January 24, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Nationals (re-)build their roster
Earlier this month, the Nationals reached a two-year deal first baseman Adam LaRoche, who will get paid about $16 million. He has played with the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks in recent years, and has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last six seasons, one of only six first baseman in the majors to do so. See MLB.com. It's not that much less than Adam Dunn would have been paid, and given that LaRoche's strength is on the defensive side, he has a lot to prove.
In a rare moment of hope that their pitching staff may finally rise to major league levels, the Washington Nationals acquired Tom Gorzelanny traded the Chicago Cubs for three minor leaguer players. (The Cubs had just obtained ace pitcher Matt Garza from the Rays, making Gorzelanny superfluous.) His record was only 7-9 last year, so he is not guaranteed a spot in the rotation. See MLB.com. Nats pitchers Jason Marquis and Jordan Zimmermann are expected to be healthy this year, while the phenomenal Stephen Strasburg slowly recovers from Tommy John surgery. There is an outside chance that he may be healed by late in the summer, but there is no reason to rush his return, after the awful setback of this past year. Today the Nats signed right-hand relief pitcher Todd Coffey to a one-year contract.
Veteran Livan Hernandez is expected to take the mound on Opening Day, which is only 66 days away. (Note the corrected countdown near the top of the baseball blog page.) Chien-Ming Wang is expected to be ready to pitch full time this year, and if he does as well as he did with the Yankees in 2009, it may help the Nationals win several more games.
Nats Pitcher John Lannan signed a one-year contract worth $2.75 million, thus avoiding arbitration. I had thought he might get a longer-term offer from the Nats, but there are still questions about his reliability. Lannan was among the team's best pitchers in 2009, but had a terrible record early last year. After being sent back to the minors, he returned to the starting rotation in August, and showed great improvement. The Nats also agreed to terms with two other arbitration-eligible players: pitcher Doug Slaten and with outfielder/infielder Mike Morse, who showed promising signs at the plate this past year.
Rays sign two ex-Red Sox
I didn't see this one coming: The Tampa Bay Rays signed two former Red Sox stars: Johnny Damon (with the Tigers last year, and with the Yankees before that) and Manny Ramirez (who spent a sullen year with the Dodgers), apparently hoping to rekindle the spark that sent Boston to the World Series. Damon may have a few good years left in him, but I have grave doubts that Manny will "get with the program," no matter what team he's with. Are the Rays desperate or what? See MLB.com.
Alomar, Blyleven into HOF
Congratulations to retired infielder Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, who were chosen by the Baseball Hall of Fame. They will be inducted this summer. Alomar chose to don the cap of the Blue Jays for the induction ceremony, and will become the first player to enter Cooperstown identified with the Toronto ball club. He played there for five of his 15 years in the majors, during which time he attained a .300 career batting average. Blyleven, who was born in the Netherlands, will wear a Twins cap, having played nine of his 20 years in Minnesota. He threw an amazing 3,701 strikeouts during his career, ranking fifth all time. See MLB.com.
I am officially back
To quote Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens!), rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Holiday travels and spring semester teaching duties have severely cut into my available time, but I have made much more progress on a variety of diagrams. Being a perfectionist, however, I hesitate to release them until I am very confident of their accuracy.
January 26, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Exhibition Stadium update
As the east coast gets hit by yet another massive snow storm, it is perhaps appropriate to pay tribute to the stadium in which the first-ever baseball game (in 1977) was almost snowed out. Yes, sports fans, we are talking about old Exhibition Stadium, the original home of the Toronto Blue Jays. By modern standards, it was hopelessly dull and featureless, as well as being grossly oversized for baseball games (it also served as a football stadium), but for fans in Canada it provided many happy memories. The single-decked behemoth on the windy shores of Lake Ontario was finally demolished in 1999, ten years after the Blue Jays moved out.
The diagram revisions turned out to be more extensive than I originally planned. The covered grandstand that stood beyond left and center fields (which predated the uncovered grandstand built for baseball in 1977) was curved inward more than I had estimated previously, and the two wings of the latter grandstand were slightly shorter. Another big change is that the fence in left field and right field angled outward slightly, whereas the previous versions of the diagrams depicted them as being perpendicular to the foul lines. As a result, the curvature of the fence in center field is broader than in the previous versions, and is not much different from that of the Blue Jays' subsequent home, the Skydome (a.k.a. Rogers Centre). The portable bandshell near the scoreboard is now included, and the extent of the artificial turf is now represented more accurately. Finally, the football gridrion was angled about two degrees clockwise of what it had been before, with the southeast corner extending to within 10-15 feet of the pitchers mound. As always with such diagram revisions, the profile is rendered more accurately (with a second profile for the covered grandstand), and the light towers are shown.
Note that I eliminated the alternate "sideways" diagram version, replacing it with a new "full view" version that shows the entire stadium with center field toward the top. Also note that the football diagram visible when you roll the mouse over the thumbnail image above is truncated, unlike the full-view football diagram version shown on that page.
And fear not, more diagram updates are on the way...
January 31, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Pro Bowl returns to Aloha Stadium
Welcome back to Hawaii, National Football League! In the Hawaiian language, Aloha means either "hello" or "goodbye," so the same word would be used to mark either the departure of the NFL's Pro Bowl after 2009, or its return this year. So, after watching last night's embarrassing blowout (the NFC amassed a 42-0 lead before the AFC crawled back, ending with a 55-41 final score), I got motivated to update the Aloha Stadium diagrams. As usual, the profile is much more accurate than before, and details such as the circular exit ramps and lights are now included.
On the topic of football, Bill Hinds, one of the cartoonists who does the Tank McNamara comic strip, is running a Facebook poll to find out who is the biggest Sports Jerk of the Year 2010. I nominated Redskins linebacker Albert Haynesworth.
Chewing tobacco: FOUL!
As in "disgusting," that is. There was an article in today's Washington Post about Stephen Strasburg's attempt to quit using smokeless tobacco. Having grown up in San Diego, Strasburg was personally affected by the recent news that Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, and smokeless tobacco is believed to be the cause. Gwynn is deeply admired by baseball fans all across the country, and I join those who wish him a speedy return to full health.
Odds and ends
While researching on baseball-fever.com recently, I came across a link to a New York Times article about the Polo Grounds. Ballpark expert Phil Lowry (author of Green Cathedrals) was interviewed, and there are loads of juicy details I didn't know about.
I also learned that the Marlins' future ballpark is now about 65% complete. The structural work on the third of three sections of the movable roof is almost done, and they are going to start installing seats in the grandstand next month. See the full set of construction updates at MLB.com.
Finally, Gary Gillette brought to my attention some inaccurate information about two Negro League teams from Detroit: the Stars and the Wolves. It turns out that (except for one game in 1957) they did not play in Tiger Stadium, as is indicated on that page. My information came from the previous (1992) edition of Green Cathedrals; I will update that page and other pages with the corrected information from the 2006 edition in the near future.
I have many other e-mail inquiries to get to, and appreciate your patience in the mean time.