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Some Thoughts From Barry Larkin

Barry Larkin, the former Cinci shortstop, and an assistant in the Nats front office since 2005, was at the ballyard today -- a rare appearance, since Larkin has logged plenty of miles this year on the road for scouting and player development. He's been to Italy. To China. To the College World Series. (Not every trip is sponsored by the Nationals; his job with the team is loosely structured, almost advisory, with lots of freedom -- but even on those trips, Larkin said, he was relaying advice back to Washington about the talent that's out there. Larkin calls himself a baseball "entrepreneur.")

Anyway, Larkin's contract with the team is up at the end of the year. He's in town hoping to figure out whether he has a role in the organization's future. He'd like as much, but first, he's planning to sit down with Jim Bowden and hear some thoughts on what might come next. (One thing is for sure: Larkin doesn't want a GM job. Ever. The hours, he said, are too ridiculous.)

When we talked today before the game, Larkin also gave some thoughts on this year's team, and the reasons the Nats have struggled so much.

He sees two primary problems:

Too many players here are learning on the fly.

And, these young guys have little veteran leadership.

I'll let Larkin elaborate.

"I don't envy their position at all as ballplayers, because they're in the clubhouse trying to learn how to be successful, and then they're out here competing for a job and trying to, you know, make their bubblegum card look good. And that's not an enviable position. I want to be able to learn all of my things in the offseason and in the minor leagues, so that when I step on the field as a 23- or 24-year-old guy, I am seasoned and now I don't have to worry about my technique and I can just worry about trying to win. These guys are trying - I see it all of the time. I was in here yesterday just watching some things happen before the game and then [players were] going out on the field trying to implement what you just learned. No! That's a difficult position to be in.

"When I was 21, I had 40-year-old guys around me saying, 'Listen young buck, this is how you do this, this is how this happens, and you know what -- No! You're not going out tonight. You're getting your [butt] up and you're getting here tomorrow morning because that's the way a professional works.' These guys don't have that. And then you have a 23-year-old kid who's the de facto leader of your team. So it's not an enviable position for these guys, and it's tough for these guys. They are playing hard, but they are learning. They're learning. The best players on their team are learning to play at the big league level, and it's tough. It's like learning a new language and just saying, 'OK, I taught ya man. You can go to China. I was just there. Go communicate with people.' Ahh, it's not gonna happen."

So I asked Larkin if there was a risk in this sink-or-swim approach? Can it backfire?

"I think if you don't communicate to the players the reality of the situation, then yes, it can backfire and guys think that they're not good enough. You've got young players that are trying to play at the big league level and are learning at the big league level while in the big leagues. Normally, you've got young players who are in the minor leagues and -- yeah, there's an adjustment when you get to the big leagues -- but they have some tenure, they have some seasoning, they've won. ... So could it backfire? If it's not communicated to these guys, Listen, we're not expecting you to go out and win. And you don't want to say that, because you want to win. And so that's kind of the tightrope, and you've got to walk that."

By Chico Harlan  |  September 21, 2008; 2:41 PM ET
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Next: And Now, On To The Finish Line


this is even worse than getting swept at home earlier this year by the giants. san francisco at least has players casual fans know, but this - losing badly to the no-name padres? are the nats even trying? don't count on getting the first overall draft pick while the mariners continue to tank. natsluck and poetic justice if the team gets the no. 2 pick. run up the white flag!

Posted by: natsscribe | September 21, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Well, I imagine it does help when the "40-year-olds" in question are Davy Concepcion, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose.

Posted by: ce | September 21, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

This team has more excuses than a high school freshman who forgot his homework. They tell us from one side that this is exactly their PLAN and then the complain and wine from the other side how hard it is on them........I for one always said the Plan should have been build the farm AND spend now for Vets to fill the 3-5 years in between....but no...That would Block Casto and Pena and Milledge.....well maybe they need to be blocked....they sure are not ready to win. Learning in the Bigs is BS.....just more excuses for bad baseball. What this year has taught Lastings is that losing is OK with the Nats and playing a bad CF is fine too….just do not get too good or we would have to pay you someday.

THIS TEAM QUIT trying and Acta can not be praised for any longer for how he has keep them playing hard. They do not have their heads in the game and do not care how many they lose.....that is not a plan to win it is a play to lose, for a very long time.

Posted by: JayB | September 21, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Was there a post-game show today? I got home a couple minutes after the game ended but MASN seemed to be showing espnews right away. I would have loved to hear the Nats spin this one.

Posted by: Coverage is lacking | September 21, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Next year will be Zim's last season here. He'll win big in arbitration during the off-season and the new salary -- and Zim's increasing demands for the Lerners to spend some GD money -- will be all the Lerners can take.

They'll trade him at the end of the season and then blame him, saying he didn't really want to play here.

Posted by: ohplease | September 21, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

MASN figured the six people still tuned in would not mind...Actually, they had a Don and Bob post-game with a puff interview by Debbie "Can I look in the camera more often?" Taylor with Zim.

Posted by: ohplease | September 21, 2008 5:33 PM | Report abuse

No way they are trying to lose, but I've been in positions where after a long stretch where things didn't go as expected, you just don't have the physical strength and mental toughness to perform at an elite level. Ryan Zimmerman isn't trying to look bad during the last two weeks of the season -- no doubt he's doing his best. This has been a horrific season and the faster they disconnect from the pain the better things will be heading into next year.

And no, I don't want to deal with any high draft pick where Scott Boras is the agent. Borrowing a line from a Jane Curtain - Dan Ackroyd SNL "Point / Counterpoint" skit from my youth, "Scott, you ignorant *****. I am not a believer in abortion, but in your case I'll make an exception. Had I been around when your mother was carrying you, not only would I have paid for it, I would have performed it myself."

Gee, I've been waiting to use that line on a message board for years. Regardless of my personal beliefs, that's one of the funniest lines I have ever heard.

Posted by: The Beltway Boy | September 21, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

They are definitely not trying to lose because they don't want the humiliation of drafting the top pick and then not being able to sign him.

Posted by: ohplease | September 21, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Larkin's message strikes me as kind of funny in this age of free agency. I don't see a rental 40 year old ball player coming in willing to put up with a team of 23 year olds and be their nanny. It's up to Manny or Kasten to hire the assistant coaches that will do this. On the other hand if you have a ballclub that has a winning tradition and has players around that have been with the club for years then there would be some credence to what Larkin says. I just don't see it happening now.

Posted by: Dale | September 21, 2008 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Dimitri was supposed to be that elder statesman, but some example he set...

Posted by: ohplease | September 21, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

And now for some Nats heresy--the Redskins were far more watchable this afternoon. I kept switching channels hoping to see the Nats make some kind of effort, but naaaaah-never happened.

Posted by: Dale | September 21, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I think Larkin's comments are right on the mark. I hope to see veteran players Harris, Belliard, Guzman, and a healthy Johnson back for that reason. Even in the depths of this miserable season, I always enjoyed going to the games to watch Harris and Belliard who always gave their best effort and even seemed to be having fun. I hope their play and attitude will be here to set an example for the young players who are so clearly struggling.

Dmitri has a serious illness which requires adjustment to the medications that control it. Weight gain is not uncommon. While I hope for the best, he may have a hard time returning to play in other than a limited role. He was magnificent last year and does not deserve snide comments from people who have not been through the same experience.

Hope to see a good turnout (and not Marlins fans) for the last three games.

Posted by: ladynatsfan | September 21, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't kidding about Concepcion, Perez, and Rose. It's going to be hard for Nick & al. to provide that kind of leadership to young players who have to ask each other who he is. Lo Duca was supposed to do that--you know how that worked out. Boone and Belliard and even Guzman are in position, by default, but the first two aren't even starting, and Guzzie just doesn't seem the type. Frank had that kind of gravitas, but apparently wasn't particularly patient or generous about sharing. Zimmerman is more and more looking like only the 3rd or 4th best 3rd baseman in his own division, and like Guzman, isn't the sort to kick rookie ass. Livan did that here, as I recall, but is it worth an ERA somewhere north of 6?

Posted by: ce | September 21, 2008 7:52 PM | Report abuse

This is exactly why the Dodgers got Kirk Gibson, and it worked exactly like it was supposed to. Well, that and the 25 HR.

Posted by: ce | September 21, 2008 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Kinda quiet around these parts.

I think ce's comment about Rose, Concepcion, and Perez is perceptive. Not only were those guys mature and probably good teachers; they had experience winning lots of ball games -- in Cincinnati. The DC equivalent simply does not exist, and the team has tried to bring in outsiders to fill the role. LoDuca, as ce observes, seems not to have fit in. I do think he was a good idea, though.

Hey, I have a little bit of geekery from yesterday's contest. I'm sure I've seen the situation oodles of times, but this is the first time I've actually noticed it as it happened: the Padres' last run in the 8th was earned to Saul Rivera but unearned to the team. This is a fairly obscure rule; I stumbled across it recently when I was looking up something else. I was wondering whether either of our crack announcing teams had picked up on it. I could watch my tape of the game, but frankly, sitting through it once in person was enough. I had a good time at the park, as always, but the game itself was just not that good.

Okay. 5-1 against the Fish and the Fillies. Can our stallions do it?

Posted by: Scooter | September 22, 2008 6:37 AM | Report abuse

By the way, new rule: if you butcher both the words and the singing of the national anthem, you will be sent home -- NOT asked to stick around and do the same thing to a very nice pop song by Irving Berlin that some people take quite seriously.

Young lady, if you know you're going to sing in front of 20,000 people on Sunday afternoon, you do not stay out till 3 am on Saturday night and smoke a pack of cigarettes at the club. This is basic musical training -- something your 40-year-old mentors should be telling you.

Posted by: Scooter | September 22, 2008 7:10 AM | Report abuse

And another thing!

There's a new post.

Posted by: Scooter | September 22, 2008 7:42 AM | Report abuse

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