The Bull-Moose Juju
As the first month of the baseball season drew to a close in 2012, the Gio Gonzalez trade looked like an inspiration. Stephen Strasburg was back and the Nationals had the best pitching in the National League. Davey Johnson was looking for offense and summoned Bryce Harper. Everything Mike Rizzo touched in 2012 turned to gold.
Fast forward and the Midas touch has worn thin. The $13 million Rizzo paid for Dan Haren has provided no yellow cake to date, only ruin. Anthony Rendon has been called up at almost the same juncture in the 2013 season as the Kid, but while Rendon may be as good as Zimmerman some day soon, he is no Bryce Harper.
What has happened to the team with the best record in the National League in 2012? It is vexing, without a doubt, but there is a simple and obvious answer. The only issue is how long do the Nationals go before facing up to it. The solution is so clear and obvious that it might as well be tomorrow’s headline. So, here it is in plain English. Let Teddy Win!!. And get rid of Preident Taft. Bench him, dump him, trade him, do whatever it takes, he is a drag on the team and needs to be gone.
What must be accepted is that the Natinals have violated the first rule of Juju. You don’t change the narrative when your team is winning. When Phil Rizzuto called a Yankee’s game and the team was in the middle of a rally, he stayed on topic regardless what he was talking about until the rally was over. The Juju dictates that you do not change the story line until the winning was over. And of that Juju Rule, a formidable one, William Howard Taft is the biggest, fattest violation one can imagine.
For you outlanders, there is a president’s race held in the fourth inning of every game in Washington. From the inception of the idea of the racing presidents, back when the Nationals played at RFK in 2007, “Teddy”–aka Theodore Roosevelt–did not win a single race. But then last season, when Washington clinched its first pennant in almost eighty years, Teddy streaked across the finish line in first place. Teddy won the race; the Nationals won the pennant. From that moment forward the fortunes of the Nationals were linked to that of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt–cowboy patrician, leader of the Rough Riders who brought a masculine persona to the White House and the progressive who swept the money lenders from the temple. The narrative was written and it could not be unwritten.
There were pennants and lapel pins around Nationals Park at every game last season that shouted out, “Let Teddy Win!” It was a cry from deep within the force. And if the Nationals had been smart enough to leave well enough alone, they would have put Teddy back at the front of the pack this season. He would have burst out of the gate in the first game and won by ten lengths as the fans cheered lustily. The rest of the presidents could have conspired all season long to deny Teddy the crown, but lo they were unable to best the feisty Theodore because he was the heart and soul of the NL East Champions. That is the narrative as it should have been written, but someone blew the hooch.
The Nationals should have grabbed the coat tails of Teddy and hung on for as long as humanly possible. But the script writers at Nationals Park forget their place. Not only has Teddy not won a single fourth inning contest this season, but he has suffered betrayal as well. President William Howard Taft has been added to the race as a fifth contestant. William Howard Taft is not only a change in the narrative, he is the anti-Teddy, a powerful force that has undone all that came to pass when Teddy became a winner at the end of the 2012 season.
The real President Taft threw out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium in 1910 and began the tradition. It is a distant footnote in his resume that was long and prestigious. But much of what Taft won in life he gained from his friend Teddy Roosevelt. And so when Teddy decided to seek a third term in 1912, it was an “Et Tu Brute” moment when Taft refused to step aside for his mentor and friend. And thus began the ugly rivalry between Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in real life. Sure enough, in the first race of the year, Taft threw his hefty weight around and knocked Teddy from the field quite physically. The Juju went completely haywire.
So it isn’t just the failure of Dan Haren that needs to be met face to face by Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals ownership. It is the failure of Teddy and all that the Nationals have laid out before him for 2013. The failures on the left side of the infield, where Ian Desmond and Zimmerman have made 10 errors combined to push the Nationals to the top of the league in that category is not their fault but is the outgrowth of the ill-conceived addition of William Howard Taft and his gout-ridden feet that will only continue to get in the way of Teddy.
The collective ERA of the Nationals is horrific. The command of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez has been lost somewhere on the other side of Half Street. Whose fault is it? It can only be laid at the feet of William Howard Taft. No, he cannot see his feet for his considerable girth, but those feet are still the problem. The idea that he could race around Nationals Park is laughable and it must stop.
Haren who has allowed an OPS of 1.047, a staggering number in case the 7.36 ERA is not enough. It seems a statistical anomaly until you realize that William Howard Taft’s penultimate claim to fame is the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution that created the Income Tax. He overturned the existing barriers to immigration and allowed the unwashed to enter the USA unmolested for all the talents they brought with them. Not only does he not belong on the field at Nationals Park, he does not even belong to today’s Republican Party.
And so there is the rub for the Washington Nationals. They have gone against every rule in the book. They have brought in an interloper. The problem the Nationals face in 2013 is not how to get Espinosa’s bat going, not how long to let Haren try to find himself, not even how to get Zimmerman going again? The problem the Nationals face in 2013 is what to do about restoring the juju?
The first step must be to have Teddy win again. He must win by running directly over William Howard Taft. That may be enough, but if not then Taft must be shipped out to Syracuse. The Nationals need to get down to the business at hand and it is all about Teddy. What can they do to make Teddy a winner again, a real winner who has recovered from the insults of one William Howard Taft, interloper, betrayer and not even a real Republican. Get him gone. Let Teddy Win!! Let Teddy Win!!
Thanks for insights gained from The Juju Rules, by Hart Seely, Houghton Mifflin, 2012