November 18, 2009

Chico Ain't The Man

Who knew that the toughest beat in DC wasn't the White House or the Pentagon, but Nationals Park? Just two years after Barry Svrluga (of sainted memory) left for the apparently more relaxing Redskins beat, WaPo Nats beat writer Aaron "Chico" Harlan is abandoning ship. Per the Post's memo obtained by FishbowlDC:

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.
Now, some would argue that the Post has been, or should have been, looking for a new reporter to cover the Nats from the day Harlan started. He certainly didn't do himself any favors with his revelation to the Washingtonian that he doesn't particularly care for sports and would rather be a food writer, but he gets a pass from me.

As bloggers we've struggled (and failed) to find something interesting and relevant to say about the Washington Nationals that wasn't just long strings of profanity off and on for five years now. We've done it without deadlines, endless travel and dealing with reluctant players, coaches and executives, all while under pressure to break "news". As much as I love watching and writing about Nats baseball, I can't imagine doing Chico Harlan's job half as well as he did.

Bon appetit Chico. Nationals Journal's loss is the Food section's gain.

November 15, 2009

More on Riggleman's Qualifications

Bill Ladson and his hefty (mail) sack chime in on Jim Riggleman's installation as manager:

What did you think about the Nationals making Jim Riggleman the permanent manager?
-- Charlie B., Washington

It was a great move [...] I loved the way Riggleman gives opponents the element of surprise -- hit and run with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, a surprise bunt, squeeze plays and stealing bases.

Ah yes, taking the bat out of your Silver Slugger-winning third baseman's hands by making him swing at slop so you can put the guy at first in motion. Daring! Unorthodox! Dumb! And the surprise bunt, the Spanish Inquisition of baseball plays!

I don't know about you, but after this I'm psyched for the 2010 edition of The Elements of Surprise by William Ladson and James Riggleman. No one, and I mean no one is going to see that Josh Willingham suicide squeeze on Opening Day coming!

November 14, 2009

Did The Best 'man Win?

This has been a good news/bad news week on the Nats front. Ryan Zimmerman raking in the overdue hardware: good news. Jim Riggleman losing his interim tag: bad news. The Nats looking to upgrade the middle infield: good news. Moving Guz to second and calling that an upgrade: bad news.

In the warm immediate afterglow of Zimmerman's Silver & Gold tour I'm willing to overlook the fact that the Gold Glove is a fatally flawed award too often given to a well-known offensive talent from a medium-to-large market who's not a total butcher with the leather. I'd prefer a genuine acknowledgement that Zimm is a unique defensive talent, but that's the way the game is played. The Silver Slugger? Well, Soriano got one for his 40-40-40 season in 2006, so it must be some measure of offensive prowess. Good on Ryan for coupling his usual defensive brilliance with a bounce-back offensive campaign.

Now, about Riggleman. I said in the last post that I was prepared to rescind my positive commentary on the nascent Kasten-Rizzo regime if Interim Jim got the full-time gig. Upon reflection I'm not prepared to go quite that far... yet, but I'm not happy about the managerial pick. Others have spilled many bytes comparing Jim Riggleman to Bobby Valentine and ultimately coming to a "six of one/half dozen of the other" conclusion. I won't dispute that. My gripe is almost entirely with the selection process. I can't shake the feeling that the dice were loaded for Riggleman from the day he took over as Manny Acta's bench coach.

In my mind the search for a new manager should start with a clean slate. The goal should be to find the best person to manage the 2010 Washington Nationals. In-house candidates are fine, but if you want me to believe that the best man to take the helm is the guy who was second in command of the previous shipwreck you're going to need some pretty substantial supporting evidence. Jim Riggleman's key qualifications seem to be that he's managed before, he knows the personnel and he's willing to work for what the Lerners are willing to pay.

I'll grant that there's something to the prior manager experience argument, just as there is a benefit to knowing the ropes of any job. But managing before isn't synonymous with managing well, or you probably wouldn't be in the market for a new position. Just recycling the same 30 -35 guys over and over more or less guarantees you're never going to uncover new talent.

Knowing the personnel is definitely a plus; Riggleman's already had his learning curve. But again, if that's a major qualification you're pretty much limiting your applicant pool to the bench coach, the field coaches and one or two minor league skippers. Learning new players is something every manager has to do, sometimes on the fly in the heat of a late season pennant race. Don't you want some evidence that your guy has that skill too?

Finally, the $64,000 question. Is Jim Riggleman getting paid more than $64,000 to manage the Nats this year? We'll never know. Both he and his agent, the excellently monikered Burton Rocks, have been sworn to secrecy. C'mon Jim, D.C.'s a company town, everybody knows what everybody makes, so let's have it. We're you really the best man for the job, or just the most readily available?

I suppose it's possible that Steve Jobs' executive assistant is in the best position to take over Apple when he retires. I'll even allow for the slight possibility that Joe Biden is the second most qualified person in the United States to be President. But the idea that the best manager for the 2010 Washington Nationals, better than Bobby V, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, Tim Foli and an unknown cast of dozens, just happened to be riding shotgun for Manny Acta the whole time? Sorry, I don't buy it.

November 5, 2009

Dave & Nate Take On: The Post-Post Season

In this episode, Dave and Nate take on… Fan fatigue, the vindication of Manny Acta and why Dan Snyder is the best thing never to happen to the Nats.

Nate: If it’s November, it must be time to drag ourselves out of a blogging coma.

Dave: So I’ve been rather quiet this year. I’ve been so quiet I can’t even really remember the last time I blogged. Nate has pretty much done the bulk of the writing here, and even he couldn’t pull something out for September or October… making the blog much like the team. (rimshot) It’s been incredibly hard to work up enthusiasm this year. Thanks to MLB’s text messaging service I’ve felt the pain of 103 text messages on my phone telling me of another loss, and only 59 times did that “bing” mean there was a win. Let’s recap:

We couldn’t bring ourselves to buy season tickets this year, which turned out to be the best non-investment of the year.

Nate: Second best, to me not renewing my ‘Skins tix, but more on that later.

Dave: Fair enough. Point is, there wasn’t a game we wanted to see that we couldn’t just buy tickets for, and usually we ended up with better seats to boot. This also meant we went to a lot LESS games, because we weren’t obligated to be there two or three times a week. Frankly, I don’t see us renewing next year either - Nats season tickets are nobody’s idea of a good deal right now.

The gameday experience at Nats Park is still a great time, but now even more for the stadium than the game. I do love getting a Half Smoke All The Way, and we had a pretty great rainout night just watching the rain fall and stuffing our faces with food and beer. Funny, the best night there was a night they didn’t play….

Nate: Because just like the lottery, you can’t lose when you don’t play. But let’s put the past in the past and never speak of the 2009 season ever again. Certainly one of the key figures from that forgettable period in Nationals history is doing a good job of moving on… new Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta. Am I crazy for eagerly anticipating Major League 4? I’m not going to harp on how Manny got a raw deal in DC, but the Indians sure snapped him up quick, didn’t they?

Dave: They did. My back of the napkin analysis was that Manny got a bum deal. Trader Jim left Manny with a collection of pieces that weren’t designed to fit, and it shouldn’t be a surprise they didn’t work well together. (I’ll leave the comparisons to Jim Zorn to Nate.) Removing Manny didn’t make the team noticeably better. I’m a fan of Manny’s, and will do a little of the harping for Nate. As for Major League 4, I didn’t even know there was a version three.

Speaking of Zorn, I think the Lerner family is clearly benefiting from the fact that Dan Snyder is taking all the heat for being the worst owner in Washington, much less in all of sports. Being cheap isn’t half the crime that being evil is. Watching the Skins implode has taken the pressure off the Nats for being the worst team around. Both stink, but the Redskins have managed to take the smell to the national stage and come off looking absolutely ridiculous. At least the Lerners aren’t using security to take down fans with signs or suing their ticket holders. But maybe it was smart to drop those Nats tickets before they got any ideas.

Nate: Uncle Ted and the boys may be indifferent to the product on the field, but at least they aren’t actively undermining the coaches and antagonizing the fans on a daily basis, all while wringing every last nickel out of 40 years of accumulated goodwill. One thing the Lerners seem to have figured out, albeit belatedly, is that the business of sports is different from the business of business. Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo appear to have been given more latitude to run the baseball side of the franchise. It’s the Kasten & Rizzo Show now, and from here on the results will speak for themselves. Contrast the Redskins, where accountability seems entirely absent, and the Nationals almost look like a competent organization. Dan Snyder, the gift that keeps on giving.

(I reserve the right to take everything I just wrote back if Jim Riggleman gets the permanent managerial gig for 2010.)