Ask Boswell

Apr 11, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about baseball, the Masters, the Capitals and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Are you concerned that you are risking your credibility by being such a cheerleader for Tiger Woods? I realize we like to give second chances to athletes, but he had his second chance after he cheated on his wife the first time. That second chance became a third chance, then a fourth chance, then a fifth chance, etc... How can anyone root for such an immoral person? It's starting to look like all you are interested in is selling newspapers.

You must be without sin, as they say, since you have no trouble throwing stones __even on such a nice post-Masters morning.

The crowds at Augusta are a nice proxy for public opinion. On Friday and Sunday, they joined the Tiger fun, but will less of the between holes exhortations than normal. On Saturday, when he shot 74, it was virtually silent as he walked between holes.

I was glad to see Tiger play as well as he did. But his putting has been a consistent problem. I saw the same thing hit Tom Watson after 35. The Original Tiger __14 major wins in 12 seasons, '97 to '08__ is gone. But the Next Tiger probably has at least 10 years. So lets see what he can do.

Boz, Is it reasonable to assume that the Rangers should be favored over the Caps? They have a better GF/GA number than Washington and beat the Caps 3 out of 4 this year, including two very ugly shutouts.

Those 7-0 and 6-0 loses by the Caps to the Rangers should scare any Caps fan. But they should also motivate the Caps. There is no way they can "look past" the Rangers as I believe they did at times with Montreal last year. And they have the memory of the seven-game Ranger series the previous year to remind them how tough Lindqvist can be.

It think it'll be a long, tough series which the Caps will win. And that test will serve to get them rolling for a good long run this spring. Of course, we've thought similar things in the past. But that's my story and...


Tom, Despite watching golf for thirty year, I haven't figured out the player-caddy relationship. After Rory chipped out on the 10th, why didn't the caddy hand him a 5-iron or hybrid and had him try to get up-and-down for a bogey? Similarly, if Bones suggested Phil chip out on 18 at Winged Foot, he would've had his US Open. (Now I have to pull for a 41-year old man to win at Congressional.) At least Phil was 34, a two-time major winner, and the second-best golf of his time.

It's hard for the caddie to know whether to treat McIlroy like a 10-top-in-the-world golfer, which he is, or a 21-year-old, which he also so. Or do you try to do "both." Of course, you can say, "We can still make bogey" or some such. But at such moments, a caddie is much more likely to lose his bag __his job__ by saying the wrong thing than he is to become part of Masters lore as a genius by finding just the right words.

Tom, Were you surprised Tiger didn't have a better back nine on Sunday after shooting 31 on the front? He was full of adreneline on 8, which is tough with a couple of hours to go, but after hitting a great tee shot on 11 I thought he'd at least shoot 2 under on the back and post -12 for the guys to chase. Thanks!

I'm sure Tiger was the most shocked person on the course when he did no better than 36 on the back after his 31 on the front. There was a "great sucking sound" beside the 4th tee on Sunday when word camee that Tiger had hit his second shot to 6-feet for eagle at No. 8. I have never seen so many people abandom The Leader so fast. We all double-timed it the 400 or so yards up to the 8th tee just in time to see Tiger make his putt and do his sidearm fist pump.

Just as important, he made a great up-and-down at the 9th, complete with a Must Have 12-15-foot par putt. That's when I thought he'd post a -12 or -13 score and let everybody shoot at it. But, once again, a couple of truly awful short putts __a 3-footer for par at the 12th (a three-putt from 28 feet)__ and that missed 4-5-footer for eagle at the 15th just kept his momentum from gaining.

He was right there. We all know that Sunday will lead to soul-searching for McIlroy. But Tiger, at 35, is going to be asking himself, "Do I still have as much of IT as I used to?"

The ability to grind out those tough putts has nothing to do with "swing changes." Once you stop making a huge percentage of them, as he did in his prime, do you ever start making them again __except for the occassional 'great week.'

Tough golf soul-searching for both, though for different reasons. I'd rather cope with "How did I shoot 80 on Sunday," than "why couldn't I make so few crucial putt from 5-to-10 feet when I really needed to on either Saturday or Sunday.

Thanks again for bringing us readers "inside the ropes" in your Masters columns. I can watch hours of TV coverage, but your side stories make me think I am there with you. That's it, I just wanted to say thanks. Take care.

Much appreciated. I'm always surpised that as exhaustive as TV coverage is of major golf tournaments __and as much as I enjoy the tart Faldo__ I find that what I think is worth saying, and what they've apparently been talking about for hours, are seldom the same thing!

However, I do think that the blow-by-blow on Sunday was something that HAD to be seen. No reprise could ever do it 1/10th justice.

An amusing aside. For many years the Masters has been trying to help reporters with The Problem of the Masters. We all cover the first 63 holes any way we want. But even if you were a nine-foot-tall marathon runner with binoculars, there's no way you could really "cover" the final nine on days like Sunday when there is action __and huge roars everywhere.

So, the Masters __and there is nothing to match it in any other sport__ has put a person TV at the desk of every reporter that gets FOUR channels. And you can shoose from any hole on the back nine, or CBS feed, or Golf Channel, or ESPN or Interview Room or...

And you can switch channels constantly to watch any FOUR things that you want to see at ONE TIME all just a foot in front of you. It's great. You walk 9 holes. Or maybe 12-13, if you dare, then go back to the Four Channels of your choice!

On Sunday, four channels just wasn't enough! Not even close.

UI much prefer it when the drama is in the last two groups because I can follow them on the course and work back and forth. You want the "feel" of it. But Sunday, there was no choice. I hope everybody at home loved as much as everybody did down here.

The late great Al McGuire used to say that he would rather have a "C" student than an "A" student shooting free throws with the game on the line. He said that the "A" student would think too much about how important the game was and be too nervous. That said, how do you teach someone like Rory that he shouldn't care what all of Ireland thinks when he is shanking tee shots? Do the best ones learn to just "not care" and ignore the pressure?

I think a special form of arrogance is necessary in great athletes if they are going to play "above" the interests of everybody who is rooting for them __teammates, country, etc.  I love it when I spot it in baseball players. They are playing their own game __driven by the desire to be excellent and to test themselves__ and they don't let anything stop them. They play "above the breaks" __ignoring bad ones__ and they play outside, or beyond, the judgment of others. Their own self-judgment is tough enough. They don't worry about what the world thinks.

In golf, Nicklaus lived in that state for many years and so did Tiger. Watson, too. You could feel their "healthy contempt" for the opinion of mankind.

How can you ask a 21-year-old to have that? You hope that someday, when he hits one off a tree and all of Norther Ireland groans, he will think, "Bleep 'em if they can't take a joke" and then birdie the next two holes __for himself, for the game and only incidentally for the "fans."

Oh, fans are great. But you can't let 'em into your head. Certainly not in golf.     

Mr. Boswell: I don't care if Schwartzel never wins another major, if he becomes a one-time wonder like so many other Zach Johnsons. Why? Because yesterday's finish was about as thrilling as I've ever seen. At 5:30 p.m., any one of eight golfers was in a position to win it, and none really gave it away -- they all finished steady, strong, or in Schwartzel's case, strongest. Schwartzel deserves a bit of special polish on his trophy for that, even if it's the only one he ever gets.

I completely agree.

He's such a nice guy. Grew up on his family's chicken-and-egg farm. Say he still loves to "drive the tractors." Maybe not the colorful champ that the Masters media might have prefered, but just fine with me. He may be another Trevor or Zach. (Not bad players to be.) But he may have another major in his bag someday.

However, much to his credit, Schwartzel went out of his way to point out how much pressure McIlroy took into the last round because of his big lead and how easy it was, relatively speaking, to free wheel from behind.

Schwartzel faced about the minimum amount of pressure possible __though it was still a lot. After he birides the 15th, he senses that the door is ajar, but he has to make birdies. So, he attacks at 16 and 17. By the time he might sense that "Oh, God, I might actually win," he is on the 18th tee and pumped up with his great birdie at 17.

What impressed me most was his drive and perfect second shot at the 18th when he had the match on his racket. He just hit both shots perfectly __and the drive is terrifying out of that shoot__  and he deserved to make that last putt as an exclamation mark: I won and I deserved it! 


What a sad list. Do you think future stewards of the game will change the rules to allow these players to be recognized in the Hall of Fame? Do you differentiate between throwing games, gambling on games, and using PEDs? Advocates for Barry Bonds often point to his production early in his career to show he was a great player before being suspected of using PEDs but I have never heard that argument used for Roger or Manny....

I haven't voted for the Hall in about 10 years. A wise Post decision not to allow us to do it.

I'd never vote for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire or now Manny.

But I think it's obvious that the baseball Hall of Fame will never be what it once was __a kind of perfect otherworldy place that you visited with no complex feelings, just childlike pleasure.

That's gone. I thanks the players union for that, with Selig and the owners a fairly close second. FWIW, I doubt that I'd be in favor of either Don Fehr or Selig being in the Hall. Marvin Miller, absolutely. But the combination of the lost  '94 World Series and steroids is just too much bad stuff to have transpire on your watch. The buck stops at the top __of the union and of MLB.

Zimmerman injured himself on the headfirst slide. Why do smart players use the head first slide? The risk of injury is so much greater. Say, what you want about Ty Cobb, but he knew how to slide.

Some players just never seem to get hurt, even though they have completely different styles: Rose (hustle), Ripken (selective aggression), Eddie Murray (Easy Eddie, no running into walls) or Adam Dunn.

That ability to play 150+ games year after year is a HUGE factor in evaluating a player and is another reason that the Nats were so stupid not to sign Dunn to a market contract for three or four years. The only time the guy gets hurts is when he has to have his appendix out! It wasn't baseball that hurt him for a few days!

I'm starting to get concerned about Zimmerman's durability. He's already had seasons where he's missed about 50 games and 20 games. I bet this injury takes much longer to heal and has a much worse chance of returning than the Nats are letting on. I talked to Ryan about it a couple of times in Florida. He understood how much he had to use good sense in not hurting it again.

Then he slides head first into second on a play when the throw doesn't evenm go there. You have to figure out what parts of the game are risky for YOU and which are not. Mike Schmidt seldom got hurt, even though he threw himself all over the place at 3rd. I thought Z'man would be like that. Scott Rolen was the other type __tough, a wonderful player, but the position and the game took a steady toll on him. I hope Z'man learns some of the Ripken/Murray self-preservation instincts.

Carlton Fisk once told me that after his second major injury blocking home plate, he went to the organization and told them, "I'm never blocking the plate again. It's a bad trade for me and for the team. I'll swipe tag from now on." The Red Sox were delighted that he's figured it out. 


Couldn't help but think of that old Red Smith saying while watching the Nats-Mets game yesterday. Two teams scrapping to score runs, a starting pitcher scrambling to keep the team in the game for six innings, a stream of relievers coming up and shutting down the Mets, sending up a pitcher who probably had to scramble to find his spikes (and I bet never put on his cup) to sacrifice bunt, having to use your backup catcher as a PINCH RUNNER to score the go-ahead run and a three-run bomb to cap it off? Heck of a game.

Red and Shirley loved complex games with dozens of decisions by managers. I've taped the last week or Nats games and am looking forward to watching some of them. Yesterday's looks like it was especially fun.

The starting rotation has shown admirable medicority. (A 3.80 ERA for Livo, Lannan, Marquis and Z'mann). Hope they can keep it up. Because that lineup isn't going to score too many runs if Z'man and LaRoche keep getting hurt. More reason to play Ramos more, even though Pudge has gotten some key hits. But those hits were scary close to being 4-3 or 4-6-3 DPs.


Boz, watching Tiger on Sunday move to the lead and then fade, caused me to conclude that what we say will be the best we'll get from him from now on. He might grab one or two more majors if the fates allow, but if he can't putt any better than that, he will never be the Tiger of old. And can you name one great player who rediscovered his putting stroke after losing it?

Plenty of the greats rediscovered for a week here andd there, like Nicklaus in '86. He switched to a putter so big and ugly that Watson stopped him and said, "Jack, it looks like you're going out to kill something for dinner."

I still think Tiger is going to remain fascinating for a long time. But I remember how people kept think Arnie and Jack and Greg and Seve and on and on would "get back to where they once were" for many years after __in retrospect__ they were far past their primes.

I'm still go with my Thursday column as my basic feeling on Tiger and his long-term future.

As the Nats are considering Tulowitzki-type contract extenstion for Ryan Zimmerman, do they have any concerns about his durability? It seems as though he's prone to minor injuries (abdomen, oblique, etc) that end up costing him weeks of time every season. Is this normal wear-and-tear or is it an issue of genuine concern?

I'd put any Tulo ideas on a hold a while until we get more "durability" answers. But there comes a point __sometime next season__ when you have to pull the trigger, if you're going to, or the window for a long-term deal closes.

But there's no ruish now.

Last weekend...the Nats blew threw away the win on Saturday...then on Sunday, they showed great determination coming back to take the win in the 11th. Which one is the "real" Nats that you think we will see emerge this year - Saturday's or Sunday's team?

I have noticed that pretty good teams sometimes win close games and sometimes lose them. That's why they are "pretty good," not "very good."

Be glad they look like they are finally deep enough that the 102, 103-loss years are behind. BTW, 4-5 is the same record as 72-90. With injuries mounting up, I'm glad I didn't go higher than 75 wins in my constantly-changing ruminations.

More important long term, Espinosa and Ramos both look like they have a chance to be special.

The Orioles young pitching rotation __Britton, Arrieta, Matusz, Tillman, Bergesen__ looks might deep. Right now, even if Strasburg comes back to 98% form, I think I'd straight up trade all the Nats young pitchers for all the O's young rotation. Britton looks remarkable. Slider looks just like his 93-94 fastball __until it's too late. But he's only had two starts. Interesting to see whether he or Z'mann has the better career.  

I propose that at this (early) point in the season the proper adjective to describe the Nationals is respectable. They haven't played well enough to be called surprising or upstarts. They haven't played poorly enough to be disappointing or terrible. Hovering near .500 and playing decent baseball, respectable seems to fit best.

Jerry Hairston is a symbol to me. He has had a very useful career. But when you have him starting all over the place __CF, LF__ I think it's too soon to use a word like "respectable."

The jury's very much out __and a lot depends on Livo, Marquis and Lannan being "respectable."

But the Clip, Storen and Burnett back end of the bullpen sure looks a lot better than it did last month in Viera. How fast things change.

One good sign, Jason Werth is on a pace for 18 RBI. Wild guess, but I suspect that will improve.


Good morning Boz, What causes a collapse the magnitude of Mcilroy's and is there anything that can be done to avert it once it starts? The kid is only 21. Will this make him stronger or scar him for the rest of his career?

Every lifelong golfer has had exactly that meltdown a thousand times. It defines why golf is the cruelest game. When I was in my 20's and I suddenly lost the ability to hit a decent shot, I actually walked off a few courses in mid-round if I had paired up with strangers at East Potomac Park. I'd just say, "I'm sorry, but playing like this isn't fun for me and it can't be fun for you hearing me cussing or muttering trying not to c uss. I'm walking in."

Gee, I don't remember any of 'em saying, "Oh, please stay."

That wasn't McIlroy you were watching. That was golf.

Caps get swept in 4games. Three are shut outs and they score 1 goal in the 4th game. Caps would make a great group of skaters for ice show like the Ice Capcades. They are not a playoff hockey team. blow up the team and trade Ovie while he still ahs some value.


The Caps changed their whole playing style __as I suggested after their last loss last season (and plenty of other people did, too)__  so that they WOULD be a playoff team. Tougher, better defense, block more shots, score in the crease on rebounds, physically bigger (Arnott), etc.

If they lose, it will be done in a completely different way, that's for sure!


Boz: With the first home games against the Phillies coming up this week, we'll no doubt see the usual invasion of their behavior-challenged fans we've come to expect, along with the accompanying hand-wringing by Nats fans about how horrible it is. No fan likes their park taken over by fans from the opposing team, but here's my take on this: (1) It's temporary; as the Nats get better and win on a consistent basis, attendance from supporters will improve and it will be harder for the fans of opponents, including the Phillies, to get seats. (2) Several thousand Phillie fans translate into thousands of dollars of income for the Nats, some of which has certainly already been spent on prospects (i.e. Strasburg, Harper) and free agents (their own former star player, Werth). So, they're actually unwittingly helping put the pieces in place that will eventually lead to their own demise (perhaps beginning next year), as their team continues to age and our young propsects they helped finance develop. Your thoughts?

Don't sell them "group packages." They're welcome to come, just not come in a bus as a drunken mob and sit together.

Oh, sorry, that isn't a fair description. Or is it?

Hey Mr. Boswell, I'm a big fan. My question is about comments Nyjer recently made on a Milwaukee radio show that were critical of the Nationals organization and fans. Do you think this accurately describes his feelings, or is it an emotional response coming off a breakup that he "doesn't really mean"? This upset me because I love the Nationals, and even made a special effort to show up on Nyjer Morgan bobblehead night last season, and was disappointed that Nyjer took the low road while other former favorite Adam Dunn has been nothing but classy.

Nyjer's comment was truly comical. I've never seen a 30-year-old ballplayer who knew less about how to play the game. It was all a mystery to him. Yeah, yeah, he started as a hockey player and got a late start in learning the-game-of-situations. Before he decides what town is or isn't a "baseball town," he should at least become an actual "ballplayer." 

Is it time to panic since Bryce Harper has only hit singles in his first four games? in all seriousness, what would be a good goal for him after 1 month at Hagerstown?

You can't move him anywhere until he has at least an OPS of .900 at the level where he is.  Every superior players who got to the majors young absolutely destroyed the minors. Otherwise, since the numbers don't lie, you still need to learn.

But in Harper's case, jeez, give the kid a few weeks. I assume he'll cacth fire.

Are these first games a decent snapshot of the Nats of 2011? Fits and starts? Good defense followed by horrible defense? Nail-biting middle-inning relief? Runs in bunches, followed by droughts? I'll tell you, watching yesterday's game ran me through nearly every possible emotion. 162 games is going to wear me out!


But I think the defense will improve as the summer goes along.

It's easy to argue Mcilroy gave this tournament away. But didn't the outcome have more to do with exceptional play by Scott, Day, and of course Schwarzl? I'll admit to admiring the kid and wish he hadn't faltered on the big stage. But consider, with a one stroke lead at the turn, Rory ultimately would have had to equal his best nine holes of the tournament at that point in order to win. Even if he'd parred the back nine, he'd still have finished out of second place. So realistically, his collapse wasn't what lost the tournament for him. It just made him finish farther down the leaderboard.

If McvIlroy had shot 71, he'd still have lost. Hope that makes him feel a little better.

Everybody shot the lights out. Very impressive. But it also shows that having Tiger on the leaderboard didn't scare 'em. He shot 67. But there were 67s and 68s all over the place.

That's it for today. I'm at the Atlanta Airport and I think it would be a good idea if I actually caught my plane! Thanks for all the great questions.


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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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