The Habers have been staying local during the break – except for one overnight trip to an indoor water park in Williamsburg that shall remain nameless. Since returning yesterday, I have been coating myself, my wife and my children head-to-toe in Neosporin and rubbing alcohol to counteract the witches’ brew of urine and streptococcus we were no doubt bathing in for a day-and-a-half.
A couple of random thoughts before we begin:
1) Mike Shanahan should be embarrassed for a number of reasons after the season over which he has just presided, but he should be turning a particularly vibrant shade of red after this last loss to the Vikings. That makes six straight defeats AT HOME. We haven’t seen that since the first year of Norv. Contrary to the suggestion in those Under Armour ads, Shanahan isn’t “Protecting this house”, he’s burning it down. If you can’t beat the 2-12 Vikings in your building after they’ve lost both Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder, you really need to re-examine everything in your organization – schemes, personnel, leadership. Of course, Shanahan is quicker than Usain Bolt when it comes to pointing the finger. After insisting that this would not be a rebuilding year and that the Redskins would be ready to compete for a playoff spot, this week he finally confessed that it was a rebuilding year and that the team was shallower and older than he originally thought. Really? To say that after your team arrives at 5-10 is about the most disingenuous thing I’ve ever heard. He’s essentially saying, “Geez, if management had given me a halfway decent roster I could have done something this year.” He has simultaneously managed to blame everyone above him AND everyone under him in the organization. Makes you long for Zorn.
2) Mike Rizzo and the Nats have gotten some flak for giving away too much in the Gio Gonzalez trade. I have to disagree here. Being the GM of the Nats is still not the easiest job in the world. The perception of the organization is slowly changing, but it is still not viewed as a “Destination team” when it comes to free agents. Consequently, despite taking a swing at Mark Buehrle and other this winter, they didn’t get them. Still, the Nats needed and had vowed to get another frontline starting pitcher. That leaves us with a trade. Of course we are loathe to part with young talent, but in some cases, that’s what they’re there for – to trade. Thank God after years of having their minor league system mismanaged while they were under the stewardship of MLB, the Nats are once again in a position where they have enough lower-level talent to pull off a trade like this. Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone touched the majors for the first time this year. Who knows what they’ll turn out to be? Derek Norris hit 20 HR’s in AA last year. Perhaps we’re giving up in a power-hitting prospect with him. But Gonzalez is a borderline ace. He had 16 wins on a wretchedly bad Oakland team last year with an ERA just over 3 – and he’s just 26. Slot him into the Nats starting rotation with Strasburg, Zimmerman, Wang and Lannan (maybe), and what have you got? Barring injuries, you’ve got a wildcard contender. Giving away minor league talent is not a move you want to make often, but given the circumstances, I think in this case it was a reasonable choice for the Nats.
With that, let’s chat.
Thanks all. Great chat. I'm off to Redskins Park for a column you'll see in this space next week. Hope everyone is having a great holiday. Be safe on New Year's eve. Remember, that's amateur night -- don't be one.
Hi Brett, Can we all agree that Andray Blatche should just stay off of Twitter?
Andray Blatche should not stay off Twitter. The comic value is way too high. Since I started writing in this space I have stated repeatedly my belief that Blatche is a clown. And he has taken exactly one game to prove me right. During the abbreviated training camp and preseason, he made a huge fuss about how he is the leader of this team now. When he addressed the crowd before the game at Verizon Center Monday night, he actually began by saying, “This is your captain.” Seriously? Was he Leslie Nielsen about to hit the runway in Airplane? I guess I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. Aside from his inspiring pregame oration, I couldn’t wait to see what kind of leadership Blatche was going to provide. It turns out his definition of leadership is 11 points on 5 of 13 shooting, a technical foul and then a post-game rant blaming the coach for calling the wrong plays and not properly utilizing him. AND THIS WAS GAME ONE. Hey captain, how about owning the fact that “Your” team blew a 21-point lead at home against a Nets team that couldn’t break 25 wins last year? This team is going nowhere with Blatche as its leader. He thinks he’s better than he is and that attitude manifests itself in his off-court comportment. He also doesn’t play defense for beans, which is the same problem Nick Young has. Both men are supremely self-interested – not the kind of guys you want molding the work ethic of a young team. If Wizards brass understood the concept of “Addition by subtraction” when it came to dumping Gilbert Arenas, surely they must be able to see the same thing is necessary with Blatche.
Brett, It seems like you get this question every week, but what is wrong with the Caps?
I thought things were getting better with the Caps. Prior to Monday, they had gone 4-2-1 in their previous 7 games and they had successfully killed 22 of their last 24 penalties. Then the Sabres game happened and the issue of discipline was once again on the table. Discipline is displayed in many forms in hockey – in finishing your checks, in getting the puck deep into the offensive zone and following it up, in not taking unwise penalties, among other things. The Caps failed in all these areas Monday night. And it only took 9 seconds for us to witness the first transgression. When Roman Hamrlik dumped that puck over the glass and got called for Delay of Game, you had the feeling it wasn’t going to be a good night. And it wasn’t. Buffalo scored on that power play. In fact they scored 4 goals on their first 7 shots and the game was over. The Caps have displayed a bad habit lately of starting games slowly. They got away with it (sort of) on Friday night against New Jersey, spotting the Devils a 3-0 lead then coming back to force overtime. But you can’t get away with it repeatedly. Michael Neuverth got yanked in the first period Monday. Dale Hunter decided to start him for the fifth straight game and it backfired. You can’t blame him for trying to stick with the hot hand. Neuvy had given up 3, 1, 2 and 0 goals in his four previous starts. In retrospect it seems he needed some rest. And what does this say about Hunter’s confidence in Vokoun? Not very much, it would appear. Ovi is starting to score again, which is good, but the Caps have the same defensive problems they’ve had all year – and for several years, really. The thing is, in the first three years under Boudreau, they knew who they were – they had holes on defense, but they would make up for it by calling upon their prodigious offensive weapons and winning games 5-4 and 6-5. Now, they still have holes on defense and their offense has taken a step backwards. It is Dale Hunter’s job to provide these Capitals with an identity again. Getting Mike Green back wouldn’t hurt either.
Brett, How does Carlos Rogers make the Pro Bowl but London Fletcher does not?
The Fletcher snub is one of the most egregious in recent memory. He leads the league in tackles. Period. Brian Urlacher and Patrick Willis are the two inside linebackers who made it from the NFC and both of those guys are way behind Fletcher in the stat department. It illustrates that Pro Bowl voting is in large measure a name recognition exercise and because the Redskins have been off the national radar screen for so long, nobody is aware of how consistently amazing (or amazingly consistent) Fletcher has been. He’s gone over 100 tackles every year since ’99. That’s sick. He hasn’t missed a game in 14 seasons. That’s even sicker. Rogers getting in is a strictly a numbers thing. He has 6 picks. And he set expectations in that department so low when he was in Washington, the comparison to what he did this year is doubly stark. He is the defensive Brandon Lloyd – all he needed to do was get out of DC to realize his potential.
Are the careers of McNabb and Portis now officially over?
It was hard not to think about McNabb this week as the Redskins played the Vikings -- two teams that banked on him having something left in the tank, only to be disappointed. Yes, after the last two years I think it’s safe to say McNabb’s career as a meaningful NFL quarterback is over. It’s still possible he catches on as a back-up, but he would have to severely adjust his pay expectations. With the Redskins and Vikings, McNabb showed a shocking inability to adjust to systems and terminology that were foreign after 11 years in Andy Reid’s cocoon. He also showed that athletically, he is not what he once was. When he came to the Redskins he was very close to being a Hall of Famer. I’m not so sure anymore.
Think the Terps men's hoops program can beat Boston College this year (which starts four freshmen), and what's your over-under on conference wins for the Terps?
I am very worried about Maryland hoops. Three losses in the pre-ACC portion of the season gives one pause – and there could have been more. Iona was a bad defeat and their margin of victory against Radford, Florida International and Mount St. Mary’s was 5 points or less in each case. This is what happens when you only have 7 scholarship players available (Gary picked a good time to walk away, huh?). The good news is, 7’1” Ukrainian Alex Len becomes eligible today. That should help. Also Pe’Shon Howard should be back from injury in time for the bulk of the conference schedule. That said, based on what we’ve seen, I would guess at six or seven wins in the always brutal ACC. Boston College could be one of them as they are rebuilding too.
What's the point of releasing Ryan Torrain at this point in the season?
The timing of the Torrain release is hard to explain. I know Shanahan liked him. He originally drafted the young running back in Denver in 2008 and he entered of training camp this summer as the presumptive starter. Then Hightower beat him out, then he got hurt and when he came back he didn’t seem to be the same runner. Roy Helu passed him on the depth-chart with those 3 straight 100-yard games before his injury and based on last week, perhaps Evan Royster had passed him too. The release wouldn’t have been for cap reasons at this late stage of the season. It may have been as simple as Shanahan finally deciding the kid had no future with the franchise and wanting to free up a roster spot at another position for the final game of the season.
Where would you rank Nationals Park out of all the baseball stadiums? I think in the bottom 5-7. SF gets a view of the water. St. Louis and Balto have dynamic views of the city. We get two parking garages.
I have to disagree with you about Nats Park. I think they did a lot of things right. I love how wide the concourses are, I love how many of the seats are at or below street level. I think the restaurants and concessions are good, if not great. I think the centerfield concourse has turned into a nice common area. The problem is – it’s not a particularly striking piece of architecture and it’s not situated in a very picturesque part of town. So if you’re going to compare it to Pittsburgh with that view of the bridge or San Francisco where home run balls plop into McCovey Cove, it’s going to lose, but I think when the economy starts to recover and neighborhood development picks up, the overall feel of the ballpark and the area will improve. One thing I think they absolutely BLEW is putting that parking structure in leftfield – totally obscures the view of the capitol dome for 80% of the seats.
Let's see how fearless you are ... Sports Talk 980. Your thoughts? They cover the Redskins well, but that's about it, and Andy and Czabe are absolutely clueless when it comes to the Wizards and the NBA, I wouldn't even say they have a casual fan's knowledge. They're not much better about the Capitals. When they talk about the Nats, they sound like they're talking about an out of town team. A shame.
I will not shy away from talking about 980. I an in the bag for Kornheiser -- have been since I moved here since '97. Heck, I admit it, I idolize the guy. I aspire to his erudition and his effortless mixture of sports knowledge and pop culture. He has a gift. I also find Czabe to be one of the most entertaining sports radio personalities in the country. Not all agree. I think he has "It". Andy is a great resource to have at a radio or TV station -- he is a walking history book. He has great institutional knowledge of the city and that's invaluable. He comes off as condescending at times, but hey, so do I. Sheehan -- very knowledgeable, Loverro -- seasoned DC columnist. Yes, I know Caps and Nats fans are constantly feeling disenfranchised by the station's lack of coverage. I got the same complaints when I was at WUSA, but it's a simple formula. The time is finite and the shows are going to cover the items that THE MOST viewers/listeners want to hear about. In Washington that is and always will be the Redskins. Could they do a better job of providing coverage of other sports? Yes? We all could. But it's a balancing act and there is no perfect formula.
I will say, I thought they were not as aggressive as they could have been in covering the whole Daniel Snyder/Washington City Paper lawsuit. I went on the air several times with Chris Russell to discuss the topic and I found his chatter to be equivocating and half-a-loaf. I thought he spoke with the full knowledge that Snyder was signing his paycheck, which allows for a little bit of courage, but not a lot. It's easy for me to say -- my check ISN'T signed by Snyder, but it's the way I felt.
Hi Brett, So Irene Pollin says she'd be happy to have the name Bullets back. Does that resonate do you think with Teddy L.? Enough to make a change in the next two years? Is this the cherry on top of all the outpouring of sentiment from longtime fans since he bought the club? And what are your thoughts on the matter? Did you grow up here? Do you appreciate the deep allegiance the fans have for the name?
The Bullets/Wizards name change is a tough needle to thread. Abe changed the name 20 years ago because he didn't want to have his franchise associated with violence in one of the most violent cities in the world. Sound thinking. But Washington's reputation has changed over the past two decades and if Mrs. Pollin is okay with it, I am too. The change back to the old red, white and blue uniforms is fantastic. Perhaps changing the name back as well will re-capture some of the old mojo from their championship days. Plus, as the old saying goes, "Bullets don't harm people, people like Gilbert Arenas who use guns with bullets harm people."
I'm intrigued about Jan Vesely. From what I saw in the only preseason game he played, he looked like a guy who knows how to play the game. Nothing that shows up in a boxscore, but he flashed into the lane nicely making cuts, he moved well without the ball, he showed an ability to cover two different guys on the same play (banging inside with his man and then closing out on a shooter -- and with those long arms!). What inside info do you have to share about him? And it would be great if you can refrain from snarky comments about the Wizards in general, who are, after all, at the very beginning of year 2 of a rebuild.
At 6'11", 230 Vesley physically reminds you of Andrei Kirilenko, but he doesn't posses the same offensive skills and wasn't a particularly strong rebounder in Europe. He has a decent short range shot and he has worked on improving his post game. The good news is he is very quick, he hustles all the time, he blocks shot and pounces on loose balls -- that stuff is hard to teach and is a good baseline for molding a young player. He is a terible free throw shooter, which is among the many specific skills he needs to work on to be a viable NBA big man. His athleticism is intriguing. In reality, I think most people in the organziation believe he needs work.
So while growing up what was you favorite sport to watch, play. Now as an adult has those changed and what are they now?
I grew up playing baseball and I loved it from the moment my father took me to my first Yankee game when I was 5. He and I ran on the field together in '76 when Chris Chambliss hit that walk-off home run in the playoffs. I played through high school in NYC. I tried to play at Dartmouth, but found they had no use for a slow thirdbaseman who hit .230. In high school I fell in love with hockey. I grew up watching the Rangers (when george McPhee was one of their enforcers) and I was such a sick fan that when one of the Rangers players got hurt, my friends and I would hop on our bikes and try to beat the ambulance to Lenox Hill Hospital so we could try to get the player's jersey when he got wheeled into the ER on the stretcher. Of course, growing up in NY is alos where I fell in love with tennis. I used to sneak into the US Open thorugh Flushing Meadows Park. That sport remains my passion and my vocation today.