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Column: No suspense for Bonds, Clemens in HOF vote

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Column: No suspense for Bonds, Clemens in HOF vote

Barry Bonds can go for a bike ride. Roger Clemens might want to head to the gym for one of those famous workouts that used to make him pitch like he was 22 when he was 42.

If the polls are right - and my guess is they're pretty spot on - there's no need for either to wait by the phone Wednesday when baseball writers weigh in with their first verdict on what is arguably the greatest class of Hall of Fame candidates since Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were among the inaugural inductees 77 years ago.

Bonds and Clemens won't get in, and no one else may either. In a fitting twist, the player who is most likely the leading candidate to make it is known almost as much for getting hit by pitches as hitting them himself.

Actually, Craig Biggio had 3,060 hits to go with the 285 times he got hit, and being a member of the 3,000-hit club usually guarantees a spot in Cooperstown. But in any other time the greatest home run hitter ever and only pitcher to win seven Cy Young awards would be absolute locks, too.

This, however, is as much a referendum on the Steroids Era as it is on the numbers that are so sacrosanct in baseball. This is about what people suspect players did while they were off the field, not what they accomplished while on it.

And this may be the last chance anyone has of somehow trying to make it right.

No, denying Bonds a spot in the Hall of Fame won't wipe away the bloated numbers that will almost surely scar the record books for generations to come. But it does put a giant asterisk that Bud Selig and the rest of baseball refuse to attach next to the 73 home runs he hit in one season, or the 762 he slugged through his career.

And while Clemens will keep his Cy Young awards, keeping him out of Cooperstown at least sends a message that maybe next time we won't be so easily hoodwinked again.

It shouldn't be the job of baseball writers to make the final statement about the Steroids Era; indeed some of the voters I know are quite uncomfortable with trying to sort out who did what and when. They're not the steroid police, as they often point out, and don't know any better than the guy next to them in the locker room who did what and when.

But Selig and his minions failed time and time again to confront the epidemic that swept through the game the last few decades. They used the power surge - four of the top 10 all-time home run hitters are either admitted steroid users or associated with them - to bring fans back to the ballparks who were disillusioned with baseball after a bitter strike wiped out the playoffs and the World Series in 1994.

They sat back and watched the cash registers heat up, knowing all along that much of it was built on a giant fraud. And they certainly didn't follow criteria that is spelled out for Hall of Fame voters, who are pledged to look at not only a player's numbers but the ``integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s)'' on which he played.

Under those guidelines, Bonds and Clemens don't qualify. Neither does Sammy Sosa, who thankfully will receive only a handful of votes in his first year of eligibility.

Unlike Sosa and Mark McGwire - who at least admitted he used steroids - the odds are that Bonds and Clemens will one day be enshrined in the hall. As the years go by and the stigma of the steroid era fades, they'll gain support among voters and probably make the 75 percent threshold required for admittance.

Unfortunately for some of those on the ballot with them, they may have to wait, too. That includes Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, whose numbers have to be looked at twice not because they've been accused of wrongdoing but because they were put up in the heart of the Steroids Era.

That may not be fair to them, but the Hall of Fame is an exclusive place where fairness does not always carry the day. How else to explain why the late Roger Maris was never voted in, despite breaking Ruth's home run record with 61, a mark that stood for 37 years before McGwire and Sosa obliterated it in the home run orgy of 1998.

We may never know exactly what Bonds did to hit home runs unlike any human being before him. He's not talking, though a look at the newly svelte slugger today suggests that the change in his body size isn't completely due to his new love of cycling.

Don't expect Clemens to be any more forthcoming, either. Not after a jury in Washington, D.C., sided with him over accusations by former trainer Brian McNamee that he injected the pitcher with human growth hormone to salvage what was left of his good name.

They hurt baseball more than the banned and disgraced Pete Rose ever did by betting on games. Maybe, like Rose, they need some more time before explaining what really happened.

Meanwhile, they'll continue to keep us all hanging, including the sport and fans that made them rich.

Fortunately, baseball writers are in a position to return the favor.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Justin Cade writes: Who do you think is the most underrated/underappreciated player in Caps history?

So I have a  few candidates for this, but when I first read this question one name instantly came to mind. It is a current player so I went back and scoured through a list of all the players in franchise history to make sure this was not just a product of recency bias. In the end, I am having a hard time finding a better option. The most underrated player in Caps' history is Braden Holtby.

There, I said it.

Holtby is the best goalie in franchise history and was one of the key pieces in a Stanley Cup run and every time he lets in a questionable goal, I get inundated with people telling me that he is terrible, has always been terrible and he should be traded immediately.

Now, let's be clear. I am not talking about the people who think the team should move on from Holtby this season when his contract expires -- heck, I'm in that camp -- I am talking about the people who are unceasingly critical and disparaging not only of Holtby's recent play, but of the entire career of, let me repeat myself, the best goalie in franchise history.

Holtby became the undisputed No. 1 goalie in 2013-14. Since that time, no goalie in the NHL has played more games than Holtby and no goalie has more wins. Holtby has a whopping 20 more victories than Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask who is second in that stretch despite playing only 13 more games so don't tell me his win total is just a product of the number of games he has played. Before the Cup win, he was criticized as being a poor playoff performer which is ridiculous. Holtby has the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all-time. Of all time!

But JJ, what about Olie Kolzig?

Kolzig was great. I loved him when I was growing up. Holtby has a better career GAA and save percentage, both players have a Vezina Trophy to their name and, oh yeah, Holtby has a freakin' Cup. And yet, Kolzig is revered by the fanbase while I am left constantly having to defend Holtby.

Do I think he is past his prime? Sure, but the way in which people downplay how important a player Holtby has been to this franchise is staggering. To think he has not been a key factor in the team's success including the Cup run is just plain wrong.

Maybe this is a product of the fact that probable replacement, Ilya Samsonov, is younger, cheaper and already on the roster. Maybe 10 years from now, people will feel differently about Holtby, but for now it is stunning to me how many people undercut what he has accomplished.

There are two other names I wanted to bring up. First, Mike Ridley. Ridley has the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 218, but for some reason he has seemingly faded into history in the minds of Caps fans. If I told you to list the greatest players in franchise history, how far down the list would you have to go before you thought of Ridley? A guy who scored 218 goals and 329 assists in 588 games for Washington probably deserves more recognition.

The other name is another recent player: Alex Semin. I am not saying he is underappreciated, he did not take full advantage of his skills during his NHL career. That is not debatable. I guess this is just more of a quibble I have with the word "bust."

Sasha Pokulok was the Caps' first-round draft pick in 2005. He never played a single game in the NHL. That's a bust. Semin played 650 NHL games with 239 goals and 517 total points. That's not a bust.

Was he disappointing considering his talent level? Sure, but he still produced a heck of a lot of points while wearing a Caps sweater.

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John Schecter writes: Could you discuss and explain some of the various "systems" that teams use in hockey?

There are a lot of people who could explain this better than me, but I can give you the basics. A hockey system is basically the tactics of how a team plays. Hockey is a very fluid game and, as a result, it can look as if the players are largely winging it. You try to keep the puck out of the net and when you get it, you head down the ice as quickly as possible, pass to a teammate and shoot. Done. In reality, just about every aspect of what the players do on the ice is meticulously planned, coached and practiced.

How aggressive is the forecheck? Who's responsible for the forecheck? How do you defend the neutral zone? Do you try to trap? How do you defend the blue line? How does the defense defend in any given situation? How do you break the puck out of the defensive zone? How do you transition on offense? How aggressive are the forwards on the breakout looking for odd-man rushes? How do you break the puck in? How much does the team dump and chase? How does the team set up offensively? What type of shot is the offense looking for?

I think it is a little easier to grasp the different systems in football where it can be largely and easily defined such as a spread offense, wishbone, a 4-3 defense, etc. Hockey is more nuanced because the game is free-flowing and everyone has different responsibilities depending on where the puck is, who is on the ice and the situations. To really understand a hockey system in the NHL requires an insane level of knowledge and understanding of the game that is beyond most of us, including me. I can give you the basics, but believe me, it gets very complicated very quickly.

Austen Bundy writes: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are obviously going to have their numbers retired together but I've always wondered why Scott Stevens, Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig never had theirs retired. Any historical or practical insight you can provide on this, JJ?

This is something that I have argued about for years. First off, my guess with Stevens is that it is because he spent the majority of his career and had the most success in New Jersey. He had eight good seasons with Washington and what the team ultimately had to show for it was the five first-round draft picks the team received to compensate them for the offer sheet Stevens signed with St. Louis. I don't know why the Caps have not retired Bondra or Kolzig's numbers but if it were up to me, I wouldn't. I know that gets a lot of people riled up, but I have an extremely high standard for retired numbers.

There are only three numbers that should be retired by the franchise: 5, 8 and 19. That's it. That's the list.

Being a good player for a team is not a good enough reason to get your number retired. Believe me, it pains me to say this. I grew up watching Bondra and Kolzig play, I loved both of them. Bondra was my favorite player. But that's not good enough for no one else to ever wear No. 12 again.

Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom not only played hockey at an elite level for the team, but their impact on the franchise went well beyond good play. You have to have a greater impact on the franchise than just being good at hockey. To me, that's what it should take and those are the only three who meet that standard.

Jules A. writes: How would you rank each version of the Caps’ jerseys from start of the franchise to now?

  1. Original red
  2. Blue Stadium Series
  3. Current white
  4. Current red
  5. Black
  6. White eagle
  7. Original white
  8. Maroon Winter Classic
  9. Blue eagle

The hatred of the old red jerseys stems largely from the team's abysmal record while wearing them this season, but if you step back and actually look at them, you will recognize the undeniable beauty. That and the blue Stadium Series jerseys are far and away the two best jerseys this team has worn. It's a shame we only got to see the Stadium Series jersey twice.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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Peter King believes it's 'pretty likely' Kyle Allen starts for Redskins due to Coronavirus

Peter King believes it's 'pretty likely' Kyle Allen starts for Redskins due to Coronavirus

A few days ago, Ron Rivera identified Kyle Allen as the Redskins' contingency plan if Coronavirus really disrupts the NFL's offseason. Well, Peter King expects the team will ultimately have to use that plan.

During an interview with JP Finlay on the Redskins Talk podcast, the longtime football analyst explained that he, like most, is unsure what's going to transpire over the next handful of months. However, King thinks the pandemic will continue to change offseason programs and also have a "major" effect on training camp.

And if those consequences come to fruition, he's confident Allen will prove to be the team's best option to start.

"I believe the way that this year is moving that it's pretty likely that opening day, at quarterback for Washington, is not going to be Dwayne Haskins," King told Redskins Talk. 

While some originally accosted the Burgundy and Gold for giving up a fifth-round pick in their trade for the ex-Panthers passer, King actually praised it. The transaction, in his mind, was "very, very smart" and gives the Redskins viable insurance if Haskins isn't able to pick up a new system because of a truncated schedule. 

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"If you're Ron Rivera, you want a guy who you know can walk in Day 1," King said. "If you have to face the New York Giants on September 13, you want a guy who knows everything about Scott Turner's offense and who's well-versed in everything he's going to have to do."

To be clear, King explained that it wouldn't even really be Haskins' fault in the above scenario. In a regular year, he makes much more sense as the Redskins signal caller in 2020, and Rivera recently revealed that's the way he's leaning for now, too.

Yet at some point, if the 2019 first-round selection is only able to communicate with his new coaches through a phone and not face-to-face on a field, Allen's experience with Rivera and Turner may end up as the difference in a competition. 

Should that occur, King will monitor how Haskins handles it. His reaction could be telling.  

"Obviously, it's not an ideal situation for Dwayne Haskins," King said. "But if you can't, in this particular situation, if you can't adapt and adjust, then I would really question whether you're the guy for this job for the long haul.

"I would really question your value to this team."

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