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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

One of the Metro columnists at the paper did an annual Thanksgiving column that was terrific. Always one of my favorite parts of the day. I won't even try to duplicate it here.

I will, however, offer some thanks to a few people/things related to baseball. Not without first making it clear I'm always thankful for a great family, great friends, my animals. You know, the usual.

*I am thankful to have a team in my ol' hometown again, even with a couple of 100-loss seasons thrown in there. My Son The Braves Fan asked a while back how I spent my spring and summer evenings before 2005. He couldn't remember. "Staring at random teams on the screen and wishing I cared," was the reply.

*I am thankful for the people I have met through this blog, from going to the games, from just being a fan. Nice to know you're not the only nut on the loose. That some really cool people suffer from the same thing I do is comforting.

*I am thankful for Mike Ogunwumi, the greatest ticket rep in the world (yes, I checked). Whenever I've needed something he's helped. Which reminds me: I need to get back to him tomorrow and figure out what I'm doing next season.

*I am thankful for Chris and Brian turning me on to The Ugly Mug - a great place to go before and after games (and I should charge them for this, huh?). My wife likes it, too, which is good. Makes it easier when I scream WE HAVE TO LEAVE 10 HOURS BEFORE THE GAME BECAUSE OF TRAFFIC! We can go to the Mug if we get there early, right? Of course.

*I am thankful I was in the house for Adam Dunn's 300th, for a big blast against St. Louis, for one off the warehouse (on the bounce) in Baltimore and many more. I sure hope he's around longer than one more year. In 2008, I saw three walk-offs. Got shut out there in 2009.

*I am thankful I was in the house when Randy Johnson won his 300th game. I'm convinced we won't see another 300-game winner until Stephen Strasburg does it. Although, let's make this clear again: That was ball four on Dunn. My son, watching from home on MASN, sent this text: Worst call in history. Way low.

*I am thankful for Nats Park. The outrageous parking fees drive me about nuts along with some other small issues but I get past them when I think of the alternative. I think I went to one game at RFK the last year the team was there. I've been to 50+ at Nats Park in two seasons. You can enjoy watching a game there, even if you can't always get pizza in the upper deck.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something or someone and I apologize. But it's almost 9 a.m. Something's ready to eat by now.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Coaching staff complete

Release courtesy of the Nationals. Not like I did any reporting here:


The Washington Nationals today announced that hitting coach Rick Eckstein, pitching coach Steve McCatty and third base coach Pat Listach will return in the same roles in 2010. The club also named John McLaren bench coach, Jim Lett bullpen coach and Dan Radison first-base coach. Nationals Senior Vice President and General Manager Mike Rizzo and Nationals Field Manager Jim Riggleman made the joint announcement.

Eckstein returns for a second season in Washington, as his offense showed significant gains in 2009 in runs per game (+0.40 per game), home runs (+39), batting average (+.007), on-base percentage (+.014), slugging percentage (+.033) and OPS (+.047) compared to the previous season.

McCatty was named Nationals pitching coach on June 2. The Nationals’ Triple-A pitching coach for four seasons before being summoned to Washington, McCatty employed numerous pre-existing relationships with Nationals pitchers to help his staff post an ERA exactly one run better than that recorded in the season’s first two months (5.69 ERA from Opening Day-May 31, 4.69 ERA from June 2 through season’s end).

Listach will return for a second season as Nationals third base coach. Last season, Listach’s judgment saw only 11 Nationals thrown out at home plate on non force-outs, a figure bettered by only the Cardinals (eight) in MLB. With added responsibilities as the Nationals infield instructor, Listach had a hand in Ryan Zimmerman earning his first career Rawlings Gold Glove.

McLaren, 58, will draw on 22 seasons of big league coaching experience, including a stint as Mariners manager for portions of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He replaced Mike Hargrove as Seattle’s manager on July 2, 2007. While skippering the Mariners, McLaren hired Riggleman as his bench coach in 2008.

McLaren has worked on Lou Piniella’s staff for 15 seasons, and also enjoyed stewardships under Mike Hargrove, Cito Gaston, Jimy Williams and Joe Morgan. He has experienced five post-seasons, including four division titles (Toronto in 1989, Seattle ‘95, ‘97, 2001). McLaren spent the 2009 campaign as a Rays special assignment scout. He also served as Team USA bench coach during the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Selected by Houston in the 1970 Draft, McLaren caught for seven professional seasons before beginning his coaching career in Toronto’s system in 1977. After serving the Blue Jays for nine seasons as a minor-league coach, manager and scout, McLaren joined Toronto’s big league staff as third base coach in 1986.

Lett, 58, will draw on 15 seasons of Major League coaching experience, 11 spent as a bench coach with the Reds, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Pirates. He served as Dodgers bullpen coach from 2001-04, where he worked alongside Riggleman, who was Jim Tracy’s bench coach at the time.

Lett joins the Nationals after spending the previous two years coaching in Milwaukee’s minor-league system. Lett has worked in professional baseball for each of the last 35 seasons as a player, coach, manager or front-office executive. Lett is also a highly respected catching instructor.

The 59 year-old Radison begins his third tour with Riggleman, as the two worked together during Riggleman’s managerial stays in San Diego and Chicago (NL). Outside of his stints with the Cubs and Padres, Radison has managed, coached or scouted for the Yankees, Cardinals and Mets organizations from 1984-2006.

He spent the previous three seasons as the Cardinals Minor League Hitting Instructor. While there, Radison worked closely with Eckstein, and helped Rick Ankiel (as a hitter), Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus graduate to St. Louis.

Radison was drafted by the Cardinals in 1972 and played professionally for three seasons. He commenced his career in coaching at the college level, serving as an associate or assistant coach at Broward (FL) Community College, the University of Georgia and Old Dominion (VA) University.

We want Livan

By a margin of 25-15 on my latest poll, the NFBLooser Nation wants the Nats to re-sign Livan Hernandez.

I'm among the yes votes for a simple reason: I like watching the guy pitch, a lot. And I think he can still do it pretty well. He'll give you a chance to win most nights. Some nights he'll get his tail kicked.

Here's what I don't know - what kind of guy is he? I know he's not "the" free agent pitcher the Nats are talking about signing and bringing in to mentor all the young folks. That'll fall on someone else. Even so, if Livan isn't the type to help the youngsters and be a "positive" person, I can understand the Nats not wanting to keep him around. I've never heard that's the case and never come away with that impression about him from watching him interact or reading about him.

I think given the current state of the staff, there's room for him for at least one more year and maybe two. said it was less than 50-50 he'd be back. I'd like to know why.

As for other pitching developments - the Nats release said this knee thing with Sir Strasburg is nothing serious. So why do I have an unsettled feeling in my stomach? Why does MY knee hurt? A commenter on the Nationals Journal asked why he was even out there shagging flies. Not sure there's much history of guys getting hurt doing that. He probably has a better chance getting hurt running or going down the dugout steps.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New beat writer at Post coming

Someone e-mailed me this today. I haven't talked to Chico in a while, but the fact that a change is coming was one of the worst-kept secrets in a gossip-filled industry. Not entirely sure what he will be doing (more with the magazine perhaps?) or if they have an in-house person in mind. If they go outside, they will draw a ton of interest:

After two very long seasons doing an outstanding job covering the Washington
Nationals, Chico Harlan
is eager for a new challenge at the Post, and a well-deserved one. We
do not fault Chico for having failed to bring winning baseball to the
District. In fact, he now joins a long list of baseball writers who
have come up short in that regard. What this means is that we are
looking for a new reporter to cover the Nats. This is one of the most
high profile and rewarding beats in Sports because our coverage of the
city's MLB franchise is at the center of our department's mission. It
is also a very demanding job. It involves covering upwards of 140-150
games per year, in addition to spring training and the off-season. The beat
writer is also responsible for regular posts to the
Nationals Journal blog, which has a large and passionate following of
baseball fans. A background in sports is not essential, though the
ideal candidate would be someone who has high energy, a willingness to
travel and a love for the game of baseball.

We would like to fill this position soon to give the writer time to
acclimate before the start of spring training in Florida in

If interested, contact Matt Vita, Peter Perl, or Alexa Steele by December 2.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ramblings on Riggleman

The Nationals put Jim Riggleman on the phone today with members of the Nats' blogosphere - welcome to managing in the Internet age, Jim. Nice of the Nats to recognize the online world exists and afford the opportunity. We'll use some of the material gathered in a later post but today is for pontification and rambling and trying to make some sense of the hire. Here's what I came up with:

The past couple of days have been spent trying to get my arms around the whole Jim Riggleman thing. Good move or not? Bargain hire or proper hire? A guy who could be around a while or a space holder for a couple of years?

The conclusion I’ve reached is you could pick any of the above answers and come up with good reasons why it is correct.

I want to declare it a good thing. I like Riggleman and I’m on the record as saying I prefer good people over the opposite in any situation. If you have to bring in knuckleheads to win, I’d rather not.

Overall, Riggleman’s numbers don’t look great. For his career, he’s 139 games below the .500 mark. Of the 663 managers listed at, only 15 are as many or more below .500 and most of them were from the 1800s or the turn of the century (Manny Acta, by the way, is at -94 in less than three seasons).

But those numbers don’t really mean much. Riggleman mopped up in Seattle last year and Washington this year. That’ll mess with your numbers. How many really good teams did he have? You give him the Dodgers and Joe Torre the Nats, I’ll bet anything Riggleman wins more games. You give me the Dodgers and Torre the Nats, I’ll bet anything I win more games.

Tom Kelly is widely regarded as a pretty good manager. He went to postseason twice and won two World Series. For his career, he’s 105 games under .500.

Would anybody have gushed over Torre years into his career? No one talked about him as a potential Hall of Famer after his early stints. When he took over the Yankees, well, he became a lot better.

How about Terry Francona? Think managing the recent Red Sox team enhanced his rep a little over what it was with the earlier Phillies editions?

Retreads can work, if they have good players. If not, they’ll probably be out of a job again before too long.

What I think is a pretty good measure is this: Did they get the most out of what they had?

A good example of that came a couple of years ago with the Washington Capitals. They fired Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving and brought in this minor league guy named Bruce Boudreau. Didn’t he end up as coach of the year? Hanlon wasn’t getting as much out of that team as was there, Boudreau got it all out of them and more.

You saw that a little with the Nats last year. Anyone with eyes could see they were a better team in the second half of the season. If you told me when Riggleman got the job he’d win 33 of the final 75 games, I would have taken that. Who wouldn’t after a 26-61 start?

Most believed the Nats would win 70-some games and I think a full year of Riggleman would have produced that.

But that’s not totally fair because Riggleman also had a different team than Manny Acta had, mostly because of Nyjer Morgan. Suppose Acta had Morgan, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett all season. Would we be having this conversation today? Suppose Acta didn’t start the season with a bullpen put together from Toys R Us on Christmas Eve?

One argument I’ve heard and read this week bothers me. Riggleman was chosen over Bobby Valentine because the Nats are not ready to win just yet. When they are, you bring in a Valentine type.

Interesting. I disagree. The Nats over the next couple of seasons, we hope, will be developing the core of the team that will be ready to win at some point. This manager will get Stephen Strasburg’s major-league career started, Drew Storen’s major league career started. You hope most of the winning pieces show up in 2010 and 2011 to go with Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores (stay healthy, huh?), Morgan, maybe Ian Desmond and a couple of others.

A bad manager can really mess up that process. A good manager can help speed up the process, even if it isn’t reflected in his record. If the Nationals are really within a few seasons of being ready to win, this manager could be the most important in their history.

That’s why I wrote earlier that hiring Riggleman just because he was cheaper than Valentine would be a very bad idea. The keys to the future are in this guy’s hands, not the next guy. It better be the right choice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Your new manager -

Jim Riggleman. So says and a status update on my Facebook page. They announced the baseball manager at the hockey game. This is what a Facebook friend wrote: Announced between periods of the hockey game: Jim Riggleman named manager of the Washington Nationals.

If the braintrust says this is the right move, I'm on board. In Mike We Trust has been the motto since Mike Rizzo was named GM and it will remain that way until he gives me reason to no longer feel that way.

What a day. A somewhat quiet offseason got noisy in a hurry.

Congratulations Ryan Zimmerman.

Congratulations Jim Riggleman.

So what's next? A trade or a nice free agent signing?

It's gold, Jerry, gold.

Lesson from a mentor years ago: Never miss a chance to work in a Seinfeld reference.
Congrats to Ryan Zimmerman on winning his first Gold Glove. Well earned. Imagine how good he'll be when he gets that throwing thing worked out.

I admit I don't know a whole lot about all those new fangled stats people invent to keep their calculators busy. The Washington Times mentioned something about Ultimate Zone Rating. I'll take their word for that it is a reliable standard.

All I know for sure is I watched a heck of a lot of the Nats and a heck of lot of baseball in 2009 and Zimmerman was easily the best I saw at third, even with those throwing errors. I don't know if there's a true statistical measure for jaw-droppers, but Zimmerman leads baseball in those.

So congrats again. I'm predicting he'll win 10 when by the time he's done.

Elsewhere, the Post's Nationals Journal says the manager choice will be known by the end of this week. Good. The suspense is killing me. If the choice is Bobby Valentine, can we say, "That's a wrap?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bobby V vs. Jimmy Rigs

This story in the Post seems to point to the Nats' manager being one of those two. I'm going to stop using the term "permanent" manager, by the way, unless someone can assure me the pick is indeed going to be the Nats manager forever. Otherwise, he isn't permanent. Just an "interim" without that word sitting there.

Valentine would be an intriguing (and apparently expensive choice). Being a due diligence kind of guy, I nosed around with a couple of writers I know up New York way and the opinions I got on Valentine could not have been more divergent.

One guy I know and trust said he's an egomaniac who would be a terrible fit for the Nats. Despite that ego, he said Valentine can do a good job of managing the personalities who make up a baseball team. He'd be fine on a team that was ready to win now. Losing would make him nuts.

Another guy I know and trust swears by the guy, pretty much loves him and thinks the Nats ought to snap him up right now. He agreed that Valentine has a massive ego but contends that's part of the reason he'd work. He'd make it all about him, charm people, put himself front and center and try to deflect attention from the losing. (But will he get out the way when there's winning?). He's a strong baseball man, the guy said, who could help make the right decisions and make the team a winner faster.

Valentine's record doesn't overwhelm you - he's at .510 for his career and he's been to postseason twice in 15 seasons (full or partial). The 1999 and 2000 seasons were the only one's where his teams won more than 90 games. But he was over .500 ten times.

Interesting tidbit in Valentine's Wikipedia entry (take that for what it is worth): He claims to have invented the "wrap" sandwich. He says Bobby Valentine's Sports Gallery Cafe in Stamford, Conn., was the first to serve a sandwich in a tortilla rather than between slices of bread.

That right there ought to be enough to disqualify him.

I also did not know until just moments ago that Valentine's father-in-law is Ralph Branca. If you haven't read The Echoing Green about Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomsen, you should.

Valentine is a bigger name than Riggleman (who turned 57 Monday), but is he really that much of an upgrade? I get different answers depending on where I ask the question. Valentine has a better record but he also probably had better players.

He's more expensive, too, though he does have that wrap thing going for him. Hey, some people like them.

I'm starting to seriously think the choice will be Jim Riggleman. At some point, he'll have to open the Jimmy Rigs Cafe and patent some new kind of food item. I'm a food guy. I'll help him think of something.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

But the Nats own them!

The Yankees? I'm not impressed. In six meetings between the Nationals and Yankees since the start of the 2006 season, the tally reads Nats 4, Yankees 2.
The Nationals own they fannies, own 'em I'm telling you.

OK, seriously now. Congratulations to the World Champion New York Yankees. There, I said it. Wasn't as hard as I thought. It's much easier than it would have been a few years back.

My latest poll showed 19 pulling for the Phillies, 11 pulling for the Yankees and seven sitting this one out. I watched but I didn't much care who won.

A friend says the two participants may rank 29th and 30th on his list of teams. I wouldn't go that far, not as long as the Mets and Cubs exist. I wouldn't go too much higher than that.

I have tremendous respect for the Phillies and what they have been able to accomplish. Great lineup. I'd trade goodness knows what for Jayson Werth. Utley, too. My wife and I had a wonderful time at Citizens Bank Park in 2005 and have had great dealings with their fans. However, I've seen firsthand some Phillies fans acting badly and two blogging colleagues I like a lot dealt with some things they never should have dealt with at Citizens Bank. So that sticks in my mind.

The Yankees? Used to hate them with a passion, for no real good reason. One of my older brothers loved them so that had a lot to do with it. The Yankees were shoved down our throats a lot as kids. Of course, they were pretty good.

Whatever level of hatred I had for them went away last spring, when the team made a major donation to the Virginia Tech memorial fund AND showed up on campus to play an exhibition game. I had two students at Tech at the time - one undergrad and one grad. I know how the tragedy of 2007 weighed on them and their friends. I saw what it did to the university community. I spent eight days there as site editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, overseeing our coverage. It was a tough, tough time.

I can't even fathom the pain felt by the families of the victims.

The Yankees made two real nice gestures to help with the healing and, for that, will always have the appreciation of my family.

I remember my son calling me from the game, in tears, saying, "This is SO cool. The Yankees are HERE." He talked this week about walking toward the stadium and hearing, "and playing third base - Alex RodREEEEguez." Right there at English Field.

We both have those Yankee hats with the VT logo on the side. After the game, Johnny Damon mentioned how much he'd like to come back for a football game. My son and his buds stay on me to pull some strings and make that happen (anybody? can you help? They'll get his ticket).

So the hatred, even the dislike, has been shelved. Root for them? Let's not get carried away. OK, well, maybe a little.

Let me just sum it up this way: It doesn't break my heart that the Yankees are the 2009 World Champions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I am so confused

No, I'm not confused by this report in the Washington Times' chatter section. As I've noted before, the Times does an excellent job with its Nationals blog and I'm surprised it doesn't draw a lot more commentary.

I'm also not confused by Don Mattingly's decision. As much as I'd like to be mad at him, I can't. If he's truly a serious contender to be the next manager of the Dodgers, can you really blame him? I would have enjoyed reminding him of the time I ate at his restaurant in Evansville, Ind. A Don Mattingly baseball (not obtained that night) is one of two autographed balls sitting on my display case. Livan Hernandez is the other.

What confuses me is what the Nationals think of Jim Riggleman.

Also noted before here: I have no problem with Riggleman being named permanent manager of the Nationals. There was definitely a different, better vibe to that team in the second half of the season and it may have had as much to do with Nyjer Morgan as Jim Riggleman. But I suspect Riggleman had a hand in it.

What I do not want is for Riggleman to get the job because he's the cheaper alternative. I want him to get the job because the braintrust - a braintrust I trust now that you-know-who is gone - thinks he is the best for the job, price tag be danged.

If Bobby Valentine is better and wants the job, pay the man Shirley. If Buck Showalter is better and wants the job, open up the vault.

If Riggleman is the best man, hire him. Please. But hire him for that reason.

Don't go cheap on your manager. Not now. If the optimistic proclamations are to be believed, this team is closer than results make it appear. The next manager could well be the one to lead the team to respectability and - am I really typing this? - the team's first playoff berth. It is a crucial hire. Lots of these prospects we've been beaten over the head with will be showing up over the next couple of seasons. Stephen Strasburg is going to make his debut under the next manager.

You want this next manager to be one you firmly believe is capable of handling all this.

If you think that's Jim Riggleman, I'll stand and applaud. If that's someone else, I'll support that, too.

Do it because he's the best, please. Not because he's the cheapest.

One other point of confusion: Why would they give Jim Riggleman "new electronic equipment" if he's not the guy? What is that? A computer? A BlackBerry? A HighDef TV? Satellite radio? A blender? A microwave? What exactly did they give him? An iPod? Curiousity is killing me.

UPDATE: One part of the confusion cleared. I'm told quite reliably that Mr. Riggleman got a new computer and BlackBerry. The information came with the notation that such gifts would seem to indicate he's going to be around a while. "Here, use this for a week." I don't think so.