Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Jul 27, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Cancel the MLB season –probably by the end of this week. 

Forget about the NFL season –it’s never going to happen. 

The idea of attempting a college football season –putting amateur athletes at risk-- is obscenely unthinkable. 

Within days, or a couple of weeks, we may also find out whether it is feasible for the NBA, in its Florida bubble, or the NHL, playing in Canada, to finish a truncated season and crown a champion. 

What has brought all this about? 

Although we can’t be entirely sure, what has made each of the statements listed above now extremely high-probability outcomes for our most prominent games? Why has “back to normal” in sports, or even semi-normal, just been shattered? 

On Monday morning, according to multiple reports, at least 14 members of the Miami Marlins and their staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in recent days. 

The Marlins, who’ve been on the road for a week, and played a weekend series in Philadelphia, have canceled their game in Miami with the Orioles on Monday night in Florida. The Yankees game in Philadelphia has also been canceled –because the Yanks want nothing to do with the visiting clubhouse recently inhabited by the Marlins. 

What does this mean? 

Some events have ambiguous consequences. We won’t know their impact for some time. But, in rare cases, one event may have enormous impact –just as the positive virus test for the NBA’s Ruby Gobert in mid-March resulted in the shut down of every major sport within 48 hours. 

This is such a moment. But perhaps bigger. Within a day, we may see the cancelation of the MLB season. 

Right now, I would be in favor of it. 

As I pointed out in my Saturday column, when a league says, “Given what we are seeing with Covid-19 hitting our teams, MAYBE we should cancel the season,” the correct response is “get rid of the word ‘maybe.’” The entire American experience of this pandemic has been: Stay ahead of this virus or it will crush you. Try to outrun it, hide from it, say it’s not so bad and will go away –none of that would. 

It just breeds a disaster. 

Now that disaster has hit MLB just five days into its season. The Cincinnati Reds also have multiple positive tests. The Atlanta Braves have been without both their catchers who have symptoms, though no positive tests. The Nats star Juan Soto is inactive after a positive test. 

Do we need a longer list? 

Underneath all the discussions and elaborate plans to reopen various sports, from MLB, NBA and NHL now to the NFL and college football by the end of next month, has been one naïve assumption –if Covid-19 hit a team, it would infect one or two players. Maybe three. But, in some sense, things would be “manageable.” You could still “field a team.” 

When did this become the highest of all human goals? 

The danger and the damage would not be “too bad.” In this, we see American’s national tendency toward willful ignorance regarding Covid-19 being played out on a small, crystal-clear stage so everyone can get the message. 

For months, we have watched healthy people, mostly young, swarm into bars or hit the beaches with –apparently—a sense that “community spread”—was a fiction or not something which applied to them. Maybe, if you went to the wrong bar, one person there would get the virus –that was the fantasy. 

Now, we learn differently –now we see the truth. 

You can’t be more healthy, as a group, than a professional MLB team. You can’t be much better protected or tested for COVID more often than an MLB team. The Marlins are close to the Safest Possible Case. And right now, less than a week into their season, at least HALF of the team has the coronavirus! 

That is what is meant by “community spread.” That is what is meant by an “outbreak” in an epidemic. All of us have worried that one or two players –or people in the MLB community—would have “bad outcomes” from the virus if a 60-game season was played. Time to blow that assumption up. If HALF of the Marlin team can test positive within a few days, then the scale of danger to health –the number of people who may get sick and severity of the damage they may suffer, including 27-year-old pro athletes—just shot through the ceiling. Our assumptions –well-intentioned—have been blown to pieces. And, in short order, so will the seasons of one, or perhaps several, of our sports. 

The pandemic is in control. It always was. And it stays in control until you stop it, suppress it, dominate it and crush “the curve.” 

America has not come within a million miles of that outcome –though many other countries have. 

“The Marlins” are just the latest –but one of the most vivid—illustrations of what America is facing. And how little we are willing to take the true measure of our fearsome enemy.

Do you think everyone at MLB and MLBPA are regretting not implementing a bubble plan for the season? After it took so long to get a labor deal done, the amount of time the players spend in a bubble would only have been 3 months or so - early July start of training camp to end of September - plus the playoffs.

Well, as I pointed out in my Introduction, the plan that MLB ended up adopting is ALREADY a disaster with teams traveling between cities, using all 30 ballparks (except Toronto) and all 30 clubhouses, each potentially with infections, as well as staying in hotels and traveling by (chartered) planes and trains.

I've seldom seen a piece of knock-you-flat news to equal the reports that 12-to-16 members of the Marlins (and staff) have tested positive in recent days. That sounds like classic "community spread" --and an illustration of how one sick person in one bar, or one (unknowing) Covid carrier in a beach tiki restaurant or one mass church gathering with an (unknowing) sick person-- can explode into MANY cases.

This is what "exponential" looks like.

It is a VERY good question whether the NHL --in playing in two cities in Covid-contained Canada-- can pull off a season.

Hockey, inherently, has FAR more contact than baseball between players. You'd think that the chances of the NHL succeeding are MUCH smaller than MLB.

But the X Factor is Canada. On Sunday, Canada only had 355 new virus cases, and only five deaths, in a country of 37.59 million people.

That means in Canada on Sunday only one in every 105,887 people got the virus and only one person in every 7,518,000 people died. The population of the whole Washington metropolitan area --similar to Philly's population-- is only SIX million people. So, that like FEWER than ONE person in the D.C. or Philly area dying per day.

So, the NHL may have a chance --even though hockey seems like it would idea to transmit Covid. But the virus has a hard time spreading IF THERE IS ALMOST NONE OF IT AROUND. And, of course, the NHL will be using all the Canadia run trusted-traveler program that uses fingerprints and n methods of detecting and tracing the virus. You might want to look up Samantha Pell's piece for the Post on Sunday about the NHL partnering with CLEAR, a privately-run trusted traveler program that uses fingerprint and iris identification technology to confirm a traveler's identity in airports and assist in tracking daily player health requirements. They do a lot right in Canada.

The NBA's "bubble" approach deserves to have a fair chance. But Florida is going to be a tough place to beat Covid, no matter how tight you hope the bubble will be.

What seems ludicrous is the idea of an NFL season with SO many players on every team and SO much contact, and breathing on eachother in every pileup, etc.

Maybe this is just The Bleakest of All Days because of the Marlins. But I've got to be honest, if the early reports are anywhere close to accurate --and games have already been canceled and the Marlins aren't even leaving Philly to go home to Miami (and their families)-- then this Marlin outbreak is a HUGE negative data point in the Can Sport Return conundrum.    

How did you do? (If not, how do you think you'd do?)

No. And I never would, not even at a Little League game. It would --90%-- be a disaster.

In HS, and playing freshman ball in college, my best (only) skill was a strong accurate arm. That's why I played QB from 8th through varsity in HS. And it's why, looking at my lack of speed and singles-hitting batting, they tried to switch me from 1st base to catcher in college. I had a "catcher's arm." Unfortunately, it takes more than that to learn how to be a catcher in college!

I continued playing catch with my son --who had a really good arm-- until he was about 15-16 and I was in my early 50's. But, even with a catcher's mitt, he was doing my hand too much damage to continue. However, I noticed as I aged that it was MUCH harder to throw accurately and hard with a normal overhand motion. My "diagnosis" --something in your shoulder dies! You can't "get over the top." And the result is the occasional VERY wild throw --out of nowhere.

When you see a Senior Citrizen try to throw out a First Pitch, like Dr. Fauci, they try to do it the same way they did when they were 20 --same full motion. Not many can still do that. To have any hope of an accurate throw, you have to start with the ball, and your arm, ABOVE your shoulder and make an abbreviated "catcher's peg." You're just throwing with your arm --not your shoulder or much of your body. Even THEN I think the chances for disaster are VERY high! I noticed Warren Buffett throwing out a pitch --maybe the College WS in Omaha-- when he was well into his 70's and he did well --but I seem to remember he used something like that minimize-the-moving-parts throwing technique.

BTW, Fauci was a fanatical, and very good HS basketball player in NYC --the captain of his HS team at 5-foot-7. There is a wonderful profile of him --I forget where I read it-- about how basketball was his first fanatical obsession and that he played four or five hours a day for years and took buses, subways all over NYC to play against every type of competition in town. There was a picture of him driving through the lane in a game and he looks --well-- like a super-fit, tough and probably very good player. As an adult, he was known for decades for running FOUR miles a day EVERY day. And even now, at 79, I think he walks four miles every day. I may have run four miles in a day a few times in my LIFE when a football coach was mad at us and kept making us run laps around the field as punishment. 

So, I thought it was karmicly unfair that he make such a bad throw because he really was an athlete. At least he's "elderly." What on earth was John Wall's excuse? President Bush (43) PRACTICED when he knew a First Pitch was on his future schedule and then he practiced under the stands before he threw. He was really proud of his 9/11 first pitch (as he should have been). Once, at the WH, told me that he did it with a flack jacket on underneath his coat, which made it harder, but there was no way they were letting him out there on the mound WITHOUT that metal vest. He was as proud as a kid describing how he did it.            


It's just nice to type that headline... But they won't be after today because the Marlins cancelled the game this evening due to COVID infections. Do you really think baseball makes it through 60 games? I saw a college football proposal (Big 10, I think) where they start in early September and play a few games. Then they take "covid-breaks" and take two weeks off on the assumption that kids will pick up the virus somewhere. They figure they can get a 10 week season in from September through December by scheduling quarantine. I think that's about the only way you're going to get a sports season into the fall this year.

Playing college football or even thinking about it is obscene. These are amateurs who MAKE NOTHING --except a scholarship. Even the bumbling NCAA should be able to figure out a way to cancel the '20 season and still preserve the eligibility, and future NFL prospects, of college football players.

No 19-year-old or 21-year-old should be risking his health so that the sleazy Big Time programs --and almost all the Big Time programs are sleazy-- can make tens of millions for their schools, many millions for the their coaches, but do it on the backs of young vulnerable players, 99% of whom will never see a professional paycheck of even $0.01.

At least pro athletes have unions thatf ight for the rights and give them OPTIONS --like an MLB player like Ryan Zimmerman or Buster Posey being able to "opt out" of playing in a Covid season with no penalty (except lost salary). They can come back in '21 (like David Price certainy will).    

Pro athletes are adults making a business/health decision about their lives. College athletes are just being USED.

Any university that allows its team to play a football game this season has shown that it is morally bankrupt and has disgraced itself.

Sure, sure, we already know that tons of them are, as far as sports go, morally bankrupt --but THIS TIME they would be SHOWING it, advertising it, in public. (Make up your own jokes about whether Trump University would field a team.) 

Hey Boz, Did you or any other reporter ask Kurt Suzuki about why he kneeled and what he thinks about other peaceful protesters trying to achieve racial equity being gassed or pulled off the streets by the president he supports? I don't think we should let the inconsistency of showing support for racial justice and supporting a racist president go uncommented on.

I don't like seeing athletes hounded for their political beliefs whether it is Sean Doolittle, anti-Trump, or Kurt Suzuki, for wearing a MAGA hat at the WH. When anybody makes a public statement, they bare fair game. It's OK that Suzuki took some heat and will probably take more. But he's also allowed to take different positions on different issues.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."  

Seeing baseball again is wonderful and I’m happy to have sports back (setting my moral qualms aside). But it is bothering me to see these players in the dugout next to each other, maskless, high fiving after home runs! Isn’t this against the new MLB rules? I understand they are being tested every other day but did Juan Soto teach us nothing? Asymptomatic spread is real. I think these players have a unique opportunity to be real leaders and role models for this country. Show that it is possible to be an adult and wear a mask! Keep your distance. Model what we know we need the whole country doing. Sharon

If MLB finds a way to keep going, then you make a very good point. As a small example, Trea Turner hit a HR on Sunday, ran the bases maskless (of course) then jumped into the arms of the masked Suzuki in the dugout for a long bear hug. 

I don't think bear hugs are social distancing. I know --he just got excited. But I've seen plenty of celebrating in plenty of games that didn't seem to be setting any kind of example. 

The problem, as a nation, is that far too many of us --scores of millions, apparently-- just don't GET IT when it comes to his pandemic.

Time for a long story. Back in the George W. Bush administration one of my lifelong best friends --all the way back from summer camp when we were 12-- was the Chief of Staff at Health and Human Services directly under former Utah governor Mike Leavitt who was then Secretary of HHS. My old friend gave me a tour of HHS --which has an annual budget almost exactly the same as Italy. HHS is a vast, possibly not-enough-studied U.S. institution. By far the most interesting/impressive thing I saw that day was a gigantic room --as big as a high school gym, including bleachers, and two or three stories deep. It was so futuristic it looked like something out of the Starship Enterprise. Every wall was covered with maps of the world covered with blinking multi-colored lights and constantly updated numbers. My friend explained that this was the U.S. infectious disease command center --monitoring and tracking every infectious disease ON EARTH. This is where the U.S. would track SARS or H1N1. Where that virus/diseaset was, what it was, whether it had any chance of becoming the next epidemic in a foreign country or even pandemic was monitored and measured there. I found out years later that Mike Leavitt, who also became a casual friend, had been persistent in getting President Bush (43) interested in the importance of the potential for a possible pandemic and the need for America to be ready for it. If I remember correctly, President Bush got a $14-BILLION bill through Congress to get the U.S. up to full readiness. My old friend and Sec. Leavitt got to the point where they believed --I do not know if they were correct in this belief-- that every element of combating a pandemic was in place --from spotting and tracking (partly in that giant room) the virus from its early days to coordinating efforts with pharma companies to produce a vaccine to manufacturing needles and PPE, all the way to the local and town level of "knowing how the needle was going to get into people's arms."

Somehow, between then and now our capacity to do such things has either been neglected or ignored or "whatever."  I've talked to my friend recently about it. He was very nice, but made it clear that what he knew, or simply what his current opinion of our pandemic response was, wasn't a subject for casual conversation. (Or, politely, none of your business, Tom.) 

Here's what I KNOW --at least 15 years ago, America made a significant investment, and had serious people, who were deeply concerned about the potential for a devastating pandemic in the U.S. someday. It's not like Bill Gates book --five years ago-- was some genius lonely-voice warning shot, though Gates is fabulous to listen to on the pandemic.

This disastrous incompetent national response didn't have to end this way. Also, previous U.S. administrations, including GOP administrations, took this seriously and spent billions on it. What we are watching play out now is not an American failure, or even a pattern of historic neglect of this problem by one party. BOTH parties understood the seriousness of a future pandemic. It is almost entirely the failure of THIS administration, this President and this version of his party which we see playing out. Granted, this is my opinion --but it is an opinion based on more than thin air.   


Why couldnt Lerners afford to keep Soto AND Rendon? Cheap!

Before you get to call the owners of a team "cheap," it's a good idea to learn the names of the players on the team.

Soto earns about $600,000 this year. Not $235,000,000 --that's Strasburg.

I only include this "question" as a reminder that a significant portion of the "noise" on the internet, or any other medium, tends to sound authoritative and aggressively confident. But plenty of it is from people who don't know "jack." Or can't keep the facts straight in their heads long enough to type one factually correct sentence.

Yes, perhaps this is "an innocent mistake." If so, "sorry." But, over the years, I've seen "a million" authoritative comments which made me think, "Ten years old. But probably enjoying him/herself playing adult on the computer." 

I learned this weekend how much a live audience adds to a sporting event and how much its absence detracts from it. For the MLB and NBA games it felt like I was watching a scrimmage or practice, and found it hard to get into. One of the great attractions to watching sports on TV is the thrill of the event – thousands of people gathered in one place to watch gives a sense of excitement when watching on TV. That was all gone this weekend. And while I felt I should have been ecstatic to see sports again, particularly my beloved Nats, I felt – meh.

I understand your point. But I loved/enjoyed the games. I tend to be good at "making allowances" for people and things. We're in a pandemic. Make sensible allowances!\

I would be DELIGHTED to follow this MLB season and evaluate it on its own unique merits. So what if it's "weird" or all the other terms you constantly hear. I'd be FASCINATED to see which players --for example-- perform much BETTER without crowds to distract or intimidate them. I've seen Erick Fedde pitch six fine innings with excellent poise and control. Maybe that's just his natural development. But maybe he's a player who could really use a 60-game empty-park season to get his feet on the ground in MLB, get his confidence, realize that it really is "just the same game." Maybe some players are amped TOO high and don't know it --maybe they need to try LESS. What if Tanner Rainey, in semi-solitude, finds out that he can control his big stuff just as well in a real game against Judge and Stanton as he can in a side session in West Palm Beach? Maybe he uses this year to "find himself" as a big leaguer and his ERA goes from a serviceable 3.71 to an excellent 2.71.

I've had little problem with the games I've watched. I "like" the stupid crowd noise --because it's better than silence. I think i9t's a hoot to see what goofy ideas teams can come up with for their fake cut-out fans in the stands, like the pretend celebs behind home plate in Dodger Stadium. Have fun with it. If it's a "throw away" season, then get some use out of it. I want to SEE the man-on-second base to start extra innings idea in prac tice. Is it as awful as I assume. Or will I be shocked and like it. I've been 180-dgrees wrong before. LONG ago, I thought I'd hate wildcards. They've been a big net plus.

MY problem is that I am very concerned that the MLB season will --and as Covid data emerges-- probably SHOULD be canceled before it is even a fortnight old. Lets let all the facts come out about the Marlins outbreak. But I can't imagine how the first 5 days of this season could have gone WORSE.

When HALF of a team gets the virus in a BLINK, and it happens in Philadelphia --not in one of the national "hot spots"-- that should be more than just a message. Unfortunately, and I will be one of the people who HATE it if it works out this way, that is probably your ANSWER --already.   


Time to give up? Could kill himself.

I thought the TV documentary of Smith's horrible trauma and comeback --to walking, then running and sprinting-- was one of the most inspiring sports stories I've ever seen.

But I did NOT end that documentary thinking, "I sure hope he tries to make it all the way back with the Washington Football Team." (They could just call themselves the "Washington WFTs" and that would only be one letter transposition away from what plenty of us have already been calling them for years.)

I don't even know what to think. Isn't Haskins the Quarterback of the Future. So, isn't THIS the year when you find out what you have in him? Is this a year, behind a crummy O-line, that you even consider letting Smith be your starting QB while Haskins "learns." I'm not sure I could even watch him drop back. 

Alex Smith has nothing to prove to anybody.

But it's also his life. His decision. I guess I'd say, "Please, don't. What does it prove? What are the WFTs going to win WITH you this year --even in a made-for-Hollywood story? Do they go 7-9 instead of 5-11? Is that worth the risk you seem to be taking."

OK, it's probably all moot and there'll be no NFL season this year. And it will be a true victory for Alex if he can pass an NFL physical and be able to say, "I got back to the point where I had a CHOICE."

But, if he does pass the physical, I hope he chooses, "No." Okay, that's just for MY comfort. He can, and will choose what HE wants.

Will they ever get bullpen to work?

Harris hung a cutter for a HR. But there's no reason to think he won't be good. Doolittle got to 91-92 on Sunday, says he's "close" but he needs a little more velo, imo. Hudson looks good, Rainey a good long-term piece. Suero should help. It could be a pretty good bullpen. Blowing a 2-1 lead to THESE Yankees is not cause for "The bullpen stinks" alarm. They're going to torch a lot of people. But Doo needs to be sharper.  

What do you think the Yankees brass were thinking about the "Lerners are Cheap" narrative as they watched Corbin dismantle their lineup?

Scherzer fanned 11 Yanks. Corbin dominated. The Yanks scored 9 runs in 3 games and Strasburg didn't even pitch.

I hope there IS a full season because I think the Nats match up well --not necessarily a favorite-- but well enough to have perfectly reasonable chances to win a series, against anybody in October. Astros don't have Cole and now Verlander is hurt (strained elbow) enough to worry about his season. Kershaw has already missed a start, seems to get hurt more every year and, no matter how good their lineup is, I'd love to see a Nats-Dodgers playoff series. Max, Stras, Corbin, Sanchez and a Better Bullpen against Walker Buehler, No Rau, No David Price (opted-out), the current aging Kershaw, plus The Rest would be a good battle, not some Dodger cakewalk.  


In an interview with Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal, Fauci explained that he had practiced the day before, throwing to a high schooler, but woke up with a sore arm. He was planning to lob it, but at the last second changed his mind and we all saw what happened.

Thanks for the back-story!

Hey, you're always sore the second day when you throw after taking the a winter off.

Especially when the winter is like, maybe, 60 years long.

Thus endeth all last-second "I-Can-Do-It!" decisions!

That's it for today --still on an eye pitch limit! (Progressing just fine, thanks). 


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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