Feinstein: Twitter Is "The Enemy," Brings Out The Worst In People

John Feinstein tweeted about Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals – and was told to die

John Feinstein
October 16, 2019 - 9:20 am
Stephen Strasburg Nationals

USA Today Images


I woke up Tuesday morning in what can only be described as a buoyant mood.

I had come through a grueling period in which I had finished a new kids book; gotten the thumbs-up from my non-fiction editor on my latest basketball book; (it’s called, “The Back Roads to March,” and comes out in—surprise—early March; traveled to and from Columbus, Mississippi, to give a speech; and, most important, had a very successful day on Monday at our 10th Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic that raises money for ALS research.
I still had plenty to do: write this column; write my weekly Washington Post college football column; write three CBS Sports Minutes for Wednesday and begin cleaning up my office the way I always do when I finish a book.
But the most challenging and tiring work was now behind me. I had looked forward to this day for a while.
It was all good.
Until I went on Twitter. I’m a slow learner, but I am gradually figuring out that—for me—Twitter should be one thing and one thing only: a way to let people know what I’m working on. Period. There’s just too much anger, meanness and disinformation in the Twitter-verse. My wife’s been telling me this for a while. Like I said, I’m a slower learner.
It began when the first tweet I saw was from my longtime colleague and friend, Tom Boswell. I have often said that, at his best, no one writes better about baseball than Boz. He’s brilliant. He is also a flat-out fan of the Washington Nationals. He’s entitled. He grew up in Washington, watched the Senators leave town and then lived through 33 seasons without a team—although he adopted the Baltimore Orioles for much of that time.
The very first time I covered a baseball game for the Post was as a summer intern in the summer of 1977. I was thrilled to be sent to cover a Sunday doubleheader between the Red Sox and Orioles in Memorial Stadium. I was in the ballpark by 9 a.m.—first pitch was at 1—and walked into the Orioles empty clubhouse—there wasn’t even anyone guarding the door at that hour—and made my way back to Earl Weaver’s office. Managers are famous for getting to the ballpark early.
Sure enough, the great man was sitting behind his desk.
I introduced myself and when I said, “Washington Post,” he looked at me suspiciously. “Since when does the Post hire children?” he said.
I had just turned 21 and probably looked 18. I explained I was a summer intern. He offered me a seat and spent the next hour giving me a lesson on all things baseball—which I loved. As I stood to go, he said, “You want to be good at this someday?”
I said I absolutely wanted to be good at this someday.
“I’m gonna give you two words then—two words,” he said.
I waited.
“Tommy Boswell,” Weaver said. “Pay attention to what he’s doing, and you’ll learn a lot.”
He was right. I already read Boz voraciously back then and I’ve continued to do so. I disagree with him some of the time, but he writes today with as much enthusiasm and work-ethic as ever.
And he loves the Nats.
Tuesday, after the Nats built a 3-0 lead on the Cardinals in the NLCS, Boz joyously tweeted that “someone said during the 2012 Stras shutdown designed to protect/maximize his chances for a long career, that Nats may never have another chance to go to the World Series….How about tomorrow.”
The someone Boz was referring to was me because I wrote a column in June of 2012 saying that the Nats would be crazy to not find a way to have Stephen Strasburg available to pitch in October. This was when the team had clearly turned a corner and was starting to run away with the National League East. Strasburg had undergone Tommy John surgery two years earlier and the team wanted to keep him to a 160 innings limit in his first full season back.
I had no quarrel with that. My point was that they should rest him during the summer—sit him for a while; limit his starts to 3 to 5 innings; give him long rest between starts; but find a way that he’d be rested and still close to his innings limit when postseason began. I said chances to win a title didn’t come around every year and that you could never take the future for granted.
Shortly after I wrote the column, Boz cornered me when we were both covering the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. I still remember the first thing he said: “I want a word with you.”

Then, he said, “Don’t you understand, if they don’t do this, they’ll never sign another Boras player again?”
The comment stunned me. For one thing, Boz had to know that Scott Boras would sign a player with ANYONE who was the highest bidder. And I mean anyone. For another, was Boras running the team? Apparently, he was. If there was any doubt about that it came in a column Mike Wise wrote in the Post in which he quoted Boras as saying, “When (Mike) Rizzo and I were putting this team together…”
When I asked Boras about that line on a radio show, he initially denied saying it. When I told him Wise had the comment on tape, he said he was quoted out of context. Of course he was.
For the record, what I said in 2012 was that you should never pass on a chance to win a title because you never know when you’ll get your next chance. In the Nats case, it’s only taken seven years.
Without Strasburg—shut down in August by Rizzo under orders from his partner Boras—the Nats lost in five games to the Cardinals in the Division Series that year. They blew a 6-0 lead in game five—which had nothing to do with Strasburg. Edwin Jackson—a Boras client—signed to take Strasburg’s spot in the rotation when he was shut down—started game 3 and gave up four runs in the first two innings. The Nats have always promoted the myth that Jackson would have been in the rotation even if Strasburg had pitched—rather than Ross Detwiler who pitched well in game 4—but here’s a fact: Davey Johnson was a better manager than that.
Strasburg has been oft-injured throughout his career but pitched well this year, especially the last two months. He wasn’t great in game 5 against the Dodgers, but he was terrific Monday night, helping to put the Nats one game away—finally—from the World Series, which they officially reached on Tuesday night.
I responded to Boz’s tweet, pointing out that I never said they might never have another chance to go to the World Series. I also tweeted that Nats fans should enjoy this ride, but it didn’t change the fact that the team had passed on a chance to win it all in 2012—when they had baseball’s best record.
WOW. The anger engendered by that tweet was right up there with some of the tweets I’ve gotten for criticizing the guy currently in the White House. Maybe even beyond that. I was called all sorts of profane names; I was told to die; one guy said I was the same person who was in favor of keeping Augusta National segregated. Huh??? I was just an angry old man; my books were all trash; no one cared about what I thought—which was interesting coming from people tweeting to tell me they HATED what I thought. I was just about every profane name you could find and some I don’t think can be found.
It went on and on.
Twitter has become a pox. It absolutely brings out the worst in people. Look at what an innocent tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has done to the NBA. Morey simply pointed out that what has been going on in Hong Kong is wrong and that decent people should stand with those protesting in Hong Kong against the Chinese government.
All hell has broken loose since and, in the latest installment of the soap opera, the normally eloquent LeBron James twisted himself into a pretzel on Monday trying to say that Morey was somehow “misinformed” on what was happening in Hong Kong and that a tweet like his could be damaging, “financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
Morey’s tweet was seven words long. I am sure there was no malicious intent. And yet, look at the result.
The best thing about sports is that it can bring out the best in people—athletes, coaches, media and fans. The athletes inspire us all and the coaches can too. That inspiration can lead to we in the media writing and reporting on stories that inspire and lift the public. And fans of a successful team find a bond through those dramatic moments that lead to championships.
Nationals fans are experiencing that right now. As I said, good for them. There are many—like Boz—who remember that discouraging 33 years without baseball in the nation’s capital. I still vividly remember the sign in RFK Stadium hung during the 1985 football season that said, “Baseball in 1987.” It only took another 18 years after 1987 for that dream to be realized.
Yes, I’m still a Mets fan and will always be one. But I am genuinely happy for my many friends who are Nats fans. They have certainly suffered enough.
But it’s a shame that Twitter seems to bring out the worst in so many people. From now on, if you want to hear my opinions on anything—other than perhaps being proud of the money we raised at the golf tournament yesterday—you’ll have to read my columns or my books.
I have met the enemy—and it is Twitter.
John Feinstein’s new book is, “Benchwarmers,” a Young Adult novel about a sixth-grade girl who wants to play on the boys soccer team but has to deal with a misogynist coach and several mean boys in order to get the chance to prove herself. His book, “The Prodigy,” the story of a 17-year-old with a chance to win the Masters, who has to deal with agents, equipment reps and his father—all of whom want to turn him into a human ATM machine—is now out in paperback. His most recent non-fiction work, “Quarterback—Inside The Most Important Position in Professional Sports,” is also now out in paperback. His website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com