Break up the Nats!

Joel Sherman, baseball columnist for Our Nation’s Newspaper of Record, chronicles the now-systematic underachievement the Washington Nationals have suffered over the past four years:

  • The 2012 Nats won 98 games, won their division, and seemed destined for a run of excellence despite losing a hard-fought first-round series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • In 2013, the record fell to 86-76, 10 games behind Atlanta for the division and four out of the second wild card spot.
  • The Nats were back on top of the division 2014, with 96 wins and a roster finally coming into its own – until their bats went cold in the first round of the playoffs and San Francisco beat them in four games.

It’s 2015, and the Nats are in second place again, seemingly stuck in neutral (and under .500) despite big years from Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer. Like a Member of Congress in a safe district, the Nats appear to excel in even-numbered years and coast in between. Sherman correctly warns that without a second-half surge, they are in danger of losing the division to an underwhelming Mets team and becoming the “best team that never was.”

The manager and general manager are on the hot seat, but the house cleaning may have to include players as well. The only thing worse than being a bad team is being a mediocre team – where the limited successes come just frequently enough to avoid the big shake-ups. If they are serious about winning a championship, it’s time for the Nationals to stop tweaking and start looking at turning over their roster.

Picking a New President

It’s not the main one, though, just the comically costumed mascots who run around Nats Park once per game.  The nightly race among Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt is getting a fifth contestant, to be announced tomorrow.

Any addition has to be the perfect President.

Naturally, DC-centric media outlets have been running polls since the hint was dropped last fall.  So who do you pick to join the Rushmores?  George, Abe, Tom, and Teddy represent historically significant figures who are also outside of mainstream controversy, so you have to balance fame and significance.

We can eliminate most Presidents for being too boring.  Sure, people like Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley had the same office as Washington and Linclon – just like Bubba Crosby had the same job as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.  (Martin Van Buren goes in this group, too – even if it means a harsh visit from the Van Buren Boys.)  James Madison, James Monroe, Ulysses Grant, and Harry Truman were more significant historically, but in a history class kind of way.  They’re on the Dwight Evans/Dale Murphy level of Presidents – if you watched them play they were pretty good, but today’s ten-year-old baseball fans probably don’t know them yet.  There are the incompetent one-termers, like Carter and Hoover, and corrupt cesspool dwellers like Nixon and Harding (who suffers from guilt by association here).

For historically significant, household-name Presidents, there’s Reagan, JFK, FDR, and Jackson.  Given the pro-government-expansion zeitgeist of modern Washington, Reagan would be an out-of-place choice; in a few years when Republicans control everything that may resonate more.  FDR’s confinement to a wheelchair would make for an interesting cameo but probably disqualify him long-term.

JFK has made a previous appearance, so he is probably the favorite.  It’s a good pick: there are elements of the JFK presidency that appeal to both conservatives and liberals, and he was a larger-than-life celebrity President.  The main strike against him is that a giant, foam rubber caricature might diminish the grimness of his Presidency’s end, but it hasn’t seemed to be the case for Lincoln.

Now that we’ve selected the next President to join the race, here’s an even better idea: How about a rotating “Guest President”?  FDR could win a race in his wheelchair one night against the Phillies; the next night the Diamondbacks might see a rotund Taft bouncing past the finish line ahead of Teddy.  Nixon could unfurl the “finish line” from a reel off an old-style tape recorder.  Ford could fall down.  Grant could fall down drunk.  James Buchanan could hit on a guy in the front row.  These jokes practically write themselves.

On the other hand, since the Nats are actually good now, maybe all this is an exercise in overthink – after all, in Milwaukee, they just have sausages.

Clown Questions and the Post-Media Era

It’s 1951.  Underneath the stands at Old Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio dresses after a game, a gaggle of sportswriters crowding around his locker eager for a nugget of wisdom from Joltin’ Joe.  A cub reporter from the 78 daily newspapers New York City had at the time elbows his way through and asks if he plans will celebrate tonight’s win with a late night rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe.

Joe’s eyebrows raise in a mixture of mockery and disbelief.  “I’m not going to answer that,” he chuckles.  “That’s a clown question, bro.”

As the entire world knows now, that quote didn’t come from the Yankee Clipper but the National Treasure, Bryce Harper.  There were t-shirts for sale by the next morning, there are video mash up jokes, and, of course, tweets-a-plenty.

Mark it down: this is when Washington DC officially accepted baseball.  For all Ryan Zimmerman’s heroics as the franchise’s first home-grown star since the relocation from Montreal and Stephen Strasburg’s at-times otherworldly pitching and always otherworldly hype, nothing feeds this particular home town crowd like a witty retort to the press.  Inside the Beltway Bubble, pundits pondered over whether the quote might find it’s way to the podium at the White House briefing room.

Jokes aside, it’s a valid point.  And one the other Mormon looking to stick around DC might think about. Harper’s disdain for the reporter (if not his word choice) might work for politicians.  Remember the infamous 2008 interview where Katie Couric asked inane inquiries about Sarah Palin’s news consumption habits?  Palin did herself no favors trying to answer what were pretty dumb questions.

When done right, a snarky, off-the-cuff comeback is more powerful than answering a question “the right way.”  That reporter who wanted to know if Harper was going to crack open a cold one might have been put off by Harper’s flippant response, but it didn’t matter.  The rest of the world saw it, and liked it, and unless that reporter is friends with Cole Hamels there isn’t much he can do.  Harper’s message is out.

It’s doubtful that the communications firms in town are prepping an office for Communications Strategist Bryce Harper after his playing days are over – he may be a whale of a ballplayer, but his wisecrack was just a wisecrack.  Maybe there’s a second lesson there though: that if you have to overthink your response to a question, your answer will suffer.

Or as Yogi Berra put it, you can’t think and hit at the same time.