Thursday, March 31, 2005

Myopic Nats Inquirer book review: BP2005

We’ve been Zumsteged! All things equal, maybe it's preferable to be Pittsnogled.

---"If you’re into sabermetrics, then . . . you might be a Baseball Prospectus reader."

---"If you know of 'VORP' as something other than a guttural sound and are aware that both Guerrero brothers have been the namesakes of projection systems, then . . . you might be a BP reader."

---"If you have erected your very own SABR altar, complete with icons of a bearded Bill James and a plaid-shirted Rob Neyer, then . . . chances are you're a BP reader."

---"If you believe not only that Bud Selig is a stammering, spasmic fool BUT ALSO THAT Selig is a scum-bucket sadistic cretin who derives physical and emotional pleasure from bilking states and municipalities out of hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used on schools and libraries and water-treatment plants and youth baseball parks but are instead defecated on in the name of Selig's stadia shell-games, then . . . you might-could be a BP reader."
---"If you like your statistics sophisticated, your catching prospects fat and unscouted, and your GMs well-educated, pointy-nosed, probably rejected by scores of women a day, and vaguely reviled by nearly the entire baseball writing establishment, then . . . yeah, you're probably a BP reader."

---"And if you read this and other Nats blogs, then . . . we can safely assume that you are familiar with Baseball Prospectus."*

Simply put, if you're a strong advocate of, or merely an interested observer in, the statistical and analytical worldview of baseball evaluation and appreciation, then Baseball Prospectus is relevant to you.

Come to think of it, maybe "relevant" doesn't begin to describe its cosmic pull. I get the sense that BP's product has declined in recent years; if it hasn't, then other (free) prominent blogs that churn out similar or substantially better content have created the appearance that BP has declined. Nevertheless---and even accounting for my perception that the BP guys and gals have adopted any increasingly cringe-worthy diva-ish posture in recent years, when the publication and some of its individual writers have achieved mass-recognition---I still grab the annual instinctively, as I have since about 1998. Heck, a couple of weeks ago, I strolled into the local Barnes & Noble, blacked out when I hit the "Sports" aisle, came to in the car, and was surprised to see BP2005 sitting in the bag. I'm not going to pay
forty bucks a pop for, among other things, the thoughts of some guy named James Click concerning the grand game, but I'll pay a full Gammons--- or, with a book club card, closer to half-a-Gammons---for the once-a-year hardcopy.

Of course, I'd be remiss not to mention that there's a bit of an issue that the Prospectus groupthink (and I'm sorry if I've mischaracterized here, but it's my perception) has with our nascent Nats. In fact, it's the genesis of this entry, to be honest. Unfortunately, the Nats, rhetorically speaking, are located at the confluence of several BP group interests:

1) a contempt for anything Bud Selig does, smells, tastes, and touches---or, sometimes, anything he doesn't;
2) a philosophical belief and rhetorical bent against publicly-funded stadia;
3) a perhaps disproportionate interest and devotion, as compared to the general baseball-loving population, in the former Montreal Expos; and,
4) a proclivity toward ripping into anything disturbing the aforementioned and other interests, often with biting wit and often with barely-veiled bitterness.

(Oh, and the Montreal organization was monumentally crunked up and the Nats will probably stink, too.)

Consequently, some BP writers have published opinions regarding the Nats that,
as here, skirt "fatwa" status, and some Nats bloggers, as here, have responded in kind. (That's just one example. This blog prides itself in extensively hyper-linking to the brink of obsession, but citing all or even most such examples would take until the Rapture, and to be honest, I've got some amends to make before that happens.)

And so . . . here's our exercise: what does BP2005 have to say about our Nats? Is it good? Is it sad? Is it mad? Is it indifferent? (Not likely in that respect, I can tell you now.) In a bit of a break of protocol,
Jonah Keri, in a recent BP chat, revealed that Derek Zumsteg composed the team write-up; by no coincidence, Zumsteg also wrote the essay/op-ed piece on the Nats that appears near the back of the book.

This review essentially captures what Zumsteg (and, by no great leap in extension, Baseball Prospectus) has to say about the Washington Nationals. There's a significant amount of text to cover, so out of respect for efficiency and our nation's copyright laws, I'm not going to go crazy with excerpting; when relevant, I'll quote nuggets here and there. And one last note: I do not believe that criticism is per se negativity or slamming or what-have-you; we have to have thick skins when we love a baseball team, especially a team of such, uh, unique origins as the Nats. Then again, I'll definitely note cheap-shots, inaccuracies, etc.

And away we go.


Part One, The Team Essay: From Minaya, to Bowden, to Suck

Until the end, the team essay treads no paticularly interesting or unexpected ground. It notes that the Expos follow in a sad tradition of impotently compromised baseball teams and insinuates that the lords of baseball executed shady-to-corrupt transactions that signaled the death blow of the Montreal franchise. Well, "death blow" doesn't begin to describe the image; "kicked in the ass while writhing on the ground in pain" captures it better. The ultimate inequity of all and of many (including a beat-down of both the payroll and the behind-the-scenes organizational staff) was the bizarre departure of general manager Omar Minaya, who was hired by a divisional rival before the end of the season. Sheesh, that is absolutely awful, come to think of it.

(Zumsteg also makes special mention that Minaya ran after the last Montreal home game, presumably just to cite the attendance that night---31,395---which actually, when you think about it, isn't all that impressive considering it was the team's last ever game, though in fairness I'd consider it likely that both ex-Washington teams didn't get half that figure in their last games, plus last year's game wasn't forfeited.)

Zumsteg then moves on to a discussion of new GM Jim Bowden.
In a turn of events similar to the incident referenced by Distinguished Senators' Ryan in a bizarro post concerning agreement with his arch-nemesis, Dayn Perry, Zumsteg's take on the Jose Guillen trade precisely parallels that of Ryan: Guillen is Juan Rivera, except older and jerkier. All in all, Zumsteg doesn't think much of Jim-Bow's skills or gravitas: "Bowden is here to be fired." While in recent weeks, Bowden has been assured he'll be around all season, I can't say I disagree with the assessment. (Quick note: In the player comments section, Zumsteg joins an exclusive club: guys who have mangled the details of the Guillen trade. Zumsteg comments that Maicer Izturis joined the Dodgers, not the Angels. Right city---heh---wrong league.)

Truthfully, pages 252-54 could have provided a stirring tribute to the Montreal Expos. Or a sad, nostalgic tribute. Or a bitter, strident tribute. Take your pick. Instead, the team essay quick-hits that the Expos got screwed over, then argues that Minaya was impolite and Jim Bowden is less than erudite. Film at eleven, folks.

But there's nothing really objectionable, until . . . now:


At this rate, by the time the season is over the Nationals may have demonstrated how quickly and thoroughly interest in baseball can be snuffed out. The hugely expensive stadium plan could start to tumble, taken down by countless angry citizen actions like Gulliver being pulled down by the Lilliputians. At that point, having kept the franchise for themselves if they don't sell soon. Bob
DuPuy might be leading the conga line to the next city.
Basil's Rules of Rhetoric, No. 38: "If you've got nothing substantive, resort to neat imagery."

Here, I'll try it, too: "Zumsteg's doomsday scenario is unlikely, as unlikely any high school kid actually reading Ethan Frome."

Simply put, the Seligians could screw absolutely everything up, Tony Williams could get caught naked with a donkey (now how's that for imagery?!), or any other number of things could happen and the stadium deal won't die at this point and, majority opinion against public financing among District residents or not, support for the Nats won't come close to near to close to dying. Twenty-one thousand season tickets say so.


Part Two, Player Comments: I Sense a Theme!!!

Well, that last comment was a bit negative, and I don't want to establish a pervasive tone of a hurt and wounded Nats fan on attack; as I said above, that's not my intent in this post. So, before I move on to some really unbelievable stuff, let me pause and give Zumsteg and BP some well-deserved credit.

As is the BP hallmark, Zumsteg knows how to look at a stats line and made some top flight inferences and evaluations. For example, here's his take on
the Orleans Whiz:

This is a dangerous player. His batting average is high enough so that he looks like a good enough hitter. He'll steal enough bases so that you'll want him for that. His range and speed are good enough that sometimes he'll come in a long way to catch a shallow fly and look like a solid defender. Managers bite on these kind of players, and suddenly they're at the top of the lineup every day.
. . .
Couldn't agree more, Derek Z. (Zumsteg couldn't have foreseen that Chavez would get dumped a few days ago, but credit must go to Frank Robinson and Bowden for doing so; Zumsteg treated Chavez's existence in the lineup as a foregone conclusion, it seems.)

In addition, Zumsteg provides a beautifully-written tribute to the wonder that it is to watch ¡LIVAN! pitch.

I would not publish an honest, Nats-centric appraisal of the "Comments" section, though, if I did not note that Zumsteg really breaks new ground thematically. In fact, I daresay he's inspired a new word to the English language---to Zumsteg:

"Zumsteg"; verb. Defined: to exhibit a tendency to drag out a theme to the point of tedium. Closely-related: "Saget" (to display an unhealthy fondness for broadcasting footage of men getting cranked in the schwang by sports- and entertainment-related instrumentalities, devices, and projectiles).
What is Zumsteg's theme? ". . . in this organization." For instance, "that wouldn't be so bad, except in this organization . . .", or "that would be good news, except in this organization . . ." How often does this theme arise? Well, it pops up in the comments on:

---Jamey Carroll,
---Endy Chavez,
---Ryan Church,
---Brendan Harris,
---Maicer Izturis,
---Nick Johnson,
---Josh Labandeira,
---Alejandro Machado (in other words, the entirety of page 257),
---Henry Mateo,
---Val Pascucci (same joke as Machado, actually: "this is good; this is bad; this is worse; this is the Expos/Nationals"),
---Juan Rivera (most memorable one-liner: "Even something modestly cool like Juan Rivera is too good for this team, . . ."), and
---Brandon Watson.

And that merely covers the position players.

So, yeah, we get the point.

Yet, the above is rather a trifling observation compared to what I'll call Big Whopper Number One, which is the Brad Wilkerson comment, in relevant part:

Wilkerson went on the All-Star tour in Japan as an Expo, even as MLB was moving the team. He wore the Expo colors in the Tokyo Dome, a week before the team's new uniforms were held out and waved like capes as if the presenters were matadors. Above their nervous smiles, eyes darted around the room, scanning the crowd for the angry, wounded Expos fan who might charge the next flash of fabric.
I've spent a significant amount of time over the past week trying to figure out what Zumsteg is stabbing at here, and at this point I'm just going to throw my hands up in the air. (But I'm not going to wave 'em like I just don't cay-yah; see page 265).

It has to be either artistic license or an intense delusion. As a factual assertion, it fails in one of those Rubix-cube kind of ways; no matter how you arrange things, it's wrong:

---The MLB-in-Japan tour
lasted from Nov. 5-13.

---The uniform unveiling, originally scheduled for mid-December,
was postponed, a victim of CroppWatch '04: A City Held Hostage!.

---Zumsteg might be referring to
the LOGO unveiling, which occurred about a week or two after the tour in Japan. And, although the ceremony was rather celebratory in nature (the unfurling of the logo, complete with a broad Mayor Baseball smile, was a video cut on Comcast SportsNet bumpers for several months), there were some nervous smiles there---and there was an angry, wounded individual. But the consternation sure as hell wasn't Expo-related. Instead, the ceremony was briefly interrupted by a DC Statehood Green Party protester, who crashed the party and deplored taxpayer money going toward a ballpark. But scan his organization's platform, Derek; I don't see anything about vindicating the Montreal Expos.

---Linda Cropp having been duly placated---or having been caught with Tony Williams's donkey---
the uniforms were finally unveiled in early February. But, first, I don't think there were any p.o.'ed Expo fans there either and, second, the event likely occurred after BP's press time. At any rate, tell me: is this a nervous smile? Smile, Cristian!

So, in conclusion, I have no idea what Derek Zumsteg is getting at in the Wilkerson comment. But I do know this: NO MONTREAL PROTESTERS HAVE EVER THREATENED ANY NATS' FUNCTION, AND NOT TO BE CALLOUS ABOUT IT, VERY FEW PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THE EXPOS ENOUGH EVEN TO CONTEMPLATE SOMETHING LIKE THAT. (And note: I feel bad for Montreal fans, too.)

Here's as close as we're gonna get:
a couple of hardcore fans lamenting their loss at the spring training site---quietly.


Part Two-Point-Five, the Baltimore Essay: Big Whopper Number Two

I don't know who wrote the Baltimore essay (pages 287-89), but it contains an incredible passage:

MLB partially placated [Peter Angelos] by essentially forcing the future owners of the Washington club to fork over all of their television revenue to Angelos, which was what Angelos considered reasonable for his impending (and likely) loss of most of the Virginia market. That is a prime financial plum, . . .
Sheesh, that's no plum; that's Lucy not only pulling the football away from Charlie Brown but also handing him over to a leather-clad, knife-wielding gang of asbestos-litigating dwarves for ritual sacrifice.

All of the television revenue? Are you kidding me? Who wrote this one,
Will Carroll?

Suffice it to say,
although Angelos is getting the better end of the apparent deal, he's not going to consume the entire Vermonster.


Part Three, The Essay: The Inquirer is Losing Steam

Really, I am. Zumsteg wrote a five-page essay on the Nats in the back of the book. It contains a quick history-timeline of the Expos, a lengthier discussion of the relocation process, a look at the stadium deal, and a really long discourse on the general subject of "DC baseball and race." I must be burning out here, because I can't find anything particularly stimulating (good) or objectionable (bad).

A few days ago,
reader Randolph summarized the essay in the Comments section of this post-n-thread. Having read the essay now, it's a good summary and a sharp analysis. Good stuff, Randolph.

I would like to add one general observation, though: I am not going to throw this deftly enough, so I apologize in advance for the tone, but why should anyone really care what a Baseball Prospectus writer
who follows the Mariners mainly has to say about the issue? I'm not saying that Prospectus shouldn't comment on such hot-button issues in the baseball world, necessarily; I'm just wondering why the BP people think anyone is supposed to care.

More specifically, I'm wondering why a reader should care about an op-ed oriented piece on the issue that appears in BP. I can see investigative journalism-deep background (though BP should stay away from that sort of thing, if you ask me), and I can see a numbers-cruncing economic analysis. But what makes the opinions of a BP contributor likely far-removed from the subject interesting or worth paying for? (Heaven forbid, maybe I can even see Dayn Perry writing the thing; according to the essay, he's written on the subject in Washington Monthly.)

I don't know if I'm making sense, but what I'm trying to say is that there's a lot of interesting information in these 500+ pages. I'm just wondering why one of the few back-of-the-book, general interest essays is essentially a second team comments essay---and a glorified blog-entry with some more-traveled angles, at that.

At any rate . . . that's it, guys. Now that we're at the end and this caveat can be buried easily, let me state that the book's take on the Nats wasn't that "bad"---i.e., overtly negative, strident, callous, jerkass-y, etc. And it's not like the Washington essay and comments were the only critical ones; why, there's a reliable checklist that tracks year-to-year for which teams will get a boot up the rear. In addition, while I haven't check out the other annuals---if there are any others, besides that of the Hardball Times---this is of course the one annual you'd want to buy if you're in to "that kind of thing" (sabermetrics, fantasy-ball, and so forth). It's got some embarrassing typos and sloppy sentence constructions, but then, don't we all? (We all don't have editors and rather large publishers, though, of course.)

So . . . get BP2005---and, if you're a Nats' fan, get a thick skin, too.


* The preceding is meant in good humor; I'm not erecting strawmen or anything like that, just to be clear.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's all over, Baby Bird

So long, farewell, amen: a post two days in the making, much longer in the offing

Yesterday, I was talking to a good buddy of mine. We go way back to my first day at GW, and we have the kind of friendship that, when we converse on an increasingly infrequent basis, we feel remorse for not keeping closer tabs. "I'm busy" is not an excuse, but a reason, after all. Well, in medias res, I discovered that he's very closely connected---in a sort of second-hand way, but still very closely connected---to a situation that is a major story in our nation's current events. I learned this after he asked me for my take on it, after I explained that I hadn't really been following it in tremendous detail, and after I began referring to it in an objectively removed manner.

After all of this, I learned that he had a very passionate opinion on the subject. The opinion is incredibly well-informed---granted, well-informed as to certain factual aspects from certain points of view; then again, maybe those points of view are correct. He argued his position very well, very passionately, and---though I took exception with some of his more legal and procedural claims generally---I could tell that, even if I were informed as to the fact, a) I probably would not prevail in a debate on the subject, and b) more importantly, I would never shake him of his belief, even if that were my intent.

So, after ensuring that I wasn't antagonizing him, I respected his opinions and dedication to the issue, and we moved on to talking about the opposite gender. Finer points in life, I guess.

Well, the situation had, in one of those off-hand ways, a profound effect on me. Combine it with
the big baseball news from yesterday (provincially speaking, of course), and I realized that now is the time to confirm a notion that had festered for awhile. Now is the time to act.

I've decided to cease any semblance of fandom for, or devotion to, the Baltimore Orioles---indefinitely, subject to one future condition.* I just can't do it anymore.


The Nats are my only rooting concern now. (But more on them later.)

Some people---including that very friend from yesterday's conversation---view me as a guy who consciously attempts to balance the objective and subjective elements in my life. Maybe that's true; then again, maybe we choose our battles. I have another friend who is completely enamored of the Matrix stuff---the quasi-philosophical language, the deeper notions alluded to---and, while he acknowledges that the Waadklfdkfjski Bros. have not reached the very summit of rational discourse via the film medium, argues passionately that their crunk is deep stuff. My reaction is usually paraphrased as "Meh; I see what you're saying; I see lots of merit in what the detractors say, also." Is that me being objective? Or is it merely a reflection that I don't care about the issue?

Well, regardless, as I have stated on many occasions I intended to greet the Washington Nationals with attention, interest, and devotion---roughly the same ways I regarded the Orioles. The Nationals would be more immediate to me, and I viewed their existence as a justified novelty: I long held that DC darned well deserved a team, and seeing as they would be brand-spanking new (except for the part about coming from Montreal), I wanted to explore them, get to know them, learn to admire them.

But would I love them? I couldn't answer that.

Did I love the Orioles? No, I never did, in retrospect. By definition (see below), I did not. I rooted for them, and there have been O's teams that I did thoroughly, completely enjoy. The best example would be the '89 team. Man, was that a fun team to follow, especially for a naive, unsophisticated thirteen year-old who memorized every fact, watched every play he could, followed them even when he spent six weeks visiting relatives in California.
But did I throw my unending loyalty to them, like my first friend cited above did to his cause? In the end, no.

Consequently, I kept answering questions like, "What happens when the Nats and O's play against each other?" with answers like, "I don't know; hasn't happened yet. I'm sure I'll rationalize something in my mind."

That's how I initially viewed the media stuff, too, you know. I thought Angelos was overreaching from the beginning---I'm not sure how anyone in good faith claim he wasn't---but I figured, I hoped, that things would evolve into an arrangement that was mutually beneficial and, more importantly, just.

It didn't happen that way. There's a difference between zealously advocating your position and willfully scattering feces all over the Persian rug. Angelos---clearly, objectively, definitely, and defiantly---has done the latter, and then some. He's also puked vile on that poor rug. Thing looks like it's been digested by the almighty Sarlaac.

Angelos has righteously earned my enmity. And that's not easy to do. First, I'm a pretty laid-back guy (this blog's more caustic posts notwithstanding). Second---and I don't want to overdo this angle, but it's out there---Angelos shares the same ethnicity as me, and it's not easy for a Greek to speak ill of another Greek in a public forum. (Behind one's back, yes, but . . . ) For pete's sake (no pun intended), in '88 we had life-long Republicans backing Dukakis---DUKAKIS!!!---just based on common ethnicity, cultural pride, etc. Maybe not the hard-core Republicans and conservatives, but lots and lots of others. I'm not criticizing it per se, but the instinct is there. My ancient boys instilled a lot of pride in us genetically; even I can't shake free of it completely.

So, there I was, faced with what I considered three eventualities:

1) "You're mad at Angelos now, and rightly so, but that'll wear away in time."

2) "Sure, you're mad at Angelos now, but there are a lot of players you like---Gibbons, Mora, Tejada, Ryan, Roberts. Heck, you've defended Matt Riley since '99. Come on now!"


3) "Sure, you're mad now, but this too will pass. A deal will be reached; your cooler side will prevail, and you're going to realize that you've invested a lot emotional energy rooting for them and intellectual energy learning about them. You're just being rash."


As it turns out, all three statements have merit. Standing alone, they would persuade me.

But another factor popped into my conscience. It didn't act to mitigate the situation. It didn't even counter-balance it. Instead, it blew the whole discussion to smithereens.

I love the Washington Nationals.

When there are two sides to a dispute and one side is clearly wrong, you can throw your support to the aggrieved party in the name of justice. Eventually, the aggitating party will relent or ameloriate, or the situation will otherwise resolve itself. Thereafter, the immediacy of the disagreement becomes less apparent, the issues become more cloudy or less important in context, and finally, you reflect and say, "Now, was that such a big deal?" I think most people, concsciously or unconsciously, experience this process.

The one wrinkle---and it's a significant one---is when you are intensely loyal to the aggrieved party, when you "love" it in one of the classical senses. When, in essence, loyalty will memorialize the dispute when logic looses its moorings.

But for my love for the Nationals, I could carry on with the Orioles as envisioned above. But for . . .

. . . my love for the Nationals. It has to be this way. I had an epiphany yesterday: I truly care. I care, deeply care: who hits lead-off, who's in center, whether Nick Johnson gets a real shot, how that big wing beloning to ¡LIVAN! performs, even when Vinny Castilla---of all people---will be one hundred percent.

Chris put it much better than I could---and in hundreds or thousands of fewer words, at that: EUREKA!

The Angelosians are pouncing on my boys, and I can't take that. And I won't forget it.

And so . . . that's that. I apologize to all the O's players I still admire; I can't root for your team anymore. I apologize to all of the great O's fans I've met over the years; I can't root with you anymore. For your sake, I won't hold any ill will; for instance, I'm not ordering any hits on the Warehouse, and I have no desire to see the O's go 25-137 or something like that. But, from now on, an AL East game is just . . . and AL East game. Except for when the O's play the Yankees; in that case, the game can be called on account of a Jeffrey Maier-Tony Tarrasco slow-dance in the right field corner, for all I care.

Well, that's it, guys. Via con dios.

* I'm not one to foreclose possibilities forever, though; should Angelos (and that includes his family and minions) ever sell out, I will reconsider my decision at that point---with the proviso that unless Angelos, heaven forfend, buys in to the Nationals, the Nationals will always be the clear and unmistakeable No. 1 in my heart, mind, soul, and pocketbook.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Reflections on a tap dance

Schadenfreude doesn't feel so good, actually

Capitol Punishment Chris correctly perceived that I was quite pleased with the decision earlier this evening to demote Endy Chavez to Triple-A. Quite viciously pleased, actually; by my recollection, I said that Chavez "sucks" not once, but twice.

As far as starting centerfielder/lead-off hitters go, the assessment is basically correct. I looked at Chavez's comps by age awhile back. Beyond that, what is he? Curtis Goodwin? (Giving some batting average and taking some plate discipline.) Brian L. Hunter? (Except not as hell-bent on the base paths.)

Actually, Hunter is an interesting point of reference. Back in 1999, Robinson did some color commentary for FOX Sports. In one instance that stuck in my mind for no particular reason, Robinson worked a game in Seattle. Hunter, who was something of a sensation for the Tigers in 1997, when he hit for a decent average and led the American League in stolen bases, had recently dumped to the M's, who were experiencing a two-year moribund phase between Griffey's absolute peak and the Griffey trade. Robinson was curiously surprised that the Tigers traded Hunter, he indicated. I remember Robinson asking the play-by-play man, "Was it something about his average?" I left my viewing of the broadcast believing (and curiously surprised) that Robinson thought highly of Hunter as a big leaguer.

Well, Chavez is the same type of player. It's not much of a surprise, in hindsight, that was he willing to give Chavez the chance to prove himself. It is something of a surprise, though, that he cut bait on March 29.

Nevertheless---and I'll try not to over-dramatize this---I feel bad for my sheer elation earlier, all of it at Endy's expense. At least Ryan, demonstrating why he is a distinguished blogger, focused on the positive aspect of this transaction. No, it's not really that Endy has been thrown under a bus; it's that Ryan Church gets a chance, presumably, to prove his chops in the bigs.

I haven't checked in on MLB.com's Bill Ladson lately, but I figured I would tonight. Maybe I read between the reporters' lines too much, but compared to the work of his peers, Ladson's material regarding Chavez has consistently been more positive, less dire, and more understanding. Look here, for instance. Or, even more vividly, look at this comment in his mailbag published as recently as yesterday:

As for Chavez, he will be given a chance to be the leadoff hitter for a while. Robinson is a patient man and feels that Chavez has improved at the plate. Robinson said that Chavez has been showing more patience by working the count.

Maybe Ladson is just behind on the times (Robinson has recently complained of Chavez's lack of progress, as well as some indifferent play), but I prefer to think that he was subtly advocating for Endy all along. Sports writers are people, too.

And so, it was with a heavy heart that I read Ladson's article on Chavez's demotion tonight. I think I sympathize with Endy because I've had times in my life where I've simply come up short, where I just didn't possess the skills needed to excel at a given field no matter how passionately I viewed the situation:

"We tried everything we could for Endy to be our center fielder. We wanted him to get on base more. We didn't see the adjustments," interim general manager Jim Bowden said. "We are not going to score enough runs if we don't do something about this offense. He needs to go down to Triple-A and he needs to work on his game, learn to get on base. He needs to score more runs for him to help us. "

Or maybe I sympathize with Endy because he's apparently rather blind to his situation:

Chavez suggested Bowden trade him, but Bowden told Chavez that no teams were interested in his services. "[I told Endy], 'Other clubs view you the same way as we do. We talked to many clubs about you. They want to see you get on base like we do. So instead of complaining, let's look in the minors,
recognize what we have done and work on your game. You need to get better to start in the big leagues,'" Bowden said.


Or maybe I shouldn't feel much sympathy for Endy at all:

Manager Frank Robinson said Chavez indicated to him that he wasn't worried about losing his job and was just getting ready for the season.

(Note: Also take a look at the first linked Ladson article above. Endy sounds rather dismissive of the situation, saying he always struggles in spring training---he's always working on things and stuff like that. While I agree that one's spring training performance is a limited and somewhat lousy way to evaluate a player's worth, it was plain as day to everyone interested that Chavez was thrown into an open or semi-open competition all along.)

So, what's the point? The point is that, irrational exuberance aside, I take no joy in anyone's failure---with the possible exception of Peter Angelos, of course. I still maintain---and wholeheartedly agree with the Nats' blogosphere---that Chavez's demotion is nothing but good news for the organization; it means, in a manner of speaking, that these guys aren't frickin' around. Nevertheless, none of us wish any kind of pox on the guy, and maybe---later and perhaps in a different organization, or perhaps Washington's---he can realize some worth in a part-time role better suited to his limited abilities.

---I'm not sure how to approach this, since Nationals Inquirer has never been publicized before, but William Beutler provided a neat little sample of some Nats blogs on DCist.com, and this one ("tawdrily---and appropriately---named") was included. The commenters seem displeased that none of us mentioned live inside the District, but---as my ol' granny loves to say---ti na kano? ("what can you do?"). We live where we live; we are who we are. That said, I want to express my gratitude to Mr. Beutler for noticing this rather spartan and sometimes spiteful blog---and to note that there are several others that deserve the attention, too.

---Speaking of Nats blogs, there's a new Nats blog-plus in town, The Washington Nationals Fan Site. Paul, the guy over there, seems like a really nice fellow, and I anticipate that the site will start filling up pretty soon.

---Speaking of bloggers being publicized, Seth Stohs, mastermind of Twins- (and other stuff) related SethSpeaks.net was recently profiled in his hometown newspaper in Minnesota. Seth seems like a nice chap---I've exchanged a couple of emails with him after discovering him via the Baseball Savant, an equally nice chap---and he does very good work on his site, so it's nice to see him get some pub. I speak only for myself here, but while I certainly don't do this with any expectation of being noticed to any great extent, actually being noticed for the work you do engenders a naturally satisfying reaction.

---Well, it's getting late now, and that's all I have for tonight. Preview for tomorrow? We'll have either:

a) a review of Baseball Prospectus 2005 (a largely Nats-centric one), or

b) a post on shedding interest in the Orioles (or, rather, having it shed from my conscience by perfidy).

As an added bonus (for the low, low price of . . . NOTHING!), we might get a little look at Steroids Scandal, NFL-Style.

EndyWatch: OVER!!!!!!!!

As Hawk Harrelson would say, "He gone!"

From Sir Barry of the Post:

The Washington Nationals instigated a dramatic overhaul of their stagnant offense Tuesday, sending center fielder Endy Chavez -- the presumed lead-off hitter -- to Class AAA New Orleans, all but granting the center field spot to Ryan Church, who looked unlikely to make the club as recently as last weekend. With Opening Day just six days away, the lineup is now in disarray.

Jim Bowden characterized this as something of a message-sending decision; if you're not performing, you don't play for the Big Dog. Well, Chavez certainly wasn't performing, but let's call a pig a pig here:

HE SUCKS.

Everyone knows it. You can say it more tactfully, and everyone---from Bowden/Robinson to all the beat writers---has. It's Bill Ladson's favorite hobby over at MLB.com. But, at the end of the day, if Chavez is your regular lead-off hitter, then:

YOUR REGULAR LEAD-OFF HITTER SUCKS.

It's just the way he is.

Maybe he can help out as a fifth outfielder/pinch-runner/defensive sub. Now, that, he can do. Anyway, upon learning the news, Chavez was---to use sportswriterspeak---rather taciturn:

"I'm not going to answer nothing," he said after packing his bag. "I don't want to."

We give him a hard time, we jerk bloggers, but deep down you have to feel for the guy. He's one of the 500 best baseball players in the world, give or take; he's just not a starting centerfielder.

What's next? Well, Terrmel Sledge is presumably still a "complete player" in Robinson's judgment, but he's apparently not getting a full-time job out of it:

Robinson indicated that his preference would be to play Church, 26, in center, leaving Wilkerson in left, and keep Terrmel Sledge as the fourth outfielder. Church hit .343 with 17 homers in 347 at-bats with Class AAA Edmonton last year, but just .175 after being recalled to Montreal.

Considering Church has an option (year) remaining, that's big news. Let's see what he can do. I'd say there's a distinct possibility of a trade in the works; it seems a reasonable way for this to go, and we are talking about our AD/HD GM here.

Oh yeah: Big Jon Rauch and Gary Majewski also got the death-o-gram, too. So the pitching staff is now set, and so are the position players---for now, at least.

And who said nothing happens during spring training?

A George O'Leary moment?

Who is Jim Williams? Is he the guy who tests stun guns on pigs?

Because one DCRTV mailbag writer doesn't necessarily think he's a television sports insider:

WHO is Jim Williams of the DC Examiner sports section? I have worked in sports TV in this region for 20 years, for HTS, ESPN, ESPN2,ESPN U,
Comcast, WTTG, NBC, WRC, CH 20, Fox, MCI Center, Cap Center, RFK, Camden Yards and every college with a division 1 or 2 athletic program. NOBODY I know who works in this region knows of this guy. I am not slamming him, although he is SO OFF target with his announcements of talent for the Nats radio and frankly the entire coverage of the negotiations. I am just curious about his credentials. When I google him, I can't find anything on him except his stories and his claims to 7 emmys........


Nevertheless, I'd consider it rather likely that Williams is who his bio says he is.

But if he is not, then isn't he the spot-on, spit-kickin'est, perfect symbol of this mess? Angelos is the symbol of wild-a$$ claims; MLB is the symbol of pathetic inaction. It stands to reason that a self-proclaimed "insider" on the situation would be a guy whose published views on the subject are a collaberation of false claims on his resume and complete inaction by his publisher to check them.

Crisis! Give me McGyver . . . McBain . . . somebody!

Resolved: it's time to sweep the leg

In today's news, there's a flurry of Nats/O's television-related (in)activity, right down to a second WaPo editorial in recent weeks on the madness. It reads like the editorial writer attended a Bill Ladson seminar on recycling material, but the remedy suggested this time sounds appropriately undiplomatic for the late (late, late) stage of the game. As always, District of Baseball and Yurasko are the fast-triggers here---almost as fast as the source material itself, remarkably.

By the way, the lead of
this Thom. Heath article from the Post would almost be funny . . .


Kevin Cohan has been getting two very unusual phone pitches every day for the past week. One call to the managing partner of the Jim Coleman chain of auto dealerships comes from Comcast SportsNet, telling Cohan his company should be prepared to advertise on its new regional sports network that will include Washington Nationals baseball games. The other phone call is from the Baltimore Orioles, telling Cohan that they are going to own the regional sports network that carries the Nationals' games and that Cohan needs to buy the commercials through them.
. . . if it weren't so sad.

Oh, and remember all those promises from Bob DuPuy that the opener would be televised locally in DC? Well, Bob's still promisin'; then again, Dayn Perry could make a promise to himself to become the wardrobe designer for the Laker Girls, but that doesn't mean it's happenin'. And, sure enough, the
Wash. Times tells us the opening might not be on local TV. But don't worry: Comcast Sports Net can televise things on short notice---assuming there's a deal in place before the opener. Or maybe MLB will finagle a DC outlet for the Philly broadcast; considering how incredibly Nats-centric the spring training games as a part of the O's CcSn deal have been, oh, I'm sure that'll satisfy Nats' fans---of course, the article informs us that it's not like the Philly rightsholder station has been contacted by MLB or anything.

I swear, the Seligulans running MLB is roughly equivalent to Paris Hilton running NASA.

---
The N.Y. Post chimed in with a happy profile of Jim Bowden yesterday. Give Kevin Kernan, the profile writer, credit, I guess: by my recollection, he's the first writer to compare Jim Bowden's status to that of a foster parent:

Bowden hopes the additions he has made, with the helpful guidance of special assistants Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Bob Boone, will turn the Nationals into his 1999 Reds. Bowden gambled that he could find success in players like Jose Guillen, Cristian Guzman, Vinny Castilla, Wil Cordero and ex-Yankee Esteban Loaiza.

In many ways this team is the baseball version of the Island of Misfit Toys — and Bowden is the club's foster parent, seeing it through. "Our '99 team in Cincinnati wasn't expected to do anything and they won 96 games," says Omar Minaya's replacement. "Why? Because [Mike] Cameron and Pokey
[Reese] and Sean Casey all came together at once. They made the adjustments. I've had other clubs with young players who don't make the adjustments, and those players get replaced."
It's probably too much to expect a sportswriter---much less a writer for the N.Y. Post---to display some internal consistency, but it's worth pointing out that we've got the a) sportswriter invoking comparisons to the '99 Reds, b) Bowden saying that team's success came from young players maturing quickly, and c) the sportswriter citing recent signings of, mainly, . . . older players.

Anyway, Bowden likes to invoke the 1999 Reds a lot, no doubt because they were a stellar, underbudgeted team; such a combination (rightly) makes a GM look good, and I think that season was the apex of Bowden's repuatation as a baseball executive; I can't recall if he won Executive of the Year for '99, but he would have had a good case.

Viewing history through a cold stats sheet is no doubt imperfect, but maybe it's preferable to the quick recollections of a guy who fires off the name "Pokey Reese" as one of three players cited for a team's success. Plus, 1999 isn't that far removed; I'd guess many of us remember the talking points for the Reds' success that year, primarily:


Jack McKeon's incredible use of the bullpen.

By Bowden's own assessment at the time, McKeon's "unconventional" bullpen usage was the key to the team's success:

The bullpen has been phenomenal,” Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said. “It's the reason we're where we are.”

Undoubtedly, if you follow baseball closely, you remember Cincinnati's bullpen in 1999. That old fart McKeon made them look like something out of the 1970s. Two pitchers, Scott Sullivan and nominal closer Danny Graves, topped 100 innings pitched. (And not only "topped," but "hurdled"; both tossed more than 110 IP.) Rookie of the Year and uber-set-up man (12 wins, 19 saves) Scott Williamson almost made it there, too; he finished with 93.1 IP. McKeon had two lefties, but neither Gabe White nor Dennys Reyes was used as a LaRussian LOOGY. (White averaged well over an inning per appearance, and Reyes---the purported LOOGY---was just below a 1:1 ratio.) And that was pretty much it, with the exception of Stan Belinda, who was torched over his 29 appearances but still averaged about an inning-and-a-half per outing. (Starters Brett Tomko and Ron Villone---second and third on the team in innings pitched, respectively---both appeared as relievers seven times, as well.)

What did Bowden have to do with this allocation-of-resources decision? By his own admission at the time, zippy:

Bowden gives the credit for the success of the bullpen to Reds manager Jack McKeon and pitching coach Don Gullett. “It's a reflection on (McKeon and Gullett),” he said. “One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to try to develop your bullpen at the big-league level.”

Charitably speaking, Bowden probably gets indirect credit, in the sense that he traded away incumbent closer Jeff Shaw in July of 1998. Bowden displayed some foresight here--- especially back then, when I recall the Proven Closer(tm) tag was more universally respected; nowadays, I think, more people recognize that if you take a dime-a-dozen middle man and give him the usually pat three-out opportunities, he can save 35-40 games faster than you can spell "Borowski." But, back then, I remember a lot of writers opining that Tommy Lasorda (remember when he was briefly LA's GM?) fleeced Bowden because the former picked up a reliable closer (in lieu of our very own Antonio Osuna) for "very little" (Konerko and Reyes, among others).

Anyway, there was a lot of press attention also given to the up-the-middle improvements represented by Reese and Cameron (acquired for Konerko), yes, but there was just as much given to the "veteran leadership" of Greg Vaughn, Barry Larkin, and Pete Harnisch---to say nothing of career half-seasons by Jeffrey Hammonds (speak of the Zephyr!) and Steve Parris. (Who?)

Well, this is getting long; my only point is that, aside from early happy feelings, I'm not sure how this Nationals team resembles that Reds team.

---Oh, and one more thing about this N.Y. Post article: It mentions that Johnson needs to get healthy, or else he'll just be "another overrated Yankee prospect."

Even acknowledging that the Yankees have overrated (and subsequently traded) just about every sentient to grace their farm system in the past decade, unless you believe that "health" is a "skill," Kernan is incredibly unfair to Johnson. The guy put up a 141 OPS+ in the big leagues at age 24, after all. I realize that it's dump-on-Johnson-time this offseason, and I'm with you when you think, "Sheesh, it's really disappointing that Nick can't stay healthy," but there's just no evidence---based on his minor and major league performance, when healthy---he was ever overrated.

Monday, March 28, 2005

On being a GW basketball fan, Part III

After further review . . .

. . . it didn't matter.

Wow, what a weekend!

On a related note---

Part III: 1998-99; 2004-05

I graduated from George Washington in May of 1998, but strangely enough, I was back on campus two days after commencement. (Speaker: Bob Dole. Bet with friend: whether he'd mention Viagra. Verdict: he didn't. Winner: me.) I would manage a dorm on campus for the summer; well, it was initially one, but it later became two.

The Mike Jarvis Era essentially ended with a bit of a whimper, a double-digit loss to Oklahoma St. in March. It ended officially in June of 1998, when he took over at St. Johns. I specifically recall conversations with friends at precisely that time; the first dorm I managed had a basketball court to its side, and several of us would play in the early evenings. The consensus was that the Colonials had become a trudging, boring team in the past two seasons, and the new man at the helm should be someone inclined to pick up the pace.

Well, if that's what the team needed, then that's what the team got: Tom Penders architect of the "BMW: The Ultimate Scoring Machine" team at Texas in 1990. Penders was also an Atlantic Ten veteran, coaching some pretty good Rhode Island teams during the (charitably speaking) "down years" for the Colonials in the 1980s.

By the start of the season, I still had a GW student ID card (through some sort of glitch, I was still coded into every single building on campus, even after the summer was over), I still had many friends on campus, I lived in an apartment just off of campus, and I worked about a seven minute walk from campus. I went to a lot of games during the '98-99 season, and it was maybe the most fun I had watching GW basketball during my years in Washington.

The Colonials were not just good, but flashy good. Little point man Shawnta Rogers had spent the past three seasons refining his game, improving his shot, and learning to be a tremendously tenacious rebounder for a guy no taller than my grandmother. Rogers, like most everybody else, was a holdover from the Jarvis years, but he clicked like he hadn't since first appearing for the Colonials in early 1995.

The A-10's focus and powerbase had started to shift south and west by now; Temple was still around, but UMass had ceded to Rhode Island the distinction of second northeastern power, and Rhode Island, while explosive at times, was nothing like UMass two or three years earlier. When I came to campus, the edges and hot buttons were the words "Temple" and "UMass"; by the time I left, "Xavier" was a dirty word.

And did those guys ever earn the distinction, because they were a dirty lot; Skip Prosser coached those guys up that way. There's no kind way of saying it---Prosser had a gang of thugs.

Wouldn't you know that the season hung in the balance against Xavier? One game remained in the regular season, at the Smith Center. The winner won the A-10 West and pretty much wrapped up an at-large bid. Rogers and James Posey of Xavier were the best players in the league, so the member of the winning team likely would claim conference player-of-the-year honors, too.

It's my understanding---though I could have heard incorrectly---that the DC media covered the GW team fairly well this season; if so, it was probably the first time since 1999. Shawnta Rogers was a neat story (not only his rather distinct size, but also that he worked his way to relative success in the classroom and was a great floor leader), and no neater story could have occurred than transpired that late February/early March day. Remember when Michael Jordan had that unconscious game against Utah, despite the flu? That was Shawnta Rogers, a year or two later.

Actually, it wasn't Rogers's best game, but it was the most perfect finish one could imagine: He nailed a three at the buzzer to win the game! The noise was absolutely deafening, louder even than The UMass Game. The ESPN announcers (one of whom, Dave Simms, is a very good announcer, but infuriated me when he declared the '98 A-10 Final vs. Xavier "an X kind of day," whatever that meant) literally jumped out of their chairs. It was incredible, to say the least. The Hatchet runs a site that lists the top ten games and players in GW history, and that game propelled Shawnta Rogers into the top five---at least---on both lists.

GW would make the NCAA tournament; Xavier wouldn't. Heh.

We drove up to Philly the next week for the A-10 semifinals. To paraphrase Al Pacino's character in "City Hall," we expected a quick sojourn through Rhode Island and a longer engagement with Temple in the final. Well, we got a quick sojourn, alright. Lamar Odom and Co. broke it open six minutes in, if that. (Odom subsequently hit a miracle three against Temple to put Rhode Island back in the Big Dance; those guys, without Odom, I believe, had come oh-so-close against Stanford in the Elite Eight the previous season---just another near-miss in that round for the A-10 in the last generation, most involving Temple.)

Just a slight blip, right? Nope. The Colonials drew Indiana and just got gassed in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 108-88. Giving up 108 points to Indiana is like, I don't know, allowing the '04 Expos to hang a 15-spot on you. GW played like it had never seen a back-door cut before. It got so bad that a significant grassroots effort emerged to pop in "Dead Man on Campus", which my roommate rented for probably no reason other than "Saved by the Bell" nostalgia. The GW game carried the day (or night), but just barely.

I'd like to say I kept up as fervently after that, but I guessed I just moved on to a new phase in life; I think that, for a year, I wanted to believe I was still in college. Or maybe the Colonials weren't as easy on the eyes. Probably both.

The 1999-00 season brought this chuckster named SirValiant Brown to Foggy Bottom. He picked up some headlines because of his quirky name and a gaudy scoring average, but he was nothing more than a poor man's version of Allen Iverson's worst basketball qualities. Watching him go 9-for-27 in February of 2000 would have been like expecting George Michael synth-pop to come on MTV in 1995. No dice.

The team became a charicature of what we hoped for when he pined for an "up-tempo" team. Replace "up-tempo" with "sloppy," and you've got it. There was an A-10 tourney game, maybe in 2001, when post man Patrick Ngongba---dubbed "The Human Turnover" by us when he debuted in Jarvis's last season---post the team the game and the season by fouling a three-point shooter or something equally nonsensical at the end of the game.

I lost interest during the 1999-2002 years, or thereabouts; I couldn't even tell you if Val Brown stuck around for two or three years. I do know, and most everybody realized, that his contemporary, Chris Monroe (imagine Shawnta Rogers a foot taller and more of a swingman), was the only reason to watch the team.

Penders left after the 2001 season, replaced by former UConn assistant Karl Hobbs, who goes way back with Jarvis (who, by the way, is now an ESPN analyst---and a pretty good one). This was the first season after I moved back to Richmond, and I confess that I faced a conflict of interest: Richmond joined the A-10 for the '01-02 season, and they were good right off the bat. Richmond and GW, both situated in the West division, play home-and-home, twice a year.

Since exiting boyhood, I've lost much of my ability to root passionately and subjectively for a team; blame it on sabermetrics, I think. GW basketball is the exception, but some of that link---to be honest---was cut when I backed away from campus, and more of it was cut when I moved back to Richmond. I actually rediscovered some of that passion for GW this year, and I think I'm getting it back fully now for the Nats. (For instance, I entered Nats' fandom with the attitude that my interest in the Orioles---existing since childhood---could sustain itself. I am discovering that this is not the case. Expect a post on this soon.)

Well, I have two alma matters now: GW undergrad and Richmond law. During '01-04, I rooted selectively---basically, whichever team needed the game more, I rooted for that team. I know that sounds bad, but it's reasonable to an extent. Spiders basketball is big down here---it's a very proud program, especially in light of its national reputation in postseason play---and I grew up surrounded by it. If anything, GW is the interloper, at least from a certain point of view.

To be frank, Richmond was the better team during '01-04, and this not being the ACC or SEC or Big Ten or Big East, Richmond needed every win it could get---including against GW. And it paid off: Richmond made the '04 tournament as an at-large in 2004, something it hadn't done since 1986.

So, what was the '04-05 season? Was it a resurgence in my avidity to GW basketball? Or was it a response to a down year by Richmond? I suppose I shouldn't analyze the situation too much; after all, I learned to love a new generation of GW players, and that is enough.

And, so, there I was two Fridays ago---watching a game on television, but not the game being shown. Whereas the images of Old Dominion and Michigan St. were filling the screen, I was concentrating on the far top corner of the screen, little tiny type and a running clock of a game taking place not in Worchester but in Nashville. That is how I "watched" GW's first round game vs. Georgia Tech. That is how I remained hope as the Colonials stayed within two-to-five points of Tech most of the game; that is how I become despondent when, over the course of four minutes, the score progressed from 57-56, to

59-56, to

61-56, to

64-56, to

67-56, and finally to

69-56.

It was a hard way to take a defeat; then again, it was a fan's way to take a defeat.

A Jim Williams exclusive!!!

Hey, the TV deal is close! Really close! No, I mean it! It's close!

I guess one way you scoop your competition is to predict something will come to pass and then repeat it continually, faithfully, persistently, and doggedly until the damned thing actually comes to pass. Then you can truly say you were first with the news.

Has it always been this way? Was there some intrepid "journalist" like Jim Williams way back when, 150 million years ago, who said,
"Guys, Laurasia is nice and all, but pretty soon this land mass will be three continents, and they'll call 'em Europe, North America, and Asia. . . . Well, no, it's not going to happen TOMORROW. No, not next week or next month or next year, either. But my sources are good. Just TRUST me." And sure enough, one fine morning . . .

Anyway, Williams adds another image to
Bob DuPuy collection---which is quickly turning into a barrage of imagery unparalleled since Marty Blank characterized his previous decade as a cross between a Horatio Alger story and the Donner Party. Let's review:

---> Just over a week ago,
Capitol Punishment Chris referred to DuPuy as "Grimace."

---> This past Friday, poster "Hondo9" from the Ballpark Guys forum turned the word "DuPuy" into a verb, meaning "to act more slowly than continental drift." Can he use it in a sentence? Sure: "Avoid 270 this morning. You'll find yourself hopelessly Dupuyed for hours!"

---> And today, Williams adds his two cents on DuPuy: "Dupuy, who has shown the patience of Job in this six-month long compensation soap opera, . . ."

A bloated, uh, Thing from fast-food commercials; a traffic jam; an Old Testament figure. Just about sums it up, eh?

By the by, Williams' sentence concludes thusly: " . . seems tired and ready to end it once and for all." This is appropriate, because:

a) lots of Nats' fans, myself included, are tired us this; and,
b) it had better end PDQ, both for the Nats' sake and
for the sake of whatever credibility Williams still has.

---
Yesterday was not a good day for the Nats. Let's run though the checklist:

Uninspired play? Check.
No. 2 starter hurt? Check.
Manager p.o.'ed? Check.
Clubhouse meeting? Check.

As for uninspired play, it doesn't get much more suspect than the effort of Endy Chavez, whose roster spot, mind you, is holding onto dear life just because Inning-Endy is speedy:

In the eighth, center fielder Endy Chavez hit a shot to center that looked like it might be a triple, but Chavez slowed down coming around first, settling for a double.

As for the No. 2 starter hurting, well, that's Tony Armas, of course. Don't worry, though; according to Armas, his yanking (so to speak) for a groin injury was just "precautionary."

But Robinson, who is typically cautious with injured players, said he wasn't
sure whether the right-hander will be able to make his next start, which is
scheduled for Friday and is supposed to be his final tuneup for the regular
season.

As for the p.o.'ed manager, what say you, Frank?

"This phase we're in right now," Robinson said, "is not a good phase." [. . .]
"It's the time of spring training where you're supposed to be doing the hings
to get ready for the season," Robinson said. "And it wasn't just this game.
We've been a little sloppy, a little lax, as a team the last four or five ballgames. I've been -- not ignoring it -- but holding back a little bit."

As for the closed-door team meeting, not much to say:

Sunday, he chose to talk to the team. Robinson said he didn't yell. "We just
talked," catcher Gary Bennett said. The players seemed to agree with Robinson's assessment.

Two things to note here:

1) If the injury to Armas is more than precautionary---and, not to be blithe, but this is Armas we're talking about here---then it might delay at least one tough choice concerning the composition of the pitching staff and, I'm guessing, give big Jon Rauch a ticket north for a spell. And there's no need to rush Armas; it's better to ensure that he's pain-free and, as a consequence, mechanically-sound.

2) For some reason, when I read the Post story this morning, I recalled Jim Bouton's early assessement of the Seattle Pilots in Ball Four. No, I'm not anticipating that this team will be doomed to Bud Selig's ownership (heck, that's already happened . . .), but if you've read Bouton's book---and I suspect many or most of us, as baseball fans, have---recall how positive his prospects for the Pilots were during the early spring. The Pilots were playing reasonably well, and Bouton noted something like, "Hey, with the way this team hits, if we can get at least decent pitching, we can make a race of it." (I'm not suggesting that the pitching is the problem, and the Nats' offense is a juggernaut, by the way.)

But, in pretty short order, reality set in with Bouton, and after awhile (a short while) he was pitching to get traded---anywhere: Detroit, Washington, even back to the Yankees. (He did eventually get dealt to Houston.) Reality will set in with this Nats team, too. Let's just hope everyone---I'm looking at you, Jose Guillen---takes it smoothly.

At least Robinson is an old pro whose not prone to making a fool or side-show out of himself. Remember the manager back in the early 90s---was it Tom Runnels or Greg Riddoch?---who showed up for a spring training in military fatigues or something and called an exhibition game a "must win game"? I don't think F-Robbie will do that.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

No Easter spirit for Angelos

Well, that might be because it's not his---or my---Easter; nevertheless, he's still a jerk

If the issues are truly as this morning's Balto Sun article frames them, then I have a simple "negotiating strategy" for Bob DuPuy:

HEY PETE: IF YOU THINK YOU'RE PLAYING THE GEORGE BAILEY ROLE, THEN YOU SHOULD SEE US PLAY MR. POTTER. AND DON'T EXPECT CLARENCE THE ANGEL ON YOUR SIDE. OH, AND I'M SURE YOUR WIFE AIN'T NO DONNA REED, EITHER.

---The Post takes a long look at African-Americans and baseball today. I understand; some people care about this issue, and some don't. I'm not sure how much role-modeling really matters; do African-American kids shy away from baseball because Barry Bonds is universally recognized as a jerk, as the article suggests partially contributes to the state of affairs? Well, I'd doubt it. I'm not qualified at all to speak on the subject, but I'll add three thoughts:

1) It's probably helpful not to frame the issue in strict terms of black-and-white; instead, it's probably an issue of densely-populated-areas vs. sprawl areas (a matter of space in which to play) or disposable income vs. not much disposable income. At any rate, if you're a kid a) whose "play areas" are small and b) whose family could more easily afford a single basketball than a bat, a glove, some baseballs, then c) you're probably more inclined to play basketball;

2) Maybe this issue, like most things, is cyclical---and a decade or two from now there will be lots of African-American big league stars (not that there's an absolute dearth of them now)---and, if the role model theories hold water, then there will be a revival of big league proportions in "the African-American community" (I do wonder if that phrase is tremendously reductionistic, by the way---though I'll admit that in most places there is a distinct "Greek community," so I could be wrong); and, to my extraordinary relief,

3) At least the Post has the decency not to accuse---er, strongly imply---that the home-town team is run by racists. (Then again, no one would confuse Jim Bowden's "baseball ideology" with J.P. Ricciardi's, for better or worse.)

---There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.

So, I was stuck in the check-out line at the grocery yesterday. And I do mean stuck. The woman in front of me had a full cart of groceries, but I figured, "Hey, it's crowded; there's just this one woman in front of me; why chance it by going to a different line."

Boy, did I bet on the wrong horse. The problem wasn't so much that it took forever to scan and bag all of her items; that only took quite a long time. What took forever were the coupons. Lots of coupons. A Red Sea full of coupons---or at least a dozen Redwoods worth of 'em. You get the picture.

The lady started off at $242.68. I know the exact figure, because I was watching; I was just curious as to what her little endeavor here was going to end up saving her. Fifty cents off of peas and a buck off of toilet paper---buy one Honey Bunches 'o Oats and get one free.

Having lots (and lots and lots) of coupons is one thing; advocating fervently for the inclusion of each and every one of them is another. Man, did the lady fight. She picked up the 16 oz. bottle of so-and-so, and the cashier said, "Actually, that's for the 12 oz."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, ma'am. Says so right here."

"Okay. . . . Can you get a bagger to exchange mine for the right one?"

"Um . . . sure."

After awhile, I became convinced that her goal was to reduce the cost all the way down to zero---all the way. I'm sure one of the laws of thermodynamics foreclosed the possibility, but she was as intent as seeing it through as John Kerry was on election night. That's what it felt like, by the way: it's two in the morning, and there's just not enough votes in Cuyahoga County. Are you going to call it a night, John? Oh no. To quote Ralph Wiggum, when faced with the call to surrender:

NEVER!!!

I became disinterested and engaged in the kind of scan of the grocery store that would, uh, make Dayn Perry kinda proud. That didn't go too well, either.

So I went back to the Coupon Lady's quest. Until . . .

. . . until . . .

I saw the sweatshirt. It was a Nats sweatshirt. Washington Nationals.

A kid, maybe thirteen or so, was wearing it.

I said to myself, "Hmmmnn," and returned to the coupon drama. Then I looked in the other direction, and I saw----that's right: another kid, maybe twelve, wearing a different Nats sweatshirt. And the blue road cap.

This is Atlanta Braves' territory for now---Braves caps win the "hat test" by a clear plurarity, at least. But I stress "for now."

The revolution has begun. Down here in Richmond, we'll be swayin' with our brothers and sisters in the District before long.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Positivity

Only edifying thoughts for this lovely Friday; why, it's raining, and I forgot my lunch today, and I had to go outside to the ATM and get a crummy sandwich---but that's okay

I hadn't realized it, but upon reflection, I've been a fount of pent-up rage here recently. Maybe that's the modus operandi for our, uh, literary genre, but it ain't really me. Why, I even told Pittsburgh's beat writer to go to hell the other day. (Not that he'd ever know, but that's besides the point.) Okay, so I told him to do so "kindly"; nevertheless, though, it's not something I'd want to admit to my Sunday School students.

(Pause. Yes, I actually do teach Sunday School; well, I don't know if I actually teach the 11th and 12th graders here anything, but sometimes I try. Why, I bet I'm the only guy ever to frame the Great Schism in terms of an East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry. Anyway . . .)

Well, being a caustic jerk isn't my style. If I'm going to tell you that you're an idiot, I'll do so far more subtly, probably a) because I'm not an incediary guy, b) so that I don't look like a jerk, and c) to retain plausible deniability of a sort when you come back and say, "Are you calling me an idiot?"

So, I'm reserving one day a week to wipe the slate clean. Consequently, welcome to the first-ever "Happy Thoughts Friday" here at Nationals Inquirer. I intend to stick to it without reservation. Let's try the concept out:

a) It's Friday, March 25, and there's still no television deal? Why, that's okay; after all, let's put the thing in context---there are starving children in China.

b) Thinking prospectively about this, it's the last Friday in April, and Endy Chavez is hitting .258/.293/.332, and he's the primary lead-off guy. The pitching is generally strong, but the offense just can't get in sync. Barry Svrluga asks Frank Robinson what he's going to do to shuffle the lineup around, get things going. (Hint: Endy.) Robinson says something like, "Endy's waiting for good pitches to hit, he's making good contact, just a bit unlikely right now, and besides his speed can really disrupt a defense." Hey, that's super! It's Friday!

c) It's the late Friday in July, and Esteban Loiaza is 11-7 with a 4.68 ERA. Some teams have expressed interest in Loiaza's services; they've offered some B-grade prospects. But Bowden is resolute. "Esteban is a rotation anchor," Bowden tells the Washington Times. "I intend fully to sign him to a multi-year deal. He's proven this year that he's earned the commitment to our first-class organization." Awesome! I'm going to the beach anyway!

And so forth. I can do this.

I'll leave this entry with a motivational ending. Jeffrey Hammonds' bat has looked uglier than a Rancor without braces, and he's got a date with Cafe Du Monde. But, by golly, he's gonna make it back to the big leagues. He just knows it.

And I fully support Jeffrey's quest. In fact, I'm rooting for him to tear it up in New Orleans and earn a regular spot in the majors again, maybe as the lefty-mashing half of a left field platoon.

Yeah, that sounds good.

So let's give Jeffrey our best thoughts. If he works really hard, he can end up back in the majors---back here, maybe.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Stand up for old-fashioned values

Like---oh, I don't know---honesty and responsible reporting

Okay, right; I don't know how much of an American value responsible reporting is. Good point.

Nevertheless, as noted by fellow bloggers, this situation just stinks like an oil refinery town, and the Guardians of the Press Pass aren't doing much to illuminate things. For instance:



Well, today, I'll note that Ed Waldman gets his opportunity to play "Baghdad Bob" in the Baltimore Sun.

No, let me amend that: Baghad Bob's demeanor---impervious over-optimism in a face of defeat as ugly as Helen Thomas' mug---would have been preferable to the enourmous pity party Waldman's story heaps upon his poor readers:

The Orioles have done much to counter the competition from the Nationals, who in September were relocated to the nation's capital by Major League Baseball over the bitter objections of owner Peter Angelos.

Waaah!

The drop in Orioles ticket sales would seem to back up Angelos' claim that the presence of a team in Washington would hurt his franchise.

Mommy!

This team is so improved, and with the addition of Sosa, the [ticket] deficiency is far greater," the owner said yesterday. "I would expect
that right now we would have been 15 or 20 percent ahead of last year."


I've gotta poop REAL bad!

"We should be around 3 million," Angelos said. "That's where I think we were headed until they put that team* there."

That's MY blankie!

Dryer said he couldn't predict how many tickets the Orioles would have sold if they had signed Sosa but didn't face competition from the ationals."Wow. That's a tough question," he said. "We'd definitely be ahead of last year. How much more it's tough to gauge. It's very hard to measure how much
it has hurt us."


Bowtie Man keeps making faces at me!

Hell, the article isn't even internally consistent. The unending, dirging, tiresome theme of the article is that the Nats are siphoning off ticket sales from the O's, but it:

1) notes that the Nationals haven't even done ticket give-aways or promotions yet and just started putting single-game tickets on sale less than two weeks ago;
2) quotes a PR hack as claiming that there's just this palpable buzz about the O's now; and,
3) significantly, and as pointed out by every DC blogger or other sentient this side of Sri Lanka who cares, and as reinforced by a neat little chart AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE, Waldman's story mentions that O's attendance declined every year for over half-a-decade before last season---which is strange, considering the attendance went UP during the season when the rumors and subsequent reality of a DC baseball team took shape.

All of our heads are ready to explode, I know, but I thought I'd point out one last Ebola-infested line from the Waldman article:

The Orioles didn't raise ticket prices.

Angelos is truly a magnanimous guy, eh? Of course not. As long-time rec.sport.baseball poster David Grabiner once put it:

The answer to this question is usually "none", regardless of X. Most commonly, X is something like "higher salaries" or "a smaller TV contract"; in these cases, "none" is correct. Baseball owners, like most business owners, are interested in maximizing profits or minimizing losses. Thus they set ticket prices with that goal in mind. Since having an additional fan attend the game does not have much effect on the cost of holding a game, this
means that prices are set to maximize revenues.


Angelos isn't looking out for the great fans of Baltimore (and I really do think that they're great; no sarcasm), as you imply, Waldman. Rather, he just lets his consultants set the ticket prices to maximize revenue in the best manner. And don't try to bootstrap the so-called "Nats' effect" into this conversation, either; ticket prices are set based on last year's numbers, obviously---and, last season, attendance went UP.

* Sounds an awful lot like Clinton's "that woman" quotation, no?

---Bravo to Capitol Punishment Chris, who was interviewed for Fantasy Info Central's Nats preview. Chris tells me that the interview was conducted awhile back, but his response have aged pretty well still. They seem intentionally fantasy-geared (for instance, he projects Jose Guillen's numbers by AVG/HR/RBI, something, knowing him, he wouldn't normally do), but there were quite a few interesting ones. I'll select one; okay, let's try Terrmel Sledge (of whom the writer mysteriously labeled "a bust"---something Bowden and definitely Robinson would ever dream of saying). Here's Chris:

CN: Sledge is getting to the point where he's getting overrated because he's underrated. If he played full time, he'd definitely put up some solid numbers. But, just because he doesn't have Major League experience, it doesn't mean he's young. This will be his age-28 season, so he's probably about as good as he's going to get.The other problem he's going to run into is that he's competing for playing time with several other players. Nick Johnson, Endy Chavez, Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel are all fighting for three slots in the lineup. No one's quite sure how that's going to play out. If I had to guess, I think that Terrmel would get a similar number of At Bats as last year, in some sort of rotation.While, as far as I know, he's not openly on
the trading block, Bowden seems willing to shop Sledge.


Sledge does strike me as one of those "so underrated that he's overrated" guys as well.

Look, I know some people criticize bloggers for referencing the work of other bloggers; I guess the inference is that bloggers intentionally try to pack together and create legitimacy through volume. Heck, some bloggers probably have the same criticism about their peers. But you know what? First, I am a complete outsider to blogging politics; I just do this 'cause it's fun. Second, I work fairly hard on my blog in my spare time, and I know there are other guys who work as hard and even much harder on theirs. And they do good work. So their good work deserves to be commended, I say. Chris represented the Nats' blogging community well, I think.

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