Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Conversation With Barry Svrluga (Part Two)

The gained knowledge and experience of spending day after day following just one team--is what makes chatting with Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post special. He is familiar with the ebb and flow of Our Washington Nationals. And as we pick up with Part Two of My Conversation--Barry and I are discussing the bonding of teammates, both on and off the field--and whether that adds to victories in the win column.

Here with go:

(Team President) Stan Kasten once told me that chemistry means nothing, as long as you have good players. How do you feel about that? (SBF)

“I think he is right to a certain extent. If you win, chemistry takes care of itself. And if you have good players, you generally win. We have seen a chemistry transformation in this clubhouse in a two-week period, because they are not 5-15 anymore. Some people have started committing themselves more, because things were getting out of hand. But this is not basketball, where your chemistry involves reading a guys tendency of how he might cut on a certain play. This is not football, where there is a big timing thing involving two different people. Of all the team games, baseball is the most reliant on individual performance. So, chemistry in baseball is a little bit different than other sports.”

Do you find Brian Schneider being missed on this team, based on that chemistry? (SBF)

“This is an interesting thing. Game calling is something I am not smart enough to know myself. And I think it takes a lot of years in the game and a lot of catching to really understand it. So, I always go to people like Bob Boone (Assistant General Manager—Head of Player Development) and Pat Corrales (Bench Coach) or Randy St.Claire (Pitching Coach) or the pitching staff about that kind of stuff. They have always vouched for Schneider and his sticking to the game plan they come up with—and coaching the young pitchers through whatever struggles they might be having.”

It’s early in this season still and with (Paul) LoDuca missing a lot of time, we really don’t know how that is going to go, this might be a story down the road. How are the games being called? Are the guys sticking to the plan—like Schneider did? We know that John Lannan is raving about Wil Nieves and his abilities to call a game and kind of be fiery back there. There is something to it. I think if Schneider is missed, it’s in that regard more than anything else in the clubhouse.”

Seeing Matt Chico looking confused on the mound these days, reminds me of what Schneider told me late last year. On the final game that Chico pitched in 2007 at Citizens Bank Park, Matt personally came over to him and thanked him—for helping him and getting him through his rookie year. (SBF)

“And he’s probably right. For Livan Hernandez, it really didn’t matter that Schneider was back there, because Livo is going to dictate his own game. Even a guy like Tony Armas was like that. The younger guys relied on him (Schneider) more. And remember about Matt—he survived last year 31 starts with a 4.63 ERA—which was basically the league average for a starter. But, a lot of his starts were at RFK Stadium. He’s not pitching well right now, but his stats were bound to suffer a bit in this new park. This being a little smaller ballpark.”

Speaking of Livo—how big of role did he play on this team? (SBF)

“He is a really interesting personality. At some level, it’s all about Livo—his starts and how he’s doing and all that kind of stuff. But, he was also a very generous teammate. He would buy his teammates gifts and stuff like that. He’s just a strong person—a strong personality. And a strong personality tends to—whether in a positive way or negative way—influence stuff in the clubhouse. He was one of those.”

There was this game at RFK in early 2006 against The Mets. Livan gave up three home runs in the first two innings and was down big. But, there he was standing in the On-Deck Circle waiting to bat, chatting and laughing with fans in the stands like it was no big deal. (SBF)

“He is a weird personality. If you are Livan Hernandez you know you are going to give up some home runs. You can’t get too rattled by it.”

You been around the league a few times, you know all the beat writers from the other teams. How do they view The Washington Nationals Franchise? (SBF)

“Right now, I think they view The Nationals as an afterthought. In the last couple of weeks, I have received questions about whether Bowden is going to get fired? I don’t think there is a national understanding of what we have heard harped about since The Lerner’s took over: ‘Here is how we are going to build this and it’s going to take time and we are not going to spend $100 Million right out of the gate.’”

“This front office has spent a lot of time educating the local media, so they in turn can educate the local fans. But nationally, this franchise gets little recognition or credit. If or when they do turn it around—then the understanding of how they did it—will follow.”

Has this slower process of building the franchise—made it more difficult for you to do your job? (SBF)

“No—because I would be here whether they were winning, losing or in-between. The thing that has surprised me over the past four years has been the vast majority of days getting a good story to write about. There might be a tough loss, an exciting win, it might be an individual performance like Dmitri Young’s miraculous massage (chuckling). So we (the writers) can win in all sorts of ways. They lost eight in a row earlier in the year, or whatever it was. And it gets harder to come into the clubhouse and ask the same questions—since it’s obviously tougher for them to stand there. In that regard, it’s easier to cover a winning team. But otherwise, it really doesn’t have much impact.”

At times of late, when I hear Ryan Zimmerman speak to the media after a game, he sounds like he just wants to get it over with. (SBF)

“He is very accommodating and there are very few players on this team that are problematic in those type of situations. Zimmerman is certainly not. He does basically whatever the team asks of him.”

With you, Mark Zuckerman (Washington Times) and Bill Ladson ( at virtually every game, how difficult is it to get something fresh and exclusive? (SBF)

“Yes, but at the same time, it’s not like New York where it’s really a herd mentality. We are the three guys who have been here from 2005. The players know us better than other reporters. After games, it’s harder to get something of your own—because everyone is on deadline—and everyone is going from one person to the next. Before games, it’s easier, because you can say to a guy: ‘Hey, let’s go sit in the dugout so we can talk about X, Y, & Z.’ and people have different agendas before the game. I might be thinking about my notebook needs, while Mark or Bill might be thinking about something else.”

Do you really find the players very accommodating? (SBF)

“Yes, and this is why you have beat writers, so the players can be familiar with those covering them. It’s a lot harder for them to say no to someone they see every day--than someone just rolling in for a game. This group has been very, very good. And when I say this group, I mean since 2005. There have really been very few problematic people here for the media to cover. In fact, they have been better to deal with than I thought Major League Baseball Players could be—in terms of accessing.”

Which reminds me--many readers complain, not necessarily about the content, but the quantity of reporting by The Post. How do you respond to that? (SBF)

“I am very defensive about it. I grew up outside Boston. I delivered The Boston Globe. It’s a huge baseball town. They have several reporters at every Red Sox Game because every one is an event. Like it or not—baseball in DC is not at that level yet. What I will defend, is that what we are given for our game stories—960 words per night—is much, much more than most any paper in the country. So, I am able to not only tell about the play-by-play of the game, but a little bit of the back story, the decision, here is what this guy is going through. I can talk to more people. I can get more information out that way. Some people don’t like reading those long game stories. But, that is the format we have chosen. So, they will complain. Others want Tom Boswell to write more and only about baseball. And ‘Oh—he’s only writing about The Capitals, or The Orioles.’ He’s a columnist. He loves this game more than anyone that I know. And if they (Post Editors) would allow him to write six columns a week about The Nationals, he probably would. But, he’s got a lot on his plate.”

Are west coast games easier because of the early deadline? (SBF)

“No—actually harder. What I do is write a feature for the paper, then have it morph into a game story. And if the game finishes before our last deadline—which is 1AM—10PM out there—you end up writing twice as much for one space (in the paper). The West Coast Trips are a little stressful.”

So, you are going to the 2008 Olympics in China, then on to The Redskins Beat. When Spring Training begins for The Washington Nationals next February—what will you miss most about it? (SBF)

“The thing I like about baseball reporting is the access. Because you are around these guys so much, they know you; you know them. Worried might be an overstatement, but I am concerned about The NFL where your access during the week is a scheduled finite amount of time. You only have one game to write every seven days. So, you really need to maximize the hour you are given each day to get some useful stuff out of guys--who may or may not be willing to give you quotes that day.”

“This sport (baseball) gives you a fresh development basically every single day—win or loss—that involves several little fresh developments—someone is hot or someone is slumping—someone pitched well or someone pitched poorly. Then, the clubhouse opens at 3:30PM for a 7PM Game—you got three and one half hours to get to learn the participants and figure out what makes everything tick.”

“That everyday access I will really miss.”

But, probably not the travel? (SBF)

(Big Laugh)” Probably Not The Travel!! Houston in the middle of May is not exactly what I have in mind.”

Anything else? (SBF)

“I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I was leaving the job because I didn’t like it. There are a lot of factors involved.”

With that, My Conversation With Barry Svrluga of Washington Post concluded. For over three years, Barry's Coverage of Our Washington Nationals was a mainstay for many of Our Fans. A Daily Must Read. Hopefully,from time to time, Barry can return back to the baseball beat. I am sure he will be missed. Just like his presence each spring at Panera Bread in Viera, Florida. Which makes me wonder whether that particular franchise located near Space Coast Stadium will survive without Barry Svrluga's daily appearances for lunch??

Good Luck Barry!! Thanks for your excellent coverage of Our Washington Nationals.


An Briosca Mor said...

Others want Tom Boswell to write more and only about baseball. And ‘Oh—he’s only writing about The Capitals, or The Orioles.’ He’s a columnist. He loves this game more than anyone that I know. And if they (Post Editors) would allow him to write six columns a week about The Nationals, he probably would. But, he’s got a lot on his plate.

This statement confuses me. Tom Boswell writes one, maybe two columns a week in the Post - about anything. His average number of columns per week over the course of a year is probably closer to one than it is to two. He does (as far as I can tell, anyway) no outside TV/radio/blog work as do other Post columnists whose column output is equivalent to or greater than his (e.g. Wilbon). Furthermore, Boswell's column output is down from what it was just a couple of years ago. (Remember when he used to do a weekly e-mail column in addition to a couple of print colmns each week during baseball season?) What's all this stuff he's got on his plate anyway? Is he sick, dealing with family issues, semi-retired, writing a book? Really, it's none of our business and we don't need to know why he's not writing as much as he used to, but the Post ought to be replacing the lost output from him with output from someone else, and they're not. Instead, they maintain this fiction that their coverage level hasn't dropped off from what it used to be. This is the real issue that I and probably most others who have complained about the Post's lack of coverage have. It's not, as Barry seems to believe, that we resent the coverage of the Orioles or Capitals or even the Redskins in the Post. Even though we may mention those things from time to time (and way too much sometimes) in Barry's blog or elsewhere, those are merely symptoms. The disease is diminished sports coverage in general by the Post, of the Nationals in particular but indeed of every team but the Redskins. It's the disease we resent, not the symptoms.

Anonymous said...

I got to give you some credit. You make the effort to interview many different people surrounding the nats. I appreciate that effort.

Anonymous said...

Bowden get fired? I wish. For all the empty suits he has brought in (Logan, Kearns, Lopez, Milledge, Langerhans, Snelling, Restovich, Spivey, Preston Wilson, Traber, Bacsik, Wagner, Drese, Pena and on and on), he deserves to lose his job. Sadly, there is no accounting for stupidity when it comes to Bowden. I will tell you one thing with the upmost of certainty, this team will never, never improve until the Lerners hire a real general manager.