Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Dec 08, 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

Boz: Does this season's catastrophe's put the Shanahan era in a new light. Are you as critical of them now as you were at the end of their tenure?

Usually, when you are presented with a large number of propositions in sports, you have a range of responses -- this is good, this is bad, this is in the middle. And the same with the people in sports.

One common fallacy in evaluating this franchise is that someone or something ought to be praised. IOW, there must be a "good guy" and a "bad guy." They can't all be bad, right? Riiiight?

Pretty much everyone has been guilty of this good-guy-bad-guy dichotomy for many years, including me. It's against decent human nature to say: "No, no, no, no" and never say, "Yes." But in the last year I've finally digested what is, to me anyway, a sad probability: Everything I've ever said that was negative about Shanahan or anybody else associated with this mess has been correct. Or pretty close. But half of what I've said that was positive about others on the team or in the organization was probably wrong.

There are work environments that bring out the best in almost everyone. With only a few exceptions. Because most people go with the flow of what surrounds them -- like functional families. And there are work environments that bring out the worst in almost everybody -- with a few exceptions. It may take a few years, but people get dragged down to the level of what surrounds them.

For example, London Fletcher was probably telling the truth (as he sees it) about Jim Haslett's ability yesterday. But look how bad and petty he made himself look in telling it. I thought "Dysfunction Junction" was an excellent headline.

Last year I wrote that the team had reached the point where only dark humor did it justice: "A weasel, a skunk and a peacock walk into a bar...No, sorry, that's just Mike, Dan and Robert." When I wrote, it actually made me feel bad to type it, even though I knew it was a good line -- and deserved. But now I just think it was accurate.

All of them  also have OTHER qualities. Shanahan was one of the best X-and-O coaches of his time and may still be up to speed. Grfiffin has several obviously appealing qualities. But on this franchise, over time, your worst quality -- whatever it is -- seems to become more central to your personality. Or at least visible more often.

Shanahan's reputation was always part weasel -- trash others, built his own rep, forget there ever was a playoff game against Seattle. But it  became more pronounced here and probably disguised some his smart coach and demanding disciplinarian qualities that can help many teams. Snyder was the perfect -- i.e. worst possible -- owner for Griffin because he played into all his peacock tendencies and, I suspect, magnified them.

There's no pleasure in watching a bad culture damage perfectly normal people and bring out their worst.

Seriously, a truly mean Twitter war between last year's defensive captain and the son of the still current defensive coordinator -- did that really happen DURING a 24-0 loss?

How many people look back and say, "What HAPPENED to me in those Washington years? I'm not LIKE that."  

How long do you think it will take Tiger to be in form to contend? He says he is playing without pain.

When you finish tied for last and lose by 26 shots to a young star who may be your biggest obstacle over the next few years (Jordan Spieth, 26-under par), you have more problems than solutions.

I'm concerned that Tiger has made so many fundamental swing changes that he will never quite "own" his swing again, especially under major championship pressure. Nicklaus constantly worked with his swing. But he NEVER ripped it down to studs and did a complete whole-home renovation. What Jack Grout taught him as a youngster was always his bedrock, not one new swing teacher after another. In part, Woods has done it because his injuries forced him to find a new swing that would not continue to break his body down.

Now there's a new and almost amazing issue. On Thursday, Tiger CHUNKED four chip shots and also left a sand shot in a trap. FOUR? The last time I did that I swore I'd quit golf.  "Well, at least that'll never happen again," I thought. Woods gave some bizarre excuse that he'd been practicing on his home facility where the grass around the greens was not mowed down as tightly. Come on! Isleworth was his home course for years! And he doesn't know how to chip there?

But the chunking never stopped. There was even a @DidTigerChunkIt parody Twitter account. The final four-day total was NINE chunked chip shots. We're talking about, for example, a 70-foot shot that goes 20 feet and rolls back. He stubbed one so badly it only went about four feet. The total of completely miss-hit short shots was 11! On Sunday, Woods finally gave an explanation, of sorts.

"If I put my backswing in the same position that I used to have it in and then make this new release, I'm going to hit it fat every time,'' he said. "I've got to get things in a different order. From about 40 yards out it's pretty solid. I hit those shots really well. Anything inside of that, I have to get used to.

"It's a different release pattern, and so my chipping is off, putting is just a touch off,'' he said. "I started to figure something out today, which was nice. I've got to get used to a different release pattern, different release point. That said, my short game is off because of it, but my long game is better. All it is is practice. I just need to work.''

I’ve never heard anybody say that a full-swing change was doing significant damage to their short game. Okay, I’ve heard a lot of golfers talk about their games and how they want every club in the bag to be part of the same swing, even short shots.

But nine chunks because you changed your swing? I just worry that he's going to be caught between methods, paralyzed by analysis, for years. His swing certainly looks better. He's pain free, he says. He's hitting it longer. But for many years with Tiger it's been a case of: If it's not one thing, it's another."

Now, there is yet "another" -- the chunks -- added to all the others. He's good for golf. But, especially as a winner of future majors, I'm now very close to reaching the position that "I'll believe it when I see it." I've been in that stance of Win 19 Majors for a long time. Now I'm heading to that level of skepticism on Win One More Major. I'm not there yet. Lets see what he does at the Masters and U.S. Open. I don't think we'll need a full season to get answers. If he's really healthy and has found an improved swing, half a season and two majors will probably show it.

The football season is ending in its usual stinking fashion, but over the past two seasons I sense a difference in the fanbase. I have a young friend who was so happy a few years ago to sign up for season tickets--she is not renewing and has refused to go to the last few games. If we stay away from games and refuse to buy jerseys, perhaps Danny will change his ways? Nah. Pitchers and catchers report in less than 10 weeks!

Money talks. Especially to someone who always listens to money. So, it's worth a try.

In an article on NBC Sports, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says the Nationals are likely to trade Tyler Clippard because they are so rich in right handed pitchers and because his salary will be very high. Please say it ain't so, Joe!

Clippard is one of severa valuable Nats who will be free agents after '15 -- Desmond, Zimmermann, Fister, Clippard, Span. There will be trade rumors about almost all of them. BUT the Base Case, imo, is that the Nats will keep everybody for the '15 run unless they get a trade offer that just blows them away.

So, I suppose you should hope that they DO make a trade or two because it will mean that Rizzo and his staff think they got a big win. But I've seldom seen a team that can still look so smart if it does almost nothing -- except, of course, address second base. 

This glut of '15 free agents is hardly unique to the Nats. The Reds have to decide whether they want to try to make a serious run this year by keeping starting pitchers Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leaked and Alffredo Simo -- who are ALL free agents after '15.

The Nats have Good Problems. They can trade talent-in-its-prime for younger cheaper talent and then use the money they saved to buy different talent-in-its-prime.

In other words, Trade A for B, C and D, while saving X dollars you would have had to pay to A. Then use the money you saved to buy star player Z. You lose A, but gain B, C, D and Z.  

Last year the Nat's bench hit .144 as pinch hitters. Four (Lobaton, Espinoza, McClouth, and Frandsen) of the five bench players scheduled to return for next year were part of this group. How will the bench improve, if we are relying on the same players? Does this mean that Tyler Moore is essentially gone?

Lobaton was a good backup catcher, so don't worry about him as a PH. Espinosa has enough value without considering PH ability, which fluctuates a lot from year to year because of small sample size. But every N.L. contender needs a strong LH pinch hitter. They thought that would be McLouth. With LaRoche gone, another LH bat is subtracted. So you are right -- they need to be confident that they have that lefty stick on the pine.

Moore's teammates can't wait for the day that he is free to leave and try to find a full time job somewhere -- because several of them think he'll be a Josh Willingham clone for several very good years. He deserves to have a real career somewhere as a starting player. I think he will. The Nats like him as a person and a hitter. But they just don't have a spot for him with Zimmerman, Werth and Harper taking up first base and the corner OF spots.

Boz, Since the season ended, two front office executives have left the Nat's front office for Arizona. Should we, as Nats fans, be concerned? Are the the Lerners difficult to work for?

When you win the most games in baseball over a three-year period and a lot of it is due to your excellent front office, other teams are going to take a run ($$$) at your people.

It's part of the price of success.

Conversely, when was the last time an NFL team looked at Washington as a place to try to poach top front office talent. ROTF...

BTW, apparently Fletcher's not baking down today.

Gee, chat readers have known the awful 13-season Haslett disaster stats for the last couple of years. You can pick the words of your choice to describe Fletcher blasting his old coach -- who probably had his back for much of last year -- but I think it is absolutely certain that Fletcher's real opinion is that Haslett can't be an adequate DC -- poor attention to detail, poor feel for when to call what and calls that Fletcher thought were so wrong that he immediately changed them.

BUT there is an extra dimension in this quote today. Fletcher: "What I’m doing is speaking up for all the players and that coaches that he [disrespected] for the last 20 years." Personal? Or is London just taking a lot of unfriendly fire today.

Oh, one point I left out of my column this morning on all the bad blood and payback that surrounds Snyder's team from all around the NFL. Jeff Fisher, who sent out the SIX players acquired with draft picks in the RGIII traded, is a long time buddy of Mike Shanahan. Not many do payback as well as Mike. That's why so many said -- the day Snyder signed him --"if things go bad, they'll really deserve each other."  

Let's take it as a given that for a franchise to win, in any major professional sport, one needs good players, good coaches, good management, good health, and a bit of good luck. The question then: are these enough to overcome bad ownership, or that necessary, too? Because owners do not fire themselves. Have you ever seen a team -- in any sport -- win consistently despite bad ownership?

Not consistently.

But even the worst owners can get lucky and stumble into good people for key jobs when they are out of work for dumb reasons. Look at the Orioles. It doesn't get worse at the top. But Dan Duquette, who's a decent but chilly intellectual, got a tough rap in Boston and Buck Showalter, believe it or not, was out of baseball and doing TV despite his baseball brilliance because of -- well, not much, really, just comments like "wired too tight." 

Where does Snyder find his Duquette and Showalter? Or does he? And if he did, would he leave them alone?

They should be the Washington Maroons. Or the Washington Marooned.

Marooned is right.

All day Sunday I just looked at this wrecked franchise and felt bad for the town, which it embarrasses, and most of the people who work and play for it.

Years ago in Camden Yards, I was talking with an executive who is now in the Hall of Fame who said, "You are watching the destruction of a great franchise." That's what we've seen at FedEx Field over the last 15 years.

The job is done. With the knowledge now that Griffin was apparently not the answer, I'd say that this team will remain bad-to-mediocre for years. Yesterday was the first time I've felt that way. What is the "solution?"

You can reach a point where there isn't one. Or certainly not one that is visible, even if you gaze at the horizon. Something will reverse it someday. Everything in the NFL is structured to insure parity -- iow, you could put a goat, a chicken and a pig in charge and sooner or later they'd draft Tom Brady in a late round. But it sure could could take a while.  

Boz, I am by no means a rabid football fan, or a fan at all, but I watched most of the game yesterday and it dawned on me that the biggest problem for the Washington team isn't a lack of talent at the QB spot, but the completely incompetent offensive line. Tom Brady couldn't do squat behind those guys. Is it as simple as that?

Last week in Indy, Trent Williams had one of the worst games I have ever seen a left tackle perpetrate. I watched the tape again just to marvel at him. This is the cornerstone talent? Penalties, lined up wrong, allowed sacks. Okay, he was just coming back from an injury. Maybe an aberration. On Sunday, he almost got McColt killed with a blindside hit when he whiffed. Another really bad game when I watched again last nighty. Yet, after the game, he said a lot of sensible things, but I also heard him say, "The offensive line, believe it or not, has been doing all right."

No, Trent, I don't believe it. Something about the 13 sacks and FIVE quarterback fumbles (all by McCoy) the last two weeks tell me that the offensive line is NOT doing all right.

Hi Tom, Thanks for doing these chats. I used to read quite a few of them, but now just yours. I think it's both the thoughtful answers you give and the individual's who participate in them. Always great questions that produce thought provoking answers... I'm having a hard time understanding what exactly an owner can do to create such discord in a franchise. Dan Snyder has done some pretty stupid things in his tenure as it relates to the business and marketing of running the Redskins. But if you could explain the top three (or five) things that he does that effect the product on the field, it would go a long way to explain how an owner can have negatively impact a team. In what areas has this guy meddled that's screwed up the team so badly? Thanks!

Much appreciated. The quality of the chatters' questions is the key.

My No.1 Problem -- well, at least today -- would be Snyder's choices of people on whose counsel to depend. To whom does he listen to and how long does he keep listening to them? He kept the "Kindergarten Ninja" -- you really do have to Google it -- for 10 years. Now, Bruce Allen, who has plenty of skills that could be useful to an NFL team, but who is outside his skill set as the man in charge of picking/acquiring players. When did this team do least badly? When Gibbs came back and Snyder listened to him.

Who knew that Gibbs II would be a Golden Age.

Hey Boz, Not sure why so many people are upset about yesterday's game. Yes, DC was down early to an inferior team, but they came back and gave themselves a chance to win late. Plus the season is early, they're off to a great start and are playing quite well overall. We'll see how they respond tonight when they can get some revenge against the Celtics. Go Wizards! Oh wait, there wasn't a football game yesterday, was there?

I'm with you. The Wiz loss to the Celts confused me. Want to see the bounce back.  Doubt Beal will be 4-for-18 again.

Wiz were down 25 at one point in 3Q, but, with one minute left, could have gone ahead when ex-Celt Paul Pierce took a key three-point shot -- and missed. 

The comeback from 25 down may be the important factor. But, after winning four straight, the Wiz do need to find spots in the sked, like back-to-back with Boston, to keep a streak going.

With the amount of money he makes, can't Jason Werth afford a driver 24-7? I'm also wondering, what do you think the response/fallout from Nats management will be down the road? I mean, this is kind of a black eye, given all of the recent focus on sports athletes staying out of trouble...

The officer who stopped Werth, supposedly driving 105 in a 55 mph at 9:40 on a Sunday morning in his Porsche, asked the hairy one what he was doing. Werth supposedly said, "Pushing my luck."

If that 10 days in jail sticks on appeal I suspect he'll think it was more serious than that. If you want to drive your Porsche over 100, do in the middle of Nevada and press your luck with the troopers in the middle of nowhere. But don't do it on our roads. We drive there, too. (Grump.)

Which editor did you get on the bad side of, that he or she keeps torturing you by making you write about the Washington football team?

I must have done something terrible in a former life.

What kind of money is it gonna take to sign JZ?

Almost as much as Jay-Z.

(Jay-Z net worth estimate: $520M).

Some say Z'mann is in the Homer Bailey contract category. Dream on. Greinke -- >$140M -- is more likely neighborhood.

I surrender to the Danny and all of his minions. From my first game at Griffith Stadium-1955- until yesterday, I have always held the faith. Eddie LeBaron, Ralph Gugliemi, Norm Snead, Dick Shiner, Sonny, Dick James, Joe Rutgers, Karl Kammerer, Jerry Smith, A.D. Whitfield, Wilbur Jackson et. al. at least gave me some hope that there were better days ahead. Now the only light I can see on the horizon is "pitchers and catchers report".

You remember when BOTH the Skins and Senators were terrible -- for many years. There was no place to turn.

We're lucky. Now there is. Wiz and Nats are both good teams (Nats very good) and also appealing players and people. This is almost like a sanity test for local fans. Do you keep chewing on nails or notice that there is a steak and a bowl of ice cream sitting right on the table in front of you that you could eat instead.

(Our local radio guys would put the nails IN the ice cream, eat it and say, "Yuuummmm, good. Especially the nails.")  

It blocked two extra points and a field goal.


Also, the horrible field at FedEx. One Ram said to our Mark Giannotto, who told me, "It was horrible. Some patches were high, some were low. Wet, soggy." 

A teammate said, "Only Chicago is worse."

"Yeah, probably Chicago," said the first Ram, "when it's raining."

All three of Griffin's biggest injuries in the NFL -- vs Ravens and Seahawks in '12 and this year in home opener -- were on FedEx Field. Two of 'em might have been field related. We'll never know.

Any sane person would not be looking for wins from the Redskins this season. I expected them to use this opportunity to see if RGIII could develop into the NFL QB that everyone at one point thought he could be. Does the fact that they are not mean that they think he no longer has that potential? Do you?

They thought they'd go 10-6 this year.

Honest. Gruden's mandate, like everybody's, has been "win."

If they had been able to say the word "rebuild," even internally, could they have handled Griffin differently or built their offense somewhat differently. I don't know. But I can see that the bridge between player and team has now been burned, dynamited and chopped into little pieces. Do you start building a new bridge? Doesn't look like it. 

What was your perception of London Fletcher when you were covering him? Did it surprise you when you read his scathing comments on Haslett? Were there any signs of animosity between the two that you saw?

Everybody respected Fletcher. He was a wonderful player right through '12. (Not last year.) I enjoyed talking to him and did so often. But he would reach a point where he wouldn't say any more on touchy subjects but you could tell he was dying to open up. As a team leader, he couldn't.

I'm totally surprised that he has THIS bad an opinion on Haslett's coaching ability. (I thought I was the leader in the clubhouse.) But was he a player who, with me one-on-one after games, often seemed to be biting his tongue? Yes.

Can we please talk about the Wizards, Caps, or preferably Nats now? I'm sick of the football team...

Sunday really did seem like it was so low, so symbolic, that it is actually worth discussing.

But I promise the chat will not be (overly) contaminated the next three weeks with more of the same.

The winter meetings are probably going to be very active.

I just want to interrupt the Redskins bitterness to say the Wizards are not just good (yesterday's disappointing loss to Boston aside), but a real joy to watch. The ball movement and assists during Friday's win over Denver were beautiful. Do you think they'll get better as the season goes on?

They already had excellent chemistry and ball movement last year. But they are blending in new bench pieces now, like Humphries (21 rebounds!), and learning how to play with the great head-for-the-game Paul Pierce. So, they should improve.

Obviously the Western Conference is much stronger. But that just makes aiming high in the Eastern Conference that much more reasonable. They just blew the doors off Denver. Really enjoyed it, especially with Wall not even bothering to score double digits.

What are the possible solutions to crowning a national college football champ? This one doesn't seem to work.

It works adequately. College football ranking are so ridiculous __Baylor won its first three gift games against pigeons 178-27 (who knew there was a Northwestern STATE?). I enjoy Adam Kilgore's column on how stupid the committee looked after dropping TCU from No. 3 to "out" after they won by 52 points!

But I don't think that the final result is an injustice to anybody or that, as Vegas lines makers thinks, Ohio State is weak and undeserving of its place in the final four.

TCU won big on Saturday, but their entire season wasn't some monster blowout. They lost to Baylor (58-61) and had close games with Oklahoma (3y7-33), West Virginia (31-30) and Kansas (34-342). They didn't win EVERY gamed by 52.

And TCU's ridiculous margin of victory for the season __26.5 points__ isn't that different than Baylor (24.6) or OSU (24.0). 

It's not like any of these teams were playing an SEC schedule. Baylor also had a loss (27-41 to West Virginia) and a couple of tough wins, including TCU, Texas Tech (48-46) and Kansaas State (38-27).

Yes, if the names on the uniforms of OSU, TCU and Baylor has all been changed, and OSU had been less glamorous as a famous power, then a different team probably would have been picked. But I think all three were close enough that it's not any outrage and OSU's 59-0 win over a 13th-ranked Wisconsin team is a pretty amazing statement win.

IOW, the system is good enough for me. At least now we can argue about whether the 4th-best team in the country was left out. For decades we have often been left to debate whether the No. 2 (or even No.1) team in the nation got left out of the defacto Title Game.

Instead of focusing on the negatives - can the Nats keep everyone - shouldn't we be focused on the positives? I.e. that Rizzo, et al have put together an incredible array of young stars and that this is the consequence of that? Would we rather not have had Desmond and Zimmermann the last five years?


Lost in all the other DC sports news last week was the short article that stated DC politicians had approved unanimously the construction of a 'soccer only' stadium near the Nats stadium at Buzzards Point. That is huge for DCU and continues the transfiguration of that section of the city - a 'win-win' for all. Go United!

I wouldn't call it a small story -- I certainly found it on A1 and read it!

But you're right it was an important story. I hope, and as an operating assumption agree with you, that this should help with the "transfiguration of that section of the city." Nats and United should make good neighbors. 

I noticed how pretty the L.A. stadium was in the MLS title game on Sunday.

Hi! Just curious for your thoughts on the Orioles and the Markakis debacle this week (clearly, I'm biased). Do you think the Orioles should have signed him, and do you think GMs should consider fan sentiments or player loyalty when fielding their team? And do you think there are parallels to Mussina leaving?

At this stage of his career, with his power way down, Markakis isn't worth anywhere the deal that the Braves gave him. The O's are lucky he left -- even though everybody loved him and he's still a wonderful fielder. It's similar to LaRoche in D.C. Everybody wishes him well. But that doesn't mean you want to give him a multi-year contract to stay -- four years in Nick's case.

Nelson Cruz was a big loss, probably impossible to replace. Losing Markakis allows for the possibility of a slight upgrade at a much lower price. IOW, apparent bad luck is really good luck. We'll see who it turns out to be.

That's it for to day. Too many good subjects and questions!

See you next Monday.

Went to the game yesterday and had a flashback to the Nats circa 2009. Easy parking and no lines at the concession stands were major positives, but the play was horrible. Funny thing, I can enjoy "bad" baseball, but bad football is just plain bad.

Well said.

Just wanted to give a shout-out to Dan Steinberg for becoming a new sports columnist. His wit has made the Bog a worthy read for many years. I'm excited to see him in his new role.

Everybody's pleased for him. Well-deserved.

Is the world ready for a fully-evolved bog! Be fun to find out.

What is the more amazing accomplishment: three Super Bowl wins with three different QBs, or making the playoffs two out of three years with Dan Snyder as the owner?

Maybe they should add a "PS" to his plaque in Canton.

Boz I am a life long and multigenerational Washingtonian and the way the current atmosphere that surrounds ALL DC sports teams is so toxic is unprecedented to any city at anytime . It doesn't matter what the record the impression of the teams and the fans is SO NEGATIVE. In other cities they can take the circus of the Redskins or the end of season crash and burn soul sucking failure of both the Nationals and Capitals and the years of nothing but stupid of the Bullets/Wizards and run with it as part of what it means to a fan in that city. Not here it is used to demean and attack the city and fan bases by national sports reporters and it wears on the fan base so that every year is another long road to endure failure and depression. So WHY CAN'T THIS BE FUN why do we have to be subjected to abuse from all around. Thanks for listening.

I hear you.

But I DO take it as fun. The Nats have been delightful and October exits are part of the game. Even though nobody prefers it this way, maybe '12 and '14 are part of building a fan base with scar tissue and war stories. (Not real war stories. You know what I mean.)

The Wiz are certain fun, too. The Caps are a perfectly normal pro team with a still-special player in Ovechkin.

And, if you cock your head at a certain angle, and I sometimes do, the FedEx Follies are darkly amusing.

Overall, these are good times to be a Washington sports fan. Maryland in a bowl game in its first Big Ten year. On and on.

Smile. It's not all Deadskins. In fact, less all the time.

Over and very much out.

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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