Send­ing Along Some Bad Karma

From One Writer to An­other, This Act Has Been Seen Be­fore

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - Dave

From: sheinind@wash­post.com <Dave Sheinin, WaPo na­tional base­ball writer>

To: svr­lu­gab@wash­post.com <Barry Svr­luga, WaPo Na­tion­als beat writer>

Cc: All Na­tion­als fans

Sub­ject: Bad ball

Dude, you need help. No, I don’t mean that kind of help (well, not yet at least). I’m talk­ing about some ad­vice. I come to you as a friend, a col­league and one of the lead­ing ex­perts in the known uni­verse on aw­ful base­ball. That’s right. You may not know this, but in seven years as a base­ball beat writer (one on the Florida Mar­lins, six on the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles), I never once cov­ered a win­ner, re­tir­ing with a win­ning per­cent­age of .410. Put an­other way, my teams av­er­aged 93 losses per year.

That’s ter­ri­ble, I know. But in an odd way, I’m kind of proud of my record. I mean I ab­so­lutely wrecked the Ori­oles. Look at them. They still haven’t re­cov­ered and I’ve been off the beat for al­most three years now. Peo­ple blame Peter An­ge­los, but re­ally, they ought to blame me.

Dude, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you might be in for some­thing his­toric this year. Peo­ple are al­ready pre­dict­ing 110, 120, even 130 losses for your poor Na­tion­als. I see where folks in the or­ga­ni­za­tion are say­ing those pre­dic­tions are overblown — that they’re go­ing to be bet­ter than peo­ple think, maybe even pull a 2006 Mar­lins and shock the world by con­tend­ing deep into the sea­son. I, for one, pre­fer the sense of re­al­ism that greeted the sea­son when I cov­ered the Mar­lins in 1998 — yes, that would be the year af­ter the World Se­ries ti­tle, the year they lost 108 games. At the end of spring train­ing that year, one per­son as­so­ci­ated with the team ex­am­ined the team’s ros­ter and con­cluded, “We’re gonna get slaugh­tered.”

And they did, 108 times. But let me tell you — it was awe­some. I’ve never en­joyed a year on the beat more than that one. If you’re go­ing to cover bad ball, it might as well be his­tor­i­cally bad. At least then it’s in­ter­est­ing — even a lit­tle en­dear­ing. What you don’t want is non­de­script bad (like pretty much all my Ori­oles teams). With a truly aw­ful team, on any given day you went to the ball­park know­ing there was a de­cent chance you were go­ing to see some­thing you’d never seen be­fore in base­ball. To wit, in 1998: K I saw a rookie left-han­der, the im­mor­tal Gabe Gon­za­lez, get called into a game to make his ma­jor league de­but against a left-handed bat­ter with the bases loaded — and promptly hit the guy with his first pitch, forc­ing in a run. I’ve still never seen Jim Ley­land, the man­ager that year, move as fast he did when he sprinted to the mound to yank Gon­za­lez. (Lucky for Gabe, he got a cou­ple more ap­pear­ances be­fore he dis­ap­peared, spar­ing him the ig­nominy of hav­ing a ca­reer that con­sisted of one ter­ri­ble pitch.) K I saw a rookie right-han­der, the im­mor­tal Brian Mead­ows, fall be­hind to the Hous­ton Astros 5-0 af­ter eight pitches! Think about that. That’s hard to do. K I saw a rookie right-han­der, the im­mor­tal Os­car “Mana­cho” Hen­riquez, get yanked from a game af­ter the last four bat­ters he faced hit for the cy­cle against him — in­clud­ing a home run by a pitcher (Gregg Olson) who said he had never be­fore made con­tact as a hit­ter, let alone got­ten a hit.

I could go on and on about the atroc­i­ties I saw com­mit­ted against the game of base­ball. I mean, be­fore any­body goes and calls the 2007 Na­tion­als ro­ta­tion the worst in his­tory, they ought to check out this one. Among the pitch­ers who started for the Mar­lins that year: Kirt Ojala, Andy Larkin, Rafael Me­d­ina, Joe Fon­tenot and Eric Lud­wick. Im­mor­tals, all.

But I also should point out some of those 1998 Mar­lins — such as Der­rek Lee, Luis Castillo and Alex Gon­za­lez — went on to form part of the nu­cleus of the 2003 team that won the World Se­ries, and oth­ers (Mark Kot­say, Edgar Ren­te­ria, Ryan Demp­ster, Kevin Mil­lar and our old pal Li­van Her­nan­dez) went on to en­joy solid big league ca­reers else­where.

I guess what I’m say­ing is en­joy your­self. Em­brace the bad ball. Some day down the road, you’ll look back on it and smile.

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