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Only 28 more days
until Opening Day!

February 8, 2021 [LINK / comment]

The Nationals in 2020: Lousy season ends well

As of the middle of August -- my last blog post summarizing the Washington Nationals' games -- one fourth (15) of their regular-season games had been completed. It was then that Starlin Castro, the Nats' new slugging second baseman, broke his wrist, ending his season and casting a shadow on the Nats' chances for contending. After that they went through an up-and-down phase for the next ten games, winning one day and losing the next. They peaked at a .440 winning percentage on August 23, and then went straight downhill until September 4, bottoming out at a .333 record. From then until September 20 they played well some days but not other, stuck in last place in the NL East. But somehow they pulled themselves together for the last week of regular season play, winning seven of their last nine games. Because of the need to make up all the games postponed due to covid-19, they played four double-headers during the last two weeks of September, including eight games during a five-day stretch. Talk about exhausting! The following paragraphs will describe the above-mentioned phases in sequential fashion, emphasizing the turning points and other highlights. (These are briefly summarized in the "memorable moments" section of the Washington Nationals annual (2020) page.)

During their "up-and-down" phase (Aug. 14 - 24), the Nationals won a series vs. the Orioles in Baltimore (2 games to 1), split a pair in Atlanta, and then came up a game short in a five-game home series with the Marlins. The second game on Aug. 22 was a makeup, with the Nationals as the "visitors." It was on that day that it was announced that Stephen Strasburg's injury was worse than expected, meaning that he would probably not return for the rest of the year.

Aug. 24 was the beginning of a prolonged slump, as the Nats lost a pair to the Phillies at home -- thereby falling in last place in the NL East -- and then began a long, agonizing road trip. The first game of the series against Red Sox in Boston went extremely well (10-2 final score), with 11 strikeouts by Max Scherzer over six innings, and home runs by Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick, and Josh Harrison. But then the Nats lost the next two games, as Austin Voth went only two innings on Aug. 30; the Washington Post headline read "Nats can't overcome another Voth dud." Ouch! The Nats also lost all four games against the Phillies in Philadelphia, being shut out on both Sept. 1 and 2, and coming up one run short (6-5) in the final game of that series. Then came four games against the first-place Braves in Atlanta, and the Nats were lucky to get a 2-2 series split, ending their losing streak at seven games. Thus they wound up with a 3-11 record from Aug. 24 to Sept. 6.

Returning home to D.C. on Sept. 7 provided a brief respite, as the Nats beat the Tampa Bay Rays in two straight games. Max Scherzer had another fine outing (7 innings) in the 6-1 win on the first day. The surprise star of the Sept. 8 game was 32-year old journeyman infielder Brock Holt, signed as a free agent in late August. (He had been let go by the Milwaukee Brewers.) But then the Atlanta Braves won three games out of four, with the Nats' only win coming in extra innings (12) on Sept. 11; the final score was 8-7.

Back on the road, the Nationals split a pair with the Rays. In the latter game (Sept. 16) Daniel Hudson blew a save opportunity in the 9th inning, but then the hot rookie prospect Luis Garcia hit a 2-run homer in the 10th to give the Nats a precious 4-2 victory. It also gave them a 3-1 season advantage over the soon-to-be American League Champions in Tampa Bay! Further south in Miami the next day, the Nats shut out the Marlins 5-0, with one of Erick Fedde's best outings of the season: six strikeouts in six innings. But then the Marlins won the next three games, the last of which (Game 1 on Sept. 20) being the most painful. The home team scored two unearned runs while Max Scherzer was pitching in the sixth inning, and that's all they need to win. But in the secon game that day, the Nats bounced back with five home runs, winning 15-0. It was their biggest win all year.

That game may have been the trick that finally got the Nationals in the groove during the last week of the regular season. Back in Washington they beat the Phillies three games straight, including an eight-inning "extra" inning double-header game on Sept. 22. Juan Soto hit his 13th and final home run of 2020, and in the eighth inning, Yadiel Hernandez hit a 2-run walk-off homer as the Nats overcame a deficit to win 8-7. It was the Nats' only walk-off homer of the year. The Phillies won the final game of the series, but their postseason chances were essentially doomed, thanks to the Nats. Then the New York Mets came to town in a showdown to see if the Nats could climb out of last place in the division. The 3-2 loss on Sept. 24, but then they won the final three games of the season. In the finale on Sept. 27, the Mets scored two runs in the top of the 1st inning, but the Nats scored five in second & six in the third, winning 15-5.

Thus, the Nats ended the season tied with the Mets for last place with a 26-34 record (.433), the first time since 2011 that they finished below .500. Overall it was a bleak year, if you can even call the ten-week stretch a "year," but winning seven of the last nine games was a mark of redemption. The Nationals gradual improvement in September was due in no small part to fine performances by several young replacement players. Howie Kendrick did not play after the first week of September, due a a strained hamstring, and Adam Eaton and also missed the last few weeks due to a fractured index finger. Those two guys were the real spirit-raisers in the dugout that helped make the Nationals world champions in 2019. The one big bright spot for the Nationals was the amazing Juan Soto, who led the National League in batting average (.351), and Trea Turner was not far behind.

Nats win pct 2020

The chart above is now included on the Washington Nationals page, which will soon be updated with 2021 roster information, etc.

Rizzo, Martinez get new contracts

One of the big uncertainties hanging over the Nationals was whether the current leadership would continue beyond the 2020 season. In light of what Mike Rizzo has accomplished since he became general manager in 2009 (when the Nats were almost at their nadir), it seemed strange that the Lerner family which owns the Nationals was taking so long to nail down a contract. Finally, on Sept. 5, they did so, with a three-year extension that includes a salary raise of undetermined amount.

Likewise, on Sept. 25, Manager Davey Martinez received a one-year contract extension. Some doubts about his judgment regarding pitchers, etc. still linger, but it's hard to argue with success, so he is getting another chance. You can't deny that he has earned strong loyalty and trust from his top players such as Max Scherzer, and that counts for a lot. As soon as the season ended, he began an overhaul of the Nationals' coaching staff, putting in guys that he knew from his days with the Chicago Cubs. Now that the management situation is cleared up, the Nationals are primed to make another big championship drive in the 2021 season!

Memorial Stadium update

Memorial Stadium

In reviewing the chronological log of diagram updates, I noticed that Baltimore's Memorial Stadium was among the most outdated ones. Not since 2013 have I updated those diagrams, so as a prelude to finishing the "final three" -- Griffith Stadium, Forbes Field, and Yankee Stadium -- I took care of that. So, what exactly changed? Overall, the stadium is about ten feet longer than before, and a few feet narrower. There is a new lower-deck diagram showing where the concrete pillars that support the upper deck are located. Additional details in the scoreboards and other structures at the north end of the stadium are included as well. The profile is now rendered more accurately, raising the top row by about eight feet. It also shows that the playing field was 10-15 feet below the level of the surrounding land, which was inclined slightly -- higher toward the north. There is also a new 1964 version, showing the inner fence (built in 1958), the upper-deck extensions, and the added rows of box seats, but not the new scoreboards, center field bleachers, the external pedestrian ramps, or the closer-in outfield fence that was built in the mid-1970s. Those features are included in the 1986 diagram. The "combined" (football plus baseball) diagram indicates the years in which those various changes took place. Finally, there is a "site today" map / diagram, rendered at half the scale of the other diagrams, so that you can see the entire jumbo-sized block of land on which the stadium once stook, and how it looks today. Also, as is generally the case, you can compare to new diagram version to the old (2013) version by clicking on the diagram image on that page.

One remaining puzzle is the distance behind home plate before the new box seats were added in 1961; Lowry's Green Cathedrals gives a distance of 78 feet (20 more than was the case thereafter), but I'm pretty sure that the extra rows accounted for more than 20 feet. My diagram indicates a pre-1961 backstop distance of about 82 feet. Stay tuned...

Tampa Bay: the capital of sports!

By now every single sports fan in America knows that Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their second Super Bowl title last night. (It was his seventh such title, eclipsing his former team's total of six.) I was rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs, who did not even score a touchdown in the 31-9 defeat, but I salute the champions nonetheless. While most of the attention has focused on Brady's amazing career, I would like to point out the singular situation in which a lesser-sized metropolitan area has come to dominate (or nearly so) the world of professional sports in the United States. Not only did the Tampa Bay Rays win the American League Championship last October, but the Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL Stanley Cup trophy (succeeding the St. Louis Blues) in late September. Boston has been dominant in football as well as baseball for many years, off and on, and you might say that Washington briefly dominated sports, as the NHL Washington Capitals became champions in 2018 and the MLB Washington Nationals did so in 2019, along with the WNBA Washington Mystics.


January 31, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Nobody elected to Hall of Fame

Last week it was announced that the Baseball Writers Association of America had chosen Nobody to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's perhaps just as well, because they induction ceremony in Cooperstown scheduled for last summer was cancelled due to the coronavirus.* The highest vote-getter this was Curt Schilling, with 285 out of 401 votes -- four percent short of the 75 percent that is required for HOF admission.

Retired pitcher Curt Schilling responded to the snub in characteristically bitter terms. In Thursday's Washington Post, Barry Svrluga wrote that the negative vote on Schilling was a symptom of the dysfunctional nature of the Hall of Fame selection process. Schilling deserved consideration, given his 3,116 career strikeouts, but rumors of his PED use and his abrasive personality probably worked to his disadvantage. Svrluga agrees (as I do) that subjective factors such as character and ethics ought to be taken into account, but laments that the people voting (sports journalists) are in a very awkward position when they are supposed to write objectively about the people they are choosing. (The Washington Post does not allow its sports writers to participate in such votes.)

By the way, the last time such a "shutout" of no new Hall of Famers happened was in 2013, so what I wrote then bears repeating now, though without the "white-out" erasing effect. "Nobody had a lifetime batting average of .381, with 2,420 RBIs, and 799 home runs." smile

* For the record, the four men chosen for the Hall of Fame last year were Derek Jeter (SS, NYY), Marvin Miller (players' union negotiator), Ted Simmons (C, STL), and Larry Walker (RF, COL). See baseballhall.org.

2020 baseball awards

Among the many cruel side effects of the coronavirus is that it diminishes the perceived significance of accomplishments by players and teams. Only 60 games instead of 162? Coincidentally, both leagues' Cy Young winners played for Ohio teams, and both leagues' Managers of the Year managed for Florida teams. For each of the top players listed below, I indicate the position, team, and either the batting average / home run total / RBI total, or (for pitchers) the earned run average / strikeouts / win-loss record.

National League Most Valuable Player: Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL: .341 / 13 / 53) won all but two of the first place votes. Being hopelessly biased, I thought Juan Soto (WSH) might have a chance, since he led the NL in batting (.351), but he came in fifth place in the voting. He'll get it some day, and probably more than once.

American League Most Valuable Player: Jose Abreu (1B, CHW: .317 / 19 / 60) won 21 of the 30 votes, with Jose Ramirez (CLE) not far behind. He played a big part in the White Sox getting to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

National League Cy Young Award: Trevor Bauer (P, CIN: 1.73 / 100 / 5-4) received 27 of the first-place votes, and is now one of the biggest free agent targets in a market that is decidedly cool right now, due to the coronavirus. Bauer used to play for the Cleveland Indians, and remains friends with former team mate Shane Bieber...

American League Cy Young Award: Shane Bieber (P, CLE: 1.63 / 122 / 8-1) received all 30 first-place votes in just his third full year in the majors. He played a big role in Cleveland making it to the postseason, but had a rocky start in Game 1 of the first-round series against the Yankees.

National League Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams (P, MIL: 0.33 / 53 / 4-1) received 14 of 30 first-place votes. He gave up exactly one (1) earned run in all of last year -- a solo home run on July 27.

American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis (CF, SEA: .262 / 11 / 28) was the unanimous choice of the Baseball Writers, and showed great promise not only in the batter's box, but defensively as well.

National League Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly (MIA: 31-29) brought the Marlins to their first winning season since he took over five years ago, and their first postseason appearance since 2003, when they won the World Series as the Florida Marlins, beating the Yankees. He was named AL MVP in 1985 while wearing Yankee pinstripes, and became the fifth person to win both the MVP Award and Manager of the Year.

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash (TB: 40-20) [was given credit for the Rays' winning the highest percentage (66.7%) of all AL teams for the first time. The votes were cast before the postseason began, and thus do not take into account winning the AL pennant for the second time. He became the Rays' manager in 2015.]

Cleveland ditches "Indians" name

Last month the Cleveland Indians front office announced that the team would be given a new name when the 2021 season begins. On December 14, franchise owner Paul Dolan made the announcement in a letter to the team's fans; see MLB.com. Progressive Field page has been updated accordingly. When I saw the Indians play the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in 2014, there were a number of Native Americans protesting outside. The Cleveland got rid of the demeaning grinning-Indian logo after the 2018 season. (I'm not excusing that logo, but for context it would help to point out that throughout the late 1940s and into the early 1960s, many sports teams had cartoonish team mascots with silly grins.)

Other than situations involving the relocation of a franchise from one city to another (such as when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005), the last time an MLB team name changed was in 2008, when the Tampa Bay "Devil Rays" became simply the "Rays." It seemed to do the trick right away, as they won the American League pennant for the first time in the 20-year history of the franchise. Before that, the 1962 expansion franchise Houston "Colt 45s" were renamed the "Astros" when they moved into the brand-new Astrodome in 1965.

I discussed this issue last July in the context of the Washington Football Team's decision to drop the "Redskins" name. In that blog post I compiled a table showing the history of team name changes. Now, as for the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs...

Mets get new owner

In October, MLB owners approved the sale of the New York Mets to Steve Cohen by Fred Wilpon and associates. I will soon update the MLB Franchises page to reflect that; other franchise-related pages will have to be updated in the near future as well. Cohen has a 95 percent stake in the team, and recent acquisitions indicate that the Mets are determined to compete for the NL East Division title this year. Former Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (later signed by the Phillies) just signed a contract with the Mets. If he stays healthy, he can still contribute a lot.

Miller Park OOPS!
American Family Field update

Miller Park

First things first: Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers since 2000, was officially renamed "American Family Field" as of January 1. After 20 years, that new name will take some getting used to.

Since I recently revised the Milwaukee County Stadium diagrams, I did likewise with the Miller Park / American Family Field diagrams. Originally, I intended merely to render the movable roof more accurately, and the new diagrams show that there are five distinct pivots -- one for each of the wedge-shaped roof sections. Furthermore, those roof sections are of variable length so that each one can be supported separately, with the longer ones toward the middle stacked on top of the others. In addition, the circular tracks along which the roof sections slide are now indicated clearly. There are three such tracks plus a fourth arc serving a structural function along the outer perimeter of the stadium.

Along the way, I noticed a few discrepancies that needed to be corrected. First, the upper deck extends a few feet beyond the right field foul pole, about 15 feet longer than in the previous diagram version, and there is an inward bend near the end. Second, the area with field-level tables in right field is a few feet wider than previously indicated, and the adjacent seating sections are pushed back a couple feet. Finally, the angle of the bend in the grandstand near the left field corner has been corrected, and the new "Miller Lite Landing" party section next to "Bernie the Brewer's" big slide beyond left-center field is now shown. Another big change is the addition of a new second-deck diagram, showing where the press box area is, and indicating how the seating in left-center field was arranged before the new party section was added last year. [UPDATE: I forgot to highlight the massive arches (six altogether) that are now represented by thick lines in the diagrams showing the roof, and I should have mentioned that you can compare to new diagram version to the old version by clicking on the diagram image on that page.]

That page now includes a photo of the Hank Aaron statue, including a closeup of the placque describing Aaron's career accomplishments. Angel Amezquita suggested a diagram to show the location of the little league "Helfaer Field," which sits approximately where Milwaukee County Stadium used to be. It's a bit awkward, but I'll figure out something.

Many thanks to Mike Zurawski for alerting me (nearly a year ago!) to the new "Miller Lite Landing" party area mentiond above. This involved taking out a couple hundred seats near the bullpen, but I'm not sure how much the official seating capacity changed. Hopefully, Brewers fans will actually get to enjoy it this year. Mike sent me other news last month, and I'll get caught up with that soon...

There is also a lot of news about acquisitions made by the Washington Nationals during the off-season, and I'll get to that right away!


January 25, 2021 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Henry "Hank" Aaron

One of the greatest sluggers in major league history, Hank Aaron, died on Friday at the age of 86. The outpouring of emotional tributes to "Hammerin' Hank" was quite remarkable, and very fitting. Unlike many other sports superstars, Aaron was never an attention-grabbing prima donna, and throughout his career and his post-baseball years, he remained friendly, modest, and sincere. His class and dignity were in sharp contrast to the ugly insults that were hurled at him by racists over the years. When he was closing in on Babe Ruth's career record of 714 home runs late in the 1973 season and early in the 1974 season, he received death threats, and his family members were given special security protection. Incidents like that probably built his character.

Henry Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama on February 5, 1934. After two years in the minors, he came up with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, one year after they moved from Boston. Almost immediately he distinguished himself, and in his fourth year (1957) he was chosen as the National League Most Valuable Player. That was the year that the Braves won the World Series against the Yankees; the same two teams had a rematch the following October, but the Yankees won that one. Aaron's only other postseason MLB appearance was in 1969 (the first year of divisional playoffs), when the "Amazin'" New York Mets swept the Atlanta Braves three games straight, on their way to winning the World Series. Aaron batted .357 and homered three times in that series; the rest of the Braves homered twice.

Aaron led the National League in home runs four times, in runs batted in three times, and in batting average twice. In all but two years from 1955 through 1973 (1964 and 1968), he hit at least 30 home runs, and yet the most he hit in a single year was 47; that was in 1971, toward the end of his career. Consistently productive to an amazing degree, he was was selected for the All Star Game in all but the first (1954) and final (1976) years of his 23-year career. With a batting average of .305 over that long span, it is no surprise that he ranks #3 in the list of total hits, with 3,771, behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. His record of 755 career home runs stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds* broke it in August 2007, and some say it still does stand...

The defining, glorious moment in Hank Aaron's life came on April 8, 1974, when he hit home run #715 to surpass Babe Ruth's career total. It landed in that open space between the fence and the seats in left-center field, and every time I see that film clip I wonder why they didn't use that space for more seats at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Actually, they did add outfield seats near the foul poles that year, as well as new scoreboards, new dugouts, and extra rows of infield seats, but there was still unused space even after that. (Same thing for RFK Stadium, which had a similar configuration, but I digress.) The Braves finished in third place in the NL West (!) Division in 1974, the third and final year Eddie Mathews was their manager. Having turned 40 and no longer fast enough to play good defensively, Aaron was released at the end of that year, after which he returned to Milwaukee, where he played (in a 44-numbered uniform) two more years as a designated hitter. Those two years raised his home run total from 733 to 755.

Henry Aaron statue

This statue of Henry Aaron is located just outside of American Family Field (formerly known as Miller Park), in Milwaukee. An enlargement of the placque is shown below. (August 2, 2010)

Henry Aaron placque

The back page of the sports section in today's Washington Post was full of images of Hank Aaron baseball cards from 1954 through 1976, along with basic statistics for each year. As a final footnote to Aaron's career, he appeared on the TV sitcom Happy Days in February 1980, playing himself. I always thought it was strange that a show about Milwaukee in the late 1950s did not have more frequent references to the Braves, because they were extremely popular in that city during those years. High school guys in Milwaukee would have been talking about the Braves all the time.

An awful death toll for baseball

Over the past six months, many other baseball greats have departed this life, including two other Atlanta Braves stars, so I will try to give them each proper recognition in reverse chronological order. It is an astonishing list, and one wonders if some of them had been afflicted with the covid-19 virus. Hank Aaron had his first dose of the vaccine early in January, and was waiting for the second dose. The brief career summaries below are based on obituaries in the Washington Post, as well as statistics in The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, 2003. You can also research the players' stats on baseball-reference.com. Most of these players are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

R.I.P. Don Sutton

Hall of Fame pitcher (and long-time broadcast announcer for Braves games on TBS) Don Sutton died of cancer last week at the age of 75. During his 16 years with the L.A. Dodgers (1966-1980, 1988), he played in three World Series. (He did not pitch in the 1988 World Series, which the Dodgers won.) From 1981 to 1987, he played with a variety of teams. Altogether, he pitched a total of 5,280 1/3 innings, just behind Phil Niekro (see below), Nolan Ryan, and Gaylord Perry. His lifetime win-loss record was 324-256, and his career strikeout total was 3,574.

R.I.P. Tommy Lasorda

Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda passed away in earlier this month at the age of 93. He pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies in the late 1940s and then joined the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, but spent almost all his time in the minor leagues. After working as a scout and later a coach with the L.A. Dodgers, he was named manager in 1976, and achieved instant success in that role. An old-school, gruff kind of manager (like Earl Weaver, perhaps), he maximized the use of the talent on the teams and led the Dodgers to World Series victories in 1981 (over the Yankees) and 1988 (over the Athletics). He lived just long enough to see his beloved Dodgers win the World Series again.

R.I.P. Dick Allen

Top slugger Dick Allen, who spent most of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, passed away in early December at the age of 78. Although of average size, he carried a big bat and instilled fear in opposing pitchers. He was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1964, but got in a fight with team mate the next year, and was not always on friendly terms with local fans. Racial prejudice may have been a factor. Managers complained that they couldn't handle him, and he was traded to the Dodgers after the 1969 season. In 1972 he joined the Chicago White Sox, where he seemed more welcome, and he won the AL MVP award that year. He later returned to the Phillies and retired after playing for Oakland in 1977. He had 351 home runs during his 15 years in the majors.

R.I.P. Phil Niekro

Braves' pitcher Phil Niekro passed away in late December at the age of 81. He started in Milwaukee in 1964, and played for the team in Atlanta until 1983, after which he played for other teams until retiring in 1987. The durable knuckleball-thrower won 318 games over the course of his long career, pitching a total of 5,403 1/3 innings. No other pitcher since the early 20th Century had pitched so much, but Nolan Ryan and Gaylord Perry were close behind in that category.

R.I.P. Joe Morgan

Infielder (and long-time broadcast announcer on Fox Sports) Joe Morgan passed away in mid-October at the age of 77. Although he started with the Houston Colt 45s (later Astros) in 1963, he was best known for being a key part of the "Big Red Machine" in the 1970s, when the Cincinnati Reds won two World Series titles and two additional NL pennants. (He joined the Reds until two years after their 1970 pennant.) He had a career batting average of .271, with 689 stolen bases. I was recently watching a video of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (against the Red Sox, when Carlton Fisk hit that famous home run), and was impressed by Morgan's superb physical fitness and his tight, efficient swing of the bat. That team was a "machine" indeed! In 1980 he returned to Houston for one year, and then played with three other teams in the early 1980s.

R.I.P. Whitey Ford

New York Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford passed away in early October, two weeks short of his 90th birthday. He was called "Chairman of the Board" for his smooth, reliable command of the game while on the mound, helping the Yankees win 11 American League pennants and six World Series titles during his career. He signed with the Yankees in 1950, but was then drafted during the Korean War and spent two years in the military. During his 15 full years in the majors (1953-1967) he won 236 games, struck out 1,956 batters, and had an ERA of only 2.74.

Whitey Ford placque

This placque in honor of Whitey Ford was located in Monument Park of the original Yankee Stadium, and is now located in the corresponding area of New Yankee Stadium. (October 3, 2008)

R.I.P. Bob Gibson

St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson passed away in early October at the age of 84, exactly 52 years after he set a World Series record of 17 strikeouts in one game. That was Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers. He had a 22-9 win-loss record that year, with an ERA of only 1.12, the lowest in MLB since 1914. Gibson first pitched for the Cardinals in 1959, and epitomized the late-1960s era of dominant pitchers, striking fear in batters by throwing bean balls on several occasions. He was perhaps a factor in the decision to lower the pitchers mound from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969. Gibson struck out 3,117 batters and had an ERA of 2.91 during his career.

R.I.P. Lou Brock

The star for the 1966 St. Louis Cardinals Lou Brock passed away in early September at the age of 81. He joined the Cardinals in June 1964, after being traded away by the Chicago Cubs. (!) The left fielder soon gained a reputation for stealing bases, and led the National League in that category eight times. During the 18 years he played in the majors, he stole 938 bases. It helped that he was a consistent, solid batter, with 3,023 total hits in his career, and a .293 batting average. His hitting and base-running were a big help to the Cardinals' World Series wins in 1964 and 1967, plus their NL pennant in 1968, when the Tigers won the World Series.

R.I.P. Tom Seaver

The ace pitcher for the 1969 "Miracle Mets," Tom Seaver, passed away in late August at the age of 75. Covid-19 was listed as a contributing cause of death, but he was also suffering from dementia. When Seaver joined the Mets in 1967, they were a bunch of losers, but his background in the U.S. Marine Corps instilled in him leadership qualities that quickly turned things around. Though slight of build, "Tom Terrific" developed his pitching skills to such a degree that he is ranked by many experts as among the very best pitchers ever. A defining moment came on July 9, 1969, when retired all but one of the Chicago Cubs that he faced over nine innings: a one-hit "imperfect" game. That may have played a big role in the huge psychological shift by which the Mets caught up to the Cubs in the NL East race, ending the season eight games ahead of them. And the rest was history: ticker tape parade in Manhattan, Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, Cy Young Award (first of three), etc. The Mets made it to the World Series again in 1973, and even though Seaver put up even better pitching numbers than before, they lost to the Oakland A's. After a contract dispute in 1977, Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he played for six years. He later played for the Mets again, then for the White Sox, and finally (July-September, 1986) the Red Sox. He pitched his last MLB game one month before his team won the 1986 American League pennant and then lost to -- guess who? -- the New York Mets! How about that? Seaver threw 3,640 strikeouts in his career, and had a 2.86 ERA.

R.I.P. Al Kaline

Even though it happened nine months ago, I should also mention that Detroit Tiger right fielder Al Kaline passed away as well, at the age of 85. He had 3,007 hits and 399 home runs in his lengthy career (1953-1974), with a .297 batting average. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. It was because of an injury he suffered colliding with the grandstand wall near the right field corner in Tiger Stadium that the grandstand was reconfigured with a more gradual curve in 1955.

County Stadium tweaks

For the record, I made a few tiny tweaks to the Milwaukee County Stadium diagrams. The most noticeable change is the direction of the compass, which now properly corresponds to the southeast orientation of the diamond. (The first base line was virtually straight north-south.) Also, some of the entry portals and support beams (visible in the lower-deck and upper-deck diagrams only) changed slightly. Finally, when I mentioned last week that foul territory was a little too big in the previous version of the diagram(s), I forgot to indicate how much it changed in my latest revision. It went from about 28,300 sq. ft. to 28,100 sq. ft., a decrease of just 200 sq. ft.

Quiz time!

My brother Dan challenged my other siblings and me to a sports history query: Which THREE U.S. cities (defined broadly to include the entire metropolitan areas) have been the home to both an NFL team that has made two consecutive Super Bowl appearances and an MLB team that has appeared in two consecutive World Series? One is fairly obvious, though counter-intuitive, a second case only qualifies if you include World Series from before the Super Bowl era (which began in 1967), but figuring out the third one will give you fits. You can use the comment feature in this blog (for which you have to register, risk free) or else share it on Facebook or other social media.


January 18, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Dodgers end 32-year World Series drought

It wasn't as long as the Chicago Cubs' 108-year wait to reclaim the baseball world championship in 2016, but after repeated frustrations in recent postseasons, it probably seemed that way to many Dodgers fans. On October 27 (exactly twelve weeks ago!), the Los Angeles Dodgers became the world champions of baseball for the first time since 1988 -- a span of 32 years! It was no surprise, as they had been heavily favored against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Both the Dodgers (43-17) and the Rays (40-20) had the best regular season win-loss records in their respective leagues, and it was noteworthy that the expanded playoff format did not prevent those teams from reaching the final stage. The Rays won their second American League pennant in the 23 years of the franchise's history, which isn't bad for a small-market team with a rather mediocre stadium. The Rays' success in 2020 was rather surprising, and at the beginning of the postseason, they ranked behind the Yankees and the Astros in terms of likelihood of winning the American League pennant.

Despite earning home field advantage in the World Series via their MLB-best regular season record, the Dodgers couldn't really enjoy the advantage because all six games were played at Globe Life Field, the brand new home of the Texas Rangers in the far-out suburbs of Arlington. (One quirk is that Globe Life Field has become the eighth stadium ever to host a World Series in its inaugural year, but of course that's a mere artifact of the "bubble format" adopted to minimize the risk of spreading covid-19. The last one was Yankee Stadium II; a (then) full list can be seen on my October 27, 2009 blog post.) Attendance at each of the World Series games was about 11,400, with fans separated into small groups of family and friends, maintaining social distancing between the groups.

One big question was whether Dodger ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw (guaranteed future Hall of Famer) could get over his reputation for choking in big postseason games, such as Game 5 of the National League Division Series last year. Indeed, he did. In spite of having back spasms that forced him out of a start in the NLCS, Kershaw pitched six full innings in Game 1, and the Dodgers won easily, 8-3.

In Game 2 the Dodgers had to change pitchers almost every inning, while the Rays' Blake Snell struck out nine batters in four and two-thirds innings. Brandon Lowe hit two home runs, a crucial part of the Rays' 6-4 victory, as they evened the series 1-1.

In Game 3 Justin Turner hit a solo homer in the first inning, and the Dodgers just kept rolling after that. The Rays' ace pitcher Charlie Morton gave up five runs and couldn't finish the fifth inning, and the Dodgers won it, 6-2.

Game 4 will be remembered for two crucial Dodger errors and a dramatic ending. With two outs and two-strikes in bottom of the ninth inning -- the ultimate do-or-die situation -- some guy named Brett Phillips came through with a huge clutch hit late last night. It was right around midnight here in the east. It wasn't a home run, he didn't actually get credited with an RBI for the game-winning run, and it didn't end up changing World Series history, but it was still pretty neat. The Tampa Bay Rays won it, 8-7, thus evening the series with Dodgers, 2-2.

That win gave the Rays a fighting chance, as they faced Clayton Kershaw in Game 5. This time he lasted five and two thirds innings as the Dodgers beat the Rays, 4-2. In his two World Series wins, Kershaw struck out 14 total batters while only giving up three runs combined.

In Game 6 the Dodgers once again went through their bullpen early on, and only one pitcher (closer Julio Urias) pitched more than two innings. But unlike Game 2, their strategy worked, and the Rays just couldn't generate much offense after Randy Arozarena hit a solo homer in the first inning. Rays pitcher Blake Snell did fine once again, but reliever Nick Anderson gave up a run on a wild pitch in the sixth inning, and the Dodgers soon had a 2-1 lead. Mookie Betts homered in the eighth inning to make it 3-1, and that was the final score.

Corey Seager was named World Series MVP, with two home runs and a .400 batting average (seven home runs and a .328 average for the whole 2020 postseason). An unfortunate footnote to the Dodgers' long-awaited triumph was that Justin Turner, who had been mysteriously removed from Game 6 in the late innings after the covid-19 test he took came back positive, joined his teammates on the field in the jubilant celebration without a mask.

The Dodgers now have a 6-6 World Series win-loss record since moving to Los Angeles in 1958 (63 years total), and combined with their 1-8 World Series record during their 54 years in Brooklyn since the first World Series (not counting the 20 years that preceded 1903), that yields an overall record of 7-14. For those who are curious, the Baseball annual chronology andthe Postseason scores pages have been updated.

2020 postseason: very strange

No one knew what to expect when the abbreviated, 60-game baseball regular season season got underway, and the same was true of the wide-open 16-team postseason arrangement. The two highest teams in each division automatically qualified, including two teams (Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros) with records below .500; that was an embarrassment. Due to the coronavirus, no fans were allowed at any MLB games during the regular season, and only in the NL Championship Series and the World Series (both held entirely at Globe Life Field) were any fans allowed.

The Atlanta Braves, with first place in the NL East, overcame their recent history of postseason failure by beating the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card series, including the bizarre first game in which neither team scored during the first nine innings. In the 13th inning, finally, Freddie Freeman hit a walk-off RBI single, and that was that. The next day the Braves put it away with a 5-0 victory, advancing to the NL divisional series. They faced the Miami Marlins, who had beaten the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs in two games. The Marlins were ahead in Game 1 until the seventh inning, when the Braves scored six runs, winning 9-5. No Marlins crossed the plate in the next two games, and the Braves earned a series sweep.

The Los Angeles Dodgers made quick work of both the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres, sweeping both teams. So both the Dodgers and the Braves were undefeated in the postseason as they faced each other in the NL Championship Series played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Braves won the first two as the "visiting" team, but were then beaten badly (15-3) in Game 3; the Dodgers scored an unbelievable 11 runs in the first inning, setting an MLB postseason record. Starting pitcher Kyle Wright gave up seven of those runs. The rest of the series was back and forth, as Marcell Ozuna's two homers helped the Braves win 10-2 in Game 4, giving them a 3-1 series lead. In Game 5 the Dodgers won 7-3, with a memorable moment occurring when their catcher Will Smith hit a home run off the Braves' pitcher Will Smith! In Game 6, Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit back-to-back homers in the first inning, helping the Dodgers win, 3-1. That set up the deciding Game 7, in which the Braves had a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning, whereupon Enrique Hernandez tied it with a solo home run. Cody Bellinger did likewise an inning later, and the Dodgers won the game 4-3, thus taking the series.

One of the pleasant surprises from the 2020 season was the Chicago White Sox taking one of the AL wild card spots. In Game 1 of the wild card series against the Oakland Athletics, their young ace pitcher Lucas Giolito (a former Washington National) had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning; the White Sox won that one 4-1, but lost the next two games and were eliminated. Giolito is clearly a rising star for the future. Oakland then faced the Houston Astros in the divisional series, losing three games to one. Thus the scandal-tainted Astros made it to the AL Championship Series in spite of their 29-31 regular season record.

With Gerritt Cole on the mound, the New York Yankees looked hard to beat in the postseason, and indeed the Cleveland Indians fell in two straight games of the wild card series. But the Tampa Bay Rays displayed consistent offensive power and just enough pitching prowess in the latter games to give them the divisional series win, three games to two. In the deciding Game 5, Mike Brosseau hit a solo home run against Aroldis Chapman to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, and that was the final score.

In the AL Championship series, played at Petco Park in San Diego, the Tampa Bay Rays won the first three games against the Houston Astros, but almost blew it as the latter team came back with three straight wins to set up a deciding Game 7. Veteran pitcher Charlie Morton (who had pitched for the world champion Astros in 2017) was in command for nearly six innings, and the Astros did not score until the eighth inning. Final score: Rays 4, Astros 2.

(Milwaukee) County Stadium update

After confirming my impression that foul territory was a little too big in my Milwaukee County Stadium Milwaukee County Stadium diagrams, I made some significant revisions to them. The lower deck of the grandstand is bigger than I had previously estimated, and so (ironically) the total stadium "footprint" is larger. The upper deck has essentially been "pushed back" by about ten feet, and the second lateral walkway is now exposed to the sun. Another difference is that the grandstand extends straight for about 50 feet near the respective foul poles, rather than conforming to a smooth curve as I had previously assumed. Thus, there are now distinct angles at the junctions between the outfield fence and the two wings of the grandstand. The position of the structural beams and entry portals has changed, but this is only visible in the "uncovered" first- and second-deck diagrams. Finally, the position of the light poles has changed slightly, and in the 1976 diagrams, there is a small section of lights at the far end of the upper deck near the right field corner. [They were moved there after one of the light poles in right field was taken down to make room for the expanded scoreboard.]

And, as you can imagine, working on the old home of the Brewers got me looking more closely at the new home of the Brewers (now called "American Family Field" rather than Miller Park), so I have been busy at work on those diagrams as well...




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


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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.





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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.

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