TAC Bookshelf: In Which the Washington Nationals Drink a Lot of Champagne
Casey Chalk, TAC contributor: Sometimes a story is just so good, it doesn’t matter whether the storytelling is bad. That’s how I felt reading Buzzsaw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series, by Jesse Dougherty, beat writer for The Washington Post. Of course, as a Nats fan who used my pulpit at TAC to try and persuade America to cheer for them in the 2019 championship series against the cheating Astros, I’m a little biased. But in the great baseball desert of 2020 (thanks COVID-19!), fans can find solace and inspiration in those miracle Nats.
Dougherty starts off well. The writing in the early chapters is crisp and entertaining. It tells of a part of the Nationals’ success—General Manager Mike Rizzo’s brilliant leadership—that is lesser known than, say, Max Sherzer throwing seven shutout innings with a broken nose and black eye, shuffling Juan Soto’s single in the NL Wild Card game, or Howie Kendrick’s two-run homer in Game 7 of the World Series. Rizzo joined the Nats in 2007 during their worst years, but through wise draft choices, free agency hires, and trades, crafted a perennial powerhouse. Only five years later, in the 2012 season, they won the most regular season games in baseball (98).
In 2019, Rizzo melded a traditionalist approach reliant on veteran scouts with the increasingly popular statistical strategy of Moneyball. His team incorporated big-name stars (Sherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Patrick Corbin), young talent (Juan Soto, Victor Robles), aged veterans (Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman), and players left on the cutting room floor of other franchises (Geraldo Parra, Fernando Rodney, Daniel Hudson). Somehow, despite the team being 19-31 on May 23 and facing four elimination games in the playoffs, they overcame everyone’s expectations and put up one of the most exhilarating performances in sports history.
I just wish a better journalist (perhaps the legendary Thomas Boswell?) had written their story. Dougherty’s credentials obviously make him knowledgeable, but his writing is sub-par. Some of the problems reflect simple bad word choice. He calls Juan Soto, a 20-year-old phenom from the Dominican Republic, a “prodigal son,” which, given Soto’s superb exploitation of his talents and strong relationship with his father, makes no sense. Other times Dougherty’s forced analogies fall flat, like his description of one of the Nats’ alcohol-heavy celebrations: “there was enough beer to fill a fraternity house, or four. There was enough champagne for a wedding, or six.” Really? Four fraternity houses?!? Wow! By the time I got to Dougherty’s saccharine four-page description of Nats fans around the world celebrating their final victory, I’d had enough. At least I can take comfort in the fact that Astros fans will likely have a similar response…