Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Conversation With Phil Wood

He's been called Washington's Pre-eminant On-Air Baseball Authority. Some would say Baseball Historian. Phil Wood has dedicated his Professional Career to his love of Baseball, and Major League Baseball in Washington, DC in particular. Yes, Phil grew up in The 1950's a Washington Senators Fan, in Old Griffith Stadium. A DC Native, he followed his beloved Nats through all their trials and tribulations--from The Days of Mickey Vernon and Harmon Killebrew to those last days of Frank Howard and Ted Williams in 1971. He has always maintained his love for Major League Baseball in The Nation's Capital. Now, 50 Years after his love affair with DC Baseball began, Phil Wood still finds himself covering Washington's newest re-entry to Big League Ball--Our Washington Nationals.

As a Columnist for The DC Examiner, Regular Contributor to MASN's Nats Extra and his weekly radio show now heard on WJFK--Baltimore's 1300AM each Saturday, Phil Wood continues to pass on his vast knowledge of The Great Game. Who better than to truly get the off season going on Nats320 than to sit down and chat with Phil Wood. Who doesn't want to talk baseball with this nice man? We had met twice previously, although we didn't really know each other. But we both knew we share a love of Washington Baseball. Recently, I contacted Phil to see if he might have time to discuss not only Our Washington Nationals, but his experiences and joys of the now Long Gone--Washington Senators. Phil Wood readily agreed and we met last Thursday for an extended lunch in Arlington, Virginia.

First up will be a two parter on Our Washington Nationals. The Current State of Our Team and the direction it's heading. I think we covered it all, including The Media Coverage. Then, later a mesmerizing 45 Minute discussion on The Washington Senators. Phil will talk about his experiences at Griffith Stadium, DC & RFK Stadium and his many encounters with some of DC's Greatest and Not So Great Players. He may maintain the greatest collection of Washington DC Baseball Memorabilia in a private collection. It's a great read for anyone that loves The History Of The Game. There is alot to cover, so with that, here we go with Part One of My Conversation With Phil Wood on Our Washington Nationals.


Where does this team stand right now—The Nationals? (SBF)

“The Nationals are like a third or fourth year expansion team. The team that moved here (from Montreal) was a shell of a franchise. That they managed to go 81 and 81 that first year was remarkable. In fact, A MIRACLE! (Both of us chuckling) Because the farm system was plucked clean. They had not drafted well. They had been run on a shoestring in Montreal. So, it was amazing that they went 81-81. MLB still owned the team in the off-season of ’05 & ’06. They still had not awarded the franchise. And the smartest thing they did, obviously, was draft (Ryan) Zimmerman. That got things off to a decent start, but it still was not enough of anything.”

“So, as you look at where they are now, I think you can really only date them to the start of the first full year The Lerner’s owned the team. Again, right now, they are a third year expansion team. There were some growing pains along the way. I think, in general, they have drafted well. Mike Rizzo (Assistant General Manager) was a great hire from Arizona. And I would not look at them like Tampa Bay in 2005. That was a club with some good young players but no one really thought they were that close to a World Series and here we are three years later.”

“I don’t think they are as far along as Tampa was in 2005, but they (The Nationals) got some good players. They have SOME GOOD PLAYERS. Unfortunately, they have invested so much money into First Base and have a couple of guys there that might not be able to play (Nick Johnson & Dmitri Young). I would hope in the off-season, they would go after a first baseman. I wrote in my column in The Examiner a couple of weeks ago, a guy I would take a hard look at would be Nick Swisher. He had a low batting average this season, but still produced a lot of offense. He seems to have, essentially, lost his job with The White Sox. He is signed long-term at reasonable money. He seems to be, based on his website, NickSwisher.net, seems to be the type of guy who is interested in getting involved within the community, as much as he possibly can get. He’s a switch hitter. He can draw a walk and he’s pretty good defensively. I would look at a guy like him and I would look at a guy like Mike Jacobs in Florida. The Marlins have like 17 Guys that are arbitration eligible and they are still operating on a shoestring. So, a lot of those guys are going to get dealt.”

“But obviously, you’ve got your left side of the infield set for a couple of years with (Cristian) Guzman and Zimmerman. You’ve got (Jesus) Flores who is a future All-Star. I am kind of on the fence about (Emilio) Bonifacio, but every scout I have talked to says he will be a solid everyday player. He, maybe, needs to reign in his enthusiasm on running the bases a little bit. (Laughing) And figure out exactly how far 90 Feet is? But, he’s got some skill. I like (Elijah) Dukes. (Lastings) Milledge is the type of guy, and I wrote of column about this. He reminds me a lot of Mike Devereaux. The old centerfielder from The Orioles. A guy who is very athletic, but his instincts for baseball are not really there. Maybe he might get better; maybe he will grow out of that. And again, I defer to scouts on a lot of this stuff, and most of the scouts I talk to think he will be a 25 Home Run Per Year and 90 RBI Guy. But, probably as a leftfielder, not as a centerfielder.”

“(Austin) Kearns, god, he is like the box of chocolates. You just don’t know what you are going to get. I like him. I think he’s got some skill, but I think his swing as he follows through—he falls toward the left-handed hitters box. To me, there is a balance issue there with his swing. I know that Lenny Harris (Former Hitting Coach) addressed that and for a period of time when he came back off the Disabled List he hit the ball better. Then, he kind of fell back into it again. They’ve hired a new hitting coach (Rick Eckstein) who had some success at (AAA) Columbus. I will give him (Kearns) the benefit of the doubt. He’s owed a lot of money. So there is not much you can do with Austin Kearns at this point in time.”

“I really like John Lannan a lot. I really like Shairon Martis a lot. I like Tim Redding personally, but he’s not your first starter. He’s a fifth starter and in that role he is fine as that fifth starter. He had a good first half and bad second half (in 2008). But I tell you what, no one is more of a gamer than Redding--everybody loves his makeup. Collin Balester is a work in progress. I guess the experience he got in The Big Leagues (in 2008) will serve him well down the road. But, you have to ask yourself, is Balester a future top of the rotation guy or is he Pete Broberg (former Washington Senators hard throwing prospect)? Let’s just wait and see.”

“Some of these kids they have in The Minor Leagues, and I read Scouting Reports from guys who are Professional Scouts. Some of these guys they (The Scouts) really love. (Adrian) Alaniz is one. Look, Washington gambled with that deal they made with Jack McGeary, but Jack McGeary this past year in the Gulf Coast League looked like Cy Young. I think that Jack McGeary is going to be a Mike Mussina Type Pitcher once he gets to The Major Leagues. To me, that was a shrewd move (on the part of The Nationals) by making a creative contract.”

“Also, the Aaron Crow Situation does not bother me one bit. At no point has The Crow Camp ever disputed The Nationals version of events. So for fans to continue to jump on The Nationals for not signing him is not right. I read where a guy in Baseball Prospectus wrote that it was a failed gambit on The Nationals part. Well, it wasn’t a failed gambit on The Nationals part. In the end, they offered him more than any other pitcher would have received as a bonus. And I talked to guys in baseball, guys who played in the game—Jim Palmer, Dave Johnson—guys who can say you know what? —Whatever he wanted that he didn’t think he was getting—he would have made it up on the other end. That was a really shortsighted decision by him (Crow) and his agents.”

“He (Crow) better dominate in that league he’s in. Now the point is, that league only plays 90 Game Schedules. He pitched one inning after he signed with Ft. Worth and next year, before the draft, their season does not start until, I think, late May or early June. He’s probably only going to get one or two starts anyway. His agents protected him by not letting him fail miserably, but if he makes a couple of starts down there and doesn’t pitch well, he will have cost himself some money. At this point in time, I don’t see anybody, unless they have this in the back of their minds. This is something that occurred to me recently. Stephen Strasburg who is the best pitcher in the country, as far as collegian goes, he’s the guy you would give $8 to $9 Million to—up front. He’s the guy. And so if The Nationals draft Strasburg and sign Strasburg for huge money, then Crows Agents can say: ‘Well, we are half that good, we want $4.5 Million or $5 Million.” Again, who knows, but those type of arguments seemed to be used these days in politics on a daily basis.”

“Would I rather have Strasburg than Crow, yeah. Would I like to have them both—absolutely. But to me, Aaron Crow is the type of guy who apparently thinks he can play the system. In the long run, is he going to be better off being drafted by Seattle or San Diego? Who knows, but the point is, The Nationals would have been a much quicker route to The Big Leagues. And if he gets drafted high again next season, I am guessing he will not be offered what he was offered by Washington.”

I was talking to Ryan Zimmerman about this exact issue. He said what Crow failed to realize was that you make your money AFTER you make The Big Leagues. (SBF)

“That right. And that’s what everybody says. You make it (the big money) on the opposite end.”

You sort of touched on this before we got started—the angst of some fans in Washington. Do you think it’s called for? (SBF)

“No, I don’t think it is called for. I think part of it is the rise of popularity of fantasy baseball because all of these guys that play fantasy baseball think they can run a club. They really don’t understand the various shades and nuances of the game that don’t show up in the numbers. Certainly, I understand the value of walks and hits per innings pitched. I understand that and the value of OPS. But there are stats beyond that. Every scout will tell you that a kid’s makeup is as valuable as their skills. That’s one of the reasons I think Ryan Zimmerman is going to be The Face Of This Team from here on out because his makeup is so solid. People who have seen him since High School will tell you he’s the closest thing to (Cal) Ripken, Jr. that's come along since Cal—and smarter. He (Zimmerman) is the perfect guy to have as the face of your club.”

“I look at some of these websites, these fan sites and read: ‘The Lerner’s are cheap!’ Really? They just spent $450 Million, the most expensive stand-alone ball club in history. They did not get a ballpark with that. All they got was the franchise for $450 Million. That doesn’t sound like cheap to me. Have they cut corners? Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. But the bottom line is they drafted smartly, other than Crow they signed all their top draft picks. The idea that they could have spent more money in the free agent market? For Who? Give me an example of who they could have signed that would have come to Washington?”

“Would Mark Teixeira come to Washington? I think he would, but he’s not giving anyone a hometown discount. And if you invest $20 Million Dollars into one guy, what does that do to the rest of your roster? The Nationals Payroll this year was $20 Million Higher than Tampa, for crying out loud. I just don’t get it (the angst). If you want them to sign free agents, give me an example of who they could sign and what role they would play in the future of this team? Would I like to see them sign a guy like Derek Lowe? Yeah, Derek Lowe would look great as the veteran ace of this pitching staff, but I don’t think he would come here. He could end up with The Yankees.”

“Every year Bill James puts out The Top 25 Young Players in The Game and defines it as players under 25 (years of age). Well, Zimmerman is on that list this year. Then he lists the teams in order, one through 30, in terms of teams that have the best young talent. Now, I think, The Nationals rank 23rd and The Orioles rank 24th, but The Yankees rank 29th. The teams at the top are Tampa Bay and Arizona. But when you look at the teams that have, essentially, used the same plan—the same one The Nationals are trying to use now—it works. It works and it requires some degree of patience. Listen, at my age having gone through the entire Senators Experience—I am a patient guy.”

“I remember somebody saying years ago: ‘Losing Builds Character’. Then, I have more character than anybody. A Senators Fan for 50 Years. It’s just remarkable to me, the people who seem to believe that you can solve your problem in baseball by throwing money at players. There was a time when that was true, but that time has passed. It is not like that anymore. Look at The Tigers. $100 Million Payroll and they finished last (in the AL Central). Seattle, $100 Million Payroll and they finished last (in the AL West). It goes beyond being able to pay huge dollars for free agents. If there was a Reggie Jackson out there and you were the right kind of club where you needed one guy to come in and juice up the offense—then you would sign a Reggie or Mark Teixeira.”

“Now there is some rumor The Brewers will trade Prince Fielder. (To The Nationals—SBF). Well, you know what, Prince Fielder can swing the bat, but Prince Fielder is a tub. And that would concern me. Listen, I remember when Prince Fielder would go on the road with his dad, Cecil, when his dad was playing. As a kid, Prince was 4 Feet Tall and 4 Feet Wide. He was an absolute butterball and still is, despite being a little taller now. He is still huge and guys like that are going to have hip problems and knee problems. Look no farther than Dmitri Young for crying out loud. He’s got diabetes. He’s got some back issues.”

“It would be lovely to get a big name to come in here and kind of juice up attendance a little bit, but that guy is not out there this off-season. You could probably trade for some veteran who had some name recognition, but in terms of making a huge difference in terms of wins and losses, not going to happen. When this season began, before anybody was injured, I said based on the players they had, I thought this club would win 75 or 76 games. But once they started dropping like flies--that was obviously not going to happen. I really think they put together a club with a reasonable payroll for who they are. And I completely understand wanting to maintain the payroll in that $45 to $50 million range at this point in their history. In terms of making a big splash this off-season, signing a free agent, I don’t see it, unless you get someone like a Ben Sheets to take a real incentive laden contract with a small guarantee. But he’s going to find some tough sledding out there to get some huge guaranteed money.”

With that answer, Part One of My Conversation With Phil Wood ends. Tomorrow, in Part Two, Phil and I will continue to chat about The Upcoming Off Season, which Players currently in our system are Key to Our Near Future Development, some interesting thoughts about Our Manager Manny Acta and some insight into Media Coverage of Our Washington Nationals, among other topics. All that upcoming in Part Two Of My Conversation With Phil Wood.


JayB said...

Thanks SBF for the work,

I have listened to Phil more than 20 years on and off DC and Balt. Radio. Good read......He is great on baseball history, but he will always tell he is not a great judge on talent and that is why he is always references a scouts opinion.....the only issue is that he does not have a crosscheck system and talks with his own network of scouts.............thus I have learned not to take his player personnel view too seriously. It is interesting that like many of us, his scouts also do not see Milledge as a CFer.......hope Manny gets the memo this year.

I have worry Phil has developed a conflict of interest with reporting on Lerner ownership. I know MASN claim to hire independently of Nats but if Phil were to take a negative stance on Lerners would he still be working the Nationals TV job? I also do not buy the argument that Lerners spent $450 Million on the team so they can not be called cheap......That money is invested, not spent. They traded an asset class that is all. Understatement of the Day from Phil......"yea they have cut some corners".........all in all a fun off season read.....thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very interesting piece. Will look forward to reading part 2.

Anonymous said...

Good interview. Phil Wood knows his baseball. He is right about Prince Fielder; the guy is a butterball and he also has a very arrogant attitude. The fact that the Brewers want to unload him says it all.

While Phil Wood can't say it because he works for MASN, I will say it---the Lerners need to pay their back stadium rent!

An Briosca Mor said...

I will say it---the Lerners need to pay their back stadium rent!

You need to find a new rant. That one is so last week.

JayB rants a lot, maybe he has one or two he'll let you take over from him.

Anonymous said...

here here Phil Wood! The Lerners are not cheap, and they are wisely assembling what one would hope to be a baseball dynasty. The Redskins on this side of the Anacostia!

Anonymous said...

Of course you'll be looking forward to part 2. We all will be. There is absolutely nothing in the local media about the Nats. We all thank SBF for keeping us informed during the off season.