Saturday, October 24, 2009
Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood--The Final Chapter
Whether this particular player is available and willing to play for Our Washington Nationals in 2010, Phil Wood believes this sure fire Hall Of Famer would be an asset to D.C. Baseball--whether he's near the very end of his stellar career or not. As we conclude Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood, the Washington Baseball Historian and MASN Broadcaster and I pick up our conversation talking about John Smoltz and a few other moves Phil believes Washington needs to seriously look into this off-season. Then, like chats always do--we get off on a tangent and Phil made some points about media coverage and the response that receives among fans in the greater Washington area.
With that here is Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood--The Final Chapter
So how creative does Mike Rizzo have to be if Washington isn’t going to be spending a ton of money on free agency? (SBF)
“That’s what 2nd Division Club need to do—be creative. The number of free agent pitchers out there will be about 20—who are veterans with some degree of success. Well, you are going to have to overpay for some to come in—whether it is John Lackey or whomever else. I did a piece the other day after watching John Smoltz pitch for The Cardinals in the National League Division Series. And after talking to John a handful of times over the years, he is really, really smart. He is really a smart guy. There is no question in my mind that if you brought him in (to Washington) as your 6th starter—almost as a swing man—just for the impact he could have, even on the local media—would be tremendous. He gets it. He really gets it. He gets (pitching) almost as if he wrote it. They (Washington) talked to him last year but he wanted to go to a contender. And obviously, if The Cardinals want him back—it’s a moot point. But of all the guys out there—just in terms of what they bring to the table intellectually—he is number one. And he is 43 and I am aware of that.”
You read a lot online where people say The Nationals should have signed Randy Wolfe. The Nationals should have signed Orlando Hudson. Whether Washington offered them a contract or not—I wonder whether they WOULD have come here in the first place—not being a contender? (SBF)
“I think Hudson would have come here. The Nationals had him take a physical. (Hudson says that didn’t happen—SBF). Well the thing is that he didn’t take a physical with The Nationals. They got the results of another physical. That’s the difference and there was something in that report they didn’t like. But the point is that Hudson is available again. Isn’t it interesting that Ronnie Belliard goes out there (to Los Angeles) and takes his job away? But to be clear, if Guzman is going to play 2nd Base, I don’t think you bother with Hudson. I think he is going to be pricey and other clubs are going to be interested in him.”
Catching wise—if Jesus Flores is not healthy. Is there really anyone out there that Mike Rizzo can go after? (SBF)
“The only way you are going to find someone is in a trade. I don’t think you are going to find anyone that is going to be a free agent that is worthy of spending the money on. There is always the feeling that you can find a backup catcher and that some team might throw you one in a deal. No one really comes to mind and there are certain guys that I like, but they are all right-handed hitters. And I want to see a left-handed hitting catcher here.”
Is Brian Schneider in your mix? (SBF)
“It’s been a limited sample watching him (of late), so I don’t have any real feeling about him.”
Up the middle, if Washington is unsure about Ian Desmond. If J.J. Hardy is not available in trade, what should they do? (SBF)
“Unless you can actually get a guy that has actually done the job (play shortstop) in the Major Leagues for a couple of seasons—and since you are coming off 103 loss—let’s see if Desmond can do it. You are not looking to contend. You’ve seen he can swing the bat. Offensively, a scout I was with yesterday said: ‘that kid can hit. You have to respect the way he plays. He puts the ball in play.’ That home run he hit into the Red Porch Seats (in his first MLB Game) was a bomb. He’s got some power. It’s really a matter of sitting down with your people and saying: ‘Do we give him the job with no real resume?’ And if push comes to shove—we will move Guzman back and get by for the rest of the season.”
“It’s one of those things where in some point in time you are going to have to find out whether he can play. And you can’t just say this is what he did in September and go yeah or nay on that. Look, they have the luxury of coming off 103 losses. If you were coming off of 75 losses, it would be a different story.”
Winter Meetings are coming, is Washington opportunistic shoppers or players? (SBF)
“When we see who gets non-tendered (right before the Winter Meetings) and who gets dropped off the Major League Roster and who is going to be available as a Rule V guy—that’s when you can figure out if The Winter Meeting offers opportunity. The past two years, most of the trades that have been made are completed after the Winter Meetings. You troll out there at the Winter Meetings, see what you snag and, hopefully, in the next 30-days before spring training starts, get a match-up on some package of players or individual player—whatever.”
And it's at this point in our conversation where Phil and I got off on that tangent discussing coverage of Our Washington Nationals and their Fan Base.
Where do you think this franchise stands right now? (SBF)
“Understand, there are only 30 teams in baseball and only eight of them get to the post-season. Some teams start from scratch. That is exactly what The Nationals did when the club moved here. In ’05, I thought they played over their heads. The fact they were 51-31 at the halfway point was amazing. I give a lot of that credit to Frank Robinson. And I give a lot of credit to the fans who showed up in huge numbers that year. But I don’t think anyone really paying attention right now can honestly say: ‘Oh, there is no hope.’
Now there is a guy that writes for MLB.com, not in Washington and it’s not Bill Ladson. It’s another guy. But let me say this, MLB.com has some terrific baseball writers and they have some awful ones too. And this is one of the awful ones. At one point he was sitting next to me at a game and he said: ‘Nationals are the worst team I have EVER seen!’ And I said: ‘You haven’t seen many teams then I guess.’ Now this conversation was during the first half of the season. ‘Well, they are just awful.’ (the MLB.com reporter) So I ask this guy how many times he has seen The Nationals? ‘This is the 3rd time I have seen them.’ Well, you know, that is kind of a small sample size. So I said to him: ‘you know, your team is not much better.’ He responds: ‘they are going to end up well ahead of The Nationals.’ They did, but not by much. And there certainly was a point after that eight game winning streak where The Nationals were a threat to pass them.”
(Shaking his head back and forth) “If you are an intelligent baseball fan and you are not just a fantasy guy. If you look at the game and read all you can read about it and you talk to a lot of people inside the game that say quasi-complimentary things about The Nationals--or raving about some prospects they have, or raving about Rizzo. Anyone who spends time with Mark Lerner (Nationals Principal Owner) would not have that impression. But this is the issue, the casual fan will sit back and throw out so and so has lost the clubhouse. Or, there is a culture of losing that has to end. It isn’t like that at all (in Washington). That’s not to say there have been clubs that weren’t like that. But it’s not with this club and with these people in charge of it. The perception is wrong.”
“People who complain about The Nationals, I always bring up The Mets. In their first five years (after expansion in 1962), they averaged 108 losses per year. Of course, in their 7th season they were World Champion. This game has such a degree of difficulty that transcends every other team sport—even though on the surface it all seems so simple. There used to be a sportscaster in Baltimore that used to say it’s a simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball and you hit the ball. Well, if it was that simple, we all would be doing it. This is a remarkably difficult sport and to put the pieces together to get you to a championship is not easy. Even if you’ve got $200 Million dollars to spend like The Yankees do every year, or even $100 Million—it does not guarantee that you are going to win. It comes to showing patience. And as a fan, if in the back of your mind you say when they start to win—I will buy a ticket—well what kind of a fan are you? Let’s not define what a frontrunner is.”
“I am old. I grew up with a bad baseball team (The Senators) and a bad football team (The Redskins), but it didn’t make me any less of a fan. Now, certainly there have been disappointing losses. But I don’t think I have ever gone to the ballpark where I thought: ‘now that was a waste of time.’ I find the game today remarkably entertaining night after night after night.”
“But my point here (in a roundabout way) is that if you are going to cover baseball and do it competently, I think you have to immerse yourself into the game. And if you don’t have any passion for it, then why are you doing it? Do something else. When I see young broadcasters and young prospective baseball writers and they go and sit with each other (it bothers me). It’s just the idea that they are just not interested (in the sport). It’s like: ‘I know the object of the game. I think I know what I am doing here, but don’t get me bothered about other stuff, that might make me change my mind about it.' (better understanding the nuances of the game). The stuff I knew about baseball 25 years ago--I don’t think about anymore. The stuff I thought I knew? I was blind back then and I watch the game much differently now.”
“And while I would never be competent enough—no way, in no way—to be a scout, I have a perspective from those guys that I know what they are talking about now (because Phil keeps in touch with them). I am seeing the things they are seeing before they have to tell me. It always amazes me that there are writers that don’t want to embrace the game more than what they think (wrongly) is all there is.”
“It’s easy for me to be upbeat about The Nationals because I went through The Senators experience when there was no hope. The fact that this year’s club did not lose 107 games means the ’63 Senators were still the worst team of my lifetime (56-106). And you could look at that club in 1963 and look at The Senators Farm System then and know there was no hope back then. There was no hope. They did not grow their own particularly well. They spent no money on scouting to speak of. They scouted amateur players out of college yearbooks, I think (only half joking). That is not something they handled well back then. They made the big trade with The Dodgers (for Frank Howard). Without that trade, that club would have never finished over .500. Without Ted Williams they would have never finished above .500. That was a franchise owner’s owned just to say they fielded a club. That was the Expansion Senators. That was hopeless baseball."
“Here, now, you see what is going on. You see what is going on in the Farm System. You see what money is being spent on player development. And you can see a light down there. It’s not a mile away. It may be 10 miles away—if a mile is six months—it’s going to take a few more years. But having been through the experience with The Senators, this is nothing like that. This is nothing like that. So, if you just want to look at wins and losses—that’s fine if you are happy doing that. If you really like the game, look beyond that and realize what else is going on. See what is going on in other markets like in Pittsburgh or Kansas City? The Pirates have had 17 straight years under .500. But over that same 17-year span The Royals have lost more games.”
Stan Kasten always has stated again and again: “We will get the attendance we deserve.” (SBF)
“He is right.”
But has some of the bitterness from the media and the fans affected what the team has tried to accomplish? (SBF)
“It probably has, but this year I think the economy had a lot to do with it. An out of town writer recently wrote about The Nationals ‘dwindling’ attendance. ‘Dwindling’ to me would indicate you were rock-bottom and you weren’t drawing flies. Well, The Nationals outdrew six other clubs with that many losses and that horrible first half. My challenge to those people who write that stuff and post that stuff online is go to a game—walk up and down the aisles—and tell those people they are not having a good time. Tell them how stupid they are? They shouldn’t be there because they can’t possibly be having a good time watching a losing team? This year you had 10 times where Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn homered in the same game. My daughter and her friend loved that and I am sure many other fans did as well.”
"In terms of bang for the bucks—baseball is still the most affordable. Both my girls love the $5 seats. They love that section. They love the view of The Capitol and the view of the scoreboard. And I understand there is a lot of deals this coming season for Season Ticket Holders (Red Carpet Benefits). That’s great—that’s responding to the market. That’s saying: ‘we know the last couple of years have not been what you wanted to see. We are a work in progress and we appreciate your support.' Those things are wonderful.”
How about with The Nationals? (SBF)
“Do I think The Nationals could do more? I've spoken with several club employees who feel the same way. I think there are still too many people who don’t embrace the sport as much as they embrace their job. And those people need to have the riot act read to them or find something else to do. If you don’t love the sport? If you don’t embrace the sport? Then how can you do the best possible job?
Does the negativity hurt the chances for players to come here? Or, are we past that? (SBF)
“I think we are past that. Zimmerman has made a good case for himself in baseball. He knows everyone now in the game. Adam Dunn too. In fact, George Sherill (one time Oriole, now Dodger) told me when the Dodgers were in town—that Ronnie Belliard told a lot of people what a good time he had playing here. What a great town it was and there was a lot to do. So, when you have a lot of players who have been here and gone elsewhere and say: ‘it was terrific!’ that goes much further than some disgruntled fan on an internet bulletin board. The people who play the game that have to come here to live—you are hard pressed to find any player that will say anything bad about their experience. They might say something bad about Jim Bowden, but not about the market.”
With that final answer--Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood concluded. Phil will be heading to Indianapolis this December to cover the 2009 Winter Meetings. As we were leaving the restaurant in Arlington, Virginia this past week--he shared this funny story about running into another Hall Of Famer at The Winter Meetings--23 years ago.
“At the Winter Meetings in Hollywood, Florida in December of ’86, I am walking down a hallway that meets another hallway (running in a different direction). And as I get down to the intersection, I walk right into Ted Williams. We bump together. We each take a few steps back. I was like: ‘hi, hi, hi, hi, hi…..!’. (not knowing what to say)."
"As for Ted Williams-- he just kept going."
PS--Phil is also of the belief that Washington should sport a pinstripe uniform—whether it be with red trim or blue trim—without the gold. And he agrees with me that the Away Uniform needs to sport a Red Curly “W” on the blue cap to match the Red Curly “W” on the script uniform front.
PPS--And Phil also believes Major League Baseball should return to The Balanced Schedule:
“This year if the playoffs meant the top four teams with the best records would go, then no team from the AL Central would have made it at all. So, it’s going to be frustrating because The Yankees & Red Sox situation is not likely to change. They are always going to have more money to spend. And they will spend it. I think if you cut down on the number of games the other clubs in the American League East have to play against The Yankees and Red Sox and you spread the wealth a little bit—if you are a team in the central or west and you know the Yankees are going to be better than you when they come to your town—they are going to sell more tickets. So, it almost becomes a financial incentive. And I am also of the belief that as long as baseball is committed to inter-league play, they should have never had a 14 team league and a 16 team league. They should have had two 15 team leagues and played inter-league series everyday. I also think they should try to compress the schedule a little bit. You can still play 162 games, but schedule a few day/night doubleheaders because you need to avoid playing baseball in November. And what is going to happen in a few years if Colorado and Minnesota make it to The World Series? It’s going to be brutal.”
“If baseball is not going to realign, then one very small step would be going back to a balanced schedule. People will then complain that teams will end up playing more games with teams outside your division—well that is the way it goes. They (MLB) did it that way for years and nobody died.”
Many thanks to Phil Wood for again getting together and chatting about Our Washington Nationals.