Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jan 14, 2013

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Still sticking with that?

I think they've turned the corner to be a winning team, yes.

As I wrote on Sunday, history says that RGIII will come back and either "be himself" or close enough. That's the key. I’m amazed that, in the last 50 years, there have only been 2 or 3 RGIII-level QB’s who have ever had their careers as starters ended before they were 30 __Culpepper and back in ’69 Cook for the Bengals (shoulder injury, I think).

It’s really hard to make the case that one knee injury in college and one in the NFL is going to significantly damage a QB this good. All QBs get hurt. Joe Montana had a spine injury so bad that doctors told him to consider retiring in the late ’80‘s. His career had barely gotten started as it turned out. He had so many injuries they used to run diagrams of his body with X-marks-the-spot for all the stuff he’d broken.

Someday there will be another QB whose career is cut short at 22. Cook led the NFL in three categories in ’69 at 22 and never did anything thereafter. But that’s not the way to bet.  

You saw all weekend that the NFL has never been a more offensive league. So RGIII is essential for the Skins to be part of this picture. These are the total yards for the 8 teams over the weekend: 579 (SF), 491 (Sea), 479 (Bal), 457, 425, 417, 398 and 352 (GB). Nobody really got stopped.

All in all, that’s a league that, in part out of concern for too much violence, is letting ‘em play a style almost as open as touch football on the Mall. (Okay, kidding.)

And the RGIII-style QB was crucial in 3 games with Kaepernick rushing for 181 yards, Wilson seven times for 60 (a more sustainable level) and Rodgers has always been mobile. No, RGIII should run his runs from 120-a-year in ’12 to some lower level, maybe ~60. But he’ll still be mobile.  


Can't wait to see him go, the convict and blabber mouth. I like our veteran ILB better. What's your take?

I "like" London Fletcher a lot more, too. 

But both belong in the HOF and I'm in the second-chance camp on Lewis. How much of his turn-my-life-around image is real? When you maintain that "image" for a lot of years, doesn't that usually make it real? 

48 (games in the Caps' abbreviated season), or 29 (days until pitchers and catchers report)?

The NHL put me off my feed, as they say, on hockey for a while. Let 'em win me back gradually. So, gimme the 29.

But a shortened season sometimes works very well for a high-talent team, which I assume the Caps still are. Also, if Oates has a blend of offense with the tough checking and defense style of Hunter, then the (shorter) 48-game season may help them stay fresh __or not exhausted__ deeper into the playoffs.

First, lets see how the Caps adjust to Oates and what level Ovechkin is at this year in conditioning and ability to dominate. How much of the old Great 8 is still around? Probably a lot.

I know the WaPo made you give up your vote, but if you had one, would Jack Morris get yours for the Hall of Fame?

Yes, Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer.

It’s subjective, but his 254-186 record is just enough for me when coupled with his two world-title-backbone performances in ’84 (3-0) and ’91 (4-0) in post-season.

His ERA+ of 105 bothers me because ERA has always been a knock on him and even adjusted for his home park it’s not good at 105. But he won 20 three times and finished in the Top 5 (very high) in Cy Young voting 5 times.

It’s close, but if I were still voting, he’d be on my ballot.


Excellent columns by Milloy and Wise--I could not agree more. The name of Washington's football team is stunningly offensive and embarrassing. You want to know who could get that name changed? The Post. The fact that this supposedly venerable newspaper continues to print that epithet is a black mark on the entire publication. The Kansas City Star and Washington City Paper have barred the use of the name. When is the Post going to follow their example?

This has been deabted for at least 30 years. Probably closer to 35. And I mean just as hotly as now. I never thought there was a debate at all. Even as a child I knew it was offensive TO ME. I won't speak for Native-Americans, but I grew up in a time when you still heard the expression, "The only good Redskin is a dead Redskin." I don't know WHERE you heard it. Maybe in kid's books about "the old West." And sometimes it was "Indian" not "Redskin." But even to an 8-10-12-year-old it was obvious that it wasn't good. Also, I remember the original lyrics to HTTR. They were as bad as the stereotypical stuff in "Amos 'n Andy." Some will say that was just "part of the times." Bull. It wasn't part of the times at my house, that's for sure.

HOWEVER, I will say that I don't think RGIII has much, if anything to do with this. If he ever wants to speak on it, he can. But he has no obligation WHATSOEVER. He's a few days out of surgery. Leave him alone.

There was a brief time, many years ago, when I'd only type "Skins" in my column and make the desk change it to Redskins. But that was childish. I was only making work for someone else.

This is a subject where you almost can't win. If you take it very seriously, then "where is your sense of humor and proportion." If you take it lightly __far the worse position, imo__ then what's wrong with you for not taking it seriously?

There hasn't been a solution found in a generation. To say "it's about time" is an understatement.

Only a Washington owenr is likely to make this change because, from a business perspective, the nickname probably has some indefinable "economic value."  What are the odds it will be Dan Snyder?    

Tom, I watched the Skins/Seattle playoff game again [yeah, I am losing it] and could not get over the poor condition of that field. Why Danny has not already ordered the type of field Maryland now plays on is beyond me. Do you think Danny will make the move to do it this year?

It was unbelievably bad __a disgrace. That falls on the coach __he can demand better. The GM __he shoul;d insist on better. And the owner __where the buck stops. Hope the other games and concerts scheduled in FedEx (owned by the Skins) were worth it, both in terms of possible contribution to injury and the mockery the team is taking for playing on the kind of bad field you'd expect of a high school with serious budget issues.

On the 1Q play where RGIII was hurt, he was just running on painted dirt the whole way __you could see the dust and dirt puffs coming up with every step he took.

The problem is that once you "lose" the field, and you have NFL games, college games and "other" already scheduled, how can you completely resod the field and have any confidence that it will "take." You can, theoretically, end up with something even more dangerous.

My dad used to say that in WWII the Army expression for keeping your gun cleaned and opiled, etc., was "PPPPPP." Prior Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance. (I suspect he said it to me a few hundred times.) Somebody needs to say it to the Skins ONCE.

Good Morning Tom! I thank you for your time with us! Less than 30 days to pitchers and catchers! I was wondering what was the bottom line with Mike Rizzo and the fifth starter. I always liked John Lannan, and wondered what Rizzo wanted from that fifth slot that JL didn't give him. What did you get from Jackson (and expect from Haren) that he is searching for? I had always thought that a full season of Lannan would have been better than Jackson. Was it potential? Maybe they thought they could bring out that last little bit from Jackson to move from a .500 pitcher to more?

There's a widespread (stat) theory that Lannan was incredibly lucky and that his Fielder Independent Pitching and his ERA would eventually be the same __which would mean that a 5.00 ERA season, not 4.00, was just waiting out there to bite him and the Nats. I never bought it. 

But it's a lot easier to have confidence in one of the game's five hardest-throwimng starters, like Jackson, who also had an excellent slider (but no other consistent pitches) or a recent star like Haren who has only had one "down" year in his career. It takes a lot of nerve to go with the groundball pitcher.

I'll be VERY interested in the rest of Lannan's career. I've always maintained that there was a solid chance that __put in a rotation and left alone for years__ he'd be a 110-110 type pitcher who had a few 12-to-15 win years and maybe a (lucky) 18-win year. Man, am I in the minority.

Trust, giving up on Lannan as a starter in the rotation of a 95-win team is a conventional herd-think opinion. But it may be one rare time when Rizzo is in the herd.

If Haren goes 2-7 and Lannan is 14-10, it won't go unnoticed! But it's more likely to be the other way around. John will get his chance to pitch vs the Nats. But I really wonder whether he made a wise choice in "home park" in Philly. But he IS comfortable pitching against the Mets and Fish. So he has a comfort level. I actually think his style may give the Nats trouble. He almost completely shuts down the running game. BUT the Nats are vulnerable to high-K pitchers. If you walk too many (which Lannan always has) and let them hit the ball, the Nats are a team that tends to hit it HARD. 

While most everyone agrees that Denver got the much better side of the trade between Champ Bailey and Clinton Portis, it was nice to see Flacco and Torrey Smith burn Champ for two touchdowns on Saturday. On another note, it really is sad to see a QB (Manning) blamed for a loss in which the defense gives up 38 points.

My wife and I were at a baby shower party with about 75 people which turned into a Ravens party! From the start of the 4Q until the end, it was a madhouse __all the families involved are sports and Ravens fans, so it was okay.

On the Broncos last possession, I said to the two guys on either side __we couldn't move after the Rocky Mountain Rainbow TD bomb  because it would be bad luck__ "it's about time for Peyton to throw one of his pattented playoff game-losing interceptions." And he did.

Sorry, this one is on Manning more than anybody except the Denver safety who forgot "DEEPER than the deepest" __ESPECIALLY in a 40-seconds-left 70-yards-to-go-to-tie situation. Manning was the only QB in the four weekend games who had three turnovers and one was an INT pick six. The other seven QBs only had a total of six turnovers.

His last INT was a lazy throw-back-across-the-body into traffic while rolling right. That's a terrible mistake by a great QB. Also, it was on a second-and-six from the Denver 38-yard line which is the definition of a Don't-Force-It situation. It's not like it was third down. And from their 38, even if they have to punt, the Ravens probably get it inside their own 25.

I'm a Peyton fan, not a Peyton knocker. But Flacco outplayed him (18-31-331 yards, 3 TD 0 INT).

BTW, I'm sorry, but I'm not one of those people who root against Baltimore teams __especially when they are well run. I'm not a big Ravens fan. But I like them. So, I sure enjoyed that game. I just don't get it. I guess I have to work on my Inner Hater. (Or Inner Harbor Hater.)

As a shortstop coming up in the minors, why not move Morse to second base (understanding there's already a logjam with Espy and Lmobardozzi)? The Nats "advanced stats" would tell them a 100 point OPS improvement is worth giving up a little range, right?

The Beast weighed about 50 pounds less long ago in his SS days!

Players transform over time. For example, Bryce Harper is going to "outgrow" CF. So the Nats just moved the CF expiration date ahead by a couple of years by getting Span. FWIW, Jayson Werth started as a catcher in the O's organization for all or part of SIX seasons (403 games). Doubt they'll move him back behind the plate in '13. 

If this is Davey's last run, why not go out with guns blazing by keeping Morse? Span, Werth, and LaR all have suffered long-term injuries the past two seasons. Why not have Morse as an insurance policy? Trade him by the deadline if the other guys are healthy.

I'll reuse a "comment" that I put in Comments on my LaRoche/Morse column last week.


Just to give you an update on the status of Morse. 
"They'll be able to put a pretty good deal together for Morse," an industry source told me this a.m. (Meaning a real prospect or prospects with more value than just a middle-of-bullpen LH reliever.) 
The Nats don't have to be in a hurry to trade Morse and they won't be. He has value though it's crimped by only one yr left on his contract. But they WILL end up trading him __98%. (Unless somebody got hurt before they got a deal done and they NEEDED to keep him.)

It's only fair to Morse to trade him __he's had an .857 OPS for the last three years. Anybody that good, in his walk year and still only 31 (by Opening Day) deserves to play and will find a buyer. (He's a higher level performer than Lannan was, so it's not comparable. They couldn't get beans for Lannan, so didn't trade him __luckily.) If you want "bad chemistry," just imagine what it would be like trying to find >400 AB playing time for Morse by rotating him with other players. A nightmare for him, the team, his teammates and for the manager. It's a non-starter. Besides, w LaRoche back, Tyler Moore can fill any Morse role. Redundant. You might even want to bring up Rendon by July if he looked ready and you could get him enough ABs. 

Talked to Rizzo after LaRoche signed. He was prepared to go with MM at 1st, no problem with that and thought MM and ALaR were of similar value for '13. But NOT equal value. "We're a better team with LaRoche (than Morse) because of his defense, he's a LHed bat and, knock on wood, he's been durable." 
So, there will be no Beast Insurance Policy. The insurance is now Moore. Will the (in effect) Span for Morse trade look smart in 2-or-3 years? (Nats control Span through '15). We'll see.

On the MLB network Al Leiter picked his top five rotation where he picked the best #1, #2, ..., #5 starters in baseball. Jordan Zimmerman was his best 3 and Detwiler was his best 5. (Verlander was his 1, Grienke his 2 and Sanchez his 4). Despite that, do you think that Rizzo is thinking that if Vasquez can still pitch, maybe he is the #5 and Detwiler gets sent to the pen? That would also diminish the need to trade Morse for LHRP. Not sure I like the idea of Det becoming the long relief lefty, but it is an possible option. Curious as to your opinion.

Talked to Rizzo after he got back from seeing Javier Vasquez workout. I think it was in Puerto Rico, but don't remember. Sorry. Lets just say he was impressed with the way he threw. "We're just doing out due diligence. I like to see for myself." (Yeah.) But Vasquez made $99M in MLB . I doubt he'd sign with a team where it was a "maybe" deal on whether he'd even get the No. 5 rotation spot. Why would he? Also, I think Detwiler has earned a rotation spot. You're not going to pay Haren $13M so you can bump him out of the rotation for Vasquez.

BUT, make no mistake, Vasquez would be a dream. He won 165 games, fanned 200 five times. And, at 36, I bet he'd be just as good as he was in '11, his last year: 13-11, 3.69, 162 K for the Fish. He finished that season very strongly, then retired. Now he wants another taste of the bigs.

Boz, It seems to me that Rizzo is betting the entire load on one guy: Denard Span. How nervous are you that so much is riding on how well this guy plays?

No, no, the difference between Span and Morse might be ONE WIN less if Rizzo is wrong. And it might be TWO wins to the good if Rizzo is right.

This is a tweak on an excellent team. It's not like addin g ken Griffey in his prime to an awful team with no CF and no cleanup hitter. It's not a 5-to-8-win improvement over what you'd have otherwise. Span's good and his proven. Don't worry. It's an interesting debate on how you make the Nats a LITTLE better in '13 and how you get a slightly more functional lineup and a better defensive outfield.

Here's what you do know: the Nats, if healthy, have one of the best defenses, at every position, that you'll ever see. They may not be the Runnin' Redbirds of the '80's with Ozzie Smith at SS and three fliers in the OF. But they have range, athleticism and what a collection of arms! Desmond, Espinosa, Harper, Suzuki are all way above average. Werth's pretty good. Don't know about Span. Sorry.

Look, I can understand, even if I disagree, if a writer doesn't support someone like Mark McGwire because of PED use. But there seems to be this subset of writers who argue against McGwire because his career isn't Hall-worthy. Huh? 583 home runs. OBP .394. Adjusted OPS+ of 163 (11th highest in history). What gives?

McGwire is "Hall worthy," if not for the PED use. But that's a killer "if."

JMHO, he's way better off having told the truth and returning to uniform as a coach. Seems happy.

Partly that's because he's a good person that everybody liked in his playing days.

It'll be interesting to see how Armstrong is "received" by the cycling world after he (presumably) confesses. Within the sport, his reputation for personability and popularity (outside his inner circle) seems to rank right down there at the bottom with Barry Bonds in baseball. Of course, Armstrong's work with cancer will help him.

Two things Tom: 1) With just a few seconds left, why not let your field goal kicker try a 65-yarder if his longest is 55 (Seahawks) and wind isn't a factor? Hail Marys seem to have far lower odds. 2) With 31 seconds and two timeouts left in regulation, Peyton takes a knee? When all they need is a field goal? If his arm is shot is it the result of a long season, the operations, or both?

I thought the same about the 65-yarder by the Seahawks. Yes, previous long of 55. But...

Oh, Fox just got killed in Denver for having Peyton take a knee with 0:31 left. Some said that was enough time (using timeouts) "for six plays." Well, four or five anyway.

Tom: Any more word about the possible buyout of MASN by Fox or Comcast? Things have been pretty quiet and I wish that the Nationals can get their own network and more money soon. We're going to need it to keep our core players.

I don't have the nuclear codes to the box that travels around with the POTUS, either.

Boz -- I'm taking my six-year-old son down to Viera this year and, on your advice, we're going to be there the weekend BEFORE the games start, so we can see the early workouts and hopefully have a little player contact. Any tips on how we can get close to the action (and snag an autograph or three)? Thanks.

It's so easy. Just show up and follow the other folks around. No secrets. It's a breeze. (Oh, and in Viera there is ALWAYS a breeze!)

Tom, Do you believe the Nats will be comfortable with Clippard and Storen as their setup and closer and not have a Plan B? Do you see Rizzo signing or trading for a pitcher who can help in the late innings?

The Nats are so deep at so many spots, plus Morse as a chip, that you could imagine almost any trade. However, the Nats have spent several years BUILDING this team of interlocking parts and team chemistry. So I think Rizzo would absolutely have to be blown away by a "closer trade" to make a deal.

How many closers are better than Storen? Not many. 2.96 ERA in 164 games. It's not "unthinkable." But I doubt it's anything you'd pursue. All relievers have question marks about their futures. 

Boz - the new HGH testing policy is a positive step forward for MLB and the MLB Players Association, and will help solidify the commissioner's legacy as a bold visionary and true leader, able to come to the negotiating table and find common ground with parties that don't always view the world through the same lens. But if this were true about Selig, wouldn't the MASN issue have been settled months ago?

You had me (Laughing) at "visionary."

It's the union that had to be on board with this. Any commissioner in any league would want it.

I suspect MLB sees all the image problems that the NFL is having with violence, concussions, cheap hits,  bounty gate and thinks that this is a time when it can make back up some of the ground __close some of the gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 sport in America.

I think that's correct. The NFL, as the weekend games showed, has a thrilling product. But it comes at a high cost. Baseball will, I suspect, close some of that gap over the next 10 years __though it will always be a regional-addiction sport, not a national-addiction sport, like the NFL.

And then there is gambling __the NFL's lovely extra "hook." Baseball, in a sense, is lucky that it's such a tough game to bet. It's just not suited to it. Anything can happen in any game for any reason. You've got to be a dope to bet baseball. (Ask Pete Rose.)

Is he RG3 but with a better ability to take care of his body?

Wilson and Kaepernick seem to have a better knack of running out of bounds and sliding than RGIII. Maybe he's just always been so amazing __and SO fast, the fastest man on the field__ that he didn't need to learn.

Wedll, he needs to learn now. It wouldn't hurt him to study tape of those two because they, especially Wilson at 5-11, 206, have really learned to protect themselves, to the degree it's possible.

Griffin sometimes seems to run in a maximize-risk style, like CUTTING BACK to the center of the field against the Ravens where Ngata waited. 

Mr. Boswell, If Lance actually does admit to doping, can all of his prior sponsors sue for repayment? And in turn bankrupt him. Thanks.

Nobody sued Mark McGwire, did they?

But the answer is that I don't know what his liability might be and in what areas, if any.

What do your stats say about all the Nats weddings this offseason? Will the walks down the aisle result in more runs on the board? Or do marriages make ballplayers more complacent?

Make sure you weigh 'em when they report!

Last year, almost every Nats player "reported" several days before they were required to report. Some a week or more early. They were dying to get started and enjoyed being around their teammates. I'll be interested to see if that pattern repeats.

Boz, the NFC playoff games gave us the two paths for RGIII's future, don't you think? Keep playing the way he has and hope he repeats what Kaepernick's done for the Niners. The Niners may win it all with him doing that. Or alter his game a little and let him play like Russell Wilson. I'd prefer the latter. We focus so much on his running ability that we forget that Griffin throws the ball very well, sees the field well while moving around in the pocket and makes good decisions on the run. Save the running for selected moments.

Wilson runs more off scrambles, though the Seahawks use the same zone read option, too. Wilson runs a LOT __94 times for 489 yards. But as we saw vs the Skins, he's very good at getting down. Wilson has been "little" (for football) for four years at NC State and one at Wisconsin before the NFL. So, he learned long ago.

What's amazing is that RGIII got to the NFL and the idea of NOT going for every last yard seems NEVER to have crossed his mind. Makes him a leader, I suppose. But when he woke up and realized that BOTH his knees had had surgery and that part of his left petellar (sp?) tendon had been used to repair his right knee, I wonder if the word "slide" crossed his mind.

Since the last time we chatted, it's become clear that RGIII's knee, while not uniquely damaged, was really seriously hurt.

In my game column when RGIII was hurt, I said that if he's escaped serious injury, that Shanahan would probably duck the worst of the flack __eventually.

But "if Griffin has a major injury, even if he is entirely able to recover from it, then the sight of Griffin staggering through this game like a defenseless one-legged man, and the playoff-blood-pact between coach and quarterback may go down as one of the sport’s most remarkably stupid macho decisions."

So, we have our answer. It's on Shanahan. But either RGIII was not delivering accurate info to his coach or he doesn't "know his body" as well as he thinks. Because he was not the Skins "best chance to win" __certainly not by the late 3Q. Oh, well, let it go.

Going to take my usual winter vacation after this chat and it'll be nice not to have to dwell on RGIII's knee, etc.

Was it just me or did Peyton Manning kinda look like Chad Pennington out there by the end of Saturday's game? And what was with the happy feet all day long?

Kind of tough to put a lot of steam on the ball in 8 degree weather with gloves on.

Tom- whats the status of the Skins LB corps next year? Is Fletcher done? Will Orakpo come back at full strength? Also, the secondary seems like the weak link of the D. Any CBs or safeties high on the draft board this year?

Skins better hope Fletcher is back: career-high five interceptions, 3 sacks, 78 tackles, 63 assists.

Still, Fletcher unassisted tackles were down and NFL advanced metrics __yes, dear God, they have them in the NFL__ says that his "approximate value" was a score of "8" in '12. Going backwards, in previous years, it was 12-11-10-10-10-10.

What is AV? You don't want to know. But it's a good guess. So Fletcher, playing hurt, was slowing down.

Rob Jackson had a big break-out year at LB, especially effective in passing downs with 4.5 sacks and 4 INTs.. Perry Riley almost equaled Fletcher's tackle totals __70/55__ plus 3.5 sacks. They need improvement at DB, but the backers look OK.

What's your opinion - good idea, bad idea? Stats suggest (from wikipedia) a mixed bag at best depending on distance and time remaining. What it does not indicate is the second kick - if it's made more often or not? I would like to see a rule eliminating this as a option - I would expect to see some way around said new rule though.

It's fun. Especially, some would say, when Pete Carroll is on the wrong end of it.

Boz, What do you think will define a successful or productive season for the Wiz going forward? Having Wall back is obviously a boost--do Wall and Beal work on chemistry and make a run at being decent next season? Any other goals besides just staying healthy?

Stay healthy. Learn to play together. Let the vet attitude of Nene rub off. And try not to take the W-L record too personally.

Oh, sorry, I was thinking about what the FANS should do.

The players? That's too tough for me.

I count 24 of the 25 roster positions basically spoken for---Second bullpen lefty is currently filled by Bray but I could see a player traded for Morse filling that spot. If Rizzo doesn't get a fair offer for Morse, would he keep him on the bench and wait for a contender to suffer an injury (possibly cutting Chad Tracy? demoting The Shark??)


But here's what's interesting to me. Wigth the LaRoche signing, the Nats can name about 22-23 players on their '14 team!

You NEVER see that in any pro team sport. A club with an identity, top to bottom! Does that help? How much? We're about to find out.

(And you can name 20 players on the '15 team.)

With Adam LaRoche in house for two more years and most of the other infield slots with occupants under team control for longer, what option is most likely for Anthony Rendon - trade bait, 3d base displacing Zimmerman across the diamond, 1st base after LaRoche, or middle infield when one of Desmond or Espinosa is moved out? the Zimmerman to first move is the most talked about, but LaRoche's deal seems to block that for two years, and Rendon could be major league ready much sooner.

If Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole stay healthy and keep hitting, they may learn what Bobby Grich and Don Baylor once felt like, stuck in AAA when Davey Johnson played on the great O's teams.

The Nats should be so lucky. Grich hit .386 at AAA in '70. The O's told him, "We have no room. Davey Johnson is our second baseman. Go back down and work on your power." So, he hit .336 with 32 homers in '71. 

In '70, '71 in full years at AAA, Baylor had OPS of 1.011 and .964. That got Groove a total of 19 at bats (!!!) in both season combined in the majors. 

Thanks for all the great questions. See everybody next month.

Not an original suggestion, but I like it: what if they kept the name, but switched the mascot to a potato?

Oh, yeah, I can see the Skins fan base embracing a Mr. Potato Head mascot.

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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