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 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...
January 19, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Trump loses re-election, incites riot, gets impeached
Well, I've got a lot of political news to catch up on since last summer, when I wrote about the Black Lives Matter protests. Hardly anyone expected that President Donald Trump would leave office quietly, and those who enjoy shaking up the political "establishment" in Washington got their fill last week. On the day that the U.S. Congress met in a joint session to complete the formalities of counting the electoral votes that were cast on December 12, supporters of President Trump staged a coordinated assault on the Capitol building in an apparent attempt to overturn the election results in favor of the incumbent. In response, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, and with just hours to go before he is due to leave office, the matter is in the hands of the U.S. Senate. The current situation goes beyond the scenarios invented in such daring political thrillers as Seven Days in May or The Manchurian Candidate. "Truth is stranger than fiction."
What follows are brief summaries of the major episodes leading up to the inauguration of Joe Biden as president at noon tomorrow, beginning with the fall campaign and the November 3rd election and immediate aftermath. Then I will describe what happened on January 6, interpreting the events in terms of Trump's political objectives, and finally I will briefly touch on the impeachment process. Several passages are taken from Facebook posts I made during the last six months of the year.
2020 campaign: wild & crazy
At the end of July, President Trump seriously proposed delaying the November election in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Obviously, there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution for doing so, and trying to get the 50 states to cooperate on some kind of modified schedule would be next to impossible. This was in the context of his denunciation of mail-in voting, which several states announced. (See Washington Post.) I asked rhetorically on Facebook that if he were re-elected, "would he continue saying absurd, inflammatory things that are not meant to be taken seriously (such as this), or would he become more calm and reasonable?"
In early September, Trump escalated his broad-brushed accusations that the November elections were going to be rigged against him, urging his supporters at a rally in North Carolina to vote twice. He seemed determined to spread as much mayhem and confusion as possible during the final two months of the election. It may have been that he merely wanted them to "test the system" to see if mail-in ballots have been properly tabulated, but that was obviously the wrong way to do it. In the context of his warning about widespread voting fraud, it constituted another blatant bad-faith assault on our democratic institutions. It was inexcusable, but few Republicans stepped up to criticize him. (apple.news)
Trump's first debate performance with Joe Biden last October was yet another first-class outrage, filled with constant interruptions and rude put-downs. [Fox News reporter Chris Wallace] was caught off guard, and simply could not maintain any kind of order. When NBC reporter Kristen Welker moderated the second (and last) debate, things went somewhat more smoothly, and Trump impressed enough people that he probably picked up some votes.
But when asked later that month whether he would commit to abiding by the November election results, Trump simply refused to do so. Did that mean he might refuse to leave office and declare an emergency to stay in power? While it would be easy to dismiss such remarks as more of the same provocative nonsense, doing so would further desensitize ourselves to the appalling erosion of democratic norms and values in this country. For some local official to say such things would be subversive but of little consequence; for the President of the United States to say them constituted (yet another) direct attack on the institutions that make our republic strong. The failure of Republican politicians to sharply disavow his lack of respect for electoral processes was absolutely inexcusable.
In my online interactions with Trump supporters last fall, I acknowledged that there have been tainted election wins by Democrats in the past (former Sen. Al Franken's election [by a 312-vote margin in 2008] was often mentioned), and that more such irregularities were possible. I tried my best to point out that our local boards of election are bipartisan and transparent, and the likelihood of widespread orchestrated fraud such as Trump suggests is almost zero. If he were sincere in seeking to prevent such fraud, he would call for existing safeguards to be strengthened. Instead, he chose to sow more doubt, making it almost inevitable that whichever side that loses will refuse to accept the results, ending in prolonged violent turmoil. It didn't have to end that way, but that is exactly what has happened.
A montage of signs and flags from the 2020 campaign, mostly in Staunton. The Trump flag and Gadsden flag ("Don't tread on me") were seen about a mile west of Natural Chimneys, in northern Augusta County.
Trump defeats himself, while GOP holds on
The November 3 election turned out pretty much the way I expected, with Joe Biden defeating President Trump by a small but clear margin. Unlike the 2016 election, when it was fairly clear by midnight in the east that Donald Trump had won, this time we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning without knowing for sure who was the winner. In the early hours, Trump had a large lead in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, but those vote totals reflected people who had voted that day. Because of delays in counting all the early ballots and mail-in ballots that were allowed in several states* due to the coronavirus, there was no clear winner until four days later, Saturday afternoon. The headline in Sunday's Washington Post was "Trump defeats Biden," but it would be more accurate to say that Trump defeated himself.
* The Trump campaign objected to counting ballots that were cast early on the grounds that state law in Pennsylvania specifies when votes may be cast, and that state officials did not have the authority to make changes to accommodate the situation. There may be some merit to that, but most legal scholars allow for slight variations in emergencies (such as the covid-19 pandemic) when it is impractical to convene the legislature to make the necessary changes.
In spite of his unpredictable behavior, autocratic tendencies, and frequent lapses of basic decency when referring to his political adversaries, President Trump had several advantages as the incumbent candidate in the 2020 race. If he were more rational and had played his cards right, he might have won. But any hope held by fence-sitting voters that Trump might change his ways and act more normally had largely vanished before January 2020 when the campaign got underway. Of course the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in March hurt his chances, but once again, he made things worse by alternately dismissing the threat and then blaming it on outside forces. Calling it the "Wuhan virus" or the "Kung flu" probably didn't change the vote totals very much, but repeatedly insulting medical authorities such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and suggesting absurd remedies such as ingesting bleach were just too much for many voters to swallow.
It took weeks to finish the vote count, and partisan disputes in Pennsylvania were the most egregious example of the needless delay. Both parties deserve part of the blame there. The Democrats pushed for excessively loose standards, so that anyone could vote several weeks before the official November 3rd election day, and all those votes had to be carefully stored and then counted separately from the normal "same-day" votes. Then the decided to allow the counting of mail-in ballots that arrived after election day, supposedly requiring a properly dated postmark, but that wasn't clear. My understanding is that the late-arriving ballots were treated as "provisional" and thus not included in the official vote totals, but I need to check on that. In any case, there weren't enough of them to affect the outcome in Pennsylvania. Republican legislators in that state made things even worse by refusing to allow election officials to begin counting the early votes until November 3rd.
In the end, Biden won five battleground states that Trump had won in 2016: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia. Biden amassed the exact same number of electoral votes (306) that Trump had won back then, and 7,058,637 more popular votes nationwide. My Presidency and Virginia politics pages have been updated.
Roll your mouse over the map to compare my election night forecast (as of 9:00 PM) to the actual results. I got 47 out of 50 states correct.
SOURCE: Apple News Spotlight
Legal appeals, Electoral College
Throughout late November and early December, Trump kept up his rejection of the election results, claiming that if you only counted the legal ballots, he would have had a clear majority of the nationwide popular votes. That was just absurd. But in an ironic twist to what had happened four years earlier, Trump's habit of accusing his opponents of resorting to vote fraud paved the way for those opponents to (in essence) accuse him of doing! The disputes in late November and early December 2016 were related to the revelation that Russia had interfered in the campaign, possibly rigging election results in favor of Trump. Nothing much came of those accusations, but at the time they were the basis for a serious effort to upend the Electoral College by persuading individual electors to switch their votes. Several actually did, but about the same number of Trump electors "defected" as Hillary Clinton electors did, so it really didn't matter.
This time, however, the losing candidate mounted a much more determine effort to get the Electoral College to defy the popular vote mandates in several states. This took subversion of democracy to a whole new level, but in the end nothing came of it. Numerous lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign were rejected in various federal courts, and the President's lawyer Rudy Giuliani made himself a fool by making incoherent, implausible arguments in court. Other Trump lawyers such as Lin Wood (a man) and Sidney Powell (a woman) earned notoriety for spreading preposterous rumors about the connection between the Chinese Communist government, the Venezuelan socialist government, and the Dominion company which manufactures voting machines, among other things. When Fox News began casting doubt on these challenges, it was a sign that it was all over for Trump. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Trump's appeal, which left the results intact. As the electors met in the 50 state capitals (and D.C.) on December 12, there was high drama and intrigue. Every single one of the 538 electors cast their votes as they were obliged to do: 306 for Biden, and 232 for Trump.
"I just want to find 11,780 votes"
Ordinarily, that would have been the end of the story: a clear and unequivocal decision by the people -- verified by the judicial system -- in favor of Joe Biden. But toward the end of December, Trump tried to force election officials in Georgia to alter the results in his favor, as a way to get an alternate slate of electors approved by Congress when they met to count the electoral votes on January 6. In extraordinary hour-long telephone conference call, President Trump pressured Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to "recalculate" the vote in his favor. This topped the already-outrageous acts of subversion committed by Trump, showing that he would stop at nothing to stay in power. In a recording of that call obtained by The Washington Post, Trump alternately berated, begged and [made threats to try to] overturn President-elect Joe Biden's win in the state.
So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.
(SOURCE: Washington Post)
That's it. Prima facie proof that the President of the United States had committed an impeachable offense, if not a criminal act. Notwithstanding the fact that all 50 states had duly certified their election results and that the members of the Electoral College have rendered their decision, the President of the United States continued to abuse the power of his office by exerting illegal pressure on state officials to reverse the outcome in his favor. Even for Trump, this is hard to believe. Listen to the recording for yourself. Members of Congress who try to stall or interfere with the official counting of electoral votes on Wednesday will be held accountable by We the People.
After that call was divulged to the public, there was no longer any question about Trump. Politicians who aligned themselves with him will forever be regarded as subversive opportunists. The party that sold its collective soul to Trump will likewise be known for its sedition. Veteran conservative columnist George Will did not mince words in his column denouncing Trump's flagrant act of subversion. On January 3 Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) explained very clearly why there was absolutely NO legal basis for trying to change the electoral vote count, as some in the Republican Party were plotting to do three days hence.
Is it clear to everyone now why Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing his base of support?
When putsch came to shove:
Trump followers invade U.S. Capitol building
A joint session of Congress convened on January 6, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the counting of the electoral votes. As the largely ceremonial function began, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Senate Majority Leader, soon to be Minority Leader) implored to everyone that the endless cycle of partisan vengeance must end. As an ultra-pragmatic, partisan manipulator of great renown, those words might have struck some people as less than sincere. But I happen to think that Old Mitch was having a change of heart, because he had an inkling of what was brewing outside the hallowed chambers on Capitol Hill: civil war!
I was watching on live TV the events taking place inside and outside the Capitol building, and I was moved to tears by the diabolical spectacle that was unfolding while the whole world was watching. At a rally south of the White House Ellipse, President Trump made an impassioned speech in which he urged the thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell" or else the country they loved would be lost forever. Did he specifically tell them to break into the Capitol and threaten members of Congress? No. Is that what he wanted them to do? Probably. But is there any point in quibbling over exactly what he meant? He plainly incited a riot, with the obvious intent of thwarting the constitutional process of certifying the election results. Anyone who cannot draw the obvious connection between his words and their actions is simply blind to reality. I posted the following two paragraphs on Facebook, hoping that it just might be received in the earnest way it was intended by some of my Trump-supporting friends.
This beautiful building, originally built in 1800, and expanded several times over the past two centuries, has long been known as a temple of democratic self-government. Today it was assaulted by fascist mobs who had assembled near the White House at a rally led by President Trump. Apparently, my warnings about where this country was headed with Trump in the White House were not taken seriously by many people. Since his election four years ago, I have endeavored to be restrained in my characterizations of him and his supporters. Why? As a principled conservative (yes, we exist!), I have fancied myself some kind of bridge between the opposing sides in the escalating civil strife, but it is time to acknowledge quite frankly that my efforts have been of little use.
February 6, 2021 will be remembered as a day of infamy not unlike Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and all of us will be held accountable for how we reacted to it. I want to make it clear that anyone who excuses or rationalizes what happened in Washington today, and who fails to draw the obvious lessons from it, simply lacks the political judgment to engage in constructive discourse. Sadly, this applies to many of my Facebook friends who consider themselves loyal Republicans. Abraham Lincoln would be mortified by what has become of the party that he helped to launch. In the Gettysburg Address he described the Civil War as a test of whether government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" could survive in the United States. I will no longer tolerate repeated insults, and I will call out the propagation of falsehoods, and I will not waste my time arguing with idiots and panderers.
Sadly, I don't think what I wrote made any difference with Trump supporters. With few exceptions, they seem wrapped up in an alternate reality spun by right-wing fringe "news" organizations such as NewsMax and One America News. These days, even Fox News is too mainstream for their tastes. I won't repeat the hundreds of words in the ensuing back-and-forth, a true low point in my years of Facebook activity. Suffice it to say that, for those on the right who decry "hypocrisy" of people who have denounced the January 6 riots (on the grounds that they allegedly excused the violence connected to last summer's Black Lives Matter protests), I think what I wrote in my July 1 blog post indicates a great deal of ethical consistency on my part:
For me, failure to unequivocally condemn rampant street violence as utterly unjustified is a sign of moral bankruptcy, and the current situation puts moderate Democrats (especially Joe Biden) and civil rights leaders in a very tight spot. I am extremely skeptical of any movement with ties to extremist ideologies, and based on what I know, I fear that Black Lives Matter is liable to do more harm than good.
The west side of the U.S. Capitol, on June 24, 2020, as I was headed to observe the Black Lives Matter protest near the White House. (See July 1.) This is where the platform on which Joe Biden will soon take the presidential oath of office is located, and it was on those steps that the mob of Trump supporters launched their loathesome assault on the bastion of American democracy.
Trump is impeached again
Exactly one week after the newest "day of infamy" in American history, on Wednesday, January 13, President Trump achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the only U.S. president ever to be impeached twice. All 222 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted in favor of the single article of impeachment, for "incitement of insurrection." Among the Republicans was Rep. Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Even though Trump will no longer be president in a matter of hours, the U.S. Senate will probably go ahead with an impeachment trial. Why? Because under Article I Section 3 Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution,
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
The underlined portion above indicates why this is important. As incoming Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, Donald Trump must never be allowed to hold public office again. Some people say that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment (disqualifying from public office anyone who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same") would suffice for that purpose, and that may well be the case. But with someone as dangerous as Trump, we just can't take chances. Besides, if inciting a violent insurrection to overturn an election is not an impeachable offense, then what is???
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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."
* 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
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 31, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in Autumn (and early winter)
Not having blogged about birding activities since September, it's about time to get caught up. The following series of paragraphs (subsequently edited) were previously posted by me on Facebook from September through December, accompanied by photo montages of the more significant bird outings.
At the Augusta Bird Club field trip to Augusta Springs led by Allen Larner on Sept. 5, we hoped to take advantage of "peak" migration season, but only had modest success. I had a brief view of a Canada Warbler (lousy photo), but at least the whole group got to see the Cape May Warbler. The Pied-billed Grebe (spotted by Betty Gatewood) and Swainson's Thrush were nice sightings as well. There were also plenty of Red-eyed Vireos and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The highlights were a Cape May Warbler (see Warren Faught's excellent photos) and a Swainson's Thrush. It was perfect weather!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cape May Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's Thrush, E. Phoebe, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and (center) American Goldfinch. (Augusta Springs: Sept. 5, 2020)
On Sept. 13, likewise hoping to strike it rich with migratory birds, I drove up to Rt. 610 on the Blue Ridge today, where we usually have a field trip this time of year. As expected, there were plenty of Red-eyed Vireos and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and I also saw an E. Wood Pewee, some American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler (prob.), and a Black-throated Blue Warbler (female, in the middle of this montage). Other nice surprises included Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue-headed Vireo, and Dark-eyed Junco. Many birders were up there, including Marshall Faintich and Huck Hutchens.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: E. Wood Pewee, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo, and in center, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Dark-eyed Junco. (Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge Pkwy.: Sept. 13, 2020)
On Sept. 15 I visited Bell's Lane, and for a while it was a fairly dull afternoon, matching the rather drab color of the smoke-tainted sky. (That smoke had spread from apocalyptic wildfires in Colorado and other western states.) That is, until I spotted a bright yellow bird at the corner near the north end. I figured it was probably a goldfinch or a female oriole until I got a good look and was astonished to see a female Scarlet Tanager in the bushes at very close range. (The blue background in that photo is fake, but the sky behind the Mockingbird is natural.) Other highlights: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, E. Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Great Blue Heron.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Red-bellied Woodpecker, N. Mockingbird, E. Phoebe, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Amer. Goldfinch, and in center, Great Blue Heron. (Bell's Lane: Sept. 15, 2020)
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Scarlet Tanager.
The air was quite chilly as we got started on our ABC field trip at Braley Pond on the morning of Sept. 19, and that may explain why so few birds were out and about in the early hours. We were encouraged to see two Common Yellowthroats within the first few minutes of our hike (over three miles total), but the only warblers identified by sight after that were just a shy Magnolia Warbler and an Ovenbird. There was a possible Warbling Vireo, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Hairy Woodpecker, a couple E. Phoebes, a Common Raven, and a Belted Kingfisher or two. In addition, we heard two Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Pine Warbler, a Pileated Woodpecker, a Red-shouldered Hawk, and a Wood Thrush. Thanks to Deborah Pugh and Doug Ruby for joining me on the big woodland expedition.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, Belted Kingfisher, E. Phoebe, and in center, Common Raven. (Braley Pond : Sept. 19, 2020)
Late in the morning of Sept. 20 I went to Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro, hoping to get more warblers, etc. than we found on the field trip the day before. Birds were everywhere, but to my surprise, I only saw one warbler. Based on the tail feathers and other markings, I think it might be a Blue-winged Warbler, but we'll never know for sure. Other highlights in that park were some Brown Thrashers, a N. Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatches, and sizable flocks of Common Grackles and Cedar Waxwings -- about 15-20 each. On the way home I stopped at Bell's Lane and saw a Red-tailed Hawk, and back in town I saw a young Broad-winged Hawk.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Broad-winged Hawk, unidentified warbler, Red-tailed Hawk, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing (J), and in center, White-breasted Nuthatch. (Braley Pond : Sept. 19, 2020)
I was hoping to see the Connecticut Warbler that was reported at Cowbane Prairie on Sept. 22, but was tied up until 5:00, so I did the next best thing, which was visit nearby Bell's Lane. Right away I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher perched above me in the bright sun. Otherwise, nothing much for a while, and then suddenly I came upon a warbler "fallout" for this first time this season! Black-throated Green Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and probably others. Very nice! Farther north I saw several Am. Goldfinches, a Belted Kingfisher, some swallows, and two Red-tailed Hawks along Rt. 11 heading back into Staunton.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-tailed Hawk, Am. Goldfinch, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and in center, Belted Kingfisher. (Bell's Lane: Sept. 22, 2020)
For the ABC field trip to Ramsey's Draft on Sept. 27 we had a great turnout (7), hiking about a mile and a half up the Road Hollow trail. The weather was ideal, but the birds weren't being very cooperative for us photographers. We also saw a Black-throated Green Warbler and a a Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was photographed by Ann Cline), a Swainson's Thrush, and a few other good ones. Later some of us went up to Confederate Breastworks, but not much was there.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: E. Wood Pewee, a Black-throated Blue Warbler (M), a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a Downy Woodpecker, and Common Yellowthroat (juv. M) (Ramsey's Draft: Sept. 27, 2020)
In "our" back yard, we had Cape May Warblers and Swainson's Thrushes out back on multiple occasions from late September into early October. On Oct. 3 I took a walk along what used to be the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. It is now so badly overgrown, with fallen trees, that it simply cannot be traversed without taking multiple detours. I did get some great sightings, however: a Cape May Warbler, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cape May Warbler, Mourning Dove, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and N. Cardinal. (The former Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail: Oct. 3, 2020)
On Oct. 8 I saw the Cape May Warblers out back once again, and today I confirmed the Black-throated Green Warbler which I thought I saw out back yesterday. I also heard and briefly glimpsed a Warbling Vireo. Late in the afternoon I went to look for the Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers reported on Bell's Lane by Penny Warren. Bingo! Both were first of the season for me. Other sightings there (and/or on the extended portion by the golf course) included E. Phoebe, Wood Ducks, Field Sparrows, and Cedar Waxwings.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Cape May Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler. (Bell's Lane & N. Staunton: Oct. 8, 2020)
On Oct. 9 I paid a visit to Mike and Ann Cline's house (east of Verona) where the flock of Pine Siskins she had reported provided a great show. We hiked around their property, but only had a few good sightings. Later I stopped at the Mill Place trail (in Verona), and saw some Palm Warblers in the bushes and a Blackpoll Warbler up in the trees. Finally, I drove along Bell's Lane and hit pay dirt, with a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and best of all, a Nashville Warbler! (Another photo shows the yellow throat more clearly.) This was in the thickets upstream from the pond that's near the kiosk. I saw other birds there, and heard a probable Blue-headed Vireo as well. Truly spectacular!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Siskin (at the Clines' farm), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blackpoll Warbler, Palm Warbler, and Nashville Warbler. (Mill Place and Bell's Lane: Oct. 9, 2020)
On the afternoon of Oct. 16 Jacqueline told me she saw a Towhee out back, so I went to look. Indeed, there was, and that was just the start of it! A Cape May Warbler appeared once again, as well as a Yellow-throated Vireo and a group of three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers! (They were my first YB Sapsuckers of the season.) Plus a White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and assorted yard birds. I couldn't get a good Yellow-throated Vireo photo, so I included two different partial shots of it, which put together leave no doubt.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: E. Towhee, Cape May Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-throated Vireo, and (in center) White-breasted Nuthatch. (N. Staunton: Oct. 16, 2020)
Oct. 17 In the morning I spotted my first White-throated Sparrow of the season out back, and in the afternoon Jacqueline and I went up to Skyline Drive (extremely crowded) in the Shenandoah National Park to enjoy the fall foliage. Near the Doyles River overlook I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (FOS), Blue-headed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Hairy Woodpecker. At the Loft Mountain Wayside there were in bunch of birds in the bushes right in front of where I parked, and I soon realized they were Purple Finches (FOS). Zooming around the pine tree tops were a dozen or so Pine Siskins, rounding off quite an exciting day enjoying nature.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finches (F & M), White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-throated Sparrow, and Cape May Warbler. (Shen. Nat. Park: Oct. 17, 2020)
Oct. 18 This afternoon Jacqueline and I drove around Swoope, encountering many sparrows, meadowlarks, etc. The highlight was toward the end when I spotted a Northern Harrier swooping low across a field. Yet another first-of-season migratory bird! Other birds of note included a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, E. Bluebirds, an E. Phoebe, and Great Blue Heron at our near the Boy Scout Camp lake.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier, E. Phoebe, E. Meadowlark, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Am. Kestrel, and E. Bluebird. (Swoope: Oct. 18, 2020)
On Oct. 20 we drove to the Maryland suburbs south of Washington (on a family visit), pausing briefly at National Harbor, where we saw a bunch of Double-crested Cormorants, Fish Crows, and unidentified gulls. Later on in a neighborhood near Fort Washington, many American Robins and Cedar Waxwings were flying around excitedly. I also spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, two Red-tailed Hawks, and two distant Bald Eagles, among others.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Amer. Crow, Red-tailed Hawk, Double-crested Cormorant, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Cedar Waxwing. (near Fort Washington, MD: Oct. 20, 2020)
On Oct. 24 I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club, beginning at Augusta Springs. It was rather gloomy with low clouds, so photography was difficult. One highlight was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker being chased by a (presumed) resident Red-bellied Woodpecker. Later in Swoope we saw a Red-tailed Hawk close by, and two or three immature Bald Eagles! That was a big thrill.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Gray Catbird, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Bald Eagle. (Augusta Springs & Swoope: Oct. 24, 2020)
Penny Warren led a field trip to Bell's Lane on Oct. 26, and the variety of warblers, ducks, and other birds on Bell's Lane (and the nearby private farm pond) was almost beyond imagination. Unfortunately, it was hard to see colors in the dim, foggy light,* so it took some effort to adjust some of these photos. I saw the White-crowned Sparrow and Palm Warbler on my way home on Bell's Lane, as well as a Dark-eyed Junco.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: White-crowned Sparrow, Purple Finch, Black-throated Green Warbler, Palm Warlber, Blackpoll Warbler, American Wigeons (M & F), American Coot, and in center, Ruddy Duck and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Augusta Springs & Swoope: Oct. 24, 2020)
For years I had been waiting to get a perfect shot of a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet in full display mode (usually the red crown feathers are concealed), and Oct. 28 was my lucky day! He was taking a bath in a nearby stream out back at the time, which helped. The male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, N. Flicker, and Chipping Sparrow were nice bonuses. A probable Blackpoll Warbler eluded my camera lens once again...
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapscuker, Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue Jay, and N. Flicker. (Belmont Terrace, north Staunton: Oct. 28, 2020)
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
On the afternoon of Oct. 31 (Halloween!) I was fortunate to see the very first Calliope Hummingbird ever recorded in Augusta County! (Just as was the case with the Scott's Oriole and Western Tanager last spring, the property owner asked us not to disclose his identity or the location for the time being. It was Rich Wood, who lives in the town of Dooms, northeast of Waynesboro.) It proved difficult to get a good-quality shot, unfortunately, but at least the male's streaked purple throat is clear in this image. He was feeding exclusively from the salvia and zinnia flowers, ignoring the hummingbird feeders. I sure hope he survives this frigid wave we're in. It's the second Calliope Hummingbird that I have seen, the first being west of Lynchburg about ten years ago. Our Records Chairman Allen Larner saw it with his own eyes yesterday, so that makes it official! Others have sighted Rufous (or Allen's) Hummingbirds in the area in recent weeks, so there may be more such western species yet to come! An added benefit was a Red-breasted Nuthatch that remained still for long enough so that I could get a good photo.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hairy Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Calliope Hummingbird. (Dooms: Oct. 31, 2020)
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Calliope Hummingbird.
After picking up our bird seed from the Augusta Bird Club annual seed sale in Verona on the morning of Nov. 7, Jacqueline and I headed south for an extended day trip to Natural Bridge, taking advantage of the sunny skies. At one point along the Cedar Creek trail, there were a bunch of Am. Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers, etc., but otherwise it was fairly quiet. In contrast, birds were all over the place at Appomattox, esp. E. Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Juncos, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, etc., etc. The Red-tailed Hawk was at an exit ramp in the town of Appomattox. It was a huge day of exploration and bird enjoyment!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-tailed Hawk, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Natural Bridge & Appomattox: Nov. 14, 2020)
The weather was fine and the scenery was great for the well-attended field trip that I led to the Wild Oak trail / North River Gorge on Nov. 14: seven people altogether! Unfortunately, we almost outnumbered the birds that were seen there. Other than a few Dark-eyed Juncos by the wooden trail bridge, it was strangely quiet until the final leg of our hike, where we saw a cluster of Chickadees, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch or two. Later some of use went to Natural Chimneys, which was likewise fairly uneventful other than a Sharp-shinned Hawk that briefly visited. We had slightly better luck at Badger Road, where we saw an Amer. Kestrel and several White-crowned Sparrows. Later I went to Bell's Lane, where one of the N. Harriers was hunting. The big tree near Carolyn Ford's gate was full of E. Bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Finally, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk being harassed by four crows over Commerce Road.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Amer. Kestrel, Dark-eyed Junco. (North River Gorge, Badger Road, Bell's Lane: Nov. 14, 2020)
On the way to Penny Warren's field trip on Bell's Lane on Nov. 16, I saw what I believe was a young Red-shouldered Hawk perched in a tree. At the private pond we saw a pair of Ruddy Ducks, some Pied-billed Grebes, and an American Coot. All of a sudden we heard a familiar whine in a tree right next to us, and it turned out to be a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! On the ground nearby were five Pine Siskins. We also had distant views of a Pileated Woodpecker and another Buteo hawk; unsure about the species. At least 30 Am. Robins and six or so Cedar Waxwings lined the road on our way out. Along Bell's Lane farther to the north, a N. Harrier was flying low. Overall, it was a splendid day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Pine Siskin, Pileated Woodpecker, and Ruddy Duck. (Bell's Lane: Nov. 16, 2020)
The Nov. 27 field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren yielded two first-of-season migrants for me: Brown Creeper (spotted by Ann Cline; at least 3 total) and Hermit Thrush (which I heard but only glimpsed briefly). There were also quite a few Pine Siskins, a Ruddy Duck, a Red-tailed Hawk or two, and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Duck, Carolina Wren, and in center, another (?) Golden-crowned Kinglet. (Bell's Lane: Nov. 27, 2020)
On the 5th of December I went to the trails at Mill Place, and saw a Red-shouldered Hawk perched a short distance from the road. On the pond behind Hardee's were some Hooded Mergansers. Later on I saw a N. Harrier on Bell's Lane.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Hooded Mergansers (F & M). (Mill Place & Bell's Lane: Dec. 5, 2020)
On December 11 I drove out to Swoope in hopes of seeing the Loggerhead Shrike spotted by Vic Laubach last week, and finally succeeded on my second pass. (Many thanks to Bret Hart, whom I encountered along the way, for guiding me to the precise location!) Between my first and second visits to the location* I stopped at the Boy Scout camp, where I saw a Swamp Sparrow, a Northern Harrier, a Red-tailed Hawk, and several E. Bluebirds. I also saw a few American Kestrels [in the Swoope area], but no Bald Eagles. At dusk I went to Bell's Lane and saw an adult male Northern Harrier but no Short-eared Owls -- until I headed home and saw one on the pavement right in front of my car!!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Harrier, Eastern Bluebird, Swamp Sparrow, and American Kestrel. (Swoope: Dec. 11, 2020)
Roll mouse over for a better view of the Loggerhead Shrike.
The field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren on Dec. 21 was a big success, and we saw a rare (for winter) Brown Thrasher feeding in the mud along the road, along with the White-throated Sparrows. (Kudos to Jessica and Alissa for spotting it two days earlier; they are new bird club members.) Nearby was a Brown Creeper. Other highlights included Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers *, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, and other ducks, as well as a N. Harrier, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a probable Cooper's Hawk. Thanks to Penny Warren for leading a great trip!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brown Creeper, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cooper's Hawk (?), Brown Thrasher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Common Merganser. (Bell's Lane, Dec. 21, 2020)
(The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker above was out back where we live.)
On Dec. 22, thanks to Allen Larner, I was one of the folks who got to see the Rufous Hummingbird on Morris Mill Road west of Staunton. It was a very cold morning, with snow on the nearby mountain tops, and it's amazing that these tiny birds can survive this climate. They should be farther south! I also saw several Purple Finches, Amer. Goldfinches, Chickadees, etc. at the residence.
Rufous Hummingbird, at a residence on Morris Mill Rd., Dec. 22
Peter Van Acker and I covered the city of Staunton for the Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 27, and we had a few exciting moments. At Montgomery Hall Park there was a young Red-tailed Hawk not far away. At Thornrose Cemetery we saw two N. Flickers in a nearby tree, plus E. Bluebirds, etc. Betsy Bell Hill was surprisingly devoid of birds, but we had better luck at the Frontier Culture Museum, where we saw a Hermit Thrush that was pointed out to us by Mark Kosiewski. (Thanks, Mark!) Later in the afternoon, after we were done counting, I drove up to Verona and saw the Common Loon that had been spotted by Deb Kirtland, as well as a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Mute Swan, Hermit Thrush, E. Bluebird, N. Flicker (M), Hooded Mergansers (M), and in center, Common Loon. (Staunton CBC: Dec. 27, 2020)
As always, many more photos are on the Wild Birds yearly page.