Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Aug 03, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

To say that we have a lot to chat about this morning is an understatement –and, after all these months of pandemic sports inactivity, that is truly refreshing.

Yes, there is, of course, Covid-19 bad news. But there is plenty of sports coming our way immediately, too, like the Caps today at 4 p.m. and the PGA Championship starting on Thursday. 

Normally, I don’t include a ton of links to current news sports –but there are so many good ones today! So, maybe mentioning some of them will get us on the same page, or suggest topics for your questions and thoughts. 

Let’s get the big bad news out of the way first. MLB’s season is on a knife’s edge after more COVID-19 positive tests on the Cards. They are awaiting more results now. 

Just as troubling to me –maybe more so—is the news that the Bosox 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez, just 27, will miss the rest of the season with heart issues as a result of a 16-day battle with Covid-19 which he said made him feel like “I was 100 years old.” Some in MLB are down-playing this, calling his case and his heart condition “mild.” What? Like ANYBODY knows how to evaluate the long-term damage to heart, lungs, brain, kidney’s etc for those who’ve had COVID. 

If I were a player, THIS is the data point that would have me thinking “Opt out of the season.” 

Like we needed anything else: Eagles coach Doug Pederson, 52, has tested positive –asymptomatic now. 

Also, Nats’ Juan Soto thinks that his positive test, which caused him to miss the Nats' first 7 games was a “false positive.” Given the context presented in this story by Jesse, I tend to agree.

Now, for the GOOD news about fun things to watch! 

First, the Caps start their round-robin seedings play this afternoon (4 p.m.) against the Lightning. Vegas has the Caps at 14-to-1 to win the Cup –only the 7th-best odds. That was also their odds-ranking when they won two years ago –about the 7th-best year in the league on paper. Bruins are favorites at 7-1 then, in the East, TB at 15-2, Flyers at 10-to-1, the Caps. I’m not a gambler, but I’d take a LITTLE of that 14-to-1 play, just for fun. (Because how long has it been since we had much fun. And, of course, Ted WANTS us all to gamble.)

Also, we will finally get an IMPORTANT major sports event this week –the PGA Championship at Harding Park in S.F. with lots of the play in evening prime time. 

Who’s hot? 

Justin Thomas, who took a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka to the 72d hole at the St. Jude on Sunday, became the third-youngest player ever to get 13 PGA Tour wins. Who were the only 2 younger than Thomas at 27? Tiger at 23 and Jack at 25. Who were the 4th and 5th youngest to get to 13? Rory and Phil. 

Thomas saved par after a wild drive at the 72nd. Koepka, uncharacteristically, drove into the water –a terrible shot under pressure —and finished in a 4-way tie for 4th. The Sunday leaderboard showed lots of promise. Phil finished strongly to T-2 at -10. Rickie Fowler contended, then faded. Bryson DeChambeau still plays very well, and enormously long, every week. As you can tell, I’m ready for one of the year’s Big Events in ANY sport. This’ll help get you primed. 

If we ever needed EVEN MORE evidence of what total exploitation college football is of its amateur athletes, these two stories both reinforce the point. In one, an SEC official is quoted by the Post as saying, “There are going to be outbreaks. We’re going to have positive tests on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.” 

Sounds to me like they don’t give a damn either –just keep collecting the millions, but don’t give the players any of it. 

Also, some Pac-12 football players are getting fed up. About time –or decades PAST time. 

Finally, I loved that Gregg Popovich always finds a way to make an important point –and get people to think. 

Context: He’s the most vocal pro-BLM and anti-Trump voice in pro sports. He also went to the Air Force Academy and was an Air Force officer. Everybody gets to take their own stands in this country for their own reasons –perhaps our greatest strength. 

So, let’s roll!

Bos, Clearly a main driver behind playing is the financial aspects for the owners and players, and the Marlins outbreak only effected games in the East. But last week, the Cardinals had an outbreak, and that effected the Central teams. How many more teams need to have major outbreaks until MLB cancels the season?

I wrote about exactly this on Day Two of the season --how much will it ake, and how much SHOULD it take to cancel the MLB season. My conclusion was that if those who are running a sport start thinking, "GIven what we are seeing in our game, maybe we should cancel the season," then the correct course of action is to remove the word "maybe."

By that standard, we are very, very close, or perhaps already over that line. For me, we are either already there or just ONE more issue --then "bang it." But there is an institutional problem in the lifelong mindset of both owners and players. 

I wrote:

League bosses, who are not at risk, and athletes, who think they are invulnerable, are both going to be tempted — to keep playing chicken with the virus until it makes them stop.

As most of the world already knows, by then it is usually disastrously too late.

 

Bos, With no Nats games to watch this weekend, I caught portions of the O's v Rays series this weekend. While it was only one three game series, the Orioles looked like a professional team. Prior to the weekend, I would have been hard pressed to name one player on the team, besides Chris Davis and seeing a SS with a number 74 (Pat Valaika) and a 2nd basemen wearing 57 (Hanser Alberto) tells me the team did not expect either to be on the team. But they pitched well and played solid defense all weekend long. That should at least make them somewhat competitive this year.

The O's fans have put up with so much for so long that I feel bad for them and, the other days, went back to see which fan base had endured more losing seasons, and fewer seasons over .500 --the O's under Angelos or the Washington Football Team under Snyder.

Peter "won" the worse owner title!" Nicely done, sir. the bar was only 3" high, but you got underneath it.

Snyder: 6-12-3 (3 .500 seasons) since '99.

Peter A 4-12-1 since '98..   

In a global pandemic and a failing democracy, mass protests and the fastest recession in U.S. history, with a hurricane on the way?

It wouldn't be too bad if I could see with two eyes.

Or maybe what you are saying is that maybe everybody should just close BOTH eyes and hope it all goes away. (No, that isn't the way it works.)

My detached retina recovery is going as scheduled --unfortunately "as scheduled" is slow. As I've said, "Clear slighted by Labor Day." Typing with a patch over one eye gets eye-tiring (since that eye is still recovering from surgery, too) --even for something as much fun as the chat.

I just keep reminding myself of the tens of millions who are much worse off --with the virus, with it in their families, without jobs, etc. 

PS: As a REAL answer, I think there have been, all in all, just as many good subjects for columns since March 14th (when I fled spring training) as there usually are --just different kinds of columns. Which can be good.

COVID-19 is real, and dangerous, and too many baseball players have gotten the virus. But nothing seems to indicate that it is spread by playing the game. Is this more about clubhouse behavior and activity outside the ballpark? Anything MLB could do to address this and get us to the playoffs?

Right now, players, union and owners are playing a "blame game" with Rob Manfred saying, "The players need to do better." I regret to report that he has also said, "I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now."

Oh, yeah? There is a TON of reason to be very close to "quitting." Actually, sensible people wouldn't call it "quitting." They would frame it as "making the wisest decision for all concerned."

It's worth noting that MLB's union rejected a bubble concept quickly, in part because some star players (like Mike Trout) didn't want to be away from their families for several months --of course, that was when the union thought it might get a 90-to-110-game season, plus playoffs. If everybody had known they'd end up at 60 games days, plus playoffs, maybe they'd have reconsidered traveling all over the country during a pandemic.

MLB has a 113-page manual on pandemic procedures but everything about behavior AWAY from the club facility is vague or optional --just be smart, use common sense.

Now it's easy to say, "Oh, sure, THAT'LL work."

The NBA bubble has MUCH stricter rules, and fines. One NBA owner, Steve Balmer (former co-founder of Microsoft) said this a.m. on TV that owners could NOT get into the bubble, even with their own teams! There is an Onwers Bubble." Or as he put it, delicately, 'managing partners." It's a tip on the mentality of NBA owners vs owners in other sports that somebody like Balmer would back-track and correct himself on the concept of anybody "owning" players. I have NEVER heard an NFL or MLB owner make the distinction that, while he owns the franchise, he does not think of himself as owning the players.

Of course, COLLEGES --institutions of higher learning-- THEY clearly think that they OWN the athletes, and the health of those athletes who play on their teams.

I only have two wishes about The Long-Term Impact on Sports of the Pandemic. I want the Olympics --worldwide-- to die. I have always hated it --it has ALWAYS done far more damage than good. As soon as I went to my first one in '80, I thought, "THIS is even worse --more corrupt-- than I thought." I went to the U.S. gymnastics finals back then and wrote a column asking, "Is youth gymnastics, aimed at producing Olympians, really a form of child abuse?"

Wow, little did I know that it was, or would become, LITERALLY child sexual abuse. I meant physical, mental and psychological abuse.

My second wish: Everybody at the top of NCAA Football and Basketball, including the coaches, gets thrown out of a 4th story window. No nets. Just have their "student-athletes" waiting down on the sidewalk with the option to catch them --or not-- as a kind of referendum on whether they think they've been treated decently, or treated like meat.

Anything that blows up the Olympic movement and big-time college sports in the U.S. has an excellent chance to bring net-positive change. Because neither of them could become more corrupt and corrupting.

Tell me why there is even consideration of an amateur NCAA football season this fall? We have learned over the past few months that just because young people generally don't die from this disease, it doesn't mean that they might not have permanent lung or heart issues. Ask 27 year old Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez what he thinks 1 year or 10 years from now when he might need a heart transplant. At least he's a professional earning millions of dollars and decided to weigh the risks vs. the reward. Every single NCAA athlete should be given a redshirt season and the opportunity to take online classes from home like everyone else.

I agree.

It's my impression that college athletes CAN opt out of their sport this year and not lose any eligibility. (Correct me if I'm wrong, please.)

What are your thoughts on Joe Kelly’s eight-game suspension for supposedly THROWING AT (not actually hitting) at an Astro? Eight games is 13% of a 60-game season. Meanwhile, no Astros players were suspended for even a single game for their role in the cheating scandal. Also, why does Juan Soto have to miss two weeks of baseball while the Marlins were originally going to be playing games after only a couple of days?

I've got to admit that I didn't think anybody would throw at the Astros this season with the pandemic! I will keep my true thoughts on that to myself since I don't want to set a bad example for any 8-year-olds who may read chats.

But, what a shock, Alex Bregman was the one that got drilled.

We reveal ourselves in our preferences/choices. I know that a better person's most vivid, satisfying memory from October 2019 would be one of Howie Kendrick's two huge home runs. But I kbnow I got the biggest kick from Soto's "answering" home run to Bregman, then dropping the bat just before he got to first base. That's when I thought, "Now the Astros know they are in a battle. They never expected it. All the pressure is on them. Now "Take it Back" hangs over them. If Scherzer can just stagger though a few decent innings in Game 7, there really is a chance now that.."

But you never want to pretend that you know these things about the future --even to yourself. You just, at times, suddenly SUSPECT them strongly.  

As for length of suspensions, I have no sympathy when MLB "looks bad" on this. They should have known, and acted, much sooner on Astros cheating (and Red Sox Apple watch stuff, too.) They got boxed into "immunity for testimony" with the Astros so they could dig up the dirt. The Kelly suspension was probably an over-reaction to "no retaliation." They're stuck with the Bad Look --all part of secondary damage done by bad behavior.

Boz, I think he may be on his way to becoming the best defensive outfielder in baseball. He might have robbed that homer the other day if Bonifacio hadn’t knocked his glove. It’s easy to forget how young Victor is, given the Nats success with other, even younger prospects. His bat will determine how good he ends up being, but the Andrelton Simmons of outfielders would be just fine with me (if he doesn’t turn into a star at the plate).

I think he can, with time, learn to take even better routes. I realize this puts me in the minority --there's lots of raving about how he tracks the ball. He's great at tracking at full speed and adjusting. But his first step quickness and instant perfect angle jump are not nearly the equal yet of Paul Blair whom I covered with the O's in '76-'77, just after his 8th and last GG in CF. I NEVER looked up in the press box fast enough to see his first movement --he was already in motion. I frequently glimpse Robles' first step.

Robles is wonderful. I can't wait to see the finished product. I think, in time, he will hit and maybe hit plenty. His offensive ceiling is  higher than some of the many-time GG CFers, like Kevin Kiermaier (3 GG), Blair and Curt Flood and Jim Edmonds who were fine offensive players.

What's amazing is that some of the greatest hitters EVER were also among the greatest hitters ever --Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Tris Speaker. Speaker, The Gray Eagle, played the shallowest CF ever --some say by far the shallowest-- and hit .345 with 3,514 hits. Speaker played so shallow that he often snagged low liners and ran to second base to complete unassisted double plays. He holds the MLB record for assists, double plays and unassisted DPs by an OF. His glove was "the place where triples go to die" before they said the same thing about (many) other CFers.

Speaker may be the most forgotten immortal of all. Bar bet: You can't come within 100 of Speaker's career total for assists by a CFer. Ans: 450!!! In 10 years, Mike Trout has 37. Yes, different era. (But same sport!). Spealer had 146 double plays from CF. Trout has 10. And Speaker's last nine years were in the Lively Ball Era when tha ball went further. Speaker's career WAR was 134.2 --6th all-time by position players, just behind Aaron and ahead of SS Honus Wagner.   

I saw plenty of Mantle --his bad legs limited him in comparison with those. I always wondered how great DiMaggio was in CF --really. Wonderful, I'm sure. I had a long interview with him once --about 90 minutes-- and one of the things I couldn't find a proper way to say, or maybe long ago didn't have the guts to ask, was, "I saw many years of Mays, but none of you. How close were you to being THAT good in CF?" 

Somehow, despite 10 GGs, 434 homers, 62.7 WAR, Andruw Jones doesn't get his due --at least in my book.  

Boz, I am just appalled by the idea that colleges are going to try to play football this fall. If it goes forward, many unpaid student athletes are going to get sick, some probably severely and maybe one or more will die. It’s one thing for pros to play: they can decide whether the risk they’re being asked to take is worth the money they’re getting paid. Reasonable minds can differ about what to decide, and plenty have decided it’s not worth it. College athletes are both young and unpaid. Adults should be looking after their interests, not encouraging them to risk their health so that other people can get paid. The Post should name and shame any person who advocates for college sports to play in the fall. Anyone who does so advocate is both stupid and an a$$hole, and should have to wear it for the rest of their lives. I am appalled. How can this happen?

I agree with almost all of that.

You folks are making it too easy for me this a.m.

College athletics, even the biggest, doesn't operate with the same kind of economic cushion as a pro sport like the NFL or MLB where the owners have personal fortunes of $1B or several billion and, much as they hate it, can absorb one-time-only natural-catastrophe loses.

 

So now that the MLB is going down the tubes,why are the players NOT wearing masks?giving high fives? standing next to each other in the dugout? They are doing everything they are NOT suppose to do in plainsight.You just wonder what goes on after and before the game? What's the commish doing? Anything? Thanks,Chet

It is amazing to watch so many of them NOT follow masking and social distancing norms that everybody in society knows and which, increasingly, even the most selfish citizens are now more likely to follow for the sake of others.

They're going to high-five, laugh and rub shoulders until they end up with 5-to-10% of their full-season pay, rather than 37% --about $1.4-million-a-player-- if they'd made it 60 games.

I’m thinking I like the rule - but then we won in 10. What do you think?

I'm working up a column on that soon. I think I mentioned last week in the chat that I'm stunned at my initial reaction __I like it A LOT, as long as you only use it in regular season, move the rule to the 11th inning next year and play by the traditional rules in post-season.

I might even go so far as to say it would be better just to keep the 10-inning run =-and forget my 11th inning preference-- than go back to the old play-forever rules.

I always knew that, as a fan, I wasn't keen on extra-innings. Now I think I probably really disliked them all those years. Except in October when the tension makes them special.

Last year the Nationals did their "baby shark" thing when they reached base - a baby shark for a single, a Mommy shark for a double, a Daddy shark for a triple. What are they doing this year? It looks like they are playing an instrument or something. Do you know?

Tom, if the 2020 season is cut short due to COVID, how will statistics be handled? Will they be added to lifetime records or treated like games played to date were simply exhibition games with nothing counted?

I assume added to lifetime records. Why not? Tons of career stats include years when a player only got into a few games. 

Virus-willing, we are in for an amazing stretch of golf. Would love to hear some predictions for you about the next 11 months - Major winners, who will be ranked #1 after the 2021 FedEx Cup, and so on. Thanks as always for doing these chats, Boz!

Right now, Bryson DeChambeau is the longest hitting and perhaps most talked-about player on Tour, in part because he has invented his own swing theory. I've always been interested in him since he arrived and paid attention to him in big events. He's got a temper, which he usually hides, and isn't quite as composed under pressure as he needs to be. He's an excellent putter, too. His one obvious weakness is distance-control on his wedges. Since he turns every hole into a drive-and-a-wedge this is a big problem. His wedge shots, while adequate, are often the same distance from the hole as players who are 224-to-50 yards behind him off the tee. Distance control is a separate gift --a kind of radar. Sure, part if infinite practice. But players say that it is more than that. Long ago, when Johnny Miller was in his prime and won the U.S. Open, he hit his irons magically close to the hole, time after time. Then, one winter, he chopped a LOT of wood on his property, clearing trees, and bulked up somewhat. What changed --and no one has ever been able to explain why except that "he changed his body"-- was that he lost the magic in his accuracy with irons. He became "normal." And was never dominant again. When a key part of your game which "separates" you --in any sport-- is special "touch," be careful how much you change your training and, thus, your body.   

Instead of piping in fake crowd sounds into sporting events, which I don’t think is doing anything for anyone, why not play music during the games? Let the home team choose the music and create their own playlist based on what the players and coaches choose, and play it through the course of the game. With the fans gone from the stands, that would become the home team advantage. Also, it would be fun for the players and the fans.

I hope I haven't mentioned this before, but this summer I stumbled on a rock band which would bring energy anywhere --the Sonics. Yes, I'm very late to this party. Formed in '60, the finished product by '64-'65, never really "discovered" disbanded for many years, rediscovered, still playing just as well in 2015 with several of the original members. They're often noted as a major influence --10 years ahead of their time-- on all of garage and punk rock, including lots of praise from Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Springsteen and new groups up to the present. Here's a show from 2015 in Seattle with people from far better known bands just coming on stage, saying what an honor it is to play with the Sonics, including Eddie Vedder. It's just classic driving rock-n'-roll. But if the pandemic's got you down, this might get you back up for a little while.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V77keHu3Gj8

See everybody next week --Monday at 11 a.m. Stay well.

 

 

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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