April 17, 2022 [LINK / comment]
After a delay of one week caused by the labor dispute between MLB owners and players, the baseball season began on Thursday, April 8. The Washington Nationals were originally scheduled to play their first game as guests of the New York Mets, but as things turned out, the roles were reversed. On Friday the 8th, Max Scherzer faced his former team mates (or what is left of them) as the number two starter of his new team, the Mets. (The Mets' ace Jacob deGrom was placed on the injured list just before the season began.) Never one to shrink from a challenge, Max gave up a game-tying home run to Josh Bell in the fourth inning of that game, but the Mets quickly regained the lead and won it, 7-3. The Nats were behind going into the eighth inning of the Sunday game, in danger of being swept in a four-game home series, when the Nats staged a rally that was capped by a two-run single by Nelson Cruz, one of the newest members of the team. (He had hit a solo homer in the first inning.) And that's how the home team won that game, 4-2.
The Nationals took two out of three games from the Braves in Atlanta, which was a big accomplishment for a team with low expectations, but then they managed to lose three out of four games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. After two lousy starts against the Mets and the Braves, left-hander Patrick Corbin finally pitched very well into the sixth inning today, but his team mates couldn't hold the lead and the Nats lost, 5-3. One highlight from that series was when Juan Soto smashed a line-drive home run (his third of the year) to right field, bouncing through the entry portal at PNC Park and into the Allegheny River. Nats first baseman Josh Bell did that a few times when he was with the Pirates, but not many others have. In any event, the Nationals are now in last place in the NL Eastern Division, with a 4-7 record. Over the first week and a half, Erick Fedde has turned in the most reliable performances on the mound, while Josiah Gray (featured on a mini-poster that came with the Washington Post on April 7) bounced back from a rough start on April 8 and got the win against the Braves on April 13. Josh Rogers pitched very well in his first start (April 11, when the Nats beat the Braves 11-2), but then faltered yesterday. The Nats' other current starter (number three in the rotation) is Joan Adon, who had to be replaced in the fifth inning of both games he played.
Aside from Nelson Cruz, the 41-year old slugger who signed a one-year contract with the Nats almost as soon as the lockout ended, the Nats have also picked up third baseman Maikel Franco, who had a few very good years with the Phillies, and relief pitcher Steve Cishek, who has been all around the majors. Those acquisitions represented a big improvement in the Nationals' rather hollow roster, but they are still ranked as below-average by most keen observers of baseball, and will need a lot of luck to somehow grab a wild card spot this year. The Nats also brought back popular relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, who has actually done a lot so far this year. He used to rely almost exclusively on his fastball, but now he mixes that up with sliders and change-ups, and has been very effective, with zero hits allowed and zero earned runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched. Lucius Fox, Luis Garcia and Andrew Stevenson were sent down to the minors. The Washington Nationals page will have to be updated soon.
Elsewhere in the majors, the Mets (currently 7-3) have been leading the NL East from the very beginning, with the Phillies a strong potential rival. In his at-bat in his first day in Philadelphia, former National (and Red Sock) Kyle Schwarber pleased the home crowd in Citizens Bank Park with a lead-off home run! Since then, however, he has kind of fallen off. Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper is looking as sharp as ever at the plate. Tears flowed in Atlanta when it was announced that their star slugger Freddie Freeman had signed a long, juicy contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were overstocked with talent already. The Dodgers lost two of their opening series games in Denver against the Rockies, which was quite a surprise, but since then they have won six consecutive games, so they are right where you would expect them to be: on top of their division. (The Giants are tied with them, also with a 7-2 record.) The NL Central is tightly contested, as four teams are within a game of each other at the top of the division. At the bottom are the Cincinnati Reds.
On the American League side, the AL East is very competitive, with four teams near the top and one (the Baltimore Orioles) at the bottom. The Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central Division by two games, while the L.A. Angels have a slim lead in the AL West. Anthony Rendon is hoping to bounce back from a mediocre, injury-plagued 2021 season.
Last week the Lerner family announced that it was willing to consider partnership with additional owners, and perhaps even selling the team outright. That was a stunning revelation, since the Lerners have been such gung-ho competitors from the moment they acquired the franchise from Major League Baseball in 2006. Two factors explain this reversal: their overuse of deferred compensation packages for such star players as Max Scherzer, and the fact that economic conditions in the retail industry where they made their fortune have deteriorated sharply in recent years. (Thanks, Amazon!) Perhaps Jeff Bezos will buy the Nationals...
In Cleveland last month it was announced that the Indians would be renamed the "Guardians," which rhymes with their previous name and bears a meaningful connection to downtown Cleveland. It refers to the "Guardians of Traffic" statues on either side of Hope Memorial Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River and which I crossed en route to Progressive Field in August 2012. It's an OK name, but I kind of wish they had chosen "Spiders," which was the franchise's name during most of the early 20th Century. It is the first major name change of an MLB franchise (i.e., a clear change in identity) not accompanied by a relocation to a new city since the Houston Colt 45s became the "Astros" in 1965.
That name change has been duly noted on the MLB franchises and Chronology (annual) pages. I should probably also note that Oakland Coliseum has officially been renamed as "RingCentral Coliseum," but given the many such name changes of that stadium in the past, it is uncertain whether anyone will take notice, or how long the new name will last. No news on getting a new stadium built in Oakland, and some have suggested that the Athletics might follow their former house-mates, the Raiders, who relocated to Las Vegas last year.
On a related note, the Washington Football Team, as the former Redskins were known from July 2020 until earlier this year, were officially renamed the "Commanders." Fan reaction has been mixed, but nobody seems especially excited about it. I suppose that is to be expected. It occurred to me that "Commandos" might be a more energetic-sounding name for the team. The widely-disliked team owner Dan Snyder has apparently committed to staying out of the public eye while the once-great team that he owns struggles to regroup. Meanwhile, he is maneuvering to get good terms for either building a new stadium or somehow upgrading their current stadium, FedEx Field, in Landover, Maryland. The ideal solution of tearing down RFK Stadium (which is essentially abandoned) and replacing it with a suitable new stadium is by no means assured of approval by the D.C. government, even though the obstacle of the old name -- considered racist by many people -- has been removed.
Earlier this year, the Baltimore Orioles announced that about ten rows of seats would be removed from left field, moving the wall back by about 26 feet up to the bullpens, which were not affected by this. Construction got underway in January and was completed in March, resulting a large expansion of the playing field: fair territory has grown from about 108,100 to 111,900 square feet. This created a sharp corner in the left field power alley, which could become a possible hazard for outfielders chasing fly balls. As a result, the wall height was raised from 7 to 13 feet.
This major alteration was in response to the reputation of Camden Yards as being so slugger-friendly that prospective pitchers were less likely to join the Orioles for fear of all the additional home runs they would give up. This was the opposite of the usual contemporary trend by which prospective sluggers turned down offers from teams housed in ballparks with long outfield dimensions.
And so, I drew a new diagram for (Oriole Park at) Camden Yards. But along the way, I noticed something odd: there was a big discrepancy between the left field wall in my previous diagram (rendered in 2014) and the photo I took while seeing a game there in August 2009. I realized that the angle of the bends in the grandstand were incorrect, and that other elements of the grandstand were likewise off by several feet. You can compare the newly revised diagram(s) to the previous version by clicking on the diagram on that page, and then moving your mouse away from it. (NOTE: It occurred to me that one possible benefit from expanding left field would be that Camden Yards could more easily accommodated a football gridiron. Why do so, with M&T Bank Stadium (or whatever they're calling nowadays) just a couple blocks away? Maybe to accommodate a high school championship game, or maybe a USFL franchise. Don't worry, it is not a serious suggestion.)
In the next few days and weeks I will be updating Yankee Stadium, which was "unofficially" updated in late December, along with a few others. But my top priority will be to render a new diagram for Hamtramck Stadium, which is one of the only original Negro League baseball stadiums still intact. It is located a couple miles north of downtown Detroit, Michigan. One of the leading contemporary baseball historians, Gary Gillette, asked me to take on that task, and I gladly agreed. (I visited another former Negro League stadium, Rickwood Field, while in Birmingham, Alabama one year ago, and I plan to do a diagram of it as well, eventually.)