Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 30, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Good morning and good health to all of you. 

I'd love to see any additions that this Chat Community has about Best Sports Books. Our sports department did an excellent job with a Post list. Plenty of them famous but --in what I thought was the strongest element-- quite a few that I had never heard of (maybe 25% of them) and several that I had never read and probably now will. THAT makes a good list because it gives you new useful info, not just "I agree" or "bad choice." 

I mentioned three good anthologies, but, just glancing at my shelf of favorites, I'd add: "The Sweet Science" by A.J. Liebling, the great boxing writer who once quipped, "I can write faster than anybody who can write better and better than anybody who can write faster." He was joking around, I suspect, but that's probably both true and his calling card. "Golf Dreams" by John Updike. Yes, he has a 200-page book just on his thoughts on golf. 

"The Long Season" by Reds pitcher Jom Brosnan which is a classic but, with time, sometimes gets overlooked. He's an excellent writer. Nickname: "Professor" of course. One of his teammates --Stan Musial. A real inside like --but not a mean-spirited tell-all. As I've said, I also love his "Pennant Race." "The Glory of Their Times" by Lawrence S. Ritter. "The City Game" by Pete Axthelm. "The Little Red Book" by Harvey Penick. We'll get to more later. 

There's plenty of NFL free agency, NFL draft and Skins news to cover, if you want. 

MLB and the players reached a very smart. fair agreement on how to handle any canceled games, or even an entire canceled season. MLB gave the players $170M --a tiny fraction of their $4B in salaries. It's for players who need it, to tide them over, not for the $10M-a-year guys. But if the whole season is canceled that is ALL the players get! That is quite a sacrifice --but fair. OTOH, players get credit for a year of service time toward becoming free agents if the whole '20 season is canceled. (I don't think it will be. But it could have a big impact on some teams. For example, if there is no '20 season, Mookie Betts would NEVER play a game for the Dodgers, would become a free agent after '20, but L.A. would still lose the players that they traded to get him! 

All that and plenty more. I'll be leaving at 1 pm sharp to jump onto a Mike Rizzo conference call. May get back with a couple of remarks from him afterward. 

Onward! 

Bos, why is this still going on? Why won't MLB step in for the good of the game and settle this dispute? MLB made this mess. The Orioles/Angelos are going to appeal until he passes away.....

As I've said, it's a disgrace. Manfred's "Best interests of the game" powers are very strong, if he had the guts to use them. I think MLB is taking the lazy way out --leaving it to courts, appeals, etc-- by rationalizing that the Lerners are so rich that they can still prosper, even with the O's stalling to keep from paying whatever it is ultimately determined that they owe. The Nats winning the World Series will probably just encourage the idea of "How much can it being hurting them? What's the rush."

The "rush" is that the current situation is WRONG. The O's-MASN agreed to a re-set of the RSN fees after five years to a market price --then they have done everything possible to avoid having that new rate determined. They always have a legal angle --but nobody is dumb enough to miss their real motivation. 

When this all started, eons ago --when Kasten was still team prez-- I told my editors that we needed young reporters to cover this story "because they will be old reporters by the time it's finished." I hate being right. But then I actually KNOW Peter Angelos.  

 

With a shortened Major League season a certainty, do you think there is any chance MLB will restructure the post season to include more teams? Would they consider something like a March Madness bracket? From my perspective, this would create great excitement among the fan base and provide a unique incentive to teams in this abbreviated season. Oh, and did I fail to mention revenue generation?

Here's an AP story from late last week on all the angles in the current agreement between MLB and the players.

Basically, the players say, "We just want to play. Extended season --sure. Play until Thanksgiving --sure. Have those late October or November playoff games at a neutral warm-weather site or in domes --sure. Play a whole bunch of doubleheaders in the regular season to get to XX games --maybe 81 or 100-- sure. When it's safe --for players and the public-- we just want to play as many games as we can.

I'll take anything. If they play a 50-game season, then have a 16-team post-season, I'd even take that. It would be totally wacky, but many of us have seen Totally Wacky before and now it's barely remembered.

For example, when the Skins won the Super Bowl in '82-'83 they only played nine games (8-1) because of a strike, not 16. The NFL used a 16-team post-season format --based strictly on Top 8 teams in each conference.  

No wonder John Riggins was so fresh in the playoffs! He only carried 177 times in the regular season (553 yards). Riggo gained more yards in the four-game post-season --610 yards on 136 carries-- than he did in the entire regular season! There's a free bar-bet-win for you.

The '87-'88 Skins team that won the Super Bowl ALSO played a strike-shortened season (24 days strike) --only 12 of 15 regular season games with their "real" players and three games (3-0) with their team of Replacement Players. Maybe the best win in Skins history was 13-7 over the Cowboys in Dallas when the Boys had several stars who crossed the picket line --including HOF Randy White, the Manster and their starting QB. Joe Gibbs and especially the Bobby Beatherd-led front office out-worked and out-planned the league in building that makeshift team. You can still find the names of all those old Replacement Skins in their media guide.

How holds the NFL career record for most average yards per game? It is Lionel Vital with 115.3 yards. In three games as a Replacement he had 80 rushes, 346 yards. He never had another carry in any NFL game, though he played in Canada. I believe he's currently head of college scouting for the Cowboys.

We may see something similar to the Heavy Riggins Workload in the '82 playoffs if we have a shortened '20 MLB season. Teams with elite rotations, like the Nats, may use their multiple aces more often --including starts on three days rest-- since their entire regular-season totals may npot be mpore than ~100 innings. It's be a risk (to arms), but it's be very hard not to "go to the whip" with such lightly-used star starters. After all, EVERYBODY pitched on three days rest for 100 years.

 

Honestly I don’t see any sport starting up before next spring. What are the chances of teams playing in empty stadiums? I’m a Nationals season ticket holder but I’d take televised games over a canceled season if it could be done safely for the team and staff. Mom with Natitude

Last week the MLBPA said it was open to pretty much anything --that definitely includes games played in empty stadiums. They just want to play --because that's what they DO and also, obviously, because they will be paid in ;'20 on a pro-rated basis for the number of games in the season. As the simplest possible example (if I'm reading it right), if MLB plays an 81-game schedule --half of the normal 162-- then  MLB players would get exactly 50% of their '20 salaries. The more games the teams play, the more the players get paid.  

First, I just want to say that I 100% agree with the cancellation of March Madness. The games should not be played. That being said, why did the NCAA skip selection Sunday? Releasing an official bracket would have given college basketball fans something to have fun discussing while we are all practicing social distancing at home. For the players, while it wouldn't replace playing the actual games, at least they could look back and see where they were seeded and dream of upsets and championship runs that could have been. For the conferences which did not finish their tournaments, the regular season champion could have been given the automatic conference berth. It's not too late; is there anyway to get the NCAA to close out the season with an official bracket?

You are the FIRST person I have heard mention this.

Chatters, is this a good idea? Would we all like an official Bracket --even though it never got played? Would there be a semi-fair way to do it?

Should the Washington Post pick such a bracket this week --just do the best we can-- then print it on-line and in the paper. Then wait a couple of days --let everybody fill out their "office bracket" with their friends. Then find a stat wiz to run simulated games to generate not-entirely-predictable results for the whole tournament.

Would that be possible? Would it be legal? (I have NO idea.) Would it be a GOOD idea? (I don't have an answer to that either --maybe it's a terrible idea and I just haven't seen the Big Problem with it --yet.) Anybody dumb enough to bet on such a weird thing would have a hard time complaining about losing their money. 

You could even give winning percentages determined by seeding --but all below 100%, obviously, which means you could simulate upsets.

Okay, the water just got MUCH too deep. Pretend I never wrote this. (But I did just call an editor and mention it to him!) 

I think the original idea is the best: Just do a bracket. Let people see where their teams might have stood.

What do you know --WE ALREADY DID IT! (I missed it.)

Here's the link to the Post's hypothetical bracket!

 

 

Do you see MLB holding games without fans present as a viable option at some point? Obviously not the prefered option, but if that is what allows the season to get started perhaps the League should be exploring it.

The determining factor might be the health/safety of the players. Also, what happens if just one player tests positive for Covid-19, the way Rudy Gobert did in the NBA. Then everybody on that team has to be quarantined for 14 days.

That cancels all of their games. What about all the players that might have played against the player before he showed symptoms? They get quarantined, too?

You'd probably have to have a VERY fast test so that every player could be tested before every game.

I think we can all understand that the sports entertainment industry may be one of the slowest to come back and be re-opened --in any form. And probably for good reason. Putting 10,000-to-50,000 people in one stadium --and being wrong about the possible spread of Coronavirus would be a nightmare. 

Here is our Post story from 3/22 on the disastrous. tragic "Game Zero" in Milan --the soccer game that some now called "a biological bomb" that spread the virus.

 

 

Last week, you said Tom Brady was the GOAT. With apologies to Aaron Rodgers, Terry Bradshaw, Brett Favre, and Drew Brees, I figure the inner circle of modern QBs is more or less composed of Brady, Joe Montana, John Elway, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. Marino, of course, never won it all, so that's a mark against him. Manning feels like the Agassi to Brady's Sampras. What, in your mind, separates Brady from Montana and Elway? I'll be honest -- for me, it's still Montana.

Luv Montana.

But...

Counting  playoffs, Braxdy has a career record of 249-75, including 30-11 in post-season.

Montana's record is 133-54, including 16-7 in playoffs.

Montana would have to go 116-21 to equal Brady! That speaks to Brady's much greater longevity and to his better winning percentage in those games.

Brady also led the NFL in TDs (4 times), Yards (3), QB rating (2) and best INT% (4) far more than Montana who was 2-0-2-0 in those categories.

But I will say one VERY remarkable thing about Montana who played from '79 through '94. It was MUCH harder to amass great passing stats back then. The NFL has loosened rules to help offense and QBs by a lot. Also, Montana played when it was still "open season" on QBs. His speed and elusiveness helped him survive and prosper. If Brady's career had started in '79, not '00, I don't think there is any way he would have played until he was 43. It's amazing Montana lasted through age 38.

Final point in Montana's favor. QB rating is a decent stat. Not great, I'll admit. But useful. QB ratings are MUCH higher now than in Montana's time. Yet Montana's amazing off-the-charts QB rating in the playoffs for his whole career was 95.6 --better than Brady's career mark of 89.8 in the playoffs (a bit disappointing, actually).

Relative to their eras, I'd say that Montana's career QB rating of 92.3 is a bit more impressive than Brady's 97.0.

Finally, Montana was an amazing scrambler --better than Russell Wilson, probably-- who would have been even BETTER in the '00-'20 era when ALL of his skills would have "played" as well or better than back-in-the-day.

If you put Brady back in '79-'95, he would NOT have played as well. He'd have been great. But he'd have been a target for even more dirty hits than he saw in the 21st century.

I loved watching Brady because he was so smart and so cool under pressure. But Joe Montana was a LOT more exciting because he was FAR more athletic.

Brady is my GOAT. But I see your Montana point --and am happy to give you a couple of debate points!   

I was told by an X-pro pitcher who told me that someone checked out Walter Johnson's fastball with a radar gun using ol'video clips and his fastball came out to be a low to mid 80's (huh?) which won't even make it to the minor league now. IIRC, I think you said you've seen him pitch in person and I understand you were just a youngster then, but wouldn't you agree with his assessment on his pitch being a not-so-big train pitch speed? Thanks, Ed

Hi, Ed,

This will have to go down as one of my all-time favorite questions!

How old you you think I am!!!

Walter Johnson died --of old age-- before I was BORN.

Shirley Povich said (I sure hope I've got this right because memory --from decade ago-- is tricky) that Johnson was as fast as anybody. But Shirley didn't come to Washington (at age 18) until Walter was 36 or 37. He didn't see The Big Train at his peak. The basis for comparison that is usually used is that there were plenty of players/scribes/fans who saw Johnson at his fastest in the 1910's and also saw young Bob Feller --Rapid Robert-- when he won strikeout titles in '38-'39-'40-'41 before going to WWII. (He fanned 346 when he came back in '46.) "They" said that Johnson was as fast as Feller --or Feller was as fast as Johnson-- whichever way you like to list them! Also, there's debate about whether Johnson was THE fastest of his era. (Maybe it was Smokey Joe Wood? Help me here.) 

Many who saw Feller in '46, and his whole career, also saw Sandy Koufax in '63-'66 and Nolan Ryan in '68-'73. What I heard was that Koufax had the same speed as Feller, but a more devastating curve. I'd say, from all the scuttlebutt I heard when I got on the MLB beat in '75-'76, Ryan was considered to be the fastest ever --clocked at 103 or 104, I think. Once, he was clocked at 100.9 mph --but that was measured 10 feet in front of the plate. Pitchers are now clocked "out of the hand" which is faster. You can find mentions of Ryan touching 108.1 mph in '74. (I don't believe that.) Sudden Sam McDowell was a little behind Ryan, I'd say.

IOW, I suspect Johnson and Feller and Koufax were all throwing close to 100 mph. But Ryan was ALWAYS throwing 100 or more in his heyday. 

One note: HOFer Christy Mathewson was known for his great screwball and a GOOD fastball with great control. But he wasn't thought of as one of the "blazing" pitchers in the early 20th century. The Army timed him once --who knows if these stroies are right-- and he had to throw a pitch through a box to clock it. The Box wasn't that big --a fraction of the K zone. Mathewson's first pitch was timed at 91 mph. This was before WWI. His second pitch destroyed the box.

There is no doubt in my mind that Walter Johnson threw at least 95 mph and probably more. Of course, that proves nothing! Maybe somebody really WILL prove he topped out at lower speeds. But I doubt it very much.

Also, he threw sidearm --not a nice afternoon for RHed hitters.

Boz, I greatly appreciated your Opening Day article last week. And it was on page A-1, which was entirely appropriate. Do you remember the first time your work was on A-1. and how that felt? What was the subject? I would guess it was more than 40 years ago. Best from an understanding and appreciating the current circumstances, but nonetheless frustrated baseball fan.

Thanks very much.

I tweeted last week, "Glad to have A1 col. Long ago Post sports columnist Bob Addie told cub reporters, "They once put me on a big murder trial. I was on A1 for 26 days in a row. Thought I was hot stuff. My friends started asking my wife, 'Is Bob OK? Fired? Dead? I never see him in the paper anymore."

A1's great. But Bob had a point.

I don't remember the first one on A1. But I remember the story that has that kind of "breakout" status in my mind.It'll always be my No. 1.

When I was still a "copy boy" in the sports department, working the 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. After three years, I still couldn't get arrested --I was passed over for the lowest reporting slot in Sports six or seven times. My college classmates were on the verge of being doctors and lawyers. I got called for D.C. Jury Duty for a month. I was on about six juries, and was foreman of a couple --all felony cases, as I recall --armed robberies or assault, but nothing anywhere close to murder or attempted murder. After my Jury Duty was over, I wrote a long (unassigned) story on the experience and took it to the Outlook section --the brainy section on Sunday for the Serious Writers-- and submitted it. Both Outlook editors liked it. They couldn't remember anybody ever writing about being inside jury rooms during deliberations --how did jurors evaluate defendants, what did they think of the lawyer's tactics or the fairness (or not) of the judge? How did they relate the crime in the case to their own experience --both the jurors who had little first-hand experience of crime in their own neighborhoods and those jurors, like me, who'd grown up in 'high crime' neighborhoods in D.C. To my surprise, the more a juror actually knew about crimes and criminals, the more likely they were to say --whether a man or woman juror, "I see right through that guy's story. I've seen that a dozen times. He belongs in jail."

Assistant editor Noel Epstein did a fairly significant rewrite of the lede. It probably needed it. (Of course, I didn't think so at the time.) They gave that story HALF of the front page of Outlook on a Sunday with art --big "play"-- and the "jump" of the story took up most of an inside page, too.  I was still fetching coffee and answering phones in sports --when I got lucky, I got to write 8 graphs on a Cardozo-Dunbar football game or Springbrook-BCC in basketball. 

The Outlook editors asked me how I would like to be "identified" on the story. I sure wasn't a "Washington Post Staff Writer" --which meant you'd been made a reporter --my goal. They suggested that I just be "Tom Boswell." I said, "No way. Make it 'Tom Boswell is a Copyboy in the Sports Department.' Let 'em chew on that."

The result? It probably helped me get a reporter's slot later --at least that's the cause-and-effect that I'll remember. But I still ended up covering the same St. Johns-Carroll football game six years in a row --including three more times after the big spread in Outlook.      

I'll save A1 stories --and the stories about the A1 stories-- for some other day.

Thanks for your patience.

I was on thr Rizzo call for a while. He tried to be helpful, but there's not really much to say. Everybody is waiting, and is going to have to wait for a long time, for the Virus Verdict before anything concrete about a Return of Sports can be discussed seriously or with time tables. 

My 13 year old son had just made a much better quality team for spring basketball and had been looking forward to hours in the gym with a dozen kids who were all better than him so he could push himself to improve in the game he loves. I ache for the loss of this for him as shooting and dribbling everyday just can't replace hours in the gym with people who push you to be better. I know there are many people worse off than us but this did make me wonder if we would see at the pro level in a few years a gap where the new players just aren't as polished as prior years because of all the lost reps for everyone of them for what could be a long time?

Interesting story. But I think that top athletes will always find a way to put in their "10,000 Hours" to become world class.

BTW, there's a Princeton study that disputes some of the points in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" with its 10,000 Hours theory --as it applies to everybody from the Beatles to Bill Gates.

 

Hello Bos, Thanks for doing these chats. They're an oasis of good feelings - both remembering good times in the past, and the promise of more good sports moments to come. Just curious, did you ever play any Baseball board games (i.e. APBA or Stratomatic)? If so, do you have any stories or recommendations? With the Covid-19 siege stretching ahead of us I'm thinking of dragging mine out of retirement. Thanks again and stay well! Rick S. Middle River, MD

Funny you should ask! Here's a story of mine on the United Baseball League, probably the first totally-insane, over-the-top, baseball-with-dice league ever founded. They had their annual convention in D.C. I found 'em!

Here's "Of Dice and Men" which is also in "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."

https://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/btf/pages/essays/dicemen.htm

Speaking of books and plugs, I'm half-way through "Buzz Saw" and I'm really enjoying reliving the Nats 2019 season through Jesse. Why only "halfway?" As I said last week, I seem to need multiple books --for different stir-crazy moods-- to cope with this semi-lockdown so Buzz Saw is still competing with Walden, Moby Dick and others. But I SMILE the most while reading Buzz Saw.

Good morning. Your discussion of Ken Burns as an interviewer was extraordinary. I was able to pass it along to KB through a friend, and he loved it, too. Thank you. Be well and stay safe.

Thanks. Glad Ken liked it.

I was intrigued by your comment that, when being interviewed, you want to be honest, but you would rather not be punched by the person you are discussing. That got me thinking about your role as interviewer, and opinionated columnist, and I flashed back to the mid-80s column you wrote about Fred Lynn when he was with the Orioles. Cerebral, even-tempered Tom Boswell absolutely ripped former ROY and MVP Fred Lynn. Not that you were wrong, but it seemed unremittingly harsh, to such an extent that I still remember it. Did you worry about getting punched after that, or did you feel the O's clubhouse generally agreed with you, or both? More generally, do you find that most athletes are self-aware enough to at least understand your critiques, or do most try to make your life miserable if you write something uncomplimentary?

I've told this story before. The day after that column ran I was off but told my wife I had to go to Memorial Stadium to face up/answer up to Lynn, Allen Wiggins and Lee Lacy, all of whom I'd ripped. They batted 1-2-3 in the O's order and I said they should all be benched. On Lynn, I said, "Firemen run into burning building for $10,000-a-year. Fred Lynn won't pinch-hit in Yankee Stadium with the bases loaded if he has a sore throat."

Wiggins was smart, but he hadn't read the story. But he had other much bigger problems than the beat reporters were only partially suspecting --he had a drug addiction before he ever got to Baltimore and was the first MLBer to die of AIDS at 32.

Lacy was mad and got in my face. He told his side. At good length. I'm a good listener. People SHOULD let you have it when they disagree with what you write. Then I told my side. I told him I liked him and didn't have anything personal against him --I just thought he was a VERY over-rated player. I explained --this would be obvious post-Moneyball-- that he only had one skill. To paraphrase: You can hit .290. But you have little power for a corner OFer, you seldom walk, what speed you have you don't turn into extra bases or stolen bases and you are an average fielder. I even told him --nicely, because this was real baseball talk, not an argument-- that I thought he was lucky that the sport overrates and overpays players simply based on batting average. And I probably mentioned how badly he ranked in (my) Total Average stat.

Players demand respect at the personal level. So of course you always give that --as they deserve. (They work incredibly hard.) But EVERYBODY analyzes everybody AS A PLAYER. You can say almost anything, if you can back it up and are just "talking the game." Those closed door meetings between player and manager are MANY times worse than anything I would have calmly pointed out to Lacy.   

Lynn read it --and sulked. He refused to speak to any reporters --as some kind of punishment to me. As if I cared or the other reporters cared. Lynn went nuts and won A.L. Player of the Week that week.

The following week Frank Robinson (O's coach then, if I remember right), who agreed with my column, took me aside and said, "You know that column you wrote about Freddy last week? Do you think you could write ANOTHER one THIS week?"

 

I loved the book list, too. Thank you. My recommendations: The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb about the race to be the first sub-four-minute miler between American Wes Santee, Australian John Landy and, of course, Englishman Roger Bannister. Also - The Boys in the Boat. Both books were edge-of-your-seat thrilling despite knowing how they turn out.

Thanks. Both sound really interesting.

I was a little disappointed that the Post's list didn't include anything from the Post's own Bill Gildea. "When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore" and "The Longest Fight" in particular are great ones.

Great point. And both very enjoyable reads.

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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