Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 21, 2016

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Haven't been impressive, but they're still standing, and the Spartans and Musketeers (to name two) aren't. Can they beat the Jayhawks?

Not impressive. Got to play a LOT better vs Kansas -- just to have a chance to win. But, sometimes, good luck is an absolutely crucial ingredient. At some point don't they HAVE to have a good outside-shooting game instead of 1-for-18 on Sunday? And if they have such a game against Kansas...

I'm biased. My bracket has them upsetting Kansas to reach the Elite Eight. I realize this is even LESS likely after the way they've played in their first two adequate but uninspiring tourney wins. Maybe the sleeping giant left a wake up call.

They can't say they haven't gotten chances -- all season -- to hit their stride and figure out how to play together. Maybe it's Thursday. (Okay, okay, I know -- probably not.)

Who would win?

Not Bernie.

Don't think those Sweden-like ~75 percent top marginal income tax rates that he suggests would go over too well with players making >$10M/yr.

Rule: Never talk politics in a clubhouse. I never have. With the exception of a few players who volunteer their views -- long-ago examples Ted Williams conservative, Spaceman Bill Lee liberal -- I couldn't tell you the politics of any of the players I've covered. And I doubt that they have any clue about my views because I've never expressed them. We have more important things to talk about!

He is a free agent after this season. Who do the Nats envision as the catcher of the future/next year?

In house, Pedro Severino. Dusty liked what he saw of him here before he was sent out last Friday. Thinks "he can be an All-Star." He's never hit in previous seasons but showed progress this spring. If you made no moves, he and Lobaton might split the job in '17.

Don't seem to be any Nats-Ramos contract talks now, or for a very long time. Jonathan Lucroy, in Milwaukee (having a hot spring), is a trade target of various teams because he's very good and signed through '17.

Dig a big pit and let the fans walk down to their seats. When it's not being used, roll on the "roof" and use the area for something else. Now where do I collect my architect's fee?

Just when you think you'll never hear another completely "new" idea.

What rock has Raymond Moore been living under for the past couple of decades? Not only were his remarks so breathtakingly sexist - it was like he slithered straight out of the 1950s - but they weren't remotely accurate. Women's tennis has become much more interesting to watch than the men's tennis, where three shots is a long rally. For the past 20 years or so the most exciting tennis play has come from the women players, not the men.

His comments remind me of that Bill Murray line in Groundhog Day: "Idiots, your bus is leaving."

I've liked women's tennis better than men's -- and covered it more when I was our tennis writer -- since the mid-'70's. Often, as you say, it's the more interesting strategic form of the game -- but it's been that way forever. Also, as a group -- and all generalizations tend to be unfair -- the top women players have been a more interesting cast of people over the years. Better interviews, more interesting views on more subjects. Of course there are many exceptions. JMO.

Will they become the new Dominican?

Cuba was the center of baseball in the Caribbean long before the DR began changing MLB. I went to Cuba to write about baseball there in the late-'70's. Amazing level of talent. At the time, my guesstimate was that the Cuban national team could have played .500 ball in the big leagues. And plenty in M LB agreed with that general view.

Now, the DR is still producing tons of excellent players. But it appears that Cuba baseball is much diminished, or maybe even dying, because so many of their best players have found ways -- some very dangerous -- to get to America and MLB.

Once, high-level baseball -- eight teams on then island  -- was almost the only thing that Cubans had to bring daily energy and entertainment to them in the bleakest of the Castro years. Cuban radio flashed around from game-to-game every night until the last pitch of the last game had been thrown. Cuban fans were so much more into baseball, so much more knowledgeable and enthusiastic than American crowds -- even the best U.S. crowds -- that I was completely shocked. I came back thinking, "Baseball and Cuba are even more closely linked emotionally, psychologically than baseball and America.

So,  the DR is the DR when it comes to producing talent. And nobody else. Cuba isn't -- not anymore.

Fat cat administrators, big-time coaches, and corruption that only rivals the Olympics and the World Cup. These poor kids trade a lot for some fleeting glory.

All true. Especially the comparisons with the Olympics and World Cup which are so sleazy. In the case of the Olympics, I've never really been able to "get over it." (And perhaps I shouldn't.) I've covered a half-dozen Olympics and I always smell the stench too much to really fully enjoy the sport. 

In the case of March Madness, I'm "guilty, guilty, guilty." I declare a personal  one-month March moratorium on morality. The other 11 months are for catching these skunks.

BTW, there have been so many amazing games in the tourney so far that here in spring training today some of us were comparing notes on what amazing games we'd seen and which -- since we have other jobs to do -- we've missed. I've seen "most of the best" so far -- including Middle Tennessee State beating Michigan State. (Yes, I had MSU in the final.) But I was traveling yesterday and missed the end of the Northern Iowa Blown Lead. Aaarrggh. Still hoping to see highlights of the four turnovers in the last 40 seconds.

I'm trying to figure out a way to say -- ask -- this nicely, but how unintelligent is Adam LaRoche? Not because he wanted to have his son spend time with him, but because he prioritized that over his son's education, and over putting Drake in a position to develop social skills with his peers. And how outright stupid is Chris Sale? Calling Drake LaRoche a leader on the White Sox? Dear lord. Surely most baseball players have more sense than this. Right? Can you reassure me on this point? "We're not big on school." That's what LaRoche told the Post last year. Unless he knows for a fact that Drake will grow up to be a successful MLB player, he is seriously undercutting his son's ability to make a living, and to function effectively in life. Plus, how can a 36-year-old man be "best friends" with his 15-year-old son? That's not healthy on either side. Is LaRoche an outlier, do you think? He may be a nice guy, but this story, frankly, makes him look dumb as a rock. Am I missing something here?

This is a tough one because LaRoche is such an extreme case. He's not like anybody else in baseball -- or any other sport. Adam is a very nice man to talk to. Absolutely sincere. But he thinks it's still 1858. If LaRoche had been along with DiCaprio in The Revenant, it would have been a buddy-trip comedy. That's what LaRoche would consider a routine off-season Camping Trip.

First, Adam would have killed that rude bear with his bow-and-arrow at 100 yards, saving Leonardo lots of bad memories. He'd have organized the herd of buffalo and then converted them all to That Old-Time Religion and had a tent meeting (just like the one he organized for centerfield at Nats Park every summer in D.C.) He might even have used the herd to start his own buffalo ranch -- next to his cattle ranch in Kansas.

Tons of players have brought their kids into clubhouse. But, as far as I know, not 100 per cent of the time -- or anything like it. I've never seen a player make his son, now 14 years old, into the 26th man on the team with a locker of his own. That's just as "unusual" as it appears, in my book.

I've never thought -- as you may -- that Adam-and-Drake was a "bad story." They obviously love and enjoy each other. And Griffey, Jr., turned out well -- Hall of Fame. Petey Rose, who hung out with his dad's teams a lot, not so much. But I have also NEVER thought that it was a warm and fuzzy story or an unambiguous one. I've watched them take infield together on the field I'm looking at right now and thought, "This could work out very well or pretty badly. But it is certainly at the most extreme edge of an eccentric way to raise a child." So, I never wrote about it because, at that time, Drake was 10-, 11, 12 and any story, by me, would have said, "Is this heart-warming or heart-wrenching?" I wouldn't have had an answer. And a boy that age shouldn't have to read that story. Now, it's a national story.  

At another level, this is a simple story. Star veteran players can ask for special treatment and, often, get it. Everybody either likes it (as many Nats did with Drake) or at least wink at it as a concession to a top player. But the SECOND you stop being a star, that special treatment stops. You're just another bum. And it doesn't matter what some "verbal agreement" was when you signed. If you're playing like 13 cents, not $13-million a year, then that verbal agreement is worth as much as the paper it's not written on -- nothing. Looks like the White Sox decided, "Enough with the kid." And if that sent a message to LaRoche which pushed him toward quitting and, in the process, let the Chisox keep their $13M, I bet that didn't bother Jerry Reinsdorf at all.

Today, Reindorf has decreed that there shall be no more "comment" on this subject. But the comments have been made. Laroche is a folk hero among many ballplayers because 1) his father and brother also played, 2) he's a very good player, 3) he's a world-class big-game bow-and-arrow hunter (very cool to them), 4) he's got a buck-antler tattoo, 5) he has an outdoors TV show "Buck Commander" (also cool to them), 6) he's buddies with some country music stars, 7) he's an active evangelical (which puts him in tight with that slice of every clubhouse) and 8) he's a fabulous unselfish supportive teammate who goes out of his way to help teammates, understand their problems and help them. He lives his religion.

So, he's a very odd duck. He also has some amazing time-out-of-time skills that barely exist anymore (he owns his own cattle ranch -- yes, he's riding the range in the off-season). He's also a very nice man, whom I personally like and find it easy to talk to. And I'm sure that everything he's done has been in accord with his own thought-out principles. 

Enough of this.

Do you see him coming up after the super 2 deadline this year or next?

My "read" here is that he still needs some development and polish but will be in the rotation from Day One in '17.

Obviously, there are other ways it can play out. For now, I'll go with: makes his MLB debut in '16 but isn't a big factor for the Nats in '16. One asterisk: Big arms can force big changes.

What's your take on this, Bos? When they were here, Drake was a fan favorite. In the old days, boys his age worked in the family business with their fathers, be it a farm, a store, a restaurant, etc. Even servants' kids grew up to be maids, footmen, gardeners, etc. And Adam himself went with his father when he was a kid.

All good points.

As recently as my grandparents generation I would say that everybody on both sides of my family grew up in much that way -- children of small-town farmers who became farmers, or teachers or preachers. But that was 1890, not 2015. 

Is it just me and my friends or does the men's basketball team look badly coached to just about everyone?

I'm no Calipari fan, but year after year, he brings together "teams of strangers" and by tournament time has them playing together in a coherent style that suits them. Even if that style is: Ramp up the tempo and unleash the talent!

So far, Turgeon is working on a poor coaching grade for THIS season. That doesn't mean he is a poor coach. It means that, so far, what he's tried to do with these Terps has produced about as lackluster a result as you could imagine. BUT if they beat Kansas, you can bet we'll be singing a different tune next Monday. 

RG3 to the Browns? Someone needs to talk some sense into that kid. Was he looking for a team with a worse track record than the one he left?

Cleveland??? Always an ominous landing point.

Reports: "Moving forward" toward an agreement.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/03/21/browns-reportedly-moving-forward-toward-signing-robert-griffin-iii/

Well, it's certainly a big upgrade in character at QB. Will it be an upgrade in production?

I always thought, and said, that Manziel seemed to me like a a bum on the field and a lost soul off it. Sorry to be right, so far. 

....

Bryce Harper, who hit perhaps the longest homer in the long history of the Tigers spring training park in Lankland on Sunday, just smashed a single off Scott Feldman's shoulder. Al Kaline said it was the longest ball he'd ever seen there. Dusty Baker said it was as long as any ball he'd ever seen hit. I watched replays -- it landed at a spot roughly as far and as unbelievable as Frank Howard's white-seat homer at RFK to CF. Harper's was NOT wind-aided. Howard's, however, according to the man who threw it, Tommy John, and coach Tom McCraw, who was there that day, say Howard's was a line drive. John told me, "I almost started to jump for it. Then I turned around and saw where it landed. I almost feinted. It woulda killed me."

.....

Ryan Zimmerman just lined a two-run double into leftfield corner for a 3-=1 Nats lead over Houston. Zim runs smoothly home-to-second. Before game, said he (and his foot) felt great.   

Boz, I'm not as worried as you are about the Nats' rotation depth - for spot-start or a few turns in the rotation, Taylor Jordan is basically fine (98 FIP- over about a half-season's worth of starts, '13-'15 - league average), A.J. Cole looked good after getting over his disastrous debut (thanks, Matt), and a Yusmeiro Petit-Blake Treinen-led bullpen game would be a good-to-very-good six innings. Even discounting Arroyo entirely, there'll also be a veteran to stash as depth at AAA after the last round of roster cuts next week. But after the scary moment with Joe Ross and the comebacker yesteday - mercifully, he seems fine - it occurred to me that if one of the currently-designated starting five goes down in spring training, and as much as they want to bring him along slowly... it would be very, very hard not to put Giolito in the rotation to start the year. He's probably no worst than the fourth-best starter in camp already - and he's still in camp. I understand getting him his reps and final polish, and of course the Service Time Thing, but: I have a hard time believing there wouldn't be plenty of people in the Nats' organization who would be quite happy if the kid were in the clubhouse Opening Day. Or, given the way the schedule plays out and need for a fifth starter, say, April 20-something.

In an emergency, they'd go to Petit. But Blake Treinan may be the surprise of camp. If they needed another starter for a long time, it'd probably be him.

Baker: "I knew the organization was in love with him. The world was, actually -- people asking to put his name in trades. Now I see why. Great demeanor -- I mean great. Great body, good looking....It takes some guys with great stuff a while to figure it out."

Then Baker mentioned (gulp), "Schilling, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan." Jez, Dusty, you forgot Koufax.

Let me go on record that Treinan is NOT going to the HOF, like those guys. But he could be a setup man or end up in the rotation somehow, someway, just by being dominant. 

Baker: "I told him I want him to have a little more 'dog' in him this year."

"What do you mean," a reporter asked.

"Everybody knows what 'more dog' means," said Baker.

Bulldog. Mean dog. Junkyard dog. Get the $%^& off my lawn, dog.

Folks, you're going to love Dusty -- at least the stories and the jokes, that's a certainty.

He was talking about how players get "reputations," fair or not, during their career.

"I tell 'em, "Everybody gets a 'jacket.' You drink or you're dumb or a womanizer. It's going to be something. That's okay. Just go on (and ignore the 'rep'). Meanwhile, I might kick your ass."

Granted one bad game does not mean the sky is falling. However, there are some ominous clouds forming: Ovechkin and Backstrom are ineffective and could be playing hurt, Holtby has crashed back down to earth, and the underlying possession metrics are far from Cup level elite. Are you still bullish or seeing some concerning chinks in the armor?

I'm terrified.

Do they get to play any more games this year, or are they canceling the rest of the season because they got beat 6-2.

There are causes for some concern. And they are the Caps. But they're a helluva team and have plenty of time to work our post-clinch kinks and the "early deficit" mystery.

Much talk of "upsets" over the past 4 days, but most of them reflect the incompetence of the committee rather than a true upset. (Case in point: 11 seed Gonzaga was favored by Vegas to beat 3 seed Utah, and did so in convincing fashion.) It's certainly a tough task, but even with all the advanced analytics, the committee still doesn't seem to know what it's doing. Would a little transparency to their process -- maybe an anonymized list of everyone's S-curve? -- bring better results?

There was a huge divide this year between the No. 1 seeds -- with a total of 23 loses, and the No. 2 seeds, with only 22 loses, and then Everybody Else. So, the upsets of MSU and Xavier are a big deal. But most of the other "upsets" are just exciting crazy games between teams that aren't really very different in talent, size or even quality of their best opponents.

Wouldn't be surprised to see the five of the six teams in the Sweet 16 that are No. 1 or 2s all end up in the Elite Eight.

Gio's come out of the game, leading 3-1 with 4+ innings. Gio's a very proud poppa. Son Enzo, born 3/17/16, St. Patrick's Day, 8 pounds 1 ounce, 20 1/2 inches. "Big hands, big feet and born on St. Patty's day, so he'd going to be full of charm," said Gonzalez.  "I was there for the whole (birth). I was out of breath. I was exhausted," he laughed of his attempts to help encourage/coach his fiance Berenice Lea Moures. "I've seen some crazy things but that was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

The ACC really showed up to play, didn't it? Six teams out of seven advanced to the round of sixteen. We could see an all-ACC Final Four.

If Maryland makes it, does that still count as 1/2-ACC by pedigree?

Oh, and nice work by the Pac-12. What a bunch of stinkers.

Hey Boz, did Shirley Povich take his son to work with him every day at the Post?

No, but his kids went with him to spring training, I think.

But you're right there are no children in press boxes, newsrooms, etc.

Boz, One thing that really stuck out to me last year about Michael A. Taylor was that, despte his offensive struggles, he was incredibly successful the more important the situation - and talked about his simplified approach, with two strikes or men on base. He had a 582 OPS in low-leverage situations, 627 OPS in medium-leverage - and 1032 OPS in high-leverage situations (Bryce Harper was 1138/1151/808). Small sample size, to be sure, but it didn't *not happen* either. And now he's hitting .484/.515/.871 in spring training - even with a still-sky-high 29% K rate (9 K out of 31 AB). Obviously you can't take spring stats to the bank, but when a player demonstrates a level of talent, they tend to possess it - it's just a matter of consistency. What do you see as Taylor's upside, this year and in the future?

I had a nice long chat with Michael this morning. What a classy guy -- like Ryan Zimmerman. MAT says he is trying to relax, have a more positive frame of mind even when he's not hitting well and not waste less-pressurized at bats. As for the "clutch" stats, he's aware of them. He even watched film of himself in the off-season in those situations. "I'm relaxed more in those situations," he said. (Brother, that is rare -- and a good sign.) He also thinks he has better body language in big spots and "focuses better."

Baker wants him to "lay off high fastballs" and not give away early-game low leverage at bats.

Perhaps the most certain about him seems to be Zim: "When he learns to make a little more contact, he's going to be a superstar."

"Superstar?" I said.

"He's an amazing defensive CFer. He can run, steal bases, great arm, great person, tons of power. His ceiling is REALLY high."

The percentage of strikeouts is pretty much the only question of whether he ends up good, very good, or REALLY good.

It's going to be tough to keep him a "4th OFer" for long. He skipped AAA last year but, as Rizzo said this a.m., "Never looked out of his depth, even though we had to rush him up." He's one for two today and 18-for-37 this spring with three doubles and three homers.

Hi Boz, Slightly off the wall question here, but I'm curious how often, if ever, you actually have to go to the Washington Post's office? I have a journalism background myself, but I haven't worked for a newspaper in over 10 years, so I'm just wondering how things have changed in the golden internet era.

I worked in the office every day, except when covering events, from late '69 through '88. Since then, "Never." My line is: "They don't play games in my office. Players, GMs,  owners and commissioners don't work in my office." I'm either on the road, at events or working at home by phone, e-mail, etc.  Since '88, I go in a few times a year to say "Hi." But never to work. The first 19 years made a lot of great connections with good folks. But since I'd started as a "copy boy" and had done all the lowest jobs for a lot of years -- and had covered almost every sport or team that there was -- there was a tendency for me to be the default setting for "hey, Boz can do this." Once you've brought an editor 100 cups of coffee -- just the way he or she likes it -- there's a tendency to pile the work on that person if he's foolish enough to stay in their line of sight. So, on advice of counsel (my wife), I escaped -- moved just far enough away that they couldn't call and say, "You're eight minutes from the office. Come on down and work this (crappy) story."

(Does that mean I invented telecommuting?)

Gotta go interview Gio on his outing -- and more baby details. See everybody next Monday. Should be 11 a.m. Thanks for all the great questions.

Boz, Rank last night's Northern Iowa collapse among the biggest collapses you've ever seen. Top one's that come to mind: Jean Van de Velde hole 72; Kings game 5 (?) vs. Lakers in Western Conference Finals; MD vs. Duke 2001. NIU eclipsed them all IMO. Think of it this way...not team had ever blown a 12 point lead in the final minute of a college basketball game. EVER. And NIU managed to do it in 33 seconds!

You're making me cry. As I noted earlier, that is almost the only one of the great games so far that I missed (traveling to Viera.) Yeah, I'm sure I'll get to see "highlights." But that's not like what YOU experienced -- watching the impossible actually unfold in real time which is the unique thrill of sports. 

How refreshing it is that an injury was diagnosed as much more severe than it really is, rather than the other way around. Maybe the Nats' new medical staff really is making a difference.

Got me grinning.

The End

I really want to get excited about the Caps upcoming playoff campaign. But. . .I have been so burned and emotionally abused by this team that I find myself distancing myself. I will of course root for them and be happy if they win. But I'm just not as enthusiastically engaged as I have been in years past. Is it safe to go back in the water? Can I jump on the bandwagon without fear of the calamitous outcomes we've come to expect? I want to get excited. . .I really do. . .but. Help a guy out here will ya!

Well, I've actually traveled to other cities, attended the games, interviewed suffering Caps afterward and then written stories about many of those most brutal loses or blown leads for more than 30 years. Yes, it's my job. Still....

And I'm very excited.

However, I'll add that because it IS my job, I'm excited in a distinctly different way than a fan. I'm excited because it's such a fascinating story, because I think/hope I can help people understand what's happened (regardless of outcome) and because there's powerful writing material in these stories that have a multi-decade build up. And devoted fans like you who care so much and, at some point, "seem" like they should have a final chapter. (Except that this isn't fiction and they can lose again even though it's a "bad script" that's been overused and worn out.)

So I'll admit that it is a LOT easier for me to be excited.

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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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