Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Caption This Picture

  • "Who'll take Soriano off my hands for $69.55?" (OK, that one's not even remotely clever)
  • "Soriano wants $12 million. What am I bid for a night with my fiancee?"

EDIT: A tremendous post by Brandon is up at Curly W on the subject of JimBo's incompetence.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Review: Beyond The Shadow Of The Senators

For those of us who religiously followed the soap opera surrounding the relocation of the Expos to Washington, we remember that a popular mascot choice for the new team was "Grays".

That name would have been an homage to the Homestead Grays, the Negro League team which played many home games in Washington's Old Griffith Stadium. Much to the chagrin of Mayor Tony Williams and Will Carroll, the Expos were renamed the "Nationals" and the rest is history.

But the story behind the Homestead Grays, arguably the most successful franchise in Negro League history, is largely unknown to the common baseball fan. Brad Snyder's exhaustively researched book Beyond the Shadow of the Senators fills in the gaps on an important period in baseball history.

When I picked up this book to read it, I expected to read a definitive account of the history of the Homestead Grays franchise and its time in Washington. While that story is intertwined in its pages, it's not the main thrust of the book.

The actual theme of the book is tough to pigeon-hole; it's a tremendously detailed account of a very complicated sociological role that Washington DC, the Washington Senators, the Homestead Grays, the Negro Leagues and the "black press" played in the integration of Major League Baseball.

Snyder's incredibly complex tale covers many areas of history, including writer Sam Lacy, ballplayers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, Clark Griffith and the Washington Senators, the Homestead Grays, and the black culture of early 20th century Washington DC.

The book describes how black Washingtonians were some of the best patrons of Clark Griffith's Washington Senators in the 1920's and 30's, despite the all-white nature of the Senator teams Griffith put on the field.

However, blacks stopped coming to see the Senators once the Homestead Grays moved a majority of their games from Pittsburgh to Washington. They did so not because of loyalty to their skin color, but because the Grays played a more competitive brand of baseball.

One would think that the success of the Grays would prompt Griffith to sign one of their stars like Gibson or Leonard to play for the pitiful Senators. However, the money Griffith made by renting his stadium to the Grays was the only thing that kept the Senators franchise afloat. Besides any racist leanings Griffith has been accused of having, he also had plenty of financial incentive to keep the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues separate.

The so-called "black press" of Washington constantly pressured Griffith, to no avail, to take advantage of the Negro League talent that played in his own stadium. Snyder argues this crusade taken up by journalists like Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and Art Carter directly led to baseball's eventual integration in 1947.

Snyder presents in breathtaking detail the story of how the Grays helped drive the integration of baseball. However, the complex nature of the story leads to a somewhat unfocused book that covers a gigantic amount of information.

In between an introduction and an epilogue, Snyder dedicates nine chapters each to a different subject or topic. The only link between some of the topics is the (sometimes minor) part each played in Washington's role in baseball's integration. For example, the chapter dedicated to Satchel Paige is full of information about the great pitcher, who was a much of a performer as an athlete.

The forty pages dedicated to Paige are interesting and informative; however, the only relevance to the topic of the book is how Paige's appearances at Griffith Stadium drew huge crowds and contributed to the popularity of the Grays among Washington's black fanbase.

The book is incredibly detailed, and that is its greatest strength. Snyder spent 10 years researching material about this period in baseball history. That hard work is evident in an exhaustive set of endnotes and a bibliography which encompass 100 pages of text. The book is worth reading alone simply to glean the tremendous amount of historical information.

However, the incredible detail is the book's biggest weakness as well. Snyder covers an huge range of topics, some of which are only tangential to the role Washington played in integrating baseball. It's very hard to tie so many loose strands of information back to the author's original thesis. Snyder does an admirable job, but as a result the book has a somewhat unfocused quality.

Despite its faults, Beyond the Shadow of the Senators is still an amazingly detailed account of a very important time in baseball and American history. The history of the Homestead Grays in Washington DC and its role in baseball's integration have been largely ignored by mainstream baseball fans. Brad Snyder does a very good job in filling that void.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I have a blog?

It's been a looong time, hasn't it. Do we even still have a team?

Seriously, I haven't been ignoring the Nats. But between a newlywed first Christmas and a lot of work to do, I've just been too busy to write about it.

I won't try to give a recap of the many events I've missed, since if you're a reader of this blog, you probably also frequent the many other (better) Nat blogs out there.

But here are some thoughts that floated through my little mind as events have unfolded this off-season.

The Stadium

I care tremendously about what happens here, but I can't bring myself to get emotionally involved with the ins and outs our current debacle with MLB and the DC Council. MLB has proven that monopolies are bad. And the DC Council has put forth the best argument yet against home rule for the District.

But all you need to remember is that Bud Selig is a National Disgrace.

Jamey Carroll

Despite what Evil Basil (is there any other kind?) might say, I'm glad the guy is coming back. I gained a ton of respect for the guy after a July game against the Astros. That encounter led to one of the few blog posts I've done that is actually worth reading.

Michael Tucker

Why oh why did we sign him? I'm sure he's a fine guy, but where will we use him. With Marlon Byrd, Damian Jackson, Robert Fick, Marlon Anderson and all the other bench players we have, why even waste money on the guy? Bowden Delenda Est.

New Coaches

I like just about everything here.

Mitchell Page, the former St. Louis Cardinals' hitting coach, was promoted from AAA New Orleans to be the Nats hitting coach. He was highly respected with the Cards, but he fell out of favor because of alcohol problems. He's said to be doing better, and giving him a chance with DC is a great move.

Davey Lopes is a good call for first base coach. He knew how to swipe a bag in his day, and perhaps a few less baserunners will get picked off this year. Bringing Tony Beasley (3rd base coach) into the system is a great move. He has a fantastic record of managing in the minor leagues and could be a candidate for a promotion once Frank retires.

Brian Schneider and Nick Johnson

Two of my favorite players avoided arbitration and agreed to contracts with the Nats. Johnson signed only for one year, with incentives added if he plays a certain amount of games. I always was fond of Nick, who is probably the quietest guy on the team.

Schneider signs for four years at about $16 million. It's a perfect length contract for him, one that runs out when he starts to get a little too long in the tooth. He's a great defensive catcher and is adequate at the plate. Great move.

Alfonso Soriano and Brad Wilkerson

Fonzie went to arbitration and is asking for $12 million. We offered him $10 million. He can go screw himself.

Wilkerson, who some say we traded in part because he might be difficult to resign, agreed to a $3.9 million deal with Texas! Is Soriano worth $8 million more than Brad Wilkerson? No effing way. Bowden Delenda Est!

Sammy Sosa

Please God, no! Apparently, we're still going after Sosa. Bringing him in to Spring Training on a non-roster invite for very little guaranteed money would be a hard thing to turn down.

But we can't devote a single guaranteed red cent to him. Even then, he had an abysmal 2005, not to mention the fact that he just passed Frank on the all-time home run list. Frankie's been known to be real sensitive about his place in history. Do you really want to put an alleged steroid user in the clubhouse with him? We already have enough potential clubhouse problems with Soriano.

So that's what I think, if anyone still cares. I'll be at home sharpening my pitchfork, in case an angry mob assembles to move against Jim Bowden, Bud Selig, Bob DuPuy, Peter Angelos, Jerry Reinsdorf, Adrian Fenty or Marion Barry.