Monday, February 23, 2009

He Better Soup Up That Segway

The bear ate Jose Rijo and now it's only getting faster.
A federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to baseball prospects from Latin America is looking at Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden as far back as 1994, when he was GM of the Cincinnati Reds, according to a baseball executive familiar with the investigation.
This is a pretty big deal. As far as I know, it's the first time the verb between "FBI" and "Jim Bowden" has been "investigate" rather than "question." Bodes' position seemed to be that of an innocent enabler; a bumbling, ass-headed dupe like Stan Kasten rather than an actual perpetrator. Also, you'd think that this has to be it for Bowden. Be honest - are you going to miss him?

Speaking of embarrassing Dominican Republic-related affairs that keep the Nats in the News, the Odalis Perez situation has been resolved.
Today, the Nationals released Perez, 31, terminating the waiting game that began almost two weeks ago when the left-hander decided not to report to camp. On Feb. 5, Perez had signed a non-guaranteed minor league contract with Washington, a deal that would pay him $850,000 if he made the club. But after Perez signed the deal, he regretted it. He held out for a better deal. He never reported to spring training. He cut off all contact with the team.
A couple notes here: First, I need to give a shout-out to Chico Harlan for holding it down at the Nationals Journal. He's been doing some great work, and it's pretty much the only place I go for the shameful parade of Nationals news. The second note, though, is that this is pretty poorly worded. Whether or not Perez "signed" that deal is important, to the extent that anything involving Odalis Perez and the Nats is important.

Jim Bowden says he did sign. Perez says he did not; he merely agreed to sign. The Players' Association has no record of any contract being signed. And even if that weren't the case, in a case of he said/he said, I tend to side with the he who is not under investigation by the federal government.

By the way, can someone look at this and tell me what the hell is going on?

This just in!
But behind the scenes, according to sources, some within the team's ownership group -- which includes Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner, seven principal owners and nine founding partners -- are eager to cut ties with the general manager they inherited almost three years ago, and see the investigation as a way of facilitating Bowden's exit. The Nationals, one source said, are encouraging the investigation to return an answer on Bowden so the parties can "go on their merry way."
OK, look: I'm done mocking Bowden. He's no longer our problem - he's done. My question is, what kind of vacillating, indifferent, spineless, moronic owners does this team have that they need a major, multi-national, FBI-investigated scandal to fire the GM? You nitwits should have fired this clown the very damn moment you got the team. It's not like you weren't warned. It's becoming ever clearer that Bowden isn't the biggest problem this franchise has - there's a much bigger roadblock made up of a bunch of rich subnormals who can't be fired.

Bowden has embarrassed this franchise in more ways than I can ever hope to remember at this point, but the slope-browed cavemen who own my favorite baseball team are, "according to sources," actually relieved that they were flim-flammed out of $1.4 million because it gives them an excuse to fire an underperforming, overembarrassing employee. It's not hard to dismiss someone, you Cro-Magnons. It's not the damn quest for fire. It's easy. Let me put it in terms you wall-painters can maybe understand: Man with tracksuit bad. Tell him go away. You real big stupids.

We'd just better hope that a black monolith lands at the ballpark pretty soon and finally teaches these evolutionary throwbacks how to hit things with a bone, or else we're in for a practical eternity of stupidity.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pursued by a Bear

It's like they say - when you're being chased by bear, you don't have to outrun the bear; you just have to outrun Jose Rijo.
José Rijo, the Washington Nationals' front-office member linked most closely to the fraudulent signing of a Dominican prospect, has taken a leave of absence from the team.
I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that this is only the beginning of an organization-wide purification by fire that claims thousands.

Above: Jim Bowden outrunning Jose Rijo. For now.

Meanwhile, Odalis Perez still isn't in camp, despite having allegedly agreement to don the W for another year. Perez was Washington's opening day starter last year. Maybe that says more about the Nationals than it does about Odalis, but it's something. He was . . . OK. League average, more or less, and that - thanks to the mysterious forces that control and occasionally destroy the economy - tends to be worth millions of dollars. It costs good money to keep Matt Chico off the mound.

Because of that, I was certainly surprised when he agreed to come back for a non-guaranteed 850 large. Odalis was apparently as surprised as I was, because as soon as he sobered up or got around to looking up the exchange rate with the Dominican peso or whatever, he decided that that kind of deal wasn't worth getting on a plane; he's staying home.

The reaction to this (at least among the tiny proportion of the population that is at all interested) is predictable and understandable. Plenty of fat jokes, shots at Perez' ability, and plenty of possibly overdone enthusiasm about this year's crop of Young Pitchers of teh Future. Nothing wrong with any of that. After all, it's a matter of public record that Odalis is a dick.
He stopped his O's 45's program, in which he bought 45 tickets for inner-city school children to attend his starts, after losing his starting job. He said he would not reinstate the program now that he is starting again because he felt he never got enough credit from the club or the public for his charitable contributions.
Also, Jim Bowden claims that Perez has actually signed a contract. Jim Bowden also claimed that Smiley Gonzalez was worth $1.4 million and that Aaron Crow was too expensive, but maybe he's right this time. If that's the case, then yes, Odalis Perez should absolutely get his ass out of bed and come to camp.

If it's not, though - and when we're figuring the odds of the Nats being wrong about this, we have to adjust for the indefensible, franchise-destroying incompetence we've seen from time to time - I certainly don't blame Perez for reconsidering a cut-rate contract with the worst team in baseball. I'm not going to make a moral argument for backing out of an agreement, even if it's an unofficial, "engaged to be engaged" kind of situation. Haven't we all had momentary lapses in judgment that have haunted us for years? Deciding to start a blog, for instance? Wouldn't we like the chance to take it back?

At any rate, my advice to Perez is to grow a goatee, forge Johan Santana's driver's license, and come back to the negotiating table. The Nats have proven themselves vulnerable to that kind of bargaining ploy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smile!

I'd always assumed that Stan Kasten was the smart one - if not the Robert DeNiro in Casino to Jim Bowden's Joe Bob Briggs in Casino, at least the Moe to his Curly. But now, I'm not so sure.

It's probably not news to you that 19 year old Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez, recipient of a $1.4 million bonus, turns out to be 23 year old Carlos Lugo Something Something (does it matter?) and not quite the prospect we knew. Some very important people messed up very, very badly, and it didn't take me long to get sick of the ass-covering. So sick, in fact, that I'm pleased to announce the long-awaited return of swears to this space.

Kasten - and, according to some books I skimmed at Kinko's, this is the mark of a good executive - could not wait to blame his underlings [scapegoats bolded].
Let me give you some background on all of this... We were awarded the team in early May [2006], and really soon thereafter, within maybe two weeks or three weeks, right in the early stage of the transition, we did not yet own the team, Jim [Bowden] came to me and said his staff had seen this kid, they thought he was special, they thought he would command a premier bonus, and what was our appetite for that. And, obviously none of us had ever seen the kid or heard of the kid. But he described him, the staff described him, and we said, 'Yeah, we want to be aggressive, we'd back you on something like that if that's what everyone feels like.' So we did support their recommendation, and we went ahead and signed him on the first day we were able to, which was July 2.
It's not my fault! The people who work for me are retards! I mean sure, I cut the dude a $1.4 million check, but it's not my fault! Unhappily for this overrated hack, the Post has what he was crowing about at the time:
It is quite possible the Nationals overpaid for Alvarez/Gonzalez, even if he had been 16 at the time, and the original Sports Illustrated report said the next-highest bid was $700,000. (The Nats paid $1.4 million.) But even the point at the time - one pushed by the Nationals, and one that makes sense - is that they had to overpay to make a statement about their intention to be players in Latin America. ..."This lets other teams know we are a player," Stan Kasten told me on July 2, 2006 - the day they signed Alvarez/Gonzalez. "We will take a back seat to no one - repeat: no one - when it comes to pursuing talent."
I have to disagree with Barry Svrluga here: paying double does not make sense. It does not let "other teams know we are a player." It lets other teams know that you are a dipshit, and the difference between the two is important. At best, Stan Kasten is a chump, a sucker, a pigeon - his bragging about dropping one and a half mil on a half a mil player makes that all too clear.

Kasten wants to cover his ass, and this isn't getting it done. This organization has since Day 1 been very publicly drooling all over itself, and the flow didn't stop when Kasten and the Lerners came on board. Hell, the only thing that changed at that point was the Nats went from incompetent to evil and incompetent. The New England Patriots have shown us that if you're evil and really, really effective, no one will care. But there's no Bill Belichick in this crowd of short bus riders.

This is more than a mere Dominican lying about his age case (doesn't it seem like this time-honored trick should have a name? The Dominican Passport Tapdance? The Hispaniola Hula? The San Pedro de Macarena?). Do you remember the signing? It was kind of a big deal. We heard rumors about the super-secret teenager who was going to prove the Nationals weren't cheap and had could develop talent. They had a press conference for this "kid" and everything. No one seemed to notice him talking about how rough he had it under Trujillo and showing reporters pictures of his grandkids, but hell - we were excited. Finally a real team with real owners and management that doesn't spend more time trying on bicycle helmets and thinking about McNuggets than it does trying to win games!

And it was all bullshit. Not only did we fall for the classic Dominican Passport Tapdance, check this out:
1. When teams were bidding for Gonzalez, everyone dealt with his agent. Everyone except the Nats, who went straight to his sleazy-ass buscon (a Spanish term meaning "like an agent, but sleazier. If you can imagine that").
2. The Nats offered double what anyone else was willing to come up with (we're players!).
3. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the organization's role in skimming money from bonus payments to Dominican prospects.

You don't have to be Elliot Ness to put 2 and 2 and 1.4 million together. When management is so incompetent and/or crooked that they're getting phone calls from the damn FBfuckingI, heads need to roll.

I'm sick of it. I've dealt with my favorite team being a laughingstock since before they were even my favorite team. Every moment as a Nationals fan is a further humiliation, and I'm tired of it. This goes out to Jim Bowden, Stan Kasten, and each and every Lerner: GO TO HELL. My only consolation is that some people are going to be fired and that maybe some of those people could go to jail. That's nice, but it doesn't address the root cause of this problem: the dumb assholes who call the shots.

Am I the only one who misses the days when Major League Baseball owned the team? At least then you could that something better would come along.

This just in: Smiley's agent posits a new victim.
I don't know where the origins of this thing are. It seems to me this thing is much too complicated and involved for a 19- or 20-year-old from an impoverished neighborhood to pull off... He may have been duped as much as anyone.
Bullshit. A 20-year-old from a bad neighborhood can't figure out that when he's being instructed to tell everyone a fake name and age, he might be doing something a bit shady? Honestly, isn't this more offensive than blaming him for it? He's pretty much saying, "He doesn't know any better - poor people from the Dominican are animals. They can't help it." Sports agent Stanley King: shut the fuck up.

Monday, February 16, 2009

He's Going to Help Pun-Loving Headline Writers, Too

It took a lot of things coming together to ruin my brilliant marketing idea: a bad economy, a puzzling free agent market, and a player's particularly unappreciated skill set. The signing of Adam Dunn has pretty much ended any chance that my new slogan - We Ain't Got Bats, We Got Straps - would join previous sales pitches like Make It Your Pastime or Get Your Red On or 2008's regrettable The Aaron Crow Era Begins. We ain't got bats? Well, now we have one. Plus Dunn doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would shoot you unless you're a deer.

I gotta admit that I'm excited in spite of my copywriting setback. The Nationals have signed a big ticket free agent. That's never happened before, right? Who comes closest? Esteban Loaiza? Dmitri Young? You see what I'm talking about. I wonder if this is how Royals fans felt when they signed Gil Meche. Someone find a Royals fan and ask him for me.

OK, now I'm done celebrating and ready to start analyzing. What exactly do we have in Adam Dunn, other than a dude who looks kind of like Lee Harvey Oswald with a mild case of acromegaly? Let's weigh the pros and cons. Cons first.

Adam Dunn is a good player, but he's a boring good player. He has a distinctive skill set, and none of it makes for good television.

-He walks a lot. Don’t get me wrong – walks are great, and there’s nothing I like more than an obviously terrified enemy pitcher watching his nightmares come true as he walks in a run. But by and large, a base on balls is not an exciting thing to watch develop.

-He hits home runs. Home runs aren’t boring, exactly, but they’re not as viscerally fun as a whole pile of doubles. Not enough running.

-He strikes out. A LOT. And the only fun about a strikeout is trying to lip-read the guy as he stalks back to the dugout.

-He doesn’t catch anything. I don’t think I’m kidding when I say that the only on field thing I remember from the 2008 Nationals is Willie Harris making preposterous catches in the outfield. We're not going to be getting any of that from Teh Donkey. (By the way, that makes three things I remember from 2008. The other two are (1) the fact that at most 8,999 people who weren't me were watching Nats games (2) and "you dead, dawg.")

Now on the pros:
-Remember that home runs thing I dismissively mentioned above? That's actually pretty important. Dunn has a system: he hits exactly 40 home runs a year. He's been on this system for the last four years, and if he keeps it up, he's sure to lead this weak-ass hitting team by somewhere in the vicinity of 40 homers.

-Walks, too. Hundred-something walks, lead the team by a hundred, same deal.

-Here's the vital thing: Adam Dunn is funny. Actually, intentionally witty, which is an unusual thing to see in a professional athlete. Consider this interview of Dunn, conducted by Astros pitcher Chris Sampson back in 2007.

Sampson: What pitch do you struggle with the most?

Dunn: I would say like most hitters in the league would say, fastball right down the middle.

Sampson: Are you ever going to fulfill on your offer to take me hunting on your ranch and take me and my wife out to dinner?

Dunn: The hunting all depends on if I go 0-for-4 off ya again. But no matter what happens, I will take your wife to dinner. I guess you can come too.

Not bad, right? And it's not just threatening to date other guys' wives; Dunn is also a master of more uncomfortable than funny Andy Kaufman-style performance. Here he is whiling away a rain delay by calling into the Reds pre-game show in the guise of his popular "Adam from Milwaukee" character, sort of his own Tony Clifton.


That's more memorable than anything I can recall any National saying ever (not counting ¡Livan! and death threats, of course). The Nationals don't have an Alexander Ovechkin, but they may have just gotten their Gilbert Arenas.

Addendum: Upon further review, Adam Dunn doesn't really look anything like Lee Harvey Oswald with a mild case of acromegaly. He looks like Will Ferrell. I realize now that I probably think about Lee Harvey Oswald more than is healthy or healthful or sane. So I guess we all learned something today.

Monday, February 09, 2009

We the Nats

I've been thinking about archaic grammar and how it relates to the Nationals. Our old friends the ancient Greeks had a number between singular and plural - the dual. It pretty quickly fell into general disuse and came to be used only for things that were usually found in twos, like twins or plow horses or testicles. If ever an ancient Greek could come up with a sentence that included a phrase like "the twin plow horses' testicles," he was credited with a Triple Greek Score and got free desserts for life.

I've been contemplating this because the limitations of the English language make it hard to write about the Nats. When you say "Nationals fans," it's problematic. We learned last year that Nationals TV ratings are small, so tiny that it was posited that they must have been the result of a misplaced comma or a couple of delinquent zeroes. Using the plural of "fan" is an insult to the very concept of the plural AND fails to express the author's scorn at the serious crappiness of Washington's reaction to getting its fourth (more or less) major league team, but using "fan" is pushing it too far. Obviously, there's more than one. Not many more, but more.

That's my problem; the Nationals' problem - as represented by the ratings issues - is being addressed by an aggressive rebranding. Maybe you've noticed that the Nats have taken on an edge lately. You have the acquisition of Elijah Dukes, you've got the FBI investigating the team for filching money from hopeful, fresh-faced Dominican teenagers, and now you have the new color commentator, Rob Dibble.

I'm not quite prepared to complain about this. For one thing, I've never actually heard Rob Dibble: Broadcaster. Maybe he's good. Every piece of evidence argues against it, but stranger things have happened. From the Nats' standpoint, the point is that he's not Don Sutton. I liked Don Sutton. He was even-keeled and intelligent, he had a soothing voice, and he didn't inflict an obvious catchphrase on us. Now we have this:

As edgy as a special guest verse from Fred Durst

See that? The shades, the phony snarl? The bat, which represents his truly impressive hitting record (3-25, .120) and the microphone, which represents his equally impressive talking record? That's branding. This ain't your daddy's color commentator! We're not in Kansas anymore! It's like if the X-Games and Mountain Dew and Poochie the Dog came together and took the form of a gel-haired jackass! Etc., etc.

And don't think it's not intentional. MASN interviewed, among others, Buck Martinez, whose musky, scotch-soaked elegance has fallen out of fashion ever since Ricardo Montalban passed away. Clearly, Buck's status as the best-dressed man in baseball (seersucker? Yes! White after Labor Day? No!) just doesn't fit in with the Nationals' current attitude, which emphasizes informality and malfeasance.

See, that's class right there.


Hence Dibble. It might not be that bad. Maybe he'll spend the season browbeating Bob Carpenter because he didn't play the game and doesn't know how to man up and strap it on or whatever (I'm expecting hits from some pretty hair-raising Google searches based on that wording, by way). Maybe he'll just complain for seven months (this is known as the industry as "Blogger-Style"). Or maybe he'll just be completely terrible. Regardless of the actual outcome, I don't think the Nationals went far enough. If you're going to go edgy, go all the way edgy. Don't settle for some safe-for-ESPN Radio-type controversy - you've got to do the damn thing.

Fortunately, it's not too late. The Nationals' marketing strategy can be completed simply by firing Clint and the Nat Pack and replacing them with these guys (WARNING: this is not safe for work and regrettable in a number of other ways):



Now that's edgy. They have our new advertising slogan: We Ain't Got Bats We Got Straps. Which is to say, maybe we suck as baseball, but we will shoot you. Or at least text you a picture of a gun.

Either way: edgy.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Tonight's the night

Baseball in 2009 starts tonight! Ramon Ortiz is on the hill, Cookie Rojas is in the booth, and we're off, live from Mexicali, the Chinesest city in all Mexico.

And once again, no one seems to care but me. I can't find a scoreboard on ESPN - and keep in mind that ESPN's site makes damn sure to keep you up date on each and every score from the third tier Scottish soccer league.

There is hope that this thing's going to catch a little bit, though. The MLB Network has programming hours to fill, and what else are you going to show in February?* Maybe with their muscle behind it, I won't be the only one watching this thing in a couple years. So this right here is the place to go if you're interested - they got a scoreboard, and they're even doing the live Gameday thingy for it. This ESPN preview is a little bit interesting too. I recommend that you get on this bandwagon before everyone else does and I lose interest.

*Here's another thing I love about the MLB Network. Naturally, when I heard about it, my feelings were mixed: Yay for more baseball, but this is inevitably, I thought, going to wind up being the Yankees Show with special guest stars the Red Sox. We're a month in, though, and that absolutely has not happened. The other day they showed an hour-long documentary about the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers. It wasn't the Yankees, it wasn't the Sox, it wasn't even the Mets - it was a full hour about small market World Series loser. And it was damned interesting. It would have been even moreso if I were a connoseiur of hideous white guy moustaches.

This was one of the tasteful ones.

UPDATE!!!!!!!!! I don't want to oversell this thing (the Caribbean Series, not the Brewers' awful facial hair) - it's not quite the Major League product. Case in point - Brad Knox (it would appear that the Venezuelans have a ringer) is pitching a no-hitter for the Tigers against the Tigers (yes, 50% of the teams in the thing are called the Tigers). He is removed from the game in the 7th because his pitch count has gotten up to 88 pitches. Oh, the PAP! The shoulder-destroying PAP! The good news is that the Dominican immediately ties the game on a bomb by . . . BIG FAT RONNIE BELLIARD! See what I'm talking about? This is great.