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January 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Polo Grounds: a massive update
As befitting the massive size of the original structure itself, the just-completed Polo Grounds diagram revisions were of a truly monumental scale. Ironically, the overall size and shape of the stadium and field did not change very much compared to the last Polo Grounds diagram update in August 2007 (11 1/2 years ago!!??), but the inclusion of numerous new details and additional diagram variants for different years really added up. As always, historical information (photos and text) from Bruce Orser proved invaluable, and for the first time, I got some helpful tips from Angel Amezquita.
So, what changed? For one thing, the light towers (eight of them in all, built in 1940) were included for the first time. Note that three of the four pairs were laterally symmetrical, but that two of them (overlooking the power alleys) differed from each other, for reasons to be explained. Second, I discovered after doing some careful measurements that the bleachers and adjacent grandstand in center field were about 15 feet deeper than I previously estimated. As if they needed more seats in those extremely remote parts of the ballpark! When games were sold out, some fans had to sit over 570 feet away from home plate! Third, many more peripheral structures are now depicted: the small buildings behind the center field bleachers in the 1913 diagram, and the access ramps leading down from "The Speedway" that ran along the crest of Coogan's Bluff.
For the first time, the diagrams include multiple profiles, to more clearly illustrate how different parts of the grandstand differed from each other. There are now separate diagrams for the upper deck and lower deck, showing where the entry portals and structural beams were located. One detail in the upper deck is worth highlighting: the diagonal lines which separated the relatively steep portion (about three-fourths of the stadium) from the much shallower portions in the left-center and right-center corners. Those lines were angled in such a way so as to enable the fans in the more distant seats to at least see home plate, even if first base or third place were blocked from their view by the steeper-graded seating section to their right (or left). Finally, I have yet to finish a diagram for "the site today," but that will appear in due course. (Likewise for Metropolitan Stadium, as I indicated recently.)
Clearly depicting the awkward situation in which part of the field is covered by an upper deck of seats has long been a challenge for me. As with the recent diagram updates for Tiger Stadium and Shibe Park, I am experimenting with new graphical cues in the Polo Grounds diagrams to indicate that the outfield fence, foul line, etc. lies underneath. Some diagrams depict overhangs with lavender color, and others retain the color of the roof, etc., depicting details below with black or dark gray lines.
[According to Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals, [home plate] at the Polo Grounds was moved forward in some years, and backwards in others, possibly accounting for the variations in the distance to center field over the years. But it also states that the foul poles remained in the same place, which would mean that the diamond would no longer be a square, and I find that rather hard to swallow. For the time being, I'm "agnostic" on changes in Polo Grounds dimensions other than those in 1962, when the New York Mets were born. Those changes in dimension seem consistent and very plausible.]
[Finally, note that only the first-deck diagram shows details in the bullpens. With the overhanging second deck, trying to depict all the details would result in confusing clutter.]
College football bowl games
Congratulations to the CLEMson Tigers for winning the College Football National Championship game in Levi's Stadium (home of the Santa Clara / San Francisco 49ers) on Monday night! It was their second win in the last three years, and it was the third year of the last four that the two same teams were featured in the final game. This time the Tigers literally crushed the Alabama Crimson Tide, 44-16. Clemson had beaten Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl (which hasn't been played in the stadium called the "Cotton Bowl" since 2009), and Alabama had beaten [Oklahoma]
Miami in the Orange Bowl (which wasn't played in the stadium called the "Orange Bowl" from 2000 until it was demolished in 2009).
One of the recent Christmas season traditions is the proliferation of often-irrelevant college bowl games, which serve in effect as "participation trophies" for the also-ran teams. For example, on December 20 Marshall beat South Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl, formerly called the St. Petersburg Bowl, and probably other names before that. For the first time since 2008, when that bowl was launched, that it was played in Raymond James Stadium rather than Tropicana Field. I believe the only current MLB stadium that hosts college football bowl games is Yankee Stadium II, where the Pinstripe Bowl was played on December 27. This year the University of Virginia (which briefly reached the national Top 25 last fall) played in the Belk Bowl in Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. The UVa Cavaliers swamped the South Carolina Gamecocks, 28-0. Wa-hoo-wa!
Harper: waiting game
According to rumors circulating over the past week, the Washington Nationals made a significantly bigger contract offer to Bryce Harper. At this point, he seems more likely to stay with the Nationals than join some other team, but it's really anybody's guess. The signing of Alex Rodriguez by the Texas Rangers in [January 2001], and of Albert Pujols by the L.A. Angels in [December 2011], are just two examples of how owners can do serious damage to their franchise by wasting money on superstars who no longer have the motivation to perform at championship caliber. I think Bryce Harper is better than that, but spending over $300 million on a single player is extremely risky. Plus, inflated payrolls lead to inflated ticket prices.
But my main concern about paying Harper too much is that it might make it hard to keep third baseman Anthony Rendon for the long term. The Nats made a qualifying offer to Rendon, who is eligible for arbitration if negotiations fail. As a very reliable slugger and fielder who probably deserved to be on the All-Star team last year, he is worth at least one-third of what Harper is worth. But will he get paid accordingly?
January 13, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Brian Dozier joins the Nats
In yet another roster-building coup for Washington's General Manager Mike Rizzo, infielder Brian Dozier agreed to a one-year contract worth $9 million with the Nationals. There is no optional extension. Dozier will become the Nats' regular second baseman, with Howie Kendrick as the presumable backup, depending on his health. By next year, minor league hot prospect Spencer Kieboom is expected to be ready to fill that position. Dozier came up from the minors with the Minnesota Twins in 2012, and from 2014 through 2018 (five straight years), he hit over 20 home runs, peaking at 41 in 2016. His batting average has not been spectacular, and dropped to just .215 last year, but he does have the slugging power that the Nats will need if Bryce Harper does not sign with the team. See the Washington Post sports section for this story and for the one below.
As a veteran who has avoided serious injury throughout his seven-year career, Dozier seems like a safe bet with a big potential for improvement. He turns age 32 in May, perhaps in the prime of his career. He reminds me a lot of Daniel Murphy, the second baseman who wasn't considered worth a big raise by the Mets front office at the end of the 2015 season. They bitterly regretted letting him go after the Nationals snatched him up. Like Murphy, Dozier combines steady reliability with flashes of excellence in clutch situations. In the 2015 All-Star Game, Dozier hit a solo homer, helping the American League to win, and in a preseason exhibition game at Nationals Park in 2016 he also homered. The acquisition of Dozier essentially plugs the final remaining gap in the Nats' lineup for 2019, leaving Bryce Harper and the back end of the pitching rotation as the only big question marks for the roster as spring training approaches. So, I have made a tentative update to the Washington Nationals page.
The fact that the New York Yankees signed free agent D.J. LeMahieu essentially rules them out as prospective suitors for Bryce Harper. He just had talks with the Phillies, and Mets have been rumored to be in the running, but this drama may drag out for a few more weeks...
Rendon, Turner come to terms
It was a big relief that Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner both came to terms with the Nationals front office. Rendon will get $18.8 million this year, while Turner will get $3.725 million. Rendon became a regular with the Nats in 2013, playing second base and then moving to third base after Ryan Zimmerman was reassigned to first base. Other than spending the first half of the 2015 season on the disabled list, he has been steady and extremely productive both in the batter's box and on the field in a defensive capacity. With a .308 batting average last year, he really should have made the All-Star Game. He will turn 29 in June. Turner has likewise proven to be a star-quality player, with the added advantage of high speed on the base paths. I was fortunate to see him debut in the majors on August 21, 2015. At age 25, he has a great career ahead of him.
[UPDATE: I neglected to mention that one other arbitration-eligible player, pitcher Joe Ross, also came to terms a day earlier and will thus avoid arbitration; he will get $1 million this year. Two arbitration-eligible Nationals could not come to terms, and their future with the franchise is uncertain: outfielder Michael A. Taylor and relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough.
Ballpark news roundup
I learned from Mike Zurawski that the Tampa Bay Rays are closing down the seldom-needed upper deck at Tropicana Field to create a more "intimate" experience. This will reduce capacity from about 31,000 to a little over 25,000. (The original capacity was 45,200.) See tampabay.com. So, I added a new diagram variant to the Tropicana Field page, with the upper deck colored gray to indicate that it's currently out of use. I may tweak some of those diagrams in the next couple weeks... The Rays are thus following the lead of the Oakland Athletics, who closed the entire upper deck of Oakland Coliseum in 2006, but reversed course in April 2017 when they resumed selling cheap upper-deck tickets once again. It's not an encouraging sign, but as Mike Zurawski points out, the Rays get a bigger-than-average portion of their revenues from television rights, and that will not be affected.
Yet another MLB stadium is in the midst of changing its name for the 2019 season: The Giants' AT&T Park will [henceforth] be called "Oracle Park" from now on, under the terms of a hefty 20-year, $200 million contract. As such deals go, this one seems pretty legit. See ESPN.com. Coming so soon after Safeco Field was renamed "T-Mobile Park," however, I became a bit annoyed at having to update the Stadium names [link corrected] page once again. It's rather unwieldy to maintain, and isn't very useful anyway, so I got ambitious all of a sudden and created a new, much improved page: Stadium names chronology. The old page (listed in alphabetical order) will remain at least for the time being.
In case you were worried about the Los Angeles Angels becoming "homeless" next year (see Dec. 1), rest assured, they agreed to terms to renew their existing lease agreement for one year. After that, who knows? See ESPN.com. [These last two news items are likewise courtesy of Mike Zurawski.]
And speaking of "homeless" pro sports teams, the Oakland Raiders may not have any place to play next year, as the City of Oakland leaders are (understandably) angry that the Raiders are leaving town in 2020 to take up residence in Las Vegas. One rumored temporary "home" for the Raiders is San Diego, where QualComm Stadium (or whatever they call it now) is in a virtual state of "limbo," hosting just a few college games each fall.
I see from the clock that it's time for football. Catch you later, sports fans!
January 20, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Crosley Field crazy update!
Almost eleven years after the last such update, the Crosley Field diagrams are now 100% up to my highest standards of accuracy and detail. Separate brand-new diagrams for the upper and lower decks show the positions of the structural beams and entry portals, which are important benchmarks for getting other details just right. Everything was going smoothly and I thought I was all done three days ago, but then I noticed a small discrepancy that almost drove me crazy, as I will explain below. Once again, several straight days and nights of photographic scrutiny and pixel-tweaking finally paid off with a worthwhile result.
Right off the bat (!), you'll probably notice the inclusion of peripheral fences and buildings such as the clubhouses where the two teams went to shower after the games. Another obvious difference is the fact that the rear portion of the grandstand consists of distinct line segments rather than a continuous curve. Crosley Field was like Fenway Park in that respect. To compare the new diagram to the old, you can roll the mouse over the thumbnail image above, or click on the diagram on that page. (Clicking on the thumbnail above will display the "intermediate" diagram revision of 2013, which I never released because of lingering doubts.)
Among the recent "discoveries" I have made, the original (1912) distance to the backstop was about 80 feet, not 38 feet as reported in Green Cathedrals (2006), by Phil Lowry. That's a rather large difference: more than double! It all stems from the not taking into account the fact that Redland Field (as it was originally called) was much smaller until 1927, when approximately 13 rows of seats were added in front of the grandstand (excluding the pavilions extending along the foul lines). Likewise, my estimate of the backstop distance as of 1927 is 72 feet (rather than 58 feet), and almost the same for the latter years: 73 feet (rather than 78 feet). It remains an open question exactly when they added extra rows of seats in front of the pavilions. Based on the drawings I have seen, I'm pretty sure it was after 1927, but no later than 1935, when lights for night games were first installed.
I also noticed that the inner fence that reduced the distance to right field by about 20 feet from 1942 to 1950, and from 1953 to 1957, was not parallel to the front side of the bleachers. The gap gradually narrowed as the fence approached center field. In addition, for some years there was a bend in that inner fence toward the center field side, so that it intersected with the regular fence at the corner where the light tower was. Furthermore, the flag pole that was originally located near that corner was moved toward the scoreboard left of center field in 1939, more or less. By 1942 it was enclosed by a small fence, and any ball going into that area was a ground rule double.
Another small detail I just discovered was that the roof did not cover the front row of seats in the upper deck. The roof on the main portion of the grandstand (near the infield) was nearly flat, whereas the roof above the portions of the grandstand extending toward the respective foul poles (and of the single-deck pavilions before 1939) were slightly peaked toward the front.
The angst-inducing discrepancy I discovered late in the process involved the position of the two dugouts relative to the diamond. I knew that the foul territory was bigger on the first base side than on the third base side, but the extended baselines intersected the dugouts at the wrong position. Did I need to reposition the whole grandstand to make it right? Fortunately, no. I discovered that the third-base side dugout was about 10-12 feet farther from the corner of the backstop than the one on the first-base side. Problem solved!
Another trivial discovery late in the process was that there was no sidewalk at all behind the left field wall! You can see this in the "the site today" diagram, which shows that York Street was virtually flush against the stadium. There was probably nothing more than a curb and gutter.
As for the diagrams themselves, they now include the height of the outfield wall and the grass slope in front of them, as well as the huge "L"-shaped wall near the right field foul pole. Just for the heck of it, I also included a football diagram variant, since they did play semi-professional football at Crosley Field for a few years in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is purely conjectural, however, as I have never seen such a photograph or text description of the gridiron layout. (And speaking of football, those were quite dramatic and controversial NFC and AFC championship games today, weren't they?)
In my haste to finish rendering diagrams over the past few months, I have neglected to calculate revised estimates of fair and foul territory. I just did so for Crosley Field, and fair territory comes out to 106,700 square feet, the same as before. Foul territory is now 30,400 rather than 31,300 square feet, but that may go back up again if I get a clearer view of the right field corner, which is a bit of a mystery.
It was a bit nostalgic for me to read about the stadium page upgrades on that 2008 blog post mentioned at the top. Believe it or not, this leaves only four stadiums remaining on my diagram update priority list: Griffith Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Olympic Stadium, and Forbes Field! I currently plan to make Forbes Field my last one, but I'm famous for changing plans, so who knows? In any case, I'm getting ready for a big celebration when all that is over and done with...
Stadium upgrades: 1920s-1940s
It is curious that, whereas Crosley Field was the last of the Classic Era and Early Modern ballparks (1909-1932) to undergo a major expansion (1939), it was nevertheless the very first one to have light towers installed for night games (1935). This made for an awkward situation when they began the expansion work, as the light towers that had just been built on top of the single-decked pavilions along the first and third base sides had to be removed before construction began.
The table below compares when the expansions and light tower installations took place at the 15 stadiums in this group, in order of when the first major expansion occurred. It includes alternate names in cases where the changes took place while a different name was in use. (Baker Bowl is excluded from this listing, as it was not expanded significantly during this period, and never had lights installed.) Crosley Field was called "Redland Field" until 1934, when manufacturing entrepreneur Powell Crosley bought the team and stadium. It was at his initiative that major league baseball embarked on the new era of night games under the lights.
||When was it EXPANDED?
||When were LIGHTS installed?
||1921, 1924 *, 1925
||1923 *, 1928, 1938 *
|Navin Field / Briggs (Tiger) Stadium
|Cleveland (Municipal) Stadium
* Expansion involved the lower deck (including bleachers) only. All other expansions listed above included the extension of an existing upper deck, or the construction of a new upper deck where none existed before.
The mail bag??
Mike Zurawski let me know about further progress on the "Ballpark Village" across the street from Busch Stadium (III) in St. Louis. See ballparkdigest.com. I need to incorporate that into my diagrams at some point...
Slowly but surely, I will get to the other e-mails I have received. Trying to focus my brain and get these diagrams done and still communicate with normal human beings can get to be a challenge sometimes. Thank you for your patience and understanding!
January 31, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Four stars tapped for Hall of Fame
Last week the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that four former MLB players had received the necessary 75% of votes cast to qualify for induction into Cooperstown. One of them, Yankee closing pitcher Mariano Rivera, became the very first such player in history to receive unanimous approval! The other new Hall of Famers are Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, and Mike Mussina. In addition, Harold Baines was selected by the Veterans Committee.
Mariano Rivera, nicknamed "The Sandman," was born in Panama, came up with the New York Yankees in 1995 (along with famed team mates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte), pitched spectacularly for 19 years, during which the Yankees won five World Series championship trophies. In September 2013 he retired in a special ceremony, complete with rocking chair. Over the course of his career, he saved 652 games, surpassing Trevor Hoffman for the all-time MLB record. He threw a total of 1,173 strikeouts (8.2 per nine innings) and finished with an ERA of just 2.21. (See baseball-reference.com.)
Mariano Rivera, coming in to close the game at Kauffman Stadium on August 16 2011. The Yankees won that game, 9-7.
Edgar Martinez played for the Seattle Mariners from 1987 to 2004, his entire career. For the first six years, he was a third baseman, but from 1995 on he was the team's designated hitter. That probably delayed his Hall of Fame selection, as some traditionalists believe that only all-around players should qualify. He had a lifetime batting average of .312, with 309 home runs and 1,261 RBIs.
Roy Halladay began his career as a pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998, but late in 2009, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, breaking hearts north of the border. In May 2010, he threw a perfect game against the Florida Marlins. For four straight years, he had an ERA under 3, but then in 2012 he started going downhill, and he retired after the 2013 season. In November 2017, he died in a plane crash off the coast of Florida. He was the first player to be chosen for the Hall of Fame posthumously since Roberto Clemente in 1973.
Mike Mussina pitched for nearly one decade each with the Baltimore Orioles (1991-1999) and with the New York Yankees (2000-2008). In his first full season with the O's (1992, when Camden Yards opened) he achieved an amazing 18-5 win-loss record with a 2.54 ERA. He remained steady and very reliable throughout his career, finishing with a 3.68 cumulative ERA, with 270 wins and 153 losses.
Finally, Harold Baines spent the 1980s with the Chicago White Sox, and then bounced around several teams from 1990 until 2001. He amassed 384 home runs and had a career .389 batting average.
New Hall of Famers, 2005 to date
I went back to my blog posts from the past 15 years to come up with an annual listing of new Hall of Fame inductees. Note that this list includes only the players selected by the BBWAA, and not the various special honorees such as the 17 Negro League players who were inducted in 2006. Managers, umpires, and executives are also chosen by special committees from time to time, but they are not included here.
|2005||Wade Boggs||Ryne Sandberg|
|2006||Bruce Sutter |
|2007||Cal Ripken || Tony Gwynn |
|2008||Rick "Goose" Gossage |
|2009||Rickey Henderson||Jim Rice|
|2010||Andre Dawson |
|2011||Roberto Alomar || Bert Blyleven |
|2012 ||Barry Larkin||Ron Santo|
|2014||Greg Maddux || Tom Glavine ||Frank Thomas|
|2015||Randy Johnson|| Pedro Martinez|| John Smoltz|| Craig Biggio |
|2016||Ken Griffey, Jr. || Mike Piazza |
|2017||Jeff Bagwell|| Tim Raines|| Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez |
|2018||Larry "Chipper" Jones||Jim Thome||Vladimir Guerrero||Trevor Hoffman|
|2019 ||Mariano Rivera ||Edgar Martinez ||Roy Halladay||Mike Mussina|
NOTE: Bold face indicates players I have seen in person.
SOURCES: My blog posts each January or July; baseballhall.org
Jackie Robinson's 100th birthday
It was one hundred years ago today, on January 31, 1919, that Jackie Robinson was born. Major League Baseball will be honoring him throughout this season, and as our nation goes through some tough times in terms of race relations, it's good to remember what a wonderful effect he had on healing this nation's racial wounds. In December a Jackie Robinson Museum with open in Manhattan. I saw an interview with his daughter Sharon on TV today.
Ebbets Field correction
In the "Stadium upgrades: 1920s-1940s" section of my January 20 blog post, I indicated (erroneously) that the grandstand at Ebbets Field was expanded in 1932. That was based mainly on the stadium capacity data provided in the 2006 edition of Green Cathedrals. The outfield dimensions indicate that the big change took place in 1931, however, and I recently discovered a news article from April 1931 about the construction project that was nearly completed. So, I made a quick change on the Ebbets Field page, relabelling what had been the 1932 diagram "1931," and correcting the text likewise.
Stadium location "maps"
Finally, I've been making additional pseudo-map thumbnail diagrams to show the approximate relative location of different MLB stadiums in certain cities, such as Washington, D.C. Those diagrams show (in very crude form) rivers or other major bodies of water, other stadiums and arenas, as well as downtown or other significant reference points. I did that for Cincinnati (see below) when I updated the Crosley Field diagrams on January 20, and eventually I'll do likewise for all other MLB cities. The scale varies, depending on how far apart the stadiums were. They will be displayed on the respective stadium pages as well as the Stadium proximity page.
Micah Bowie is ailing
On Monday the Washington Post had a lengthy article about the tragic fate of Micah Bowie, who was a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals in 2006 and 2007. On December 22, he suffered a ruptured thoracic diaphragm, which makes breathing extremely difficult. It was just the latest episode in a series of misfortunes. The doctors in Texas told him there is nothing more they can do for him, so he and his family packed up a bunch of oxygen tanks and headed to the Rocky Mountains to enjoy his final weeks or months of life. To make matters even worse, he fell just short of the number of innings needed to qualify for an MLB pension with health care, putting his family in desperate financial condition. According to my Nationals media guide, Bowie pitched 19 2/3 inings in 2006 and 57 1/3 innings in 2007, with a combined win-loss record of 4-4 and a 3.74 ERA. May his final days be spent in peace and comfort.
Frank Robinson is ailing
In addition, Hall of Famer (and former Nats manager) Frank Robinson is also said to be in grave condition, health-wise. This coming August 31 will be his 84th birthday...