Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sic Semper Tyrannis

The tale of the rivalry between the Nationals and the Orioles is an old one. The struggle for baseball independence in our nation's capital has its roots in the birth of our nation itself. In 1765, the British empire found herself in dire need of money after the French and Indian war. Parliament created a series of acts designed to extract money from the growing and prosperous American colonies. These acts raised taxes, restricted the importation of goods from outside the British Empire, and allowed the British military to quarter their troops in private homes without the residents' consent. These new taxes and restrictions were the spark that unleashed rebellion in the colonies, leading to the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In the early 2000s, the Baltimore Orioles baseball franchise found itself in dire need of money after a seemingly endless string of losing seasons and waning attendance. Owner Peter Angelos, amid the rumors of the Montreal Expos being relocated to Washington, enacted draconian measures aimed at protecting his perceived empire, which he claimed stretched from the Pennsylvania border south through North Carolina. Angelos was unsuccessful in his efforts to prevent the relocation of the Expos, but he convinced Bud Selig to give him something even better: all but $20 million of an ownership stake in the Nationals' new television network, known as MASN.

Today, the Orioles franchise continues its colonization of baseball in Washington. Angelos's dispute with Comcast restricts paying fans from watching Nationals games, while continuing to shove Orioles games down our collective gullet. Angelos continues to claim Nats territory for the Orioles, as evidenced most vividly by the continued presence of the Orioles retail store in Farragut Square. For all these transgressions, and many more, we Nationals fans must rise up and declare our independence from Peter Angelos and the Orioles!

The loss of the American colonies was the beginning of the end of the British empire. Today, England is no more than a tiny island, and a cultural colony of the large and powerful United States. In like fashion, the day will soon come when Baltimore, a tiny city and a cultural colony of D.C., takes its rightful place as a baseball backwater while the Nationals become a powerful, big-money team.

So ask yourselves: is tonight the beginning of an on-field rivalry between the Orioles and Nationals? Probably not, but it will hopefully start another chapter of our independence from the Orioles. Like the bumper sticker says, if you're not outraged you haven't been paying attention. This weekend is our chance to support the Nats, while unleashing a torrent of boos on the Orioles the likes of which we haven't seen at RFK since Barry Bonds came to town. Boo them for their owner. Boo them for their cable network. Boo them for their harbor and aquarium, boo them for those orange uniforms. Most of all, boo them for making you wait thirty-two years to see these games.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bowden's At It Again

Jim Bowden's latest column in the Examiner is an extremely disturbing one. Bowden basically tells us fans, here in early May, that he is already planning on starting up the old trade-o-matic any day now:

In our situation (the team's slow start), you never want to make a trade just to make a trade or just to shake things up. You only want to make a deal if it will benefit the organization over the long run. Remember, you always have to give up something to get something.

In the past, I have never been afraid to trade proven major league talent for unproven minor league talent that can help your organization in the long run. For example, I traded Dave Burba for Sean Casey; Jeff Shaw for Paul Konerko; Elmer Dessens for Felipe Lopez; Rob Bell for Edwin Encarnacion; John Smiley for Danny Graves; and Jeff Brantley for Dmitri Young. All of those deals received immediate public criticism. However, all worked out in helping build for the future. The deals all reduced payroll and all produced good young players that would help for years.

Uh, okay. NONE of those trades he just mentioned helped the Reds in the "long run" except for maybe Lopez and Encarnacion. Why not the others, you ask? Well, Bowden (or his successors) TRADED them all away! Shaw was a lights-out closer who lived just up the road from Cincinnati and desperately wanted to play for the team for several more years. Bowden traded him to the Dodgers for Konerko, who at that time was nowhere near the player he became. But guess what? Bowden traded Konerko, just as he was about to blossom, to the White Sox for some minor leaguers that never panned out. Danny Graves was a good closer for awhile, until his arm died and he started flipping off fans. Scott Williamson was a better closer, but Bowden forced him to stay in a setup role. Dmitri Young is a career journeyman, pinch hitter type. Brantley was a starting pitcher. Nice trade, Bowden, you jackass.

Bowden continues:

There are three main ways to add good young talent to an organization: First is the amateur draft (where I have been involved in the drafting of such players as Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Barry Bonds and Moises Alou). Second is international signings as the Braves have proved with Andruw Jones and the Expos did with Vladimir Guerrero. Finally, there’s trading veteran players for young players as described above.

We are working on all three methods to improve this club. That is part of the long-term plan.

Will there be a fire sale?

No.

Have we given up on this team?

No.

However, the Lerner family and incoming team president, Stan Kasten, have made the long-term plan clear. The plan will work. It just takes time, patience and some initially unpopular trades. The course is set. Enjoy watching the process as we build for a bright future for the Washington Nationals.

There are three reasons that I know Bowden is full of crap. First, he's a liar. He's clearly given up on the team, and rumors are swirling that all but Zimmerman are on the trading block. Second, haphazard trading of veterans doesn't equal a "long-term plan." Third, "unpopular" trades is a euphemism for "bad" trades. Bowden congratulates himself for making trades for the long-term success of the Reds, but the trades have neither been ultimately successful themselves nor have the Reds been successful. Their last playoff appearance was eleven years ago.

I really wish that the Examiner would stop giving Bowden a pulpit from which to ply us with his pithy excuses and self-congratulatory rhetoric. Lerner, Kasten, would you please go find us a professional, low-profile baseball man and let Bowden get a head start on his next gig? Maybe ESPN 3 will launch soon and Bowden can take over the 3-4 AM slot.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Worth 1,000 Words


Yes, Curly W fans, this is the post you've all been waiting for: a riveting account of my daughter's first ever Nationals game!

We dressed five-month-old Maura in her Nationals outfit right before we left the house...we couldn't risk the outfit being slobbered upon or otherwise besmirched. Once we got to the game we headed to the Nationals team store in search of an appropriate matching hat. Alas, the only hats they make for infants are stocking caps, which are damn near useless in May! Despite my best efforts to make a youth cap fit her head, it wasn't happening. So we headed up to our seats in the 400 section. Maura was pretty damn confused at this point. She'd never been in a large crowd before, and she'd certainly never heard that much noise. She was mildly entertained by the antics of Screech, who happened by where we were sitting, but mostly she was just content to watch people walking by. She did enjoy dancing to the music over the PA system, except for that stupid song that comes on when LeCroy comes up to bat. LeCroy wins this year's Jamey Carroll award for stupidest pre-batting psych-up song.

Then came time for the dreaded diaper change. Those of you with little ones know that there are, incredibly, NO diaper changing stations in the RFK restrooms (you hear that Kasten?). So I was forced to be resourceful. I marched into the largest bathroom stall available and deployed, on the floor, the ever useful built-in changing pad on the diaper bag. The diaper was changed in no time and we were back on our way. If you've ever wanted to change your child's diaper on the floor of a public toilet, just go to RFK stadium. I think fan-friendlier places existed in the Soviet Union.

No sooner did we return to the seats than Maura started crying again. This time I took her out to the concourse, and she was content to watch the game on one of the staticky TVs out there. I swear they got better television reception on Mir. Anyway, Maura loves TV, despite being five months old (it's scary) so we watched the long stretch of do-nothing innings that made up most of Sunday's game.

By the eighth inning Maura was overstimulated so Mom graciously took her out to the car while I watched the quasi-riveting finish of the game. It was good to see the Chief get a save, and it was good to see the team get a win in the alternate unis. The best part were the attendance numbers; the announced crowd was over 30,000 people. Think any of that has to do with Bud finally picking an owner? Hmm...

Anyway, it was interesting taking an infant to a game. It was definitely not the most conducive to actually watching the game, but since most of the game was incredibly dull it wasn't too bad. Fun times, indeed.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Guzman Gone

Cristian Guzman is out for the season. The Nationals' erstwhile shortstop worked out at RFK stadium this week in hopes of getting the all-clear for his return to the team. Instead, it was clear that he could not throw through the pain, and he'll now have season-ending surgery.

Oh well. We've got Royce Clayton filling in, and Clayton is basically playing at the level of Guzman's best weeks last season: not acceptable by any means, but not sub-Mendoza line either.

Is there any question that Guzman is Jim Bowden's biggest blunder? Guzman was signed to a four-year, $16 million contract in 2004. Here's what we've gotten for our $8 million through two seasons: 142 games, 100 hits in 456 at bats, 31 RBI! and .219/.260/.314 AVG/OBP/SLG.

That's:

-$56,338.03 per game
-$80,000 per hit
-$258,064.52 per RBI
-$17,543.86 per at bat

At this point, no one would trade for him, not even if Bowden offered to include a handful of magic beans and the entire First Series of Garbage Pail Kids. We are stuck either playing Guzman through the 2008 season or releasing him and eating another $8 million. On top of that, more money will have to be spent on another free agent shortstop, since there are no major-league ready shortstops in the Nats farm system.

Stan Kasten has been quick to praise Bowden in the last few days. However, is Bowden's win-today-at-any-cost technique congruent with Kasten's slow rebuilding philosophy? No, a thousand times no. Jim Bowden is a cancer on this franchise, and it will take at least two seasons for the team to recover from his blunders.

Why two seasons, you ask? It's easy. The Reds fired Bowden two years ago, and they're just now returning to first place.

Fire Bowden. Now.

Related posts:

Beltway Boys: Guzman Going Under Knife Monday, Says "Seeya" to 2006

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Lessons for Lerners

Now that the Lerners' coronation ceremony is over, and ground has been broken on the new stadium, it's time to start thinking about the future direction of the Nationals. In the press conference last night, the Lerners and Stan Kasten asked for fans' patience as the slow rebuilding process begins. Since they're apparently going to take their time figuring out what to do, it's up to us fans to decide for them.

Now, I'm not a baseball executive and probably never will be. But I am a blogger with an MBA, and that qualifies me to post naive, ill-informed suggestions for the Nats brass on the internet. Without further ado, here is the first of a one-part series entitled: Lessons for Lerners.

My first act as the new owner would be a thorough analysis of the franchise's shortcomings. I'm not just talking about the obvious ones like the TV deal. I would have my staff walk around RFK stadium on a game day and watch and listen. So many of the current "problems" with the fan experience are not so much the product of mismanagement as they are symptoms of not enough time and manpower to correct them. I'd make a note anytime I saw a burnt out lightbulb. I'd spend some time in the ticket sales trailer and find out what was making the lines so long. I'd do an assessment of the food situation and determine which food items were causing the longest lines and which were shunned by fans. At about the 5th inning, I'd head up to section 500 and spend the rest of the game there. I'd try to understand some of the things that cause people to leave games early. I'd talk to fans at every opportunity and provide them with a vehicle to submit their suggestions. I'd focus on fixing as many of the small things as possible during the remaining regular season.

On the field, I'd start focusing on making wise personnel decisions. I would put Jim Bowden on lockdown, requiring him to get permission from Stan Kasten before making any trades or free-agent signings. Then, at the trading deadline, I'd require him to trade Soriano and Guillen for as many prospects as he can possibly get.

This offseason, I'd really start buckling down on the big stuff:

  • I'd sit down with Peter Angelos and Comcast and figure out what to do about this TV deal. The best proposal I've heard is some sort of merger, or at least a revenue-sharing arrangement between Comcast SportsNet and MASN. After all, MASN is going to need two channels to show both Nats games and Orioles games. I would refuse to include any politicians in my negotiations.
  • I'd hire a great marketing/PR staff and let them go to work this winter promoting the team. I'd market everywhere in the region in both English and Spanish. I'd also exploit the D.C. tourist gold mine by offering ticket deals to school groups and advertising heavily in tourist traps all over town. I'd open Nationals retail stores in selected area malls and in Baltimore's inner harbor, as payback for that Orioles store in Farragut.
  • I'd dismiss Jim Bowden the minute the last out is recorded on October 2, thanking him for his "service." I'd conduct a thorough search for a new GM, but I'd make sure to hire one by November 1st so the team is ready to deal.
  • I'd offer Frank Robinson a VP position in the front office and I'd hire a new manager, someone who'd be right for a young, rebuilding team. My pick? Davey Johnson. I'd allow that manager to bring in his own bench coaches.
  • RFK could use a makeover. I'm not talking about a Busch-Stadium style remodeling here, but the place could definitely be made less dungeon-like. The peeling exterior of the park needs to be repainted. Brighter light fixtures on the concourses would add a whole new feeling to the place. I'd pay for all this by selling the naming rights to the park.
  • I'd start accepting bids for additional food franchises in RFK. It's great that Red, Hot and Blue is in there, but fans need more. After all, if everyone is bringing Subway sandwiches into the game, why not open up a Subway inside the park? What about Five Guys Burgers and Hard Times Chili? Any other D.C. area stalwarts I'm not considering?
  • The fences MUST be moved in. Just as top pitchers don't want to play in Cincinnati because of the tiny dimensions, top hitters won't want to play in RFK. It's fine to be a pitchers' park, but there's no reason to lead the league in outfield acreage.
  • I'd consider hiring a design firm to change the uniforms. The current unis are okay, but the design was slapped together in a few weeks time when the team was moved here. I'd like to see the team have a logo that was truly timeless, like the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs.
I'm sure the Lerners have their own plans. After all, they've had 17 months to plot and scheme every last detail. I am really looking forward to watching as they add their style to the franchise.

If you were the Lerners, what would you do?

Tony Williams: Our First Nationals Hero?

Our long Nationals nightmare is finally over. Surprising absolutely no one, Bud Selig named the Lerner group as the owner of our beloved baseball franchise yesterday.

Before we dive into the future, though, I think some very important credit needs to be given where it is due. Various groups have been working for years to get baseball back in D.C., but no single person is more responsible for the Expos becoming, and staying, the Washington Nationals than Mayor Anthony Williams. Mayor Bowtie certainly has had his critics, but it is safe to say that without his willingness to put his reputation on the line and without his perseverence in the face of a near-riot on the council.

Williams did literally everything in his power to to assuage the doubts of Major League Baseball about doing business with the D.C. government. When those doubts proved to be well-founded, Williams intervened to make sure that the deal didn't die. Last winter, when Bob DuPuy and the Council had essentially stopped talking, Williams made sure the dialogue didn't completely flame out. When it appeared that the Council would vote down the stadium legislation in February, Williams worked to get Linda Cropp to postpone the vote. Williams spent the next few weeks relentlessly lobbying the other council members, many of whom had their eyes on the Mayor's office themselves. Tony Williams kept lobbying even after the Council initially defeated the legislation, working to make sure that the resolution came back for a vote in the wee hours of the morning.

Regardless of what you think about Williams as a person or as a mayor, there is no doubt that he is the central figure in securing the future of the Nationals in D.C. As the history of this franchise continues to be written, the efforts of Anthony Williams should not be forgotten. Nationals fans everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Race to the Bottom, Part II

Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket? And what are Marion Barry, Vince Orange and Bud Selig doing in here with us? Yesterday, Barry and Orange held a press conference accusing the Lerner group of "renting blacks." This reportedly enraged Bud Selig to the point that he has "virtually ruled out Lerner's two main rivals: a group led by D.C. businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients and a conglomerate led by Indianapolis media executive Jeffrey Smulyan."

Oh honestly! When does this racial bullshit surrounding the Nationals Greed Sweepstakes stop? It's absolutely incredible that Orange and Barry are up in arms over the minority ownership for the Nats, but they seem to have NO PROBLEM with the local football team being named the "Redskins" and no problem with that team not having minority ownership. Think about this for a minute. This city's NFL team has, essentially, a racial slur for a name, yet all these two ass clowns are upset that the Lerners, in particular, have sought additional African-American investors at the commissioner's request.

I agree with the spirit of what they're saying. Tokenism is reprehensible, but Barry and Orange are only coming out of the woodwork on this to grab a headline. In fact, these two men have abused the Nationals for over two years to raise their own political profiles. This latest move is despicable and, in my opinion, offensive to anyone with a brain and a sense of right and wrong. Barry and Orange are singling out the Lerners when, in reality, all three front-running groups have enlisted minority (in the financial sense) minority (in the ethnic sense) investors since the Sweepstakes began in 2004.

The council and the mayor have long supported the Malek-Zients group. They've chastised the Lerners for not coming down to city hall and kissing the ring, despite Selig's explicit instructions to all ownership groups forbidding them to do so. Meanwhile, Smulyan has used the press at every opportunity to garner attention for his bid. When his bid started to slip into third place, he suddenly announced that Eric Holder would be named president of the team. When Selig's announcement appeared imminent last week, he seems to have leaked false news of a decision to Channel 9 because he knew that Selig and DuPuy would retrench to avoid being scooped. In short, Orange, Barry and Smulyan are using every low-profile dirty trick in the book to derail the Lerner bid.

Who gets to decide what is tokenism and what is a genuine effort to be more inclusive? Really, only the minority investors themselves can decide, and I have to believe they've chosen to be a part of the Nationals ownership because it's best for their pocketbooks. Sure, some of these men may also feel the tug of ethnic altruism, but we're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars here...this is not a decision that anyone is taking lightly. Does anyone really believe that a man like Eric Holder would allow himself to be a token? How about Colin Powell? These are men who have already achieved more in their lifetimes than most of us could possibly ever do. They have nothing left to prove to anyone, much less small-time local politicians like Barry and Orange.

In spite of all this, we can't dismiss the charges of tokenism. Perception is often more true than reality. It certainly seemed like tokenism when Smulyan promised to name Holder president of the team just as Selig was meeting with the Lerners. It certainly appeared that all of the groups were using blacks as pawns to win the prize. But in the end, these men are making investment decisions of their own free will and in their own self-interest. They need no pity from us, and they certainly don't need Barry and Orange embarrassing them from the dais.

There is enough racial tension in our community and in our nation without jackasses like Marion Barry and Vincent Orange exploiting situations like this. All we want is a baseball team. We don't care who owns it as long as they are committed to keeping the team here, running it well, and treating the fans with respect. One team, for all of us; one Curly W cap on all our heads. This baseball team should be one more thing that unites people from all over the Washington region, and it's disgusting that politicians would use it to create more division. The racial politics of Barry and Orange is the ugliest episode yet in the dark comedy we call the Nationals.

****

Related posts:

Curly W: A Race to the Bottom
Capitol Punishment: The Post Says It's Lerner
Beltway Boys: It's Getting Worser and Worser
Federal Baseball: So...Lerner
Stephen Pearlstein: Barry's Racial Play is Old School