clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


New, comments

Sometimes, I feel like this blog is too focused on reacting to things or constrained by the day's news or pigeon-holed by who else is saying stuff about what other people are saying. I don't mean to make this style sound so desultory; by the nature of the medium, not one of us in the Natosphere is actually out there "reporting" by any stretch of the word, and---subject to Ryan's outings to Ocean City---not one of us is making news. This is a blog, and I basically react to things that are happening and items that are positioned by the capable media covering the team. If I can anticipate things to alter that process---rarely, to be honest---then all the better. But don't really count on it.

That said, today I want to post something without direction and free of links. These are just my thoughts on the team; that is all that follows. I won't support them with evidence or reason---any more than usual, I suppose---and you're free to disagree without surrebuttal from me.

Whatever this is, it's going to be long . . . longer even than my normal posts. I'm just going to write for an hour or so during what seems like another loss for the Nats, and we'll see what happens. If you want to read more, click on "Read More" when prompted.

* * * *

My (non-liturgical) idea of hell is this dream I once had. I was in a Sam's Club, and I wanted to purchase all this stuff, but I didn't have a membership card, so the Sam's people wouldn't let me purchase the stuff. Don't ask how I got into the store in the first place; maybe I disabled the surveillance equipment, or maybe the senior citizen checking membership cards at the door was napping---the dream picks up in medias res, as it were. At any rate, the most consequential point is the despair I felt at realizing I couldn't leave the place. (Again, discard the details. Through the inanity of dream logic, which rivals the inanity of movie logic---what the hell is a Tokyo drift, anyway?---the fact that I couldn't purchase the items meant that I couldn't leave.) I was consigned to the store forever.

For all I know, Marlon Byrd could have been the Sam's Club clerk in my dream.

Sometimes it makes me feel vaguely depressed when I think of Byrd---depressed about the Nationals, I should clarify. It wasn't always that way. For instance, I was optimistic when the Nats traded for him about thirteen months ago. The trade was straight-up for Inning-Endy, remember. But, after Byrd got off to a hot start with his new team, his Escalade was stolen, with his game presumably stored in the trunk at the time. Except for brief glimpses upon his recall from New Orleans last August or for a couple weeks this season, it's never returned. Byrd stinks.

Yet, he returns to the lineup every day in centerfield, and when it's not Byrd, it's the team's purported utility man, Damian Jackson, shuffling out there. It's just . . . depressing.

Isn't there someone better?

If not, can't the team get someone better?

If not, can't the team just play without a centerfielder?

* * * *

There's Ryan Church, of course, and I suspect that Church's presence---somewhere, doing something, though not anything particularly of note---makes me just as depressed about the Nats as Byrd. It's probably a combination. Church seems like a pretty good player. Not a star, never will be a star; too old already for that kind of thing. But a capable player, a useful one, one who could contribute more than some of the guys given chance after chance, like Byrd, can. Except, of course, Church isn't actually contributing a thing---not in Washington (though he still remains the possessor of the team's fourth-best slugging average), and certainly not in New Orleans.

So it's frustrating. Church can do better, and there remains a possibility that, were the team to toss its hands up in the air and play him no matter his batting average in New Orleans, he might actually do better than Byrd or Jackson, if only based on sheer luck. Marlon Byrd is a flop; Ryan Church isn't quite a flop yet. This is a guy who had a better OPS than Jose Guillen last year, remember.

But Byrd remains in center most of the time (and, when it's not Byrd, it's Jackson), and every night's radio-listen or every morning's boxscore-perusal seems to reak of stagnancy. At the basest, most superficial level, it's probably boring. Yes, that's it. I'm not at all interested in Marlon Byrd at this point, but at least there's some curiosity associated with the question of whether Ryan Church can straighten things out.

* * * *

At this point, I should admit a bias, or at least disclose a potential one. Church, to be frank about it, is good blogger fodder. There's a reason for this: From an outsider's perspective, the team's handling of the guy seems incredibly short-sighted, even stupid. And bloggers tend to be outsiders who love to expose a team's short-sightedness and stupidity, because those are attributes that sportswriters will rarely explore---with good reason, for many reasons---and, if so, will do in far subtler ways.

What has the team done that is so short-sighted and stupid with respect to Church? It's a difficult question to answer---first, because I'm an outsider and don't know; second, because Church is a continuing story, which implies (and probably correctly) that he's part of the problem; and third, because "short-sighted" and "stupid" are mere characterizations, which are prone to interpretation.

But here's a short story:

* * * *

He made the team last season because 1) the club cut bait on Chavez and 2) he actually outplayed Terrmel Sledge as of Opening Day, but was pushed back temporarily by an injury, which will become a theme. He nudged his way into playing time, earned more when Sledge was lost for the season, and got red-hot at a great time for that sort of thing, right when the go-go Nats were ascending. He was NL Rookie of the Month for May.

Then he got hurt, and the team slumped; while one was not the cause of the other, it's notable that the team really could have used him while he was out. This was noted in the media, again and again. It seems fitting---thematically, at least---that the context of the injury was never really interjected into the discussion. The guy was injured when he slammed, full-speed, into an outfield wall, making a game-saving catch. I mean, he's criticized for being a slow-healer, and the cause of the injury was essentially an episode of taking a bullet---nay, a runaway scud---for the team. Meanwhile, the team's tough-guys (and we know who they were at the time) scuffled along.

Church came back, but never really came back. He was doghoused. Jim Bowden fixed his eyes on a new shiny quarter in New Orleans. Church was cast to the side. He struggled for a few games, and then the manager said, "Here, pinch-hit some." He didn't do the job, and seeing as he was the fifth member of a five-man outfield by this point, his job was going to be minimal anyway. Although the quarter was spat out to the coin rejector, Bowden didn't pocket the thing. He'd try to insert it later.

Church sucked for a solid month, but most of the team did. I'd imagine he sulked; it's quite possible he suffers from a dose of immaturity. Then he got hurt again---and this time it was wussy stuff: a pinky toe or something like that. Real men don't hurt their pinky toes!

Through it all---and don't forget this---through it all, he out-OPS'ed Jose Guillen, a player offered a $50 million contract during the offseason.

The team decided it needed a competition between Church and Brandon Watson. Why, I don't really know. Watson isn't a prospect of any note, and Church had actually held his own over a fairly decent sample of big league at-bats, despite a second half slump. If he was a flash-in-a-pan, then he was a flash-in-a-pan; however, it helps to give the guy an opportunity to flash or to pan out. At any rate, maybe it was Bowden's lingering fixation on Watson's speed. Or maybe it was Frank Robinson's frustration with Church. Or maybe it was all caused by Church. And maybe Church was in denial about the whole thing, because when the incomprehensible-yet-predictable occurred (Church's demotion), he acted shocked. He might've sulked---probably did. Objectively---from an outsider's perspective---he'd have cause, as most of the team stunk this spring, not just him. And he had an option year remaining, of course. It's easy to throw out blithe accusations about a player's dedication when you control the player.

So Church was demoted, and you started hearing things about him. He didn't play hard; he wasn't into the game; he exhibited bad body language or somesuch; he always came up with excuses. These things weren't really reported in articles, mind you; instead, they were (and are) predominantly mailbag fodder, which makes the characterizations seem sort of suspect or at least indicative of a subjective viewpoint. Is there anything there? I'd imagine so; but if so, where's the article on "Ryan Church, bad teammate"? It's not there. What there has been is innuendo.

Church was recalled, just as predictably, and scuffled for approximately two games before going on a homer spree. Then he cooled, and then he got the flu. Well, I'm assuming he did. I suppose that's yet another "injury" of sorts, and he was pretty much done when he came back. He cooled even more. The team fell into its worst period of ball for the season, and after all of 65 at-bats, he was sacrificed---subjected to an even worse indignity than being swapped for Brandon Watson: This time it was Alex Escobar who replaced him.

You think you know how to get injured, it seemed as though the club was saying, but just watch this!

You haven't heard a peep out of Church since then, which is decidedly a bad thing. Bowden keeps insisting that if Church were to do something---anything---down in the minors, Church would get the call. Bodes is begging him, or so he says. But no dice. Cap'n Leatherpants is not going to lower his standards, or else Frank won't.

* * * *

And so we get Marlon Byrd.

This is the point where a blogger will insinuate or outright accuse the team's management of undermining the player's confidence. It's a funny insinuation or accusation, as how can the blogger---an outsider---claim to know the inner-workings of a major league team? Because we're humans, dummy, and humans are experiential creatures. Is a big league club different than any other business? If both are run and occupied by humans, then they cannot differ so much. We know---we insinuate, we accuse---because we know. It's that circular; it's happened to us before, and it will happen to others again.

At a previous place of employment, there was this supervisor. Oh, this supervisor was the worst. The person was a belittler---not explicitly so, but in worse ways. At least with a yeller or a spitter, the score is published for all to see. Instead, this supervisor was a master of none-explicit yet not-too-subtle forms of belittling. The expressions. The exasperations. The icy stares. The Post-It notes. Man, the Post-It notes. On everything I did. I hated it. I'm not naturally a sulker, but I sulked. My performance dropped off, or maybe it didn't rise rapidly enough. Hated life---or at least the business hours part of it, and that stuff bled into other areas, I'm sure. Talk about miserable.

Yes, I sulked. Does it make me a bad person? Hell no. Did it make me a bad worker? Hell no.

And here's the proof in the pudding: Post-It received a "lateral promotion," and I was once again hot-to-trot. Productive and sharp, or at least the new supervisor said.

So is it so outlandish to make the insinuation or accusation that a major league team could undermine a player's confidence? Of course not.

* * * *

But, I wonder, what does it matter? I wrote before that I was sort of done worrying about Church; it's probably too late for that now, but what's the point of fighting this? Didn't he get a chance---maybe several chances---and just plain fail? Shouldn't I trust the party line, that he's failed and he's loafed and he's wasted his chance? What's the harm in that?

I suppose, deep down, a part of me wants to see him rise again and really go to town. Then we---I should really say I---can have the smug satisfaction of crowing that this guy I've been defending---a guy I've never met---has proven me right and served as a proxy vanquisher of that idiotic, sophomoric, sorry excuse for a general manager---again, a man I've never met.

I wonder what Freud would have to say about that one.

* * * *

Ultimately, is Ryan Church too insignificant to get so worked up over? Is that why I'm more bewildered than angry over this?

Even as I ponder this, my thoughts turn to Frank Robinson. He's had his tell-all (or tell-much) interview with, and the Post has published a long profile on him, his stature with the team, his relationship with Davey Johnson, and his thoughts on all of that.

I feel sorry for Frank but I also wonder if, as a fan, I am being manipulated by him. For instance, he says that he was really hurt over the Johnson hiring. Hell, I believe him; he found out when a reporter let him in on the big secret, after all. But he also says he's hurt because people automatically assumed his replacement had been hired. Well, I sort of feel bad about that one. Seeing as he takes pride in not knowing how to operate a computer, I don't think I'm on his list of grievances. But I do feel bad for immediately thinking such thoughts, except . . .

. . . why should I? Why should anyone? No matter if it's Johnson or someone else, it's pretty apparent that Robinson's days as manager of this franchise are numbered. I'd rather see him stay around than Bowden, but that and a quarter will get you a quarter; Frank's just not going to be coming back.

This is a team that is moving ahead, forward, into the future---as Stan Kasten claims. Is a 70 year-old manager with a nanosecond's worth of patience for young players these days the appropriate man to guide the franchise into this new era? Of course not! Frank was necessary for a spell---he took a thankless job, and then he was a primary representation of this team's revival.

But we're past that, and the new owners, the Lernastens, need not and must not be satisfied with such symbolism. Get busy winning, or get busy dying.

Yet, I feel for Frank. He's never received the praise he deserves. He's got a million stories to tell---half-a-million of 'em never-told-before---and it seems like most dismiss him these days as a crank or refer to him with patronizingly reverent tones---like he's a relic rather than a vibrant individual.

I don't want to see Frank Robinson put out to pasture. There are too few like him remaining. Makes me feel guilty that I spent the bulk of this on Marlon Byrd and Ryan Church.

And . . . and with that, my hour is up. Hope it was worth it!