Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Nov 09, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

I intend to grin all morning, and all day. 

Within a week, two of the most important positive events, for America and the world (as well as me and my family) have happened. Trump has been defeated. Right now, 74 million American voters understand how huge that is to a functioning democracy and for the country's future. Over the next 4-to-20 years, I hope half of the 70 million people who voted for Trump understand what a grim mistake they made with their vote and grasp that a psychopath really shouldn't be POTUS, even if you enjoy hearing him insult the people that you don't like. That's a much worse trade --preferring a deranged, evil incompetent man as President for the sake of his "owning the libs" on Twitter-- than Broglio for Brock or Pappas for Frank Robinson. 

A lot of "salvageable" Trumpers need to think hard about the trade they made when they voter: Gimme the evil, crazy incompetent guy because he (pretends) to hate or dislike everything I hate or dislike. Also, this a.m., Pfizer has probably found not only an effective vaccine for Covid-19 but an incredibly high-efficiency vaccine --above 90% effective in trials so far. I'm sure everybody is already hearing/reading tons about this, but a "good" flu vaccine is effective in keeping 60 percent of the people who take it from getting the flu. 

But in the rare cases when a vaccine has >90% efficacy, you can permanently eradicate the disease/virus. For example: Measles vaccines were 97% effective, smallpox 95% and Chicken Pox 92%. When I was a kid, we took shots for ALL of those. Now, all of them are non-existent (or close to it). IN X months (make your own guess, I'll go with six months) we'll get something resembling "normal life" back again. 

And, of course, as a side benefit, we'll also get back our normal sports world. Maybe by Opening Day at Nats Park? Maybe that's a little optimistic. But, at least this a.m., that seems like the time frame.

Glad to see you're back. Where can I buy stock in Drew Brees?

Glad to BE back.Eyes, after three surgeries in recent months, are much better. I haven't had to use a magnifying glass once yet this a.m.! Progress! Actually, a lot of it. I'm driving again --so you know the eyes must be pretty good. But you might not want to get too close to me.

The time to buy stock in Drew was about 20 years ago!

It's amazing that, in the NFL, old smart proven QBs can go on FOREVER as long as they can stand upright, take a hit and move in the pocket as well as the average 60-year-old person. There are fewer than 20 people on the planet who have the skill set to master NFL QB. It takes an almost infinite list of physical and mental qualities --some freakish, like Speed of Decision Making and the eternal mystery of "Seeing the Field." But if you are one of them --and you k now you are one of them-- it is hard, perhaps almost impossible to quit. You KNOW, "I am one of the ~20 who can do this. Retire? NO WAY." 

Which brings us to Alex Smith.

He has been one of those 20 for many years. No, he's usually not been in the Top 10 (in my book). But he is a quality QB. So, he's known since the day he was hurt that --if he could just get back on the field-- he could still have days like Sunday when he completes 70% of his passes for 320 yards and almost pulls off a fine comeback.

I hate watching Smith play --I cringe, constantly. But my feelings are irrelevant. He wants to play. Teams with serious defenses, and big pass rushes, are probably going to make him look overwhelmed --not as bad as he looked when he was rusty vs the Rams, but bad. However, Rivera knows that Smith gives him --by far-- the bestchance to win the next few games and have a little fun contending in the NFC East. Why does that matter? Because it is a LOT easier for a coach to create a winning culture when you are PLAYING FOR SOMETHING --even if it is a 6-10 year and a fluke flag-- that it is to build that culture when you are headed to 4-12 and nothing means anything --no matter how often you tell your players that you are "building for the future" and that each individual is "mastering his craft."

Playing "meaningful games" takes care of a ton of motivation. And it helps with Culture Building --especially with the pathetic WFT with the Culture From Hell.

I'm afraid Dwayne Haskins is stuck on the bench as long as Smith stays healthy or until the record is something like 3-9 and you say, "What the heck, let Haskins play the last quarter of the season and see how much he has learned."

It is clear that Rivera has SERIOUS doubts about Haskins' work ethic. Tht does NOT mean that Rivera is correct. Maybe he just doesn't see Haskins clearly. But some of Ron's quotes already today show that he just doesn't think Haskins prepares like a pro yet and that he should sit and watch Smith, who DEFINES proper preparation.

That's also an excellent message to send to the whole team.

Rivera's decision about Smith vs Haskins is about a lot more than just who plays QB. It is about: What Do We Mean By Team Culture.

Right or wrong --and viewing from the outside I'll assume Rivera is correct-- that means you keep playing Smith and watch for any and all signs that Haskins is getting the message on the balance in the NFL between talent-and-drudgery. 

Good Morning A couple of quick ones; when is MLB going to make the decision about the DH in the National L,eague? Seems like that is a pretty big part of building your roster. Also don’t you think it makes sense to make a hard run at Realmuto? He can catch, play first and DH.

Inside MLB, I think it is as close to a "given" that the DH WILL BE in both leagues in '21 as anything can ever be assumed before it actually happens.

That STRENGTHENS the connection between the Nats and a possible Realmuto signing. The Nats let Suzuki go, but have Yan Gomes under contract for '21 --which is the PERFECT situation (imo) for BOTH Realmuto and Gomes.

Realmuto doesn't know exactly how many games he can catch and how many he can be a DH. Gomes is not only a Realmuto security blanket --allowing him to take necessary days off with a clear conscience-- but Gomes is also a secutity blanket for the Nats in offering Realmuto a big "market value" contract. The Nat can, imo, assume that --worst case-- Realmuto has to DH a lot, but his hitting is worth PLENTY. 

IMO, the Nats have the budget space to add Realmuto (if they can get him), an outfielder (like Michael Brantley), a starting pitcher to replace A Sanchez and probably a fourth FA, too. They dropped a TON of salaries when they didn't pick up Sanchez, Eaton, Suzuki, Thames, MTaylor and others. Baseball-Reference places their current value of guaranteed contracts at only $121M for '21. Last year, their payroll was around $200M. And the luxury tax ceiling is higher than that.

So, if thelerner's feel financially secure enough --with the pandemic presumably coming to an end-- there is no reason the Nats cannot be VERY aggressive in free agency and view '21 as a Window Wide Open year to be one of the top half-dozen teams in MLB --IOW, one of hte ones that has a real serious chance.

How will Strasburg bounce back from surgery? How will Max age? There are always a dozen big questions. But the overall picture is that the Nats have a powerful core of big talent and that the current free agent market has an abundance of players who fit their needs.

Also, a LOT of teams are going to be pinched in the pocket after a brutal '20 aand will  CHOOSE not to spend this winter.

Tom, given Rizzo's emphasis on character in those he looks to add to the team, do you think he would consider going after Springer? I really hope not and I have to say that if they did sign him, I wouldn't be going to any Nats games in the future. Guess I'm just looking for reassurance that I don't have to worry about cheatin' George.

Rizzo HATES the Astros. I've never seen an MLB exec as totally pissed off at another team as Rizzo was in spring training in February when the Astros cheating scandal broke --only about 200 yards away from the Nats clubhouse on the other side of their West Palm Beach complex.

I do not want to see ANY of the Astros from their cheating teams on the Nats. I'm OK with Brantley because he didn't join the Astros until '19. The rest --the heck with 'em. Build a team without 'em. Character matters.

RIGHT NOW, we are seeing which franchises will take that position. Shame on the Tigers for hiring A.J. Hinch as their next manager just 9 months after he had to do an apology tour. I'm pretty sure A.J. was sincerely sorry --AFTER he got caught, AFTER he had time to see how much damage it did, AFTER he had time to think about it after the whole world smacked him in the head and AFTER he realized that he better see things differently if he wanted to be welcome in MLB society.

But HIRE him to manage ANOTHER team --the NEXT year?

The Red Sox hiring Alex Cora to come back and be their manager is even worse. Hinch has claimed, and it may be true, that he made some lame attempts to stop the cheating. A.J. may have assaulted the Bad Trash Can a couple of times as his way of saying, "Cut it out." Sorry, not good enough.

But CORA was right at the center of the cheating, banging and sign relaying when he was an Astros coach. Then there were official MLB findings that gave him another bruise when he was manager in '18 of the champion Red Sox.  

My thoughts on this from spring still apply --especially my view that MLB has had an "integrity probelm" for the last 40 years which has shown itself in many ways and has only gotten worse. The quick re-hirings of Himch and Cora are just another example of a sport that has lost its ethical bearings, or doesn't have a commissioner with a backbone. 

Here's the broad column on MLB's Integrity Problem.

And he's my other column from January on the damage that the Astros cheating has done to baseball. If you have time, read this one, then adda footnote: Hinch and Cora were both hired as MLB managers immediately after the '20 season.

Shabby, shabby, shabby.   .


I'm sure you'll be happy to answer a brand-new question - What does the WFT do with Mr Haskins now???

I wish I knew --first-hand-- how many of the knocks on Haskins are valid. In normal times, a beat writer --not so much a columnist-- would have daily contacts with players (one-on-one) in the locker room as well as a chance to watch practices. Now, because of Covid, access is so pathetic as to be unrecognizable to sports journalists. It's necessary. But it makes it very easy for teams to give their versions of events and people while reporters have a much tougher time finding out --from multiple sources-- if there is a valid "other side."\

The WFT, especially Rivera, have certainly made it clear, multiple times, that they don't think that Haskins prepares to do his job at an NFL level of professionalism. I don't see any other way you can interpret all the blunt quotes. That big "knock" is going to haunt Haskins if he's ever trying to be a QB for another franchise. There's something about it that I don't like even tough I'm willing to assume that Rivera, a veteran respected coach, thinks he has a Haskins Work Ethic issue.

Whenever a WFT player or coach has his reputation damaged --over the last 20 years-- my operating assumption has been that there's a pretty good chance that the team has smeared him to put itself in a better light or justify a decision. This time, I am NOT applying that assumption because of Rivera's strong reputation.

When we post our WFT story today, you'll see another bunch of Rivera quotes on Haskins, all along the same lines --or look on the tweet thread right now of our WFT beat writer Nicki Jhabvala. Clearly, Rivera much prefers to play Smith who makes quick decisions, was very accurate (until the last two picks) and obviously can read defenses, and get out of bad plays, as well as anybody. He can't throw the long ball as well as Haskins, or ignore a hit in the pocket as well, or rip away from tacklers to buy extra time as well. They're both about the same at being able to flush out of the pocket under pressure and "reset" the pocket --decent, but not special, like so many current NFL QB escape artists.

The WFT team right now has three QBs, none of whom have "Future QB" written on them in any way. Looks like they blew the first-round pick on Haskins --seems like he'd have been more appropriate as a third-round project pick if he was still on the board. Allen is a hard worker, but looks like a journeyman. Mobility and hanging tough in the pocket were always strengths for Smith. NOw, post-17-surgeries; he has much less mobility and flushes out of the pocket faster. (If I'd been through 1/10th of what he's endured to make his comeback, I'd "get outta Dodge" when the 300-pounders arrive a lot faster, too.)   

Looks like Notre Dame's fans aren't any smarter than their University President, who got COVID going to the White House this fall. Now 10000 students are in danger of bringing home the virus at Thanksgiving. Is this so called "university" really this dumb?

Thank God for Pfizer, and others like Moderna, who may be close to vaccines that can be mass produced by early '21 for health-care providers and the elderly. Then, according to Pfizer, 1.3 BILLION doses produced in '21. It's good because with all these super spreader events we're probably going to go through hell for the next 2-3 months.

Over a lifetime, it's incredible, and sometimes demoralizing, to realize how much your basic assumptions change. For example, if you asked me a year ago how many people there were in America who would be too stupid, too selfish or too brainwashed to WEAR a MASK during a pandemic, I'd have said, "Not many. You'd have to be a moron." 

Now, the answer appears to be: Tens of millions, including a large percentage of people under 35 --regardless of their politics-- if they are having a good time.

As I said, this is a day for huge grins and happiness. I've "leaked" a few tears from joy more in the last week than I have in years. So, try to discount my Going To Hell In A Hand Basket answers, at least to some degree.

Sometimes you just need to remember that joy is (almost) always available. So, here is slide-guitar master Johnny Winter in '07 playing Dylan's "Highway 61" as the next generation's slide master, Derek Trunks, "looking over his shoulder" joins in.  joins him  If this doesn't make you pat your foot (or dance), I give up.

BTW, the first verse of this song could be a model for great "lede" writing in journalism.

It shocks, rivets, the reader/listener instantly. "God said to Abraham kill me a son." You have introduced Biblical characters, but "kill me a son" is casual, almost cruel and not as all the normal reverential Biblical tone. That took EIGHT words.

"Abe said, 'Man, you must be puttin' me on.'" I spent 10 years in "Sunday School" at St. Marks Episcopal Church in DC and seven years in an Episcopal school where Sacred Studies was a course every semester. Every time the subject of Abraham being asked to "sacrifice" the life of a son to God came up, my reaction, "Man, you must be puttin' me on." Dylan nails that.

"God said, 'No.' Abe said, "WHAT!!!???"

That's perfect --and we are now at just 21 words. 

Then philosophy is introduced:

"God said, "You can do what you want, Abe (free will) but the next time you see me comin' you better run." (Divine wrath.Power of authority to demand acts of sacrifice or murder that seem insane but are frequently obeyed.)

Pause for a slide guitar riff. Abe is thinking. It takes him about two seconds.

"Abe says, 'Where you want this killin' done?':"

God, authority, fear get Abe to kill his son and even ask, 'Where do you want me to do it?"

By now, we've introduced the Problem of Evil and well as, "Why do bad things happen to good people" and "Why should God be forgiven for creating a world with so much suffering and eventual death? Why are WE always on trial? Why aren't we interrogating God?"

In fewer than 60 words, Dylan has you laughing and thinking. He's using 'all available language' --"Man, you must be puttin' me on"-- to jar the reader into thinking, "ANYTHING could happen next. The writer/lyricist has broken the 'third wall' and speaking straight TO me."

As usual with Dylan, he's not going to give you any answers. He's just going to unsettle you, challenge you. They don't give you the Nobel Prize for Literature for handing our fortune cookie answers.

"God said, 'Out on Highway 61.'"

That's Highway 61 in the Mississippi Delta ==home of the Delta blues-- where Robert Johnson supposedly met the Devil at Midnight and sold his soul for the knowledge of how to use the neck of a broken soda bottle to play slide guitar. 

So, Dylan has God telling Abraham to kill his son, for no specified reason, at the same spot where --in the tradition of a slide guitar blues song like "HIghway 61"-- the Devil waits to steal your soul.

BTW, that intersection of Highway 61 --I made my wife go with me-- is the most desolate, flat, empty farm land.

You can't "grab the reader/listener" much better than the start of this song.

Why bring this up in a sport chat? Because it's really a discussion of critical thinking and "close reading,." We could use more of both --in particular because both are difficult.

If the Tampa Bay Rays had used better criticval thinking, and done a proper close reading of the true "state of play" in Game Six of the World Series, they would never have yanked Blake Snell after 73 pitches.

And we'd all have gotten to enjoy a Game Seven.


Tom, I'm looking forward to the Masters more than ever this year. But what I'm not looking forward to is the inevitable TV commentary about DeChambeau's "mad genius" or "physics major" stuff... it's all ridiculous. What has he really contributed to the game that is unique? That if you can bomb it 350 yards and then use a wedge to get close to the pin, that's an advantage? Oh, thanks. Didn't know that before. I will be watching, but cringing every time the commentators go on about his "unique" approach to the game.

I understand your feeling. BUT hs approach really IS unique.

Maybe this column will help you understand why so many are so interested.

On the other hand, he's far from unbeatable. His distance control on his wedges is notoriously poor for a top player, his putting can be spectacular or quite shaky and he can lose his composure at times or just feel pressure.

But he'll make this a fun Masters.

Gotta go now. Thanks for your time. Next week, I promise no politics, no slide guitar and no exegesis of lyrics. Sometimes, I just gotta misbehave.

Cheers on a day when the sun is truly shining.

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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