Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 23, 2018

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Boz, I greatly enjoyed your column on this topic this morning, but I think there is still room for discussion on the topic. Here's my question: What is "leadership"? How does it translate to play on the field, especially for a baseball team? Fans like to complain that the players need to show more fire, but I've never understood how being more visibly intense will improve your play. From my youth, I remember that Frank Robinson was viewed as a great leader, because of the intensity with which he played, which I guess rubbed off on others, and because of his use of the "kangaroo court" to keep players in line. Is that it? What exactly are the Nats lacking and how is it showing up in their play?

Leadership is hard to define, but it matters. The Nats have a habit this year of saying, "Let's kick it in gear" and they DO. Like the team meeting after which they came back from a 9-0 deficit -- which happens about once every 50 years in a franchise's history -- then won the next night on a walk-off, followed my an 18-4 feel-good clubbing. THEN they went 3-6 with eight of the nine games against LOSERS. That's when 6-3 shifts the season. They be 54-46 and just 3 games out of first. That whole nine-game stretch was damaged by bad starting pitching. But they also played bad baseball in several games with no sense of situational hitting, tendencies to hit selfishly, try for HRs.

Yesterday was a PERFECT game. Score three in the first inning. Dusty, game after game, would be urging players in the last 15 minutes before the game to be ready because in the first inning the other pitcher is getting used to a different mound, after warming up in the pen, and he has to figure out which pitches are working, what the umpire's strike zone is and also that's the only inning when you can be sure that your best possible hitters will bat in exactly the order you think is your best.

The Nats were wonderful at jumping off to early leads under Baker. Something that simple, like nagging players (cheerfully) to be ready, start fast, listen to what I'm saying, have another cup of coffee (if you aren't awake at 1:30 p.m.), get on the same page, let's have some noise in the dugout immediately. Analytics correctly understand the importance of scoring first. But in a 162-game season it is HARD to be at max rev from the very first batter. Baker insisted on it every day. You can be sure Werth was chirping, too. You can't measure it, but nobody would deny that an alert, focused team has a better chance to jump ahead quickly.

The Nats did a lot of other good things on Sunday. NOW we'll see how much of it carries forward.

When you hire a rookie manager, you can't expect an "A" for leadership. The veteran players, and the Nats have about 15 of them, have to be adults and bring intensity, mental sharpness, intolerance of repeated mistakes.

We'll get back to this. But we're off and running. Lots of good subjects this a.m. 

Going to be a very interesting final week in the Tour. Team Sky has quickly become the cycling equivalent of the Yankees or Patriots, i.e., The team everyone loves to hate. Any predictions on whether Thomas rides for Froome or Froome rides for Thomas, or will there be betrayal like Hineault/Lemond?

Another fabulous worlds-class sporting event (I'm serious) which I will ignore, as I have every year of my life (except a few when it got my attention). If sports is your WORK, not just your enjoyment, you can't pretend that you have enough hours in the day or passion for work to have an opinion worth offering on 12 or 15 different sports that have a significant following. I've had periods of several years to a decade or more when I've been the Post's main writer, or extensively covered, about eight sports, baseball (41 World Series), football (8 Super Bowls), golf (almost 100 majors), basketball (Hoyas beat writer for years), boxing (many title fights, almost all of Sugar Rays), tennis (at least 10 U.S. Opens, men and women's, but more interest in women's side) and hockey (which I've been trying to grasp with very mixed results for 35 years). Oh, I was hell on wheels when, in my fifth year in the sports department I was still the Duckpin Bowling Editor! Meteoric rise. I was even our Washington Diplomat writer (mostly features) for a few years. But, and I'm sorry, I'm just not going to offer opinions on the World Cup, the Tour, the Daytona 500 (even though I've covered several auto races), MMA or several other sports, most of which I consider great sports, a couple trash.

I decided long ago that I wanted to give myself a chance to know what I was talking about by not trying to pretend I could know everything about everything. For example, I've watched every twitch of the Skins sage since 1956 and every twist of the NFC East. But my views on the rest of the NFL, depending on the year and the team in question, may not be any better than the person next to you at the bar. 

It's really important to "know what you know," know what you only half-know and what you should keep your mouth shut about, which is a LOT. Readers can tell the difference. I've actually been glad to see that, in the last 20 years, the whole sports media have shifted toward people who specialize, rather than those who pontificate on everything. Although really bright people can have interesting opinions on a very wide range, I'm not one of them. I have a pretty large comfort zone, but the alarm buzzer goes off in my head when I start getting to the edges of it.

So, I'm reduced to making jokes about the Tour, or offering minimal input on the World Cup, or being a three-month quick-study artist when I've covered the summer or winter Olympics even though they ARE important. I enjoy watching high-level soccer. That doesn't mean you want my opinion on it, except in the most general sense. Somebody else will have to provide that to our readers, at least any real expertise. I beg your indulgence. "A man's got to know his limitations."       

Top of the morning to you, sir. Wife and I moseyed up to Hub City to catch a minor league double header. What a difference between low-A and the majors, but not just in the quality of the performance. Hustle abounded on every play, Suns won the first game on a hustle play to beat out an infield ground ball. Players hustled on and off the field; i.e. no "jack-legging" to be found anywhere. Of course, these guys are hungry to move up to better pay and perhaps play in the majors. Bos, it was the fans at the game that were a marked difference to me during both games. No one had their head buried in a cell phone, only time I saw them come out was between innings to check how long the rain would stay away. Concessions were great and at affordable prices. To sum it all up, we used to go to about five games a year up there, but got away from us for the last two years as our son bought us game plans for five Nats games. Now, I want to just go back to Suns games after my experience yesterday. A 40 minute drive versus two-plus hours, affordable concessions with specials on food and two-buck 16 ounce beer on Thursdays, players who really want to find their day in the sun. The quality is not the same, but, it was a true joy to sit with fans who WATCH and keep score during the game and not be enamored with that umbilical attachment to the world. Just baseball in its purest form. Thanks for all your great columns. Lastly, I took my old hand crank siren and fans and management thought it was a blast during Suns rallies. Where is the one from your youth?

I think Jack Evans (not the politician, but the 165-pound nose tackle for Anacostia High in '65 who was a fellow acolyte at St. Marks Church with me) was the owner of the infamous hand-crank siren with which four of us teenagers, after sneaking into the empty upper deck at RFK, once brought a sparsely-attended Senators game to a halt while the umps pointed at us for security to catch us and send up to prison.  Like true Capital Hill kids we always knew how to "scatter" and where to "regroup later" when the neighbors called the cops on us to "stop that awful noise in the alley." They had no chance to nab us. When the patrol cars can't get you (and probably weren't trying too hard), the stadium security is always outmatched.

I loved your minor-league account. For many years I tried to do as many features on the minors and my editors would allow. Just the other day I got an email from a former Alexandria Dukes pitcher who still can't figure out how he could go 12-3 with a good ERA and not find any team that wanted him. On that same Dukes team was a player from Landon named Hunt Mitchell III that I followed to the absolute depths of Rookie Ball in West Virginia, which is a kind of out-of-this-world Heaven.

Everything you say is true. The Nats farm teams are especially interesting because they have such a good record of drafting, discovering or stealing really good prospects. The guy the Nats traded for yesterday (giving up Brian Goodwin) was just that type: Jacob Condra-Bogan, a late-bloomer in his second pro year after being drafted in the sixth round out of Georgia Southern. In the (A) Sally League this year as a reliever, he had a 2.08 ERA with two walks and 39 strikeouts in 26 innings. He's not young (23), but he's big (6-3, 220) and throws 99... with a 39-to-2 K-W ratio. Very low minors. Those are the guys that it's fun to watch and say, "I saw him way back when." 

It would be wonderful if yesterday's actually good performance by the Nats presages the 'moment' we've been waiting for. But as your colleague Jerry Brewer suggested yesterday it's past time for the Nats to assume that regaining first place is a matter of time and 'inevitable'. I was posit this team has chronically under-performed for years, across several managers, that the team is actually less than the sum of its parts if you consider how stacked with talent the team is, not just now, but in past years. Do you think there is some festering resentment in the clubhouse that leads to poor team cohesion? I sense there is simmering clubhouse resentment going back years (well-hidden, but it bubbles up) with Max and Stras being the latest example, but remember the Papelbon incident, Jayson yelling at then manager "When did you lose this team?" and so on. The most telling examples I think are players who were let go as misfit toys who, once they left the clubhouse, suddenly blossomed: Blake Treinen is an All Star but with Oakland, not the Nats. Ian Desmond has thrived after leaving D.C. Craig Stammen, ditto. There are other examples of players who were traded away underperforming who transformed outside the Beltway. I would wonder if there is something toxic in the culture that is holding this team back? Some team culture issue that keeps them from really making that jump from a bunch of guys who happen to work together to a well-oiled machine that believes in its own destiny. A team like that doesn't need a "circle of trust" or T-shirt ceremonies. It just plays crisp clean baseball and doesn't look back.

You're on to something but you've basically got it backwards. With a few exceptions like Papelbon-Harper, the Nats get along with each other and have such a good time around each other (relative to most other teams) that they are, if anything, a little too happy. The front office really looks for "high character" players after the Jim Bowden era of Fools With Tools. Sometimes I wish they had a few more like Werth, not in ability, just in that classic baseball temperament: the smart-ass who's also a hard-ass. 

The Nats' big "problem" is that they lost three of the closest toughest most exciting Games 5s in the last few decades. If they won just one of them, your question would have had a different tone. If they'd won two, we'd be saying, "Just wait until the Nats get rolling."

In the last seven years, the Nats have played over 1,050 games with the second-best record in MLB. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you may say. But that is meaningful data. That is "signal," not static. The three Game Fives have meaning. In '12, the Nats were young and choked, which, imo, they were going to do in some round that year. The last two years, the Game 5s have been classics. But classic defeats, too.

I nag the Nats about their culture, like a lack of internal leadership from players this year. But it is in the context of a generally VERY good culture. Is there a hint of country-club locker room, as the Red Sox were accused of for generations? Maybe a little. Stars are not made to feel uncomfortable very often. It started long ago with Strasburg and Harper being protected, then Rendon. Now it extends to Martinez, Strasburg and Scherzer all, in effect, saying, "No comment. And none of your business" about a public yelling match in the dugout, but hiding it under a bunch of happy horse-manure about the Circle of Trust. When invoked too much, it's also a Circle of Minimum Accountability. "Country Club" and "Circle of Trust" are a little too close together to suit me.

That's the opposite of "festering resentment."   

Tom - I used to think it was Bryce who wanted to leave and the Nats that were hoping to retain him. Now I think it's the other way around. Unless I've been duped by one of the greatest acting jobs ever, it appears that Bryce is pushing all the right buttons and saying all the right things with regards to how much he loves D.C., the fans and wants to spend his entire career here, albeit while being paid as one of the highest, if not the highest player in the game. The team and management, on the other hand seem to be saying "we wish you all the best, thanks for the memories, don't let the door hit you on the way out." Have Boras/Rizzo/Lerner conversations already taken place with the outcome being that the Nats are not interested going further? Did your "$70 million dropping off the payroll" figure assume Bryce was part of that? Everything just seems so clandestine.

Nothing's clandestine, IMO. It's just obvious. Everybody is acting with good manners because the Harper-Boras-Lerner relationship is important with so many other Boras clients on the team like Rendon. Boras and Harper, because they are smart, are doing exactly what they should be doing: telling the truth about a subject which also helps them "make a market" in D.C. for Harper's future services. I assume everything Bryce says is true about his affection for D.C. and it's fans. But it is also exactly how you should act in your walk year because nothing looks worse than your former team having little interest in chasing you and, perhaps, only getting excited if your price falls (maybe a lot) in the offseason.

If you really liked where you have played, don't keep it a secret. Bryce didn't. I also think that his reception at the HR Derby REALLY touched him and reminded him of how young he was when he first came to the Nats organization, how he has grown from a kid to a married adult with a LOT of excellent mentors, the kind that many young hyped stars don't have to keep them grounded and show them the ropes. You could hardly get better managers for wisdom than Davey Johnson and Dusty Baker. The Lerner family is nurturing by nature. Rizzo was tough at times with teenage Bryce. Werth, as Harper often says, was like a big brother. Adam LaRoche was a good influence. Also Ian Desmond and, in a quiet way, Zimmerman, who never pushed to get close, but was always there to talk. And the one player who LOVED Matt Williams was Harper. Matt talked to him before most of his at bats about "thought process" in his MVP season.

I'd GUESS that part of Bryce is thinking: You know, I was really lucky to get my first seven years here. They really cared about me. The fans backed me. It's a cool city. It ain't L.A. with all those STARS like me, their brands, their product lines, their movie roles and perfect weather! But, yup, D.C., you could do a lot worse. That 'grass is always greener' thing... I wonder if that could apply to me.

Reminder: That was me mind-reading. Something almost every fan and writer does at times, not a quote. But I think Harper's emotion was sincere. But, as I pointed out in a column 11 days ago, baseball logic is against his staying.

But Bryce is special. As I said, probably one of the 10 best players in the game. One of the eight best young players. What if you sign him, just trying to imagine the deal structure with years and opt outs makes my head explode, but just say you got it done, then trade Carter Kieboom, Taylor and another prospect for Realmuto. Then you can trade Eaton, who has plenty of value, for a SP or second baseman. That's a very good team, especially for '19-'20-'21 when you have both Max and Strasburg.

But it's probably an even better team, with more flexibility and more payroll space to sign free agents (and extend Anthony Rendon with something like a J.D. Martinez deal of $110M) if you just give Harper a huge sincere hug and wish him well, you hope to Heaven in the OTHER league.

The LAST thing you want to do to panic and trade him like the O's did Machado. Those are two completely different situations. The O's did the obvious logical thing. But you want to keep open the possibility that you're on excellent terms with Harper in case things change this winter and, suddenly, the free agent market goes down. And Harper's price goes down. And the Dodgers reach a long-term deal with Machado which maybe takes them out of the Bryce Derby. And, perhaps, the Yanks are already out of that Derby after signing Stanton, no matter how much Bryce asks to take ground balls at first base -- the only position that's viable for him as a Yankee. 

There are lots of ways to make a market for yourself. You can sincerely well up with good feelings for your cheering home fans. Or you can just take pregame grounders at first base on a team that has 17 first basemen.   

For my money, I think the Nats' season hinges on Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark. The Nats' strength has always been their starting rotation, and if those two can return to some semblance of their 2017 form, I think the Nats have a decent shot at making a run. But if they continue to pitch poorly, I don't think they have enough firepower to catch the Phillies or Braves. With Gio on the mound tonight against a reeling Brewers squad, this is a big, big game. Thoughts?

I agree.

They are 0-10 in their last 14 starts with a 7.43 ERA.

That is unbelievable. If they were 5-5 with a 3.75 ERA, which is what you expect, it's a different season.

BOTH were not just good but excellent, in Gio's case, and quite good in Roark's during the Nats long spring run of amazing starting pitching. They weren't THAT good then. They sure shouldn't be this bad now, not when they say their arms are jubilantly happy and the radar guns says they're probably OK, too. 

IMO, 90 percent of Tanner's problem is bad command. He's pitched at the knees and the letters, or on the hands, from the first day he got to the Nats. One of the best command pitchers in baseball. They hit it, but not off the barrel. It's usually all pool cues and jam shots versus Tanner. But his last seven starts, everything has been thigh-high and many running right back over the plate. They say he pitched better after the first inning in his last start. I think he just pitched luckier. He was still dishing meat balls like a restaurant in Rome. It'll click the Nats pray. Otherwise, Bernie the Brewer is going to wear out that slide in center field in Milwaukee.

Tom...how much do you think the Strasburg-Scherzer exchange of words during Friday night's game was Strasburg not acknowledge Scherzer when coming into the dugout vs. frustration from Scherzer (and possibly others) about the lengthy amount of time Strasburg spent on the DL rehabbing from a minor injury. Given the Nats' place in the standings, Hellickson's injury, and lack of minor league-ready starters, do you think there was an undercurrent of resentment that Strasburg could have returned earlier, specifically after one rehab start went well. I'm a Strasburg fan and have never questioned his toughness, but it seemed that he could have pitched in a ML game a week or so earlier prior to the All-Star break.

Emotions are, by definition, not rational. It's a fact that the instant Strasburg went down with "inflammation" -- which is not minor, but a true red flag -- the entire rotation imploded and the team went 11-22, changing the season. I have not been invited inside either Max or Stras' brains on this issue. If I ever find out what's in there on the subject, I'll certainly try to tell you. It felt like "97-win team is 48-49 and everybody's acting happy, but they're really ticked off inside." And two guys did a mini-snap. The Nats are lucky. There has (almost) never been a pitcher who could fight. Or wanted to. But if one of them had been Rick Sutcliffe, the other one would be dead now. Rick once destroyed an entire Dodger office... with Tommy Lasorda still in it. 

Boz, what are the historical parallels the Nats would need to follow in order to hit 90 wins for that playoff spot this year? Are we talking a comeback, a once-in-a-decade run or a record-setting resurgence? This is important to planning my November gloating. The Caps won the Stanley Cup so the normal rules of sports probabilities are suspended right now.

"Any good team that ever got hot" would probably suffice. They now have wild cards in baseball, too.

The Phils started 25-16. Since then 30-27, which is probably more like who they are. And they've been relatively healthy. Also, the Phils' worst "slump" is 1-7, which isn't even a slump. Everybody, except the occasional great team, has a slump sometime. That means theirs is coming. The better question is: Do the Nats have ANOTHER slump in them? That would be fatal.

The Braves started 28-17 and have been 25-26 since. In fact, they might be swooning a touch right now at 10-14.

I've always said -- one of those convictions supported only by pathetic anecdotal evidence -- that the 110-game mark is the general time frame when the truth starts to become obvious about who's got staying power and who doesn't and which teams that were supposed to be good will wake up and which ones are actually caught in a genuinely bad season. 

 

Do you get that it has nothing to do with the flag, our troops, or being un-American? Why do you think it is so hard for others to understand that?

What some NFL players are doing is right in the mainstream of what Americans have always done to protest what they considered serious grievances... in this case, data about the number of African-Americans killed annually by the police.

Nothing that the Trump administration has done is anywhere within a hundred miles of the mainstream of American life or politics in my lifetime, if ever.

Perhaps, if the players had been extremely wise, they might have wondered, "Are we playing into Trump's hands? Is he going to LOVE that we are doing this because he'll just shamelessly flip everything on its head and claim we are insulting the military and the flag?" (I would not have been that wise.)   

Trump isn't just comfortable with this demagogue's ploy. He's as happy as a pig in slop, as my grandfather the Lincoln Republican might have phrased it. Mud to roll in, and drag my enemies into... it's Heaven!

One week after the event, what do you take away as the lasting impact on baseball in Washington and its fans?

The All-Star Game was an outstanding success for Washington, for the Nationals and for the Lerner family, especially Mark Lerner who has been the point person on the ASG project for years. I spoke with Mark and his wife on Sunday and they were both moved by all the calls, messages and notes of appreciation he received and the warmth of everyone's feelings toward him. He's been through so much with his leg amputation and all the pain and rehabilitation. As you would expect, according to people in the family, there were times when he wondered if he would get to see this All-Star Game. Now, he's looking good. Typical of him, he said he wants to thank everybody for thanking him.

The Lerners were not mentioned in any formal way during any of the days of the celebration because they didn't want to be singled out. Even though they brought baseball back to town. And were part of building a fine new ballpark that was a catalyst for the stunning transformation of the SE waterfront. And for fielding a consistently successful, entertaining team the last seven years with more good years ahead. Owners aren't perfect. And it's practically etched on a sports columnist's forehead that you are supposed to find every justifiable reason to get on the owners' case on behalf of the fans and sometimes the team itself.

But this All-Star Game was a fine symbol of the general level of the Lerners stewardship of the Nationals.       

There was barely a hitch. The Home Run Derby was the loudest I've ever heard, in part because it was only the third ever won by a home-town player. The crowd roars for Harper's nine homers on 10 pitches to beat the clock and win the Derby was akin to the explosion for Werth's Game 4 homer. Except they came one right after the other. I don't really think the volume equaled that playoff game. But the roar after roar was unique because you don't have nine reasons to yell in a 90-second span in a normal baseball game.     

Much as I hate to say it, relatively few AS Games are very memorable for anything. Nobody pitches or plays long enough to have a "great game" and say, fan a dozen or go 4-for-5 with two homers. The "win" is now meaningless again (as it probably should be) as far as home-field advantage in the World Series. 

But this game will be remembered -- and DEBATED -- because of its TEN home runs. It took baseball more than a century to come up with the insights of the analytics movement. You'd think that avoiding ground balls and trying to launch the ball into the sparsely defended outfield (or over the fence) -- as a first principle of hitting -- would have crossed somebody's mind since the 1870's. But then it took college and pro basketball a generation to figure out that the three-point was worth FIFTY PERCENT more than a dunk and that it was a radical transformation -- not all for the good -- rather than a mere change in the rules.

At the very time when some have wondered whether hard-throwing pitchers with wipe-out secondary pitches were simply too gifted to combat, this ASG showed that the BEST hitters, playing in a pitcher-hitter-neutral park, could hit 10 homers in 10 innings against THE BEST pitchers.

FanFest -- Heaven for young fans -- was also a hit. I'm trying to think of something bad. The 11 cranes hunkering over the park certainly hurt the TV aesthetics of the Nats Park. There's always going to be a slightly claustrophobic feeling about Nats Park now that SE development has surpassed expectations... and expectations were for plenty of "density" and lots of tax money for the city. 

Sometimes a city gets beauty and civic benefits, too, like Pittsburgh. But the ASG just underlined that Washington got a good, modern park with great close sight lines, plus every economic benefit that D.C. aimed for, while sacrificing any chance for a 10-most-beautiful ballparks designation. But, when every crane is finally gone, Nats Park is going to be in MLB's Top Five for "best surrounding neighborhood with restaurants and bars" as well as Best Five in easy (75 yards away) access to a first-rate Riverwalk. The panoramic night views from the ramps watching up the first-base side of the park are so pretty, and so much better than I thought possible, that I just stop and chuckle. And those are never going to change.

Too bad it's only once every 49 years. (Or maybe 30.)

Does it make sense to make a big splash for someone like J.T. when you're six out of first place?

A big move (for Realmuto) is the only move that makes sense to me. Because it also solves catcher through '19-'20-'21, the same years you still have Scherzer and Strasburg. Tough deal to make because Miami will want a lot as there's no immediate pressure on them to sell. But they traded Yelich, a similar All-Star talent with a team-friendly contract. Basically, Realmuto for Carter Kieboom, plus something middling, yes. For Victor Robles, who does tend to get hurt, but could make you feel like a fool forever if he maxes out, "Maybe." I'm not going to put my neck in that noose voluntarily. 

Amazingly still has the Nats at 52 percent to make the playoffs and 37 percent to win the NL East (higher than Atlanta or Philadelphia). Of course, that same projection had the Nats at 95 percent and 87 percent on July 6. So that 3-6 stretch was huge, but the Nats aren't out of it quite yet. Of course, if they miss the playoffs, I expect we will see a big STH drop, especially if Harper leaves. This was likely to happen anyway in the year after the ASG, but I worry forces may be conspiring to see the Nats drop significantly in season ticket sales. Of course, having one of the lamest customer-facing organizations in the business and a weak STH app doesn't help sell the benefits either.

Interesting reality-check numbers.

I might be crazy, but I like their chances. Last season was a tremendous disappointment coming off of a big step forward in 2016-17, but they also contended with the tumult of John Wall's injury. This year, they've filled two of their biggest needs, at least personnel-wise. Austin Rivers is better than any backup guard they've had the past two years. Howard is hands down the best big man they've had in a long time. The parting of the red seas defense will hopefully be a thing of the past. I understand the concern about personalities meshing, but the talent is there for this team to make a run at No. 3 in the East.

In my book, you either had to trade Wall or get Wall what he asked for: the best possible more-athletic-than-Gortat center. "Superman" doesn't have his cape anymore but they did the best they could to meet Wall's request.

Clearly his playing days are over. Would he ever become a manager in the big leagues? Not an endorsement, just wondering if he is viewed as an option?

I've asked. He looks at me like I'm crazy. "Do you have ANY IDEA how HARD, and thankless, that job is?" he said.

Didn't Don Sutton take it to his Dodger teammate "Mr. Clean" Steve Garvey one night in the 70's before everyone learned that Garvey's squeaky-clean image wasn't so accurate? As I recall, they both looked a little worse for wear after emerging from the locker room, so Sutton must not have been a pushover.

They were fighting over a column I wrote about Reggie Smith. In it, Sutton said, "Reggie isn't a plastic man." Garvey took offense. (There was plenty more Dodger back story, but "never mind.") Howard Cosell had them both on national TV that night. They looked like they'd each gone 10 rounds with Ali, a REAL fight. Cosell, a first-rate jackass in my book, said to Sutton (paraphrased), "Don Sutton, I know you would never say things like that about Garvey that are in this story."

I was still in my 20's, I think. My career was about to end because Cosell, kissing up, had set up Sutton to deny his quotes and, basically, blame the whole fight on being misquoted by an obscure young reporter. Back then, more than 40 years ago, you used a tape-recorder if you were (literally) interviewing the President, but maybe/probably-not when you're sitting in the dugout chatting for a story and just writing down the quotes.)

"I said it," said Sutton, with a black eye (I think) and scrapes on his face.

As I've told Sutton several times, "Your honesty is why I'm still here today."  

Have you ever seen a lefty inside out the ball like him? Have you ever seen a teenager with his approach? These questions sound like hyperbole but here’s some more hyperbole for you. Here are the people in MLB history who have had a wRC+ this high through 200 PA as a teenager: ____. Nobody. Mel Ott is second. As of now, nobody has ever hit like this younger than 20. Maybe he regresses. But honestly, not much in his peripherals or batted ball data suggests he will by much. And Fangraphs projects he will finish the year around a .900 OPS. This is unprecedented, basically. And it’s usually what once in a generation hitters look like I imagine. Now if he can work on his defense a bit.

Thanks for going back further than my cutoff of WWII.

 

Do you think there is any possibility that the Redskins can become a Super Bowl contender with the present ownership in place?

No.

Are you curious about the lack of Redskins questions? I am. It seems like the town is Nats crazy and the Redskins are finally taking a back seat.

I finally found a couple at the bottom. I think Gruden can coach and Smith is a fine QB. They have a ton of other problems and I think they'll have a tough time making the playoff. But, sure, they might. the NFL is built like that.

My glib "No" was to the Skins being an honest Super Bowl contender. That has a lot to do with the patience and football intelligence of ownership. If Dan wants to show those qualities, go for it. But I'll wait until I see the first glimmerings. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 20 years in a row.... 

Boz, You've spoken often in your columns and chats about how much you learned about baseball from Earl Weaver back in your O's days. Do you have a golf equivalent? With a lifetime of baseball and golf under your belt, there has to be a person or two! Thanks as always for your excellent coverage of sports!

Jack Nicklaus. Got to cover him from about '76 through '86 when I covered several more events a year than I do now. His long press room interviews, and some long post-round locker room sessions were brilliantly analytical. Best golf mind ever, unless it's Tiger. Woods is more inventive, Jack more strategic. Jack was wonderfully accessible and generous with his time with everybody, so he was my Earl equivalent. Though there are a LOT more funny Earl stories.

One year at a major, I think it was the British Open, Jack's sons, then a teenager, wrecked the family car while driving on Jack Nicklaus Blvd. No injuries, but very embarrassing. Jack shot 82 (or 80, don't remember). Afterward, he's in the locker room changing shoes. About a half-dozen of us are "lurking," because there's no golf rule that a guy who shoots 82 has to say anything after his round if he doesn't want to. Jack sees us. After the steam stops coming out of his ears, he makes a little gesture and waves over. "Okay," he says, in that kind of squeaky voice. Then he goes through every detail of the accident. NO it didn't have ANY effect on his round. (As if.) Then he said all the things you'd hope your father would say if you did something like that... how proud he was of his son, that everybody makes mistakes when they are growing up and he'd learn from it. 

Then Jack said, "I just wish he hadn't done it on MY street."

Laughs. Done. Son off the hook.

So, Jack's a million shots behind. Has no chance to win. But he's determined to make the cut, in my opinion, in part to take a little heat off his son. Next day, he shoots 66. He keeps climbing the leader board and finishes 10th. I don't know if that performance, to "pick up" his son, show how you digest and move on from a bad experience, was his 19th major or not, but it felt pretty good to me.

No talk about how our Washington Valor have earned the right to play the hated Baltimore Brigade for the title of 2018 AFL Champion this coming Saturday?

The league in which QB Jay Gruden is in the Hall of Fame!

I'm on vacation. But if you leave $10,000 in unmarked bills on my front porch, I promise to go. I don't promise to write.

Have you ever seen a more riveting final round in a major golf championship than yesterday's at Carnoustie? Tiger, Jordan, Rory, a Xander; then the first Italian ever to win a major plays incredibly steady and wins it all. Wow!

One of my friends placed a bet a week ago on Xander Schueffele to win the Open --at 75-to-1!

I was caught rooting (kind of loudly) in the press box on Sunday for Xander.

He might be able to contend again. Good for him but this next generation knows how to bring it. No guarantee of another major.

That British Open was one of the best golf tournaments I have ever watched. Because I was working the Nats game, I was only able to see the last four holes on Slingbox on my phone. (The entire Nats press box was tuned to about eight TVs with a Curly "W" logo and a two-hour rain delay). When I watched the whole thing over last night and this a.m. I was just knocked out at how many major players had a chance to win. That one is going to hit Jordan Spieth hard. He needed even-par 71 to win and 72 to make a playoff. Instead, he was scattershot, a bit rattled and, as usual on slow greens (by PGA Tour standards) putted poorly. It's rare to see someone who looked like a "generational putter" have some much problem with five-footers for quite some time. 

Rory McIlroy didn't exactly step up on the closing holes after shooting himself into contention. Francesco Molinari made as many clutch five-to-12-foot putts as you'll see in the final round of a major. Not "bombs" that require some luck. Just grind-it-out, die-into-the-center of the hole perfect putts. He got a couple of semi-lucky bounces, but fewer and less dramatic than the normal "huge break" that the winner often responds to by saying, "That's when I knew I was going to win."

Of course, Tiger really WAS the story this time, not the hokey TV story to get more ratings.

Not that my two cents matter, but I now think he will win another major. That's going to be one of the most amazing comeback stories in sports history if it happens. Maybe No. 1. Some athletes have come back from "this" or "that" or "the other." From major injuries, over and over, including four back surgeries and three on his left knee. From age and a 10-year drought, though 42 isn't as old as it used to be in golf. From the putting yips and even the chipping yips. From public and tabloid humiliation, divorce and a press conference to say he was undergoing counseling for sex addiction. From at least four different swings in 20-plus years, the most recent ones out of necessity to accommodate his injuries. And on and on.

Other athletes have come back from physical, psychological, emotional and family issues. From doubts in their own self-confidence or damage at the deepest levels to their own self-image issues. They've had comebacks from looking utterly washed up in one premature 'comeback' after another. They've had to reinvent their games multiple times. 

But as one Nats player said to me on Sunday, yes, a bunch were watching the Open in the clubhouse, "Tiger has come back from EVERYTHING."

Every player I chatted with was rooting for Tiger 100 percent, no reservations. They can't imagine how great he was at his game, how far he fell and for how long and how close he is to making it all the way back to winning a major.

BUT it's not going to be easy. He is NOT the same Tiger now. The INSTANT he got into the lead alone by one shot coming off the 10th hole, he crashed instantly with one bad swing or one bad decision after another  on the 11th and 12th hole where he went double bogey, bogey. Only a 30-foot putt for birdie prevented him from squandering a shot at the dead easy 14th where everybody makes birdie. 

I suspect that Woods will face a "wall" akin to what young Top 20 players face in getting their first major just like Rickie Fowler is doing now. Afterwards, Woods said he felt the same as he used to and that he'd done this many times before. No, he wasn't. This is different. When he watches replays, he'll see that he didn't trust his driver, yet still hit two three-irons into the rough at 11 and 12. He'll see really bad judgment in trying to pull off a Tiger Circa 2000 flop shot over a bunker that came up short and led to double bogey. He tried to pull off the Woods shots of 10 or 15 years ago and they weren't there. Maybe he just needs to turn down the "genius" dial just a knock to accommodate the 42-year-old version of himself. I think that guy, expecting just a little bit less brilliance from himself, can still win a major. 

There's no doubt that Tiger has grown through all his travails and in good ways. For many years, he could never give a post-round interview in which the Tiger Competitive Ego didn't leave some tone that said, "I coulda/shoulda/woulda won. It was just a mistake I didn't."  

This time, he said, "I made a few mistakes there (after egtting the lead). I drove it in the rough with three-iron twice at 11 and 12. Then (in the rough) the grass grabbed the shaft on both of them (leading to another bad shot). Couple of mistakes around 11 on the green."

That's straight up golf honesty. No spin, no gloss. When Tiger's like that, you can come closer to also taking at face value the positive things he says about his game or his life.

Woods was clearly happiest that his two children can now see him as a champion, or near it, for the first time in their lives. "They don't remember any of them," Woods said of his 14 major titles. "The only thing they've seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. I told them I tried. Hope you're proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did."

If it hasn't happened already, then I think soon that the percentage of golf fans, or casual fans, who watch Woods in majors will feel exactly as those Nats did on Sunday. They'll root for him. And probably root for him hard. And they probably won't be too kind to jerks, like the guy in the crowd who yelled in the middle of Woods backs swing on the 18th tee. "What are you doing?" said Woods, loudly, after he'd taken one hand off the club when the shock of the yell hit his nerves. Yet he still hit a long enough, straight enough drive that he wouldn't have wanted a mulligan.

Actually, Tiger Woods has fought and worked his way back to getting a mulligan in golf and in his private life. It's taken 10 years. Golf, being real and mean, not a kindly novel, may never give him another win, much less a major.

But that's not how it seems right now.

And that's a good feeling.

.....

I'm taking a couple of weeks vacation. No chat next Monday. Not sure yet about the Monday after that. But see you soon. Thanks for all the great questions (and analysis). 

By the way, as Juan Soto approaches 200 at bats at age 19, I looked back to see how the other great 19-year-olds since World War II were doing at the same point at 52 games. Small sample. But not tiny anymore.

Soto: 183 AB, 10 homers, 30 RBI,  .311/.422/.546. OPS: .966.

Ken Griffey, Jr: 184 AB, 10 HR, 23 RBI, .277/.338/.484. OPS: .822.

Bryce Harper: 198 AB, 7 homers, 20 RBI, .278/.357/.480. OPS: .837.

Tony Conigliaro: 195 AB, 11 homers, 25 RBI, .272/.317/.508. OPS: .825.

Mickey Mantle: 201 AB, 4 homers, 36 RBI, .264/.330/.403. OPS: .733.

Soto, after a walk and homer on Friday and a walk, single and two doubles into the left field corner on Sunday was asked if he was "getting hot again." This based on the fact that he had fouled off some good fastballs in hitters counts recently, not that he'd actually cooled off significantly at all.

"Yeah, a little bit better," he said of his swing.

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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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