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December 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Two Bits for Werth?

Posted by BW in Offseason, Players

Werth and teammates at Citizens Bank Park

According to Yahoo Sports, newly minted Right Fielder for Life Jayson Werth is gonna need a trim. Said GM Mike “Rizzo” Rizzo, ”The team policy is, facial hair is OK but it’s got to be groomed. It’s got to be nicely … professionally groomed.”

And as viewers of the Phailers’ playoff run and of the Fox hit Sons of Anarchy, in which Werth stars as charter vice president Jax Teller, know, Werth’s Samsonesque locks are anything but nicely or professionally groomed. Though you can hardly blame Werth, who not only had to carry his team singlehandedly into the playoffs while his oft-injured teammates sputtered around him but also had to deal with rescuing his infant son from the Real IRA and his estranged girlfriend from a dissident Mexican biker, and when the shit piles up like that a man only has so much time or attention for grooming. Presumably, playing for the low-stress Nationals will allow Werth a lot more me-time for things like bathing and trimming the fur.

The good news for Nats fans is that the stubble kerfluffle answers the always difficult question of what do you get the guy who has 18 million of everything for the next seven years for Christmas: Some nice bath salts and a tube of CO Bigelow Shave Cream with eucalyptus oil.

December 1, 2010 at 8:40 am

Then Again, Probably Not

Posted by BW in Hot Stove, Offseason
Derek Jeter as a National

Jim Bowden would have been all over this.

From the Beckett Blog, a baseball card we probably will not see in 2011. But given the Nationals recent habit of claiming to make serious offers to every top-name free agent on the market, doesn’t it seem a bit suspicious that we’re not hearing any chatter from the front office about Rizzo making a play to bring Jeter to Washington? Especially since, as a crappy fielder who seems to think he’s the second coming of Ozzie Smith, Jeter would be a perfect fit with the Nationals’ middle-infield corporate culture. But nope, not a word. When it comes to Jeter, the Nationals are not just quiet but perhaps even … too quiet. If we don’t re-land The Dunn, could Jeter be the Nationals fallback option?

No, of course not, but isn’t it pretty to think so?

November 26, 2010 at 12:01 am

Nationals Heritage: Thanksgiving Weekend 2010

1885 Washington Nationals Team Photo

Your 1885 Washington Nationals

November 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Dancing with the (NL) Stars

Posted by BW in Offseason
Joey Votto on Dancing with the Stars

Leading the league in on-base, slugging, and cha-cha.

A travesty is what it was. A travesty.

Oh, sure, in the end, the right dancer won. From the second week of the season, it was clear that Jennifer Grey Pujols and Votto were the best out there. No arguing with the outcome, even if it was clear that Votto only won because the baseball writers have Pujols fatigue. Which is kind of perverse, since they never seemed to get Bonds fatigue, and even granting Barroid the legitimacy of his dope-fueled home run rampages, Pujols is the more valuable player. You show BallWonk a team that would take late-career Bonds over mid-career Pujols, and BallWonk will show you a team that won’t be going to the playoffs. But be that as it may, there’s no arguing with Votto and Pujols finishing 1-2 .

It’s after the winner’s circle that you’re like, “Whoah, what the hell happened to the integrity of American reality TV?” Kyle Massey Carlos Gonzalez? Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. The kid didn’t even dance! He mostly just stood there and shuffled gently from side to side, like the weeds and rushes of the wide Potomac in a summer breeze, while Lacey danced up a storm. Clearly, the baseball writers couldn’t remember which Gonzalez was which, so they voted for Colorado’s Carlos and San Diego’s Adrian just to be safe.

But that’s not even the worst of it: What about Bristol Palin Jason Werth and Ryan Howard? Oh, yeah, sure, their mommy is the Phillies, so they get to advance to the finals despite being consistently outclassed week in, week out, and never really putting in anything like their best efforts this season. Sure, baseball writers, go ahead and vote for Werth and Howard because we all know how much the lamestream media has it in for the Phillies and that’ll show ‘em. Puh-leeze. Look, BallWonk is sure that Werth and Howard are nice kids. They seem to have their heads on straighter than the rest of that dysfunctional family, and anyway the Phillies seem more interested lately in making splashy news with big signings that actually trying to win the World Series, so whatever. But, you know, this is a dance competition, not a who’s-mommy-do-we-like-more competition. And don’t get BallWonk started about how the Phillies got booed in the first week. Was there booing? Sure. But it was the Phillies fans booing their own team, because that’s what Phillies fans do. They don’t call it the City of Brotherly Goddammit You Suck for nothing. So spare us the sympathy votes, OK? Werth and Howard didn’t belong anywhere near the finals, and you know it.

At the end of the day, BallWonk isn’t saying that Brandy Zimmerman and Dunn should have won. Jennifer Votto and Pujols earned it fair and square. But any way you look at it, Z-Man was robbed big time. OK, so his home run total stumbled a bit, and his dancing partners let him down on the RBI front. Hard to drive ‘em in if they don’t get on, you know, and how is that Z-Man’s fault? Look at what he did do: 7th most wins-above-replacement by a position player. 5th most win-producing hitter. 8th on the batting list, 7th in on-base, 8th in OPS, 7th on OPS-plus. Any way you slice it, by the stats that actually mean something, Z-Man was at least the 8th most valuable player in the 2010 National League. At worst. And you can make a strong case that he was more like the 5th most valuable.

So naturally the baseball writers voted Z-Man 16th. Sixteenth! Behind obviously less-valuable Werth and Howard, behind Ryan Braun, behind even Buster “Doesn’t Appear on the Top Ten in any of 43 Offensive Categories” Posey. Voting off the Hoff the first week, BallWonk wouldn’t have done that, but he can understand. Keeping Kurt around after week 4? You can make an argument. But Ryan Zimmerman finishing 16th, with not a single vote higher than 7th (and only two of those)? That’s enough to make BallWonk doubt the integrity of the entire reality TV industry.

“But BallWonk,” defenders of the baseball writers might say, “You and I both know that Z-man was easily the 7th most valuable player, but we’re looking at the stats that measure real value. Many of the baseball writers are still stuck in the mud of counting home runs and RBIs.” And BallWonk could accept that, but if if that were true, then Adam Dunn would have finished more like 2nd than 22nd. Dunn was right there at the top of all the old-school glamour stats, and heck, he was even in the top ten on some of the newfangled stats like win-probability-added. No, it’s not that the judges had the wrong standards. They had it in for Nationals contestants from the start.

It was unjust, and a travesty, and if you want to know the truth BallWonk isn’t sure he even wants to watch Skating with the Stars now. That’s probably rigged, too, and Ovechkin Jonny Mosely is going to get cheated just like Z-Man and the Dunn. Screw it; somebody wake BallWonk when The Closer is back on.

November 19, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Nationals Heritage: Weekend of Nov 19

Wid Conroy, 1909

William Edward “Wid” Conroy, 1909 Nationals.

November 18, 2010 at 9:25 am

Another Award Ignores Zim, Natsiah

Posted by BW in Uncategorized

When BallWonk heard that Lord of Misrule was nominated for the 2010 National Book Award, he rushed to the bookstore, giddy at the prospect that a book about Jim Bowden’s reign as Nationals GM was getting the respect it no doubt deserves. When the shy woman with the Yoda pin at the Borders answer desk informed BallWonk that Lord of Misrule wouldn’t be published until November 15, just two days before the National Book Awards ceremony, it only confirmed BallWonk’s glee. Surely, this hard-hitting novelization of Bowden’s reign, or maybe the Nationals doctors and training staff, had an inside track on the prize. Why else would a book that wasn’t even published yet have been nominated? And sure enough, last night the award went to Lord of Misrule. Yeah, baby!

Only it turns out Lord of Misrule is about Southern gothic types at a 1950s West Virginia horse track. It’s not an epic adaptation of the Nationals mismanagement under Omar Minaya or Trader Jim. Talk about a waste of a title. So another award comes, and the Nats receive not one vote. On the plus side, there’s only two days of Nats-not-winning-awards left, and then the 2010 season will be well and truly over.

November 16, 2010 at 7:01 am

Sun Rises in East: The Jesus Injured Again

Posted by BW in Players
The Jesus Flores

What's this day of rest shit?

The bad news: The Jesus is off of his Venezuelan League team’s roster with an injury. The good news: The Jesus hurt his calf, not his shoulder again. And even a Nats player probably can’t turn a charlie horse into a two-year injury, so we may just live to see The Jesus come again. Supposedly, the Valencia Magellan’s Navigators are expected to reactivate The Jesus in a week or two.

Though to be fair to the Nationals trainers and coaches, if anyone could turn a charlie horse into a two-year injury, it would be the Nats.

November 15, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Hundreds for Posey but Not One Vote for Natsiah

Posted by BW in Offseason, Players
Jeannette Rankin costing sole vote for Strassburg

Just one vote, for pity's sake.

If Jeannette Rankin were still around to vote for Rookie of the Year, she totally would have cast her lone ballot for Strasburg. But Washington’s most famous antiunanimitarian was not available, so the Natsiah got fewer votes for Rookie of the Year than league-average hitter Jose “Who?” Tabata. Though to be fair to Tabata, he plays for the Pirates, where a guy who can hit .299 in 100 games looks like Babe Ruth by comparison with the rest of the dugout. How else to explain how two replacement-level Pirates won RoY votes while His Strasness won none?

at 12:29 pm

Hats Off

Posted by BW in Offseason
2005-2010 Nats Road Cap

Roadie settles into his retirement as vintage memorabilia.

Editor’s note: On November 10, the Nationals unveiled sweeping changes to their uniforms for the 2011 season, including replacing their longstanding navy road cap with a new, red-brimmed hat. Over the weekend, BallWonk sat down for an interview with the 2005-2010 all-navy road cap to discuss his retirement, highlights from his career in Washington, and his thoughts about his successor.

BallWonk: Now that you’ve announced your retirement, we wanted to ask you -

Original Road Cap: “Retired” isn’t the right word. Look, if I had my choice, I’d be out there on the field in 2011. The Nationals didn’t pick up my contract, and my agent tells me there’s really not much interest this year from other clubs for a dark-navy cap with a curly W on it. The Nationals feel that a younger cap with a red bill will meet their needs better going forward. I respect that position.

BW: Right. So this wasn’t entirely your choice?

ORC: No, but like I said, I respect the Nationals decision. My agent says I could probably squeeze out a few more years playing high-school ball. A lot of schools use big-league ripoffs, you know? Like TC Williams and those old Twins caps. But I wanted to go out with my dignity intact.

BW: You were with the team from the very beginning. What was it like making the move to Washington?

ORC: Well, you know, I didn’t see any playing time in Montreal. But I was one of the first additions the team made when it prepared to move. Look, the big thing is that it was an incredible honor to be chosen. I mean, everyone knew that the Bud Selig was going to make an all-red curly W cap the face of the franchise. MLB could have made that the home and away cap. But someone saw some potential in me and chose to give me a chance from day one.

BW: You were the very first piece of Nationals merchandise BallWonk purchased, you know, back in fall 2004.

ORC: Really? Not the red cap?

BW: Nope. If you hadn’t noticed, BallWonk has the pale pink complexion of his Irish and British ancestry. Red ballcaps make him look pasty.

ORC: Yeah, I’d noticed that.

BW: You came back from surgery after the 2007 season. Tell us about that.

ORC: Ah, well, I was sticking up too much in front, like a billboard. I really looked like Elmer Fudd out there. So I went in to have my stiff backing removed, to see if I could gain some flexibility. You know, how caps would sit down a little lower with age back in the old days for guys like DiMaggio and Killebrew. Really turned my career around.

BW: You’ve got a cut just to the left and beneath the curly W. Is that from your surgery?

ORC: That? Yeah. The stiff backing has white buckram threads going side-to-side, and black plastic threads going up-and-down. When the surgeons went to work on removing the stiff backing, at one point they stuck an X-Acto knife right through me.

BW: Has that slowed you down any?

ORC: Nah. The scar is down low, in front of the sweatband, so you really can’t see that it’s there. And I fit so much better after the surgery that I’m willing to trade the softer profile for the little scar.

BW: You haven’t faded or stained as much as your all-red teammate.

ORC: Well, I credit my dark navy color. I just don’t show stains as much, particularly dirt and finger-grease. Red? He’s gotta be really careful. He picks up grime from people’s fingers like you wouldn’t believe. Plus, he fades in the sun more quickly. So just the luck of the genes on my part.

BW: What one memory stands out as the highlight of your career?

ORC: Ah, well, that’s, ah. Oh! No doubt. I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of one thing, but yeah. Opening day at Nationals Park. March 30, 2008. First, I didn’t even think I’d get the start. Big home game, the crowd all in red, you know -

BW: You were always going to get the start. BallWonk has a strict rule against matching jersey and cap from the same uniform, so the home jersey meant wearing the road cap.

ORC: Really? That’s a rule?

BW: Just for BallWonk.

ORC: Huh. Anyway, didn’t even think I’d get the start, and then the Nats were losing right up until the end, with the walk-off homer. Plus, I was in the Washington Post photo and poster. So many people wearing red caps, you could totally pick me out in the crowd.

BW: Some people say your replacement looks too much like the Braves cap to be effective for Washington.

ORC: Look, I can see where they might think that, but I hope people give the kid a chance. I remember when people said I’d never catch on, Washington fans were all Senators fans, and that meant the red cap. But there was a rich history of navy caps in Washington, and I tried to build on that. A segment of fans embraced me, and I stuck around for six strong seasons, even after they changed the road jerseys to red script.

BW: But there’s not really any tradition of blue caps with red bills here. That’s really more an Atlanta thing. Or maybe Cleveland.

ORC: Give the kid a chance is all I’m saying. And hey, first off, the Braves don’t even wear the red bill on the road anymore. Just at home. Their road cap is all-navy now, just like me. And two, Atlanta and Cleveland are both named for Native Americans. You know what’s on top of the U.S. Capitol?

BW: The statue of Freedom?

ORC: Right. Who is a Native American, and she’s looking down on Nationals Park every day of the year. So maybe that’s something.

BW: Any plans for retirement?

ORC: I know I won’t be on the field anymore, and I won’t be spending nearly as much time on fans’ heads at the ballpark. But I think I can be some people’s go-to caps in more casual settings. And especially when watching the Nats on TV. Like I said, red really picks up stains. So I hope some fans will save their red caps for game day. That includes my replacement, since the bill is the part you touch the most, so that’s going to pick up stains really quickly if you wear it too much. So stick with me for wearing around town or around the house. You know, I can come along when you run errands or do chores.

BW: Plus, you’re a vintage cap now.

ORC: Yeah, like a collector’s item. I hope my career will be recognized with induction into the Cooperstown Collection in a few years.

BW: What about going back onto the field as a throwback uniform?

ORC: Someday, sure. That’s a real dream. But I don’t expect it anytime soon. I don’t see a 2005 throwback for a while, at least not for the road uniform. On the road, you’re really at the mercy of the other team, and who’s going to be wearing 2005 throwbacks in the next few years? The Rays? In 20, 30 years, sure, someone will pick a Nats date for a throwback to the late 2000s, and I’ll be honored to get back on the field for the night. But that’s a long time in the future if you ask me.

BW: It would be appropriate to end by thanking you for the interview, and for your years of service to the Nationals.

ORC: It’s been a privilege to represent all Washington fans 81 games a year these last six years. Oh, and hey, one last thing. This is mainly for the kids. Please, please take the size sticker off the bill of your caps. If there’s one thing I could change about my career, it would be that.

November 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

Origin of the Silver Slugger

Posted by BW in Offseason, Players

Ryan Zimmerman

Far across the galazy, a young third baseman on the planet Zim-Ra trembled before the world-consuming might of Galacticus and weighed an awful choice. He could have the cherished Gold Glove if only he would serve Galacticus as his personal herald of evil and destruction. Surely a small price to pay for universe-spanning power and glory.

“No,” said the sleek young third baseman.

Galacticus roared his rage foreshorteningly. A being who devours worlds whole is not accustomed to being turned down. “If you will not accept,” Galacticus said in a voice that echoed across the spheres, “Scott Rolen will. You see, the Gold Glove does not go only to he who defends best. When Glacticus wills it, the Gold Glove is awarded based on reputation, and batting!”

Shaken to his core, the young third baseman trembled at the dire knowledge of this injustice. “That’s not fair! I don’t believe you!” he cried.

“How else do you explain Don Mattingly?” Galacticus replied in a voice that shook moons from their orbits.

The young man from the planet Zim-Ra understood then, the fell mysteries of the universe laid bare before him.

“If you will not serve me, Rolen will have the Gold Glove in your stead,” Galacticus said, his voice like a thousand pipe organs tuned to chords deeper than a black hole swallowed by another black hole in a distant galactic core. “And you, valiant, foolish young man from Zim-Ra, you I will punish with exile to the Nationals planet as the Silver Slugger. There, you will be an alien among lesser peers, an outcast from the big markets like New York.”

Galacticus paused, a silence emptier and vaster than the void between the stars.

“And I shall curse you with such extraordinary instincts and range that you will field balls that others would not catch, and in fielding them, you will risk making errors on plays that other third basemen would never touch. And for this, you will be denied the Gold Glove many times over. Bwa-ha-ha!”

A destiny that would have crushed the soul of a billion lesser men, but one the Silver Slugger bore with stoic resolve and foreshortened forearms, at least until Jack Kirby retired and John Byrne gave him a gritty reboot. But that’s another story, for another time. Next month: A thrilling crossover puts Wolverine on the cover, even though he only appears in one panel on page 11.

© 2010 Ball-Wonk: Baseball Inside the Beltway