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May 6, 2022 [LINK / comment]

The first month of baseball: a few surprises

Among the biggest surprises from the (lockout-shortened) month of April in baseball has been the abysmal record (currently 3-22, or .120) of the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball Digest had the Reds pegged to finish in third place this year, but that seems extremely unlikely right now. Aging star Joey Votto is currently batting .122, almost exactly the same as his team's win-loss record. At age 38, he is a contemporary of recently-retired Nationals' star Ryan Zimmerman. Maybe Joey should have followed Ryan's example. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks have a lower team batting average (.190) than the Reds (.203) do. As for pitching, the Reds have by far the worst team ERA: 6.86.

Baseball Digest also forecast that the Chicago White Sox would win the AL Central Division, which is currently led by the Minnesota Twins. How long can that situation last? I don't even remember the last time the Twins were postseason contenders. The White Sox have won four games in a row, and I got to watch them beat the Red Sox in Fenway Park on Apple TV+ this evening. The Chisox' ace pitcher Lucas Giolito has actually been eclipsed by a slightly younger (age 26) pitcher named Dylan Cease. (And desist?)

Another big surprise is that the Boston Red Sox -- picked by Baseball Digest to win the AL East -- are now in last place, behind the Baltimore Orioles!!! That inevitably leaves the field open for the Yankees to dominate the division, and they currently lead the majors with an 18-7 (.720) record. Payroll, payroll, payroll... But close behind are the perennially underfunded yet overachieving Tampa Bay Rays, who are now 16-10 (.615).

To me it's no surprise that the Los Angeles Angels are in first place, but for some reason Baseball Digest had them pegged at fourth place. Anthony Rendon, who signed a fat contract with them after leaving the Nationals following their World Series triumph in 2019, is recovering from an injury-plagued 2021 season.

Likewise, the big lead in the NL East currently enjoyed by the New York Mets is no surprise to me, but Baseball Digest had them finishing in second place behind the Atlanta Braves. It's pretty clear that their forecasts were made before the 2022 rosters had been finalized -- another side-effect of the MLB lockout that postponed all the hot-stove wheeling and dealing until mid-March. Any team with both Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in their pitching rotation is almost guaranteed to make a deep postseason run in October.

Finally, the Milwaukee Brewers are ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, and the L.A. Dodgers have a slim lead over the San Diego Padres in the NL West. The Giants have fallen into fourth place, but they're only three games behind the Dodgers.

The Nationals' s-l-o-w rebuilding

The Washington Nationals are also in last place, likewise badly underachieving, but they are at least showing occasional glimpses of a brighter future. Believe it or not, the Nationals briefly had the second-highest team batting average in the majors, and are now tied for third (at .254) with the Cleveland Guardians. Their slugging star thus far is first-baseman Josh Bell, who is tied for fourth place in batting average (.348) in the National League. Last year's second-place MVP candidate Juan Soto has gotten off to a slow start, and for a couple days actually had a lower batting average than perennial under-achiever (?) Victor Robles, but has improved recently. Robles started to improve recently, and in the Nats' memorable 14-4 triumph over the Giants in San Francisco on April 29 (ending an awful 8-game losing streak), he went 4 for 5 at the plate. The Nats took two of three games in Oracle Park, knocking the Giants out of first place. That was a big surprise!

Pitching is another matter, however: the Nationals' 5.03 team ERA is exceeded only by the Cincinnati Reds. (See above.) frown That number is artificially inflated, however, by a few bad outings of Patrick Corbin and Erick Fedde, both of whom have shown much improvement lately. Because of the lack of run support, however, Corbin has yet to register a win. He actually pitched a complete game (8 innings) in a loss to the Rockies in Denver on Wednesday. Josiah Gray (acquired from the Dodgers in the big trade for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner last year) had a couple rough starts, but is showing great promise now. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are both recovering from injuries and/or surgeries last year, and may be available to pitch later this month, finally.

The Washington Nationals page has been updated with roster and salary information as well as data for April, when they went 7-16. (They are now 9-18.) As a reflection of the extreme roster turnover, there are photos for only four of the nine starting players on that page. (Since the National League has adopted the Designated Hitter rule this year, I will need to modify that starting-team graphic to include the Nats' DH, Nelson Cruz.) Tonight the Nationals begin a three-game series in Anaheim, after losing two out of three games to the Rockies in Denver.

Stadiums by class

Another one of my favorite web pages was recently updated: Stadiums by class. The tentative classification of "Postmodern" stadiums (the recently-built ones that were formerly classified as "Neoclassical" but don't even pretend to harken back to the early 20th century "glory days") has been definitively confirmed. Among the enhancements to that page, there is a new "mass rollover effect" instantly showing the baseball vs. football configurations for all 14 dual-use stadiums, which will provide delight for many a stadium geek. That technique was previously done for the "football stadiums used for baseball" classification, which now includes (Baltimore's) Memorial Stadium and (Montreal's) Olympic Stadium. That was done at the suggestion of Angel Amezquita. I'll probably do likewise for the classic-era stadiums as well, since all of them hosted football games at one point or another. Another change on that page is that the MLB lifetime of each stadium is now shown under each one's thumbnail image, with a gray background to indicates which ones have been demolished. Enjoy!

Summer vacation! smile

The unusually intense spring semester is over, allowing me time (at last) to get back to refining stadium diagrams, along with other website maintenance tasks. I'll also be able to respond to recent e-mail inquiries and acknowledge the monetary support kindly extended by several fans.

April 17, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Baseball at last: 2022 season gets underway

After a delay of one week caused by the labor dispute between MLB owners and players, the baseball season began on Thursday, April 8. The Washington Nationals were originally scheduled to play their first game as guests of the New York Mets, but as things turned out, the roles were reversed. On Friday the 8th, Max Scherzer faced his former team mates (or what is left of them) as the number two starter of his new team, the Mets. (The Mets' ace Jacob deGrom was placed on the injured list just before the season began.) Never one to shrink from a challenge, Max gave up a game-tying home run to Josh Bell in the fourth inning of that game, but the Mets quickly regained the lead and won it, 7-3. The Nats were behind going into the eighth inning of the Sunday game, in danger of being swept in a four-game home series, when the Nats staged a rally that was capped by a two-run single by Nelson Cruz, one of the newest members of the team. (He had hit a solo homer in the first inning.) And that's how the home team won that game, 4-2.

The Nationals took two out of three games from the Braves in Atlanta, which was a big accomplishment for a team with low expectations, but then they managed to lose three out of four games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. After two lousy starts against the Mets and the Braves, left-hander Patrick Corbin finally pitched very well into the sixth inning today, but his team mates couldn't hold the lead and the Nats lost, 5-3. One highlight from that series was when Juan Soto smashed a line-drive home run (his third of the year) to right field, bouncing through the entry portal at PNC Park and into the Allegheny River. Nats first baseman Josh Bell did that a few times when he was with the Pirates, but not many others have. In any event, the Nationals are now in last place in the NL Eastern Division, with a 4-7 record. Over the first week and a half, Erick Fedde has turned in the most reliable performances on the mound, while Josiah Gray (featured on a mini-poster that came with the Washington Post on April 7) bounced back from a rough start on April 8 and got the win against the Braves on April 13. Josh Rogers pitched very well in his first start (April 11, when the Nats beat the Braves 11-2), but then faltered yesterday. The Nats' other current starter (number three in the rotation) is Joan Adon, who had to be replaced in the fifth inning of both games he played.

Aside from Nelson Cruz, the 41-year old slugger who signed a one-year contract with the Nats almost as soon as the lockout ended, the Nats have also picked up third baseman Maikel Franco, who had a few very good years with the Phillies, and relief pitcher Steve Cishek, who has been all around the majors. Those acquisitions represented a big improvement in the Nationals' rather hollow roster, but they are still ranked as below-average by most keen observers of baseball, and will need a lot of luck to somehow grab a wild card spot this year. The Nats also brought back popular relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, who has actually done a lot so far this year. He used to rely almost exclusively on his fastball, but now he mixes that up with sliders and change-ups, and has been very effective, with zero hits allowed and zero earned runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched. Lucius Fox, Luis Garcia and Andrew Stevenson were sent down to the minors. The Washington Nationals page will have to be updated soon.

Elsewhere in the majors, the Mets (currently 7-3) have been leading the NL East from the very beginning, with the Phillies a strong potential rival. In his at-bat in his first day in Philadelphia, former National (and Red Sock) Kyle Schwarber pleased the home crowd in Citizens Bank Park with a lead-off home run! Since then, however, he has kind of fallen off. Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper is looking as sharp as ever at the plate. Tears flowed in Atlanta when it was announced that their star slugger Freddie Freeman had signed a long, juicy contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were overstocked with talent already. The Dodgers lost two of their opening series games in Denver against the Rockies, which was quite a surprise, but since then they have won six consecutive games, so they are right where you would expect them to be: on top of their division. (The Giants are tied with them, also with a 7-2 record.) The NL Central is tightly contested, as four teams are within a game of each other at the top of the division. At the bottom are the Cincinnati Reds.

On the American League side, the AL East is very competitive, with four teams near the top and one (the Baltimore Orioles) at the bottom. The Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central Division by two games, while the L.A. Angels have a slim lead in the AL West. Anthony Rendon is hoping to bounce back from a mediocre, injury-plagued 2021 season.

Are the Nationals for sale?

Last week the Lerner family announced that it was willing to consider partnership with additional owners, and perhaps even selling the team outright. That was a stunning revelation, since the Lerners have been such gung-ho competitors from the moment they acquired the franchise from Major League Baseball in 2006. Two factors explain this reversal: their overuse of deferred compensation packages for such star players as Max Scherzer, and the fact that economic conditions in the retail industry where they made their fortune have deteriorated sharply in recent years. (Thanks, Amazon!) Perhaps Jeff Bezos will buy the Nationals...

Indians become the Guardians

In Cleveland last month it was announced that the Indians would be renamed the "Guardians," which rhymes with their previous name and bears a meaningful connection to downtown Cleveland. It refers to the "Guardians of Traffic" statues on either side of Hope Memorial Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River and which I crossed en route to Progressive Field in August 2012. It's an OK name, but I kind of wish they had chosen "Spiders," which was the franchise's name during most of the early 20th Century. It is the first major name change of an MLB franchise (i.e., a clear change in identity) not accompanied by a relocation to a new city since the Houston Colt 45s became the "Astros" in 1965.

That name change has been duly noted on the MLB franchises and Chronology (annual) pages. I should probably also note that Oakland Coliseum has officially been renamed as "RingCentral Coliseum," but given the many such name changes of that stadium in the past, it is uncertain whether anyone will take notice, or how long the new name will last. No news on getting a new stadium built in Oakland, and some have suggested that the Athletics might follow their former house-mates, the Raiders, who relocated to Las Vegas last year.

Redskins become the Commanders

On a related note, the Washington Football Team, as the former Redskins were known from July 2020 until earlier this year, were officially renamed the "Commanders." Fan reaction has been mixed, but nobody seems especially excited about it. I suppose that is to be expected. It occurred to me that "Commandos" might be a more energetic-sounding name for the team. The widely-disliked team owner Dan Snyder has apparently committed to staying out of the public eye while the once-great team that he owns struggles to regroup. Meanwhile, he is maneuvering to get good terms for either building a new stadium or somehow upgrading their current stadium, FedEx Field, in Landover, Maryland. The ideal solution of tearing down RFK Stadium (which is essentially abandoned) and replacing it with a suitable new stadium is by no means assured of approval by the D.C. government, even though the obstacle of the old name -- considered racist by many people -- has been removed.

Camden Yards

Camden Yards renovation / update!

Earlier this year, the Baltimore Orioles announced that about ten rows of seats would be removed from left field, moving the wall back by about 26 feet up to the bullpens, which were not affected by this. Construction got underway in January and was completed in March, resulting a large expansion of the playing field: fair territory has grown from about 108,100 to 111,900 square feet. This created a sharp corner in the left field power alley, which could become a possible hazard for outfielders chasing fly balls. As a result, the wall height was raised from 7 to 13 feet.

This major alteration was in response to the reputation of Camden Yards as being so slugger-friendly that prospective pitchers were less likely to join the Orioles for fear of all the additional home runs they would give up. This was the opposite of the usual contemporary trend by which prospective sluggers turned down offers from teams housed in ballparks with long outfield dimensions.

And so, I drew a new diagram for (Oriole Park at) Camden Yards. But along the way, I noticed something odd: there was a big discrepancy between the left field wall in my previous diagram (rendered in 2014) and the photo I took while seeing a game there in August 2009. I realized that the angle of the bends in the grandstand were incorrect, and that other elements of the grandstand were likewise off by several feet. You can compare the newly revised diagram(s) to the previous version by clicking on the diagram on that page, and then moving your mouse away from it. (NOTE: It occurred to me that one possible benefit from expanding left field would be that Camden Yards could more easily accommodated a football gridiron. Why do so, with M&T Bank Stadium (or whatever they're calling nowadays) just a couple blocks away? Maybe to accommodate a high school championship game, or maybe a USFL franchise. Don't worry, it is not a serious suggestion.)

More updates soon!

In the next few days and weeks I will be updating Yankee Stadium, which was "unofficially" updated in late December, along with a few others. But my top priority will be to render a new diagram for Hamtramck Stadium, which is one of the only original Negro League baseball stadiums still intact. It is located a couple miles north of downtown Detroit, Michigan. One of the leading contemporary baseball historians, Gary Gillette, asked me to take on that task, and I gladly agreed. (I visited another former Negro League stadium, Rickwood Field, while in Birmingham, Alabama one year ago, and I plan to do a diagram of it as well, eventually.)

March 10, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Baseball lockout ends; 2022 season is salvaged

The owners of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association finally reached an agreement today, paving the way for spring training to begin right away -- over a month later than it was supposed to commence. What seemed to bring about a compromise (according to the Washington Post, at least) was a shift in public sentiment against the wretchedly greedy billionaire owners and in favor of the players -- many of whom happen to be filthy rich millionaires.

This means that the regular season will begin on April 7, one week later than the originally scheduled Opening Day of March 31. Contrary to what was announced yesterday (when MLB announced a second week of cancelled games), they plan to squeeze the regular season in such a way that the regular season will wrap up on Sunday, October 2. For example, the Washington Nationals will have only one day of rest in April after Opening Day, and just three each in most subsequent months.

The lockout began in early December (see my Dec. 24 blog post), and very little negotiating took place for the first couple months. As spring training was supposed to begin in mid-February, discussions heated up, but neither side seemed willing to change its position very much. On March 1, MLB announced that the March 31 Opening Day was being canceled, along with the first two series of the season -- a whole week, basically. Further talks didn't last very long, and both sides accused each other of bad faith. It really looked ugly, and it seemed quite possible that several weeks or more of baseball would be lost. Another apocalypse on the order of 1994 would have cost both sides billions of dollars, and finally leading figures on both sides came to their senses.

So what took them so long? Most accounts I have read focus on the myriad technical issues involving compensation and playing conditions, but it's really a fundamental structural problem. Let us first stipulate clearly that major league baseball is a business, and that in a free enterprise system, the owners are (or would be) entitled to maximize their profits. In an ordinary competitive bargaining situation there are a range of terms that might be more or less acceptable to either side, making it possible to gradually narrow the differences and reach a compromise. But modern baseball is not like that. Both sides are constrained to refuse backing down from the positions they have staked out, primarily because (in my view) the massive public subsidies via stadium financing, etc. multiply the leverage that each side (players vs. owners) can get from each additional dollar of revenue generated from the games.

To understand this situation in graphical terms, try to visualize a big, round bump in a road upon which the two sides are vying for an advantageous balance vis-a-vis each other, and then imagine that the bump has been raised three or four times vertically, while remaining the same lateral width. The bigger the subsidies, the higher the figurative "bump," and the more likely it is that the two sides will fall off (i.e., precipitate a strike or lockout) while trying to get just a little bit better of a deal. Get rid of the structural distortions that reward risky behavior contrary to the public interest, and the likelihood of a constructive resolution of labor disputes will be greatly enhanced.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a boost to the rookies' minimum salary from $570,000 to $700,000, as well as slightly enhanced arbitration privileges for younger players. For fans, there are some positives such as no more automatic runner on second base in extra innings, and no more seven-inning double-header games. On the down side, the National League will adopt the Designated Hitter rule, which has been in use by the American League since 1973. No more strategizing by managers; that's a real shame. Other changes will be announced soon, and we won't have much time to get used to them...

Interestingly, former Nats ace Max Scherzer (now with the Mets) played a key role in the negotiations, along with MLBPA chief Tony Clark. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred barely saved his career in baseball. Based on what I have observed, he has not been willing to step on the toes of the more recalcitrant owners to force the issue. What baseball needs more than anything else right now is a strong commissioner with the stature of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Bowie Kuhn, or Bart Giamatti. (See the Annual Baseball Chronology page.)

This was the second-longest work stoppage in MLB history, second only to the infamous 1994-1995 strike by the MLBPA. For broader context, here is a list of all such work stoppages, from Sunday's Washington Post.

Year(s) Months(s) Issues Outcome
1972 April Strike over pension & arbitration. 86 games canceled.
1973 Feb. Lockout over arbitration No games missed.
1976 Mar. Lockout over reserve clause. No games missed
1980 Mar. Strike over free agency, etc. Temporary deal; no games missed.
1981 June-Aug. Strike over free agency, etc. 713 games canceled; split-season playoffs.
1985 Aug. Strike (2 days) over arbitration & pension. All but 2 of 25 missed games made up.
1990 Feb.-Mar. Strike over arbitration & free agency. Opening Day postponed one week.
1994-1995 Aug.-Mar. Strike, refusing proposed salary cap. 948 games canceled, incl. 1994 postseason.
2021-2022 Dec.-Mar. Lockout, refusing compensation overhaul. Rule changes; all games rescheduled.

Zimmerman retires frown

Three weeks ago, Washington National star infielder Ryan Zimmerman announced his retirement. I'll have much more to say on this tomorrow.

Camden Yards grows!

Yes, I know. Stay tuned...

Yankee Stadium update?

Yes, I updated the Yankee Stadium (the real one) diagrams in late December, in a mad rush to get all my diagrams finished by the end of the year, but all of a sudden I got so busy with my normal (?) work life that I just didn't have time to properly explain it. Because the page itself (i.e., the text) was not updated, however, you can see some glaring contrasts between the old (2009) and new versions of those diagrams. Stay tuned for much more!

Another hiatus

My apologies for the regrettable two-month hiatus. For the record, I was not boycotting to protest the failure of the two sides to reach a compromise, but I'll admit that I thought about it. I was really getting angry. While other people are enjoying spring break on the sunny beaches of Florida, I am getting caught up on some of the more important things in life such as baseball ... and war. frown

From October through December, a table of all Postseason game scores is shown here.

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Baseball books:

See Sources for a brief description of the above books. Also see more specialized books on the Ebbets Field, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium pages.

Coming Attractions

General diagrams
to be updated:

General diagrams
yet to be created:

City map/diagrams
yet to be created:
"Site today" diagrams
yet to be created:

(Includes major revisions, minor revisions, pages with additional diagrams, and future stadiums that are under construction. This is only a rough guide; the sequence is subject to change.)

Stadium construction

Soon after the 2017 opening of the new home of the Atlanta Braves (SunTrust Park), construction began on the future home of the Texas Rangers, a very brief lapse. The last significant lapse occurred from March 2012 (when Marlins Park was completed), September 2014 (when construction on SunTrust Park began). Before that, there was at least one major league baseball stadium under construction continually from September 1986 until March 2012. Both the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays hope to get public funding for a new stadium, but near-term prospects are bleak.

NEW! Stadium construction page, with a chronology of the past 30 years.

Research department: