Sending Along Some Bad Karma
From One Writer to Another, This Act Has Been Seen Before
From: email@example.com <Dave Sheinin, WaPo national baseball writer>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org <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.