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"Ask the question!"

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There is a fascinating scene about forty-five minutes into Oliver Stone's JFK, in which Stone's crusading hero, Jim Garrison, tirelessly immersed in volume after volume of evidence and testimony taken by the Warren Commission, boils over in annoyance and incredulity at the Commission's perceived lack of diligence, and proceeds to shout a litany of "Next question?" and "Ask the question!" and similar admonitions at the bound volumes.

I'd almost go as far as calling it a poignant scene---except that would give too much credit to Stone and his nutcase crusader, Garrison, who set about destroying countless lives, all in the name of shifting conspiratorial goal posts.

Perhaps the various Nats blogs, including my own, have a bit of Jim Garrison in them. Except, hopefully, we're sane. We see criticisms of various Washington players---most often, Ryan Church---and many of us perceive them as vague, almost like there's a detail or ten out there that should be mentioned in a story, or else there's a lack of a story. I would not go so far as saying we should accuse the writers of a lack of diligence; this is not what I intend to say, or what I am advocating. But sometimes these vague criticisms leave little more than an incredulous wake in the mind of the reader.

Which brings us to this note on Brian Schneider. Note that it is just that---a note. It's not a story or an article or even a column, with details and quotes and much of anything beyond ill-formed innuendo. It is, after all, but a note:

A baseball source said that it looks like catcher Brian Schneider has become complacent ever since he signed four-year, $16 million deal last January. It hasn't helped that Schneider is off to a slow start, hitting .230 with one home run and 14 RBIs, and is currently on the disabled list.

Who is the source? That's the point, right? It's a source. And sources don't speak; they slink.

We, the readers, are left with several "Ask the question!" moments:

  • Was the source from inside or outside the organization? That makes a whale of a difference as to how the criticism is interpreted---i.e., a member of the organization, who might be motivated in part by self-interest, or a scout or member of another organization, who might be providing an objective assessment? Ask the question!
  • If the source is from inside the organization, is it a member of management or is it a teammate? I realize this question is more delicate than the first, but a general classification of the source makes a difference. Ask the question!
  • Precisely what is the nature of the "complacent" charge? Complacent in physical preparation? Complacent in the mental part of the game? Complacent with the dreaded "body language"? Complacent in assuring his skills are kept sufficiently heightened, i.e., practicing? Complacent in terms of team leadership? Complacent in flossing his teeth? What?! Ask the question!
Again, when I say Ask the question!, this is a mere expectation made by someone outside the process---as Garrison was with respect to the compilation of the Warren Commission report. But, even if they are expectations of things not to be reported, they are nevertheless reasonable expectations. It is, simply stated, damned frustrating to read throw-away bits about "body language" and "making excuses" and "complacen[cy]" and other vague critiques of members of the Nationals.

If there is something there---if that something is hinted---it is not unreasonable for the team's fanbase and readership to expect something, anything tangible to come close to corroborating these criticisms. Identifying the source of criticism is one thing; providing something in the way of concrete detail is another.

Blessedly, in the same notes feature, Schneider is given a forum to deny the charge of complacency---to confront (for all we know) an unnamed accuser and to rebut this vague accusation. Naturally, Schneider contends he has not at all been complacent:

But Schneider denied the charge, saying that he is working harder than ever. He pointed out that he was 7-for-21 (.333) to raise his average from .205 to .230 before he strained his left hamstring.

"I get off to a slow start every year. I don't hit right away. I don't understand how you can be complacent and continue to come to the field early, get your work in and work hard," Schneider said. "Being complacent means you don't care what's going on. I get upset when I do things wrong and I come in and continue to work hard."

Schneider sounds either determined or upset, or both. You make the call.

* * * *

At the heart of this, I suppose, is an overwhelmingly nebulous apprehension I possess of why anyone associated with the team would want something like this published. (For the remainder of this post, I am going to presume someone from within the organization said Schneider looked complacent. I trust the writer would have indicated someone from outside the organization was being critical, if that were the case---and I'm sure the general manager would have responded with an indignant smirk.)

What good does it do to tell a beatwriter a player looks "complacent" and the following day watch the player defend his dedication in the media? It's insane. One would think the manager---or general manager or team president or whomever---would have realized he uttered something a bit ill-considered or downright stupid and backtracked saying, "Wait, wait . . . don't report that!!!"

It's nothing short of bizarre to make bald accusations of complacence via the media. Why not handle that in-house?

And what if there is more? What if there are more concrete details of Schneider's alleged complacence? Well, I'd offer that they are germane to the reporting of the team and belong in a full-fledged article. This team's fanbase is quite downtrodden already---not to mention the first one, which was dumped---but there's no law against throwing some bones to Nats Nation. If one of the cornerstones of the franchise, such as Schneider (and, as the recipient of a long-term contract, he is one), is accused of giving less than his all, then it's not unreasonable for the franchise's fans to expect a bit more to the story than the player arguing against a ghost man.

Again, I stress I am not impugning any journalist's skill or credibility. Instead, I'm just throwing this out there.