The Washington Post

Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 01, 2014

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

The more I watch Matt Williams' press conferences on TV, the more he reminds me of Jim Zorn, another rookie coach/manager trying to replace a retirement-age legend. They even seem to me to have some of the same mannerisms. You've talked to both of them in person, what do you think?

Matt Williams is 100 times more prepared to be a major league manager. Zorn was a great guy, good QB coach, but he just had no preparation, or particular aptitude for the job he got. And he mostly fell into it because the Skins were such a mess.

Williams never makes mistakes when he talks. Davey Johnson's compulsive honesty drove Rizzo crazy. He wants "proprietary" stuff left in house -- secret. Williams does that -- to a fault. He's sincere, but Says Nothing very well when that's what he intends to do. With Zorn, it was wonderful -- you never knew what he'd say next but it was always candid and often adorable, a word you might never use about any other NFL head coach. But you also got maroon and black and many other gaffes.  

Tom, What are your recollections of Frank Cashen? Of course, to me he was the Mets GM during their heyday in the 1980s. I don't know if you were on the Orioles beat when he was with the team. I didn't realize that he helped create those great winning teams, too. A very good baseball legacy.

I really liked Frank although, oddly, I got to know him much better after he started running the Mets in '80 than when he ran the O's. Smart, always cutting his eye to pick up details about people -- a good reader of personality as well as talent.

In Baltimore, after 17 years as a sports writer (!), he started working in the O's front office. His fingerfrints were all over the 66-'71 bunch and on up to '75. He and Harry Dalton, another front office great w the O's, were smart baseball men who favored building through the farm system.

Frank had a good cynical (sportswriter) sense of humor. He hired Davey Johnson to manage the Mets, one of his best moves, which led to the '86 title. I always felt he was more open with out-of-town writers than he was with the NYC media because it was such a daily back-page battle for headlines up there.

All good memories, no bad ones. Mischievous twinkle, but very savvy about baseball team politics, what was going on in his clubhouse. He'll be missed.

I read Dave Stockton's "Own Your Game" after you mentioned and recommended it last week. Curious to hear more on how it helped your game. I found a lot of it to be vague ("Believe in yourself") and/or obvious to anyone who has played for more than a couple years ("Sometimes a short shot needs to go high, sometimes it should go low"). I agree with a lot of what he says (confidence, a strong mental game, and trusting your swing are far more valuable than an extra 100 hours on the range) but I didn't find much that seemed revolutionary. Also found it very humblebraggy which was a turnoff.

I agree with several of your points. But what helped me was the one simple thought: You already know how to play golf. Stop making it so hard, thinking so much before every shot. Just get a good fairly-quick routine, don't freeze -- even for a second -- once you get over the ball, just pull the trigger. Also, imagining the shot -- instead of all the junk that gets in your head in the last seconds before the shot -- seemed like good simplification. Also, he mentioned that Byron Nelson had only one swing thought the whole year that he won so many tournament on Tour (17?) -- not six one week, then some new ones the next month. So I used an old favorite from "Swing the Handle, not the Clubhead."

You're right, it was "humblebraggy" -- a good word.

Like most "sports mind books," it either clicks for yolu or it doesn't. Also, we'll see how LONG the improvement lasts! Going "unconscious," sure helped the putting -- for now.

Boz, this is something I've always wondered about. What does it cost the golfers on the PGA Tour to play in a tournament? I know that if they miss the cut, they don't get a check; but, if you finish last, does the small (snort!) amount you win cover your costs?

I think "last place" in the QLNational was $10K or $12K. So just making the cut way more than covers costs.

How much it costs is whatever it takes to travel to the event, get a hotel, etc. If you live in a mobile home, as some players did in the past, it can be pretty cheap.

A great game yesterday with masterful performances by both Zimm's and Desmond and all we're talking about is Harper ... his views on the lineup, where he bats and how his helmut flies off while he runs.  Talent - check. Impact - check. Big mouth - check.  Youthful enthusiasm or signs of an attention seeker?

Big talent. Good person. Youthful enthusiasm. But absolutely loves attention; so did Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. Not comparing their careers, just their comfort in, and love of the limelight. Of course, they also attracted controversies. 

We're in a period where stardom precedes production more than at any time in my life. Young players really have to be careful -- or the people around them need to help them be aware -- of the distance between what they might do and what they actually have done. Because MLB is such a brutal grind, ballplayers aree extremely aware of who is in the lineup and who isn't. They don't BLAME teammates for getting injured, but there is certainly a code that if you have not been able to pull your weight, and grind out all the miserable exhausting games, then you shouldn't have too much to say, even if you're a star. Harper had missed 97 of the Nats previous 193 games -- just more than half.  Not the time to help the manager and lobby to play a position held by another player. He'll learn. But you hope that young mega-talents don't always have to learn from their own mistakes but, rather acquire the gift of learning from other people's mistakes. Bryce hasn't got that part mastered yet. But he is VERY likeable in person. And a magnetic personality on the field. You just want him to figure a few things out.  

Was there really any other way to go ? Espinosa is striking out at a 35 percent rate and six homers does not makeup for that. Dave Kingman, in his worst strikeout years, was striking out at a 30 percent  rate but he was leading the league in homers or at least at the top.

Some context.

This year Espinosa is hitting .277 against righties with a very good .826 OPS. So if you are EVER goingto start him in this revolving lineup -- and Williams says that is his intention -- then you'd do it against a LHer, like last night.

Howedver, the Rockies are starting three straight LHers in this series, so we'll see how much/if Espinosa starts any games. If he doesn't, he may not be very much in the picture. But I asssume he will -- otherwise Zimmerman is bnack at 3rd a LOT.

More context for evaluating these lineups: LaRoche has not had a HR off a lefty all season BUT has a wonderful .419 on-base percentage against them. So, taking LaR out against a LHer isn't as simple as it seems. He's had years when he had trouble justifying being in the lineup vs them.

Career, his batting average is .247 vs LH and .273 vs RH with a big gap in OPS from .732 vs LHers (poor for a 1st baseman) to .843 vs RHers (very good, even for a 1st baseman).

Span has been identical vs RH and LH pitching this year. I mean to the .001 of a point.

Conclusion, when you play Espinosa at second -- in part to get Z'man off third base -- and bench Span for that game, you are also ADDING offense because Espionsa has hit much better vs LHers this year than Span. In fact, in his whole career Espinosa has hit better vs LHers than Span has. Any time Span starts vs a LHer -- like last night -- and Espinosa sits, you have to ask"Why?" There may be a good reason. But for his career -- not just this year --Espinosa hits .264 with lots of power vs LHers producing a career .793 OPS against them. That's more than 100 OPS pts higher than Span. And they are both superior defenders. 

So, when Espinosa does NOT start vs a LHer and Z'man has to play third, I'm going to be asking, "Where is this rotating lineup concept? Your best OFFENSE against a LHer is an OF of Z'man, Harper, Werth and an INF of Rendon, Desmond, Espy and LaR. 

Span hits RHers and LHers almost exactly the same. So, assuming he's going to lose some starts, you'd think most of them would be against LHers.

What do you make of Bryce Harper throwing Denard Span under the bus with his declaration that he (Harper) should play centerfield? Is there bad blood between the two or just another example of Harper's youth and immaturity?

No problems that I'm aware of. 

Since the Nats have a team option on Span for '15 at a high but sane price ($9M), they may be playing together for another year-and-a-half. Another good reason to let the manager do the managing.

So, go with "youth and immaturity." Luckily, this is a pretty easy area in which to improve when you're 21.

We all know what Bryce Harper thinks, has anyone gotten a word from Denard Span on the subject? I imagine he's a close-to-the-vest veteran but if a dynamic youngster is clearly gunning for your job, then maybe you speak out. More likely, Ian Desmond is discussing the proper way to do business with Harper, no?

Both Span, before the game, and Desmond after it really praised Zimmerman. Desmond said of the fluctuating lineup situation, "Zimmerman says it all the time. The window (for this team) is not going to bee open forever...So selflessness (is needed). When your cornerstone (Z'man) does it, it makes it hard for anybody else NOT to do it..."

Everybody praised Harper's energy and his two amazing throws last night. Neither got an out but both could have. "He brings a lot of energy when he plays this way," said Desmond. How much emphasis on "when"?

With Daniel Snyder being one of the most polarizing sports figures in DC for a decade, I find it interesting that no one has written a tell all about about the Redskins under his ownership. Does he have so much power that writers are intimidated? There would seem to be a wealth of material.

It'd be tough to write the same chapter over and over.

If he changed over time, grew, that would be much more interesting. And that's what I always hope for and sometimes think I see. But not recently. He cornered himself on the team nickname and it's hard to work on yourself when everybody is busy working you over.

Boz, My six-year-old son and I, like many, many people, trekked down to Woodbridge to see Harper in his first rehab game last Monday. My son idolizes Harper and was hoping he would sign a ball for him. Harper played three innings and a bunch of us were waiting outside the clubhouse door for him. He signed what I'd call a token number of things and then got out of there as fast as he could. Contrast that with Ryan Zimmerman. I went to see him last season on a rehab start in Potomac and after playing the whole game he stayed and signed until there was nobody left. I have to say I was really disappointed in Harper (as was my Harper-jersey-wearing son) and his comments in the last few days has only reinforced my belief that he just doesn't get it. Do you think I'm overreacting?

You might be over-reacting some.

All my e-mail this a.m. and the chat questions I've seen -- and I haven't seen them all yet by any means -- seem to agree, to varying degrees, with my column this a.m. I'm kind of stunned. I thought this was a guaranteed kill-the-messenger column. And sometimes it's your job to get killed if you think it's the right column.

So let me take Bryce's side some. He didn't comment any misdeeds against humanity. He just answered some neutral softball pre-game questions with three or four charged answers -- especially the fairly long analysis of why he thought Z'man, Rendon, Espinosa and -- by implication -- Span and Harper were all being used incorrectly. It was an honest answer, but not a wise one. 

Harper has spent two months thinking about coming back and it was on his Bobblehead Night. He's been asking to play CF, saying how much he likes it and even that he's hit better when he played there. And he's been hearing from The World that the Nats -- 20th in runs/g -- desperately need their young superstar's bat. So, he may have been a little "surprised" when he learned on Twitter (he says) that he was not in CF, but in LFF and that he was not hitting 3-4 or even 5. And he was hitting 1 or 2, as he had in the past during some good Nats runs.

Sixth is not where you bat a returning young superstar hitter, if you really think that's what he is. Harp might wonder: Is somebody sending me a message? So, his feelings might have been bruised a little. Williams said that all necessary "communicating" with players about lineups had been done and that it was an on-going "day-to-day" conversation -- as needed. Maybe more is needed with Harper.

Some thought that Davey Johnson let Harper manage himself. Others thought he was just subtle and "managed" Harper without him always knowing it. Maybe those two years did a 19-20 year-old a big service. Maybe they didn't. But at some point a team run by somebody as traditional-baseball as Rizzo was going to have a manager who treated Harper -- more or less -- like another very good player, but not like a unique item.  

So, this is probably just an inevitable adjustment for Harper and the Nats to a Normal Star Career as opposed to some "special handling" for a young prodigy.

Hi Boz, Giving baseball players a day off now and then is standard now for a variety of good reasons. How much improved do you think Cal Ripken's numbers would have been if he hadn't been obsessed by 'the streak'? Also, was it always in the team's best interest to keep him in the lineup?

This is still a very frequently mentioned subject and seems like a sensible position. And though you mean it well and in the interest of curiosity, I think it is about as wrong as any baseball debate that refuses to die.

A day off once every two months -- which is about all durable players ever get -- wouldn't have changed his hitting at all. Derek Jeter, a SS, has played 150 or more games 13 times and 157 or more games seven times, including 157 at age 36 and 159 at age 38, when he hit .316. Should he have taken more days off? Was he selfish to play 159 at 38? Or was he just...let me search for the word...oh...."healthy."

Also, Ripken was always a good to very good hitter (depending on what year you're talking about) but he was always a GREAT defensive shortstop -- one of the best ever. So, ANY DAY that he could play shortstop he was helping the Orioles. Therefore, since you never know when players will go from cold to hot, he SHOULD have played every day that he was healthy. As baseball players define "healthy." Which, I promise, isn't the way the rest of us define it'

IOW, no flies on Cal on this. It's simply one of the greatest (accidental) accomplishments in sports. It did baseball enormous good at exactly a time, after the Lost World Series of '94, when it was needed.

If you want to ask why he changed his swing or stance about a dozen times a week, and whether it hurt the team to dicker so much, that might be interesting. Gene Mauch once said to me -- admiring Cal -- "Someday he'll have the worst swing in the Hall of Fame."

I grew up i the 1950's when the All Star game was your only chance to see the other League's All Stars on TV, and many starters finished the game. Now with interleague play, all games on TV, and managers feelng they have to play every player, I may not even watch it. This is ironic since the game now actually means something very important, home field advantage in the World Series. Too bad maagers can't start the best players on their rosters and let them finish the game.

Good points.

Fans want to see their home town players, even if they aren't starters. That's justified. But it does seem crazy that home field in the World Series -- something that actually might impact the Nats (second by 1/2 game) and the Orioles (second by a game) -- is decided in a game where managers can only "semi" play to win.

I know it's silly, but every year I get frustrated bv the All Star Game voting. Am I the only person who sits down with this year's stats and tries to vote for tje most worthy players? I admit I have my biases. I'm pretty familiar with the AL but tend to overrate Red Sox and underrate Yankees. But for positions I'm less familiar with, and for the entire NL, I take the more studied approach rather than voting for "name" players who may or may nor be having a good year. The fact that Matt Wieters is leading in votes for AL catcher even though he was known to be out for the season before the voting even started is ridiculous.

I'm with you. I study. But I also go with some common sense Great Players. And, when I come to the games as a fan, I usually manage to fill out ballots and vote 5-to-10 times a year. The friends who sit with us usually fill 'em out themselves. So my votes get canceled a lot!  

I was disappointed they didn't knock a game or two off this. After all, the pitcher who threw at him twice got nothing.

I thought, and mentioned here at the time, that I thought five games was about right. I'm good with it. 

Harper's return certainly brought energy to the crowd. His "run until they tag me" and frozen rope throw behind the runner also raised the level of play (and seemed to catch the Rockies napping). While I agree with your assessment of Harper, maybe it is best to ignore his youthful bravo and let the skipper and veterans in the club house handle him. My biggest concern is the more press he gets, the more the "haters" have to use against him and the team. It also seemed like all the noise surrounding Harper's return/comments affect the normally unflapple Span in CF. In the years since returning baseball to Washington, I can really see a difference in our crowd. We have an identity and baseball IQ now (take that you snooty Braves and Cards!) . Now lets get a long streak going!

Lot of good points. I view this as a one-day story (for me). But an unavoidable one.

Bos-Personally, I agree what Bryce Harper did yesterday was troubling and immature, and is something that a baseball player at that age, just should not do. But what do you think Matty Williams should do? Matty did bench Bryce for not hustling, and this seems far worse of an offence, as Bryce seemed to question Williams' authority. Your thoughts?

Veterans usually police their own clubhouse. You never know what goes on behind those closed doors. 

Williams should not bench Harper or do anything to him at all -- Harper has a perfect right to express an opinion and subtracting him hurts the team. But I suspect someone will have a word. The important question will be whether it is heard.

I take Harper anyday. RGIII is all hype and will be out of the NFL by 2016. Harper should still be playing in 2036.

I'll certainly vote for the 2036 part.

I wrote a column after RGIII's injury pointing out that almost every talented QB in the NFL plays -- and starts -- well into his 30's. They all get hurt. But they almost ALL come back. I said Griffin would still be the Skins starter in 10 years, and a good one, and I still think so. There are almost NO contrary examples among QB's who have ever had a year as good as Griffin's in '12.

How about Zim at second base? Easier on the arm. Rendon at third.

I see this A LOT. I sigh a lot and try to figure out how to answer nicely. So, thanks, you are giving me a chance.  

No one is considering it, or has even mentioned it within the Nats because:

*Nobody 6-4, ~230 has been a second baseman. Jeff Kent, "a big second baseman" is listed at 6-1, 185. You need nimbleness to turn the double play with your BACK to the runner -- or else you get killed.

*You need quickness at third, which Z'man has. Quick reactions and first step. But you need flat out SPEED at second for range on both grounders and pop ups. So, Z'man would probably be something close to a range nightmare at second. It's no accident that so many second basemen are decent-to-excellent base stealers.

*Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch throwing "disease" tends to pop up most at second base where you have too much time to think on easy throws -- and you heave 'em wildly. The Nats already saw too much of the beginnings of that too-much-time thing with Z'amn at 3rd.

The guy does everything except sell soda between innings. Don't ask him to play second. I can't imagine a worse fit. (And neither can the Nats.) 

With the season half over, what are your impressions of Matt Williams? Has anything surprised you about him? Also, how do you evaluate a manager's performance?

Evaluating manager's is HARD. First rule: Don't be in a hurry. This will be a column at some point, I'm sure.

The only thing I'm sure I don't like -- and which isn't going to changed -- is encouraging (by tone) sluggers to be aggressive base runners. LaRoche and Ramos were not put on earth to take the extra bass and injure quads and hamstring. Speedy, nimble guys like Span, Espinosa, Desmond, Rendon, McLouth -- sure, you can say "aggression is in our DNA" with them. Harper is a maybe. It's his disposition to be ultra aggressive. But what is his BODY'S opinion? Be careful about encouraging 'tweener, like Z'man, to be aggressive. They listen and like to please. Let them figure out where that fits in their game. Werth is both a studious and intuitive aggressive baserunner and he's huge -- 6'5". There are exceptions to every rule.

I'll stop beating this dead horse.

I will say that being 1/2-game out of first place when he finally got his team healthy at mid-season is NOT bad managing. Especially for a first year manager. It was a real test. And it might be an example of good managing. 

I thought your column was head line chasing stir the pot stuff. Not like you. When Davey answers honestly you lionize him. When Harp does you don't.

Thought I'd get some of the other side.

All else aside, notice the nice reception he got when introduced. Hope he noticed.

Good point.

I'm a big fan of your work, but respectfully take issue with yesterday's column. Although it's obvious that Harper is immature, maybe it's not the right move to go after a 21-year-old in public? It seems like you know Rizzo well enough to get this message across in a less personal and public way. Doesn't this also speak to communication issues in the clubhouse? Harper heard about the lineup for the first time via twitter. Shouldn't the manager communicate better with his players and stop playing favorites?

Some good points in here.

Do you? Are you at least watching live this afternoon?

Absolutely. Managed my week to make sure I'd be in front of my big TV at 4 p.m. Even tried to sell my wife on watching with me.

My "little gray cells" have allowed me to deduce that we have a puncher's chance against Belgium IF we can avoid an early goal. If wwe can just get INTO the game, then perhaps Belgium will feel thee pressure of the sometimes-under-achieving favorite.

USA has had problems with very early and very late goals. Maybe that's out of our system. If so, it'll be a lot of fun to watch this craziness continue.

Lot of side benefits to World Cup fever. I really do think it is somewhat "different this time" and there will more post-WC carryover effect. I know, I know, I was hearing this, and probably say it, when I was the Washington Diplomats beat writer for the Post. But, from general observation, and knowledge of how much my son (27) and his friends follow soccer (around the world), I think this is a different moment. Of course every US win helps. But I don't think the increased interest in soccer is nearly as US-success centered as it's been in the past. We'll see. Another point, it may help D.C. United in its new stadium quest.     

Love these chats. It sounds like half the league and all of the contenders are going after Gortat and Ariza, including and especially the Heat. Does that tell you the Wiz really aren't that far away (gulp) from a Finals appearance? Seems like keeping those guys and then trying to make a real run at Durant next summer may be the way to go.

Just because things don't happen for a very loooong time doesn't mean that they will never happen -- thanks goodness. Looked like DC might never get a baseball team back, then mighjt never get a good team and then, what do you know, people have been picking them to go to the Series the last two years. So, maybe "a third of a century wait" is some kind of bizarre norm for Washington sports! That is how long baseball was gone and, pretty close, how long the Bullets/Wiz were not a serious contender, even when they had those few amazing 45-win seasons. (Oh, sorry, 45-37 isn't that good, is it?) About time for the Wiz! Got to keep Gortat. Ariza's combination of "three-and-D" is nice, but easier to replace, if necessary, that a big man. Durant would be so perfect. Not sayin', just hopin'.

Now about the Skins. Are they in a third-of-a-century dry spell, too. Gulp. From 1991 to 2024 sure sounds like a long wait.

I used to work for a nonfiction sports publisher, so I'm well versed in the complaints of the earlier poster about how a lot of the advice seems basic. I saw SO many books that were pretty much the same basic "plot" if you will: I was horrible, I needed to fix X Y and Z, so here's how I fixed them." Well, no matter the general way of fixing it all came down to "I went out and golfed and golfed and golfed and golfed." Get a pro to show you what you're doing wrong, then practice doing it right. Probably the ONLY advice I ever read in a book proposal that I thought would be helpful was "the short game is more of your game than driving -- most golfers can do wonders for their score by practicing their short game a LOT more." Everyone wants to go to the driving range and hit for distance; focus that energy and practice on your short game, and you'll take 10 strokes off.

You mean I've been mistaken in hitting range balls, especially drivers, 100 times as much as practicing my short game!

This just isn't fair: practice isn't FUN.

Bigger Problem: A 20 year old that openly questions his manager, or the fact that the 20 year old can put together a better lineup than the manager?

I did like his lineup. At least against a LHer.

Do other tournaments have the same kind of troubles working out arrangements with their host clubs that the National is having with Congressional? I'm thinking of clubs like Riviera in Los Angeles or the Torrey Pines courses in San Diego. Those courses are pretty highly rated in rankings, but I don't recall hearing about the members of those clubs not wanting the PGA tour events there.

Let me tilt your question to make an observation. (Sorry.) The National is now far more stable than Washington's PGA Tour stop events have usually been since '80.

In many years there was uncertainty about whether a tournament would return, who the sponsor would be or where it might be played. The current Quicken Loans arrangement just got worked out/extended recently so that there's certainty to 2020. That's a lot by DC standards and plenty for a Tour stop.

Also, Woods support for the National has long-term implications. In 2024, and 2034 for that matter, he is STILL going to have at least 14 major championships. He is ALWAYS going to be a major historical figure in golf. And, to honor his father, he wants to have a tournament for his foundation that honors the military and is based in D.C. -- near the Pentagon.

Seriously, are PGA Tour or Woods or sponsors going to run from DC when the area has Robert Trent Jones (which will hold the QL National in alternate year), Avenel and perhaps Congressional as sites? Attendance last week was ~150,000. There have been plenty of times when I was concerned about pro golf's future in the D.C. area. This isn't one of them.

What did you think about the opinion column by Abe Pollin's son saying "My dad changed the name and it wasn't horrible -- you should, too"? Slightly different circumstances, but ... do you feel that Wizards even today has been all that accepted? Are the stumbles in changing Bullets to Wizards part of the reason Snyder is hesitant to change Redskins?

I haven't read it. I will now. Thanks for mentioning it/pointing it out to chatters.

That's be for this week. See you next Monday to talk (I hope) more USA in World Cup as well as four games home-and-home between the Nats and O's. Cheers.

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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