Ask Boswell

Mar 21, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online Monday, March 21 at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about baseball, the Redskins, the Wizards and more.

Fire, aim, ready: the mantra of the chatter!

Lets go: March Madness, Opening Day in sight, whatever you good folks desire!

Is it just my leanings as a Terps fan, or has the Big Ten gotten many more bids than they deserve over the past decade, especially in light of how they've been dominated in the early season challenge? ACC teams almost always do well in the tournament, while the Big Ten teams( except MSU) tank. Also, what volume of crow does Jay Bilas have to swallow after his vitrolic tirades about VCU getting in?

I've watched a ton of the tournament so far, but didn't hear Bilas. But I'm sure, as a former Power School guy, he'll get plenty of grief.

To me, the selection committee took a huge (and arrogant) gamble by putting 11 Big East and only four ACC teams in the field. That is a HUGE statement that you really, reallly, really know who's good and exactly how good they are. And they just don't know with that level of precision.

And it blew up in their faces. They deserved it.

Yes, they should weigh the relative talent base in various conferences. But they shouldn't go crazy. With hindsight, 11-to-4 looks nuts. And that's how it turned out.

After the first 5-to-10 teams at the top of college basketball, the level of talent is very even __between major conferences and even between power school and mid-majors. People have been saying this for years. There's a difference. But err on the side of assuming that schools are a little more closely bunched. 

Anyway, it has been an amazing first four days.

Hi Boz, What is your opinion on Strasburg's delivery? Does he need to change it for the sake of his durability? If so, how difficult will it be to convince him? How difficult would that be for him to make the change? And finally, might it affect his high 90's velocity? Thanks!

I've probably read all the same stories that you have about the relationship between a pitcher's delivery and what may or may not cause arm problems. After reading the story in SI, I went back and watched one of Strasburg's games again in slow motion to see if I could detect what they were talking about.

I wouldn't change his delivery at all. When Strasburg was at SDSU, everybody analyzed his delivery. You could find tons of people in baseball who thought it was no problem. As after as I'm concerned, I think the bigger challenge will be getting him to recreate the EXACT delivery that he had in '10. To me, the damage is much greater in trying to change your natural throwing motion after surgery and then you break something else __something that's harder to fix, like your shoulder.

Strasburg is a unique talent. Every time I go back and watch him I'm more impressed. I think he simply has to live out his 'baseball fate' and live with however it works out. So do we. He's very lucky to have come along in a period when Tommy Jophn not only existed but had reached a point where recovery rates are so high.

If SS had come along in 2030, not 2010, maybe our understanding of pitching mechanics would be further advanced and he'd have been taught a bit differently when he was younger. Or maybe not. But he has to play out the (wonderful) cards that he's been given. And the rest of us have to hope that he comes back 100% or very close to it. I still think he will.   

I'm betting my cousin the Nats will finish higher than the Mets. Would you make the same bet?

My two cents: Go ahead and take the Nats on your bet. But I wouldn't make that bet a whole lot bigger than $.02! There's too big a range on how the Nats season will turn out.

However, the Mets are in a financial shambles after the Madoff scandal. The Nats are in much better financial shape to make any in-season moves that may help them if they play well and think they have a chance to get to .500.

Seriously, before yesterday's Texas-Arizona game, when was the last time you saw a 5-second call made in the last two minutes of a game?

I've seen it many times. The best NCAA tournament teams are often excllent at full-court pressure, especially in the final minutes when they need it most. There is no written or unwritten rule about "not calling" the 5-second rule at the end of games. If anything, I'd say it's more strictly enforced late in games because the whole crowd is "counting" in their heads (or out loud) and watching to make sure the right call is made. I covered college basketball for quite a few years, including a few years on the GU beat and I have no sense that anything has changed.

It was a close call, as replay shows. But, in a sport where there are many bad calls and some atrocious ones, I wouldn't come down heavily on the ref in this case. He did his count, he made his call and __even on the slowest replay__ he wasn't far off. BUT, that being said, if I were a ref, I'd rather sin by having a 5-second count that is 5.25 seconds, rather than 4.75 seconds.

If you are in bounding the ball, the player has to have that clock in his head. Even in high school we practiced that many times. You don't wait until the 5th second to call time. 

Why are the commentators, who rip Tiger for everything under the sun, "apologizing for the audio pickup" when Brandt Snedeker turns to the camera and drops an f-bomb. He doesn't count as a disgrace to the game of golf? It's like they've been holding Tiger to a different standard for so long they are just settled into being hypocrits.

Obviously, the same standard should apply to everybody. But Tiger has a long history of cussing on camera or showing anger, so any criticism of him is done in nthat context.

Also, it's a tradition in golf, ever since it got big on TV with Arnold Palmer in the late '50's and '60's, not to cuss (or, back then, even smoke too much) when the cameras were on you. Though Arnie flicking away his cig butt before setting up for a shot is kind of iconic now.  

Boz, I watched more college basketball this weekend than I have all year and the one thing that hit me is that nobody seems to have a true, post-up, back to the basket, big man. Nobody. Now I know why every NBA team has at least one guy named Slava playing center but nobody in this country wants the job. Is it because of the three-point shot, the ESPN effect (you don't get on Sportscenter for hitting turnaround jumpers) or something else?

Good point and a trend now for a long time. The top big men often don't even make it to college ball for one day.

BUT one team that isn't in the Big Dance DID have a classic low post center __Maryland. I was amazed that a coach as good as Gary Williams with such a unique asset in hand had such a bad collapse at the end of the season. Having a quality big man with great fundamentals, good hands and a sense of how to help teammates really should open up possibilities at both ends of the court that every few teams now have.

Speaking of flops, man, was GU lucky that Old Dominion smoked Purdue by nearly 20 points. At least it makes it look like John Thompson III got licked by a good team. If ODU had had a bad game against Purdue and lost by 10 __every team has days like that__ the screaming about JTIII's poor performances in recent tournaments would be so loud that I could hear it from the Hilltop all the way down here to Viera.

John's was a better NCAA tournament coach than regular season coach, I always thought. His style __intensity, defensive pressure, physical play__ worked well in March. JTIII is almost the exact opposite of his dad as a coach __as both of them have mentioned many times. His roots are pure Princeton. That cerebral style and an emphasis on 3-pt shooting can blow up very quickly in March. Extra pressure and tension isn't going to hurt you much when you're playing end-to-end pressure defense. But that pressure is probably going to show up in at least one disastrous outside shooting night.

But the ODU game was just a beating. Even with a huge game from Holis Thompson (24 points), they couldn't come close.

 Can ODU really be this good? They aren't taking any prisoners. Don't say, "Will the slipper fit?" They look more like Cinderella in combat boots.  


Assuming the Nats' starting pitching is as mediocre as it looks, I think two guys could be very important this year. Ian Desmond may be the only weak defensive link on the field, but if he maintains his range and plays smarter, he may be okay, and with a pitch to contact staff, that's crucial. The other guy is Sean Burnett, who's starting to look like the most reliable late-inning option. He's going to pitch a lot of key innings and may end up as the closer. Your thoughts?

A lot of people that I respect have a higher opinion of Desmond's defense than I do. So, I'm probably wrong. The latest is Jim Leyland. He and the Tiger organization have a very high view of Desmond. You could almost see Jimmy thinking, "Hey, would they be dumb enough to trade him to us?"

I mentioned to Jim that Desmond didn't just make errors __he makes EVERY kind of error. It's not one problem that has to be solved. He gets to quick and bobbles balls that he charges. His hands aren't terribly soft. He gets caught between hops opr lets the ball play him. His throws miss, when they miss, in all directs, not just high or just low. Then, he'll go 10 days without a mikstake and you'll think, "Wow, what a shortstop."

Leyland said, "That sounds like a shortstop who will improve with more experience." He seemed to think that one big flaw was a problem. But lots of different kinds of mishaps could be ironed out __to a degree__ over time.

I thought that was smart and am probably in the process of changing my mind. Desmond absolutely smoked a ball for an opposite field double in the ninth yesterday. Everybody has their head down typing in a boring 6-1 game and "Crack" everybody looks up and says, "Who was THAT?" And it's Desmond. When they say that "the ball sounds different off his bat," that applies to Ian. And it doesn't apply to many shortstops. He and Espinosa have a chance to be a huge pleasure for a bunch of years.

The bullpen/closer is another problem. Burnett has been excellent, but I think closing on a regular basis is a bridge too far for him. When I've talked to him __and he's a treat__ I get the feeling that he's now in a slot where he can be successful for a long time. Do you really want to change his role? His goofy motion leads to some very hard-to-hit stuff. It's not obvious why he would miss so many bats or be tough on RHers as well as l;efties, but he is.

I'd hate for them to overuse and possibly ruin him.    

Don't you think the tourney committee should be admonished for putting 11 Big Least teams in the tourney as cannon fodder for the rest of the country. My solution would be to only allow 2 teams from the conference in the tourney next year.


In the 16, Big East two, Mountain West two.


Thanks for chatting. Opening day is almost here. In the past you have posted recommendations for seat selection at Nat's Park- do you mind putting those up again? I'm interested in some of the less expensive seats that still offer good views- the field, the capitol, maybe both? What sections should I target?

Last year I was walking the upper deck with Larry Lucchino, Red Sox exec, who was instumental in building Camden Yards, the Padres fine park and redesigning Fenway. Aside from architects, I don't know who would be a better expert on ballpark design. And, once he left the Orioles, where we constantly had enjoyable arguments __he was EBW's designated bulldog__ we've had a lot of good talks. Anyway, he thought, and I agree, that the most distinguishing feature of Nats Park, which is otherwise a very nice, but not quite Top 10 stadium, is a truly wonderful upper deck.

You can't go wrong up there. Kasten deliberately wanted to have good seats and great prices for more than 10,000 people. That way you grow you fans base; you don't just see how many $60 seats and suites you can sell. The 300 level is excellent, top price ~$24. Maybe 2,000 seats have Capital views. But thousands of the $17 seats have views as good as the (very high) press box. And I've been known to go sit up in the $11 seats when I'm not on deadline just because it's breezy on hot nights, very panoramic. 

BUT you have to like the upper deck! Be serious, it's no box seat. My wife doesn't like heights, so it's out for us. But I love walking around the concourses and all the views. 

The Nats would much prefer that you buy the more expensive seats lower down! The 200's are excellent, especially between 3rd and 1st. But ~$50.

Until they turn those garages into something easier on the eye, I would touch the (higher priced) lower deck if there was an alternative at the 200 level.

But, for value and sweep of view, in all of baseball, it's hard to beat the 300's, 400's and even some '500s at Nats Park. Washington just isn't as beautiful as, say, San Francisco. But there's no site in this area that makes better use of what D.C. and vacinity have to offer than the upper deck at Nats Park. (You'll note I made no mention of the lower bowl. In an era with so many magnificent parks, it's just okay, though I like the RF bleachers.)    

Did you get to see the televised replay of the 7th game of the 1960 World Series a few months ago? What were your general impressions? How about the Coates play? the Mantle play at first base? the fact that Hal Smith actually struck out (according to current interpretations of a swing) a pitch or two before he hit his key 8th inning three-run homerun?

Aaarrrgghhh! I missed it? I knew it was coming then forgot about it. Any word on when it will be shown again?

I don't have a question--just want to thank the Post--and you in particular--for covering the 0s. Okay, it's not DC's home team, but it's very near by, and it IS the home team for some Post readers (even of the paper edition). The Orioles are the reason I am a baseball fan, and I will never forget my first love.

That was a very coinsiderate "type" when you wrote "os," rather than "O's." Touchy subject for some.

The O's are hitting ebtter. Markakis is off to a hot start. Vlad doing fine. No big slumps except Luke Scott. But their young rotation is their key. And they've been kind of shakey so far. Tillman, Matusz, Bergesen, Arrieta and Guthrie have ERAs of 3.55, 3.65, 5.94, 5.40 and 6.00.

Doesn't mean anything yet. But those guys are the key to .500 for the Birds. That's a long, long way to go from 66-96. The "reality" of the first day of spring may be settling around Baltimore, too.

Why won't the Nationals give Riggleman more than a year contract? It's very difficult to get players respect when management doesn't support you. What do you think?

They should pick up his team option for '12 before Opening Day. I think it's basic and obvious.

Not because Rig is a great manager, but because you give ANY decent manager enough cushion to have authority in his clubhous. AND it doesn't cost much at all to tack on that extra year. Rig is one of the lowest paid managers. His loyalty and desire to manage in his home town took away leverage. They would waste more money on a signing bonus for a Doiminican recruit who doesn't pan out. When they had to eat the last year of Acta's contract, it didn't even cause any indigestion.

Everybody in baseball knows that Riggleman is an excellent game manager. I get a kick out of the know-nothings who knock his late-inning moves or double switches. His background includes many years with the Cards as well as Dodgers where the fundamentals of N.L. baseball are in your blood. You can debate his lineups, his handling of players, his leadership __all those are fair game for any manager. But when you act like you knopw more about first-pitch-to-last managing, odds on that The Fan is clueless. An example, last year Riggleman took Dunn out of eight games for his defense __double switch or whatever. The Nats record in those games: 8-0. When you're ahead and have a defensive liability on the field __or two of them__ it is essential to try to Win Now, not worry about "what if they tie it up, then we won't have our big bats in the game in the 11th inning."

On the Nats TV broadcast yesterday, Bob Carpenter mentioned several times that he heard that Ramos had a good chance of being the Opening Day catcher. That seems to contradict recent statements by Riggleman that Pudge would definitely be the guy (with Ramos getting more starts as the season goes on) -- unless Pudge is about to be traded?

Ramos looked great against Verlander yesterday __as tough a RHer as he'll face all year. Smoked a liner off the leftcenter wall. And a decent line out.

The Day that Ramos is deemed ready to play regularly, that is the day Pudge should become a backup. 

How will Pudge take it? Leyland was asking me the same thing yesterday.

Hi - great column today even if reality isn't fun. If the Nats believe Harper is the right fielder fo the future and that he will be ready by 2012 at the latest, how does it make sense to invest so much money in Werth,another right fielder? With Werth's no-trade 7 year deal and assuming (hoping) Harper develops and is called up by next opening day, how do you see the outfield developing? Thanks.

Werth can probably play CF for a season or two if needed. Also, if Morse pans out as a hitter, then he could move to 1st base after two years of LaRoche. Harper will play 40% of his minor league games in CF, too.

Don't worry. Too much talent is never a problem. Werth can play LF or RF, as well as CF. They just don't want to wear him out unnecessarily in CF in a season when they won't contend for a wild card.  Best case: Harper can play CF.  

Boz: Very insightful column on the current realities facing the Nats. It will be hard to make much progress this year with mediocre pitching. On a happier note, I heard Harper went 3-for-5 with 3 home runs against a low-A Tigers affiliate yesterday. He has a lot to learn but I expect him to blow through our farm system this year. Combined with Strasburg's expected return and maturation of the other young talent, it seems like everything is pointing toward next year for the big leap ahead -- do you concur?

Thanks. Sorry to post a compliment. But is the three-homer story about Harper true? I didn't hear it yesterday. If it's right, I don't care who he did it against as long as they had "Tigers" in their shirts.

Ryan Zimmerman was very impressed with Harper and buys the Real Deal analysis. Amazed that anybody can be that good at 18. But remember that if Harper gets called up in September and is starting in the OF by mid-'12, that is astronomically fast progress __the Mickey Mantle track.  

With Bryce going to Nat Class A team in Hagerstown, do you think he will be an everyday player? I ask, because a buddy and I are thinking of going up there to catch a game and see him play.

Another "ha!"

The Nats would play him twice a day and bat him in two different spots in the order if they could.

And Harper would be in heaven: "Gosh, I might get to feel hitterish 20 times a day!"

Tom, This is now 6 years waiting for a respectable team. Looks like more waiting. Did it have to be this bad? Others have done a full up and down cycle in that amount of time. Why are the Nats so slow to improve?

Kasten thinks they wasted about two years with unnecessary mistakes. Don't bother asking him to confirm it because he won't. But he talks to poeople and those people talk to me and I believe 'em.

However, I've looked at the history of EVERY expansion team, every tyeam in a new city and every team that hit rock bottom with back-to-back 100 wins seaasons to see how long it took for them to be a winning team. Sorry to say, five sub-.500 years in a row doesn't constitute very much suffering. If you get squared away in 6-to-8 years, that's pretty normal. I may do a chart on this sometime. I hate to say it, but you can wait 10+ years and it's not an outlier.

The Lerners have, correctly, decided that if you don't do everything that's necessary to establish your franchise after you get Strasburg and Harper, then when the hell are you going to do it. The window is open the next six years and they will try very hard to get through it. As recently as 20 months ago, I wondered/worried. Not anymore. Will they succeed? That's a different question.     

Pittsburgh Husband & I were at a fund-raiser Saturday evening & didn't get to watch the game (not that we would have as he considers himself a jinx!). When we left, he went ballistic all the way home (don't worry--our son-in-law Georgetown Husband drove!). He said that no matter how good a record Dixon accrues in the regular season, he can't win the big ones. Is this true? Is this fair? What went wrong? PH was in a foul mood all day Sunday (even in Church!). Pittsburgh Wife--and Chat Buddy of Tracee

I'll take this in a different direction.

Those were the two dumbest unnecessary end-of-game fouls that I have ever seen in my life. To have them both happen in the last 2.2 seconds is bordelrine unbelievable. If you are the coach of a high school team and either of those fouls happen, you can't accept many congratulations on the win. Mistakes that bad reflect poorly on the coach.

Happy for Mack that he doesn't have to live with it and Butler gets to play on. But I would have prefered overtime to get both kids off the hook.

Part of the reason March Madness fascinates so many people is that it has un undercurrent of cruelty.  

Hi Tom, What do you make of Harper's attitude? Do you like the self-assured ego in a first-year rook, regardless of signing bonus and draft order? Or is it counter-productive ultimately in terms of his integration into this somewhat fragile team?

It'll be fascinating to watch. I've never seen an 18-year-old with this much "personality" on a big-league stage. I doubt it will be the slam-dunk love affair that Sheinin predicts. More complex than that. But my first-hand impressions are positive. He's a "hard" player and that takes you a long way in any clubhouse.

Hey Tom, Love your columns but I have to correct you. It was VCU and not ODU that stomped Georgetown. I don't mean to get into the details but as a VCU alum, I have to get my moment to shine in the sun before it is over!

Thanks. Of course. I've watched too much basketball and baseball simultaeously the last few days! That's the life of chatting.

Great questions today. Only have time for one more. Thanks again.


Boz, I hate to make this comparison, because it's presumptuous, but didn't Ted Williams arrive with a similar attitude, that he struggled to tone down among the big leaguers?

Didn't seem to hurt Teddy Ballgame too much. And a good point that he arrived with a huge personna and pulled it off

I'm leaving now to check Kilgore's latest post on Harper. Something about an ankle. Welcome to the 24/7 age. Even when you're chatting in real time, there's still stuff happening everywhere else to check on. I actually like it that way. For most of my life, the world always seemed a little too slow for my metabolism. Well, that problems' gotten fixed!

See you folks next week. 

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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