October 1, 2011 [LINK / comment]
THREE "shots heard around the world"
Holy cow! What an amazing night of baseball! Like most hardcore fans, my eyes were glued to the screen until after midnight, trying to keep up with all the wild-card-deciding games at the very end of the 2011 regular season. I was already emotionally "wired" from watching the Nationals at Marlins game in the afternoon (very satisfying; see below), and I had to get up early the next morning for work. In short, I was left totally exhausted by the history-making night of baseball games, and two days later I am still in "recovery mode." I did at least manage to update the 2011 postseason scoreboard with the actual matchups, however. (Note to self: It's only a game. It's only a game.)
The situation was that the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were tied in the American League wild card race, and the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals were tied in the National League race. Odds were that there would be at least one playoff game the next day. The fact that there were any tied races at all was itself quite a surprise, because both Boston and Atlanta had enjoyed large leads in their respective league races early in September, but steadily frittered them away during the last few weeks of the season. Meanwhile, both Tampa Bay and St. Louis showed surprising spunk toward the end, the former winning their final five games.
As I noted on Facebook, at one point in the evening (from 9:06 until an hour later, more or less) there was a 7-0 game in each league (Cards over the Astros, Yankees over the Rays) and a 3-2 game in each league (Braves over the Phillies, and Red Sox over the Orioles). That was a weird coincidence. Of those four games, only the Cardinals held onto their lead and won.
On the National League side, the Braves were hosting the Phillies, who have by far the best record in all of baseball and therefore had nothing to gain from a win. Even though the Cardinals' game against the Astros (in Houston) started an hour later, they grabbed an early lead with five runs in first inning, putting big pressure on Atlanta. The Braves held a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth, whereupon their usually-reliable closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel gave up a hit and three walks. A sacrifice fly by Chase Utley with two outs got the tying run scored, sending the game into extra innings. While the Cardinals were finishing their game in Houston with an 8-0 win, the game in Atlanta remained tied 3-3 until the 13th inning. That's when Phillies catcher Brian Schneider (a former National!) drew a walk, advanced to third base, and then managed to cross home plate on a bloop single to right field hit by Hunter Pence. BANG! Not exactly a blast on par with Bobby Thomson's famous 1951 home run in the Polo Grounds, but the effect was just as deadly from the Braves' point of view. The home team was eliminated in the bottom of the 13th inning when the Braves' Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play. It was especially sad that aging veteran Chipper Jones went 0 for 5 that night, though he did get an RBI.
In the two climactic American League games, likewise, teams that were ahead going into the ninth inning came within one out of winning but then blew their leads, and likewise they both ended up losing. In Baltimore, the Red Sox got lots of hits (11) but kept leaving the runners on base, only scoring three times. While there was a rain delay at Camden Yards in Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Rays (protected from the elements by the dome at Tropicana Field) put together a highly improbable six-run rally in the eighth inning, coming within one run of the visiting Yankees. One inning later, with two outs and facing elimination, Rays pinch-hitter Dan Johnson homered into the right field corner to tie the game, 7-7. Back in Baltimore, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon got two quick outs but then gave up two doubles and then a single to left field hit by Robert Andino that fell right in front of Carl Crawford, as the Orioles walked off with a sudden, huge upset win. BANG!! That news flash was a huge burst of encouragement for the Rays, who were batting in the bottom of the 12 inning. Only three minutes later Rays slugger Evan (not Eva!) Longoria smashed a line drive to the left field corner that just barely cleared the short fence there, giving the Rays an astounding 8-7 win over the the Yankees. BANG!!! Result: no October baseball in Boston this year.
I hope the above "non-linear narrative" helps people to make some sense out of the stupefyingly chaotic events of September 28, 2011. I'll never forget that day, though the details are sure to become foggier over time. For a detailed minute-by-minute chronology of the mind-bending, rapid-fire twists of fate, see MLB.com. As but one example of "syncronicity" on a cosmic scale, within one minute of each other, the Braves and the Orioles had base runners thrown out at home plate, which would have change the course of the games, if not the final outcomes.
And from a longer-term perspective, until this year, no team had ever given up a divisional or league lead of more than 8 1/2 games in September, but this year both the Braves and the Red Sox did it. No words of consolation could possibly make up for the agony suffered by their fans. Perhaps a bigger question is what will become of those two teams next year: one a consistent pennant contender for the past several years, and the other an up-and-coming franchise seeking to restore the glory years of the 1990s. How can the justifiably-proud teams in Atlanta and Boston regroup after their respective disasters and prepare themselves psychologically for another postseason run next year? What an enormous challenge to contemplate.
Nationals finish on a winning note
And to think I thought the big news of the day would be the triumphant final game of the Washington Nationals' 2011 season! Stephen Strasburg had his best outing since recovering from Tommy John surgery and struck out ten batters over six innings, and the Nats beat the Marlins, 3-1. Neither Michael Morse nor Ryan Zimmerman were in the lineup that day; Morse was tired (for good reason!) and Z-man had a sore hamstring. A total of 34,615 fans -- including more than a few from Washington, I noticed on TV -- showed up to mark the final major league baseball game ever to be played at Sun Life Stadium. [It was the first time the upper deck had been opened since mid-season.]
The best part of the series in Miami was Michael Morse hitting two more home runs, his 30th and 31st of the year. After hitting #27 on September 10, Morse failed to get any four-baggers for the next eleven games, putting the goal of 30 homers in jeopardy. But then he cleared the fence four times in six games, including an incredible three-run shot into the back of the lower deck at Sun Life Stadium in the top of the 9th inning of the Monday game, turning a probable 4-3 defeat into a highly improbable 6-4 victory. That amazing comeback was the real high point of the Nats' big late-season surge, a joyful moment that folks will remember for a long time. "But wait, there's more": Morse homered in the Tuesday game as well, which the Nats unfortunately lost.
The Nationals thus ended the season with a 80-81 record, coming so close to the .500 mark I could almost taste it. But at least they earned themselves third place in the toughest division in all of baseball. Not too shabby! Ending the season with 14 wins and only 4 losses created a big wave of optimism that the team is finally realizing its huge potential, and looking forward to next year, expectations are high for finishing even higher in the standings. Various players whose contracts are coming to an end have already expressed a strong desire to stay with the team, including Livan Hernandez, Pudge Rodriguez, Jonny Gomes, and Rick Ankiel. With all the up-and-coming talent in the farm clubs (e.g., Bryce Harper!), however, there just may not be enough room on the Nats' roster for those fine veterans. What an ironic situation that success has brought about! Davey Johnson also says he wants to remain as manager of the team, for which he has a deep admiration.
Ozzie to manage Marlins
Just before the game on Wednesday, it was announced that Ozzie Guillen will manage the Marlins next year, replacing 80-year old Jack McKeon, who in turn replaced Edwin Rodriguez back in June, at about the same time that Jim Riggleman quit as manager of the Nationals. Ozzie is quite a character, who is great at motivation but who also puts his foot in his mouth more than he should. (Se mete la pata en la boca. ) Kind of like former Redskins running back John Riggins! That means the Marlins will be getting a new stadium, a new geographical affiliation (Miami), and a new manager next year. Starting over from scratch!
Then there is another big piece of managerial news, which I'll get to tomorrow...
Sun Life Stadium update
I marked the occasion of the final ball game at Sun Life Stadium (a.k.a. Dolphin Stadium, etc., etc.) by making some revisions in the diagram thereof, based largely on more careful scrutiny of various photographs in print and online. The barrier between the upper and lower portions of the lower deck seems to be directly beneath the front edge of the upper deck, and given the fact that there are five rows of seats in front of that barrier behind the big scoreboard in left field, I had to increase the amount of space on that side. A variety of visual clues were simply not consistent with the official dimensions, and then I remembered that Prof. Brian Raue at Florida International University had estimated the actual left field distance to be about 328 feet (rather than 300), and right field to be 347 (rather than 345). That, plus realizing that the 58-foot backstop distance (listed in Green Cathedrals) must have referred to the original (1993) configuration provided enough leeway for me to make the necessary adjustments so that now everything fits perfectly -- with an almost audible click, you might say. Another successful piece of architectural detective work! Overall, the field is a few feet smaller than before, but the external dimensions remain the same. I also made the profile a bit taller than before, and rendered some details more accurately than before, e.g., the dugouts, which are underneath the first two rows of seats, originally had no roof over the steps.
Also, please note that the horizontal diagrams are now gone from that page. As with Mile High Stadium, which I redid several days ago, I have decided to make the football diagram in a "full-size" (i.e., not the standard 500 pixels x 480 pixels) version. I'll probably do the same thing with most other stadiums in which there is a sideways orientation which fits better on smaller computer screens. I hope that putting greater reliance on the "full-size" diagrams won't be too much of an inconvenience to fans with older computer monitors, which tend to be smaller.
October 3, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Divisional series get underway
In three of the divisional series that begin this past weekend, the first two games were split evenly. That implies two things: that we're in for some nice, competitive October baseball this year, and that home field advantage just ain't what it's cracked up to be. Only the Milwaukee Brewers took full advantage of being at home, beating the Diamondbacks twice at Miller Park. Oh-oh -- That trash-talking former National, Nyjer Morgan, is going to start bragging again...
This evening, the Texas Rangers withstood a couple late-inning rally attempts by the Tampa Bay Rays, and prevailed 4-3. Rays' starting pitcher David Price had six solid innings, and then gave up a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, during which the Rangers scored four runs. It was yet another win by the visiting team in the postseason. In Detroit, the Yankees took an early 2-0 lead, thanks in large part to former Tiger (!) Curtis Granderson, who hit an RBI triple, and then scored a run. Now it's the bottom of the third, and the Tigers tied the game, 2-2. The four National League teams resume playing tomorrow night, and all four AL teams will play as well.
Unfortunately, many millions of Americans will not be able to watch the divisional playoff series once again this year, because Major League Baseball has an exclusive contract with Turner Broadcasting System, which means you have to pay for your cable TV or satellite dish service. What about the "Postseason TV" alternative? It only costs $3.99 for the divisional series, or $5.99 for the divisional series and the National League championship series. I object, as a matter of principle (besides being a cheapskate): championship games for the National Pastime (!) ought to be made available to all Americans. Otherwise, baseball will resume the long decline vis-a-vis other sports that began in the 1960s and lasted until the late 1990s.
Granderson picked as AL MVP
Yankee outfielder Curtis Granderson was chosen as the American League Most Valuable Player for 2011. (Maybe that's what motivated him to hit that triple!) Hat tip to David Pinto at baseballmusings.com. Many people speculated that Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander might get the award (he was David's choice), which would have been unusual for a pitcher, but not unprecedented. How ironic that those two former team mates and MVP candidates are facing each other in the ALDS game tonight!
Curtis Granderson, at Kauffman Stadium on August 16.
End of the Red Sox dynasty?
Over the past ten years (2001-2010), only one team has won the World Series more than once: the Boston Red Sox. Four other teams have played in multiple World Series: the Yankees, with one win and two losses, and the Phillies, Cardinals, and Giants, each of which were 1-1. The dominant record of the Red Sox makes their collapse in September even more striking. Somebody had to take the blame, and that person was Terry Francona, who will not be managing the Boston Red Sox next year. There were rumors of discipline issues, drinking beer in the locker room, etc. If so, that's clearly a lapse of managerial duties.
That makes two years in a row that the Red Sox have not made it to the postseason, while the Rays have made it in both 2010 and 2011. So is this the end of what seemed to be a Red Sox dynasty, rivalling the great Yankee teams of decades past? Much depends on whether Theo Epstein remains as general manager. According to MLB.com, the Cubs may be interested in hiring him. John Henry, the owner, might lose patience after spending all that cash to get Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and other stars over the past couple years. I have been surprised at how the Red Sox managed to stay dominant even while undergoing major changes in their roster since their last world championship in 2007. (Where did Dustin Pedroia come from?) I would expect big shakeups and perhaps even house cleaning as part of a long-term "rebuilding" in Beantown next year.
Expanded MLB playoff?
A few months ago Commissioner Bud Selig stated that some kind of expanded MLB playoff format was "inevitable," which seems like an appalling idea to me. I think the baseball postseason is stretched out too long already. But if they do it the way that Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell suggests (the article appeared in print, not online), it may be a great idea. There would be one additional wild card team in each league, and the two wild card teams would play each other in a one-game "play-in" to qualify for going to the divisional series. That would have the twin benefit of giving more cities hope to make it to the postseason (Boston? Atlanta?), while forcing the wild card teams to work extra hard to make it to the next round. The one glaring defect in the current eight-team playoff format is that too many wild card teams make it to the World Series. From 2002 until 2007, every World Series included a wild card team, and in 2002, both teams were!
Adios to Sun Life Stadium
It was fitting that two Nationals players who used to be Marlins -- Livan Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez -- were there to bid adios to the Marlins' original home, along with a few retired Marlins. To my surprise, the Marlins chalked up a record of 776 wins and 720 losses (.519) during their 19 years at Joe Robbie / Pro Player / Dolphins / Dolphin / Land Shark / Sun Life Stadium; that works out to just under 79 home games per year, implying that there have been an average of two cancelled games per year, no doubt due to weather. See MLB.com. Adios to rained-out games as well!
More minor tweaks: "After further review" of various photos, I made the lower deck of
Dolphin Sun Life Stadium a little steeper, and also added a proposed football-only alternative diagram in which the field would be lowered by five feet, allowing for about eight additional rows of seats along the two sidelines. The diagram takes into account the possibility that two or three rows from each end zone side might have to be removed for the sake of good sight lines.
October 3, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Can Hugo Chavez beat cancer?
News over the summer that Venezuelan President-for-Life Hugo Chavez had been treated in Cuba for cancer left people wondering whether this signifies the end of his despotic regime. As a highly polarizing leader who delights in thumbing his nose at the "Yankee imperialists" every chance he gets, it is inevitable that many people will be cheered as his health declines. But he is a human being, and therefore at least deserves some sympathy, even if his recovery would probably result in more hardships and oppression for the people of Venezuela. It's a tricky moral issue.
Last Thursday, he tried to dispel fears that his days are numbered by throwing a softball in the presence of reporters. (The Nuevo Herald of Miami published a story that he had been hospitalized due to complications.) Ever since surgeons removed a cancerous tumor from his "pelvic region" in June, Chavez has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments in Cuba, most recently last week. His bald head is a jarring contrast to the zestful, ebullient style he has been known for, but he says he is lifting weights and expects a full recovery. He plans to run for re-election next year. See CNN.com and/or Washington Post
But the long term is another question. Even if he does live another ten years, he will be seen as a lame duck, unable to instill as much fear in his opponents as he used to. Even his supporters will be less likely to respond enthusiastically whenever he needs them in a showdown with opponents, and there is a big risk that his key lieutenants will start to jockey for position in a post-Chavez Venezuela. All authoritarian systems are vulnerable to changes in leadership, and the more iron-fisted is the dictator, the more brittle is the regime.
Nevertheless, any hope or expectation that Chavez will depart this earthly existence any time soon must be weighed against the similar hopes of exiled Cubans that Fidel Castro would die after reports of his illness in August 2006. Fidel eventually recovered, more or less, and even though his "younger" brother Raul now runs the country, Fidel remains as a potent symbol of the Cuban Revolution.
Venezuela's economy is in very bad shape, with an inflation rate of 27% last year, and accelerating. Part of the problem, ironically, is that they depend on oil exports to the United States, and demand has gone down because of the poor economic conditions in North America. But as The Economist reports, the main problem is the mismanagement by Chavez and his underlings, trying to force businesses to abide by price controls and a wide array of regulatory decrees, often with a political motivation. It can't go on like that much longer, one would think, but then the same thing could be said of other "basket case" centrally-planned economies such as North Korea or Zimbabwe.
October 3, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Hundreds of hawks, dozens of warblers, and three bears!!
A premature cold front from Canada has evidently caused a sharp acceleration in the fall bird migration season, including raptors as well as neotropical songbirds. Outside the temperatures are dropping into the forties tonight, putting the health of insect-eating birds at risk. Over the past month I have managed to get out for some bird-watching ventures just enough to enjoy the autumnal peak of bird migration. It's been a while since I last had a blog post on birding or nature, so here goes a quick summary of the past month:
As for raptors, I was delighted to see a large-scale "kettle" of Broad-winged Hawks for the first time two weeks ago. Jacqueline and I stopped at the at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on the way back from a trip to Albemarle County. There were about eight other birders up there on Afton Mountain, and I partly made up for scanty participation by locating two large groups of Broad-winged Hawks, about 200-250 in each "kettle." I didn't have my camera with me, so I couldn't record the amazing event. So instead, here are some photos I recently took of Nighthawks:
Common Nighthawks, over the northeast side of Staunton, Sept. 9.
To see a photo of some real hawks, as in the daytime variety, take a look at AugustaBirdClub.org. Thanks to Diane Lepkowski for sharing that photo with the bird watching public.
At my last visit to Afton Mountain, I was lucky to see an adult Bald Eagle and a Merlin flying right overhead, as well as the more common species of hawks.
While hiking to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on September 18, two Sundays ago, Jacqueline and I spotted a nice variety of warblers, and other neotropical migrants. (See partial list below.) There were a few good mushroom species that I photographed, but there were hardly any butterflies around. Fall had already arrived!
- Black-throated Green Warblers
- Tennessee Warblers
- Magnolia Warblers
- Black-throated Blue Warblers
- Hooded Warbler
- Red-eyed Vireos
- Scarlet Tanager
Last Thursday (Sept. 29) I paid a brief visit to the Rockfish Valley Trail in Nelson County, and saw a good number of birds in a short time. I am often impressed by the amazing observations and photographs made by Dr. Marshall Faintich, who covers that trail on a regular basis and shares his findings via the Shenandoah Birds e-mail list.
- Palm Warblers
- White-eyed Vireos
- Cedar Waxwings
- Red-shouldered Hawks
- Yellow-billed Cuckoo
- Baltimore Oriole(s)
But the most surprising bird-watching experience for me was today, or rather twice in the past week: While I was reading the newspaper in the living room, I noticed a small greenish bird hopping around in the miniature garden behind our back patio. Fortunately, on both occasions, I was able to get photos, or actually video footage, in the case of today's "close encounter." The two warblers in question were only a few feet away from me, almost ideal conditions:
Nashville Warbler; roll mouse over the image to see the ventral (under) side. Those are "freeze frame" images from my digital video camera, and I posted a one-minute clip on YouTube. (Oct. 3)
Common Yellowthroat, female, on our back porch. (Sept. 25)
Finally, Jacqueline and I had yet another bear encounter during our visit to the Shenandoah National Park two weekends ago. Just as we were arriving at the parking area at Turk Gap, prior to our hike, we heard a loud CRASH in the trees. So I got out of the car and was stunned to see a small Black Bear about 15 feet up in a tree. Not only that, there was another one nearby, and then I saw a third bear, obviously an adult by its size! I had seen a mama bear and cub once or twice before, but I had never seen three (wild) bears in the same place before. Fortunately, they took their time getting out of the tree, so I was able to take pictures. And that is "the story of the three bears."
Adult Black Bear, presumably female, climbing down from a tree, rushing to help her two young cubs. Sept. 18, 2011.
I took a much better photo of a Black Bear at the Wildcat Ridge parking area in the Shenandoah National Park on June 8. It's a great way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Virginia's only national park. Jacqueline was very reluctant to drive close enough to take that picture!
October 5, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Even matchups in divisional series
Of the 21 divisional series that have been played since the 2004 baseball postseason, only three of them have gone to a full five games. That's only one in seven, a strikingly low proportion, and I haven't heard any good explanations for it. This year, in contrast, at least two of the four first-round series are going to a fifth game, for the first time since 2003 (see the Postseason scores page), and if the Diamondbacks hold their lead over the Brewers in the game currently underway in Phoenix (it's 10-6 in the eighth inning), it would be three such series, which would be for the first time since 2001. Now that's competitive! [UPDATE: The Diamondbacks held on to their lead and won 10-6, so now the series is an even 2-2, heading back to St. Louis for Game 5 on Friday.]
In St. Louis earlier this evening, the Cardinals avoided elimination at the hands of the Phillies, thanks largely to Daniel Freese, who batted in four of the team's five runs with a home run and a double. I had never even heard of him, frankly. So I checked and learned that he's 28 years old, plays third base, and was drafted by the Padres in 2006. Anyway, the Cards scored twice in the first inning, but their pitcher Roy Oswalt couldn't hold the lead. Somehow they squeezed 47,071 fans into Busch Stadium which only has 43,975 seats. The capacity including standing room is 46,861, so I guess they were stacked on top of each other.
Last night the Yankees survived a near-death experience in Detroit. Derek Jeter played a key role, hitting a two-run double in the third inning, getting on the board first. He also made a great catch of a line drive hit by Miguel Cabrera in the sixth inning. To the surprise of nearly everyone, starting pitcher A.J. Burnett had one of his best outings all year, enabling the Yankees to hold on to a 4-1 lead through the sixth inning. Things might have been completely different, however, if it hadn't been for two spectacular catches by center fielder Curtis Granderson.* The bases were loaded in the bottom of the first, and he initially misjudged a ball hit by Don Kelly. But then he quickly reacted, ran back, and jumped to grab the ball. It's 420 feet to center field in Comerica Park, and that could have easily turned into a rare inside-the-park grand slam. I was listening to WCBS radio (AM 880 -- long broadcast range!) in my car for a few innings, including the moment in the sixth inning when Granderson made that flying leap of a catch in left-center field, robbing Jhonny Peralta of a double. If you haven't seen the video replays already, go to MLB.com. The Yankees went on to score six runs in the eighth inning, winning 10-1.
At Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Texas Rangers prevailed over the Tampa Bay Rays by a 4-3 score, becoming the first team to advance to the league championship series. All four Rangers runs came from solo shots. Ian Kinsler homered in the first inning, but the hero of Game 4 on Tuesday was Adrian Beltre, who hit three (3) home runs, tying a postseason record. Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson accomplished that feat in the 1926, 1928, and 1977 World Series; a few other players did likewise.
Tomorrow (Thursday) the Yankees will host the Tigers back in The Bronx for the decisive Game 5, and the losing team will be finished for the year. That's a rest day for the National League teams. The American League Championship Series begins on Saturday, and the Rangers will have had three days rest, compared to only one for their opponent. Personally, I see no need for staggering the playing dates. It's probably designed to maximize TV revenues, but it also creates a built-in inequality between opponents.
* I goofed two days ago by prematurely announcing that Granderson had won the American League MVP award. Had I read the blog post by David Pinto more closely, I would have seen that Granderson was the choice of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, not the actual, authoritative Baseball Writers Association of America. And I thought I had found a hot news item -- D'oh! My apologies to the other leading AL MVP candidates, Jacoby Ellisbury and Jose Bautista. The MVP awards will be given out November 21 and 22.
October 7, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Tigers end Yankees' dream of #28
The Detroit Tigers took an early lead over the Yankees last night, with shocking back-to-back home runs by Don Kelly and Delmon Young in the first inning. (Young was let go by the Minnesota Twins earlier this year, a big mistake, quite obviously.) The Tigers held on to win the game by a score of 3-2, thereby winning the AL Divisional Series by the same "score," 3 games to 2. Somehow, the hot bats of the previous game (when the Yanks won 10-1) were nowhere to be seen. All the heroics by Granderson, et al. on Tuesday night were for nought, and hopes that the Bronx Bombers might win the World Series for the 28th time suddenly vanished.
And so, congratulations are due to the Tigers for going to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2006. Their manager Jim Leyland expressed deep respect for the Yankees in his postgame press conference. He has every right to be proud of his team, which emerged as a very tough competitor during the second half of the 2011 season. They could go all the way...
National League resumes
Tonight the Milwaukee Brewers will try to stave off the challenge from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the NLDS. If the Brew Crew take due advantage of playing at home, it will be their first chance to win a league pennant since 1982 -- when they won the American League pennant! And in Philadelphia, the Phillies will likewise try to stave off the challenge from the St. Louis Cardinals. With the winningest record in all of baseball, they were heavily favored to go to the World Series for the third time in the last four years.
Veterans Stadium update
Since this might be the last game played in Philadelphia this year, I figured I ought to hurry up and make a minor update to the Veterans Stadium diagrams. The maximum external diameter is about 14 feet smaller than I previously estimated, or 766 feet rather than 780 feet. That's a difference of about 1.8 percent. A few more minor changes as well...
Also, I noticed some text on that page was woefully out of date: "in 1980 the Phillies won their first and only World Series title." In fact, they became world champions once again in 2008, of course. I'll have to go through some of the other stadium pages during the off-season to make sure there are no other instances of that sort.
October 8, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Brewers, Cardinals advance to NLCS
As the 2011 playoffs began, the most likely World Series matchup was the Yankees vs. the Phillies, just like in 2009. Not gonna happen. To the dismay of the home crowd in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies' vaunted batters could not figure out how to get hits off Cardinals' starter Chris Carpenter. Even weirder, the first two Cardinals batters got extra-base hits off Roy Halladay: a triple by Rafael Furcal and a double by Skip Schumaker. Weirdest of all, the resulting run was the only score of the entire game! Since the Phillies were top-ranked, this has to be an even bigger upset than the Tigers' triumph over the Yankees on Thursday night. See MLB.com.
In Milwaukee, the home crowd had a lot more to cheer about, but the win by the Brewers didn't come easy. In fact, the Diamondbacks tied the game in the top of the ninth, on a squeeze bunt that first baseman Prince Fielder was unable to field. (!) In the bottom of the tenth inning, Nyjer Morgan (a former Washington National) hit a base hit up the middle, getting the winning run across home plate for the Brewers, sparking jubiliation in Miller Park. It's the Brewers' first postseason series win since they went to the World Series in 1982. See MLB.com.
In Arlington, Texas right now, Game 1 of the ALCS has just resumed play after two (2) rain delays in the fifth inning, with the Rangers ahead of the Tigers, 3-2.
Since I pay more attention to the AL and NL Eastern Divisions during the regular season, I find myself having to do a lot of catching up on teams from other divisions during October. This year the situation is especially bad: Not a single team from the East made it past the first round of baseball playoffs. In fact, no teams from the West Coast or even the Mountain Time Zones are in the league championship series. It is the first time since the three-division playoff format began in 1995 that all four teams in the second round are from the Central [Time Zone or divisions].* In 1997 and 1999 all four teams were from the Eastern Time Zone. See the Postseason scores page, which goes back to 2002.
* Corrected (twice); Detroit is in the AL Central Division, but not the Central Time Zone; Texas is in the the Central Time Zone, but not the AL Central Division.
October 10, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Kansas performs in concert at JMU
Last Friday evening, Jacqueline and I saw the rock group Kansas (see Web site) perform in concert at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. I have been a big fan of theirs since their heyday in the mid-to-late 1970s, and it's the second time I've seen them perform. This time they were accompanied by the James Madison University symphony orchestra, part of a promotional college tour. The staging paraphernelia was relatively modest, but the musical performance was outstanding.
We were seated in the second row, barely 15 feet away from lead guitarist Richard Williams! I was able to watch his intricate playing technique, and was really impressed with the faithful rendition of all those hits from 30+ years ago. I was paying especially close attention to how he played "Dust In the Wind," probably their best-known hit song. I learned to play that many years ago, but there is one portion (the bridge, between the second and third verses) that I never quite mastered. Now I think I'll have it down, at last. Even though I know almost all of the songs by Kansas from the 1970s, there are some songs from albums that came out in the 1980s with which I was not familiar. That really piqued my curiousity.
For anyone who is not well acquainted with the music of Kansas, it is highly original, very challenging, with complex rhythms and a number of lengthy instrumental solos. Many of their songs include rapid up-and-down scales that are reminiscent of Scottish or Irish folk tunes. It's one thing to play that kind of music in a studio environment, and another thing entirely to play it live, especially with orchestral accompaniment. I was deeply impressed by the way they played: absolutely superbly, with enthusiasm and conviction. As I wrote on Facebook after we got home on Friday night, "Kansas totally rocks!"
"All we are is Dust In the Wind."
Three of the members were originals from the 1970s: Steve Walsh (singing and playing keyboards), Rich Williams (lead guitar), and Phil Ehart (on drums). The bassist, Billy Greer, handled the announcements during the show, and emphasized how important it is to support young people in their music careers. Having been college kids during the 1970s, they are well-suited to understand, and it's admirable that they have made supporting college music departments their group's mission. (See the JMU Music Department.) Greer praised JMU violin virtuoso Anna Hennesy, who played alongside Kansas violinist Dave Ragsdale during one of their songs. They only had the afternoon to rehearse with the JMU orchestra, which is pretty remarkable. I was hoping to find an article in the college newspaper, The Breeze, in vain. Maybe later this week. By amazing coincidence, the next Kansas gig with a college orchestra will be in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the Augustana College orchestra this Friday, on October 14. (See their tour schedule, which has the correct dates but is wrongly placed in the 2010 category due to some Webmaster's oversight.)
Unofficial play list
I took notes as each song was played, but I'm not quite certain about the second song, which was an instrumental.
- Howling At the Moon
- Musicatto (?)
- Point of Know Return
- The Wall
- On the Other Side
- Hold On
- Dust in the Wind
- Song For America
- Cheyenne Anthem
- Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel
- Miracles Out of Nowhere
- Fight Fire With Fire
- Carry On, Wayward Son
Kansas takes a bow after the show at JMU. From left to right: guitarist Richard Williams,* keyboard/vocalist Steve Walsh,* conductor Larry Baird, violinist/guitarist Dave Ragsdale, bass player Billy Greer, and drummer Phil Ehart.* (Asterisks denote original band members.) Roll mouse over the image to see them signing autographs after the show was over; that photo is retouched.
The one real drawback of the concert experience was the venue, JMU's Convocation Center, which serves primarily as the home of the men's and women's basketball teams, and other indoor sports. I'd say there were about 2,000 fans in the audience, and that was simply too big for JMU's brand-new Forbes Center for the Performing Arts. That is a beautiful, modernistic building (made of the same limestone that is characteristic of other JMU buildings) located across Main Street from the JMU main campus Quad.
After the concert, the band members signed merchandise as part of the promotional fund-raising program. We had to stand in line for the better part of an hour, but I'd say it was worth it. While he was signing the T-shirt, programs, and DVD we had just bought, Billy Greer looked at me and said "Steve Jobs!" He was calling attention to the black turtleneck shirt I was wearing in honor of the late co-founder of Apple Computer, and I smiled. (See separate blog post.) He and Steve Walsh agreed that Jobs was a great man, who had a big impact on the music industry, helping to shepherd it into the digital age. I wanted to chat with them some more, but one of their managers had told us fans waiting in line that we were expressly forbidden from asking the band members to pose for photos or telling them that we saw them play in 1979. I protested, to no avail, "But I did see them play in 1979!" In any event, they were worn out from signing autographs for so long, an act of dedication which I admired. Kansas is indeed a "truly great bunch of guys," as I wrote on Facebook. So take that, Thomas Frank! (Reference to his book What's the Matter With Kansas?)
In 1979 I saw Kansas perform in concert at the (now-defunct) Capital Centre, which was located east of D.C., along the Beltway. I was sitting way in the back, too far to fully enjoy the music (lousy acoustics), but plenty close enough to appreciate the fancy light show, which included green laser beams, if my memory serves. (???) I do distinctly remember Steve Walsh belting out his songs while jumping around in high-top basketball shoes, which seemed rather odd for a "long-haired rock 'n roll band." When the Washington Post review came out a day or two later, I was irritated by the description of the spectacular concert event as "thundering dullness."
I know that many music critics look down at Kansas for the earnest ideals expressed in their songs' lyrics, and for their highly ambitious musical aspirations. Maybe their songs don't rank as classical literature, and maybe they got just a little too carried away with what they learned in their Intro to Philosophy classes. What I can say is that they established themselves as one of the best "progressive rock" groups of all time, and have endured longer than any of their "peer groups" such as Yes or Rush. They have stood the test of time over the years, becoming true "classics."
Kansas studio albums
I realized after the concert that I wanted to fill in my digital collection of Kansas songs, so I went to the Apple iTunes store, from which the following list of their studio albums was derived. (Minor irritation: One of their best -- and longest -- songs, "Incomudro: Hymn to the Atman," is only available if you buy the entire Song for America album. For the time being, I'll have to hang on to the MP3 version which I ripped from my copy of the vinyl album a few years ago.) A complete Kansas discography would also include several live albums and greatest hits compilations.
- Kansas (1974)
- Song for America (1975)
- Masque (1975)
- Leftoverture (1976)
- Point of Know Return (1977)
- Monolith (1978)
- Audio-Visions (1980)
- Vinyl Confessions (1982)
- Drastic Measures (1983)
- Power (1986)
- In the Spirit of Things (1988)
- Somewhere to Elsewhere (2000)
The most recent Kansas album, Somewhere to Elsewhere, was the first time the original six band members had reunited in nearly two decades. (The original bassist was Dave Hope, and the original violinist was Robby Steinhardt.) From the samples I've heard on iTunes, it sounds very good, and I'll see if I can find the CD in some music store. All the songs on it were written by Kerry Livgren (see his Web site), the keyboardist/guitarist who had left the group in the early 1980s to become a Christian rock musician.
October 10, 2011 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P. Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011)
The man whose creative genius and entreprenurial ambition quite literally changed the world of computing, Steve Jobs, passed away last Wednesday after a long bout with pancreatic cancer. The news was not entirely unexpected, but it came as a shock nevertheless. For those of us who became loyal members of the "Cult of Macintosh" from the early days, his departure is terribly sad. It reminds me of the sudden death of John Lennon, who had so much more to give when his life was unfairly cut short in 1980. "Only the good die young"? Jobs was not only a bold pioneer of cutting-edge information technology, he was an inspiration to millions of people around the world whose lives were changed for the better, helping them to realize their full human potential. [There is a fitting memorial page for him at] apple.com.
The news last month that Jobs was stepping down as Apple CEO was a clear sign that his life expectancy was short. Many of us prayed for a full restoration of his health, but the cancer had spread too much and weakened his body beyond its capacity to recover. In his last weeks, he tried to make up for lost time with his family. He leaves behind a widow, [Laurene Powell], who was rarely if ever seen in public, and three children. [See The Independent.] They lived in a relatively modest home in Palo Alto, with no special security gates or fancy ornaments. In the front yard, appropriately, was an Apple tree. Jobs was raised as an orphan, which adds an element of irony to his familial legacy.
According to bloomberg.com (via cultofmac.com), the immediate cause of Jobs' death was respiratory arrest, brought on by complications from his cancer. A private funeral was held last Friday, and Apple will observe his passing in a company-wide ceremony on October 19. His successor at Apple is Tim Cook, and it appears that Jobs took the necessary measures to ensure that his demise would not be cataclysmic to the fortunes of the business empire he created. For a more complete obituary, see CNN.com. What follows is based on my own memory, assisted by old editions of MacAddict magazine, etc.
"A Wonderful Life"
Jobs embodied a unique combination of creative imagination and a veritable compulsion to transform his ideas into reality, but his rise to superstardom was by no means smooth. The other co-founder of Apple Computers, Steve Wozniak, provided the necessary engineering skill, and the two Steves achieved their first big success with the Apple II computer in the late 1970s. That platform was widely adopted in schools across the country, and remained in use for two decades. In the early 1980s came the Apple III computer and the Lisa (forerunner of the Mac), both of which were aimed at the business market, but neither of them succeeded. "Woz" left the company on amicable terms at about this time.
In sole charge of Apple, Jobs was determined to take on the dominant firm in the industry, IBM, in a latter-day "David vs. Goliath" battle. That was part of the theme behind the iconic "1984" television ad that introduced Macintosh to the world during Super Bowl XVIII. Jobs described his beloved Macintosh as "a computer for the rest of us." using a bit of marketing panache to create a market niche that eventually grew into a worldwide technological empire. The marketing campaign had some short-term success. Knowing that he lacked the proper business education or experience to survive in the cut-throat world of corporate America, he recruited [John] Sculley, who had been a top executive at Pepsi-Cola. Jobs is said to have asked Sculley, "Do you really want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water?" Sculley soon came on board and helped usher in the Macintosh Era, but differences over business strategy soon emerged. Jobs' euphoric rhetoric of "insanely great" failed to overcome the doubts of more conventionally-minded executives. By 1988 it was an outright feud within the company, and Sculley undertook to have Apple's board of directors dismiss the company's founder as its leader. It was a moment of deep disgrace.
Nevertheless, Jobs soon managed to rebound, creating a new company called NeXT, introducing a new line of computers with a variety of far-reaching innovations. Meanwhile, the Job-less Apple went on to introduce several new generations of Macintosh computers, but without a clear vision of the future, the company's marketing department was unable to build sales. By the mid-1990s the company was floundering with too many computer models and a primitive hand-held digital device (called the "Newton") that was a total flop. The company's board begged Jobs to come home, and he agreed.
Back in charge, Jobs drastically eliminated non-essential company departments such as printers and devoted full attention to a simple-to-use Internet-based semi-portable computer -- what became known as the iMac. Introduced early in 1999, it literally saved Apple and the whole Macintosh line of computers (and way of life) from extinction. It had a funky rounded shape, utterly unlike any other computer then on the market. Originally available only in a bluish color, by the end of the year, Apple offered five delightful color options, using the Rolling Stones' song "Like a Rainbow" as a mesmerizing sales pitch. Yes, the old magic was back, and I just had to have one of those iMacs!
The rest, as they say, is history, and even though it took years for the Macintosh to grab a significant share of the global computer market, in the mean time Apple began producing a mind-blowing series of incredible peripheral devices, aimed at enhancing the users' "digital lifestyle." Apple had come full circle, from being a populist-oriented "We try harder" company like Avis to becoming an overtly elitist snob brand like Gucci or Nike. And what was once a mere close-knit community of Apple afficionados had become a full-blown quasi-religious "cult," of which I am a full-fledged member. Just walk into any Apple Store across the country, and you'll see what I mean. But watch out, you just might become a convert in the process!
A legacy of hardware?
[Screen grab of live Web video when Steve Jobs announced the iPod Nano, in 2005.]
When you think of Apple these days, you think of all the gadgets that company has unleashed on the consumer market: the iPod (2001), the Apple TV (2007?), the iPad (2010). I could spend hours writing about each one of those tiny technological marvels, and I probably should some time soon. Even relatively trivial Apple devices such as the "Magic Mouse" or the iPod Nano (introduced in September 2005) frequently lived up to Jobs' criterion of "insanely great." Speaking of which, the Staunton News Leader's editorial tribute to Jobs was appropriately titled "insanely great. "
The fact that Apple has become a status symbol makes some people wonder whether Apple will ever reach the masses around the world, as Jobs often talked about doing. He was sometimes criticized for an alleged lack of philanthropic activity. One way the company really could achieve global-scale change would be to refurbish discarded computers and other digital devices, to be distributed to poor people in the Third World. That's what is proposed at cultofmac.com: "How Apple Could Really Change the World." It sounds good, but it would take some careful planning to make it work right. For the time being, however, I plan on keeping my old Macintoshes as a personal "museum," even though each of them is in need of repair:
iMac Flower Power (2001), Mac Plus (1987), PowerBook 150 (1994)
A legacy of software
Although it may not be fully appreciated, Steve Jobs' biggest contribution was in software. Indeed, the clear superiority of the Macintosh platform lies not in its circuitry or design so much as in the underlying Mac Operating System. This fundamental lesson became clear to the PC industry overall during the 1990s, when Microsoft emerged as one of the most dominant corporations in the world, leaving IBM in the dust as new hardware firms such as Compaq, Gateway, and Dell emerged. Perhaps if Apple had licensed the Mac OS to other manufacturers in the late 1980s rather than waiting until the mid-1990s, it would have come to dominate the personal computer market, rather than Microsoft Windows. (Speaking of which, with the ongoing rise of Google in the PC software market, Microsoft seems to be receding into the background.)
People often ask me how I do this or that on the computer -- design Web pages, draw baseball stadium diagrams, etc. It's hard to explain this to a non-Mac person, but the Macintosh is in essence an extension of my own body. Just about whatever new task I want to do, I simply apply a bit of common sense and put myself in the Mac "zen" state of mind, and I just do it. I know it probably sounds pompous, but that's the way it is.
More generally, the "Think different" slogan used in many Apple ads a decade or so ago really means something to us Mac users. It's not just vain posturing or rebelling without a cause, it is a call to scrutinize the stale premises that underlie the contemporary conventional wisdom in all areas of human life. Whether it's personal computing or politics or religion or sports, those people who make a conscious effort to "think outside the box" will have a huge advantage in meeting the challenge of this daunting new 21st Century, in which many of the old safe paths are no longer of any use. By evangelizing on this theme, Jobs has attained a rare immortal status, along with other great names in the history of science and technology: Cyrus McCormick, Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford. I feel very fortunate to have my life made better by the innovations Jobs brought about.
In putting together this memorial tribute blog post to Steve Jobs, I was inspired by the folks at BoingBoing (a pop culture multi-media info-tainment Web site); hat tip to Cult of Mac. Hence the archaic black-and-white title bar at the very top of this blog post, the background pattern, and the various Mac icons strewn about. The fake Mac desktop seen below was actually very sharp-looking looking 25 years ago. I took their stylistic idea and went a step further, adding a semi-functional menu. Go ahead and click on the "File" menu item below. And for a little "fun," click on the , "Tools," or "Window" menu items...
October 12, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Rangers have the Tigers cornered
For much of the game this evening, it looked like the Detroit Tigers were going to continue their bravura performance of Tuesday afternoon, when they got three home runs, and hopefully even the series. But in the late innings, they wasted a couple prime opportunities, and the Texas Rangers finally won the game in extra innings for a second time in the 2011 American League Championship Series. Amazingly enough, it was the same score as on Monday, 7-3, and even more amazing, it was the very same guy (Nelson Cruz) who accounted for most of those runs. Closing pitcher Jose Valverde gave up a leadoff double to Josh Hamilton, who scored when Mike Napoli singled to center field. [On the very next pitch, Cruz hit a three-run blast into the bullpens in left center. The continued superlative batting and fielding performance of Miguel Cabrera ended up a wasted effort. Perhaps the lousy weather had something to do with it. The game was supposed to start at about 4:20, but was delayed for over two hours because of rain. In fact, it continued to drizzle for the first few innings, and the players looked miserable.] So after bouncing back, the Tigers now have their backs against the wall, threatened with "extinction." In both games, attendance was about 42,000, which is about 2,000 more than the official seating capacity at Comerica Park.
On Monday, when the Rangers won a 7-3 victory over the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS, Nelson Cruz hit the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history. The amazing feat took place in the 11th inning. It really wasn't quite as dramatic as you might think, however. The relief pitcher, Ryan Perry, gave up three straight singles without getting a single out, all but guaranteeing that Texas would get the winning run across home plate one way or another. See MLB.com The fans in Arlington were ecstatic.
And so, the Texas Rangers are now only one game away from a return trip to the World Series. Since the Yankees made four consecutive World Series appearances from 1998 to 2001, only one team has done so two years in a row: the Phillies, in 2008 and 2009. But the ALCS ain't over yet, and everyone knows how dangerous Tigers can be when they are cornered.
Comerica Park update
Tomorrow afternoon might be the final game of the year played at Comerica Park, so I figured I ought to hurry and do some touchups on the diagram thereof. For the time being, I have left the 2000 version untouched, so that you can see exactly what changes I made. (Most of them are minor tweaks.) There is a new lower-deck version that doubles as a "full" version, showing all of the peripheral structures on the northeast side of the stadium. Also, I added a "new" panoramic photo, which is actually two old photos taken by John Mikulas that I spliced together.
Pujols leads Cardinal rebound
Thanks to Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals are in excellent position to advance to the World Series for the first time since 2006. Big Al hit a home run and three doubles, batting in five runs altogether, as the Cardinals beat the host Milwaukee Brewers, 12-3. Back home in St. Louis tonight, the Cardinals scored four runs in the first inning, as Pujols hit yet another double, and that was all they needed. Final score: 4-3. The Cards now lead the Brewers 2-1 in the NLCS.
Former Washington National player Nyjer Morgan, who had a rowdy reputation in Washington, has become something of a hero in Milwaukee. He batted in the winning run when the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks last week, and he has not been modest in his celebration. [Morgan made a lot of fans in St. Louis angry earlier this year, and recently taunted Albert Pujols, referring to him as "Alberta" in a Twitter tweet.] See Washington Post. That article reveals that Morgan and Jayson Werth almost got into a fist fight last spring, which probably had something to do with the Nationals' desire to trade him away.
R.I.P. Al Davis (?)
Regarding the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, I wrote this on Facebook a couple days ago:
Here's an idea: Why don't they bury Al Davis in Oakland, California, and then after ten years dig up the grave, move the casket down to Los Angeles and bury him there, and then repeat the process every ten years after that? Either that, or else have his estate reimburse those two cities for the cost of upgrading the respective coliseums where the Raiders played.
Was I being unduly harsh?
October 15, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Tigers roar back to life
The Detroit Tigers were in a do-or-die predicament on Thursday night, and their ace pitcher Justin Verlander was under extreme pressure to save his team from doom. It was rather like the situation faced by Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett in the ALDS on October 4, but with much higher expectations. In the biggest challenge of his career, Verlander delivered. Over the course of 7 1/3 innings, he struck out eight batters and prevented the Rangers from getting more than a one-run lead. In multiple situations with runners in scoring position, starting with the first inning, he kept his cool. If it weren't for yet another home run by Nelson Cruz (his fifth this postseason!), Verlander would have only allowed two earned runs. Most amazingly, he threw 133 pitches total, the most ever in his career, and a postseason MLB record, I believe.
But even with Verlander's heroic determination, it was really the Tigers' offensive power that proved decisive in the end. Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young both homered twice, the first of which was part of the quite amazing highlight of the game which took place in the sixth inning. In four consecutive at-bats, Raburn singled, Miguel Cabrera doubled, Victor Martinez tripled, and Young homered -- the very first "natural cycle" in postseason baseball history. Along with the walk-off grand slam by Nelson Cruz in ALCS Game 4, that makes two historical records in one series! And that's how the Tigers beat the Rangers, 7-5.
Tonight the Texas Rangers host the Tigers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and with home field advantage and a 3-2 series lead, they can afford to relax.
Cards retake NLCS lead
In the National League, meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals regained the series lead over the Milwaukee Brewers, winning by a score of 7-1. It was a big disappointment for Milwaukee's ace pitcher, Zack Greinke, but he had a good outing, with just two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. The real killer was an error by Jerry Hairston in the third inning, allowing two more Cardinal runs to score. Prince Fielder went 0 for 4, and Ryan Braun only had one hit, a double that failed to get any runs scored. Today is a
wasted "travel/rest" day for those teams, which will resume the NLCS tomorrow in Milwaukee. (Hasn't Bud Selig ever heard of jet airplanes?)
Busch Stadium (II) update
Since this might be the last game in St. Louis this year, I figured I better hurry up and update the Busch Stadium (II) diagrams. The main change is with the profile, in which each level is slightly higher than before. It also now shows ground level more accurately than before: one level higher than I had inferred previously. Thanks to Jonathan Karberg for straightening me out on that. Two other rather trivial details in all the new diagram updates are the infield dirt is about eight feet bigger than before, and the steps in front of the dugouts are shown consistently, as are the photographers' areas. The two "overlaid" diagrams (for Busch Stadiums II and III) There is also a "new" photo that I took from the top of the Gateway Arch back in 1987. It doesn't show the entire stadium, unfortunately, but the quality is much better than the previous such photo. Also, the exterior panorama has been enhanced in quality, and there is a new photo of a model of Busch Stadium II, which I saw while touring Busch Stadium III back in August.
October 16, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Rangers, Cardinals advance to World Series
Early offensive attacks by the Cardinals (tonight) and the Rangers (last night) all but guaranteed that those two teams would win their respective league pennants. In both games the winning teams scored exactly nine runs over the first three innings, but in the case of the Rangers, all nine of those runs came in the third inning. None of the starting pitchers in those two games lasted more than a few innings, so the "winning pitchers" were rather meaningless.
The Cardinals scored four runs in the first inning tonight, but Milwaukee narrowed the gap to 5-4 in the bottom of the second inning, thanks to home runs by Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy. That was a sign of hope for the home fans, but then St. Louis came back with four more runs in the third inning, deflating the Brewers' hopes. Neither Prince Fielder nor Ryan Braun did much for their team in the final two games of the NLCS: in  at-bats between them, there was only one hit, by Braun. Final score: Cardinals 12, Brewers 6. Attendance at tonight's game in Miller Park was 43,926, about 2,000 above the official seating capacity. The roof was closed. The diagrams on that page look fine to me, in terms of accuracy as well as detail, so no updates are necessary.
Oddly, the Rangers didn't even get one home run in their big nine-run third inning last night, though Nelson Cruz did get yet another home run (#6 this postseason) later in the game. The Tigers got four home runs in that game, two of which were hit by Miguel Cabrera, but only one of them was with a runner on base. Final score: Rangers 15, Tigers 5. Attendance at Game 6 in Rangers Barkpark in Arlington was 51,508, likewise about 2,000 above the official seating capacity. Lots of happy fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I may need to make minor touchups on that diagram, and I'll remove the "sideways" version soon.
At the very least, the Brewers and the Tigers refused to give up until the bitter end, in spite of overwhelming odds. I was kind of rooting for those two losing teams, but had no strong feeling about it. Personally, I find that watching games in which I don't have a strong favorite can be more entertaining, in a way. It's less emotionally taxing, for sure. It would have been interesting to see another Cardinals-Tigers matchup. They have faced each other in the World Series three times: in 1934, in 1968, and 2006. The Cardinals won in '34 and '06. Interestingly, the Cardinals also faced the Milwauke Brewers in the 1982 World Series, when Milwaukee was in the American League. So in a way, this year's NLCS was a repeat of the '82 World Series. Both the ALCS and NLCS were exciting and evenly matched, going six games, a sign that Major League Baseball is competitive. Hopefully, this will lay to rest all those insinuations that big-market high-salary teams enjoy all the advantages. Money helps, but in the end, smart strategy and well-focused, determined playing are what make the difference between winning and losing.
And so, it will be the first World Series matchup between the ten-time World Champion Cardinals and the defending AL Champion Rangers. Congratulations to both teams, who clearly deserved the titles. The Cardinals thus become the first wild card team to go to the World Series since 2007. See Postseason scores. But being a wild card team doesn't necessarily mean the team is less worthy than the three division winners. Indeed, the last year the Cardinals won the World Series, in 2006, their regular-season winning percentage was only .516. The NL Central Division wasn't very good that year.
Success on the playing field may help to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis for the next few years. His contract expires at the end of this season, and it's hard to believe that the Cardinals front office won't do what's necessary to retain his services. On the other hand, Prince Fielder's days with Milwaukee may have come to an end. He just didn't perform in clutch situations as much as you would expect from a slugging superstar like him. (Likewise for A-Rod and New York?)
October 18, 2011 [LINK / comment]
RFK Stadium's 50th birthday
Distracted by the amazing playoff series earlier this month, I neglected to observe a very special anniversary, or "birthday," if you prefer. RFK Stadium (then known as "D.C. Stadium") was opened fifty (50) years ago, a full half century, on October 7, 1961. The Redskins made it their home from then until 1996. In the October 8 Washington Post, columnist Thomas Boswell had a very personal remembrances of growing up in Washington when that stadium provided more drama and thrills than the Capitol building, or any of the presidential monuments. RFK was less than ideal in various ways, but it served as a unifying civic symbol during the years when racial tension and crime put Washington in a negative light for many people. Most of the other "cookie-cutter" cloned stadiums have long since been demolished, and RFK's own future is very uncertain. Since it is the very first of its genre, I hope RFK is preserved for at least another decade or so, serving as an museum of sports architecture.
In recognition of that historical milestone, I have added to the RFK Stadium page a "new" photo that I took on the evening before the very last baseball game at RFK, in 2007. Every once in a while I find old "analog" photos in my shoe boxes.
The Phillies take batting practice at RFK Stadium, September 22, 2007. That's their manager Charlie Manuel on the right side. Click on it to see a slightly larger size.
Wasted days & wasted nights
(Apologies to Freddy Fender.) One of the things I hate about the baseball postseason dragging out so long is how the series schedules are firmly set months in advance, with no regard to the wins and losses once the series begin. What they should do is only have "travel/rest" days between series, not within them, and whenever both teams in a given bracket clinch their series before going to the final (fifth or seventh) games, the next series should be moved ahead by a day. That would make possible expanding the divisional series to a full seven games, to make sure the better team actually wins. Also, to reduce travel requirements, the home-away format in the first two rounds should be 3-3-1 rather than 2-3-2. Whenever travel to the other team's city is scheduled for the next day in a divisional or league championship series, that day's game should be played in the late afternoon, so that they can catch a night flight.
Would afternoon games result in fewer TV viewers? Possibly, but it would also expand viewership among youthful fans, who are, after all, the only hope for the commercial viability of professional baseball in decades to come. Besides, in the era of TiVo, Apple TV, etc., fans at home have expanded alternatives for viewing programs at a time of their convenience. ("Don't tell me the score!")
Could'a, should'a, would'a
Having handed a postseason berth to the World Series-bound St. Louis Cardinals on a silver platter, I can imagine the Atlanta Braves are going through a lot of mental anguish right now. I just hope they don't waste time getting mad at themselves but instead apply the lessons to next year.
October 20, 2011 [LINK / comment]
World Series 2011 is underway!
The Texas Rangers are slight favorites to win this year's World Series, but nobody should discount the St. Louis Cardinals. Indeed, the home team used their home field advantage last night, defeating the Rangers 3-2. The Cards got on the board first in the fourth inning, thanks to a two-run double by Lance Berkman, then the Rangers tied it with a two-run homer by Mike Napoli in the fifth inning. The deciding run came in the sixth inning, when pinch-hitter Allen Craig singled, allowing David Freese to score.
Just like last year, etc., I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. As you can clearly see, the two stadiums bear several strong similarities...
"Ancient" baseball blog archives
One of my long-planned Web site chores has been to integrate the ancient "quasi-blog" posts into the formalized blog archive system that I instituted in November 2004. Baseball blog Archives. It was a real "trip down memory lane," The very first "blog post" was February, 2002 (exact date uncertain): Expos "twist slowly in the wind." That was a reference to the agonizing delays in making a decision on relocating the Montreal Expos to another city. As we all know, it finally happened three years later. That saga can now be revisited in more detail on the updated Peter Angelos "rants" page. Be aware that each of those "reconstructed" blog posts includes a note at the bottom to explain why the time stamp is different than the indicated date: 'NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.'
An interesting observation from a fan of this Web site:
[T]his year's pairing of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers will be the first time that both teams are from pre-Civil War slaveholding states. The closest we've had to an all-Southern World Series. (Missouri did not secede from the Union, of course).
He later clarified that it was the first time for two such states. The World Series of 1944 and 1985 took place entirely within the state of Missouri, of course.
October 21, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Rangers strike back, even series
It's too bad that TV ratings for this year's World Series will probably drop, due to the absence of big-city teams, because people are missing one heck of a contest! Quite unlike the final games of their respective league championship series, in which the Rangers and Cardinals both scored double-digit run totals, the first two games of the Fall Classic have been razor-close pitchers' duels. In Thursday night's game, there were no runs scored until the seventh inning, when pinch-hitter Allen Craig drove in a run on a single to right field -- just like he had done the night before! No pinch-hitter had ever batted in go-ahead runs more than one time in any previous World Series, so this makes yet another historical milestone for the memorable 2011 postseason. That forced the Rangers' starting pitcher Colby Lewis out of the game, and when Texas went down 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth, it looked like the Cardinals would win.
But instead, the Rangers started the top of the ninth with two singles, by Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols flubbed a catch from the center fielder, allowing Andrus to get to second. That meant two runners in scoring position with nobody out! The next two batters did exactly what they had to do: Josh Hamilton and Michael Young both hit long fly balls that allowed the runners to advance, scoring two quick runs. Those two sacrifice flies were what won the game for the Rangers, possibly saving the series for them. It is also possible that shortstop Elvis Andrus' amazing dive to start a double play in the fourth inning tipped the balance in the Rangers' favor. It looked like a sure single up the middle, but he grabbed the ball and flipped it to second baseman Ian Kinsler -- with his glove -- and just like that, the inning was over. Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia had a splendid outing, allowing only three hits in seven full innings, but it was all for nought. He was the first Mexican-born pitcher to start in a World Series game since Fernando Valenzuela back in the 1980s. For the full recap of Game 2, see MLB.com.
Error! Being physically (and mentally?) exhausted, I erroneously posted the score as "3-2" rather than "2-1" after the game last night, and fixed it this morning.
Busch Stadium III update
Based on some very handy tips from Jonathan Karberg, I updated the Busch Stadium III diagram. He noticed that the upper portion of the bleachers in right field do not extend all the way to the light towers. Indeed, one of my own photos confirmed that there is a gap of about eight feet. I also scrutinized more closely some of the photos I had taken there during my tour in August. For the time being, I'm leaving the lower-deck version untouched so you can see exactly what changed.
It occurred to me that this is the first stadium I have ever visited in which a World Series game was played during the same year. Ironically, the Cardinals were slumping badly when I was there in August, and there was an air of resignation. What an amazing comeback they achieved in September!
Finally, just for fun, here is a new spliced-together "extreme" panoramic shot:
Busch Stadium III extreme panorama; click on the image to see it full size!
October 24, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Rangers bounce back from crushing loss, take series lead
The unbelievable twists and turns of the 2011 baseball postseason continue unabated, with history being made over and over again. On Saturday night the awe-inspiring Albert Pujols hit three (3) home runs, only the third player ever to do so in a single World Series game. (The others, of course, were Reggie Jackson in 1977, and Babe Ruth in 1926 and 1928.) I'll be that neither Reggie nor The Babe hit their first home runs as late as the sixth inning, however! The first home was a titanic blast, pulled close to the left field pole and hitting the front of the second deck. That's about 385 feet from home plate according to my measurements, and various estimates put that ball as either 423 or 431 feet in (would-be) distance. The second homer came with one runner on base in the seventh inning, sailing into the deep left-center field bleachers. In the ninth inning, when the Cardinals already had an eight-run lead, I was thinking to myself, "Yes, I think he's going to do it again." And I was right: the ball landed several rows in back of the left field fence. Pujols went five for six and thus set a new World Series record, with 14 total bases. In the other four World Series games thus far, however, Pujols has failed to get a single hit or RBI. In Game 3, the Cardinals won by an overwhelming margin of 16-7. Spirits were low all across North Texas...
One unfortunate aspect of that game was when the first base umpire Ron Kulpa blew a call, failing to see that Mike Napoli had tagged Matt Holliday at least half a stride before Holliday stepped on first base. That set the stage for a four-run rally that turned the rest of the game into a slugfest -- quite unlike Games 1 and 2. Kulpa admitted the mistake after the game, and while it's hard to argue that it would have changed the outcome of the game, it will still lead to more calls for the use of instant-replay review of key plays. That would be a shame. If they do expand the use of instant replay, I hope it is only for postseason games.
On Sunday night, attended by former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, Josh Hamilton doubled in a run in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. That proved to be extremely important: The Rangers have the highest winning percentage (.796) in game in which they scored first in the major leagues. Furthermore, "The Cardinals ... scored first in their previous 10 games, winning seven of them." (MLB.com) So that one run changed the whole complexion of the game. Another key factor: Mike Napoli moved from first base to catcher, replacing Yorvit Torrealba, and hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning to provide a nice cushion, as the Rangers won 4-0, to even the series, 2-2. Texas fans breathed a huge sigh of relief...
In tonight's game, the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the second inning, with one unearned run that stemmed from an error by left fielder David Murphy. He soon made up for it with a great diving catch to end the inning, however. The Rangers came back with solo home runs by Mitch Moreland in the third inning and by Adrian Beltre in the sixth inning, tying the game, 2-2. That at least ensured that starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, who was pulled in the top of the sixth after surviving multiple tight situations, would not get tagged for the loss. The Cardinals' starting pitcher, Chris Carptenter, lasted a full seven innings, but neither of them was credited with a decision. In the bottom of the eighth, the Rangers got the bases loaded and catcher Mike Napoli doubled into the right-center gap to take a 4-2 lead. He also contributed on defense, making two great throws to second base, thwarting stolen base attempts. See MLB.com. [The Cardinals failed to score in the top of the ninth inning, as Allen Craig (who had been hit by a pitch) was tagged out at second trying to steal base, after Albert Pujols struck out. It was a "mixup" according to manager Tony LaRussa, but he wouldn't say anything more. Thus, the Rangers took a 3-2 lead in the World Series.]
After the game, the jubilant 51,459-strong crowd was still chanting, "Na-po-li! Na-po-li! Na-po-li!" With nine RBIs in the World Series thus far, compared to ten for the rest of his team, he is a leading candidate for series MVP. But of course that depends on how things turn out in Game 6 and (if necessary) Game 7 in St. Louis...
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington update
Since this is the final game of the season in Arlington, I figured I ought to hurry up and update the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington diagram. Nothing really major, just more accuracy in the profile and more details such as the widened portions of the grandstand lateral walkways. One detail I noticed on TV: when the Rangers relief pitchers exit from the bullpen, they walk down several steps through a narrow gap between the outfield fence and the seats in right field. That gap is now shown in the diagram, and the gap in left field is a bit wider than before. (That is where the tragic accident in which a fan fell down while trying to catch a ball in July.) The stadium was originally (1994) called "The Ballpark in Arlington" and then "Ameriquest Field in Arlington" from 2004 to 2007. (The "in Arlington" part is important because the city paid for almost all of it.)
While researching that, I came across a Washington Post article from 1999 that explores "Bush's Move Up to the Majors," getting rich through public subsidies for the aforementioned stadium.
Epstein joins the Cubs
As had been widely rumored, the Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein did reach an agreement with the Chicago Cubs, but there are several nagging details to be ironed out, such as compensation. Negotiating such things are one of the main duties of a general manager, so I guess Epstein will be sitting across the bargaining table from himself. (?) See ESPN Commissioner Bud Selig says that he may have to intervene...
Beer and hot dog prices
Here's a cool Web site that lets you quickly compare how much it costs to buy tickets, beer, and a hot dog at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums: webstaurantstore.com. Apparently, Chase Field in Phoenix is cheapest, and Fenway Park in Boston is the most expensive. Lots of interesting data analysis, including average income levels for the cities in question, etc.
Memphis may sue NBA
Finally, I learned from Facebook friend Andrew Murphy that the City of Memphis is suing the National Basketaball Association, because they stand to lose a lot of money if the NBA season is cut short due to the strike. Why? Because they paid for the arena, and need ticket revenues to pay off the debt. See Yahoo Sports. It's another case of "stadium socialism," of which Arlington, Texas is well familiar. (See above.)
I've had a few other tips and inquiries lately, and I'll try hard and get to them tomorrow.
October 27, 2011 [LINK / comment]
World Series Game 6: rain delay!
The postponement of Game 6 due to rain might have taken away some of the momentum the Texas Rangers had built up after winning Game 4 and Game 5, but it might also have prolonged the high anxiety of the St. Louis Cardinals. (See below.) The game is in the top of the third inning right now, all tied up, 2-2. The Rangers scored one run in the first, just like in the game on Sunday night, but unlike that game, the Cardinals bounced right back with a two-run homer by Lance Berkman. Then the Rangers score one more in the top of the second with a ground rule double by Ian Kinsler. Looks like it's going to be one hell of an exciting game, sports fans! Time to crack open a cold one and relish the drama at the end (?) of a wonderful postseason.
Actually, I'm kind of hoping the Cardinals win tonight, because that would force a Game 7. Believe it or not, the last time the World Series went a full seven games was in 2002, when the Angels beat the Giants. But since the Rangers have never won a World Series, my sympathies are leaning slightly in their favor. In fact, the Houston Astros have never become world champions either, meaning that Texas is one of the very few MLB states who have yet to attain that high honor.
Failure to communicate
In my last blog post, I made note of Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa's postgame comment that there had been a "mixup," declining to say anything further. I only caught the tail end of that, so I mistakenly inferred he was talking about the hit-and-run situation in which Allen Craig was thrown out at second. Actually, the problem was a breakdown in the bullpen telephone system, or maybe just crowd noise, but whatever the cause, when LaRussa called for a relief pitcher, the only guy who had warmed up was left-hander Marc Rzepczynski. LaRussa wanted right-hander Jason Motte to go against the right-handed batter Mike Napoli, and this mixup may have helped Napoli hit that go-ahead double. The whole incident threw the usually-confident Cardinals off stride, and might end up affecting the outcome of the World Series. See Washington Post.
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, in RFK Stadium August 4, 2007. (The Washington Nationals beat the Cardinals that day, 12-1!)
October 28, 2011 [LINK / comment]
"It just doesn't get any better than this!"
Or can it?? If tonight's World Series Game 7 tops Game 6 in terms of nail-biting drama and excitement, I'll probably have a nervous breakdown. I'm not kidding, I was so exhausted by last night's epic struggle at Busch Stadium* that I was in a daze for much of the day today. (It's only a game, it's only a game...) After two innings of play, both the Rangers and Cardinals have scored two runs each, almost as if the back-and-forth neck-and-neck marathon of last night had just resumed after a pause. The FOX Sports commentators seem to think that the Rangers' Matt Harrison is better equipped to put in a commanding performance as starting pitcher than the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter, but we'll see. After last night, all bets are off. Anything can happen, and probably will! One key factor: Matt Holliday is out of the lineup due to his injured finger. Mike Napoli brushed off that twisted ankle, and he seems in fine shape.
For a full recap, see the Washington Post.
* Speaking of Busch Stadium, I noticed that a photo caption in the Washington Post print edition mistakenly called it "Bush Stadium." That's what they should call the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, in honor of their past part owner (Dubya)!
I'll be "live-blogging" during the game once again, but I don't expect there to be nearly as many updates as last night.
The mail bag
Bruce Orser let me know about new details concerning the reduction in outfield dimensions at Citi Field planned for next year. They will formally announce it in the next few days. See metsblog.com (from Monday this week).
Michael Festa brought to my attention some small errors in the Sun Life Stadium diagram, so I'll turn my attention to that in the near future.
October 29, 2011 [LINK / comment]
The Cardinals are world champions again
Against all odds, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series for the eleventh time last night. Game 7 (the first one since 2002) started off exciting, with both teams scoring two runs in the first inning, but after that the Rangers stagnated while the Cardinals added more insurance runs. Rather anti-climactic after that unbelievable Game 6. Ironically, as the word got around about what a great game that was, many "fair-weather" baseball fans tuned into Game 7, drawing the biggest TV audience (25.4 million viewers) since the 2004 World Series. (see MLB.com), even though that game itself was comparatively lackluster.
The way things turned out, one has to wonder whether Destiny or some other Supernatural Force was manipulating things on behalf of the Cardinals. I still can't get over David Freese's two-out, two-run game-tying triple in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two strikes on him. The Rangers only needed one more strike to become world champions, but relief pitcher Neftali Feliz apparently got over-anxious, and just threw it hard without thinking about location. Likewise, in the bottom of the tenth inning, the Cardinals were down to their last strike when Lance Berkman tied it with an RBI single. No team had ever come from two or more runs behind in the ninth or later inning twice in one World Series before -- yet another in a long list of historical records set by the 2011 postseason. And when that same David Freese hit that walk-off home run to the center field grass slope in the bottom of the 11th, it seemed just too perfect to be real. Why more people aren't serious fans of baseball, I don't know. Maybe that will change, with all the buzz generated by this postseason.
On October 24, I wrote that Mike Napoli was almost a sure bet to be named the World Series MVP, depending on who won Game 6 and Game 7. Well, those games went the Cardinals way, so it was almost a given that one of their players would get the MVP nod. Indeed, it was David Freese who received the award.
Some things I should have pointed out during the last few tumultuous days: Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland pitched superbly in Game 4, only allowing two hits over 8 1/3 innings, but his only other pitching was for two innings as a reliever in Game 6. Too bad the rotation schedule didn't give him another chance to start. Another big factor behind the Rangers' success was their manager, Ron Washington. He is dead serious about the sport, and keeps a calm attitude in the face of adversity, but he is also as excitable as a kid while rooting for his player from the dugout. He's not just inspirational, he is a great strategist. If Neftali Feliz had thrown a different pitch and struck out David Freese, the Rangers would have won and Washington would have been acclaimed as a genius.
It's the first time since 1982 that a National League team has won the World Series for two years in a row. Coincidentally, it was the Cardinals who won that year. In both cases, a California team won in the preceding year: the Dodgers (in 1981) and the Giants (last year).
Male Northern Cardinal
Some day I hope to actually see a World Series game in person (in Washington, perhaps?), but in the mean time it's a good feeling to say I was in that ballpark just ten weeks ago, walking in the same dugout where Tony LaRussa was "directing" the dramatic spectacle, and his boys were resting between innings.
It was the first time the World Series went a full seven games since 2002, and in fact, for the 2011 postseason as a whole, only three potential games were cancelled because a team had already clinched the respective title. The table below tabulates, for each series since the turn of the century, how many games were skipped in each round because one team had already clinched a series win.
Postseason games NOT played, 2000-2011
(max. 20 games)
(max. 14 games)
(max. 7 games)
(max. 41 games)
In other words, only three of the maximum scheduled 41 games were skipped, which is a 93-percent rate. See for yourself on the Postseason scores page.
The fact that the last four World Series games this year were won by the home teams made me wonder how often that has happened in the recent past. The answer: in 2011, 2008, 2006, and 2002. (It also happened in 2004.) Then I noticed another curious pattern: In the year prior to the most recent three of those years, the away team won the last two games of the World Series: in 2010, 2007, and 2005. (Those series were either swept in four games or won in five games.)
Finally, I updated the Annual Chronology page with the World Series results, etc.
October 30, 2011 [LINK / comment]
College is for everyone? NOT!
Of all the things I have learned over the years as a college professor, one of the most dispiriting is that many of the students in my classes simply don't belong there. Maybe ten percent, maybe thirty percent or more in some cases, they either lack an adequate preparation in terms of core knowledge (especially history), writing ability, or both. A great number of students lack the intellectual curiousity which is essential for anyone who is going to tackle a thick book and make some sense out of it. What is wrong? Is America getting dumber?
Not at all. The basic problem, as many academic professionals know but rarely admit, is that admissions standards have steadily fallen because of pressure from government policy makers to give all young people a second chance at attaining the American Dream. In the latter part of the 20th Century, that became intertwined with the goal of a college degree, especially as the manufacturing sector went into decline and everybody started talking about our transition to being a "service economy." A few months ago there was a provocative article in The Atlantic Monthly, "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower" by "Professor X," whose career situation resembles mine in some ways. Even though it is contrary to his own interests, he asserts that the widespread tacit assumption that almost everyone ought to pursue a university education is "a destructive myth." See theatlantic.com, brought to my attention by a Facebook friend. This passage is especially painful to read:
No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces--social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students--that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.
In a society in which young people's self-esteem is carefully nurtured and cultivated, getting a below-average grade can be emotionally devastating. In the real world, unfortunately, about half the people are below average, by definition! (Except in Garrison Keillor's "Lake Woebegon," that is.) On the other hand, I have learned that community colleges are not just a repository for mediocre students, as many people seem to think. Some students are probably wasting their time there, perhaps a higher proportion than in most four-year colleges. But there are a lot of very intelligent, very curious students in my classes who have a variety of reasons for going the community college route -- most often, the fact that they need to hold down a job to pay the bills and just aren't ready to go to school full time. Overall, community college students tend to be more mature and world-wise than students in most colleges and universities.
On a related note, the National Inflation Association (!?) "believes that the United States has a college education bubble that is set to burst beginning in mid-2011." (The article came out in January. That organization's stated mission of "preparing Americans for hyperinflation" suggests that they are perhaps just a bit on the alarmist side.) In other words, first it was the savings & loan industry that crashed and burned after the speculative bubble burst, then it was the high-flying Internet companies that got caught up in the "dot com frenzy," then it was the home mortgage industry, which thrived on public subsidies which drove housing prices far above the equilibrium level, and now it is college itself.
So what are the reasons for which our system of higher education has gotten so badly out of whack? That will be the subject of a future blog post.
Lovely college scenery
After church today, where I was taking photos for the special Harvest Day celebration (see emmanuelstaunton.org), I was driving past Mary Baldwin College, and couldn't resist the opportunity to take a few photos. With the crystal clear blue skies, the conditions were just perfect for the camera. See the photo below, and a few others, at the new Autumn 2011 Photo Gallery.
Mary Baldwin College from the southeast side, October 30, 2011. The gazebo in the foreground is in the back yard of the home in which Woodrow Wilson was born. (NOTE: This photo has been retouched. Do a mouse rollover to see the original image.)
October 30, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Partisanship plagues the GOP
To be perfectly honest, I am so unimpressed with the current field of Republican presidential candidates that I have a hard time generating much enthusiasm for the 2012 campaign. If you take their rhetoric at face value, the differences among them are frighteningly small. No matter what the problem is, the only solution they can offer is "Cut taxes!" Or maybe, "Cut government regulations!" Well, that's the sorry legacy left by President George W. Bush to the Party of Lincoln. A year ago, I was cautiously optimistic that the populist fervor manifested in the Tea Party movement would begin to cool and be replaced by a more mature and pragmatic attitude about the necessities of governing a republic that is in deep financial and constitutional peril. Instead what we witnessed as the debt ceiling showdown climaxed in July and August was another round of daredevil brinksmanship, accompanied by stale, dogmatic rhetoric that was virtually guaranteed to turn off anyone with half a brain.
As an example of what I have been thinking lately, David Frum recently wrote "Why I am a Republican" at frumforum.com. The title is a little misleading, however, because he takes strong exception to the GOP remedies for the current economic crisis. But even though he is "dismayed that my party is wrong on the most urgent issue of the day," ... there are many issues "on which I trust the GOP more than I trust the party of Barack Obama." That comes pretty close to how I feel. To me, it's obvious that Obama has been a disaster as president, but I acknowledge that the economic problems were not created by him -- he just made things worse. The noisy, low-brow contingent within the Republican Party will no doubt berate Frum for being a "RINO," but I expect that in time, more Republican leaders will pay more attention to his words than to all the two-bit right-wing shills and hucksters.
In a similar vein, Sen. Lamar Alexander recently announced that he is giving up his third-ranking position in the Senate Republican leadership, so that he can negotiate more freely with Democratic leaders. See Yahoo News. Many people forget that the U.S. Senate was once considered "the greatest deliberative body on Earth," and its customs and procedures were geared toward personal comity and bipartisan compromise. Not any more. It has become almost as partisan as the House of Representatives, and that is very damaging to our government.
Republican rally in Verona
With that as a rather blunt backdrop, I recently attended a Republican campaign rally in Verona, here in Virginia. It was billed as a "Family Picnic," sponsored by Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Turnout wasn't nearly as high as the last time I went to that event (October 2009), mainly because of the non-competitive races for state government offices here in the Valley. (In addition, there were high winds that blew paper plates and napkins all over the place, rather unpleasant; I helped clean up the mess afterwards.)
Several members of the House of Delegates were present, as well as local Republican candidates, including the incumbent Augusta County Treasurer Rick Homes, Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury, Supervisor Jeremy Shifflett, and Supervisor candidates Dr. Larry Roller, Jim Warren, and Michael Shull. Some of them are facing independent candidates who are actually former Republicans. It's a complicated situation that will require explanation in depth...
The big attraction at this event was the appearance of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and I had a chance to chat with him briefly after the event was over. A recent cartoon in the News Leader hinted that Cuccinelli is going to run for governor, challenging the presumed GOP candidate Bill Bolling in the primary election. I've become a big fan of Cuccinelli over the past couple years, but I think he would be better off staying where he is until he has gained more experience.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, speaking in Verona on October 15.
Del. Dickie Bell speaks, with Rep. Bob Goodlatte in back.
Bob Goodlatte thanks GOP delegates Steve Landes, Robert Bell, Dickie Bell (no relation?), and Ben Cline.
October 31, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Tony LaRussa retires as a winner
Soon after the victory parade in downtown St. Louis, manager Tony LaRussa announced his retirement, after 16 years as manager of the Cardinals, including two World Series titles in the past six years. He also led the Oakland A's to their last world championship, in 1989, and managed the White Sox before that, starting in 1979. At the relatively young age (for a manager) of 67, he is a legend in his own time, ranking among the greatest managers of all time. With 2,728 total career wins, he comes just behind John McGraw (with 2,763 wins) but far behind the all-time leader, Connie Mack (with 3,731 wins). He said he was not concerned with surpassing McGraw in career wins. See MLB.com.
What will this mean for the ongoing negotiations with free agent Albert Pujols? That is the $40,000 question that everyone is asking. I just hope Scott Boras isn't involved, but he probably is.
Davey Johnson is staying put
The Washington Nationals front office decided to retain the services of Davey Johnson for the 2012 season. In technical terms, they picked up the option on his contract. See MLB.com. That's good news, and not just because Johnson is a top-notch manager, with 15 years experience running the Nationals, Dodgers, Orioles, Reds, and Mets. The Nationals are in dire need of stability as the franchise moves up to the next level of competitiveness. Almost everyone expects the Nationals to do even better in 2012 than in 2011, and if all the right pieces fall in place, they might even become postseason contenders. Johnson says his goal is the National League pennant.
Ironically, the Nats were over .500 (38-37) when the former manager, Jim Riggleman, abruptly resigned after his pleas for negotiating a longer-term contract were ignored. The Nats were 40-43 under Johnson, and it should be noted that before their season-ending hot streak (which began on September 11), they were only 26-39 under Johnson. (There was an "interregnum" lasting three games.) Without that late-season surge, the Nats front office probably would have looked elsewhere for a manager.
Since this is Halloween, I was wondering if there have ever been stories of old baseball stadiums being haunted. Since baseball is rife with superstition, I'm sure that must be the case somewhere. If I come across anything, I'll make a point to update the Stadiums in Limbo page.
October 31, 2011 [LINK / comment]
Happy (white???) Halloween!
I've heard of an occasional white Thanksgiving or even a white Easter, but snow on the ground in October in almost unheard of in this part of the country. Whatever the underlying cause of the very unusual cold front that hit us by surprise over the weeked, it did at least provide some unique photo opportunities. I was inadequately clothed on Saturday morning, shivering outside while helping with the Augusta Bird Club seed sale pickup and delivery. But after the sun came out on afternoon, I took advantage by taking pictures of the rare combination of peak fall foliage colors and snow together.
A woodsy area consisting mostly of oak and pine trees just north of Staunton, October 29, 2011.