Column as I see ’em …
While Washington Nationals fans have reason to be stoked about the first postseason appearance by a Washington baseball team since the Senators won the 1933 American League pennant, nobody in Montreal is celebrating the Nats’ success.
Nine years before they became the toast of the town in D.C., the Nationals played their final season in Montreal, a once-vibrant baseball town that realized the MLB-owned Expos were toast.
Plagued by attendance problems that forced them to schedule 22 “home” games in Puerto Rico in 2003, the Expos relocated to Washington and were renamed the Nationals starting with the 2005 seasons. The move culminated a saga of bad front-office management – and worse luck – that can be traced to baseball’s labor pains of 1994, when the pennant-drive phase of the season was canceled just as the Expos, with a six-game lead, were girding for the stretch.
Had the ’94 Expos advanced to the World Series – and with Larry Walker and Moises Alou in the middle of the lineup, and Pedro Martinez anchoring the starting rotation, the Fall Classic was a reasonable scenario – momentum would’ve been sustained for a new ballpark. But the pennant races were scratched, and plans for a new ballpark fizzled, and the Montreal roster deteriorated to the point the franchise was positioned to select premium draft choices annually.
The fruition of those drafts has been realized, only it’s been realized 500 miles south of Montreal. Fans of the Seattle SuperSonics are familiar with this drill: They watched the Oklahoma City Thunder advance to the 2012 NBA Finals because of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, first-round draft choices acquired because of the Sonics’ futility during their last seasons in Seattle.
If you still follow pro basketball (and if you don’t, the line forms right here) you probably watched last season’s NBA Finals in a mood that ranged from indifference to indignation.
Montreal baseball fans are looking at the Nationals’ playoff run the same way, except they’re even more detached.
They took their punch in the gut eight years ago.
• Oh, well, at least Montreal still has the Canadiens, which used to be the National Hockey League’s equivalent of the New York Yankees. The Canadiens should be busy in training camp today, but a lockout during negotiations over a new collective-bargaining agreement has put the NHL season on hold. Again.
As somebody who has visited Montreal several times – attending an Expos game, on a summer Friday night, was a rare and memorable treat – I rank it among my three or four favorite North American cities. But with the erstwhile Expos looking at the playoffs and the Canadiens looking at an NHL season that may or may not be doomed, I’m glad I’m not living there.
• The Heisman Trophy campaign of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is in full gear. After three weeks, he’s found targets on 96 out of his 110 passes – a ridiculous 81 percent completion rate – augmenting an equally ridiculous touchdown-interception ratio of 12-0.
But Heisman candidacies can be fluid. Matt Barkley, the USC quarterback, began the season as the clear front-runner. Then Barkley failed to rally the Trojans last week against a typically stout Stanford defense, and Smith, enhancing his passing stats against the likes of James Madison, took the lead.
Check back on this race after West Virginia goes on the road to take on Texas in Austin on Oct. 6. If Smith throws for 200 yards and three touchdowns against a superior Longhorns defense, it won’t be much of a race. Smith will lap the field.
• Seattle’s Fred Couples was elected to the World Gold Hall of Fame last week. Although he won the 1992 Masters, and owns first-place trophies from 14 other PGA Tour events –along with three others on the international circuit – it’s fair to wonder if he qualifies as an all-time great.
An all-time great wins more than one major tournament, doesn’t he?
Couples’ road to the Hall of Fame was enabled by a curious election process: Inductees need the approval of 65 percent of the 15 golf writers on the voting committee. If a 65 percent mandate isn’t achieved, the best-supported candidate is advanced, as long as he’s got at least 50 percent of the vote. Couples finished with 51 percent and no one got 65 percent, so he’s in.
Sweet swing, good guy, a Seattle metro parks legend. But a Hall of Famer?
If the golf voters’ standards were applied to baseball’s Hall of Fame, Edgar Martinez would stand a chance to represent the Mariners in Cooperstown. But he needs 75 percent. His chance teeters between slim and none.
• “Trouble With The Curve,” the recently released movie starring Clint Eastwood as an Atlanta Braves scout, is taking a beating. Critics who don’t care about baseball are panning the hackneyed plot line, and they’re more merciful than the critics who know baseball.
The dialogue, it seems, could’ve used some editing. Eastwood’s character, for instance, about his interest in a prospect: “Oh, God, I want this guy so bad. Maybe if the Red Sox take him, we can work out a draft-and-sign deal.”
Oops. Can’t do that. Draft-and-sign deals, common in the NBA, never have been permitted in baseball. An MLB draft choice can’t be traded until he’s been under contract for a full year.
It’s a movie, I know, and the screenwriter deserves some latitude. The idea is to appeal to a general audience not familiar with baseball-draft rules.
But if you’re going to use such arcane terms as “draft-and-trade” in the script, get the details right. That is all.
• A more promising baseball movie, “42,” will premiere April 12. It’s the biopic of Jackie Robinson, whose courageous breaking of baseball’s unofficial but seemingly inviolable color line with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, presaged the mainstream U.S. civil rights movement by about 15 years.
The preview trailer is terrific – it gave me goosebumps – and the casting of Harrison Ford as Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey strikes me as inspired. (Ford looks like Rickey, and talks like Rickey, and seems to comport himself as the cigar-chomping, visionary autocrat who was Rickey. Which is amazing: I’d never envisioned Harrison Ford as a clone of Branch Rickey.)
One quibble from the trailer: It shows Robinson squaring up on an apparent home-run swing and flipping his bat before taking a few slow strides toward first base. This never happened. Hitters didn’t flip their bats in 1947. Even if they were convinced the ball they’d just hit was destined to land in the upper deck, 450 feet away, they sprinted to first base.
Nobody sprinted to first base with the zeal and aggressiveness of No. 42. Some “based on a true story” movies need some twitching to flesh out the plot. Not this story. It’s all true. It’s all there.
If an opposing batter had flipped his bat and taken an arrogant saunter toward first base after homering against the 1947 Dodgers, he wouldn’t have reached the plate. Jackie Robinson would’ve decked him as he rounded email@example.com