Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

May 04, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Welcome, chatters, to what may be Sports Documentary Monday!

The best sports injury documentary I have ever seen, by far, if you can stand to watch it –adult discretion advised even for adults—is the E-60 (S8, E23) “Alex Smith – Project 11.” I’m going to be an Alex Smith fan forever after that. What doctors can do, routinely, always amazes me. What they can do in extreme cases like this is one of the few things that seems “almost beyond belief” to me. Also, the support of Smith’s wife Elizabeth is inspiring on its own. Sometimes when you hear things (in sports) like “almost died” or “could have died” or “could have lost leg,” there is a tendency –not a big one, but some—to be a little skeptical. Only a doctor could give an opinion on how close he came to life-or-death, though it sure seems like it was pretty close, but anybody who watches that documentary is going to KNOW that there were times when the normal/best/whatever decision on that leg would have been “take it off.” Smith recounts that after two days in the hospital he was thinking, “I can go home (pretty soon). I can tough it out.” Then the infection and the ‘flesh-eating bacteria” starts. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again because I’m not sure I can take the part where Elizabeth Smith says, “My husband is dying. Why can’t we just cut it off….I can’t go home to my children without him.” She asks the Skins Dr. Robin West what she would do if it were her (West’s) leg. Dr. West says, ‘I’d have it amputated.’” My reaction to the 10-part “Last Dance” about the last of Michael Jordan’s NBA titles is much more complicated –because Jordan is so simple. The Smith injury involves very complex decisions, emotions just shredded. MJ is “I want to win.” How much? “More than that.” OK, do you want to win TEN TIMES more than that? “Oh, yeah. Let's go for 100 times more.” And other considerations involved with this decision? “No. I just want to win at basketball or selling shoes more than anyone in the world.” The result, in his play, is just as close to the edge-of-human-belief as it was when he arrived in the ’80s. His skill, fierceness and, with age, wisdom about how to play/manage the game over 48 minutes, involve teammates, drive a team, create enemies (real and semi-real) to battle and team up with Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson is so remarkable that you just shake your head. Before I go into more of my thoughts on both these documentaries, I’d like to know some of yours. Also, we’ve had various developments –usually pushing back, or calling into question, previous timetables on when various sports can resume. Yes, Steve Dalkowski and The Fastest Pitcher Ever. Time to roll.

During this quarantine, we rewatched the PBS series and really enjoyed your input. We were curious how memorable the Nats World Series run/win would be in the long run compared to some of those featured on the show and why or why not.

I asked Mike Rizzo about a week ago whether he had any sense, since last Nov 1, whether people inside MLB were re-evaluating, and also elevating, the status of the Nats title run --both the 19-31 element and the 5 comebacks in elimination games-- in The MLB Pantheon. Or where they just saying, "Way to go. Great job." And the usual things.

Rizzo said it was definitely the former --starting with top Dodger executives after the Nats had won the Serie, but followed by lots of others.

The '19 Nats are far from the GREATEST team ever. But they might be in the running --photo finish-- for greatest TEAM ever.

I doubt that chemistry --personal and as a team-- has ever counted for more --and I have had an awful lot of exposure to every MLB champ since '75. And from '75 through '04 --when DC didn't have a team-- a big part of my job was getting a sense of the best teams in MLB --the potential champs. Not the 10th-best team, although I might write about them, but definitely the top half dozen contenders. And since the best teams tend to stay near the top for a few years (at least) your knowledge of them, and sense of their internal dynamics, is cumulative --you know more about them every year.

By that standard, I wouldn't put ANY team ahead of the '19 Nats. And they might be 1st out of all of them in the "team-vs-talent" category because nobody else that I can remember --and I'll keep mulling this-- had so much to overcome in so many different forms. It's not just the 19-31 start, although that's huge and immediately puts them on a list of no more than 4 or 5 times who ever came back a comparable deficit (including having 27 or 28 of the other 29 teams ahead of them at one point). They also had the second wort bullpen in the last 50 years. Not the second-worst among playoffs teams. The 2d-worst OF ANYBODY, including all the teams that lost 100-or-more games.

You really have to think about that --maybe for a long time. This is a bullpen age. They had TWO relievers they could trust --Doolittle and Hudson-- and they couldn't even trust then in the way that you could a GREAT reliever (name the 50 best you can think of). They were just very good but far from unhittable relievers. After that, you had some with heart, like Fernando Rodney, and some with unformed talent like Tanner Rainey. But they had two relievers who, if stretched out, could over TWO innings. And if you used them to get 6 outs, who would you use the next day? Yes, they got bits and pieces of help from others at times. This was a huge probably all season. But in October, it forced Martinez to make Strasburg, Max and Corbin starter-relievers! That's insane. It's almost like the Nats had to win games in the PROPER SEQUENCE in order to get through a WC game and THREE rounds of playoffs. They NEEDED to sweep the Cards (in retrospect) to get the tons of rest they needed to face Houston.

I'll stop there, for now. But this is a fascinating subject: Where do the Nats rank? Not as "best team" --although their 86-43 finish (including Oct) with a huge run differential is very impressive-- but as Most Amazing Team. Or some such phrase --which I may have to work out!

Thanks for a fine question to get us started. 

A few weeks back you said this: “ I have a few simplistic, almost comical Rules to Live By. One of them is ‘How Stupid Would I feel If...’ For example, if I went back to ballgames just for fun and ended up on a ventilator, ‘How stupid would I feel?’ I would feel like THE STUPIDEST PERSON EARTH.” Can you share some more (or all) of your simplistic, almost comical Rules to Live By?

I'll mention some of those that come from sports. My wife, for example, had never heard any of these phrases, didn't know what they meant, but now uses them herself --and gets why they are wise.

"Everything changes everything." Earl Weaver.

We'd ask Earl for his opinion of a player, or of some part of his team in spring training. He'd give an evaluation. Then by May he'd be managing --making lineups, etc-- in some entirely different way. We'd ask him '"Why?' and he'd look at us like we were idiots. In the intervening time, maybe Pitchers X, Y and Z had been hurt and pitrchers A & B had panned out better than expected. Same with some of his hitters. He'd just say, "Everything changes everything." Or maybe Earl had just been reading John Maynard Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Or, as another Earl example, maybe he just couldn't stand watching Bobby Bonner (career .194) playing shortstop for one more day while he had Cal Ripken, Jr.s, at 3rd base because that's where "everybody" on earth thought he should play because he's not just 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, but a BIG intimidating-looking 6-4, 220 --he looked, then and now, like an NFL linebacker. Or like, with different weight training that he could quickly have become an NFL TE or LB. But Earl saw him as a shortstop because of his amazing footwork --one of the best HS soccer goalies in the U.S.-- and brains for the game. Once Cal became a shortstop that had MANY positive ripple effects. And one "everything" did change a lot of other things.

Long ago, I don't know who said it --or maybe I even thought of it as applying to others-- "You have to play above the breaks."

But I'll go with Jack Nicklaus, either as saying it, implying it or inspiring it. At any major, it the "conditions" were hard to the point of being unfair --high rough, greens too fast for human habitation, high wind, sideways rain at the Open-- Jack would LOVE it. If the U.S. Open rough was unpredictable and unfair --you might be "dead" five feet off the fairway but in a fine playable lie if you missed by 15 yards because fans had trampled it down-- he'd love that (or pretend tyo love it), too.

The harder the test, the lower the number of people who could beat HIM. It SHRANK THE FIELD. The greaatest players in every sport do not complain about "bad breaks" or wait to be inspired by a "good break" or bitch about bad calls or injuries to a teammate or playing hurt. It is BENEATH them. That is for other lesser players to worry about, be distracted by. They, becausue they are great, or maybe because they are just tough SOBs, whether or not they are great players or not, they will, at least in their own minds "Play above the breaks." They will ignore the break, surmount the breaks, play "above" the breaks.

Why is this so important? Because so often in your life the breaks WILL go against you. Maybe you can't always "play above the breaks" like a Nicklaus. But you better be able to summon your best --as a person or professionally-- at SOME points in your life. My wife once asked me why bad deadlines or extra-inning games at the WS or rain delays or late-game-changes-of-lead on deadline did not bother me (or only for a minute of cussing) but often brought out my best, I just said, "You have to play above the breaks. The harder it is, the less competition. You have to believe, 'They can't make it too tough FOR ME.' Of course, that's nonsense. But, as in any discussion of 'attitude' the question is: What attitude will help me, even if I know it contains plenty of self-hypnosis BS." 

"Lose the right way" has been said my every MLB manager. I've explained it in columns several times. It's akin to "How stupid would I feel." Maybe I'll go into it in more depth some other time. But when you see me criticize a strategy in ANY sport, it is almost always because I felt strongly" "THAT is NOT the right way to lose." 

For example, how could Dave Roberts lose Game Five by leaving Kershaw in to face Rendon and Soto when he had a fresh bullpen and Kershaw had already done hios match-up work by fanning Eaton to end the prebvius inning, and how could he end his season with Joe Kelly on the mound --from 3-3- to 7-3 and then even a couple of more batters-- when he has Kenley Jansen warmed up? Jansen isn't what he used to be. But if you are going to lose, then lose with JANSEN who is somebody, not Kelly who is just another MLB anybody.

Or LEAVING Cole in the BP in Game Seven of the WS. That was more complicated. I understand how that worked out as it did. But it is still going to haunt the Astros for years -- We Never Used Cole. We Lost the WRONG Way."     

 

Has anyone done a "real" look at how many people are truly needed at games for MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, etc?

Man, they are TRYING to look. Remember that putting on even a minimal TV show --for golf for example-- involves cameras on every hole you are going to cover. Manned or unmanned? I don't know. And a production truck. The "staff" often turns out to be 500, 600, 700 rathe than the much lower figure you initially imagine. Trainers, on-site docs, everybody who works in and around the clubhouse. Etc.

It's going to be tough.

It'll be interesting to see how baseball goes in South Korea. They start TOMORROW.  We had a very good story on it over the weekend.

 

I know my complaint is petty when hundreds of thousand of people have lost their lives, their jobs, and so much more. But if a girl can't vent to her Uncle Boz, to whom can she vent? My first MLB game was at Connie Mack Stadium when I was four. At nine I was old enough to know the excitement and heartbreak of the '64 Phillies. Moved to DC area summer of '80, so narrowly missed it when they won the WS. Had season tickets to the Alexandria Dukes and frequented the Prince William Cannons. Long time season ticket holder for the World Champions Nats. And now, 61 years after my first MLB game, I will still never get to a home game as the reigning WS champs. Rant over. Thank you for listening. And thanks for these chats which are keeping us sane.

Oh, do we all feel your pain!

Of course, we still have the replays! I'll admit tha I watched the WC game, NLDS G5 and WSG6 again since last Monday. Plenty of other stuff, too. But those, as you say, were for sanity.

Footnote: In '64, my boyhood hero Roy Sievers was playing for the Phillies, and playing poorly, at the end of the road, .183 in 120 ABs. But he was still playing some of the time. Then he got traded BACK to the Senators. By then, I was a junior in HS, no doubt --youth being what it is-- I probably thought of myself as 'playing my own games" (oh, brother) and barely noticed that Sievers was back in town (.172, four homers in a few dozen at bats).

About 10 or 12 years later (guess) I called Sievers in retirement in St. Louis for a "Where Are They Now" story for the Post. He was SUPER nice to me --I was probably still a copy "boy."

I never asked him the question. But i crossed my mind: You BARELY Escaped Being One of the Pholdin' Phillies!

Of course, maybe Mauch would have sent him up to PH and he'd have won a big game and there wouldn't have been any Fold. But that's not the way to bet. Considering all the lousy teams Sievers got stuck on he DESERVED not to have memories of being part of thet team late in nthe '64 season. And he'd have felt bad because the previous season, even though old, he'd hit 19 homers and 82 RBI.

"Enjoyed" your rant. And glad to be Uncle Boz. 

Will Ryan Zimmerman get into coaching after he retires? Would the Nats hire him?

Zimmerman made a joke the other day about being a Nats broadcaster --maybe teasing Dan Kolko. Just a joke. I'm not aware of ANY players who made >$100M in their careers who became broadcasters for a local team. National TV --like Pedro Martinez-- sure. But not local.

However, as you saw on the ZOOM charity broadcast --four horus with Ryan as MC-- he is a very funny, sarcastic but also good-guy. If he ever let all of that personality out on camera --including all the jokes and edgy stories that he will tell (sometimes even on the record)-- he'd be a REALLY good broadcaster. But it can't be the stiff nalways-Mr-Nice-Guy Zim. That's him. But only part of him.

Zim is a student of the game, especially defense (GG at 3rd) and base-running (one of the best, relative to his apeed). But his hitting is so unorthodox that I kind of doubt he'd fit there. He doesn't seem like a manager at all --or somebody who would want to be one. Just my take. 

Bos - I'm sure you've seen the ideas floating around to have all the NBA players and their families and staffs holed up together on the Vegas strip where they could build 26 courts inside the convention center. If they truly create a quarantine bubble that is fully enforced, what do you think of each team inviting a thousand of their fans to come be quarantined with them for two months? That would mean 30,000 fans to attend games and cheer and it would give the fans an experience of a lifetime.

We are truly getting desperate, folks!!

Thanks for the suggestion. A "100% Sanitized Las Vegas" --the last destination description that anyone would ever imagine!

Just wondering given your age and your interests whether you were a fan of the Chip Hilton sports books written by Hall of Fame basketball coach Clair Bee. There were 23 books from the late 1940s to the 1960s. Thanks for doing the chats.

My sports writer when young was John R. Tunis --"High Pockets," "The Kid From Tompkinsville." Tunis went to Harvard and his stories were all very authentic in terms of describing MLB life, but they always had hidden morals. I probably read almost everything of his. Also read every ~150-page book that had a title like "The Warren Spahn Story." 

I know I have told this story (too many times before, but my parents both worked at the Library of Congress, by dad for 40 years, my mom for maybe 15-20. When I was at Peak Sports Addiction Age --8, 9, 10, 11-- I don't know exactly which age, my dad smuggled he into "the Stacks" at LC, which is against every rule, even for adults --it's ONLY for LC personnel )I think). The Stacks are floor to ceiling rows of book shelves that go as far as the eye can see. For volume, it's like The Pentagon of Books. There are 16 MILLION books at the LC and 120 million other items and collections --like hundreds of years of periodicals. My father took me to the baseball collection which was multiple rows of books, each row disappearing to what seemed like infinity. 

"Here is every baseball book EVER WRITTEN," he said. "Don't go blind."

Every Sporting News --ever. Every Baseball Guide --ever. Every Red and Green Book --ever. 

I couldn't take them out of the Library. But I could sit on the floor, or a stool, and read all day until he went home. I didn't do it THAT often. I was a very active kid. But I did it PLENTY!    

I loved Sherlock Holmes --the whole cannon. But my free-time reading by age 12-13 was abnormally serious for almost any kid --I have no idea why. I won't give examples.

 When I went for my college interview at Amherst early in my senior year --that would be right, wouldn't it, the viit is senior year-- I was still 16. I flew up. My first flight. My parents didn't come --that would have been WAY beyond our budget. I went to the Robert Frost Library --new and a big deal for the College-- the evening before my interview. So, the dean asks, "Where are your parents. I'd like to meet them." I said, "I came by myself." A little surprise. "Well, what did you do last night after you got here?" "I went to the Frost Library." "Why?" "Too see how good your Modern Poetry section was --since it's The Robert FROST Library." "How was it?" "Well, I'm spoiled --my parents work at LC. So, that's what I'm used to." "But how was our collection?" "Honestly?" "Of course." "Well...(here my mind blanks on details...but imagine a very quiet 16-year-old voice trying to figure out whether to tell the truth)..."I was surprised. It's pretty small."" 

But maybe they had "The Collected Chip Hilton."   

Sorry, we're in a pandemic, you're going to get some strange stuff these days!

Have you been following Juan Soto playing an online baseball game over the internet against other MLB players? It has been so much fun to tune in to his "Twitch" channel and join a few hundred other fans watching him sit in his living room while he plays the game. Fans can chat with each other in real time and he can see the chat between innings. https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/nationals/juan-soto-heating-mlb-show-20-players-league That particular "league" is wrapping up now and Juan didn't make the "playoffs" but I'd love to see more of this. I have been having a blat

That actually sounds interesting --on our current :"relative scale" in which I regard "walking out the front door" as "all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii."

I saw Lucas Giolito talking about how he planned to do in the next round of this video event. He seemed likeable, polite. But I was NOT going to watch it.

So, thanks, now maybe I will.

Look, I'm getting kind of easy to please! Last night I found myself watching "Skyfall" (again) in part because I thought my wife was watching a high-toned, well-acted period drama --one of those where the Countess doesn't want her daughter to marry the Duke because she knows that he is (secretly) really the adopted out-of-wedlock son of her chambermaid's sister. But, of course, all the servants downstairs already know. But I discovered that she was having a ball re-re-watching "Raiders of the Lost Arc." So I joined here --and concluded that both our brains are on the verge of melting. BTW, when the Nazis open the Arc and the smoke, goblins and whatnot all come out, then melt the faces of all the bad guys, one at a time, I told my wife that the expressions on their faces, as they disintegrated, reminded me of the faces of the members of the Presidential Whatever on Battling the Pandemic as they are listen explanations of how drinking Lysol or swallowing Really Big Lights may cure Covid-19.

The Redskins recently traded their best offensive lineman, a perennial All Pro left tackle, because of the acrimony resulting from a dispute about a missed cancer diagnosis. Can this team and the ownership overcome the distrust and bad feelings that this affair can bring about with the other players who have observed this incident?

That is the elephant in the room. Or since Williams is so proud of his nickname --the Silverback in the room. (Even dared Goodell to introduce him that way when he was drafted and Goodell did.) Williams always had enormous respect from teammates. It doesn't matter what Skins fans think, or what spin the Skins put on it, the ROOM is with Trent.

Pro athletes are good at "moving on" and "compartmentalizing." So, that may help.  

 

With so many teams tanking in recent years (following the success of the Cubs and Astros had employing the model) to the point that it is affecting interest in the game, why not alter the MLB draft so that the playoff teams take the last 10 spots in a round, but the 20 remaining non-playoff teams are then subjected to a lottery for draft position at least for the first round or maybe first few rounds? So no need to worry about finishing with the absolute worst record, and hopefully reducing the incentive to put an abysmal product on the field.

That is a VERY good idea. Especially (my first take) if you made it a lottery for the last 5 or 6 spots and did NOT give a huge edge in ping-pong balls or whatever) to The Worst Team. After the first 2 or 3 picks in the MLB draft, there is a big drop off in Level of Certainty about what you are getting. Getting the No. 4-5-6 pick is not nearly as much a high-probability-of-a-star event as it is in the NFL or even NBA.

IMO, MLB really needs to decrease the reward for getting a No. 1 overall pick.

Why just mention No. 1-overall?

Because, and I know you can't wait to see this, in MLB, the No. 1 draft pick is very valuable --relative to others. And the drop off is fast. There have been 55 drafts, so this is quite a bit of data. Here is the CAREER value by WAR of players picked in each of the Top 4 spots in the MLB draft.

No. 1 --23.5 WAR average. 85% make majors.

No. 2-- 15.1 WAR avearge. 85% make majors.

No. 3 --13.8 WAR. 78% make majors.

No. 4 -- 13.1 WAR. 

No. 5 -- 11.9 WAR (HALF of No. 1 overall). Only 61% made majors.

After that, it's fluky. A few big stars at No. 6 make for an avg career WAR of 14.5. BUT all the picks between No. 7 and No. 12 fall between 11.2 and 7.0 in career WAR.

Put it this way: Do you REALLY want to finish with the worst record in MLB, and probably stay at the bottom for at least 3 years, maybe a lot more, so that you can get a players with a career WAR of  13 to 15?

As frame of reference, Asdrubal Cabrera has a career WAR of 29.0!

Current players, near the end of their careers, in the 15-WAR range are like Alex Avila, Kole Calhoun and Matthew Joyce.

Current players in that 22-24 WAR range for their (almost over) careers are like Todd Frazier, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Crawford, Brian Dozier and Erick Aybar.

The main point, which I made in a column last year, is that MLB really has a problem when six or seven teams are TRYING to lose 100+ games and are selling their fans a load of BS about how it is ALL about rebuilding, like the Astros, and no-no-no-no it is not about the CERTAINTY of making many millions of dollars through revenue sharing WITHOUT COMPETING. 

When teams --like the Orioles-- Go For Worst what they are NOT saying is that, if they DO get the No. 1 overall pick, that guy ON AVERAGE will be about as good as Todd Frazier or Erick Aybar. But if they pick No. 2, maybe they'll get The Next Matthew Joyce!

Folks, it's mostly a cynical scam. There IS more value in the No. 1 pick versus any of the others. But MLB needs to DEMYTHOLOGIZE that pick by making it part of a lottery. You can't sell the Strasburg-Harper-ARod-Griffey-at-No.1 story as easily then because you can't be SURE that you won't end up with the 3-4-5 pick. 

 

Thanks for that question, and suggestion.

But from your observation (maybe?) how realistic is to be playing golf in the near term - at least in VA where I believe courses are open albeit with limited play and specific rules? That is for a low 90s/high 80s hacker?

Barry did a really good story last week on playing golf in Virginia, where courses are now open. (Or some of them. I don't remember the details.) Courses in Md and DC are not open.

I think it's a great way to "feel free" or semi-normal. Is there risk? Of course --but everybody has to make those calls every day even when you pick which food store, carry-out or pharmacy you pick. Some sure seem safer than others.

 

Hi Tom, I hope you and your family are keeping safe! The Bulls documentary has been a god-send without live sports to watch. I'm glad ESPN and the show-creators were able to complete the series earlier than scheduled. We need it. While I understand that production companies need to make money through ticket sales, I wish other studios would make movies available for streaming (at cost) while we're shut-in. I think it would do a lot of good for the public to see that studios would be wiling to sacrifice a bit so as to help keep people indoors so the medical community can get a better handle on the virus. In last night's episode, the show covered the Olympic team and the possibility that Jordan demanded Isaiah Thomas off the Dream Team. However, I've never heard any suggestion that Jordan was uncomfortable with Piston's coach Daly coaching the team. Sure Daly had as much to do with the pounding Jordan took at the hands of the Pistons that Thomas did. Any theories or reporting as to about Jordan's thoughts on Daly's involvement with the Dream Team. Thanks for doing these chats!! I wish you were able to do them twice a week!

I just watched the Dream Team episode (No. 5). Loved it! In part because I covered that Olympics --though not the Dream Team specifically.

A few things hit me in particular. First, David Falk, who, among his clients, represented tennis players, was the first to realize that you could market a team-sport players the way superstars in individual sports like tennis and golf had been sold for years. The monster fortunes in sport had been made by people like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus who put their names on the equipment --how can you play golf without "Arnie's Clubs" or whatever.

Aside: Long ago, Gary Player played Ben Hogan brand clubs. But, for some reason, he played in an event, or for a period of time, with a Shakespeare club (I think a driver). The next time Player spoke to Hogan he asked for something --I don't thibnk it was  big deal, more like a favor.

Hogan said, "No," then, according to legend, added, "But why don't you call Mr. Shakespeare."

Falk said in the documentary that stars like Magic and Bird were making $100,000 to endorse a shoe. MJ liked Adidas but their business was in poor shape. Falk set up a meeting with Nike --then relatively little known. MJ didn't even want to go. MJ says that hi MOTHER insisted that he go, act civil since the meeting was all set and "just listen" --iow, be a pro, be a businessman. Nike offered $250,000 for the first year. They named the shoe Air Jordan. Falk said they expected, by Year FOUR, to sell $3-million of Air Jordans. In the FIRST year, they sold $126 million!

Justin Timberlake said that "Every year I would save up money and stand in line at Foot Locker" to get the latest Jordan model --since they changed constantly to make more $.

In my entire life, I think the biggest rip off I have ever seen --where people get a new product every year just as a status symbol, and learn to do it from a very early age --like toddler consumerism-- is Jordan shoes. They had come along when I was 12 I don't know what I would have done. I certainly thought it was important to figure out what kind of basketball shoes you wore --EVEN THEN. OK, Chucks (Chuck Taylors). Nothibng else would do. But white or black? High top or low cut. You couldn't have gotten me in high tops if you had paid ME. Had to be black low cuts. It was a neighborhood, or maybe even a DC playground thing. You felt like you belonged on the court --whetrher you did or not. It was almost like having acceptable shoes meant it was okay for tou to take some shots, control the ball --until you proved you couldn't. You were semi-sort-of-a-player until you showed what your real level was. 

So, I get it. But I also don't. I think I accidentally see both side. But it was never a status symbol that had to change every year! And that was EXPENSIVE --would have been in my neighborhood or with my parents.

Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon in "Do the Right Things" is part of it. At any rate, it struck me that Jordan's utterly competitive nature had, by an accident of the times, been drawn into SHOES as well as basketball. So shoe sales, and MONEY, became a measuring stick for him --they grew out of his great game. But he was crazy competitive there, too. 

And that led him to the NC Senatorial race between Harvey Gantt and Sen. Jesse Helms (just about as big a racist as there was at that time). Jordan didn't endorse Gantt and was famously said, "Republicans buy sneakers, too." "Republican" wasn't the issue and everybody knew it. "Out-and-out racist versus the black, former Charlotte mayor running in your home state" was the issue.

In the documentary, Jordan says, "I said it in jest." 

As we know from the last couple of weeks, "I was just joking" is what you say as an absolute last resort.

The documentary makes the contrast between Ali taking a stand in his time and Jordan being non-political. I also thought of one of my first heroes, Bill Russell.Right now, it feels like Jordan and this series are some kind of elbowing-under-the-bucket fight for position between Jordan (Remember Me) and LeBron James, who is wrapping up his great career. It's fine to argue which is better. Great debate. The MJ Series has just made me more of a fan of his game --even better and more amazing than I remembered.

But Bill Russell, who was vocal about many social causes, and still has been in recent times, took a lot of heat in his era for taking stands --and doing it in Boston. But Russell, competitive as he was, has NEVER --not even once in the last 50 years-- said, "BTW, I won TEN NBA titles. Maybe I should be in the Greatest Conversation with these guys who won about half as many. I had to play against Wilt Chamberlain. MJ couldn't get his team past Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boys for first years."

Of course, Big Bill would never say anything like that.

So, MJ is very high on my list of greats athletes --all sports-- in my lifetime. But he's not at the very top. There's something about his Bigness that is also quite small --like his feud with Thomas (whom nobody seems to like, BTW). 

The behind the scenes trash talk with the Dream Team is a lot of fun. So, don't miss Episode Five --if just for that.

Sorry, but I have to tell one Barcelona Story because there will never be another time. The Post sent "a cast of thousands" to cover it. We had Michael Wilbon, Christine Brennan and a bunch of other excellent writers and photogs. There was a Press Village. I'm pretty sure there were like six of us Post people in one suite, or whatever you;d call it. And I'm pretty sure Michael was in it. (I'll leave it open for him to deny this story.) Anyway, we were on the top floor --maybe 4 stories-- and it was sweltering up there, no windows or almost none. We HATED our rooms --loved the Barcelona Olympics, but hated those hot depressing quarters. We stayed out as late as night as we could, eating on Las Ramblas, until it got as not-hot as it was going to get before we went back to go to sleep.

The last day, the Olympics are over, we are packing to go home after about 17 days, maybe 19 or 20, and somebody, could have been Michael, noticed that there were HANDLES at the bottom of what we had thought was a big corrugated metal wall that went from one end of the apartment to the other. It wasn't a wall. It was like a double-width garage door. And it pulled up!

We looked out. There was the Balearic Sea (I think that's correct). A glorious panoramic view! The breeze blew inside and, in like a two minutes, or five, the temperature in the room dropped from the mid-80's whether it has been the whole time, to PERFECT, like 70 degrees with a sea breeze. We cussed. We laughed. We almost cried. We would have had the best hotel set-up of anywhere in any event that I ever covered. It was one of the best views, spots in Barcelona.

Here's what I remember most: We all swore an oath Don't Tell Anybody about this. We will NEVER live t down. Everybody else who had a press room like that --and there were plenty of them-- would have laughed at us for years. (And they should have.) That's one reason I'm only saying that I was in that room. I'm really not sure who else was --heh, heh.

When I am very old, if someone asks me what my most vivid memory is from my whole sports writing career, I may actually say, "When we realize d that ****ing wall rolled up in Barcelona and we had a 180-degree view of the sea with a breeze. And we were too dumb to know it for three weeks."    

 

Been there when I dislocated my left knee 40 years ago next month. Head of Orthepedics at Fairfax Hospital who was dad's orthopedist wouldn't touch it. He recommended Dr Pat Palumbo who was the top knee doc in the country. He was the Dr James Andrews back then. They were checking for a pulse every hour etc. I tried to watch the doc all the way through but couldnt. Dont forget Alex's physical therpaists and PT asssitants who along with him did all the real hard work for months. Getting that extra degree or rep out of patient is tough. 40 years later the knee still works and I thank Pasquale every time my knee reminds its still there. Would be great if Alex had a chance to take a series in game during the season.

Back in college I had a gruesome-looking dislocated patella injury playing pick up basketball --I had to put it bacvk in place myself --twice. The guys in the game wouldn't look at it, said they were nauseated. I hated the injury but at least I always thought I had a pretty decent sports war story.

I WILL NEVER TELL THAT STORY AGAIN.

What I had was NOTHING compared to Smith and his 20 surgeries (or 19 or whatever). What his leg looked like, from ankle to knee, at SEVERAL points in the MANY months process, makes any injury I've ever seen in person look like nothing.I'm not going to describe what was left of his leg when it was finished --but it would be an approximation to say that half of the mass of his leg was left --total. 

I have NO opinion on whether he can, or should even consider, whether to try to play football again. It would be RUDE, practically offensive --after all he and his family have been through-- to stick my nose in HIS business.

It is even possible I will never again in my life say that "I have something wrong with me." 

Andy Dalton to Dallas. HMMMMM. Is he done or has Dak Prescott got something to worry about?

Just a smart insurance policy by the Cowboys at a cheap (NFL) price of $3M for one year.

Shows how deep the QB position is in the NFL these days. Our Post writers have been all over this trend as it has developed --especially in the last couple of years.

Lets bring this baby to a close. Maybe one more. The question you folks send are just about the highlight of my week because story ideas --and just sports subjects to kick around-- are hard to find. But you keep bringing up interesting topics. It's actually gotten to the point now in Week 8 (I think) of Lets Chat About No Sports that I open up the Chat site and say, "What will they think of next!"

Much appreciated and see you next Monday at 11 a.m. Best to all and stay well.  

Tom, the 1994 strike kept Tony Gwynn from hitting 400, IMO. The 1981 strike cost the Expos a chance at the World Series, arguably. Out of our favorite Nats -- Scherz, Stras, Trea, Soto, etc., who do you think will be hurt most by the loss of a season or half a season? I mean in terms of their career arc, not their current performance. E.g, could missing one season in his prime keep Stras out of the HOF? What if this was Trea's MVP breakout year, and he misses it?! Thanks.

In recent days I have actually been working on exactly that.

For example, Fred McGriff ended with 493 home runs and didn't make the HOF. The Braves missed 68 games at the end of '94 and start of '95 because of the Strike. If McGriff had played his normal ratio of games and hit homers at his normal frequency, he's have ended with 507 homers.

There has, so far, never been a player who was universally regarded as "clean" (in the PED era) who hit 500 homers who is not, or will not eventually be in the Hall of Fame. Would the symbolism of "500" have made a big enough difference. I'll have to look up McGriff's vote totals. Maybe not.

But he illustrates the issue. I think Max will make the HOF no matter what. Knock on wood. But there is a group of players in mid-career who can really use/NEED every prime season, every 250 K pitching season or every 110 RBI year to get to the levels they will need for the HOF.

There are also a couple of players who are very well known in DC who had monster starts to their careers at 19. That extra full season, over even two "extra" seasons at 19 and 20, more than even elite players normally gets, has them lined up --maybe, in 12-to-18 years-- to take aim at some all-time records or at least high in the Top 10. Far too soon to predict --like MANY YEARS too soon. But giving away a full year, if that's what it turns out to be, could hurt.

That's just one more --of many reasons-- why MLB and its players all want a Whatever We Can Get season. They are not picky.

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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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