IT'S BILL LADSON'S TIME TO SHINE IN THE BLOGGER'S SPOTLIGHT
[January 24th] -- (Here is the - nearly - finished interview. There may still be a few typos, but I'll fix those later. It's time to post NOW).
After getting off the phone with Bill Ladson - who graciously gave up more than an hour of his day to be interviewed by a blogger - a couple of things struck me. First, Bill is a genuine and decent man with a depth of baseball knowledge I have seldom come across. I mean, he was able to tell me the career batting average of long-forgotten 3rd baseman from the 1970's - that is, forgotten outside of New York City and a few really really fanatic Indians' fans. Bill seems to remember every game in every year in every city he's visited. It's a lucky thing that I can type 100+ words per minute or I would never have been able to keep up with him.
The second thing that struck me was how much damage bloggers can unintentionally (and sadly, sometimes intentionally) cause to not only the truth, but to the good name of those that we cover. Bloggers sometimes assume that we can write what we want with impunity because the only people that read our work are fellow fans who understand they are reading subjective rants, some of which we didn't believe ourselves when we wrote it. Simply, it made for good copy.
Bill was able to not only name the majority of Nationals' blogs but also the names of the bloggers who write them. I could tell that Bill is a writer because he never used sweeping statements that were so inclusive as to be as right or wrong as the reader desired. When discussing the types of blog entries that he found unfortunate, he not only named the blog but also named the specific entry by title. Bill knows us and reads us.
When setting up the interview a couple of weeks ago, Bill told me that it irritated him to read bloggers report that he is a Nationals' "insider," that he has some secret password or unlisted cell phone number that leads him directly to Jim Bowden or Stan Kasten. "Nothing could be further from the truth," Bill told me. I agreed that this wasn't good reporting - that is - printing assumptions as fact. As I prepared for the interview, I searched his name on my site to review the things I had written over the past couple of years regarding him. I found a story I had forgotten about, one where I talked about a "phone call" to Jim Bowden that gave Bill a scoop on a story.
When I fessed up to this mis-deed before beginning our interview, Bill said, "Oh I know. I read the story." So after cutting his feet out from under him with my assumptions , he returned the favor by graciously allowing me to interview him.
Bill was fair in all of his answers, but quickly corrected me when a question I asked was based on a false premise - you'll see several of those. When he corrected me, though, it wasn't personal. It was about baseball. That's the way Bill Ladson thinks it should be done.
Bill, your a class act. Thank you for the opportunity.
From a fans perspective - and after all, that's what blogging is all about - I have always been curious as to the behind-the-scenes aspects of baseball life. Sure, I know that Bill is the team's beat writer, but how did he get the job? Turns out it was all about desire. "I was on the desk at mlb.com when I found out that the Expos beat writer was leaving," Bill told me. "I sent an email to my boss telling him I was very interested in the job. I liked the Expos because of their run in 2002 and how competitive they were at the time. Remember, that was [manager] Frank Robinson's and [general manager] Omar Minaya's first year in Montreal. Everyone expected the team to lose 100 games and they ended up finishing second. I told the editor I wanted to be part of this and I started in 2003." Reader "Tony C." asked which job has been Bill's favorite besides working for the Nationals. "This is my favorite all-time job," he said. "I thought I'd be on a desk for all of my career. I really enjoy covering the team."
Basil in Midlothian Virginia [Federal Baseball] wanted to know who inspired Bill to become a journalist, and who might have mentored him in the beginning. Bill answered without hesitation. "There were two guys and one musician. In sports, Bill Madden was my favorite, when he covered the Yankees. It appeared he was the only one who got George Steinbrenner [to talk] on a regular basis. Art Rust Jr. was the only African-American to have his own sports talk show in the early 1980's and he was an inspiration to me. As far as work ethic, it was Otis Redding. The way he went on stage, the way he approached his job was all-out. I wrote a story on the 20th anniversary of his death [it was Bill's college paper] and everyone I spoke to, Issac Hayes, his managers, the one thing that stood out was that he wasn't afraid to work. I want people to say that about me."
The Expos weren't Bill's first foray into journalism. Before joining the Expos/Nationals, he worked for Sport Magazine. "I was an editor before I was a beat writer for Sport Magazine. I was even the hockey editor. I followed the NHL for five years. I was based in Los Angeles during the time Wayne Gretzky was with the Kings. I really enjoyed it.
I have always wondered about the demise of baseball in Montreal. Certainly the Toronto Blue Jays have been extremely successful the last two decades. If Toronto could support a major league franchise, then why couldn't Montreal? Through the late 1950's, Montreal was a tremendous 'AAA' baseball town, regularly packing the 20,000 seat Delorimier Stadium. So I asked bill if he saw any scenario - any circumstance - in which major league baseball could have thrived in the city of Montreal. I was surprised by his answer: "Yes! People blamed the fans because of the lack of turnout but that was just plain wrong. In my opinion, corporate Canada wasn't interested in baseball in Montreal. There were also tough stadium issues and no television money. The strike in 1994, followed by the breakup of the team did the real damage."
The Expos initially played in Jarry Park, a 3,000 seat amateur facility that was quickly renovated and enlarged to seat 28,000 by opening day in 1969. After the Olympics in 1976, the Expos moved into the cavernous Olympic Stadium. We've all heard the jokes about the stadium, that it looked like a frisbee, that the roof was a broken as the team that played in it. I asked Bill if Olympic Stadium looked as bad in person as it did on television. Another surprise followed: "I have to tell you that if you look at it on television it doesn't look pretty, but the first time I went to the stadium in 2003, I thought it was one of the most underrated stadiums I had ever seen. I loved it! I thought it was a great stadium to play baseball in." This surpised me. No, I have never been to Olympic Stadium, but pictures I have seen and stories I have read indicate that it was a hell-hole to play baseball in. But I've never been there, and Bill has.
A reader left a question asking if Bill knew about the move to Washington before the media did. No, he didn't. "I learned like the rest of you. We didn't know anything until the last week of the season. I got a hint though when during the 2nd half of the season, some of the beat writers stopped traveling with the team. It was me and a writer with Canadian Press."
I had always believed that Major League Baseball had never really considered the other cities - Portland and Norfolk specifically - as potential new homes for the Expos. Washington was the only city, after all, who had a stadium that could be quickly brought up to MLB standards. But Bill assured me that - yes - the other cities were viable alternatives and that the league took a serious look at them [ I personally think that RFK is what brought baseball back to D.C. If Norfolk had a large enough temporary stadium, I'm afraid they might have been MLB's top choice] Regardless, the team ended up inside-the-beltway. Many believed that Washington just wasn't a baseball town, and would struggle one more time in winning fans and filling RFK Stadium.
"No. With a new team, and the fact they were competitive, with Frank [Robinson] being there, and with his connection to Baltimore and the D.C. area, I thought it would thrive, which it of course has." I wouldn't have thought that Robinson's relationship with the Orioles would have helped to any significant degree. Growing up as a Senators' fan, I hated Frank Robinson because he - and the Orioles - were so much better than the Senators. Hindsight tells me however, that Bill is probably right.
I was interested to see what Bill thought of the new stadium. "I haven't seen it yet," he said, adding "though I will on January 29th. I think it will do a world of good and do nothing but help the team." Ever the journalist, Bill wasn't interested in giving his opinion based on just the drawings and renderings. I'll check back with him in early February and get an update on the stadium.
I changed gears just a little bit at this point and asked him a question that needed to be asked before getting into the 'meat and potatoes' part of the interview. "Do you work for the Washington Nationals? - the assumption, of course, is that he does and this helps him gain insights into the team that other beat writers do not have. Bill was adamant on this. "No, I work for MLB advance media." He chuckled for a moment and added, "If I worked for the Nationals, they would tell me what to say and what to write. If that was the case, I wouldn't have people in the organization mad at me sometimes!" This surprised me, because all of us have seen that little disclaimer at the bottom of some of the articles on all of the team's websites that says, "[This writer] is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs." I asked Bill about that disclaimer and the confusion it can cause. His answer was firm: "Stan Kasten and Tony Taveres and Omar Minaya before him, and Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden and the PR staff have never told me what to write. I think I've been fair and balanced. Every story I've ever written has either been mine or my bosses. And trust me, if my boss wants a story on Ryan Zimmerman, he gets a story on Ryan Zimmerman."
I don't think there was a single blogger who wanted Frank Robinson to return as manager in 2007. Oh, most of us felt bad that he's not coming back and especially for the way the team treated him, but a change needed to be made. I asked Bill for his perspective: "A change needed to be made for whatever reason. From the second half of 2005, the team stopped responding to Frank .. for whatever reason. Frank was reluctant to make changes. I didn't understand why he wouldn't bench Vinny Castilla, Preston Wilson and Cristian Guzman. The team had alternatives. In Montreal, for example, when Vlad Guerrero missed two months in 2003, Frank had no alternatives to replace him. He had Ron Calloway who did an okay job, but in 2005, Frank had Ryan Zimmerman, Jamey Carroll, and Brandon Watson. Last year, well there was Damian Jackson, who fundamentally just wasn't there, for whatever reason. Frank wasn't willing to make changes when they were needed." I asked Bill if he ever confronted Robinson about not benching the veterans and he said that he had, that Frank simply said that he was being loyal to those players that helped the team stay in first place for so much of the season.
Pro-planner. Anti-planner. Yada-yada-yada. It began in the blog-o-sphere and has since permeated the mainstream media. Are you pro-planner or anti-planner? It's almost like being a Republican hissy-fitting with a Democrat. You can be one, but not the other. So I asked Bill if he thought one side, or the other, or both sides, were right. "The pro-planner side is right, because if you look at the last 1 ½ years, the team has fielded mostly veterans and have two 5th place finishes to show for it, so why not make the team younger and build from within." Bill then spoke of the team's recent history in the minor leagues. "That's been a problem since I've been covering the team. For the first time, we have starting pitchers to talk about in the farm system. That's the right way to go. Look at the last twenty years, most teams have won because of their farm system. The Marlins. The Tigers. They won because of their farm system."
Okay. The time had come for a hard question. "What does Manny Acta see in Nook Logan that we don't" I began, "enough to name him the starting centerfielder? Isn't he another Brandon Watson or Endy Chavez?" Now, I've got to tell you that I believed wholeheartedly that I was right about this, that Acta has made a big mistake. I tried to impress Bill with my knowing Logan's embarassingly low minor league on-base percentage and batting average. Hah! I thought. Wiggle out of that one, Billy boy!
And wiggle, he did.
"I'm really surprised by the Nationals bloggers reaction regarding Acta's announcement," Bill told me. "I mean, what games have you been watching? Before Nook Logan, this team had real problems in center field, fielding and hitting. Ryan Church didn't do well in center; he was misjudging a lot of fly balls and let's face it, Nook Logan is an excellent center fielder, and bad defense is why we had a 5th place finish last year. I don't have a problem with Nook being a starter. No question, he has problems with hitting. From the right side of the plate, he's a major league hitter. It's the left side where he gets the most at-bats, where he has problems. He can bunt, but he can't hit as well. But I think that Mitchell Page will work his magic on him." I asked him who had the most upside between Logan, Watson and Chavez. He said "that's a good question." FINALLY! :) He sees Logan with a much higher upside than Brandon Watson and about the same as Chavez when he had his strong September in 2002.
In this instance, I hope Bill is right. Looking in from the outside, Logan looks like just another broken center-fielder that has yet to make good. I mean, we got the guy from the Tigers "for cash considerations." He's thrown off their forty man roster and ends up a week or two later as the Nationals' starting center fielder? Bill (and the other beat writers) see so much more than just stats because they were there every day watching these players. I hope I will have to email a note of apology to Bill come September, when Nook Logan proves all the bloggers wrong. That said, I hope you don't mind if I don't write the first draft until after spring training.
We began to talk about the Nationals' minor league system. I asked him if the farm system had really improved, or was it just an improvement based on the fact that it had nowhere to go but up. "It's much better than it was in 2003-2005. Once the Lerners took over, and they haven't wavered - and shouldn't - the farm system is much better. I'm writing about starting pitchers in the farm system again. Of course, they need hitters too. After Kory Casto and Larry Broadway, there is no one ready for the major leagues. Right now, there are more pitchers ready."
Speaking of prospects I asked Bill about Kory Casto. My concern has been his inability to hit left-handers, so I wondered if Casto would ever be more than a major league platoon player: "Casto (pronounced Kos-to) is ready for the big leagues and it's time to give him a chance. The Nationals have had nothing but veterans the last two years and it hasn't worked out. I think Kory is ready to take over in left - I think he just needs a chance. By being the minor league player of the year the last two years, he deserves the chance to win the job." Yeah, but he can't hit lefties. Will he ever? "It's too early to say whether he can or can't hit lefthanders. In a perfect world, I think his highs would be, say, .280 with 20 homers and 100 RBI's. He has great patience at the plate and a high on base percentage."
Since Bill told me there are no hitters anywhere near being ready for the big leagues besides Casto and first-baseman Larry Broadway, I asked about the Nationals' 'AAA' first sacker. "I've been a fan of Broadway since 2004, and thought he should have been given the chance to start in 2004 when Nick Johnson started the season on the DL. He had a great spring training, but because he played at 'A' ball the previous year, Frank was afraid to rush him. It would have been interesting to see how he could have handled big league pitching then." Will he ever play for Washington? "I don't know if he'll get a chance. It's safe to say he'll need a great spring to make the team. Sadly, he's had some injuries and slumped at the wrong times. Bob Boone and Dana Brown and Manny Acta still believe in him though. I think he could put up numbers around .290 with 80 or 90 RBI's, maybe 17-20 homers." Hmmm. Don't those offensive numbers seem comparable to Nick Johnson??? I like Broadway too, and also believe he deserves a chance. As I've mentioned every month since I started this blog in 2004, Nick (when finally healthy) should be traded for prospects and Broadway given a chance.
We had to talk about Ryan Church. Again, he is one of my favorite players and believe he hasn't been given much of a chance to show what he can do on a consistent basis. I told Bill that I thought Church could outperform Austin Kearns as the team's right-fielder, pointing out that Church hits lefties and righties equally while Kearns only batted .236 against righties last year.
Big mistake. I got pounded by Bill's knowledge stick.
"There is a reason that Church isn't on the 'A' list over the last two years. The organization felt at times that he should have played through the pain in 2005 - he had a toe injury and a tight groin. Also, he slumped at the wrong time in spring and also early in the 2006 season. I can understand the demotions to the minors. His hitting improved when he returned but his defense in center still wasn't very good."
"As far as Kearns, you can't just go by the stats. The first thing I look at is heart. Does he have heart? Kearns has heart. Kearns led the team in GWRBI, even though he didn't play the entire season in Washington. He is a clutch hitter."
"I grew up in New York, and the best third baseman I ever saw was Graig Nettles. I never looked at his stats. He was a lifetime .248 hitter. But he was a great fielder and an excellent clutch hitter. I don't just look at batting average and stats. When the chips are down, does the guy come through? Austin Kearns does."
I still don't know about this one. While Bill is certainly right, I tended to see an upper-cut swing missing inside fast-balls more than I did his heart. Again, I have never watched him play, so I'll hold my view on this one in abeyance.
But I still like Ryan Church.
Jim Bowden gets as much bad press in the blog-o-sphere as Bill does. Has he done a good job since becoming the team's general manager? "Bowden has done an excellent job because of the limited budged he has. It's not like he has $100 or $200 million to work with. He's no different from Omar Minaya, who did a great job too. You try to make a team better with limited resources. I've agreed with every move that he's made except sending Jamey Carroll to the Rockies, and even then I understand why he did that. I even agreed with the Ohka trade. Everyone told me when I started in Montreal that Ohka was better than Javier Vasquez! I never saw it. He was an inconsistent pitcher for 2 ½ years."
Okay, speaking of Omar Minaya, I went on a rant about his trading away Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips and Cliff Young in return for - at least today - nothing. Without those bad trades, the Expos would have been a much better team, perhaps a great team. So how can Bill think Minaya did an excellent job during his tenure with the Expos? I mean, am I just not seeing something? "It's something you're not seeing" (ouch!). "First, they thought the team was going to be contracted and number two Minaya was going to be judged by what he did on the major league level, not by what he did in the minors. It's the same thing with Bowden - he was in the same boat - but he's no longer being judged by what he does at the major league level only. Minaya was judged at the MLB level and he did a helluva job, and because of that, he was given a chance to become the Mets' general manager. I say kudos to Minaya."
Bill certainly makes sense when he says that the assumption was the team was going to be contracted. Minor leaguers have no value, so why not trade them for veterans who could be sold in a dispersal draft? And I understand that Minaya was in essence showing himself off as a potential general manager for another team. Got it. That said, we're talking about Jason Bay [.286-35-109], Grady Sizemore [.290-28-76, 22 steals], Brandon Phillips [.276-17-75, 25 steals], Chris Young [11-5, 3.46] and Cliff Lee [14-11, 4.40]. In the real world, Bill is probably right, but that doesn't make losing these players - for nothing -hurt any less.
Okay [sigh] -- let's talk about Nationals' bloggers. I assumed that a proficient writer like Bill Ladson wouldn't waste his time reading what hack-reporters like us wrote about the team. Surprisingly, as I mentioned earlier, he not only knew all of our blog names but the names of the bloggers too. I really wanted to know what he thought about the Nats' bloggers, but wasn't sure if he was willing to tell me.
Oh yes, he was willing.
"I don't have problems with the bloggers overall. I do have a problem with some of the bloggers. For instance, I don't have a problem when "Miss Chatter" says she disagrees with me, and I don't have a problem with Nationals Enquirer spoofing my mailbag - that cracks me up actually. I do have a problem with some of the bloggers who act like they're in the know, in the locker room, and act like they know everything. I can't stand that fact that they get personal. One blogger actually said that he hacked into my computer and said that I "googled" myself all the time. That's just not true. Another blogger said I was the only beatwriter in Washington who used the word, source, in my stories. He also said that I never quoted anybody. Both statements are lies. I emailed another blogger just before the Superbowl last year and asked him why he attacked me. He still hasn't told me the reasons." In part of another question, Bill continued: "Often, blogers have legitimate points. Sometimes, they don't think before they write. It's fine that they disagree with me but all they would have to do is email me with a question and I'd tell them why I said something. They all just say that Bill does this "because" without even talking to me. If you email me I WILL respond. "
Note to all bloggers. Bill Ladson assured me, promised me, that he is sincere when he says that all you have to do is email him and he will reply, he will explain, he will help you understand his positions regarding the Nationals. His tone changed when we talked about what some of the bloggers have said, things that had nothing to do with baseball. The problem here is that bloggers are like journalists only in that we write words that end up being published somewhere. Unlike the mainstream media (at least those who are honest), we don't have set of rules to follow, we don't have an editor (other than our own common sense) to say, "Dude, that's going too far." Now, I'm not talking specifically about any blog, but in general, we could do a much better job of being fair to those we write about. Like I mentioned, I took a cheap shot at Bill without ever thinking it unfair at the time. And please, don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that anyone should change their styles based on what I say. To us, talking bad about Ladson or Bowden or Kasten is like talking badly about our sister when she's in the other room. They aren't listening, so it won't hurt them.
But Bill is listening. I know for a fact Stan Kasten is listening. I know for a fact that several players are listening. I think that puts the onus on us to be as professional as the paid writers are required to be.
So, a little levity. "Bill, are you a "Curly W" or a "block DC" kinda guy? "You know what, I went to a game at RFK in 1971. My dad bought me the "Curly W" hat, and I'm telling you, I loved that hat, so I'm a "Curly w" type of guy for sure.
I knew I liked you, Bill.
Ryan Zimmerman, at least right now, is the Washington Nationals. I was curious as to how Bill sees the young star and how great his future might be. I was curious as to how well Bill thought Ryan would do in 2006. "You know, the beat writers all predicted what he'd do in 2006, before the season started, and I said 15 homers, 110 RBI's and a .345 average. Unlike most rookies, he wasn't pulling the ball and really has no flaws. He's an excellent defensive player [as a rookie] and was even better than Vinny Castilla." Okay, Bill - you came close on those predictions. What do you think his stats will look like in, say, 2010? "I think when it's all said and done, Zimmerman will hit .340 (because he can hit to all fields), with 30 homers and 110-130 RBI's - he's an RBI machine. He'll be just a good a hitter as Chipper Jones though he's much better defensively right now."
What about John Patterson? He's the team's number one starter because there is no one else. Is he really a number one starter? "There is no doubt about that. He is the best pitcher they have. When healthy, he's dominant. His past physical problems were flukes and probably won't happen again. And Nick Johnson's injuries were flukes too. With Patterson, he'll be healthy and having the surgery when he did for his forearm was a great idea. He'll be ready."
John scares me. He's had one solid season, and yet the Nationals are pinning their hopes on a guy who doesn't have a track record that includes any consistency. I believe John has the talent to go 15-10, 3.50, but like Nick Johnson before last season, I'll have to wait to believe it when I see it.
I've been hoping that Jon Rauch would end up a starter for the Nationals. Everyone says he has the talent, but yet there he is, year in and year out, in the bullpen. Why? "I think Rauch is happy as a bullpen guy. He has found his niche, his success. In terms of control, he is one of the best on the team. Let's face it. Rauch is almost dominant as a setup guy." Yeah, but what about Luis Ayala? He's the team's setup guy when healthy? Bill thinks that, coming off of Tommy John surgery, Ayala won't be ready to take over that roll again for quiete some time. Looks like it's Rauch, at least for the forseeable future.
The Nationals are of course building for the future. I asked bill what the Nationals needed more, an all-star closer or more prospects, and if Cordero were traded, who would likely take his place? "They need to continue to improve their farm system. The process is far from done. They need as many minor leaguers as they can get. Should Cordero get traded [and Bill never suggested he would], Ryan Wagner or Rauch would replace him. Wagner has a blazing fastball and strikes out lots of batters."
I was surprised to note that Bill suggested in one of his mailbags columns that Joel Hanrahan (at the time he wrote it) was a leading candidate to earn a spot in the starting rotation. What about that? "I spoke to people who saw him pitch in the Dodger organization and they told me that this guy could really be a star. I guess he was out of the loop in the Dodger organization. But that's what the scouts told me." Scouts are smarter than bloggers. Look for Hanrahan in the rotation.
Felipe Lopez hit 23 homers while playing in that band-box in Cincinnati. I asked Bill if that was a product of the stadium, and if he'd ever hit those many again with the Nationals: "It was funny, but the way he swung the bat in DC was almost as though he understood where he was playing and was just trying to get base hits." That's a good thing to hear. I like players who play within themselves and work to help the team win, and not to pad their stats. Good for you, Felipe.
A TBB reader left this question for Bill last week: Bill, who is your favorite prospect. I don't want to know who you think is the best, but rather who you like the most: "Larry Broadway. I Saw him play in spring training in 2004 and saw him hit a mammoth homer against the wind at the Orioles' spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale. I Became immediately impressed." I'd tell you yet again that I'm a big Broadway fan, but I think you've already got the idea there.
Any interview wouldn't be complete without a question regarding Alfonso Soriano leaving Washington. I asked Bill if the Nationals did the right thing in letting him stay on July 31st and then letting him go this past winter. "No question, they did the right thing, because Bowden made it clear, they wanted top prospects in return, and it appears no one was willing to give them those type of prospects. It would have been foolish to get second-tier prospects for Soriano. If they had, fans would have asked why they didn't get something better. The Nationals were being offered what the Mets got from the Reds many years ago for Tom Seaver. (June 15, 1977 - Seaver was traded by Mets to the Cincinnati Reds for Dan Norman, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn and Pat Zachry). There were no Howie Kendricks in the group."
We've all seen the attacks Bill prints in his "Mailbag Column." Why the negativity? I asked. "Look, I'm not a stat geek, and some bloggers talk about OPS and that stuff, but when I cover teams, stats are important, but heart is the most important. Jamey Carroll isn't Ryan Zimmerman in terms of talent but he has the heart of a winner."
I asked Bill which players he'd feel comfortable marrying his daughter or a family friend. "Jose Vidro and Jamey Caroll. When I think of those two guys, I see their honesty and their integrity. If you went to them and said something is wrong with the team, they'd say 'You're right, something is wrong with the team.' Vidro was class all the way - he didn't try to dodge questions and I always respected him for that. I approached him twice about his defense and he acknowledged both times - yeah - something is wrong. He admitted there was a problem."
Speaking of Jose Vidro, did the Nationals get more or less from the Seattle Mariners than Bill was expecting? "I think we got more than I expected. We were able to shed a big salary, and were able to get a pitcher in Fruto who could have an impact. With Snelling, you just don't know. But yeah, I think it was great." I asked Bill what Vidro was like as a player before all of the injuries, but he said he never saw him pre-injuries. Only glimpses. Sad ... really sad.
As we began to wrap up the interview, I asked Bill if he saw any scenario where Stan Kasten wouldn't succeed in Washington. His answer was firm: "No, I can't see it. How can you go against Kasten with all his success in Atlanta? He is doing the same thing here. Remember, the Braves didn't sign a single significant free agent until Greg Maddux, and that was after going to the World Series twice [Terry Pendleton was coming off a bad year in St.Louis and wasn't considered a major signing at the time]. "He believed defense wins games, defense and pitching. Look at that starting eight in their first title year in 1991: Sid Bream, Mark Lemke, Rafael Belliard, Terry Pendleton, Greg Olsen, Dave Justice, Otis Nixon and Ron Gant. They weren't a great hitting team, but they could play defense. If that worked for 14 years in Atlanta, why not try it here?"
This is my argument when discussing "the plan." It's worked before, so well in fact, that no one else but Kasten's Braves won the NL East division for fourteen years. Let the team build and strengthen from within, and then go out and fill holes with 2010's version of Greg Maddux or Gary Sheffield. It just makes too much sense.
I was curious as to the relationship between the team's beat writers: "The relationship from what I see is great. I think Barry is a wonderful human being and I sit next to Todd and he is great to talk to. Mark Zuckerman is a great guy. It is competitive but not what you'd call cut throat."
The Nationals' fans were merciless in their rejection of Cristian Guzman in 2005. It was one of the worst seasons by a player in several years. How did Guzman handle both the bad season and all the boos? "He took it very well. I think it was obvious that he wasn't in denial - he had laser surgery [to improve his hitting] but then he had the shoulder injury last year, and that could explain the hitting problems in 2005. Guzman is a much better defensive shortstop than Felipe Lopez was. "
I think it's safe to say that all of us saw the summer trade with the Cincinnati Reds as a steal. How'd Bill see it? "I thought it was a steal too. They were getting younger hitters and preparing for the future and it wasn't like a trade for 2006. I wish that Bill Bray wasn't part of that deal though. He has the talent to be a great closer." But what about Ryan Wagner? He looked pretty good there towards the end after all: "Ryan Wagner will be a sleeper. Improvements were made after he arrived. He had a great 2nd half, returning to the person he was when Jim Bowden drafted him. They moved his delivery back to ¾, which is what Bowden saw when they drafted him."
Here are some quickies that finished the interview:
- "I get more than 120 questions for the mailbag column each and every week."
- Regarding the Jose Guillen trade in 2004 and the loss of Juan Rivera who had a great season in 2006: "In 2004, it looked like Rivera was getting his game together. I think people believed that he'd have a breakout year [sooner or later]. The Yankees saw it in him. It's safe to say that - in 2004 - he was the team's best hitter. "
- Regarding Ramon Ortiz's chances in the Metrodome in 2007: "That's going to be interesting, he's going to a hitters ballpark. If he didn't have success in a pitchers park, it's going to be interesting to see what he does in Minnesota."
- "I'm going to have to see Nick Johnson myself and see if he's ready for opening day or even May 1st. Travis Lee or Larry Broadway could take his place. It's just too early to say anything about him."
- Regarding the Nationals unclear starting rotation, and whether this is unheard of so close to spring training, "You just have to go back to the Marlins in 2006. Everyone was thinking that the team was going to lose 100 games. Still, even though they'd picked up all those prospects, no one thought they would be contenders. Never say never. The Marlins have done it twice."
There you have it, my friends. Bill was a fountain of baseball information. But I learned far more than just baseball during our interview. I learned that bloggers have a responsibility to be fair to those they write about. Oh sure, we can haggle all we want about the "who's" and "what's" and "when's" of baseball, but when it comes to reporting, it needs to be fair and it needs to be accurate. It's easy to take a swipe at those in the public eye, guys like Ladson and Bowden and Kasten. To us, these are nameless, faceless men, which makes it much easier to be less than fair when writing about them. But they aren't faceless and nameless. They are guys like us, writing about the Nationals. The difference, however, is that they are professionals, and this is how they earn their living. We can disagree with them all we want, and we can even be forceful in how we disagree.
But getting personal? Nah. That's just no good.
Some of you might see this as a "fluff piece," a "I love Bill" story, and you'd probably be right. I intended for it to be a hard-hitting interview. But I learned something since talking to Bill. I'm not a journalist. I'm a guy who writes about the Nationals. In talking with Bill, my amateur status became clear, both by the questions I was asking as well as how I was asking the questions. I'm going to be a teacher. I'll never be a journalist. And I'm going to stop pretending. Oh sure, I'll keep TBB alive and it'll still grow and flourish, but it's a hobby. I'm not the next Damon Runyon.
Thanks, Bill, for helping me remember why I write this blog. And thanks for your efforts on behalf of all the Nationals' fans.
I was happy to hear that Ladson likes Ryan Wagner. I have always felt he was the best part of the Cincinnati Trade.
I am still pulling for Church in left, and Escobar in Center over Logan. I understand the Nats needs for Defense in Center with an expansive RFK Outfield, but when you are down by 5 in the 3rd and just slap hitters, you are most likely not going to get back in the game.
Thanks agains for a fine effort!!!
Farid, I enjoyed the interview. Thanks to Bill for doing it -- I don't always agree with his opinions, but I think he's a good reporter and offers some interesting insights into the team.
That's only the second negative comment posted here since I opened for business more than two years ago.
From my perspective, I wrote generically about he responsibilities a blogger faces mostly from my own perspective -- what I've seen, what I've heard. We can always be fair without demaining that which are tryng to say.
Now, Bill Ladson gave me the names of the three blogs from which those quotes came, along with permission to use them. I chose not to. Had I used them, I then would have attacked specific blogs, which never was my attention. Why point the finger at any of these writers directly?
You are free to say what you like here, just as I am. Your concerns are noted, but I am content with the direction the story ended.
And, Like Nationals' Enquirer said, you're free to start your own blog and say what you think.
The point I tried to make regarding the civility wasn't in the first draft, but the more I talked to Bill, the more I could tell he was bothered by it, and so it became an important part of the piece.
The blogs who try to be fair, who disagree while not getting personal, are the blogs asking for - and receiving - permission for these interivews. Others have chosen not to, but would do a fine job should they so choose.
So that's ho I feel. No regrets.
I said what I believed. You could have attacked my words, but no, you chose to attack me.
Kinda plays into what Ladson was saying, don't you think?
The comments from Ladson about how he became involved in baseball, what it was like in Montreal, and his comments about various players--that was all fascinating. I'm glad Ladson took the time to talk with you, and that you took the time to share that with the Natosphere.
The mixed part of my reaction comes from my background as a librarian, with a little exposure to the process of publication. Perhaps I'm reading too much into your comments about the harm bloggers can do, but when we're talking about damage to someone's reputation, I find myself wondering if that's anything like libel or slander--both legal concepts that have been well defined. I think that blogs are relatively new as a means of publication, but the Washington Post summit for bloggers (which Miss Chatter attended a few weeks ago)tells me that legal and commercial minds are looking very carefully at them. And in Washington DC, I have no doubt that there are plenty of lawyers and librarians to take an interest!:)
But I'm glad you posted this story. It's been great to read stories that give me a chance to get to know some of the people who cover the Nats--it will make reading and hearing their reports even more enjoyable.
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