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The status of the Nats beat, going forward

Typical, that I'd get scooped on the news of my own departure. According to a tweet from the Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg -- and OK, let's make it official, according to me as well -- the WaPo will soon be looking for a new Nats beat writer, and I will soon be heading for new pastures. (And certainly they'll be less green in the literal sense.) The Post's internal e-mail went out yesterday, and it explains the basics. For the last two seasons, I've covered, or at least tried to cover, the Washington Nationals. It's a demanding job, both rewarding and unrelenting like a marathon. Some do it for years, with a grace and vigor that makes me envious. But sometimes for me, it felt more like a test of endurance than journalism. I started to miss the journalism.

No doubt you've got a few questions. Such as, "What happens now to the Nats beat?" And, "What will you be doing next?" And, "Won't you regret the opportunity to cover Stephen Strasburg, and watch Ryan Zimmerman, and learn how Rizzo et al rehabilitate the organization, and be there to witness it once Nats Park is packed and the team (and maybe even Teddy) is winning?"

All good questions, and I'll take 'em in order.

First, the beat itself. For now, it's still mine. I don't yet have a new job, and the Post doesn't yet have a replacement. So, the successor to Beat Writer Chico is Interim Beat Writer Chico. Somehow that seems fitting. Once I'm back from vacation, I'll reassume the day-to-day duties, posting here, hopefully with a mix of news and insight and comedy, and covering the offseason developments. I'll be at the winter meetings. Hopefully I can craft a few good feature stories, too.

Meantime, the Post will be looking for the next beat writer, and to borrow the Kastenian phraseology, the search will presumably be comprehensive and diligent and absolutely confidential. Unless Steinberg tweets about it.

I'll be looking for a new job, too, somewhere inside the Post. I know it sounds weird, officially leaving an old job for something totally undetermined, and maybe it's a bit reckless, too. I simply hope the next job can provide the grounds to grow as a writer and reporter. I'm a big believer that improvement can sometimes come from a new (and even frightening) challenge, a step away from your comfort zone. So we'll see what happens. I'm ready to learn, even if it means learning the hard way.

Life as a baseball writer is a strange gig, balanced by obvious downsides (I've spent 185 nights in Marriotts this year) and perverse pleasures. (I can rent a car in any NL city and tell the Avis rep, "No map necessary; I know where I'm going.") I'll miss plenty about this job, and at some later point, in the Svrluga tradition, I can compile a longer list. Mostly, I'll miss the daily fix of adrenaline and results -- extra innings, a crazy twist, some breaking news, a firing, a story to write, three stories to write. I'll miss the passion on the Journal, because not many reporters get such personal, or intelligent, interaction. I'll also miss many of the good people at Nats Park, those with whom I've spent the last two seasons. It'll be tough to watch from the distance, no matter what happens next.

By Chico Harlan  |  November 19, 2009; 4:30 PM ET
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Next: Nats add three to 40-man roster, but not Wilkie


Best of luck Chico - it's been a pleasure.

Posted by: kingrob76 | November 19, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Hoist on your own (scoop) petard, eh? ;-)

Thanks much, Chico, for your work over the past couple of years, and for putting up with us. I wish you all the best in your new position (whatever it ends up being).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 19, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry to see you go Chico, but I'm not surprised frankly. Sports writing didn't seem to be your style. But we(Nats regulars) could see that you were a very good journalist, if not a sports journalist.

Posted by: anyone1 | November 19, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

p.s. Remember to keep throwing strikes, and you'll be fine.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 19, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Vaya con Dios, Chico. And good luck.

Posted by: Kev29 | November 19, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Chico, Chico Harlan! King of the Wild Nats Flame.

Hoisted on a petard in his ink jar.
killed him a tree (writing) when he was only 3.
From feeding the Nats Nuts Flame he is finally freed! Seeking another story for his byline to lead.

Chico, Chico Harlan! King of the Wild Nats Flame.

Posted by: periculum | November 19, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Good luck Chico... I admire your courage. Hope you find the job that works for you...

Posted by: outsider6 | November 19, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Best of luck to you Chico. I really enjoyed your writing this past year.

Posted by: trezmartin | November 19, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Good luck, Chico. It ain't easy to admit when something is working out for you, and I admire that. Looking forward to reading your future work, you're one fine writer. And stop by from time to time.

Posted by: Section506 | November 19, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

In the immortal words on John Junior Feinstein, you work has been "gallant"!

Posted by: sec307 | November 19, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Good luck, Chico.

The observation below is Exhibit A why someone should have prior experience covering baseball before being hired for a gig like covering the Nats for The Post:

"It's a demanding job, both rewarding and unrelenting like a marathon. Some do it for years, with a grace and vigor that makes me envious. But sometimes for me, it felt more like a test of endurance than journalism. I started to miss the journalism."

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | November 19, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

It's been a pleasure Chico. Thanks for all the great work.

You know, when you actually leave...

Posted by: soundbloke | November 19, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Ring Lardner once published a list of answers to the 10 most frequently asked questions about being a baseball writer. He didn't print the questions, just his answers. Number 8 or some such was along the lines of "No, it gets boring in August."

Posted by: markfromark | November 19, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Chico it's been a pleasure reading your work. I hope you find the work you're suppose to do, but in the mean time keep drawing out your word pictures to let us know what's going on in the world of the Nationals.

Peace or is the pieces, nahh, peace dude !!!

Posted by: Berndaddy | November 19, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

There's a great movie that came out about 20 years ago called The Commitments. It's about these guys in working class Dublin who want to start a soul band. (Why? "Because the Irish are the blacks of Europe." But I digress.) There's a great scene where the head guy opens the door of the flat he lives in to a steady stream of motley characters who want to audition for the band. He asks them each the same question, the answer to which determines whether or not he slams the door in their face or lets them in to audition. That question is "Who are your influences?"

That's the question that the Post should be asking of every applicant for the beat writer job. If the answer is "Shirley Povich" or even "Tom Boswell" or "Dave Sheinin" or "Barry Svrluga", then invite them in for an interview. But if the answer is "Eli Saslow", slam the door in their face.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | November 19, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

That is a great movie. And what is Tracee, chopped liver? :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 19, 2009 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Chico. Enjoy the rest of your vacation.

I, for one, will miss not having you on the beat, so I'll make sure to savor your final features this Winter.

Posted by: JohninMpls | November 19, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

I echo all the others well wishes Chico -- you clearly were working hard. I hope the next beat writer LOVES the team and the game as much as we fans do. Essentially the writer has a job that is a big hobby for most of us -- go to the ballpark, talk baseball with players and friends, and spend our free time following the joy of a sport that has a game every day. Not everyone loves it. Like many NJ'ers, I waited 33 years for this team, have been a full season ticket holder since day 1, and have no place in this city I'd rather be on a daily basis than at Nats Park. Hope you find your niche, and hope the Post finds a beat writer who finds the daily nature of baseball inspriing rather than a grind.

Posted by: raymitten | November 19, 2009 10:51 PM | Report abuse

your dig at Steinberg has endeared me to you forever. Thanks. =)

Posted by: NatsNut | November 19, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

Would it be impolitic, in this cascade of farewells and best wishes, to say that Chico wanted this, and that we all know he never thought of this as journalism anyway?

Would it be wrong, while everyone's sincerely regretting the end of the days of career-long coverage of a single sport by a single journalist (e.g., Shirley Povich), to note that the Post keeps churning people who know almost nothing about baseball (e.g., Chico, Tracee) through the Nats-coverage job?

Two questions I can answer. Could anything be more tiring than to read the rhetorical questions and hotel-reservations-recollections of a transient baseball writer who had his eye on something else this entire time?


Could anything be more idle than spending five minutes reading Chico's meanderings on the unknown adventures in journalism that await him?


Note to Washington Post: please spare us this tedium. I am a baseball fan, not a micro-media-celebrity follower. Please keep the focus on the Washington Nationals.

Posted by: ThinkingOne | November 19, 2009 11:17 PM | Report abuse


Once again, I wish you well. I'm glad you will take us to the point when the powers that be at the "Pravda on the Potomac" find a new Nats beat writer.

And when you get to your next assignment may you be the next Ed Bouchette of whatever it is you write about.

Posted by: Section505203 | November 20, 2009 12:20 AM | Report abuse

just ignore those who seem to be happy you're leaving (or never forgave you for that Washingtonian interview...).
For two years, we got to enjoy your fantastic work, which in some respects was even superior to Svrluga's. I think barely anyone here can appreciate how hard it is to write about 150 or more baseball games a year and continuously come up with a fresh angle. But you delivered, and in an outstanding way. As much as I love baseball (and reading about it), I have to admit your talents in a way really were wasted on a baseball beat.
So, best of luck to you, and thanks for the work.

Posted by: amo36 | November 20, 2009 4:34 AM | Report abuse

maybe now we'll win. I'm just saying. Chico's been here 2 years. The team's been losing (hard) for 2 years. I'm not sayin, I'm just saying.


Posted by: NatsNut | November 20, 2009 5:44 AM | Report abuse

'I think barely anyone here can appreciate how hard it is to write about 150 or more baseball games a year and continuously come up with a fresh angle.'

That's my point. It isn't hard to write, read or come up with new angles about 150 or more baseball games if you love it. Most of us talk about this 365 days a year and always find something new and fresh to discuss because we love it. It isn't hard work, its BASEBALL. If you don't love it, don't take the job.

Posted by: raymitten | November 20, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

ummm...huh? Since her first appearance here, Ms. Hamliton has entertained us with stories gleaned from her many years in sports journalism, as well as anecdotes relating to her childhood experiences with the game (learning how to keep score, collecting baseball cards). Good Lord, man, (or woman, as the case may be - I don't know your gender) the woman has a basement sports lair, complete with Paul Dickson baseball books! Bo may not know Diddley, but methinks that Tracee knows a thing or two about baseball. ;-)


note that the Post keeps churning people who know almost nothing about baseball (e.g., Chico, Tracee) through the Nats-coverage job?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 20, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Crud, make that "Bo may know Diddley." Double negative and all that.

Also, I second my esteemed colleague NN on the sentiment below. Ooh, scary thought. Steinbog as beat writer? I vote ABS: Anybody But Steinberg.


our dig at Steinberg has endeared me to you forever. Thanks. =)

Posted by: NatsNut | November 19, 2009 11:06 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 20, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Chico, your writing has inspired all of us who comment here (and those like me, who lurk). You have helped to build the 'natsjournal' and have created a real base of followers and commenters who have made this blog a real joy to read with every post. When the Nats Game went south and soured, you helped us all to remain interested in the Nats' development. I wish you and your own development a joy to you every day.

Posted by: glmoyer45 | November 20, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Chico - Best luck with your impending, self-inflicted future. I have admired your writing skill from the beginning! I hope you will be a big hit on your next assignment.

Dear Tracee, I do think you know more than a thing or 2 about baseball. Probably more than many of us on the Journal.

If I remember right, you are the Post's Baseball Editor. I hope that the Post listens to its fan base. We do want you to find out the new beat writers influences. We want the Post to understand that we are a passionate fan base and we expect that the next beat writer will be passionate too. You should start by interviewing some of the Bloggers that write daily about this team. Many of whom have fantastic insight and probably spend more time than is healthy thinking and researching the Nats. They are like old time baseball players who barely got paid, but played for the love of the game. This is their dream job. Let them live the dream.

PS: I am not one of those guys.

Posted by: NatsWin | November 20, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse


You pretty much scooped yourself with the Washingtonian interview last spring.

You're a good writer but didn't enjoy the assignment. Nice that there's still some career flexibility at the Post.

Hopefully the Post will build on its baseball coverage rather than shrink it and getting the right Nats reporter will be the first indication of the paper's plans. More Sheinen. More farm system coverage. Boswell has become self-parody and could write two columns each day--one to argue a point and one arguing against that point. He's doing that now but it still takes a few weeks to hear both sides.

Farewell Chico. Maybe you can cover the crazy man who will be Virginia's next attorney general. Gonna be lots of good copy.

Posted by: UrbanShocker | November 20, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

ummm, on the beat writer front, IMO a love of baseball should not be the sole focus for a beat writer. From a consumer standpoint, I'd also be desirous that the person selected have education and work experience in old school print journalism (as opposed to, you know, blogging). I don't need them to be a fan, either. Although knowledge of and appreciation for the game would be good. (Yeah, I'm a curmudgeon.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 20, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Not to dis NatsWin, who made some excellent points. Just my humble opinion.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 20, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse


I will be sure to follow you in your new position at the Post, whatever it is. You are a good writer, to be sure.


Posted by: kevincostello | November 20, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Cartaldo | November 20, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

You clearly have no passion for the sport. Why did you take the job in the first place?

Posted by: tryks | November 20, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the rules for the media in the digital age are still being sorted out. Still, for a reporter to scoff at a reader's suggestion in a chat and then turn around four days later and use the same idea in an item for the paper... well, the sleazy unprofessionalism of it takes my breath away.

Chico and Barry have established a tradition for Nats beat writers as shameless self-promoters and opportunists who use the post as a springboard to something more desirable and lucrative. Neither will be missed. Since the Washington Times is imploding, maybe the Post can get an upgrade and hire Zuckerman.

Posted by: tryks | November 20, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

September 3, 2008

From last week’s chat:

the sweet-smelling Golden Triangle:
2. The backup catcher doesn't get enough starts. Catchers get beat up during the course of a game, and Flores is too important an asset to tarnish. Playing him as much as they do risks at best, burnout and at worst, injury.

Chico Harlan:
As for the back-up catcher complaint, this is the first I've heard of such a thing. Wil Nieves is ideally a once-a-week starter. Acta has been using him as such. Catcher is a hard position on the body, but Flores is playing there no more frequently than most starters. Plus, the Nats need his bat in the lineup.

How do you reconcile saying this on Wednesday in a chat and FOUR DAYS LATER in the paper having a Nats Notebook piece titled "Long Season Begins to Wear Down Flores"? Here are some select quotes: "Over the last month, he'd seemingly hit a wall... He said that he feels neither tired nor overworked -- but, rather, he feels the grind of the season in subtler ways. After several starts in a row, his body needs a longer time to recover. Sometimes, he said, his bat feels heavy."

Jocks are famous for being less than forthright about their health and energy level to ensure PT: playing time. This is especially so for young players who aren't established in the league. So it's quite an admission for Flores to confess publicly to any fatigue at all. Meanwhile, his stats (.179 average in August with 23 strikeouts) speak volumes, at least to a manager who's listening.

There are two points here: First, my initial post was prescient regarding Flores and the potential for injury, and second, you dismissed a line of reasoning from a reader and then days later picked it up for a piece in the Sunday paper. Wow, that is really weak.

Posted by: tryks | November 20, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Good luck Chico! I have greatly enjoyed your coverage over the last two years and wish you the best wherever you end up next.

Posted by: brewer1 | November 20, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

CHarlan: Best wishes for your future. You're shown us that you're a good writer - Strive to be great, but don't ever forget the reporter's aspect if you stay in the NEWSpaper side of things. Peace.

Posted by: BinM | November 20, 2009 9:19 PM | Report abuse

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