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April 2012
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April 1, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Goodlatte faces challenges from the left and the right

Virginia's Sixth Congressional District has been one of the safest Republican strongholds for the past two decades, during which time one man has served this area in the U.S. House of Representatives: Bob Goodlatte. In most recent elections, he has faced little if any serious opposition from the Democrats. But with all the turmoil of the past two years on Capitol Hill, and a very annoyed and anxious electorate, nothing can be taken for granted.

So perhaps it should not be surprising the Rep. Goodlatte is being challenged not only by the Democrats this year, but by the libertarian wing of his own Republican Party. I happened to attend recent political events at which two of the challengers were speaking: Karen Kwiatkowski on February 12, and Andy Schmookler earlier on Saturday afternoon. I was motivated to attend the latter event in part because of the paid advertisement in Friday's News Leader, which read in part:

To the Good, Decent Conservatives of Our Area

The Gang That's Hijacked the Republican Party Has
Betrayed Your Trust.

I Challenge You to Come to the Town Hall Meeting...
Because I Can Prove It!

For someone like me with extensive first-hand knowledge of how the party (or at least major parts of it) was hijacked in recent years, that was simply too intriguing for me to ignore. So, I took the bait and went. Here's what I wrote on Facebook about yesterday's event:

I spent a very worthwhile two-plus hours at the Staunton library this afternoon, listening to Democratic congressional candidate Andy Schmookler, and talking to him afterwards. He is keenly aware of many of the things that are wrong with American society, and the Republican Party in particular, and I was very impressed. I disagree with him about several key issues (such as health care), so it's not likely that I would vote for him, but I am glad he entered the race, to raise public awareness and give voters more of a choice. Likewise for libertarian Republican Karen Kwiatkowski, who is challenging incumbent Bob Goodlatte in the primaries. I'm looking forward to an interesting race for the Virginia Sixth Congressional District seat this spring and fall.

To elaborate on that, Mr. Schmookler was introduced by Bruce Elder, a member of the Staunton City Council who ran for the House of Delegates against Chris Saxman in 2005 (scroll down). He talked about the books that Schmookler has written about sharpening divisions in society, and related issues. Schmookler began by saying someone in his line of work (seeking truth) is not usually well suited for the world of politics, but said that the country is in a profound crisis and needs a new kind of leader to fix things. His basic point was that there is a Big Lie: the Republican Party is pretending to be conservative and patriotic, but in practice is actually something quite different. Rather than venerating existing norms and institutitions, he says, they are trampling on democratic norms, blocking governmental action, and seeking to delegitimize the opposition. He took particular umbrage at the slogan of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, "Country First," lumping all Republicans into the same wicked category, and I later challenged him on that, insisting that McCain was a sincere patriot and deserved more credit. But Schmookler's take on last summer's debt ceiling debacle was convincing: The threat by some of the GOP radicals to meet their demands or else they would shut the government down was deeply irresponsible and unpatriotic. During the Q & A segment, I expressed agreement with some of Schmookler's points and praised his effort to focus attention on what is wrong with the GOP, but I also took issue with his position on health care and a couple other issues.

After the questions and answers were over, Mr. Schmookler came over and we had a lengthy, very friendly talk. You can find a thorough set of policy position statements at I noticed that he lists "individual liberty" as being among his core principles, which is a good sign, but for me that is impossible to reconcile with a single-payer health care system, which he expects will eventually come about. His first name certainly has a positive ring to it, and his last name reminds me of a certain company that produces fruit preserves, which led me to suggest the following campaign slogan:

With a name like Schmookler, he has to be good!

UPDATE: Today's News Leader had an article on page two covering that event. It quoted one of my remarks, though without identifying me by name:

And among Saturday afternoon's crowd at the library he had one conservative listener, if not a convert, who holds the same view that the Republican party is not quite what it tries to portray itself to be, stating its fetish for loyalty "makes them impervious to reason."

Schmookler had a very good response to my comment, arguing that loyalty ought to be a "two-way street." In other words, the leaders of an organization in a free society ought to be just as loyal to their members as the members are to the leaders. I heartily agree with that. And just to clarify, the misplaced obsession with loyalty (exemplified by those who cry "RINO!") is not characteristic of all Republicans, but it is the prevailing tendency these days, which I believe cripples the party's ability to function properly and fix its own problems. The Democrats, meanwhile, must cope with a whole different set of internal problems. Schmookler did not talk about that, however.

Karen Kwiatkowski for Congress

Back on February 12, I attended a screening of the movie Farmageddon in Harrisonburg, at which the featured speakers were nationally-known organic farmer and author Joel Salatin and GOP congressional candidate Karen Kwiatkowski. The movie included many horrifying images of poultry and livestock being subjected to miserable and filthy conditions prior to being slaughtered. It also showed how corporate lobbyists have succeeded in pushing for legislation that systematically I bought Salatin's newest book about artificially modified foods, Folks, This Ain't Normal; you can probably find it and that movie at the Web site

But the main attraction was probably Karen Kwiatkowski, who is challenging Bob Goodlatte in the primary election to be held on June 12. Ms. Kwiatkowski is a retired Air Force colonel with clear libertarian views on many policy issues. Instead of relying primarily on the Federal government to regulate the safety of the food we eat (a policy which is not working very well), she would rely more on word of mouth and the old fashioned norm of "let the buyer beware." I was quite delighted that the small-farm agricultural reform movement and libertarian activists have begun working hand in hand. Many After the movie screening, I had a nice conversation with her about the Tenth Amendment, nullification, and related constitutional issues. For more, see

Just as most people expect that Bob Goodlatte will win in November, it is widely believed that he would be almost unbeatable in the primary election. Well, if he actually met his opponent in a one-on-one debate, it might be more of an even match. There was an online poll by the News Virginian, last month: "Should incumbent 6th District Rep. Bob Goodlatte consent to a debate series with challenger Karen Kwiatkowski?" By an almost two-to-one margin (64% to 35%), the 721 people who voted said YES. I sincerely hope that Rep. Goodlatte gets the message.

[April *] 5, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Opening Day (Night) 2012!

Wow! Ready or (in my case) not, baseball season is here at last! The Miami Marlins had the honor of ushering in the 2012 regular season by hosting the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals in their brand-new home on the site of the old Orange Bowl. The 37,400-seat concrete marvel was filled to capacity, the first time the Marlins have had a sold-out game in several years. What a difference from those paltry crowds of 5,000 or less that showed up for many games in recent years! The fans were obviously thrilled to see the big new star on their team, Jose Reyes. He got two hits, but that was as many as the rest of his team got, so they lost. The Cardinals got on the board with two runs in the first inning, thanks to David Freese, the MVP of World Series 2011. The departure of Albert Pujols didn't seem to affect how well they played. It could be another interesting year in the National League Central Division, as well as in the East.

Tomorrow will be Opening Day for most other teams, including the Washington Nationals, who start the season on the road, in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Actually, Opening Day was last week, when the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics split a pair of games in the Tokyo Dome. I'll have to update that diagram sometime soon...

Marlins Park update

Speaking of which, I did update the Marlins Park Marlins Park diagram with several detail corrections, and got started on a full-view version that will eventually show the entire retractable roof opening and closing. I'll have to put something in that diagram to show where that multicolored circus thing in center field is, as I did with the Coke bottle and glove in the AT&T Park diagram. Enjoy!

I finally updated the "Stadium construction" table in the right column of the baseball blog page. However, inasmuch as there are no longer any Major League Baseball stadiums under construction (the first time that has been the case in over a quarter century!), I will soon delete that table. I also updated the "If I were Commissioner" blurb in the left column of that page, to reflect the fact that the Houston Astros will move to the AL Western Division next year, contrary to my hopes.

More news, comments on Marlins Park, and other cool stuff will be coming real soon! smile

* CORRECTED DATE: It previously said "March."

April 17, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Nationals start 2012 season on a winning note

Wouldn't you know it, the Washington Nationals are having their best-ever first two weeks of the season since moving to D.C. seven years ago, and I've been too swamped with other duties to properly document it! I definitely have been keeping up with the games, and I really wanted to see a game during their initial home stand, but that will have to wait until May, I'm afraid. But even from a distance, the Nats' superb 9-3 record (as of earlier tonight) is still immensely enjoyable. It is especially satisfying for those of us loyal Nats fans who suffered through the grim years of 2006-2009, when they routinely racked up terrible win-loss records early in the season. (See table below.)

Stephen "The Phenomenon" Strasburg took the mound at Wrigley Field on Opening Day (Thursday, April 5), and pitched splendidly for seven innings, giving up only one run. The Cubs' Ryan Dempster did even better, however, and the Nationals had to scrounge runs in the eighth and ninth innings to win the game, 2-1. In both that game and the next game, on Saturday (which the Nats won), an unknown bench player named Chad Tracy provided clutch hits that made the difference.

Then the "D.C. 9" flew to LaGuardia Airport for a three-game series against the Mets, who have also had a surprisingly good early season. The Nats dropped the first game, 4-3, as relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez made a throwing error that gave the home team the winning run. But the visitors bounced back and won the next two games, as Nats shortstop Ian Desmond hit a home run (his first of the year), continuing his early-season hot streak at the plate. Meanwhile, Jayson Werth's bat finally woke up, as he went four for five in the Nats' 6-2 win on Tuesday. On Wednesday the 11th, Strasburg won his second start as the Nats blanked the Mets 4-0, thus pulling even in the race for the National League Eastern Division. The big downside in that series was the Nats' repeated failure to get hits with runners in scoring position. In Wednesday's game they scored one run each in the final three innings, but two of those were walks with the bases loaded, and one resulted from a groundout. The Nats ended up with a horrendous 14 men left on base. But as they say, "A win's a win."

Thursday April 12 marked the Nationals' home opener, hosting the Cincinatti Reds, and everything was going fine until the top of the ninth inning, when the visitors scored twice to tie the game, 2-2. That was a disappointing debut in Washington for the recently-acquired former Phillie relief pitcher Brad Lidge. (See below.) But it ended on an upbeat note in the tenth inning, as Ryan Zimmerman was hit by a pitch, then advanced to third base, and finally scored the winning run when Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon threw a wild pitch. On Friday the 13th (!) the game was tied 1-1 all the way into the 13th (!) inning, when Jayson Werth batted in the winning run. On Saturday, Nats pitcher Edwin Jackson threw a stupendous nine-inning two-hit game, which the Nats won 4-1. On Sunday, fortune tipped the other direction, as the Reds hit a grand slam in the first inning, and had a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth, when the Nats bounced back with three runs. By the end of seven, they had tied it 5-5, and for the third time in the four-game series, it went into extra innings. Usually reliable Tyler Clippard came in in the 11th inning, but he wasn't feeling well that day, and Joey Votto sparked a three-run rally by the Reds. In the bottom of the 11th Wilson Ramos came to the plate with runners on second and third, and it looked like another amazing comeback when he crushed a line drive down the first base line, but Joey Votto grabbed the ball and threw it to the pitcher to end the game.

On Monday the Houston Astros came to town, and this time another young unknown player led the way to victory. Steve Lomdardozzi, filling in for Danny Espinosa at second base, went four for five including two RBIs. Ryan Zimmerman batted in another two runs, and the Nats won, 6-3. In tonight's game, Gio Gonzalez, another top-notch pitcher acquired in the off-season (see below) performed masterfully. Over seven innings, he struck out eight batters and only allowed two hits and two walks. The Nats scored only once, in the fourth inning, when a bloop single to left by Adam LaRoche allowed Jayson Werth to make it home from second base. And that was all they needed to win that game.

Since the Mets lost to the Braves tonight, the Nats now have a game-and-a-half lead in the NL East; for the past several days, the Mets were exactly one half game behind. It's the first time the Nats have had the distinction of leading the division outright since July 20, 2005.

Nationals build a winning team

Little by little, without many outside people noticing, the Washington Nationals have put together a team that can make a serious run for the postseason. If they can get that far without Prince Fielder, whose salary demands were just too high, it will reflect very favorably on General Manager Mike Rizzo and the Nats' front office. They did acquire the services of two top-notch pitchers over the winter, Edwin Jackson and Brad Lidge.

Right fielder Jayson Werth may finally live up to the sky-high expectations that came with his multi-million dollar contract in December 2010. He currently leads the Nats in batting average, .362 (17 for 47), but has yet to hit a home run this year.

Ryan Zimmerman has not been hitting very well thus far, but his fielding at third base is as superb as ever. For a consistent superstar like him, it's only a matter of time before he starts hitting on a regular basis.

Ever since the Opening Day game in Chicago when he got three hits, Ian Desmond has been performing like a real star in the batter's box. When he was first acquired, he was expected to be more of a slugger than a fielder, but over the past two seasons he has been known primarily for his defensive prowess. Likewise for his partner on the other side of second base, Danny Espinosa.

First baseman Adam LaRoche has been making several clutch hits for the Nats, likewise living up to the expectations of before his injury last summer. Similarly for center fielder Rick Ankiel, who dazzled the crowd in D.C. on Sunday afternoon by catching a long fly ball with the bases loaded and no outs, and then throwing a strike to home plate from 300+ feet away, preventing the runner on third from scoring. That play stifled what could have been a game-changing rally. Here are the position players:

* One of the worst pieces of news for the Nationals this spring is that their big slugging star from last year, Michael Morse, will remain on the disabled list for at least six more weeks. Morse signed a two-year contract with the team earlier this spring, and I wish it had been for a longer term. Mark DeRosa (formerly of the Atlanta Braves, the Richmond Braves, etc.) and Xavier Nady will be filling his shoes in left field. Morse was playing "rehabiliation" games for the Nats' Class A affiliate in Hagerstown, Maryland, but aggravated his strained back muscle in a game on Monday. See Morse switched between first base and left field last year, and now that first baseman Adam LaRoche is healthy once again, Morse will (once he returns) play almost exclusively in the outfield. Get well soon, Michael!!!

The Nationals' pitching is arguably the very best in all the majors this year, with an aggregate ERA of only 1.91. (The next best team, pitching-wise, is the Texas Rangers, with a 2.36 ERA.) Here is the starting rotation, and each pitcher's current ERA:

Gio Gonzalez earned a stellar reputation with the Oakland A's (see Dec. 31), but Edwin Jackson is more of a question mark. Among other potential starters, Chien-Ming Wang, who made a solid comeback late last season but re-injured himself this spring, is expected back in the rotation in the next few weeks. He would presumably displace Ross Detwiler back to the bullpen -- unless Detwiler keeps up his performance, that is.

Meanwhile, it was a sign of the times that former Nationals pitching ace John Lannan did not even make the team's 2012 starting rotation. He pitched all right in spring training, but the competition was just too fierce. He even asked to be traded, but no team expressed interest, so he will remain with the farm system for the time being. With the Syracuse Chiefs thus far, he is 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA. Ouch! I have seen John Pitch before, and I know he capable of doing a lot better, so I hope he returns to the big leagues soon.

The Nats' bullpen is almost as good as their starters, even though their closing pitcher from last year, Drew Storen, is out for at least two months after having surgery on his elbow. See

Back in late January, the Nats signed former Phillie reliever Brad Lidge to a one-year contract worth $1 million. At the ripe old age of 36, he may only have a few years left in his career, but aging pitchers often prove their worth. Lidge will join Drew Storen (once he heals) and Tyler Clippard in making one of the best bullpens in the majors; for the time being, he is serving as substitute closer in most recent games. As noted at, "As recently as 2008, Lidge was one of the best closers in baseball, helping the Phillies win their first World Series title since 1980."

So what does it all mean?

For teams that are used to finishing toward the bottom of the heap, it is customary to rationalize early-season disappointments by insisting that the April standings have no real bearing on the year as a whole. This year is quite different. No one can predict what injuries or freakish twists of fate that may take place between now and September, but all indications are that the Nats are real, that they are solid in just about every position, and with plenty of depth to boot. We have all been expecting the Nats to become postseason contenders in the next year or so, and we may get our wish even sooner than we thought. Yes, sports fans, baseball in Washington this October is more than wishful thinking, it is a very strong likelihood!

The following table compares the Nationals' record during the first twelve games for each of their first seven seasons in Washington with their cumulative percentage for the year. It's only a rough correlation, but there is a definite pattern:

Year First twelve games (W-L) Season total (%)
2005 8-4 .500
2006 3-9 .438
2007 3-9 .451
2008 3-9 .366
2009 2-10 .364
2010 6-6 .426
2011 5-7 .497
2012 9-3 ???

Citi Field update

As the Nats were playing against the Mets up in New York, I updated the Citi Field Citi Field diagrams. It now has more accurate renderings of the new (shorter) outfield fences and "Party Deck" seating area that were installed prior to this season. Some great fan photos on Baseball Fever show that the fence in front of the new section has a slight bend, so I included that. In addition, the upper decks in left field are set back about 8-10 feet each, and the arched bridge over the bullpens has been moved back a little bit as well. For the time being, I decided to color the section of dining tables in front of that bridge red, but I may make it pale gray again in the future. More and more ballparks these days have such dining sections (such as the "Red Porch" at Nationals Park), so I'll have to come up with a consistent way to represent that. The other changes in the Citi Field diagrams are fairly minor in nature.

Among other diagram updates that are in the works, I am having a hard time figuring out the geometric logic behind the curved perimeter walls at Marlins Park. I'll have something ready by this weekend at the latest, but further updates may be required later on.

Rebuild Dodger Stadium?

There are some very important stadium anniversaries this month, including one in Los Angeles: Dodger Stadium (built in 1962) has officially reached the half century mark! Maybe that has something to do with how well the Dodgers are playing this year; they are 9-2, the best record in the majors. (Just barely!) From one of my Facebook friends, I learned that retired pitcher Orel Hershiser is behind a campaign to renovate Dodger Stadium for the 21st Century. Somebody is proposing to double-deck the right-field pavilion and remove a large part of the upper deck down the third base line. See To me, that sounds like heresy, or maybe it was just an April Fool's joke. The image in that story is obviously a Photoshopped picture of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Sponsorship renewal

Finally, big-league thanks are long overdue to Jack Courtney, who has kindly renewed his sponsorship of the U.S. Cellular Field page. I'll be back to hustling for sponsorships and advertising in another three weeks or so, when the spring semester ends.

April 30, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Harper has great debut, but Nats get swept

This first month has far surpassed what Washington Nationals fans could possibly have hoped for, and after reaching a record of 14-4, they were bound to get a reality check.

In a surprise move made necessary by an injury to Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper was called up to the majors. I have to say, he really put aside doubts of naysayers (or skeptics like me), rising to the occasion in a superb debut in the major leagues. Playing in L.A. against the Dodgers on Saturday night, Harper crushed a double that landed right at the foot of the center field fence, and the way he was running, he could probably have stretched it into a triple. His team mates didn't get him across the plate, unfortunately, but in the top of the ninth he hit a sacrifice fly that gave the Nats a 2-1 lead. A single by Wilson Ramos added an insurance run, which proved crucial in the bottom of that inning. The often-shaky reliever Henry Rodriguez came in and proceeded to give up two singles and a double to the first three batters he faced. For some incomprehensible reason, manager Davey Johnson kept him in there. It looked like his judgment would be proven correct, as the Dodgers had two men out and two strikes, whereupon Rodriguez threw a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score. Argh-h-h-h!!! That's when Tom Gorzelanny was called in from the bullpen to get the third out. In the tenth inning, however, Gorzelanny gave up a home run to the phenomenal Matt Kemp, his 11th of the year. (!) And thus, Bryce Harper's chance at a triumphant, Hollywood-scripted debut game in the major leagues was ruined. frown See

The next day Harper got another hit, and made a spectacular leaping catch at the center field wall. In the top of the ninth, with the score 2-0 against them, he was up to bat with a runner on first base. I was amazed when he took ball four and walked to first; I figured he would be eagerly swatting away, but he showed real patience. That left it up to catcher Jesus Flores, who unfortunately struck out. And so, the Nationals were swept by the Dodgers -- the very first series loss of the year for the "D.C. 9."

As a result of the Nats' four-game losing streak, the Atlanta Braves pulled even with the Nationals, sharing first place in the National League Eastern Division. The Nats had held onto sole possesion of first place since April 12. The Braves lost to the Pirates at home in Atlanta tonight, thereby slipping a half game behind the Nationals, who were resting on their way back home to Washington. They will host the Diamondbacks this week, and then the Phillies this coming weekend.

Harper is filling in for Ryan Zimmerman, who hurt his shoulder last week and is on the 15-day disabled list. When Zim comes back, will Harper stay? I hope so. After some early strong performances by Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady, their reserve position players have been very weak at the plate. Sadly, journeyman reservist Mark DeRosa is batting under .100, and his time in D.C. may be running short.

The Nationals' 14-8 record (.636) for April is the highest percentage they have amassed for any month since June 2005, when they were 20-6: Believe it or not! I probably shouldn't complain, especially since many of their victories have been by one-run margins, but the Nats really should have won at least one of those last four games. Henry Rodriguez choked badly more than once last year (see May 27 and July 24, 2011), and he he committed an error on April 9 this year that handed the game to the Mets. (Can we trade him for Matt Capps? smile) Well, just wait until Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Michael Morse are back in the lineup. With those sluggers and one of the best pitching rotations in the majors, the Nationals will be very hard to beat!

Happy 100th Birthday, Fenway Park!

Was Willard Scott on the "Today Show" when they celebrated Fenway Park's 100th Birthday two weeks ago? If not, he should have been. If Mildred Abernathy from Poughkeepsie, New York and all those other good-lookin' centenarians from across the land can get their 15 seconds of fame, then why not the oldest major league ballpark still in existence?? "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good!" smile

Boston fans were less than thrilled about the way the game at which the centennial was celebrated (April 20) ended up: The hated Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-2. The next day, broadcast nationally in living color, the ferocious, vengeance-minded Red Sox took a 9-0 lead going into the sixth inning. Yankee manager Joe Girardi was interviewed by the FOX reporters, and he said anything can happen in Fenway Park. (Yeah, right.) Actually, he was right, as the Yankees came charging back with seven runs in both the seventh and eighth innings to beat the Red Sox again, 15-9. That was one of the most amazing comebacks that I can ever remember. The Yankees are slowly climbing toward first place in the AL East, behind the Rays and the Orioles, while the Red Sox are stuck in the cellar.

I realized I had neglected to include the new video scoreboards that were installed behind the bleachers in center field in 2011. So, I made a minor tweak to the Fenway Park diagram.

Braves Field update

More significantly, speaking of Beantown, I made some major improvements to the diagrams for Braves Field Braves Field, home of the Boston Braves (1915-1952) and also home of the football team by the same name that would eventually become known as the Washington Redskins (1932). This was prompted by a tip from Bruce Orser about some great new photos on They cleared up several key questions that had been bothering me, so I went ahead and feverishly (!) made the necessary corrections and detail enhancements. There are still some questions about exactly when (and whether) and outfield fence was moved during the 1930s and 1940s, and I decided to remain "agnostic" on that whole issue for the time being.

Note that there are two football diagrams: one corresponding to the configuration when the Boston Patriots played at what came to be called "Nickerson Field" (1960-1962), and one for the Boston University Terriers, whose football program ended after 1997. I have seen conflicting information on exactly when the main grandstand was torn down, however, so I may need to revise that 1960 version diagram again.

Tiger Stadium centennial

If Tiger Stadium were still standing, the fans in Detroit would be celebrating its centennial as well. But because the people running the city government don't care much for civic heritage, it was torn down in 2009 in the face of strong protests from preservationists and Tiger fans. As a result, the occasion was barely even noticed in Motown. See; link from John Clem. That's a real pity. Navin Field (as it was originally called) opened for business on the same day that Fenway Park did, just a few days after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.

Tiger Stadium

Is that a great photo, or what? August 2004, just before a Tigers game at Comerica Park.

R.I.P "Moose" Skowron

One of the most reliable infielders for the New York Yankees during the late 1950s and early 1960s passed away over the weekend. Bill "Moose" Skowron was 81, and had been suffering heart problems and lung cancer. In his career, he had a .282 batting average, hit 211 home runs, made the All-Star Game six times, and played in seven World Series with the Yankees -- and one with the Dodgers, after he was traded in 1963. (That was the year of the ignominious sweep: Dodgers 4, Yankees 0.) See the Washington Post.

Is it just me, or does his menacing grin remind you of a certain very young Washington Nationals slugger?

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