First in war. First in peace. First in the NL East?

After a month-long hiatus from writing that took to me Europe and back, I have once again rejoined the world of baseball writing. In my absence, Jason Giambi rediscovered his stroke, Scott Podsednik beat out a field of more deserving players for his one inning the field during the All Star game, and Bobby Abreu finally garnered the recognition he deserved by belting a season’s worth of home runs during the derby in pitcher-friendly Comerica.

As the pennant races loom, I am going to look at two pieces of news surrounding the suprising Washington Nationals.

Nats look to bolster lineup

First up are the first-place Washington Nationals and their efforts to improve their injury-laden team. The Nats shipped right-hander Zach Day to the place where pitchers go to die, Coors Field, along with J.J. Davis for Preston Wilson. Wilson’s reputation as a player far exceeds his production, and it will be interesting to see which Wilson arrives in D.C. in the midst of an exciting pennant race.

Wilson, at 30, is something of a mid-level power hitter. Except for last year when he missed most of the season due to injuries, Wilson has never hit fewer than 23 home runs. Twice he has hit over 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. But in seasons during which he hits fewer than 30 home runs, his RBI production drops precipitously. He’s maintained a career slugging percentage of .481, a career average of .265, and a career on-base percentage of .333.

The Nationals are banking on Wilson to return to his 2003 form. During that season, his career best in all offensive categories, he hit .282/.343/.537 with 36 home runs and 141 RBIs and seemed to be on the verge of stardom. Injuries struck in 2004, and this year, he’s at .258/.322/.491 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs.

However, much of Wilson’s success this year comes at home, and these numbers should have raised a red flag in the Nationals’ front office. On the road this year, Wilson is hitting just .224/.280/.411 with 5 home runs. During his break-out year in 2003, Wilson hit 40 points lower on the road than in Coors and slugged 100 points lower. It is doubtful the Nationals will get the player Wilson was at Coors field.

That doesn’t mean Wilson won’t contribute to the Nats’ playoff run. He will give the lineup more depth and experience. When Nick Johnson returns, the Nats will have a very solid middle of the order with Wilson, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, and Johnson. Whether those hitters can get them to October will depend as much on the rubber, golden arm of Livan Hernandez and the continued success of Jon Patterson than on anything else.

Baseball and politics just don’t mix

In other Nationals news, Major League Baseball is in the process of selling off one of its hottest commodities. As they have received bid packages from numerous groups looking to buy the Washington Nationals, politicians on the right side of the aisle have begun to grumble about the process.

It seems that noted Democrat donor George Soros is among one of the groups bidding for the Nationals. Soros gave nearly $20 million to various organizations supporting the Kerry campaign in 2004, and Republicans were none too thrilled to see his name pop up again. In response, Tom Davis (R-VA), the Congressman who gained national attention for grilling baseball sluggers on steroids in March, has warned baseball over allowing Soros to win the bidding, and Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) has threatened baseball’s antitrust exemption.

Ostensibly, these Congressmen claim that Soros’ support of decriminalizing marijuana would tar a sport already rocked by one drug scandal. But Davis was more blunt in saying that baseball has to make friends with people on power right now. “This is not the way to make them,” he was quoted as saying in various news outlets. Meanwhile, these same politicians have no problem praising the bid of Republican donor and one-time Nixon stooge Fred Malek. Malek investigated the “Jewish cabal” Nixon thought was hiding out in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I guess Marge Schott wasn’t up to that task.

But all of this brings me to one point: Politicians just shouldn’t threaten baseball owners over partisan politics. If the Congress wants to remove baseball’s antitrust exemptions, there are numerous other ways to accomplish that goal. If Congress wants to regulate drug use among athletes, that is there prerogative. But members of the majority party shouldn’t be threatening baseball because one potential owner is a big supporter of the opposition party. Once upon a time, Republicans were all about keeping their noses out of businesses and the actions of private individuals. Now, they are threatening baseball because of partisan politics.

It’s chilling when members of the current majority party start threatening baseball ownership over partisan politics. What’s to stop them from going after another big Democratic sponsor Peter Angelos? I don’t see Democrats jumping down George Steinbrenner’s throat for donating to the Republican Party of Florida, and I shouldn’t see members of Congress from either side of the aisle engaging in openly partisan maneuvering just so their guy gets to own the local team.

Baseball tolerated the steroid hearings; Republican and Democratic owners alike shouldn’t tolerate Davis’ and Sweeney’s threats. May the best bid win the rights to a franchise ever-increasing in value.

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