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Dec. 30 ~ Movie review: 61* One of the first movies I've seen with our new DVD player (¡Gracias, Toño!) was 61*, about the home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. (That was a year or two before my childhood memories of baseball begin.) Directed by lifelong Yankees fan Billy Crystal, it is a moving, historically accurate portrayal of that grueling contest between those two Bronx sluggers, and with the ghost of Babe Ruth. The two lead actors were both well cast in terms of personality and physical resemblance, and both learned the mannerisms and swinging styles of the real-life characters. Barry Pepper (whom you may recall as the psalm-reciting sniper in Saving Private Ryan) was a dead ringer for Maris. He grew up in Canada, which was fitting since Maris's home state was North Dakota. Thomas Jane played Mantle and, to the director's dismay, lied about his baseball experience (zero) during the audition. (He apparently learned real fast.) The part of Yankee Stadium was played by Tiger Stadium (indeed, that's exactly what the film credits say!), which had just been abandoned a year before the movie was filmed in 2000. To the producers' credit, they put a huge effort into recreating the "old" Yankee Stadium in Detroit, going to the trouble of painting all the seats dull green. (For some reason, they painted the upper deck bleachers, even though they weren't part of the movie. What a waste!) The black wall in center field, with its gradually increasing height and the 457, 461, and 407 distance markers, together with the flag pole and three monuments were quite effective as a background for scenes shot from ground level. Unfortunately, some of the elevated panorama shots incorporating those props were obviously phony, since the outfield walls in Tiger Stadium are staight and perpendicular to each other, in stark contrast to the broad sweep of "Death Valley" in the old Yankee Stadium. However, a few scenes showing the outfield were exquisitely done with fancy digital tricks, combining real infield action with a gorgeous rendition of the original bleachers, scoreboard, and neighborhood backdrop. Likewise, they somehow managed to combine real live fans chasing after balls in the right field upper deck with the original facade adorning the edge of the old roof during a couple home run scenes. I was simply spellbound by that.
Personally, I wish they had tried to retrofit Yankee Stadium to make the movie even more authentic, but the need to install fake structural columns, repaint seats, and recreate the original outfield fence (short in the corners, tall in center field) probably could not have been done without seriously disrupting the Yankees' schedule that season. It was a little awkward that most of the away games in the movie were in Detroit, exposing the pretense that Tiger Stadium was Yankee Stadium. I must say, however, I was amazed at the authenticity of what purported to be Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, where Maris hit his 60th homer in late September. It was not until I watched the "Making Of..." featurette on the DVD that I learned that those scenes were filmed in Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, and this was the first time a baseball diamond had been carved out there since -- 1961, in fact. They hung big black screens beyond center field and beyond the purported right field grandstand to create the illusion that the stadium ended there, and since it was a night game, the trick worked just fine. It's a shame, though, that they didn't use the real Memorial Stadium, which was demolished the very next year (2001). There was also a brief scene of what was supposed to be the "Green Monster" at Fenway Park (just a big screen with "315" painted on it), and what I later learned was supposed to be the left field fence at Griffith Stadium in Washington (the same screen with "350" painted on it).
At first I thought the movie should have dealt with the harsh aftermath of Maris's triumph: the public scorn, injuries, and career disappointments. Maris was one of those reserved small-town kids from the northern plains (!) who was always misunderstood by the masses. He was traded to the Cardinals and retired after 1968 mainly due to health problems, and his lifetime home run total was only 275. A nerve-wracked chain-smoker, he died of cancer in 1985, ten years before Mantle died. But the movie was not intended to be a biography per se, but rather a focus on that one shining moment of glory those two heroes shared. One of the nicest aspects of the movie was that Billy Crystal consulted with the families of Mantle and Maris, to enhance authenticity and to avoid offending anyone. Mantle, of course, was a tragically flawed hero, and his widow Merlyn appreciated the tactful way the sorrier aspects of his life were portrayed. She, her sons, as well as Maris's widow and family, were interviewed for the "Making Of..." featurette. Mantle's grandson, age four, had a bit part at the very end of the movie. Crystal had gotten Mantle's autograph during his first visit to Yankee Stadium in 1956, and got to meet his hero in person as a guest on The Dinah Shore Show in 1977. They later became friends. I learned a lot about the personal lives of the Yankees, such as Bob Cerv, a forgotten player who had a central role in the movie. As late as the 1960s teams still rode on buses between some of their road series. But the movie's central theme was one which is especially apt in this idolatrous, image-obsessed world of today: the human cost of stardom and the dehumanizing effects of media feeding frenzies. Just think of Michael Jackson. No, on second thought, let's not. Let's just think about Mickey and Roger and The Babe, contentedly swatting balls out of the park up there in that eternal Field of Dreams.
Dec. 24 ~ Trading frenzy Talk about red hot competition in the A.L. Eastern Division! The Yankees picked up Gary Sheffield and Kenny Lofton but lost Andy Pettite, who will be sorely missed. The Red Sox's A-Rod for Manny mega-deal fell through, apparently because players' association officials refused to accept a "restructuring" deal that would have reduced A-Rod's salary by several percent. Well, that shows where their heads are... The Orioles went on a big league acquisition splurge and signed Miguel Tejada as well as Javy Lopez; Vladimir Guerrero is still a possibility. If one of those three teams doesn't make it to the 2004 World Series, there will be managerial hell to pay. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated thinks Atlanta may drop to 3rd place in the NL East next year. Yikes!
Expos back to San Juan: Well, it's not as if we didn't expect it. MLB announced that the Expos will be playing 22 games in Puerto Rico again next year. Supposedly that was part of a quid pro quo that made possible a bigger team payroll budget, which might have kept the slugging duo of Guerrero and Vidro on board. Hah! Lest their be any doubt about the collective commitment to the Expos franchise (zilch), it should be pointed out that Guerrero was not even offered salary arbitration.
The Miami city council voted down a proposed land grant that would have made possible a new downtown stadium for the Marlins, who would have switched their affiliation from the state level to the city level. For the time being, they'll stay put in Pro Player Stadium, as the "Florida" Marlins.
Nov. 29 ~ Schilling heads to Boston! If the Red Sox's acquisition of Curt Schilling is any indication, the team's owners must be determined to make another big push for the postseason next year. I'm glad they're willing to shake off that crushing disappointment against the Yankees in the ALCS.
Nov. 27 ~ Warren Spahn The greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history died this week at the age of 82. Like his teammate on the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Eddie Mathews*, Warren Spahn never got as much recognition as he deserved, partly because he was modest, and partly because his team was from a small media market and only made it to the World Series three times during his 21-year career. Spahn was awarded a medal for heroism during the Battle of the Bulge, and won 363 games before retiring in 1963, a lifetime achievement that no one since has come very close to matching. Tom Boswell pays appropriate tribute to Spahn in yesterday's Washington Post.
* I just revised the Milwaukee County Stadium page to correct the spelling of the last name of Eddie Mathews, which my brother Chris pointed out to me.
Nov. 23 ~ Continued limbo for Expos? Where have we heard this before?
Major League Baseball's relocation committee has turned its focus to finding a permanent home for the Expos by the 2005 season, said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, when the committee met after a joint owners' meeting here on Thursday. (SOURCE: Expos Web site)
Translation: "Forget what we said last year, and the year before that." Washington, Northern Virginia, Portland, and Monterrey, Mexico are all still (supposedly) in the running for the Expos franchise, but MLB officials refuse to commit to any transfer until a generous, iron-clad stadium financing provision is in place -- preferably with a cherry on top. Nothing new here. What this latest announcement means is that MLB officials are on the verge of having the orphan Expos team play another year in both Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The players are sick and tired of getting jerked around, but the team's total payroll will be cut if they play all their games in Montreal next year, in which case they would probably lose free agent superstar Vladimir Guerrero. That would be a huge shame.
A guy named Chris Haack expressed interest in diagrams of baseball stadiums in their football configuration. I just might "tackle" such a project, perhaps after I finish the remaining baseball stadium pages early next year. For some older stadiums, however (e.g., Tiger, Forbes, Fenway), I simply don't have enough information or photos to make accurate placements of the football gridirons. If anyone knows of good historical football sources, photographic or otherwise, please let me know. In the mean time, take a look at the new Baseball AND Football Stadiums page.
Nov. 17 ~ Steroids & sluggers Was that one of the best baseball postseasons ever, or what?? With four (4) teams that I liked -- Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Braves -- playing in championship series, it was one of the most emotionally draining months of October ever for me. Anyway, belated congratulations to the Marlins!
Randomly-administered blood tests indicate that 5-7% of major league players use steroids, mostly for body building purposes. Those test results trigger the previously agreed-to provisions for making drug testing of players routine, which is a sad development but -- surprisingly -- is generally welcomed by the players. It seems that they'll feel less compelled to resort to such extreme measures if they are assured that other players are not doing so. That apparent lack of mutual confidence is even sadder. A graph in yesterday's Washington Post shows the steady long-term climb in number of home runs hit each year, some of which may have been artificially induced. I'll never forget how much bigger Sammy Sosa's biceps grew between the 1998 and 1999 seasons. Steroid abuse is apparently rampant among young players in his home country, the Dominican Republic, where economic prospects are so bleak that many kids opt for a (literally) do-or-die effort to make it into the big leagues. Perhaps that is the saddest part of all.
Thanks to Chris Jackman for calling attention to another factual error. I had written, erroneously, that the SkyDome was the only venue ever used for both major league baseball and pro basketball. NOT! The same was also once true of the Kingdome (Seattle) and the Metrodome (Minneapolis), and those three pages have been updated accordingly. For you extreme trivia buffs, three other NBA teams used to play in stadiums that were also used for football: Detroit (in the Silverdome), New Orleans (in the Superdome), and San Antonio (in the AlamoDome). (SOURCE: ESPN 1999 Sports Almanac)
I came across yet another book about baseball stadiums recently, and it is a real gem: Blue Skies, Green Fields: A Celebration of 50 Major League Baseball Stadiums, by Ira Rosen. It has truly spectacular photos of all the stadiums built in the 1990s, which was useful for me in putting together the new Minute Maid Park page. It also has some (mixed-quality) photos of several ancient stadiums, including a few photos I had never seen before.
Oct. 26 ~ Marlins "outspunk" Yanks Josh Beckett had the Yankee batters flummoxed all night, and they could never figure out how to hit off him. He deserved the MVP award, though it's too bad Ivan Rodriguez didn't get more credit for his clutch batting and defensive work that put the Marlins into the World Series in the first place. He's a 13-year veteran who was repeatedly frustrated by the Yankees when he played for the Texas Rangers, so I suppose he's due. (NOTE: Of the 2003 Marlins team, only one member -- Jeff Conine -- also played for the 1997 championship team. Let's hope the franchise owner Jeffrey Loria doesn't cash in like Wayne Huizenga did in 1998.) Andy Pettitle pitched seven superb innings, with only one earned run -- the other Marlins' run was the result of an error by Derek Jeter. The 55,773 fans in Yankee Stadium (why so many empty seats?) were pretty subdued for most of the game, negating one of the pinstripers' key advantages. To us Yankee fans, last night's shutout loss was a rude slap in the face, as hardly anyone imagined that the Yanks would not even win three games. Marlins' relief pitcher Chad Fox said,
It wasn't a fluke that we beat the Giants, it wasn't a fluke that we beat the Cubs, and it wasn't a fluke that we beat the Yankees. (SOURCE: mlb.com)
Fair enough. Was it a fluke, then, that the Marlins finished the regular season ten games behind the Braves?? The Marlins are the only team to win two World Series in their first decade as an MLB franchise, and yet they have never won their own division! In contrast, four expansion teams have won divisional titles during their first decade of play, and two of them -- the Mets and the Diamondbacks -- went on to win the World Series. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Jacqueline (my wife) has hated the wild card system ever since the Mets beat the Braves in the 2000 postseason, but I'm convinced that the wide-open playoff system implemented in 1995 has greatly enlivened the sport, boosting public interest and TV ratings. It penalizes teams with high winning percentages who get complacent, and it rewards teams with grit and spunk. Which reminds me of a famous moment from The Mary Tyler Moore show back in the mid-1970s, when Mary's boss was seeming to congratulate her on some gutsy piece of independent journalism she did:
Ed Asner (as Lou Grant): You've got spunk!
Mary Tyler Moore (as Mary Richards, blushing): Oh, Mr. Grant...
Ed Asner: I HATE spunk!
That's kind of the way I feel right now, too.
Oct. 24 ~ Ouch! The Fish bite back! I was so exhausted from work last night that I briefly dozed off in the second inning just as David Wells was pulled out of the game due to an untimely back spasm. The Marlins once again pounced on a sudden opportunity, as Jose Contreras came in on premature relief duty, and it was all downhill from there. The Yanks' ninth inning rally renewed hope, but Bernie Williams' long blast to the deep right-center field corner just barely fell short. Arghh! The 2003 World Series has continued the incredibly high level of drama that this entire postseason has provided thus far. For once, however, the Yankees are playing in the unfamiliar role of trying to catch up. The 65,000+ (fair-weather?) fans in South Florida gave a polite cheer to Roger Clemens on his final game as a starting pitcher Wednesday night, and it should be noted that his rough first inning was caused in part by hundreds of flashing camera bulbs. As a true pro, he pulled himself together and went on to pitch several flawless innings. When the Yankees tied the game in the ninth inning, it seemed like old times again, but Alex Gonzalez's squeaker of a home run in the 12th put an end to that hope. The Marlins are one tough, determined team, as they proved earlier against the Giants and Cubs. Will they be tough enough to stand up to 57,000 screaming fans in the Bronx?
Thanks to Chris Jackson for his spelling correction on the Cleveland Stadium page (but he didn't catch my misspelling of Bob Eucher!) and factual challenge to the Polo Grounds page: "According to the Sporting News, only three balls reached the distant bleachers -- Joe Adcock in 1953 and Lou Brock and Hank Aaron on consecutive days in 1962." I just checked Lowry's Green Cathedrals and found that the first such home run was hit by Luke Easter in a 1948 Negro League game. I'll spell that all out soon. Also, a hearty "cheerio!" to John Fensom, a baseball fan from the U.K. who shared his remembrances of visits to ballgames in Fenway Park and other stadiums! I just got a message from EarthLink saying I'm close to my monthly traffic limit for this (free) Web site, so it's possible this site may become unavailable in the next few days. If so, I may have to upgrade my Web account, finally.
Great news from South Chicago! According to Daily South Town,
Demolition crews will begin tearing down U.S. Cellular Field's hated upper deck this week, readying the stadium's top tier for a long-awaited makeover, White Sox officials said. (link via ballparksofbaseball.com)
Hallelujah! If common sense can prevail in the White Sox front office, perhaps Bud Selig's buddy Jerry Reinsdorf, head of MLB's Relocation Committee, will wise up to the obvious benefits to moving the Expos to D.C. next season. Or maybe not.
Oct. 19 ~ Fish: out of frying pan... The Marlins astutely exploited their advantage in having had more rest by getting on the scoreboard in the first inning of Game 1 on Saturday night, putting pressure on the Yankees and eking out a win. Why did Aaron Boone cut off that throw to the plate from Hideki Matsui?? The Marlins are indeed masters of "small ball," and Ivan Rodriguez continues his record-setting offensive and defensive performance that could end up tipping the balance. (Note to George Michael: Pudge's first name is pronounced "ee-VAHN," not "EYE-vun.") Am I worried? Not really. The Yanks returned to form and got revenge last night, as sluggers Bernie Williams and Alfonso Soriano hit multi-run homers. Too bad they pulled Andy Petitte in the ninth inning; he almost got a shutout. According to the Fox announcers, since Joe Torre became their manager in 1996, the Yankees have lost the first game in eight postseason series -- and then came back to win in seven of them. Fish beware!
Oct. 18 ~ No joy in Beantown, either It's been one of the most thrilling and dramatic baseball postseasons ever, with record-setting television viewership ratings, and the World Series hasn't even begun yet. The fact that most of the playoff series have gone to the maximum number of games (five or seven) proves just how competitive baseball is these days. It has certainly boosted the profit margins of the Fox network as well. Too bad both the AL and NL championship series had to end on such a melancholy note. Both the Cubs and the Red Sox were exactly five outs away from a trip to the World Series when things started to turn rotten. I found myself rooting for Boston Thursday night, but feared that their early four-run wouldn't end up being enough. Indeed, it wasn't. Aaron Boone's game-winning homer sparked huge cheers in the Bronx, but not in my living room, I'm afraid. Major league kudos to the Red Sox, who pulled themselves together and played like true champions, just barely falling short in that 11-inning epic struggle.
I refuse to take curses and jinxes seriously, but no one can deny the immense psychological pressure on teams who have not been treated kindly by history. Whereas the Red Sox maintained their composure (aside from that brawl), the Cubs showed their brittle side on Tuesday night, letting themselves get totally unnerved by a couple goofs -- one by the vilified, clueless fan Steve Bartman, and one by the usually reliable shorstop Alex Gonzalez. The rest was history.
Now instead of watching the Fall Classic unfold in the two remaining honest-to-goodness classic "green cathedrals," we'll be seeing it take place in the stark, oversized Pro Player Stadium, and the sadly modernized and homogenized Yankee Stadium. Wouldn't it be cool to see line drives hit into the left-center gap bouncing for another fifty feet or so? Mr. Steinbrenner, tear down that wall! Bring back "Death Valley" and give the bleacher fans something special to see!
Do the Marlins stand a chance against the Yankees? It's a long shot. New York has gone two years without a World Series crown, and its players seem hungry to restore their dynasty. And indeed, why not? No other expansion team has ever won TWO World Series in their first decade of existence, and it's high time for those Florida upstarts to get a reality check. In the Marlins' favor is the fact that they have had more time to rest than the Yankees, who therefore really need to get an early lead at home in Game 1. In contrast to 1997, this year's Marlins team is not just a temporary band of mercenaries. As for the Yankees, their recent acquisitions are a little baffling to me, certainly not fitting the pattern of mega-bucks superstars. So who the heck is Juan Rivera? Or David Delucci? Or Karim Garcia? For his part, Nick Johnson (second year) bears an eerie resemblance to Babe Ruth, keeping the pinstripes identity intact.
Oct. 16 ~ No joy in Wrigleyville That all-too-familiar sense of numbed shock and despair fell upon the Windy City tonight, as the Cubs let destiny slip through their grasp once again. At least they played a good, competitive game, and they were actually leading for a few innings. Forget about curses, the Marlins simply outplayed them when it really counted. Tuesday night's unbelievable eighth-inning meltdown probably induced several million cases of acute nausea. The young fan who reached over and prevented Moises Alou from catching the pop foul ball, identified as Steve Bartman, had to be escorted from the stadium for his own safety, and today issued a formal apology. Well, he'll have a few decades to regret ruining what would have been a cosmically triumphant moment in sports history. Actually, there was at least one other fan reaching for that ball, so it's not all his fault. How ironic that the cramped foul territory in the intimate "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field worked to the Cubs' disadvantage at this critical moment. The phenomenon of minute contingencies yielding hugely disproportionate changes in outcomes is a perfect manifestation of Chaos theory, and it's one thing that makes baseball almost unique among sports. There's no clock, so anything can happen.
Nomar and Manny finally started hitting, enabling the Red Sox to survive the gauntlet at Yankee Stadium Wednesday evening, forcing Game 7 tomorrow. [*] The Red Sox new owner, John Henry, used to own the Marlins, whose new owner, Jeffrey Loria, used to own the Expos. Sounds pretty "fishy" to me...
Oct. 13 ~ Red Sox even the score Yesterday's rain in Boston was fortuitous, allowing the poisonous fallout from Sunday's brawls to settle. Pedro was fined 50 grand for shoving elderly coach Don Zimmer, whose sobbing apology must have been more painful than his $5K fine. (Manny Ramirez and Yankee pitcher Karim Garica were fined as well, and criminal charges are pending.) Zimmer's gesture, plus pitcher Tim Wakefield's pregame public service fan advisory to be good sports, set the appropriate conciliatory tone for tonight's game. Owners and honchos from both teams, however, were behaving worse than some of the players, seeming to justify hooliganism. Thomas Boswell writes in today's Washington Post,
Nowhere on any elementary school playground in America has the fine art of finger-pointing, telling-the-teacher and spinning the facts been lifted to a higher -- no, make that lower -- level than by the front offices of the Red Sox and Yankees.
Anyway, Boston won 3-2, thanks largely to Wakefield's baffling knuckleballs. I hope that the Red Sox's clutch win soothes Bostonians' raw nerves so that the rest of the series will rise to a higher level of play and provide plenty of proud memories for both sides.
Oct. 12 ~ Cubs and Yanks pull ahead All those 65,000 fans in Pro Player Stadium didn't end up making such a big difference after all. Kerry Wood couldn't quite live up to his sky-high expectations on Friday night, so the Marlins caught up to the Cubs and put the game into extra innings. Two lesser-known players, Randall Simon and Doug Glanville, got the key clutch hits for the Cubs in yet another heart-stopper. The Cubs got all the runs they needed in the first inning Saturday night, when Aramis Ramirez hit a grand slam. Josh Beckett's two-hitter against the Cubs today was astonishing; he's one of those top-rank players who often get overlooked until they make it to the postseason. I was kind of hoping the Marlins would win today so that the Cubs could win the series at home in Wrigley... I don't really mind when hotshots like Manny Ramirez show off a little bit, but his overreaction to the high and (slightly) inside pitch by Roger Clemens yesterday was totally uncalled for. True, Yankee coach Don Zimmer may have overreacted in turn, but I don't think Pedro Martinez was justified in throwing the 72-year old to the ground. I would be perfectly content if the long-suffering Red Sox beat the Yankees in a good, clean game, but if they can't rise above their old grudges and act like professionals, they're probably not going to win. Rain in Fenway means I'm going to miss the makeup game on Tuesday. Arghhh!
Oct. 10 ~ They're all evened up! Both series are now tied 1-1, and the Marlins get to unleash their secret weapon in hosting the Cubs tonight: the huge (postseason) crowds in Pro Player Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. Until the latter part of this season, in contrast, attendance at Marlins games rarely exceeded 12,000. Fair-weather fans in the City of Hurricanes! Tomorrow we get to see the second "final" farewell of Roger Clemens to Boston fans in Fenway Park.
Here's an oddity: In four of the six playoff series this year, the visiting team has won the opening game. Only a bare majority of the 22 postseason games have been won by the home team, casting in doubt reform proposals that would give a bigger home-field advantage to teams with a higher winning percentage in the multi-round playoff system; for example, scheduling the first three games of the first round in the higher-seeded team's home city.
On October 1 the Washington Post reported that MLB officials are seriously considering a bid from Monterrey, Mexico to become the new home of the Montreal Expos. (Is this a side-effect of NAFTA? Maybe Ross Perot was right!) Monterrey is the most prosperous city in Mexico, overall, but its populations base of 2.2 million is a little thin to support an MLB franchise, so it's probably not a serious possibility. The article included a good photo of Monterrey stadium, which has three decks, with a total capacity of 27,000. It hosted the Padres in their opening games of the 1996 and 1999 seasons -- against the Mets and the Rockies, respectively. In any event, there seems little chance that Bud Selig's crew will give serious thought to relocating the Expos to Washington or Northern Virginia, as things now stand.
Fewer than 4,000 empty seats remained as 58,554 fans attended the final ballgame ever played at Veterans' Stadium, where the Phillies won the World Series in 1980. Next year they will begin playing at Citizens Bank Park, located next door.
NOTE: Corrections made above.
Oct. 8 ~ Red Sox & Cubs: high drama WOW! The Red Sox win in Oakland on Sunday night was high tension the whole way, and I don't blame Manny Ramirez for his jaunty trot after he hit that game-winning home run. (About time!) That was quite a scary collision in short center field between Damian Jackson and Johnny Damon, whose concussion may keep him out for a few days and perhaps the rest of the postseason. As a generous-spirited Yankees fan, I say "may the best team win." And how about Game 1 of the NLCS last night??? I thought the Cubs were on their way to dominating the Floridians after their big four-run first inning last night, but "Pudge" Rodriguez's third-inning home run proved otherwise. The rest of the game was an ultra-tense slugger's duel, with Sammy Sosa's clutch game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth (about time!) providing Wrigleyvillians with one of the biggest outbursts of overjoyed relief in their lives. Too bad that the Marlins' ultimate margin of victory was such a squeaker of a home run, just out of Kenny Lofton's reach. (*CORRECTION: I just realized that "Pudge" was acquired by the Marlins just before this past season, not during midseason.)
Oct. 5 ~ Divisional series surprises Marlins catcher "Pudge" Rodriguez has turned out to be one of the most productive * acquisitions in baseball history, leading Florida to an upset 3-games-to-1 triumph over San Francisco almost single-handedly. His clutch hitting and dogged defense of home plate put him in the running for a postseason MVP award. The Twins upset win over the Yankees in Game 1 had New Yorkers worried about a first-round choke like last year, but the Yanks' depth and experience gave them the edge in the next three games, so things are back to normal. After Oakland won the first two games against Boston, it was looking like The Curse was coming back to haunt the Red Sox this year, but they showed a lot of guts in prevailing (barely) over the A's in Games 3 and 4... Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood supplemented his devastating pitching with a two-run double that gave the Cubs the margin of victory over Atlanta in Game 2 of their series. He's got a shutout going right now, the fifth inning of Game 5: stay tuned!
Bizarre sixth inning: the instant replay clearly showed that CF Kenny Lofton caught the short fly ball hit by Gary Sheffield, which should have nullified the run scored by Rafael Furcal. Also, Sheffield should have been called out, since he ran past Marcus Giles who saw Lofton catch the ball and assumed he had to tag up on first. It didn't matter, the Cubs scored another run in the ninth, and JUST WON THE GAME!!! Euphoria in Wrigleyville...
Sept. 27 ~ Cubs win the NL Central! Pittsburgh's Jose Hernandez just grounded into a double play in the top of the ninth inning, giving the Cubbies a 7-2 win and a lock on the National League Central Division championship. (I must say, the mlb.com Web site's "Game Day" feature is almost as good as listening to the play-by-play on a radio, and in some ways much better!) It's the Chicago North-siders' first divisional championship since 1989, and settles the last of the races for postseason slots. I may be a Yankees fan, but I've got a big soft spot in my heart for my father's long-suffering favorite team, so I'll be rooting for them throughout the playoffs. I'm almost tempted to cheer on the Red Sox (almost as long-suffering), in hopes that this will be the first all-classic-era stadium World Series since 1964 (Yankee Stadium and old Busch Stadium, a.k.a. "Sportsman's Park")**. Now wouldn't that be something?!
** Correction thanks to Chris Jackman; I had originally written "1961" and "Crosley Field" -- my apologies.
There were two historic accomplishments over the last couple days: Toronto's Carlos Delgado hit four home runs in one game, the 15th player ever to do so, and only the sixth to do so in four at bats. Also, Atlanta's Javy Lopez hit his 43rd home run, breaking the single-season major league record for home runs by a catcher. More signs that, behind all the $leaze, baseball as a game is as vibrant as ever. As the regular season draws to a close, let me pay respects to Bobby Bonds, who passed away in August at the age of 57. Barry hit two game-winning home runs during the last week of his father's life (both against Atlanta, broadcast on TBS), and it's hard to imagine a nicer, more gratified way than that to depart this harsh earthly existence. Bobby was traded around several times during his career, and probably felt like he got the short end of the stick in life, but his son's amazing batting accomplishments more than made up for that, easing his dad's pain and then some...
Sept. 21 ~ Awesome pennant races Perhaps the biggest surprise in this climactic month has been Oakland, which surged ahead of Seattle in the AL West. At this point, the Braves and Giants have already won their divisions outright, while the Yankees have at least won a wild card spot, and will probably grab the AL East once again, unless the Red Sox manage to pull out an amazing winning streak. The Chicago Cubs are only a half game behind Houston in the NL Central, and are in the running for the wild card spot as well. The White Sox slipped behind the Twins recently, but there still might be an all-Chicago World Series; who'da thunk it??? As Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post last Wednesday, this is one of the most competitive seasons big league baseball has ever seen, and this is one of the "hottest" Septembers ever.
Earlier this month, Roger Clemens pitched what was probably his last game ever in Fenway Park, which was his home for over a decade. Boston fans set aside their understandable grudge and bid a warm farewell to "The Rocket." They deserve a big hand for the classy gesture. That was quite a memorable four-game series in Boston, by the way: the Red Sox outscored the Yanks by a huge margin, but could only manage a 2-2 split.
In late August the Oregan state legislature first voted down a bill providing funding for a possible major league baseball stadium in Portland, then reconsidered a few days later and approved it. The D.C. government is still scrounging around for creative financing options, while Virginia seems to be running in third place in the relocation race, thanks to the NIMBY-spooked Arlington County Board of Supervisors. MLB officials want to keep the Expos in limbo for another year, playing for another year in Montreal but with many "home" games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The player's union is adamantly opposed to that, however, so the drama continues.
Aug. 11 ~ Furcal's solo triple play The Braves' short shortstop, Rafael Furcal, made an unassisted triple play against the Cardinals in St. Louis last night. That's the first time in nine years, and only the 12th time in major league history (including postseason games) that such a feat has been done. Weirdly, there were unassisted triple plays on each of the last two days of May 1927, and then over four decades passed before it happened again. Anyway, the Braves lost, as the totally awesome Albert Pujols hit a game winning homer. His current hitting streak: 24 games! Furcal has had a lot of errors this season, but his hustle and base-running excellence more than make up for it.
In both leagues right now, TWO non-division-leading teams have a greater winning percentage than one of the current divisional leaders in their league: Boston and Oakland over Kansas City (AL) and Florida and Philadelphia over Houston (NL). This suggests a possible modification to the postseason format. The hottest team in the majors right since the All-Star break has been the White Sox, who are neck and neck with the Royals in the AL Central Division race.
Ground was recently broken at the site of the St. Louis Cardinals' future home, adjacent to Busch Stadium. It is planned to be ready by the 2006 season.
Norther Virginia baseball fans recently staged a protest at Arlington County government building, hoping against hope that somehow the County Board will have a change of heart. Unlike other sports, where a clock sets an iron deadline for the end of the game, in baseball there is always the chance for a miraculous comeback, until the final out in the ninth inning. Keep hope alive!
July 30 ~ Arlington repeats: "NO!" In spite of protests from hundreds of disappointed baseball fans, Paul Ferguson, chairman of the Arlington County Board, insisted that the recent decision against a baseball stadium was final. Governor Mark Warner questioned the Board's decision as unduly hasty, expressing hope that there still may be a way to build a stadium in Arlington, which he believes -- rightly -- is by far the best site. This was reported in today's Washington Post. Political circumstances in the Commonwealth are not favorable, however: There is bad blood between Warner and the Republican-controlled state legislature, so it would take a huge, determined bipartisan effort in Richmond to overcome the entrenched "NIMBY" lobby on the south bank of the Potomac.
Gene Orza, an official with the MLB Players Association, is going to seek input from the Montreal Expos team members to see where THEY want to play next year. Sounds like an excellent way to finally resolve the eternal impasse over that ill-starred franchise's ultimate fate. Are you listening, Bud Selig? Jose Vidro recently told the Toronto Globe and Mail:
It's time for somebody to make a decision, because this thing's taking way too long. We're big leaguers, and we should be treated that way. It's time for them to give us a home.
July 29 ~ Red hot rivalries This past weekend featured two excellent series between old rivals: the Red Sox won two out of three from the visiting Yankees, sending Bostonians into euphoria. Mr. Steinbrenner warned Boston not to get its hopes up. In Montreal, the Expos managed to beat the Braves two out of four games, including one dramatic extra-innings squeaker and one complete blow out. Marcus Giles, Gary Sheffield, and Javy Lopez have all been batting like crazy lately.
Yesterday's Washington Post had an article explaining how Federal Tax Code encourages baseball stadium construction by making interest payments on bonds taken out to finance such facilities exempt from taxes. The public usually doesn't notice such obscure legislative provisons, but it all adds up to a huge hidden subsidy to team owners, and a drain on the U.S. Treasury.
July 24 ~ More bad news I got an e-mail from the Arlington County Board with a link to the letter Chairman Paul Ferguson sent to VBSA President Michael Frey. (See excerpt quoted on July 21.) On the same day I received a reply to the letter I sent to the MLB Office of the Commissioner regarding the relocation of the Expos to Washington. This sentence says it all:
Currently there is no timetable for a decision to be made.
In other words, forget about the earlier goal of deciding by the All Star Game, or the more recent goal of deciding by the end of this season. Does "no timetable" mean the Expos are just going to rot in Purgatory for eternity? No offense to Montreal, but no one seriously believes that city is willing support a baseball team, so how much more doubt and anxiety are those players going to have to endure?
July 21 ~ How 'bout those Braves? Atlanta just swept a four-gamme series with the visiting Mets, who are without Mike Piazza for the rest of the season, and who just let star relief pitcher Armando Benitez go to the Yankees. Even though Greg Maddux is having a mediocre year and Tom Glavine is now playing with their rivals from Queens, the Braves are nonetheless the best team in baseball this year. Russ Ortiz has been a surprisingly solid addition to the pitching staff, but the batting is the key factor. Javy Lopez's bat has cooled off lately, but Gary Sheffield has taken up the slack, hitting two home runs and three singles the other day against the Mets, and now leads his teammates in the home run race.
UPDATE ON THE TRAGEDY IN ARLINGTON: The Washington Post added some details to the sportsillustrated.cnn.com story cited earlier, with a quote from the letter written by Arlington County Board of Supervisors Chairman:
"The arrogance of Major League Baseball is unbelievable," Ferguson wrote.
He added at a morning news conference yesterday: "The opportunity [in Arlington] has come and gone with Major League Baseball."
I wish I could believe this was all just tit-for-tat hardball negotiating, but I doubt it. The only alternative stadium site in Virginia right now is near Dulles Airport, which is about 22 miles from downtown Washington, as the proverbial crow flies. That is not much closer than Camden Yards (34 miles)! It would appear the only hope now is for a ballpark in Washington, but all the prospective stadium sites in D.C. are much more convenient for Maryland fans than for Virginia fans, which would be hugely counterproductive. It's the bottom of the ninth with two outs...
July 18 ~ Arlington to MLB: Shove it! In a stinging rebuke to Major League Baseball and its clumsy, heavy-handed pressure for more taxpayer money to subsidize a new stadium, the Arlington County Board of Supervisors today notified Michael Frey, chairman of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, that they will oppose any rezoning measures that would be required for a new baseball stadium to be built. This represents a huge victory for the "Not In My Back Yard" activists, and slams shut one of the best chances for getting the Expos relocated to the Washington area next year. This decision is a direct consequence of MLB's inability to lay out a clear procedural road map that might have calmed nerves of Northern Virginia residents, who are rightly tired of getting jerked around -- "Just wait till next year!" -- and leery of getting ripped off just to make franchise owners even richer. According to a story on sportsillustrated.cnn.com:
[Board Chairman Paul] Ferguson said earlier that major league baseball's indecision on recommending a location was hurting the chances of finding a suitable site in Arlington.
"It's a very divisive issue ... and the divisiveness is increasing," he said. "It becomes more difficult for the county to let the divisiveness in the community to continue. There's no guarantee that there will ever be a decision" from baseball.
A couple weeks ago, political activist Ralph Nader wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, rightly condemning the corporate welfare scam that stadium deals have become. His proposal for moving the Expos to Washington was not very realistic, however.
Players rate the ballparks!
The July 7 issue of Sports Illustrated featured a "2003 Player Survey" on various topics, including BALLPARKS! All active MLB players were canvassed, and apparently a solid majority responded. Here are the best and worst stadiums from their point of view, with the percentage of responding players who choose each one:
|Favorite ballparks||Least favorite ballparks|
|Safeco Field||17.6%||Olympic Stadium||22.3%|
|Pac Bell Park||10.2%||Veterans Stadium||10.3%|
|Oriole Park at Camden Yards||8.0%||Tropicana Field||7.2%|
|Yankee Stadium||6.7%||Fenway Park||6.0%|
|Bank One Ballpark||6.3%||U.S. Cellular Field||5.8%|
|Busch Stadium||5.8%||Shea Stadium||5.4%|
It is interesting that the two remaining genuine classical stadiums -- Wrigley Field and Fenway Park -- ranked at the very bottom in terms of both playing field quality and visiting team locker room quality. Dodger Stadium has the highest quality playing field, while Tropicana Field (!?) has the nicest visting team locker room. If it's better than the one I saw at Kauffman Stadium, it must be posh indeed.
July 17 ~ It really DID count! Holy cow! This year's All-Star game was one for the record books. As Thomas Bowell wrote in today's Washington Post,
Seldom does a sport stumble into such a bonanza. On Tuesday night, baseball desperately needed a good game to justify a radical format switch, with the winner getting home-field advantage in the World Series. Instead, the sport saw the biggest come-from-behind win since '55 and perhaps the best game since Ted Williams's walk-off home run in '41. The main reason was Scioscia.
True, but without Blalock's home run that historic twist of fate wouldn't have happened. Hopefully this will generate increased TV viewership for next year, and possibly for this year's postseason. Dare we hope that baseball is back on track? The following excerpt from Commissioner Selig's online chat before the game certainly isn't very encouraging:
Bill from Washington, D.C.: When will MLB be back in the nation's capital?
Well, that's a fair question coming from you. We have a relocation committee that is studying all of the aspects of the Montreal club. It's in the last residue of contraction. We have worked out ... the Puerto Rican experiment has been a wonderful experiment. Frank Robinson has told me that the players enjoyed it and he's enjoyed it. I feel really good about that experiment, but, we need to seriously consider what we do with the Montreal club. The relocation committee has been involved in a lot of work. They will continue to be. We have not set a timetable but I'm sure we will be discussing the matter a lot during the rest of this summer.
July 15 ~ All-Star break "This time it counts!" Let's hope so. The pre-game promo featuring Sean Connery and the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was an obvious attempt to lure more Gen-X viewers and repair the damage caused by last year's fiasco in Milwaukee, but the commercial tie-in was an ugly reminder of contemporary baseball's appalling money-grubbing ways.
July 10 ~ More stalling MLB officials said today that there will probably be NO decision on relocating the Montreal Expos by the All Star break, contrary to earlier statements. Apparently, the decision might not happen for months, they said. It would appear to be a ploy to put pressure on Washington and Virginia officials to commit to more stadium funding. Not gonna happen. According to the Virginia section of today's Washington Post, officials in Arlington County are under heavy pressure not to impose additional taxes for purposes of stadium funding.
My description of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium as "forgettable" elicited this fan response:
Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was forgettable? Frank Cabrerra drives in Sid Bream to win the 92 NLCS. Three games of one of the greatest World Series ever were played there in 1991, including 2 which the Braves won in their last at bat. The Braves won only the third World Championship in franchise history there in 1995. Pete Rose's 44 game hitting streak ended there in 1978. Otis Nixon made one of the most memorable catches in baseball history there in 1992. The Braves won a then record 13th straight game to open the season in dramatic fashion in 1982. Bob Horner hit four homeruns in a single game there. The first ever NLCS was played there. A very dramatic game three of the 96 World Series there saw the Yankees come from 6-0 to win the game and spur them to win the series.
In 1978 the Falcons won a dramatic come from behind playoff victory over the Eagles there, and the Cowboys did the same to the Falcons in a 1980 playoff game there. I could go on and on. Forgettable? Hardly!
Point well taken. Obviously, my interest in stadium design per se sometimes overshadows the sport itself, which is obviously more important. Just as you can't tell a book by its cover, there is no necessary correlation between stadium excellence and a team's success. (Just ask the long-suffering Cubs and Red Sox fans.) Thanks for the history lesson, David!
Also, I received some useful historical info on Arlington Stadium from Clifford "Bucky" Nance, which I will incorporate into that page soon. Thanks, Bucky! As this site moves forward, I'll probably make room for comments and input on a routine basis. Keep those cards and letters comin' in, sports fans!
July 7 ~ Braves beat Royals No, I'm not talking an Interleague game, I'm talking about (Shenandoah) Valley League Baseball, where some of the best college players hone their skills during the summer. Make no mistake, it is top-caliber action with enthusiastic players. About 300 paying fans watched a rain make-up game being played here in Staunton in the blazing afternoon sun on the Fourth of July, and Congressman Bob Goodlatte threw out the first pitch. Most of the game was a pitcher's duel, and the Winchester Royals seemed in control. In the seventh inning, Winchester was poised to add on to their 2-1 lead when one of their batters hit a long single with a runner on second, but the left fielder threw a blazing bullseye to home plate, and the catcher nailed the runner as he was sliding into home. Joe Koshanski hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eight to put the Staunton Braves on top 3-2, totally reversing the psychological edge. In the top of the ninth, with the bases loaded, right fielder Trevor Lawhorn made a heroic diving catch of a line-drive to end the game on a note of high drama. THAT'S entertainment!
The Boston Red Sox apparently came to Yankee Stadium with something to prove last Friday, and in the first two games of the series they won by a total score of 25 to 3. David Wells gave up seven home runs, and Roger Clemens gave up three more. Ouch! Boston should have saved their energy, however, for the Yankees once again came back and won in both the Sunday and Monday games, splitting the series 2-2.
July 3 ~ My All-Star picks: For what it's worth... I feel guilty I didn't pick more Yankees, but Derek Jeter's still recovering from his shoulder injury, and most of the others aren't hitting as well as last year. What I want to know is, What is the point of letting folks vote up to 25 times for their All-Star picks?
- AMERICAN LEAGUE
- 1st Base C. DELGADO
- 2nd Base A. SORIANO
- Shortstop N. GARCIAPARRA
- 3rd Base H. BLALOCK
- Catcher G. MYERS
- Outfield M. BRADLEY
- Outfield M. ORDOÑEZ
- Outfield I. SUZUKI
- DH E. MARTINEZ
- NATIONAL LEAGUE
- 1st Base T. HELTON
- 2nd Base J. KENT
- Shortstop E. RENTERIA
- 3rd Base M. LOWELL
- Catcher J. LOPEZ
- Outfield J. EDMONDS
- Outfield A. PUJOLS
- Outfield G. SHEFFIELD
By weird coincidence, there was a freak mechanical accident last night at Coors Field, the newest stadium page on this Web site. As reported in the Rocky Mountain News, at least 32 people were injured when a three-story escalator started accelerating out of control, hurling people on top of each other.
June 30 ~ D.C. still "in the running" There were two more Washington Post articles on Saturday: D.C. Stays In Running For Expos Franchise suggests that the recent hardened negotiating position of the D.C. government on stadium financing terms seems to be paying off, and Arlington to Assess Possible Ballpark Sites reports that the Arlington County Board will do an economic impact study. Meanwhile, "free market" sports blogger Eric McErlain pours a bucket of cold water on the whole idea. (Let's see if he can rationalize the ACC's dagger blow to the Big East!)
On Friday night the Boston Red Sox, playing host to the Florida Marlins, set an MLB record by scoring 10 runs in the first inning before there were any outs! That's gotta hurt! Johnny Damon got three hits in that inning, the fifth MLB player in history to do so. Final score: Red Sox 25, Marlins 8. Not one of Interleague play's finer moments...
Following up on a tip from a visitor to this site (Al Delay) concerning Dizzy Dean's career as a TV broadcaster (and beer plugger), I came across the Texas Handbook, which tell us: "In 1953 Dean dropped his radio broadcasting to concentrate on the nationally televised 'Game of the Week.' As baseball's first national television broadcaster he made $100,000 a year, and he remained on the "Game of the Week" until 1965." Another page I found, Baseball on the air (part of a Spanish-language site based in the Dominican Republic!) provides a much more detailed history on the subject. From what I can tell, Pee Wee Reese was Dizzy Dean's partner from 1960 to 1965 (when CBS bought the Yankees and stopped broadcasting ball games), after which Dean quit.
June 27 ~ D.C. to MLB: now or never A few days ago MLB Relocation Committee members met with D.C. and Virginia officials, and now the clock is tick, tick, ticking... There were two articles about this in today's Washington Post. Steven Pearlstein applauded D.C. Council member Jack Evans for standing firm against any action to fund a new stadium, forcing Mayor Anthony Williams to halt his aggressive promotion of such a project. Thomas Boswell alludes to the political hazards of spending taxpayer money for entertainment purposes in an election year:
If baseball procrastinates in its decision to relocate the Expos, it's almost certain that neither the District nor Northern Virginia will be able to make as good an offer -- or in D.C.'s case, perhaps any serious offer at all -- a year from now.
June 25 ~ Canadian flip-flop Partly because of Vladimir Guerrero's disabled status, and partly because of their absurdly long road trip (23 days, not counting their "home" games in Puerto Rico), the Montreal Expos have slipped 7.5 games behind the Braves, and for a couple days had fallen into third place behind the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays have snuck up and pulled ahead of the Red Sox and are now breathing down the Yankees' necks. Now the Expos are trying to get Juan Gonzalez from the Rangers. Hmmm...
Speaking of the Braves, their catcher Javy Lopez has turned into an amazingly productive slugger this year, with 23 home runs, tied for the #1 spot in the major leagues with Florida's Mike Lowell and Toronto's Carlos Delgado. Last night was the sixth time this year he has hit two home runs in one game, the first of which came within a few rows of clearing the center field bleachers. As Harry Carey used to say, "Holy cow!" (His son Skip no longer does play-by-play work for the Braves on TBS.) Javy's homer was estimated to be 434 feet, but I think that's a bit conservative. Why in the world is he still batting seventh in the Braves' lineup??? He, Rafael Furcal (SS), and Marcus Giles (2B) are currently in first place for their respective positions in the All Star balloting.
Washington Mayor Anthony Williams has announced he won't push for public funding for a new stadium until Major League Baseball commits to relocating the Expos in this area. Good! Whether the franchise goes to D.C. or Northern Virginia, the important thing is to keep the stadium subsidy to an absolute minimum. Just say no to corporate welfare extortion!
Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, passed away a few days ago. He played a decisive role in the Cleveland Indians' 1948 World Series triumph.
June 19 ~ Ex-Redskins join VBC The Washington Post reports that two former Redskins football stars, Art Monk and Charles Mann, have joined the Virginia Baseball Club, the name of William Collins' prospective franchise ownership group. This inclusion of minorities as investment partners is an apparent public relations move, as the moment of decision on the sale of the Expos approaches. Meanwhile, the chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, John Richardson, abruptly resigned, boding ill for Mayor Anthony Williams' determined campaign to bring the team inside the District of Columbia. The Commission had hired his law firm to handle a lawsuit, raising conflict-of-interest issues.
The Philadelphia Phillies' new ballpark, which is currently under construction, will be named "Citizens Bank Park" under the terms of a 25-year, $95 million contract. ($57.5 million will be paid for the naming rights per se.) The new ballpark is expected to be completed prior to the 2004 season, with an estimated cost of $346 million, and a capacity of 43,000 seats. Its design bears a number of similarities to Shibe Park, a.k.a. "Connie Mack Stadium." It is located close to Veterans Stadium (which no one will miss), and to Lincoln Financial Field, the almost-finished new home of the Eagles football team, and also to the First Union Center basketball/hockey arena, which will soon be renamed "Wachovia Center." And they say there's no competition in the banking industry anymore!
June 17 ~ Relocation meetings in D.C. On Friday three members of the Major League Baseball Relocation Committee will hold meetings in Washington with government officials and prospective franchise owners from D.C. and Virginia. Last week they held similar meetings in Portland, Oregon. This may portend the imminent climax of the long, drawn-out controversy over what to do with the Montreal Expos, currently owned jointly by the other 29 MLB franchises.
June 15 ~ Roger, over, and out On his fourth try, Roger Clemens finally won his 300th career game, on Friday the 13th, no less. Perhaps the delay in crossing that threshold was fitting, since he also racked up his 4,000th career stikeout on the same day. (See MLB.com for more details.) Like Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, and Satchel Paige, this pitcher has only continued to improve the older he gets. Too bad the Red Sox didn't anticipate that when they let him go a few years ago -- much like their Big Mistake in letting Babe Ruth go on to bigger and better things back in 1920. (D'oh!) Even though 194 of Clemens' wins were with the Red Sox, he has decided that he wants to be memorialized in Cooperstown wearing a Yankee uniform.
"To me, once the decision was made that my services weren't wanted in Boston anymore, I got the opportunity to go to Toronto, and I had a great two years there," Clemens said. "But I became a Hall of Famer here."
June 12 ~ "Collaborative" no hitter Six (6) pitchers of the Houston Astros -- none of whose names ring a bell -- combined to achieve the first no hitter inflicted upon the Yankees since Hoyt Wilhelm of the Orioles did so in 1958, and the first at their home field since 1952. Will any team ever again go 6,980 games in a row without being shut out? This was the ninth "collaborative" no-hitter in MLB history, and the first time that such a feat was achieved by more than four pitchers. This is truly bizarre and makes me wonder about interleague play... The Astros have been red hot lately, taking first place away from the Cubs in the NL Central, while the Red Sox have slipped back into first place in the AL East, temporarily.
It seems that pretty much everyone agrees: The 8-game suspension (reduced to 7) of Sammy Sosa for using a corked bat was fitting. His infraction of the rules probably wasn't deliberate, and he has been graciously contriteful in taking responsibility for it. Yay!
June 11 ~ Interleague nostalgia One of the clear advantages of interleague play is that fans get a rare opportunity to see ancient rivalries being relived. Last weekend the Yankees played in Wrigley Field for the first time since the 1938 World Series, and this time the Cubs won two out of three. Meanwhile, the Athletics played in Philadelphia for the first time since they left Philly and headed west to Kansas City in 1955.
Last Sunday's Washington Post had an article about the Astrodome, which has not been used for pro sports since 1999 and is slowly decaying. Nevertheless, many Texans are still proud of its role in changing the state's image back in the 1960s and want to preserve it indefinitely. Some have suggested turning it into a hotel for hosting special events, or perhaps even a museum.
June 5 ~ Sammy, Sammy, Sammy At first the news that Sammy Sosa used a cork-filled bat came as a terribly disheartening shock. After all, he is one of the most genuine baseball heroes of recent years, and one of the friendliest faces on the diamond -- unlike, say, Pete Rose. X-rays of all the bats he is known to have used have come up negative, though, so his lame-sounding claim that it was just a bat he used in batting practice may be true after all. Most studies indicate that corked bats have little if any benefit to hitters, and it may just be a psychological "placebo" effect. The point is, however, that any such sneaky adulteration of game equipment cannot be tolerated. Just before this mini-scandal erupted, coincidentally, USA Today had a dramatic front-page photo of Sosa's helmet shattering after being hit by a pitched ball. That's gotta hurt!
Diamondbacks' ace pitcher Curt Schilling was fined about $15,000 for deliberately destroying a special camera used to evaluate umpires' calls. Naughty, naughty. Plus stupid. The very next day X-rays showed that he had broken two bones in his hand after being hit twice by line drives last Friday. That's really gotta hurt! He will miss at least a few weeks of games, joining Randy Johnson on the disabled list. Better wait till next year, Phoenicians!
June 3 ~ Not In My Back Yard! Arlingtonians who oppose any baseball stadium in their midst made loud protests at a recent public forum. As Marc Fisher rightly points out in today's Washington Post, the choice is not between a stadium and the status quo but between a stadium and alternative development projects. Arlington is smack dab in the middle of a metropolitan area populated by nearly 4 million souls, and it is ludricrous to pretend that it can be maintained as a tranquil suburb forever. Fortunately, Arlington County Board of Supervisors seem wise enough to realize that they have to keep their tax base growing and not let the vocal minority outweigh what is in the interests of the majority.
Today is the first day of inter-league play, which is apparently much more popular among owners than players. Purists frown on the whole idea, likening it to incest, and I share their worries that it further muddies the waters of the divisional and pennant races. Nevertheless, I still think it would be appropriate to retain at least one "cross-town" inter-league series per year, plus perhaps one series against the team at the same position in the standings in a division from the other league.
May 31 ~ Attendance is lagging Yesterday's Washington Post brought to light a discouraging downward trend in baseball attendance. Teams such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh have seen their attendance drop as much as 16% compared to last year. Attendance at Cincinnati's new "Great American Ballpark" has surged 31% over last year, but that was not as much as was hoped for. It would appear that the novelty of the new "retro" / neoclassical stadiums has begun to fade, and several cities are wondering if their massive investments will ever pay off.
GOOD GRIEF! Derek Jeter's return to the Yankees lineup has coincided with a sudden slump in the team's fortunes. For several days the Red Sox were in first place, but now things seem to have returned to normal. Atlanta, Montreal, Seattle, and Minnesota are all still red hot.
May 22 ~ INTER-national pastime! Yesterday's Washington Post reports that Major League Baseball officials are pushing the creation of some kind of "World Cup" tournament for baseball among national teams from the U.S., Japan, and Latin American countries. This is seen as an alternative to the Olympic Games, which began holding baseball competition in 1996, with little success. There just aren't that many countries where it is widely played. A baseball "World Cup" would be tremendously exciting, allowing Latin and Asian players to show their national pride. It would also be a great way to fill in the bleak winter months.
Today's Washington Post had an article about a poll conducted in Virginia earlier this year, indicating strong likely attendance at baseball games -- as long as the stadium is built in Virginia. 47 percent of Northern Virginians and 31 percent of all Virginians would be "very likely" to attend at least one game a year. It mentioned a civic organization of "NIMBY" opponents, which has a Web site, No Arlington Stadium. Booo! I used to live in Arlington and I think a baseball stadium there would make it a much more fun place to live. The last paragraph of the story says it all:
The poll also found that a team in the District would be less successful in drawing Virginians to games, officials said. Seventeen percent of people who said they or a family member would attend a game in Virginia said they would not go to any games in the District.
UPDATE: You can read the report in full detail at Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, which makes it clear that the "NIMBY" whiners account for only a minority of folks in Arlington: "Fifty-five percent of Arlington County residents support construction of a Pentagon City-area baseball stadium..." That's more like it, sports fans!
According to the Washington Times, MLB officials are leaning toward postponing any permanent decision on relocating the Expos until rock-solid financial guarantees are in place. Thus, contrary to earlier pledges to decide one way or the other prior to the All Star Game in July, it is entirely possible that the Expos will be left hanging in limbo for another season. Superstar outfielder Vladimir Guerrero will qualify for free agency by then, and it would be very hard for the lame-duck ownerless franchise to hold onto him. The abomination continues...
May 19 ~ Expos back to Puerto Rico? In their never-ending bid to bluff Washington and Virginia governments into forking over more public funds for a new stadium, thus increasing the value of the Montreal Expos franchise, MLB officials recent hinted that the Expos may play even more of their "home" games in Puerto Rico if satisfactory terms on relocation are not reached. The Expos are playing 22 games in Hiram Bithorn stadium this year, and may play as many as 40 games there next year. Meanwhile, RFK Stadium sits empty, except for soccer games...
Sean Burroughs of the San Diego Padres hit a rare (and questionable) inside-the-park home run at QualComm stadium on Friday. The ball bounced into the Padres bullpen in the left field corner, went inside a small room, bounced off a plastic garbage can back into play. Braves' left fielder Chipper Jones waved to signal that the ball had rolled out of play, which would have meant it was a ground rule double, but none of the umpires could see back into that corner. It's one of the odd quirks of that stadium, the diagram of which I've just updated.
The Braves are the hottest team in the major leagues right now, but the Expos continue to win most of their games and are chasing the Braves in the NL East. The Yankees are slumping a bit, allowing the Red Sox to grab a share of the lead. In fact, there are close races in five of the six divisions; only the Giants have a solid margin over the second place team.
Prior to the beginning of this season, the Tigers moved the left field fence in Comerica Park, reducing the distance to left center field from 395 to 370 feet. It obviously hasn't helped the team win any more games.
May 5 ~ Ken Burns' Baseball To my surprise, PBS stations have begun to rebroadcast Ken Burns' widely acclaimed documentary series on baseball, which I reviewed in brief last year. Check your local listings and WATCH IT!
May 2 ~ Tigers & Cubs Today's Washington Post has a big article on the woes of the Detroit Tigers, who have won 3 games and lost 23 so far this season. If you ask me, the problem is that the new stadium has ripped the soul out of the team. Every time I see a video clip from Comerica Park, I cringe. Why did they ever leave Tiger Stadium??? I wonder what Tom Selleck thinks?
They seem to have eluded much attention so far, but the Chicago Cubs have maintained a steady lead in the NL East. Could this be their year, at long last? It's obviously very early in the season and a fairly tight race, in any case. The Cubs' improvement may be due to new manager Dusty Baker, who got revenge against his former team in San Francisco yesterday. Alex Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa hit home runs in the top of the 10th inning, helping the Cubs beat the Giants 5 to 1.
Kevin Costner has expressed support for his co-stars from Bull Durham. 'Nuff said.
Apr. 29 ~ Sexson & Millwood This past weekend has seen some spectacular performances. In a game broadcast on TBS on Friday, Richie Sexson hit three home runs in his first three at-bats, as the Brewers clobbered the Braves, 12 to 5. He had two chances to become one of only fourteen players ever to hit four homers in one game, two of whom did so last May: Shawn Green and Mike Cameron.
On Sunday Kevin Millwood (a former Brave and all-around nice guy) pitched a no-hitter, leading the Phillies to a 1 to 0 win over the Giants. An unusually large crowd of 40,000 fans in Veterans Stadium cheered wildly. It was exactly one year after the last no-hitter in the major leagues, when Derek Lowe led Boston to a win over Tampa Bay. It was Millwood's first no-hitter, though he had pitched a one-hit shutout for the Braves in 1998. I still don't know why they let him go.
After three weeks of rehabilitation for a dislocated shoulder, Derek Jeter is starting to resume batting practice -- using a tee. Despite his absence, the Yankees are still dominant, and in fact are now the only team with a win-loss record as high as .800.
"The one constant through the years, Ray, is baseball."
James Earl Jones to Kevin Costner, in Field of Dreams
Apr. 26 ~ Field of Dreams TBS is broadcasting the mystical classic movie Field of Dreams several times this month, so don't miss it! A few years ago Jacqueline and I visited the site where it was filmed, and it's worth the trip to Dyersville, about 20 miles west of Dubuque, Iowa. In real life, the field straddles a property line, and the owners of the two farms have often been at odds with each other in the competition for tourist dollars.
CORRECTION: I've learned that Sarandon and Robbins were not "un-invited" to the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies; rather, a special anniversary celebration of the Bull Durham movie featuring those stars was canceled. Also, Mr. Petroskey issued an apology for upsetting people. Most of the letters and comments I've seen have had a less charitable take on Susan and Tim's dissent than I did. In the future I will endeavor to avoid sullying this page with politics. After all, baseball is supposed to bring us all together.
In the real world, the Yankees, Giants, and -- amazingly -- the Royals are dominating their respective divisions with .800 or better win-loss records. The Expos are clinging to first place in the NL East, but they usually start the season hot and then fade as their lack of depth is exposed. (Sorry!) They drew 36,000 fans to their first real home game in Montreal this week, but attendance has since dwindled to under 7,000 per game, which is sadly normal for them.
Apr. 18 ~ Sarandon & Robbins OUT! Baseball's Hall of Fame recently announced that Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (who starred together in the classic baseball flick Bull Durham) were being un-invited to the forthcoming induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, NY, because of their high-profile protests against the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Specifically, it was feared that they might use the podium to bring nasty discord into our National Pastime. Fellow blogger Jeff Cooper criticized this decision, writing "It's no coincidence that the Hall's president, Dale Petroskey, is a staunch Republican..." Several people posted comments, and here is what I wrote:
I roll my eyes every time I see Sarandon and Robbins piously pontificate, but from what I've seen they've been relatively well behaved in their dissent lately. But of course that's judging by extremely loose Hollywood standards, where treason is a virtue. All in all, I'd say the Hall of Fame's decision to exclude them from the upcoming ceremonies was tacky and a little intolerant, but not such a big deal.
Apr. 12 ~ ¡Beisbol en Puerto Rico! By timely coincidence, the very same team whose "home field" is this week's new stadium on this Web site is playing its first "home" game this year somewhere else: in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in tropical city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As reported in the Washington Post, the city paid $2 million to renovate this single deck stadium, which has very short field dimensions and a huge foul territory. (I guess I'll have to do a page for it now that's it's a "major league" ballpark.) This is part of a promotion to rake in some extra bucks for the faltering Expos franchise, which is now owned collectively by Major League Baseball. It is also intended to spark interest in baseball in Caribbean countries. Perhaps getting a psychological boost from the fact that several of their players were born in Puerto Rico, the Expos trounced the Mets 10 to 0. Attendance at Friday night's game was 17,000, over 90 percent of capacity, and three times the number of fans that usually attend Expos games in Montreal. Just wait till next year -- in RFK Stadium!
It was gratifying to learn that Hideki Matsui's (known in Japan as "Godzilla") first at-bat in Yankee Stadium was a grand slam. No player had ever hit a grand slam in his first at-home plate appearance before. The Yanks are now 8 and 1, while the Kansas City Royals continue their amazing winning streak, and are now 9 and 0.
Apr. 9 ~ Baseball in Virginia!? In their recent presentation to the MLB Relocation Committee in Phoenix, Virginia baseball officials submitted their estimates of anticipated franchise revenues. According to the Washington Post, this was based on an expected average attendance of nearly 40,000 per game in the first year, and about 35,000 per game over the long run. They claimed, with solid justification in my view, that a huge potential fan base in the Virginia suburbs would be far more likely to see games if the stadium were located in the Old Dominion. (That's obviously even more the case for Virginians like me who live an hour or more away from Washington.) It's not the fear of crime in Washington so much as the convenience factor and atmosphere. In any case, Arlington is widely considered to be an integral part of the Washington already -- after all, that's where the Pentagon is located.
Apr. 4 ~ Wrigley, GABP Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn has a Web site featuring a vigorous debate on the Cubs' decision to put up a "wind screen" to block the view of freeloading spectators from neighboring rooftops. While that move reminds one of the "spite wall" built in right field at Philadelphia's Shibe Park in 1935, which soured fan support for the Athletics, I think it's justified. As Mr. Zorn says, it would be fine to tolerate small-scale informal "piracy," but the permanent rooftop bleachers and blatant commercialization are a rip-off that undermines the Cubs franchise.
According to six architects canvassed by The Cincinnati Enquirer, Great American Ball Park "is fragmented. It has too many elements and lacks a consistent overall design." Because of client interference with the design process, they said, there are many "hokey" aspects that add up to aesthetic disharmony. For example, several of them complained that the weird gap between the upper decks behind the left side dugout (similar to Comerica Field in Detroit) fails to serve its intended purpose of adding visibility. GABP does indeed seem to have too many contrived "quirks," rather like The Ballpark in Arlington.
The Boston Red Sox have added a new seating section atop the "Green Monster" at Fenway Park. It's only three rows, so it won't significantly alter the overall ambience. Plus, it's a good sign that the new owners of the Red Sox are committed to renovating this wonderful, funky old ballpark.
Yankee star Derek Jeter suffered a dislocated shoulder while sliding head first into third base on Monday. Hopefully he'll only be out for a few weeks. Since yesterday, six other teams have caught up to the Yankees' perfect record of 3-0, including the Montreal Expos, which some wishful Washington and Virginia fans are starting to consider their home team. Vladimiro Guerrero becomes a free agent next year, however, so it will be hard for the franchise to hold onto him. Attendance in Baltimore yesterday was only 18,740, the lowest ever at Camden Yards, substantiating Thomas Boswell's argument (see below) that the Orioles' owners are trying to draw pity in a scheme to keep baseball out of Washington.
Mar. 31 ~ PLAY BALL! How many long, agonizing, dreary, months have I been waiting for Opening Day?? The "boys of summer" have finally begun to play, and yet there is still snow on the ground outside my window. Arghhh! Cincinnati's beautiful new Great American Ballpark had a "sneak preview" opening on Saturday with an exhibition game against the Indians. You can get great 360-degree "virtual reality" views of this brand new "gem" at cincinnati.com. (NOTE: To view it you will need QuickTime software, which available free from Apple.)
Virginia officials unveiled a scale model and an artist's conception of the proposed baseball stadium in the Rosslyn district of Arlington. It is indeed a spectacular setting, very close to the Iwo Jima Memorial, and just across the Potomac River from the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial. On the north side of the stadium would be a shopping center, and beyond the center field fence (on the east side) there would be a large grassy park-like area for casual spectators and kids. Unfortunately, "NIMBY" opponents in Arlington have started to organize to prevent a new stadium from being built in "their backyard." William Collins, who leads the group of investors that is seeking a major league franchise for Northern Virginia, was dismissed (on cordial terms) by the Metrocall paging company earlier this year. This will enable him to spend full time on this project as the dramatic tension over the possible relocation of the Expos franchise to the D.C. area continues to build.
UPDATE: It snowed during the opening Orioles- game today, forcing play to be suspended for about 15 minutes. Which reminds me to mention that Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post that Orioles owner Peter Angelos seems to be setting his team up to lose as a deliberately cynical ploy to maintain a monopoly over the Baltimore-Washington market:
The Orioles appear to be fielding the worst team possible, again this year, to kill their attendance in hopes that their fake plight will keep a team from relocating to Washington. That's despicable.
And it deserves our punishment.
He comes very very close to calling for an outright boycott by Washington-area fans. He concludes:
[F]or now, an Orioles game is not a proper place for any fair-minded Washington area baseball fan to be seen.
My sentiments exactly! Now when is the Washington Post going to stop covering the Orioles as if they were the "home team"?
Mar. 22 ~ The big pitch D.C. and Virginia officials made their big sales pitches to the MLB franchise relocation committee in Phoenix this week. Hopes for getting the Expos franchise next year are still fairly high in the D.C. area, according to a washingtonpost.com online poll. Out of 2444 responses so far, 58.7% think the Expos WILL move to the D.C. region for the 2004 season.
Unfortunately, according to another washingtonpost.com online poll, the most popular stadium site is the one that would be most likely to draw fans from Maryland. Out of 2444 responses so far, 58.9% picked the New York Avenue site several blocks north of the U.S. Capitol. Selecting this site would play into the hands of "Dr. Evil" (Orioles owner Peter Angelos), who is leading the resistance to ANY baseball team in the Washington area.
Mar. 20 ~ War Because of heightened security risks during the war, MLB officials have cancelled the planned Oakland-Seattle games in Tokyo, Japan, which had been scheduled for March 25 and 26. They would have been official (not exhibition) games, and they will be played later in the season in the U.S. Thought experiment: During World War II, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and nearly all the best major league players of that era served their country in the armed forces, foregoing two or three years when they could have been building up their home run records. Can you imagine Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey, Jr. making such a big career sacrifice to serve their country?
The Washington Post has published more stories on public financing of stadiums, showing that of the 15 new baseball stadiums built since 1990, in only one did private financing account for more than 40% of the total cost -- Pac Bell Park, in San Francisco, where the public sector chipped in only 5%. That is the model that Northern Virginia should seek to emulate: Just say no to "stadium socialism"! As a follow-up, a column by Thomas Boswell highlighted the grim profitability outlook for prospective D.C.-area team owners under the current sales terms MLB is asking for the Expos franchise. If the owners have to pay $200 million for the franchise AND bear most of the estimated $350 million construction cost for a new stadium, there is almost no way they could make money. Unless the sales price is lowered substantially, or the D.C. or Virginia governments suddenly find a hidden vault of cash, or the prospective owners can interest additional investment partners, the the deal may fall through, and Washington may not get a team after all. State and local governments must be consider creative tax incentives to close the deal. Boswell suggests a novel solution: save money by simply refurbishing RFK Stadium, razing major portions of it if necessary. I've thought about the same thing, and it just might work...
Mar. 13 Dave Studenmund made an interesting statistical analysis in baseballprimer.com of the effect of each baseball stadium on baserunning success, as measured by how often the runner on first base made it to third or home when the batter hit a single, then calculating the difference between home games and away games. He found that the biggest advantages were at Turner Field (the Braves), the Ballpark at Arlington (the Rangers), Wrigley Field (the Cubs), Miller Park (the Brewers), and Jacobs Field (the Indians). In my view, this effect is probably strongest in stadiums with idiosyncratic outfield walls (distant, irregular, ivy-covered, etc.), which presumably give home-team runners a better chance to beat the throw from visiting outfielders who are less familiar with field conditions. The pattern doesn't seem to apply to Fenway Park, however.
Two new stadiums are slated to open next year: in San Diego and Philadelphia. Politicians in St. Louis and the Twin Cities are still haggling over public financing provisions for possible new stadiums, and the same goes for Washington D.C. and northern Virginia. Meanwhile, Miami, New York, Oakland seem to be years away from any new stadiums. For a complete rundown on upcoming stadium openings and construction projects, see Joe Mock's baseballparks.com Web site.
Mar. 11 Snow is still on the ground, but spring is in the air! Government officials in Virginia and D.C. are scrambling to get stadium financing terms set up as MLB officials plan to meet next week to make a preliminary evaluation of the proposals that have been submitted. Technically, Opening Day will be March 25, when Seattle plays Oakland in Tokyo, Japan. For the rest of the major league teams, Opening Day will be March 31. The first game at Cincinnati's brand-new Great American Ball Park March 28, when the Reds will host the Cleveland Indians in an interleague exhibition game. Sadly, there will be no exhibition games at RFK Stadium in D.C. this year...
During our recent trip to Mexico, Jacqueline and I passed by the baseball stadium in Oaxaca, the home town of Vinny Castilla, who is fighting to keep his job as third baseman for the Atlanta Braves. The stadium is fairly good size (2,000 seats, I would guess) and modern, and is apparently owned by the Benito Juarez de Oaxaca Autonomous University (UABJO). Unfortunately, we were too exhausted by hiking and bird watching in 95-degree temperatures to take the time to see a game there.
Feb. 18 ~ Virginia stadium sites! On February 16 the Washington Post published a rather opinionated "expose" and a separate news article on the four prospective sites being considered for a possible new baseball stadium in Northern Virginia: One is near Dulles Airport (boo!), two are just south of the Pentagon, and my clear favorite is in the high-rise office district of Rosslyn, just south of Georgetown. Just across Route 50 from the Iwo Jima monument, this site would provide a scenic backdrop unparalleled ANYwhere else. It would cost a lot of money to buy out the Riverplace Condos (some of the oldest multistory buildings in Rosslyn) currently occupying the land, but it would be a very wise long-term investment. The gist of the Post "expose" is that Virginia baseball advocates are trying to sneak through a stadium deal so as to avoid "NIMBY" opposition, which foiled the attempt by Jack Kent Cooke to build a new stadium for the Redskins in Northern Virginia ten years ago. The Post contrasts what is happening in Virginia with the District of Columbia, where officials have laid out a clear public process for selecting a baseball stadium site. The Post's suspicion of Northern Virginia is understandable, but in this case they are basically pandering to yuppie activists who are often determined to prevent any development that might infringe upon their suburban lifestyle. One must face facts: Arlington IS a high-density urban center these days, and there's no use pretending otherwise. It would be a perfect venue for major league ball, and compared to the Washington sites, it would have the advantage of "siphoning off" fewer fans from the Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died after suffering heat stroke during practice at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Only one other player had ever died during a Major League game or practice, and that was back in the 1920s. Bechler was only 23 years old and pitched a total of four innings last year as a rookie. His widow is seven months pregnant. His apparent use of a drug containing Ephedra is suspected to be a major factor in this terrible tragedy.
Feb. 13 ~ B.J. back in "Balmer" Veteran outfielder B.J. Surhoff (age 38) just signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Orioles, meaning that he will probably get to end his career back home in Baltimore. That's a very fitting tribute for a great player. He signed with the Braves last year but missed most of the season after injuring his knee in a collision with the wall while chasing a fly ball in the right field corner. (I remember seeing that on live television, and it still makes me cringe.)
Yankee fans are curious how newly acquired outfielder Hideki Matsui (known in Japan as "Godzilla") will do after he dons the Bronx pinstripes. He hit 50 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants last year... The Yanks also picked up first baseman Todd Zeile from the Colorado Rockies, whose owners seem reluctant to make much of a competitive effort after getting burned on a lucrative deal with pitcher Mike Hampton two years ago. Games in the first two years at Coors Field were usually sold out, but attendance has declined sharply in recent years. See the MLB Web site for details on player transactions.
Feb. 11 ~ Spring training! Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona as early as tomorrow, and other players will report beginning February 16. (Different teams have different schedules.) Outside my window, however, it is presently snowing! Practice games will commence later this month, and the first official Major League game will be held on March 25, when Seattle and Oakland will play in Japan. The official Opening Day will be March 31, however. The poor Expos will play yet another year in limbo up in Montreal, plus 22 "home" games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Let's hope Bud Selig can put an end to this travesty and get the relocation issue resolved as soon as possible.
Feb. 4 ~ D.C. = $$$ A virtual feeding frenzy has begun as more and more entrepreneurs recognize the huge potential profits to be had from baseball in Our Nation's Capital. According to the Washington Post, yet another prospective owner of a Washington baseball franchise has just emerged, led by Long Island real estate developer Mark Broxmeyer, who has ties to the Republican party. That makes four prospective ownership groups altogether, including those led by (in chronological order) Fred Malek (D.C.), William Collins (Northern Virginia), and Dan Snyder/Robert Johnson (D.C.). Be still my beating heart!
The Chicago White Sox just announced that (New) Comiskey Park will be renamed "U.S. Cellular Field." The cell phone company will pay $68 million over the next 20 years in exchange for naming rights, and the proceeds will be used to upgrade the (rather dreary) ballpark for the second time since it was built in 1991. U.S. Cellular Field will be the site of the 2003 All Star Game on July 15.
Government officials from the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Portland met last week with MLB officials to assess public support for a relocated baseball franchise. Mayor Anthony Williams led the D.C. delegation and Attorney General Jerry Kilgore led the Virginia delegation. Both jurisdictions are currently short on cash, so some creative financial arrangements are likely, wherever the team ends up.
Jan. 20 ~ Relocation, Venezuela The Business section of today's Washington Post featured a detailed story on the likely economic impact of a new baseball stadium in downtown D.C. It included caveats from Andrew Zimbalist, a leading expert, who downplays the benefits that sports promoters often use to justify asking for public subsidies. This story was motivated by news that MLB officials have accelerated the process of ascertaining which city deserves to get the Montreal Expos franchise, which is expected to be relocated after next season. The Relocation Committee will begin preliminary interviews in the next few weeks as the first step toward reaching a final decision by the All-Star break. Washington is universally regarded as the top contender, but Portland, Charlotte, and San Juan, Puerto Rico are also theoretical possibilities. Because of the rainy weather in Portland, any new stadium would require a roof (like in Seattle), and that would add $100 million to the construction cost, beyond what the city or local investors could afford. The city of Charlotte just forked over a big chunk to get an expansion basketball franchise to make up for the loss of the Hornets to New Orleans, and is low on spare cash. San Juan is a steam bath in the summer. CAVEAT: MLB officials are reportedly insisting that any new stadium be 100% financed by public authorities, and have warned that the Expos may stay put for yet another year in limbo if none of the cities meet satisfactory financial conditions. Was that Peter Angelos's doing? Arghhh...
Because of the all turmoil and risk of violence associated with the general strike called by opponents to President Hugo Chavez, baseball officials in Venezuela decided to cancel the rest of the Venezuelan Winter League season. No games had been played since December 10 or so.
Jan. 8 ~ Hall of Fame Former Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray was just voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the very first year he was eligible, a special honor only bestowed upon 37 previous superstars. Very few players combined his consistent superior performance with sheer likeability (Ed-die! Ed-die!), and I'm glad I had the chance to see him play on more than one occasion. His career with the Orioles (1977-1988, and for part of 1996) spanned the Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken eras, and he played with four other teams from 1989 to 1997. Catcher Gary Carter, who played for most of his career with the Expos and Mets, was voted into the Hall of Fame on the LAST year he was eligible. Whew! Congratulations to two great and deserving heroes!
WHOOPS AGAIN!!! Alert reader Steven Poppe has once again called attention to an egregious goof on my part: I uploaded the wrong page to the Baseball folder of my Web site. Sorry, folks! This being off-season, I might not have noticed for a week or more if someone hadn't let me know, so thanks very much, Steven!
Jan. 6 ~ Offseason trades The official Major League Baseball Web site has a special page with a summary of the offseason trading activity by all 28 teams. It ranks each team on its degree of preparedness, based on aggressivenss of trading, relative to other teams within the same division. The Reds, Devilrays, Tigers, Indians are rated very low, whereas the Red Sox, Twins, Yankees, Braves, Diamondbacks, and Giants are rated high or very high. The rating system is odd, since the Phillies rank below the Braves, even though they (the Phillies) have picked up the Braves' fine young pitcher, Kevin Millwood, as well as slugging infielders Jim Thome and David Bell. I thought that meant the Phillies were aiming to overthrow the Braves at the top of the NL East, but they traded away Jeremy Giambi and other key players, so perhaps not. Meanwhile, the Braves just acquired first baseman Robert Fick from the Detroit Tigers.