Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

May 06, 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

Forget what you think that Harper's reaction to the call, Hirshbeck's ejection and subsequent comments are unacceptable. Its fairly clear that he escalated the confrontation and it seems as if Hirshbeck was trying to enforce some unwritten baseball code that was being violated by the too-brash, too-young too-good Harper. There isn't a question in my mind that the same set of circumstances with a different hitter, say Adam Laroche, doesn't lead to an ejection. Hirshbeck should be fined and suspended. But he won't be...

That's 90% Hirshbeck's fault. Maybe more.

That's almost as bad as Tom Haller being miked up so he could trap Earl Weaver into a 1st inning tirade to make Weaver look like a fool on TV. That was an out-and-out made-for-TV trap. But this was a short-fuse umpire TRYING to provoke a 20-year-old player. Hirshbeck threw up his arms a split second after he called the checked swing strike, almost before he could see Harper's reaction at the plate __which wasn't very bad. Then Hirshbeck walked straight at him, yelling, challenging him to do anything so he could throw him out. By the time he'd been heaved Harper still didn't seem to have done much of anything except one arms-above-head with bat in hands gesture which sounds worse than it looked.

Bryce Harper plays the game the right way. John Hirchbeck umpires the game the wrong way.

Hirshbeck deserves some symbolic disciplinary action by MLB even if it is only a small fine.

Also, Hirshbeck's post-game comments misrepresent what the tape clearly shows __that he was far more the cause of the problem than Harper and that he was NOT trying to give the kid a break and keep him in the game. Just the opposite. He was looking to throw him out. I've seen no pattern of Harper showing up umpires this season. Maybe I'm missing something but I doubt it very much.

Yes, I was at the Hirshbeck-Robby Alomar game.  Alomar was hugely at fault, but Hirshbeck has a history of making people go crazy. Harper DIDN'T.

 BTW, I was on a weekend trip to play golf with my son and I didn't see the game live. I read about it, plus the quotes. I expected Harper to be at fault __from the descriptions and from my, incorrect, assumption that the 20-year-old would be the immature one and the veteran umpire mature. When I saw it, I said, "Hirshbeck was just gunning to heave him." I was pretty close to amazed.

Harper, whether he was only slightly wrong or not should be on his best behavior for a month. If I assumed he was more to blame than Hirshbeck then umps made be inclined to assume that, too. But, in the age of tape, maybe they'll see it all a dozen times. If they do, maybe a couple of the good umps can say, "Don 't judge us all by him."

I'm almost always on the ump's side. I'd like to see more camera angles to see if Harper did anything else. But I doubt it. The "visual evidence" sure seems clear. 

Boz - first of all let's get this out of the way, Harper and Hirschbeck both deserve blame for the incident yesterday. Harper acted a bit immature (he's 20!). Hirschbeck had zero business walking down the line at Harper. And frankly, Hirschbeck's line of "I was nice enough to leave him in the game." tells you all you need to know about how he views himself. But I digress. These things happen, let's move on. I'd like to ask more about umpires overall and get your thoughts. Many of us know the good ones, the bad ones, ones who focus on balks, others who look to instigate players, etc. It's not really worth a discussion of he said she said on name calling. What strikes me however is the longevity with which umpires can stay in the game at the MLB level with seemingly little impunity whereas players are generally in the league for 10-20 years if they are lucky. Umpires can be in the league often times for 30-plus years. Obviously performing as a player and an umpire is a much different task. But, it's crazy to think that the ump that tossed George Brett in the pine tar incident, Tim McClelland, is still active! How many people in baseball active today were around in 1983?! A handful of lifers that moved from player to coach to manager maybe, but I bet it's a pretty small handful that are in the same role today they filled 30 years ago. Does MLB view it as a plus or minus to have umpires around that long? Why don't we see more turnover of umpires? Should we? What should we as fans understand about how umpire selection works? As a fan it can get very frustrating to see umpires that are so blatantly brutal in many ways continue on year after year and we never see anything happen to make, what would seem to be, the game a little bit better if some of these guys were "retired."

This deserves a deeper discussion for a column sometime. BTW, I got a kick out of you saying, "How many people in baseball active today were around in 1983." I'm certainly not "in baseball," but I'd already covered eight World Series by the time of the Brett pine tar incident and I was there in Yankee Stadium that day. And the Post sent me back to NYC to cover the resumption of that game! That shows how good our baseball coverage was then, even a dozen years after we lost the Senators. Sports editior (George Solomon then) and others deserve credit for making that commitment to cover baseball when it cost the Post money it didn't have to spend.

In general, there are usually less than a half-dozen umpirezs at any one time that are embarassing to watch, like Joe West at times and Angel Hernandez, who may be better now. Never forget Hernandez just screaming at gentleman Fred McGriff at first base between plays. Sure looked from my lip-reading that he was cussing him out, trying to get him to react. 

The bad umps are rare. They tend to survive because they are technically solid at balls-and-strikes. But, yes, there should be a better mechanism for clensing the systems periodically.  

Interesting to see Bryce's ejection and his reaction, since I've just read Rob Miech's fine book about Harper's season at CSN, and the same thing impresses me. Some people will focus on the action that got him ejected, but I am impressed with his reaction after the fact: calm, even responsible. Like most 20-year-olds he doesn't always think everything through before acting, but unlike most 20-year-olds he is pretty good about it afterwards. Good to see.

Good point. That also surprised/impressed me. Harper did a perfect job of "acting his age," rather than "acting his status" after the ejection. And Harper actually does have status in the game, even though he's 20. He's been ROY on a 98-win team, played in an All-Star game and is 7th on OPS in MLB as of this a.m. If he wanted to react, it would have been a terrible idea, but not outside the unwritten rules, imo. If a 24-year-old with the same statistical credetials as a player had screamed at Hirshbeck nobody would have blamed him.  Leave out "fame." I'm just talking about on-field accomplishments.

Maybe Hirshbeck didn't like "Bryce Begins." (I did.)

As the Trout/Harper discussion goes on, where does Manny Machado fit into the discussion? I think 10 years down the road he will be discussed the equal of the two. Your Thoughts?

Manny is ZOOMING into the discussion __exceptional fielding at third (what an arm) and hitting .309 with 21 RBI (more than Harper) in 32 games.

Harper has taken a big leap forward as a hitter. I think that will continue. Probably not OPS over 1.000 at 20, but I suspect in the .900's this year. Machado right now is playing better than Trout (for a month).

Trout is continuing at exactly his level of the last 2 months of '12. That should be a (little) worry for the Angels. At .275 and a .850 OPS, that's an excellent player but not what last year seemed to portend. Lets check back in 3, 6, 9 and 12 years!

But early season '13 has Harper and Machado moving WAY  up at 20. Will either match Trout's numbers last year at 20 which were astronomical? It sure seems like they have "2012 Trout" as their goal for '13!

Hi, Tom. The Caps are doing well with a coach who played very successfully (and for them). this seems to be common in both hockey and the NBA, but not in baseball. Why is baseball differeent? Managers often spent little time and found little success in the big leagues.

The level of frrsutration and failure in baseball is so high that managers need to understand the insanely high importance of maintaining their players' confidence in the face of what seems like constant humiliation. Look at the amazing stuff that Strasburg had on Saturday, yet he gave up a pair of long 2-run homers on 95-96 MPH fastballs that got over the middle of the plate early in the count. Good managers have to constantly tell players, "Keep playing the right way __day after day, season-after-season. Don't get demoralized by the short-term results. And even a month, much less a game or two, is short term.

In other sports I sometimes think average-to-good players are inspired by a coach with was a great player. They try to play up to his level to gain his respect. I first saw it when Bill Russell was player-coach of the Celtics. Ovechkin clearly respects Oates, a HOFer, and it has made it much easier, I assume, for Oates to askl Ovi to make a huge change in his game from left wing to right wing.

Baseball, probably more than any game, is about many years of heaping acquired skills (tricks of the trade, techniques) on top of talent. Some of the great baseball players didn't have to be students of the game to the same degree. The lousy players had to learn every detail.

At the other extreme, some great players were such obsessive perfectionists that they just can't stand to see players whose motivation seems, to them, to merely be "normal." They want insane motivation or they aren't happy. Frank Robinson was like that as a manager. He loved players who were driven __as he was__ like Ryan Zimmerman. I honestly think that there were often 2 or 3 players on his teams whose names he wasn't entirely sure of. If you were willing to work your butt off, Frank had time for you. But if you had some talent and only mediocre-to-poor drive, you just weren't worth his time. (And if that's right, then I think he was correct.) 

While I knew we would miss Michael Morse's power contribution in the lineup I felt OK with going with LaRoche instead. But my fear of losing his off the field presence in keeping the players loose and having fun appears to be just as big of an issue. Any idea who on the roster can fill that role? Davey's team meeting was to address the problem but you need a player to be the jester, not your manager. Werth and Desmond appear to be trying by joining the untuck club but they seem to be more intense serious leaders by nature.

This is a MINOR discussion point, at most. As a serious and constant point of debate about the Nats, it is one of the silliest I've ever seen. LaRoche is hitting .168. If he were hitting .268, which he will, nobody would talk about it.

Morse was popular with fans and teammates. But he also got hurt a lot and didn't come back quickly which some teammates noticed. One Nat played for weeks with an injury __I won't detail it because it would ID him__ but he could twist a part of his body into a position that it should not go __but he played. Morse was out with a much more minor injury and comment was made within the team about it. He missed the first 50 games of the season with an oblique injury that happened early in spring training (then got aggravated). That is a long time.

If the Nats themselves say at the end of the season that this was a big [problem, I'll be amazed, but we'll see how that goes. Johnson certainly made it clear that, in terms of durability, multiple skills and clubhouse presence that he much prefered LaRoche to Morse.

Morse has 9 homers, LaRoche has 9 RBI. If that evens out, the Morse as Mr. Standup Chemistry will dwindle. BUT the Beast was a lot of fun.

Boz, I'm concerned. Strasburg has shown poor command of his fastball, the team blamed it on what seems like a strange and psuedo-scientific electrotherapy on his arm (there's some great lines in Ball Four about pitchers and psuedo-science), and then on his last start, command deserted him all of a sudden in the final inning of his start. That all adds up to sound like some sort of nagging injury. Is it the mythical dangerous delivery? Or is this paranoia?

Just watched the tape of Strasburg's game on Saturday __as good stuff as I've seen from him since early starts in '10. Just an amazing changeup, a sharp curve that buckled RH hitters and a fastball that seemed to have some late cut action on some pitches. That would be helpful because the only thing wrong with his 95-97 fastball is that, compared to others like Detwiler and Gio, it's pretty straight. That's why he keeps working on his two-seam sinker.

No, Strasburg looked 100% vs Pittsburgh if you judge by stuff. And he wasn't shaking his arm. Stop thinking about it until/unless there's an actual reason to think about it. Also, the HBP to the first hitter looked like a fluke. His command was very good, overall __8-to-1 K-to-BB and opnly 95 pitches for seven innings.   

Hey Bos, not that you (or the National Media) are paying attention but the Orioles just went 7-4 on their West Coast swing, which included taking 3 of 4 from both Oakland and Anaheim. Oh, and the Orioles have a better record than your Nationals. How 'bout them O's, hon?

Well, my son and I followed every O's game while we were in Pinehurst __our first trip there ever. There were many detailed game updates from his phone. So, don't worry about me following the O's enough. We're the Washington Post, not Baltimore Post, so that explains why our current coverage is correct, imo. But the O's will get their due as a team in another town. We don't cover the Ravens as much as the Redskins, do we? And I heard rumors the Ravens had a decent season. 

Just for argument sake, now that we've seen both the Nats and O's play about a fifth of the season, I'll make a prediction on their relative merits. With Haren's very dramatic improvement, and he was back to his '10-'11 stuff and form in Atlanta, the Nats now have a really remarkable FIVE man rotation. It will start rolling. As long as they stay reasonably healthy, the Nats are going to win a lot of games. The O's are better than the pundits think. Machado changes them. Hammel and Chen don't get enough credit. And the lineup is depth.

But even though the Orioles are 19-13 now and the Nats 17-15, I'll take the Nationals to win more games and also GIVE the Orioles three extra wins. That's right: five games better. And the Orioles will be good.

Yes, everything changes everything __as an Oriole said. But that's what I see now.

When the Capitals went up 2-0, I said to some newbie that I think we have been here before so don't count chickens etc.. (I've been a Caps fan since 1990.) And then this morning Barry wrote a whole article about it. Thanks to the Post for such good writing, even though it was a buzzkill to those new fans. We fans care about what happened 20 years ago, but do you think it should matter to those on the team that we in kindergarten back then, i.e. does the curse follow for generations?

I hate, hate, hate the Capitals so-called curse. It is old, worn out, uninteresting and almost vindictive. Yes, it was good to write about it because it is part of SPORTS history __not just Washington or NHL history. The Capitals list of failures is so enornous and has pushed the edges of belief so many times that it is one of the all-time measuring sticks for...well, we all know for what.

But it also needs to be laid to rest. When I covered the Caps run to the Stanley Cup Finals, I thought it was over back in Oates's time as a player.

I think the Caps will win two rounds and regain every ounce of the dignity that seemed lost for this group early in '13. Will they go further? Lets see how they play, who stays healthy, etc.

But people who keep asking, "Will the Caps gag," instead of actually watching what they are doing and how ungodly hot they are with a 2-0 start against the Rangers...well, all I can say is, "Watch what is actually happeniung NOW, not what has happened in the past." 

Hey Boz, you ever going to write a Caps column again? Or are you now exclusively a Nats columnist? And what do you think of the Caps right now? I don't want to jinx anything, but I'm feeling really confident about this team and about Oates as coach. They do seem to combine the best traits of both the previous coaches--they're aggressive on offense and constantly attack, and yet they're tough and don't panic--the win Saturday was the kind of game the Caps have lost in the playoffs for years, but they hung in there and got the big goal despite Lundquist having such a great game. Your thoughts?

It's just an accident of the NHL lockout, the Caps awful early season record, the timing of my annual winter vacation and the need to cover other things like spring training and Masters that has kept me away from the Caps. I've certainly spent enough time watching them.

Yes, I thought the 1-0 game, with the chance to lose home ice back to the Rangers in a game against a nemesis goalie was a potential bad-omen game. Then it turned out to be a good omen.

So, no, they aren't going to lose this series to the Rangers. They'll be tough back in NY. But NY needed to win one of these first two in DC and didn't.


When the Caps started their late-season run I said, Well, there's no way they get past the second round of the playoffs, but I'll just relax and enjoy the ride as far as it goes. That seems to be working because they looked pretty good in the first two games. Hoping they stay as relaxed as I am when they head for Broadway.

Maybe this is the playoff run for Caps fans (and players) to just chill and enjoy it. That would be novel. And a constructive sttrategy. Maybe you need to create a "Just Chill" T-shirt with the Caps and the Cup framed in ice.

I can't understand why the Nats sent Rendon back down to the minors. It looked to me he was just getting comfortable at the plate, and he sure looks good fielding 3rd base. I know Zimmerman is the man, but he sure hasn't looked like this year. What's your take? Another thing- All this talk about what's wrong with Strasburg- He looks stronbger as the game goes on. Why not just leave him in. Not the last game, but the one before that, Johnson yanked him, and Clippard came in and we lost it to the Braves. I don't think the pitch count was that high when Starsburg was lifted. Withy all this talk about the pitching, it seems to me it's the hitting that's killing us right now.

Rendon looks exceptional at third. There's been no hype about his arm but he's got a gun. He's really quick charging balls and calm on bare-hand plays. I don't see a weakness defensively and he seems to enjoy playing the game. He was smiling during the mound conference during a tight moment on Friday in Pittsburgh when Johnson came out to the mound in the eighth inning to talk to Heron. I suspect Rendon will be the Nats third baseman or second baseman for a long time if he stays healthy. That's a serious "if" with his history.

Even though he didn't show much power and only hit .240 in his brief time up, his on-base percentage was .367. He's got a fine eye, patience and already has a much more advanced approach than several of the Nats hitters. It's going to be fun to see him advanace and to see if he's as fluid and comfortable at second base. He will also help in September when he'd certainly be brought up if he keeps playing the way he has so far. 


It may just be me, but I tend to feel that the Nats offense needs some help in the early going, yet ironically, when you look at the line-up on paper, I have trouble figuring out where young talent on the horizon is going to fit it. Specifically, Rendon? And what about Lombo? Is he our designated utility person? His bat (and OBP) seems to always fuel those late inning rallys, yet I don't feel I see him on the field near enough? Where does he, Rendon, Tracy, and Moore fit in long term? Are they trade bait later in the season?

Moore and Rendon are long-term pieces of the puzzle, especially after LaRoche's deal runs out following '14. Maybe Z'man moves to 1st at some point.

The Nats are, at best, a good-to-very-good offense team.  They're not wonderful. So, they are going to have slumps __especially when Z'man has missed half of the team's games, Werth has only 10 RBI and LaRoche is hiittng .168. They need their key hitters, not just Harper, to produce.

The identity of this team __in order of importance__ is 1) starting pitching, 2) depth of bullpen, 3) defensive range, 4) managing, 5) intelligence/chemsitry, 7) bench depth and last but still important 6) enough power hitters to rank in the top half of the league in runs.

Right now, a hitting slump and a two-week defensive slump in early April, has disguised the things that are going right __and they are the most important parts of the team. The starting pitching looks even better than expected. I can't overemphasize Haren's last three games __a 2.84 ERA in starts against three of the best, and best-hitting teams in the N.L. __Cards, Reds and Braves. He had his best three-pitch stuff vs the Braves. He won't be THAT sharp too often. But he just turned them inside out. It was a dominant 8 innings in a 3-1 game that the Nationals really needed to win.

Also, Jordan Zimmermann is probably now the best pitcher on the staff. That may change. It's almost impossible to throw four pitches in a tea cup the way he has in his last two starts __a one-hitter and 8-IP two hitter. I watched those games again __yes, he's good enough right now to watch at Nats Park and again on TV. Thank God for fast forward.

Both Rafael Soriano (2.57 ERA and 10 saves already) and Denard Span (.347 on-base % and good range in CF) seem to be doing exactly what they were brought in to do. Now, add Haren to that list. One by one the bullpen is getting sorted out.

The hitting? It comes around when it comes around. That's when you see the winning streak. Every decent team has at least one. The question is whether the Nats will have two or three of them that are +10 __like 13-2, 14-3, whatever. All 90+ win seasons are built that way. But the rotation and pen are all set to support those runs if/when the offense has a better/healthier period.

Interesting that you kind of take BHarp's side in the incident. Davey seemed to kind of go the other way. Is this just something any phenom like Bryce has to deal with around old-timers, who still seem to want to teach "the kid" a thing or two about baseball's unwritten code of conduct? Does Trout go through the same kind of junk?

Davey knows that the umpires RULE. So he doesn't want to start screaming about the umps and have them gang up on Harper. Better to say it was "a good call" and not focus on Hirshbeck's demeanor.

Rizzo did a lot of yelling at umps about not giving the Nats enough respect a couple of years ago. He got a good-sized fine. The Nats don't want/need that rep. 

What can we expect on the ice tonight, in NY? Will the Rangers try to pick a fight or two, to wake their troops up? Have the Caps, and Holtby, gotten into King Henrik's head? When do the Rangers' scorers wake up, and can Holtby hold them off when they do? Who's the more capable coach, Oates in his first year, or Torts, who is just perfect for the Ny media, fans, and players? The Rangers scare me, Boz, and I would love to get this series over with ASAP, as long as the Caps win!

Not a fan of the snide Torts. NYC can have him. 

Don't think the Caps are in King Henrik's head after he loses 1-0 in OT! 

Wouldn't fear the Rangers scoring too much after 130-goal season to Caps 149. More likely they win a close, tough game with their fans behind them and desperate need to win. Tough to go up 3-0 against a team of roughly equal ability. That's why the 1-0 (OT) win was so important. It gives some cushion for a team with such a nervous history. But tonight could make it just about moot.

Tom, After reading a column in SI about the lack of 200 game winners (only three in majors and a fouth on the way), I wanted to ask you your thoughts. My feeling is that starting pitcher aren't allowed to pitch past the 6th with a defiect.

There will be another wave of 200-win pitrchers. It's a lot __14 wins X 14 years only equals 196. But I think it's just a fluke that there are so few now.

I bet that five out of these seven make it: Verlander (128 wins at 30), Felix Hernandez (102 at 27), Hamels (92 at 29), Matt Cain (86 at 28), Kershaw (64 at 25), Gio Gonzalez (62 at 27), David Price (62 at 27).

But, yes, it's tough. If  Strasburg can be a 7-or-8-inning pitcher, not a 5-6-7 inning pitcher, he'd be a prime candidate in time even though, after going to college and having TJ surgery he is not on a fast wins-by-age-24 pace.

Tom: Love the chats! The best to worst outcomes in this 5-series-against-teams-with-winning-records is now 9-7 to 7-9, 8-8 being the most probable. Does this record, plus Gio's gutsy turnaround yesterday, plus Laroche's bat awakening, plus Werth's pending return, plus Span's stellar D and superlative OBP mean the Nats can overcome Zim's lousy throws and the team's weak hitting mean we can reclaim first place in the month of May? Cliffbethesda

Lotta fun stuff in that short question! LaRoche's three walks in one game certainly looked like the first step of getting back on track, plus hard-hit balls in Pittsburgh. Gio really needed that solid six inning yesterday after two awful starts for a 21-game winner. His stuff looks normal, just not his results.

Zimmerman's throws __the ones I've seen so far__ look the same: scary. Wish him luck. As long as he fields .950 and has range, it's not a problem that needs a solution. If he does get it fixed, it's a big psychological boost to the team because his personality is central and they all respect/like him so much. 

If you follow the Nats out to San Diego in two weeks, you should really take a chance to go 20 miles south and catch a Tijuana Toros game. They are in a Class A Mexican minor league, and (in actual attendance, if not "tickets sold") outdraw the San Diego Padres some nights...

Intersting! Outdraw the Padres!?

BTW, too early to know, but my early guess is that Nats will finish 10th ot 9th in MLB attendance and may pass both the Red Sox (Fenway) and Cubs (Wrigley) in attendance. Right now I think they are 11th, but that always picks up in summer.

Tom, Tuesday's game with the Tigers will be #31 for them. It's #33 for us, and our #3 pitcher Jordan Zimmermann will be on the mound. But Justin Verlander, whom I really wanted to see, pitched yesterday out of rotation. Why? What a big disappointment. By the way, our bullpen looked good over the weekend with Pittsburgh. I thought I could see some improvement. And Clippard's inning-ending defensive play! Wow!

The Nats always use their starting pitchers every fifth GAME. The Tigers sometimes use Verlander every fourth DAY because they want to get one or two extra starts out of him over the whole season.

You can be sure the Nats are glad that he and his no-hitter bid on Sunday did not arrive in Nats Park on Tuesday night.

Last July Z'mann got in a groove and had five straight starts with 1 or 0 runs allowed and a 0.87 ERA. Be interesting to see if the last two starts were just part of a somewhat longer run.

I was in Pittsburgh this weekend for Saturday's game. PNC Park is a marvelous place to watch a game with the exception being a scoreboard that isn't up to the modern state-of-the-art. The Park is also easier to get in and out of than Nationals Park which has a terrible bottleneck in the centerfield area toward the Metro. And Half Street (why not Walter Johnson Way?) does not compare to a walk over the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

Everybody, including me) likes the Pirates park. Worth a trip. Fabulous. I like Walter Johnson Way. Hadn't heard of that. Certainly better (by half) than Half Street.

This topic created some nasty back and forth comments after Kilgore's article. Some pointed to Hirshbeck's ego, others to Harper's lack of maturity. As a ref from another sport, we are taught not to escalate the situation, avoid "rabbit ears", make the calls without taking away an advantage, be fair with warnings, and discuss between periods. Hirshbeck made a borderline call on the swing, then escalated the situation when questioned. His explanation after the game wasn't very convincing. Both he and crew mate "Balking" Bob appear to be calling attention to themselves. Fans don't come to the ball park to see umpires, they come to see players in a fairly officiated game. So, this event may have been an early season lesson for Bryce and a much needed day off to heal his ribs, but I am concerned that there are still many in baseball who have a bad opinion of him and that he won't get a fair shake when it really matters.

All good points, especially from someone with your background.

It will take a while, maybe a long while, for Harper to be seen clearly by people who don't watch him every day. I thought the most touching part of "Bryce Begins" was his father tearing up when he talked about Bryce's reception in Washington. Paraphrase: said Bryce was so used to being booed and having trash talked at him everywhere he'd played that it was a shock to him to be cheered and "loved by DC." 

He "gives pitchers a larver than average strike zone . . . . He can be grumpy, and has been getting more so. . His lifetime ejection rate is 2.8 percent, higher than the 2.2 percent average since 1990, and since 2007 he's been tossing dissidents at a 3.9 percent clip, nearly twice the norm." From Major League Umpires' Performance: 2007-2010 by Andrew Goldblatt.  His put me in mind of Cal's ejection on July 30, 1997 by Al Clark when Davey was managing. The Post asked for a comment from Al Clark who'd done the same at Camden yards. Al said, "It was like throwing Jesus out of church." "I've never seen Cal that mad," admitted Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "He gave him a piece of his mind. I had to keep from laughing out there. It was tough on me. It was a humorous part of the game. It shouldn't have been, but it was." "In the end, I think (home plate umpire) Al Clark was exactly right," said Ripken, whose three ejections have come arguing balls and strikes. "It was all about frustration, on my part for a lot of reasons and I probably vented on him in the wrong way. I wish I had been strong enough or a better way to handle it. I regret having it happen." If I'm one of the 24,000 paying in the stands or the many more watcihing on TV, I felt cheated. I did not turn the game on to watch John Hirshbeck. Most other umps would have turned around and not escalated the situation. Your thoughts?

Lot of good points there. One piece of background: Cal Ripken Jr was one of the most persistent and "blue" umpire bench jockeys in baseball during his time. He was on them a ton and called them everything except what would get him thrown out. When he, his brother and his father were all on the same Oriole bench with Earl, they may have held some kind of all-time record ump-riding record. Umps probably resented that Cal's reputation made him almost impossible to eject.

Ripken was the most colorful "boring player" I ever covered. Very funny, very sarcasic, very ascerbic. If you ever see some great "blind" quote in some of my old work or books and you wonder, "Who would say THAT?" there's a good chance it was Junior. If somebody asked me what the "real" Cal was like __in addition to everything he seemed to be (which was all 100% real)__ I'd say he was a smartass, a super-competitive umpire-baiter, a tough-guy who liked to land on baserunners when he turned the DP and guy with a crazy streak who loved to wrestle and almost kill his teammates in clubholuse roughhousing.

But Toronto... they go out and load up on high priced talent this year and are dead last in the AL East. Care to give a go and explain what is going on there? Will they come back, or is this just a case where high priced talent does not necessarily equate into a highly successful team?

There are teams with this or that manageable early-season problem __like the Nats__ and there are teams that are ALMOST DEAD right now: the Blue Jays and Angels, both of whom spent a ton of money and didn't end up with a functional team.

Toronto is 11-21 and 9.5 games out of 1st and the Angels are 11-20 and 9 games out. The reason is simple and the same for both: awful pitching. The Jays rank next-to-last in runs allowed (5.19) and the Angels third-to-last (5.12). Only the horrendous Astros, one of the worst teams ever, is even uglier __6.19.

Houston is on pace for 121 loses. Mets record is 120. Can they do it!?

That's it for this week. For the record, my long-hitting son beat me on Pinehurst No. 2 (of course). But I have an excuse (of course). My 94 was from the blue tees (6,930 yards), so I'll take it and run. Thanks again for the great questions.

Tom, just wanted to point out Bill Haller was the umpire, his brother Tom the catcher.

Thanks for the "CX."

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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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