Friday, March 31, 2006

Boswell is Smoking His Own Dope

Tom Boswell has a column in the Post today in which he claims that Nats fans will have a crisis of conscience at tonight's Nats/Orioles exhibition game. Let's break down some of his foolishness:

"Now that it's here, Washington fans who enjoyed an Orioles feast for decades, then fumed for years as Baltimore's owner blocked a team for the District, have a chance to voice their feelings.



If they can figure out what those feelings are."

Well, I know what my feelings are. I live in the D.C. area, not Baltimore, and the O's can go to hell and take their owner and their cable network with them.

"Why, who knows, the Orioles may be cheered in Washington and the Nationals be received courteously in Baltimore."

Why, who knows, monkeys might fly out of my ass! The Orioles will be loudly booed when they take the field tonight. We might see the loudest booing since Barry Bonds came to town last fall. I'd expect that the Nats will be viewed with indifference in Baltimore. Fans up there simply don't care about the Nats. In fact, today's Baltimore Sun baseball page doesn't even mention the exhibition games. Not one word.

"After all the pleasure that the Orioles gave to Washington baseball fans for one-third of a century, isn't dignity and appreciation at RFK the least that is owed? And after all the years that the Orioles' mere existence prevented Washington, a town twice Baltimore's size, from getting a team, shouldn't Baltimore have the good grace to say: "You waited long enough. Welcome back.""

No. A thousand times no. All your base are belong to us.

"Besides, how deeply can Washington and Baltimore hate each other when they are both busy being mad at the same man? The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Angelos is a douchebag. Angelos owns the Orioles. The Orioles are proxy douchebags.

"If you try to find a Nats fan with a genuine visceral dislike for the Orioles, you may have an all-day job."

Boz, if you keep writing columns like this, you may not have an all-day job. There are thousands of Nats fans with a genuine visceral dislike for the Orioles.

"Every rendition of the national anthem at a major Washington sports event still gets a burst from the crowd at, "Ohhhhhh, say does that star-spangled banner . . ." That happens nowhere else in America. And the "O" is for "Orioles.""

Ah, that annoying little practice. The fools that persist in doing this at RFK continually get booed loudly enough that this disrespectful interruption of the anthem had almost completely subsided by last September.

"My son is in this camp. He watched his first games in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium, became a teenager in the mythological Ripken era and, at spring training, discovered that many Orioles will shake a kid's hand. To him, they are baseball. Camden Yards holds his memories. Someday, he may set foot in RFK. Or Nats Park. But not yet. He's loyal."

So the son of the sportswriter for the Washington team has yet to set foot at a Nationals game? Well, that about sums it up, doesn't it?

"Each fan will have a personal response to this dilemma. So far, no one has any hint how either team will be received in the other's park. Soon, we'll know. Perhaps we'll see schizophrenic signs like: "Free the Nats. Go O's.""

Or, we'll see signs like: "Boswell: Put Down the Bong!"

Boswell is a fool and completely out of touch with die-hard Nats fans. In fact, as I blogged about the other day, I think the area media is out of touch with die-hard fans.

A good news story, for the paper and the team, would be how after only one year, the team has enough rabid fans to spawn 15-20 year-round blogs, a handful of 24/7 bulletin boards, and fan clubs with the clout and/savvy to get Members of Congress to stand outside of RFK and denounce Comcast. Oh, and these same fans have inspired those Members of Congress to hold a hearing next Friday with MASN and Comcast over the TV dispute.

But instead we get crap like this Boswell column. It's a damn shame.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No Salvation for Church

Upon learning that Ryan Church had been sent down to the minors, I was tempted to write an expletive-laden indictment of Jim Bowden's failure as a general manager and as a human being. But then I realized that I did that last week, and I have to keep the content fresh on this blog or you all will stop reading.

The more I thought about Church's demotion, I realized that us fans wouldn't have had the same shocked reaction if it had been Brandon Watson that was sent down. From my point of view, die-hard Nats fans simply like Church better because he spent so much time with the club last season and there's a sense that he's capable of a breakout year. While it's true that Watson had the better Spring Training, he seems destined to be a career journeyman fourth outfielder type (see Tucker, Michael). Church, on the other hand, gave us glimpses of his potential to be a fixture in the Nats outfield for several years to come.

For the time being, however, Church's demotion makes sense from a baseball perspective. He can be sent to the minors and remain under club control; Watson cannot.* Bowden cannot risk losing an outfielder in the likely event that Guillen ends up on the disabled list in the next 60 days. Church will certainly be back with the Nats, the question is only how soon. Even though the decision makes sense, I was looking forward to seeing what he could do in a full season with the club and now we'll have to wait another year for that.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, this less-than-optimal situation falls once again on the shoulders of Jim Bowden. He spent the offseason acquiring a handful of outfielders to compete for already crowded positions. It was inevitable that someone talented would have to start the year in New Orleans. Soriano's acquiescence in left field sealed Church's fate: as low man on the Nats outfielding totem pole, he was the one that got reassigned. Were Bowden not so arrogant and foolish he would have started an outfield of Church in left, Watson in center and Guillen in right and spent Soriano's $10 million on a pitcher or two. A Church/Watson/Guillen outfield would have been a fine defensive outfield and perfectly serviceable at the plate, too. But Bowden's obsession with The Deal dragged Soriano into the mix kicking and screaming.

As Spring Training 2006 draws to a close I can only shake my head at what a disappointing and distasteful offseason it has been for the club, both on and off the field. Still, I'm going to go to the Nats/O's exhibition on Friday night and holler my lungs out for the home team. Thank goodness for baseball season!

*Edit: My commenters, who are more astute than I, point out that Watson indeed can be sent down. So my assertion that sending down Church was the default logical move was wrong. Nonetheless, someone had to be sent down due to the glut of outfielders that JimBo brought into camp, and Church simply lost the game of musical chairs.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pardon the Interruption

My efforts to get Michael Wilbon to talk Nationals baseball during today's chat were met with a serious smackdown:

Downtown Washington, D.C.: Wall-to-wall Mason? Come on...the Nats start the season in one week!

Michael Wilbon: Personally, I could care less that the Nats start next week. It's week one of 150 weeks of baseball. So what? Barry Z (sic). and Tom Boswell will cover baseball. A half-dozen of us are going to Indy to cover Mason, and that's just 6 sportswriters. I know Metro is sending at least 2 reporters, perhaps 3. Style will send somebody and maybe Business. We're talking 10 reporters and columnists from The Post vs. 2 covering the Nats. You sure you want to argue this with me?

Clearly my interruption was not pardoned! While I'm amused that Wilbon took time out of his busy day to scold me, this reaction is indicative of the local media interest level in the Nationals. The George Mason story should get top billing today, and again this weekend when the game is played. However, this little exchange brilliantly illustrates the media attitude that feeds the nation-wide perception that Washington is Not A Baseball Town.

After an offseason of cutthroat plot twists that rival The Sopranos, the team is about to embark on its second season. Sometimes it seems that the Post could care less about providing adequate resources to cover the team. The paper started its offseason by diverting Barry Svrluga, the team's popular beat writer, to Torino for the least-cared about Olympics of all time. Svrluga returned to Viera, but gone was the popular Nationals blog that, in my opinion, planted the first seeds of a diehard fanbase.

The paper also seems content to continue providing an equal level of coverage to the Baltimore Orioles, subjecting us to the annoying, twerpish musings of beat writer Jose Arangure. The Orioles coverage was understandable when Washington had no team, but seems practically inexcuseable today. I'm sure there are still many Orioles fans in the paper's circulation area, but to provide that city's team with an equal amount of ink seems out out of sync with the actual level of interest in the D.C. area. After all, the Post wouldn't dream of cutting into its saturation of Redskins coverage by giving equal time to the Baltimore Ravens. And heaven forbid that Michael Wilbon interrupt his "wall-to-wall" coverage of college hoops and the Wizards' latest non-season. Pardon the interruption, indeed.


Edit: I missed this at first, but Wilbon actually refers to Svrluga as "Barry Z." Maybe in his haste to put my in my place he made a mental association to Barry Zito, but come on...this is exactly what I'm talking about.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Your Chance to Taunt Comcast!

By now, we're all familiar with the Comcast/Peter Angelos greed-o-rama that keeps Comcast customers from seeing Nationals games on TV. I also blogged recently about the Comcast Corporation's blatantly unethical end-around state and federal bribery laws. If you skipped that post, go back and read it. I assure you that you'll hate Comcast even more.

This Sunday at noon, the folks at NationalsPride.com have organized a press conference/rally at RFK Stadium to urge Comcast to carry Nationals games on MASN. This event will be attended by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, Del. Peter Franchot, Del. Brian Moran, and more. If you have some free time on Sunday afternoon, stop by and add your voice to the fray.

I genuinely hope that the event will be a success. Sadly I think the crowd's protest will fall on deaf ears. The only thing Comcast cares about is money. In fact, the company has been laughed out of court during several lawsuits against Peter Angelos, yet still refuses to relent. It's great that Moran and others will be there, but it's the local officials that have the authority to grant franchise rights to new cable providers. Governor Kaine signed legislation recently that makes this easier in Virginia, but this legislation doesn't take effect until July 1, too late to have an impact on the 2006 broadcast schedule. Besides, Comcast is a Maryland company with deep ties to the Ehrlich administration (read my post above to learn just how deep). I don't think they give a rat's ass about Moran or anyone, and they certainly don't care about the fans.

However, I do know of one sure-fire way to punish Comcast and get them to take note. Hit those bastards in the pocketbook! If you are a Comcast customer and are lucky enough to have a choice in cable providers in your area, call 1-888-COMCAST and cancel your service. When they ask why you're cancelling, make sure you tell them it's because they refuse to let you watch your home team. If Comcast is the only cable provider available to you now, simply wait until the end of the 2006 season, when Angelos's contract with Comcast SportsNet expires and new franchise rights have been granted to other cable providers. In 2007, I'm betting that both Orioles and Nats games will be on MASN, and Verizon FIOS will be available just about everywhere in Virginia.

Zephyrs Save Summer for New Orleans Kids

A few weeks ago Jonathan Mayo of MiLB.com asked Nats bloggers to spread the word about a great story out of New Orleans. The New Orleans Zephyrs, the Nationals' minor league affiliate, are doing several things to better the lives of children affected by Hurricane Katrina. The team has been working nonstop this offseason to get Zephyr Field ready for Opening Day on April 6. On that day, a child can get in for free with each adult ticket. In addition, the team is working through the Frank Foundation's Magical Builders to renovate the West Bank Boys and Girls club, which was badly damaged during the storm: "many of New Orleans' citizens who were evacuated located to this area, so the club will be providing summer programs for a very large number of kids who otherwise would have no place to go." The bathrooms, computer lab, gym, roof and kitchen will all need to be replaced in the club.

It's great to see that the Zephyrs are helping out in New Orleans, and this article is a reminder that there is still a great need for volunteers and donations for the storm's victims. If you're looking for a baseball-related charitable cause or simply want to help, visit the Magical Builders web site.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Crisis Averted

It looks like Alfonso Soriano has relented and decided to play left field.

In a sick way, I was hoping that this situation would end up leaving Jim Bowden with the maximum amount of egg on his face and a clear mandate for his near-instantaneous ouster under the new regime.

It's good that Soriano's finally out there, but now this makes Bowden look like he knew what he was doing all along.

Now people, most likely Tom Boswell and his farking foam finger, will say: "hey, if he got Soriano to change positions he can surely get X player to do Y thing..." And the Shaggy Dog story that is Bowden rolls happily on.

In any event, I hope Soriano blossoms in his new position and finds some peace as a member of the Nationals. I'd rather the team be the beneficiary of his great potential than the target of his malfeasance.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Caught with his Leather Pants Down

*WARNING: This post contains language that is unsuitable for children under 14, Jim Bowden's friends/family, and people who are offended by potty mouth blogging.

To no one's surprise, Alfonso Soriano is refusing to play left field. This is unsurprising because Soriano has told everyone who would listen that he refuses to play any position other than second base. The first person he told was Jim Bowden, who should have also been the last person in to Nationals organization to hear this refusal. Jim Bowden should have taken his business elsewhere, but he didn't, and now the Nationals clubhouse is infected with this poisonous cancer of a baseball player instead of the optimism of a fresh season.

I used to think that Jim Bowden was an underappreciated savant with a knack for running a small market club on a tight budget. I now think that he's a despicable, talentless asshole whose only concern is calling attention to himself through outrageous deals. I'll be the first to admit that I was late to the anti-Bowden party, but this situation with Soriano (and the almost-situation with Sammy Sosa) opened my eyes to the truth about the Nationals GM: It's all about him.

Bowden is starting to remind me of the Jerry Lundegaard character in the movie Fargo. If you remember, Lundegaard (played by William H. Macy) is desperate to get $80,000 so he can invest in some parking lots and finally make something of himself. His wealthy father-in-law knows he's a moron and refuses to loan him the money. But Lundegaard is so obsessed with getting those parking lots that he pays two men to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom. This is precisely the psychology of Bowden: he's obsessed with the deal, and only the deal. He cares nothing for the sacrifices or risks involved. He cares nothing about the potential fallout or the effect on the team. He's like a junkie or an alcoholic: he just needs one more fix and he'll deal with the consequences later.

Jim Bowden has left Frank Robinson with a giant pile of shit in his lap. Soriano told Bowden, before the trade ever happened, that he would not switch positions under any circumstances. Bowden ignored him and made the deal. Sportswriters everywhere are labeling Soriano as selfish, which he is, but he is also forthcoming, which Bowden is not. People lament the fact that Soriano is not being a team player, but the Nationals were never his team. It's not like he'd been here for five years and refused to help out the organization that had given him so much. He was an outsider yanked in against his will...I can't blame him for acting to protect his interests. Bowden has no such excuse. He, more than anyone else right now is responsible for the welfare of this team, which he has squandered to the tune of $10 million and the loss of three guys who wanted to be here.

It is impossible to overstate the extent to which Jim Bowden is responsible for the clusterfuck on the field in Viera. Bowden hoped that he could impress the new owners by pulling big names like Soriano and Sosa this offseason into (for now) small-market Washington at virtually any price. He cares nothing for building the farm system or wise stewardship of the team's limited payroll. He lives only for today's headline and tomorrow's deal. In fact, he's already at it again: "We obviously will field offers (for Soriano), but we're not going to give the player away. If we can make a deal that makes sense, we will." The only deal that makes sense to me is trading Jim Bowden for a general manager to be named later.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

We Almost Lost the Team Over This?

The design for the Nationals' new stadium was released today. I'm coming home from work late and not in the mood for a rambling post but I wanted to throw my reaction into the mix.
Why is everyone so up in arms about a view of the Capitol Dome? Personally, I'd rather be constantly reminded that I'm at a baseball game than constantly reminded that I'm in D.C.. Besides, all the aerial shots during the games on MASN (ha!) will almost certainly show the stadium with all the monuments in the background. The view inside won't be that majestic but the postcard , with the stadium in the foreground and the city behind, will look great. If you are that desperate for a reminder that you're in D.C., the man on the corner hawking five "Washington, D.C." t-shirts for ten dollars will be happy to oblige. Hey, pick me up a pink FBI hoodie while you're at it.

If this stadium is to be truly unique then we should break with the recent trend of the Wacky Ballpark Feature. I don't need the stadium to have some kitschy quirk like home run balls hitting a warehouse or splashing into a body of water, or a flagpole or a hill in center field. If I want to see wacky crap I'll go to the Hirshorn. What I do need is good sight lines and concessions inside and more of the great accessibility that makes RFK such a convenient destination. Oh, and a bitchin' JumboTron to show replays, highlights and the Presidential Mario-Kart Race in high-definition.

Also, keep in mind where the stadium is...a slum! The only view there, until the gentrification is complete, will be of slum buildings and vacant lots. Afterward, the surroundings will be worse than Gap or Applebees. I envision the neighborhood as becoming a sort of open-air Tyson's Corner Center. You know, a giant, writhing nightmare of chains, excess and bad taste that plays like a funeral for the individuality of America's cities. In fact, they will almost certainly build the most ghetto-fabulous chain of them all...The Cheesecake Factory!

In short, I'm lukewarm based on the drawings alone, but I'm going to reserve judgment until I see what it's like inside the park.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

1-888-COMCAST

If you're like me, your television is a prisoner of a greedy and despicable monopoly. No, not Major League Baseball...no, not Microsoft...the monopolist I'm talking about here is Comcast. We all know the sad story of the feud between the Baltimore Orioles and the cable company that has resulted in the airing of just 35 Nationals games on MASN for Comcast subscribers. But the saddest story of all has been the failure of our supposed free-market economy to give unhappy consumers like me a choice.

I literally have no choice when it comes to my cable provider. I live in Arlington, where Comcast has exclusive franchise rights. I live on the second floor of a two-story condominium, don't have a balcony, and can't affix a satellite dish to an exterior wall. DirecTV and its ilk are out of the question for me as well. I routinely check the web sites of other cable providers to see if they may be offering service in my area but alas, the Comcast empire remains unblemished.

Take heart, Comcast prisoners! There may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) signed legislation yesterday that will increase competition in the cable industry across the state. The law, which takes effect July 1, will make it easier for a company like Verizon to offer cable service in areas where it currently has no access:

"The current setup requires companies wishing to offer television service to get a cable franchise through direct negotiation with a city or county, which often can take as long as 18 months. Under the new law, if a deal cannot be worked out in 45 days, a company can commit to a standard statewide agreement and begin offering television service 30 days later."

This is good news for cable consumers at large but comes too late to help Nats fans this season. Even if Verizon starts negotiating with Arlington County on July 1, the 45 day negotiating window and the 30 day waiting period would run right into the end of the baseball season.

In the final analysis, the new legislation may or may not have an impact on the Nationals' television situation. The Orioles' contract with Comcast SportsNet expires at the end of the 2006 season, and it seems extremely likely that Peter Angelos will part ways with that network as soon as possible. After all, he has a vast stake in MASN, which requires the broadcast of both Orioles and Nationals games to become profitable. However, Comcast ultimately controls what comes through its network and could retaliate by blacking out MASN altogether.

All of this means that I will be switching to Verizon FIOS internet and cable service the minute it becomes available in my house. I have had it with Comcast's price gouging and its practice of punishing customers in one market over an unwinnable legal battle in another. As if that weren't enough, the company has repeatedly sought to influence powerful government officials and regulators by hiring them or their relatives to cushy jobs at the company. The most notable example of this is, Maryland First Lady Kendal Ehrlich who: "worked for Comcast as a lawyer (while her husband, then a member of Congress, was on the House telecommunications subcommittee), Mrs. Ehrlich is now producer and host of a little-seen, on-demand talk show on substance abuse. For 16 shows, she is paid an annual salary of $55,000 by Comcast; that's more than $3,400 per half-hour show." Take note: the Comcast company is using the money that you spend on cable television and other services to bribe the very lawmakers and regulators who decide the scope of competition in the local cable television industry. Your money is being spent to keep you from watching the Nationals.

I've provided the telephone number for Comcast customer service as the title of this post. If you call the number this fall to cancel your service, you may get a busy signal. That will be the other 2 million of us all calling to cancel then, too.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Off With Their Heads!

Jim Bowden's contract was extended through the 2006 season yesterday. Our patience with him was not. This really isn't much of a surprise. In fact, I was surprised last winter when they only extended his contract through April 30. Now here we are in March, and April is at our doorstep and, well, we need someone to be the GM.

The Federalist was right on when he observed: "decisions can't be made in the absence of a decisionmaker---yes, even bad decisions or potentially bad ones. No outsider is going to take this job yet, nor will an offer be made to one until a new owner is named. Futher, if Bowden is eliminated, then Tony Tavares just delegates the job to one of Bowden's employees, perhaps Bob Boone." You know, Bob Boone, former failed manager of the Cincinnati Reds and current Interim Senior Director of Player Development/Assistant General Manager of the Washington Nationals. Yes, that is his actual title. At least Bowden is predictably unpredictable. Boone would probably go off the reservation.

I hate to say this, but we all know that the Nationals are pretty much a lost cause in 2006, partially because of the delay in ownership and partially because of the dramatic rise of the Mets and Phillies in the division. Tony Tavares is right when he says that the new owner won't be installed until mid-season, when it's very likely that the 2006 campaign will already be in the tank. If we're 15 games out at the All-Star break, what's the rush for a new owner to start tossing the front office?

Regular readers of this blog know that I try to get people to think outside of the fan's perspective and into the mindset of the businessmen (and women) that run this game. The new owner of the Nationals will not only be a businessman but a first-time baseball owner (unless it's Smulyan, but it won't be.) That means that in addition to dealing with all the paperwork and all the financing and whatever else, the new owner will have to learn an entirely new set of business processes.

Believe me, they are not going to start cleaning house in the field operations department. Why? The GM, manager and assistants have little to do with the team's immediate cash flow. The new owner will immediately move to capitalize on his investment by shoring up the profit centers of the business. That means marketing, ticket sales, and merchandising. I expect to see a sudden burst of mid-to-late-season promotional material in every conceivable media outlet. It will be much easier for the new owner to hire experienced marketing, sales and merchandising executives in July than to find a new GM.

In fact, I'll be upset if we do get rid of Bowden before the end of the 2006 season. This franchise deserves the opportunity to conduct a dilligent search for the best GM on the market, and we really won't know who is available until teams start shaking things up in October. Now that the team's future in D.C. is guaranteed, the Nationals can get the best candidate their money can buy. The last thing the team needs is another stop gap guy, the likes of which are usually in abundance come August. The best course of action would be for the owner to dismiss Bowden in October and hire a new GM by Thanksgiving in time for the free agency period.

I've also seen a lot of speculation about whether the new owner will get rid of Frank Robinson. People seem to accept as a forgone conclusion that both Robinson and Bowden will be fired. Bowden is not long for this world but it will not be nearly as easy to get rid of Frank. The man is a baseball icon, and men of his stature are not lightly tossed aside. That being said, his managerial skills are dubious and he is getting a bit long in the tooth. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see him around for this season and at least part of next season. As a fan, I think I need to see him in action again this year before I decide how I feel about him.

I think this franchise desperately needs some new blood in the front office, but we shouldn't lose sight of the equally dire need for new blood in the back office. With 2006 looking like a long shot, fleshing out the back office should be the new owner's top priority. Jim Bowden and his staff and even Frank Robinson should be replaced in due time, but not until a legitimate vetting of top candidates takes place. The new owner will leave a large footprint in the history of this franchise. He'd be wise to tread lightly at first.

Attention Bloggers!

The warm weather has prompted me to do a bit of spring cleaning in my blogroll. I've removed links to any Nats blogs that appear to have been abandoned by their stewards. I've also removed links to generic "sports blogs" or blogs that focus mostly on politics or Swedish Professional Skee-ball with a Nats article tossed in every four months.. No offense to anyone I've removed, I'm just trying to keep the focus narrow here.

That being said, I highly recommend each of the blogs that I've linked to. I read each and every one of them daily in my handy NetNewsWire RSS reader. I think a link is the highest compliment one blogger can pay another. If you have a Nats blog that I haven't linked to, please let me know...I'd like to link to you.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Council Passes Stadium Legislation!

Updating a previous post this evening by Misschatter: the D.C. Council grudgingly passed the stadium legislation at about 8:45 P.M. The resolution was passed by voice vote so I didn't get the exact count, but it sounded like 9-4, an exact replica of the February 7/8 vote.

Mr. Ghandi, go sell those bonds!

Now, let the rampant speculation over the owner begin!

I think it's going to be Lerner...anyone who says it's going to be Smulyan is full of crap. If you read other Nats blogs, you'll see tons of speculation that Smulyan will get the team, but these predictions are based solely on cynicism. The (ridiculous) thinking goes that MLB has hurt the team by protracting the ownership question and therefore is unilaterally and unequivocally out to hurt the team in general.

Look, if MLB wanted to give Smulyan a team so badly they would have given him the Reds. For one, Cincinnati is only an hour and a half from Indianapolis, Smulyan's home base. Also, the Nationals' future in D.C. was not a slam dunk until the events of the past 72 hours. If they really wanted to give Smulyan a team they would have given him the sure thing. I think baseball has kept Smulyan's name in the news as indirect leverage over the D.C. Council throughout the whole stadium fight. MLB held the silent threat of outside ownership up as a possible consequence of the Council pushing back too hard on the stadium.

Throughout this whole ordeal, baseball has a knack for repackaging some insignificant quasi-perk as a "concession." The free tickets for the disadvantaged youth, the baseball academy and the "extra" $20 million are great examples. These things cost baseball almost nothing, yet baseball can throw them into the mix in order to claim that they are sweetening the deal. I predict that the same thing will happen with the ownership choice. Bud will chose Lerner and then hold a big press conference championing the importance of local ownership for the Nationals and the D.C. area: "Look what a good guy I am! These nasty council folks almost took your team away, but I made concessions to get the deal done and now I'm giving the team to a local guy!"

Remember, MLB has another stadium/relocation fight brewing in Miami. They are going to try as hard as possible to wash some of the stink of the D.C. affair off their hands before doing this again. Things got so bad that Marion Barry ended up looking like a hero in the national press, while Bob DuPuy and Bud Selig were painted as evil greed-mongers. Somewhere in America, a city council needs to take note: the only way to beat baseball is to make them look worse than you do.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Not With a Bang, but a Whimper...

Whoever thought it would end like this? Major League Baseball inauspiciously signed the Nationals' lease agreement in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon. Months of bad guys, bad blood and bad faith are now quietly receding into the tide of the history of the Nationals' franchise and that of the entire Washington area. You've fretted about this since September 2004. You've lamented the situation and speculated about the outcome to your co-workers, friends, spouse and anyone who would listen. You've lain awake in bed wondering what would happen. Admit it.

They say that which does not kill us makes us stronger. In a twisted way, Major League Baseball and the D.C. City Council have, in less than two years, generated more die-hard fans than a 2005 Wild Card berth could have. We had them, we loved them, we almost lost them. There is an acute sense of What Might Have Been, a feeling that a great tragedy has been avoided. To label the potential loss of a team as tragic in light of the events of this decade seems maudlin, but 2.7 million of us would have grieved if MLB had told D.C. to take a hike. A drive past the silent, empty hulk of RFK Stadium in 2007 would have been almost unbearable.

But the lease has been signed, the bonds will soon be issued and soon the cranes will start building the stadium, a place where all of us will enjoy countless cherished memories over the next several decades. Twenty-five years from now, us old-timers will tell sticky, Sno-Cone covered kids how close they came to not having a baseball team to call their own. They'll be bored and uninterested. We'll smile. We'll remember this day as the day it all really began.

This day is for you, Nats Fan. Don your Curly W caps, take a walk in the sun, and dream about warm June evenings at the ballgame.