there has always been a special honor in being a "first ballot HOFer." It's not written down anywhere. But it's a good convention. To get in the first time, you have to have a near-perfect resume __absolutely great player, no significant "other" issues. It doesn't bother me that Robby had to wait one year for spitting on an umpire. It doesn't make me happy, it just doesn't bother me.

Now Ty Cobb once went into the stands to beat up a heckler and when he got there he discovered that the man had no legs. Cobb beat him up anyway. Famous story. And Cobb made it on the first ballot of the first class! So this is no ironclad rule!

It should be very hard to get into the HOF. Blyleven was a tough decision. No doubt he thinks it took way too long __14 years on the ballot. I don't. I think it worked out just about right. The glass is not half full. It's 79.5 full! I'll go into some of the stat analysis __both good and bad__ on Blyleven later.

Also, the mere 11 percent vote for Raffy Palmeiro makes it clear that nobody who was CAUGHT using performance enhancing drugs is ever going to get into the Hall. Raffy, and I always liked him personally and never dreamed he might be a a juicer until he came up testing positive, says it was all a big mistake. Thought he was taking Miggy Tejada's vitamin injection and, gosh, it was D-bol. If it was a mistake, it's sad. But a positive is a positive and it's obvious the voters aren't going to let him in.

The one big problem with the vote, and it bothers me a lot, is that Jeff Bagwell only got 41 per cent. He may still make it someday. Others have worked their way up from 41% to the required 75%. And I don't think he's a First Time HOFer. But if the low vote total is because some SUSPECT him of PED use (because his muscle mass went down late in his career), they that is completely unfair. Look, we are never going to get this entirely right. Maybe not even mostly right. But, for heaven sake, lets not get it Dead Flat Wrong. There is no evidence, testimony or anything connecting Bagwell to steroids. Leave him alone. You don't need a confession like Mark McGwire's to close the discussion. But you certainly need a ton of information that points to PED use __like Bonds and Clemens__ before I would refuse my vote.

Oh, and did you likee the HBO special on the Caps/Pens last night. Man, did Bruce Boudreau give the Pens bulletin board material with his comments toward the Pens as he walked off the ice after the non-handshake between teams.

I promise lots of shorter answers to come!

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Arlington, Va.: Mr. Boswell,

Has Ted Leonsis got in touch with the Big E since he purchased the Bullets/Wizards? Curse of Les Boulez is real. Big E's aunt down in the bayous put the curse on Les Boulez because she felt they did her nephew wrong. The aunt is in her nineties and only she can remove the curse. Mr. Tony will verify the origins of the curse. Bet you thought he made it up. So Teddy really needs to talk to the Big E and go down and see his auntie.

Tom Boswell: The Big E has been on a couple of Wizard TV games recently and has great chemistry with Phil Chenier, an ex-teammate. It's good to see him back and I enjoyed his comments. Far better than I thought he'd be.

Back in the day, Elvin and Unseld absolutely hated each other. It was legendary. I'm sure they would hug today and say, "Naaaaah." But I was around then. That's the first thing you learned about the Bullets. Abe sided with Wes, the class act. So, E, who was seen as totally selfish and immature, disappeared. Well, the E on TV the other night certainly didn't seem that way. He was funny, too.

So maybe there has been a lot of healing. Anyway, I'd assume Ted was involved in this. If so, a nice touch and overdue.

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Bert Blyleven : Not a Hall of Famer. Being very good for an unusually long time is not an acceptable reason for becoming a Hall of Famer. Two All-Star Games in his entire career? Only finishing in the Top Ten in the Cy Young voting four times and never finishing higher than third? I wonder how many of those sabermetricians who pushed Blyleven for the Hall ever saw him pitch. He was very good but not a Famer. Frankly, Jack Morris is a better candidate for the Hall than Blyleven. Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: Glad to see Blyleven make it. This is a case of (in the long run) "stats don't lie." The recent sabermetric folks have resurrected his reputation.

Back in his day, BB didn't have a good reputation with teammates. Came up young, maybe immature, a little spoiled, so they tagged him a "baby." In the clubhouse, maybe it was just too easy for those who were jealous of his talent to tag him as "the little Dutch boy." So, every loss, even with a bad team, was "he pitched just well enough to lose, no guts, etc."

When Blyleven finally had his first season with a W-L record better than .600 __and it wasn't until his 10th season!__ I remember a high-ranking member of the Pirates organization (no need for names) bad mouthing BB to me and a few other reporters. He gave the Pirates the credit for "handling" Blylevel differently and thus getting more out of him. The argument went like this: "He always wants to go 9 innings and get his big strikeout totals, but you have to get him out of there before he can lose it for you." The implication: BB had intimidated his previous managers and stayed in games, piling up stats, when it ended up hurting his teams.

But the new stat guys can show that there's no such tendency. It's just the bias of the observer. BB pitched about the same in all parts of the game, etc.

I checked last night. In innings 1-through-3, BB's career ERA was 3.16. In innings 3-5, it was 3.50. And in innings 6+ it was 3.26. So, no "late choke" pattern at all.

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Tom Boswell: We seem to have had some technical problems with my first 1,000 words of answers to questions! Hope they aren't gone into the Internet atmosphere, never to return. But, either way, I'll keep going

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Centreville, Va.: Do you have any explanation for the difference in the number of votes for Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell? Their career numbers are remarkably similar. Each won a championship. Each either belong, or do not belong, in the Hall. I cannot see how one would belong but the other would not (though at this point neither is in). Yet Larkin received so many more votes than Trammell. Are the voters that blind as to who they are voting for and why? How could you vote for one but not the other? While I admired both players, could it be that Larkin is just more popular with the writers than Trammell? As far as I can recall, both shortstops were high character teammates, and both played in the shadows of more famous HoF shortstops (Ripken and Smith) I don't get the discrepancy with their vote totals.

Tom Boswell: Centerville: Excellent question. They are very, very close and there shouldn't be much difference. Sometimes "visibility" helps and Larkin has done MLB TV. Trammell seems to be a quiet guy who, outside of Detroit, doesn't get much attention.

If you go to baseball-reference.com and click on Larkin and Trammell, near the bottom of the page is "Hall of Fame Statistics." It's an attempt to quantity the kinds of numbers that have gotten players in the Hall in the past __career hits, number of All-Star games, times on a World Series team, ranking in MVP voting, etc., etc.

On the HOF Monitor, a good measure, the average HOFer scores 100. Larkin and Tarmmell are both exactly 118!

So, you nailed it.

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Hall of Fame...and Baseball: First, regardless of what people might want to think about playing ability, the selection criteria goes beyond playing ability, statistics and records. Complainers should read the criteria, and if they don't like the criteria, change the rules.

Second, it doesn't matter what Barry Bonds (and others) did "before we saw them on steroids"; they may have been great or the greatest and Hall of Fame caliber; but the Hall of Fame is a body of work, not a one year or even multi-year out of many part of work. If it were that selective, Roger Maris would have been in the Hall of Fame.

Third: Pete Rose signed an agreement stating "Peter Edward Rose is hereby declared permanently ineligible in accordance with Major League Rule 21 and placed on the Ineligible List. removing him from baseball." Pete Rose agreed to his ineligibility. And the Hall of Fame has a rule that reads that those on the "permanently ineligible" list are banned from the Hall of Fame. If you don't like the rule, change the rule.

But until rules are changed - and I don't want them to be - I have no problem with what's gone on until now.

Tom Boswell: All good interesting points.

There is certainly a kind of "morals" clause in the instructions that are given to the voters. It's certainly implied that cheaters don't get into the HOF. I don't mean stealing signs or scuffing a ball, like Don Sutton.

What is "cheating?" Or what is "enough cheating" to keep you out? Voters have to decide. It's a world of gray areas. But if you gain 20-to-30 pounds of muscle by taking PEDs when they are specifically described as against the rules of the game __which has been the case since '91__ then that certainly enough for me.

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From Sheinin : "In the case of Alomar, he made what was an unprecedented one-year jump from non-election a year ago (when he was named on 73.7 percent of the ballots last year) to a 90 percent approval rate this year - higher than first-ballot picks Frank Robinson or Mickey Mantle, among others. Aside from Alomar, only 25 other Hall of Famers won election at higher than 90 percent."

More that 10% of voters didn't think Mantle or Frank Robinson should go in on the first ballot. And writers wonder why players, by and large, don't respect the press.

Tom Boswell: Players, by and large, respect the press.

There's nothing wrong with Alomar having the 26th-highest vote total. ESPN did a stat study that said Alomar was the second-best second baseman of the last 70 years, behind only Joe Morgan. I'd agree. Was Frank Robinson the 2nd-best RF of the last 70 years? No. Was Mantle the 2nd best CF of the last 70 years? I'd have him behind Mays, then we could start fussing about the rest.

The 15% jump for Robby was a unique circumstance __the spitting. Of course, the world saw the replay of that 7 million times so it carried more weight than it probably should have. Nobody except the people at the game say Cobb beat up the heckler!

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Alexandria, Va.: You mentioned that you didn't have a problem with no longer being able to vote in the HOF elections. But with other papers also adopting that policy, and newspapers in general fading away (unfortunately), how do you think voting should be handled to ensure a broad spectrum of people can consider all the factors that go into a vote?

Tom Boswell: It's a problem and I don't have a solution. The voters take it en enormously seriously and talk to managers, ex-players, HOFers about what they think.

There are always going to be tough calls. For example, Blyleven, just barely "Yes," in my book. While Jim Kaat is just barely a "No." I watched all those 17-16 seasons by Blyleven. That's what makes you think he deserved to wait. He didn't do particularly well in games where he got 3-4-or-5 runs __the real battles when neither pitcher is at his sharpest and you have to gut it out. In those games with run support of 3-4-5, Blyleven was 119-81 in his career. Don Sutton, whose career ERA was just .05 lower than BB's 3.31, had a much better record in those "average run-support games" __146-68.

Jim Palmer, granted a much better pitcher, was 116-42 in games with 3-4-5 runs of support. That's remarkable.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom -- I think LaRoche's defense easily makes up for any difference in offense between him and Dunn. Last year, Dunn had 37 more total bases than LaRoche. This year, LaRoche should save at least 10-15 throwing errors from Desmond and Zimmerman that Dunn wouldn't get, and if he gets just one more ground ball per week than Dunn, then that's 25-30 for the year. Many of the errors and missed ground balls are for two bases. So, conservatively, I think LaRoche saves 60-70 total bases on defense, which surpasses the difference in total bases on defense.

Tom Boswell: This year will be a wonderful test case of the importance of defense. For many years it was undervalued, imo. I used to talk about it with Whitey Herzog. But now I'm pretty sure it's so trendy that it's overvalued. I have watched game after game in the past couple of years trying to see how many "marginal" plays there __plays that the good defender makes and that the poor one doesn't. So many defensive plays are simply routine. The marginal play is rarer than I had thought.

Let me spoil your lunch with the defensive stats for Dunn and LaRoche at first base last year. They are almost identical, except that Dunn had more total chances!

Dunn played 1246 innings. LaRoche played 1239 2/3. So, a perfect comparison.

Errors: Dunn 13, LaRoche 11.
Putouts: Dunn 1203, LaRoche 1139.
Assists: Dunn 93, LaRoche 122. THERE is where you might see the difference. The Nats can hope.
Double Plays: Dunn 119, LaRoche 117.

As for those bases, don't forget to include walks and HBP. In all, LaRoche had 313 aggregate bases. Dunn had 385. That's 72 extra bases. Or, perhaps, 18 home runs.

There is no way that LaRoche's defense will compensate for the difference in offense between the two. And even the Nats wouldn't claim that.

Also, a cleanup hitter needs "presence" so that he helps the No. 3 hitter get pitches. Does Werth have it? Not to the degree Dunn did. LaRoche does't. Also LaRoche struck out 172 times and Werth 147.

There is very little that is good about losing Dunn. But LaRoche may save the left side of the infield 5-to-10 errors.

If the Nats improve to a "league average" number of unearned runs next year, it will save them 23 runs. So, if their range is better, too, they may save 35-to-40 runs with better defense. That's perhaps +3 or +4 wins.

Better than a sharp stick in the eye.

But probably not transformative. I'll believe it when I see it. And I'm perfectly willing to see it.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Tom -- do you know Boston Herald baseball columnist Steve Buckley? He announced in a column this morning that he's gay. I suspect this will soon be very big news. Not only don't pro male athletes in the U.S. come out, but male sportswriters don't either. Very courageous, I'd say.

Tom Boswell: The great Redskins tight end Jerry Smith was gay. All his teammates knew it. He was one of the most popular, respected and clutch players on the team. That was 1965. When he dies of AIDS in '86, I wrote a column about it. If you want to see Sonny Jurgensen get sad, ask him about Jerry Smith.

People in sports are probably ahead of the rest of the culture in accepting people for who they are and taking them one at a time, not trying to group them by stereotype.

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D.C.: I really like listening to baseball on the radio, and Charlie Slowes and Dave Jagelar (sp?) are great. Do you think there is any chance the Nationals actually get a radio station that can be heard outside a 3 mile radius? Why is it that they broadcast on AM? No wonder they complain nobody listens.

Tom Boswell: Yes, I really enjoy the way the broadcast goes faint, then disappears entirely on the last mile to my house.

This would be an example of the wide range of things __all under the category of "lousy branding"__ that drove Kasten crazy. There are plenty of example. Strasburg pitched a game last year and there was a little kid on the mound next to him during the national anthem. A promotion. And, yes, there was a kid next to every other player. Come on, that is BUSH LEAGUE. It's barely acceptable at Syracuse.

Lets say there is room for improvement in a lot of areas.

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Washington, D.C.: When is no one talking about Flip Saunders and the horrendous job he's doing coaching the Wizards? Is he and shouldn't he be on the hot seat right now? How much more losing can Ted Leonsis take with this guy at the helm? I feel terrible for John Wall.

Tom Boswell: Saunders seems like a poor fit for a team that is so deep in rebuilding. Shouldn't he be with a team that's headed to the playoffs and doesn't need to do remedial coaching?

As for John Wall, he's only having a so-so first season. That .405 shooting percentage and high turnovers __though only one turnover last night__ are a problem, not to mention the injuries. He's fun to watch. But his basic plus/minus __all his points, rebs, assts, styeals, etc., minus his missed shots and turnovers__ is below average for a No. 1-overall draft pick. He's at _23.8-per-48-minutes. The great players __HOFers__ are between 30 and 39. The league average per 48 min minutes is about 22. Wall needs a better shot, more discipline in his passing and less tendency to try to finish drive by being smashed to the hardwood. He has the tools and enormous motor/love for the game to be outstanding. But he's far from the finished product. Trading Arenas should help him __give him room.

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Leesburg, Va.: Why are the Nats passing on Pavano. How can they possibly compete in 2012 without additional pitching?

Tom Boswell: They were never interested in Pavano unless they could get him for one year or two years if they were the only team after him for two years. It's just an issue of age (35) and history of injury (more than 100 missed starts in the last eight years). I think if you look back you'll see that I mentioned they had little interest in him at least a month ago. It's interesting watching all the rumors when you know they are nonsense __agents plus 24/7 need for on-line comment and buzz produces even more hot-stove-league disinformation than there always was. And there was always plenty! It gives GM's ulcers. It makes commissioners happy. Any info in winter __even bogus info__ is seen as good for the game.

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D.C.: "Gibbs looked he'd lost the feel of the sport after 11 years away and had to hire Al Saunders to run his offense."

Boz,

With all due respect, Gibbs actually hired Saunders after going 10-6 in his second year and advancing to the second round of the playoffs, where the Skins' offense was anemic in a loss to the Seahawks. Saunders came in, as did Lloyd, arch and other misfits, and the Skins went 5-11.

Tom Boswell: D.C.: Thanks. You're right. But Gibbs wouldn't debate the point that the theory of offense in the league had evolved and he felt he needed Saunders.

That brings up an interesting point. Lots of people say that Shanahn should adapt his offensive "system" to the personnel that he has available. They give Bill Belichick as an example of a flexible coach. Ironic, because Redskins fans should be open to the idea of a "system coach" who succeeds __Gibbs in the '80's.

One reason he won with QB's who were nowhere near Hall of Fame standards is because they fit the profile that suited his offense. Brains, guts, strong arm to throw deep. All had them. All had to be good at reading defenses before the snap and getting into the right play. But, with Joe, you didn't have to do much reading after the snap because there were very few "progressions." He seldom used five receivers in a pattern. Sometimes only two, usually three, maybe four. He wanted maximum pass protection and felt he could dictate the area to attack __with "packages," formation shifts and men in motion__ before the snap.

That doesn't work as well anymore. They cut the time on the play clock during the 11 years he was away. He came back and realized that there wasn't enough time to send a different package of (skill position) players in and out on every down, then shift formations to identify the defense, then audible at the line if necessary to get into the proper play, then send a man in motion so the defense doesn't know the true strength of your formation until the last second, and still get the play off. The sideline and huddle were chaos his first year back until he hired Sauders as his OC because Al had adapted the Coryell-Zabriske-Gibbs "coaching tree"

Yesterday I was watching the eulogies for Don Coryell at a memorial service at San Diego Diego State after his death in July. Yes, this is what I do on my off day. I don't think I ever laughed so hard for almost an hour. Gibbs, Madden and Fouts were all wonderful and funny about half the time because Coryell was a world-class eccentric genius. But don't miss Fred Dryer. Skip the first 8-10 minutes. He's an actor now, so he's self-indulgent. But the next 10 minutes, describing his first meeting with Coryell at age 20, had me laughing non-stop until I was crying. If you want to know the BEST of what it is like to be around pro athletes, watch Gibbs, Madden, Fouts and Dryer.

Just Google "Don Coryell Eulogies." It pops right up.
Okay, time for one more then outta here.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you know if the "Fridge" will be coaching somewhere else next year? Best of luck to him!

Thanks.

Tom Boswell: I was talking to one of Maryland's biggest alumni backers yesterday. He stopped his car and said, "What do you think about our new coach?" I said, "What do YOU think." He was just shaking his head. "We spent $50-million on (stadium and other) improvements. We wanted to go from good (Fridge) to great. And, instead, we got all tangled up and ended up going from good to good."

And you got a black eye by pushing the Fridge out the door.

I told him, "Nobody can blame a school for wanting to take a shot at being great." (I thought, but didn't say, "But maybe not in football, since it NEVER works. At Maryland, a hoops school, just be happy when you're good.)

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Yay or Nay?: Storen to starting rotation?

Seriously, you've said several times that relivers/closers have a very short shelf life of 3 years (exhibit A. Chief), so if the kid could do it why not stretch his professional career by converting him? Unless he refuses and just wants to enjoy life as a big leaguer and not winning ball games (a la Lastings Milledge).

tks!

Tom Boswell: I keep hearing that. I'll ask Storen what he thinks.

As soon as you look at all 170 pounds of him, you kind of think, "Maybe one or two innings is enough for this guy." But he's brilliant and claims to have 117 other pitches.

I think he'll be a fine closer and you root for him to hold up. Blyleven threw huge curveballs for 22 years and, somehow, it didn't eat up his arm.

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B in Reston, Va.: Hi Tom...only in D.C. would you hear a story about curses with Big E's Aunt and such, got to love it. Bos where in the world is that new pitcher Rizzo promised us. Pavano can't be him, can he? Under what rock will he find someone, Tom. Please let us know.

Tom Boswell: That pitcher was Jorge de la Rosa AND Zack Greinke.

And there were moments when, in talking with him, it felt like he thought he had them both. Apparently, he worked about 90 hours in a five day period just on Greinke.

I need to check out a rumor: Greinke fired his agent in the middle of the negotiations/talks with the Nats after MLB gave them permission to talk to Greinke and everything blew up. Then, with a new Greinke agent, the Brewer deal went down.

Believe me, the Nats tried. For what that's worth. Also, besides a possible Garza trade, don't underestimate Rizzo's ability to surprise everybody. When we talk about the available options, he's usually several steps ahead of me. (As he should be.)

Aside from dreams of a SP, they're going to get a utility infielder and probably another reliever with power stuff but not a lot of saves on his baseball card (which drives up the price).

That's it for today.

P.S.: There's just too much good stuff these days. On the HBO Caps/Pens special, after the game, maybe neither team wanted to shake hands with the other. But Boudreau was miked. So we know exactly what HE thought.

"Make them come to us. We'll sit here," says Boudreau. Then when the Pens head off without shaking hands, Boudreau, his face now on camera, not just his voice, says, "(Bleep) 'em all. Let's go. "(Bleep) them, eh."

Please, give us (me) a seven-game series between this teams this spring.

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