March 10, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Baseball lockout ends; 2022 season is salvaged
The owners of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association finally reached an agreement today, paving the way for spring training to begin right away -- over a month later than it was supposed to commence. What seemed to bring about a compromise (according to the Washington Post, at least) was a shift in public sentiment against the wretchedly greedy billionaire owners and in favor of the players -- many of whom happen to be filthy rich millionaires.
This means that the regular season will begin on April 7, one week later than the originally scheduled Opening Day of March 31. Contrary to what was announced yesterday (when MLB announced a second week of cancelled games), they plan to squeeze the regular season in such a way that the regular season will wrap up on Sunday, October 2. For example, the Washington Nationals will have only one day of rest in April after Opening Day, and just three each in most subsequent months.
The lockout began in early December (see my Dec. 24 blog post), and very little negotiating took place for the first couple months. As spring training was supposed to begin in mid-February, discussions heated up, but neither side seemed willing to change its position very much. On March 1, MLB announced that the March 31 Opening Day was being canceled, along with the first two series of the season -- a whole week, basically. Further talks didn't last very long, and both sides accused each other of bad faith. It really looked ugly, and it seemed quite possible that several weeks or more of baseball would be lost. Another apocalypse on the order of 1994 would have cost both sides billions of dollars, and finally leading figures on both sides came to their senses.
So what took them so long? Most accounts I have read focus on the myriad technical issues involving compensation and playing conditions, but it's really a fundamental structural problem. Let us first stipulate clearly that major league baseball is a business, and that in a free enterprise system, the owners are (or would be) entitled to maximize their profits. In an ordinary competitive bargaining situation there are a range of terms that might be more or less acceptable to either side, making it possible to gradually narrow the differences and reach a compromise. But modern baseball is not like that. Both sides are constrained to refuse backing down from the positions they have staked out, primarily because (in my view) the massive public subsidies via stadium financing, etc. multiply the leverage that each side (players vs. owners) can get from each additional dollar of revenue generated from the games.
To understand this situation in graphical terms, try to visualize a big, round bump in a road upon which the two sides are vying for an advantageous balance vis-a-vis each other, and then imagine that the bump has been raised three or four times vertically, while remaining the same lateral width. The bigger the subsidies, the higher the figurative "bump," and the more likely it is that the two sides will fall off (i.e., precipitate a strike or lockout) while trying to get just a little bit better of a deal. Get rid of the structural distortions that reward risky behavior contrary to the public interest, and the likelihood of a constructive resolution of labor disputes will be greatly enhanced.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a boost to the rookies' minimum salary from $570,000 to $700,000, as well as slightly enhanced arbitration privileges for younger players. For fans, there are some positives such as no more automatic runner on second base in extra innings, and no more seven-inning double-header games. On the down side, the National League will adopt the Designated Hitter rule, which has been in use by the American League since 1973. No more strategizing by managers; that's a real shame. Other changes will be announced soon, and we won't have much time to get used to them...
Interestingly, former Nats ace Max Scherzer (now with the Mets) played a key role in the negotiations, along with MLBPA chief Tony Clark. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred barely saved his career in baseball. Based on what I have observed, he has not been willing to step on the toes of the more recalcitrant owners to force the issue. What baseball needs more than anything else right now is a strong commissioner with the stature of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Bowie Kuhn, or Bart Giamatti. (See the Annual Baseball Chronology page.)
This was the second-longest work stoppage in MLB history, second only to the infamous 1994-1995 strike by the MLBPA. For broader context, here is a list of all such work stoppages, from Sunday's Washington Post.
||Strike over pension & arbitration.
||86 games canceled.
||Lockout over arbitration
||No games missed.
||Lockout over reserve clause.
||No games missed
||Strike over free agency, etc.
||Temporary deal; no games missed.
||Strike over free agency, etc.
||713 games canceled; split-season playoffs.
||Strike (2 days) over arbitration & pension.
||All but 2 of 25 missed games made up.
||Strike over arbitration & free agency.
||Opening Day postponed one week.
||Strike, refusing proposed salary cap.
||948 games canceled, incl. 1994 postseason.
||Lockout, refusing compensation overhaul.
||Rule changes; all games rescheduled.
Three weeks ago, Washington National star infielder Ryan Zimmerman announced his retirement. I'll have much more to say on this tomorrow.
Camden Yards grows!
Yes, I know. Stay tuned...
Yankee Stadium update?
Yes, I updated the Yankee Stadium (the real one) diagrams in late December, in a mad rush to get all my diagrams finished by the end of the year, but all of a sudden I got so busy with my normal (?) work life that I just didn't have time to properly explain it. Because the page itself (i.e., the text) was not updated, however, you can see some glaring contrasts between the old (2009) and new versions of those diagrams. Stay tuned for much more!
My apologies for the regrettable two-month hiatus. For the record, I was not boycotting to protest the failure of the two sides to reach a compromise, but I'll admit that I thought about it. I was really getting angry. While other people are enjoying spring break on the sunny beaches of Florida, I am getting caught up on some of the more important things in life such as baseball ... and war.
March 31, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in November and December
This will be a relatively brief summary of the last two months of birding in 2021, as I struggle to get caught up with online things. Rather surprisingly, given my suddenly busy schedule with teaching, the month of November turned out to be quite successful. On Saturday November 6, after picking up bird seed from the Augusta Bird Club annual seed sale in Verona, I headed over to the nearby Mill Place trail just in case something interesting happened to be there, aside from the usual American Kestrel. Well, there was! Over in the marshes on the south side of the pond I spotted my second Swamp Sparrow of the season, and heard some odd chattering deep in the cat tails. The bird was less than ten feet away but I just couldn't get a look at it until I played its call on my iPhone and quickly it popped into view: a beautiful Marsh Wren! I managed to get a decent photo of it, but it wasn't easy, since they move very quickly. Later I drove out to Guthrie Road, south of Stuarts Draft, in hopes of seeing a Rough-legged Hawk that had been seen there. I didn't see that, but I did get a nice view of my first Northern Harrier of the season, flying low over a nearby field. While I was walking along Guthrie Road I spotted some kind of raptor in a tree about 100 yards away, and as I approached it I realized to my utter amazement that it was a Peregrine Falcon! It was the second one I had seen that year, the first being in the Shenandoah National Park in June. In both cases, they were juveniles. Along the road near Fishersville on the way home I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk on a wire and stopped to take its picture.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Peregrine Falcon, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, Marsh Wren, American Kestrel, Swamp Sparrow (Guthrie Road & Mill Place, Nov. 6, 2021)
The following week I made it out to Bell's Lane twice, and saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler (on Tuesday) and a Northern Harrier (on Thursday). On Friday November 12, Jacqueline and I took advantage of the clear skies by driving around the Swoope area in western Augusta County. It was the tail end of the fall foliage season, and was really the only time we went to see the colored mountain slopes. At the Boy Scout lake (which was mostly mud flats because they had drained most of the lake) we saw a Great Blue Heron. Heading north we saw an Eastern Phoebe, rather uncommon for that late in the season, and finally an adult male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier! I was lucky to get a good photo of him with the sun illuminating the underside of his wings.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Harrier (male), and Belted Kingfisher (female). (Swoope, Nov. 12, 2021)
The very next day, Saturday November 13, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Braley Pond, in the western foothills of the county. It was bitterly cold and windy, unfortunately, and only three other members showed up. We started hiking along the north side of the pond, and soon I noticed some birds along a fence line that keeps people away from the spillway. They turned out to be a small group (maybe five or six) Fox Sparrows, one of the "target species" that I had indicated to the other folks. It was a very encouraging start, but frankly after that there just weren't that many birds. I had originally hoped to do a three-mile loop hike, but the cold weather and high water at one of the stream crossings convinced us that we should turn back. After returning to the parking area, we hiked north about a quarter mile and saw a few woodpeckers, etc. And that was about it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Dark-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Fox Sparrow. (Braley Pond, Nov. 13, 2021)
About two weeks later, on November 25, I went for a walk on Bell's Lane, since it was such a sunny day. I had great looks at several different birds, most notably Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, and a Northern Harrier. Over at the pond behind Hardee's in Verona I saw a Great Blue Heron, a Belted Kingfisher, and some Hooded Mergansers -- my first ones of the season! A quick trip to Bell's Lane late on the afternoon of November 28 closed out the month, bird-wise.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Great Blue Heron, Hooded Merganser (male), Northern Harrier, and Red-bellied Woodpecker (male). (Bell's Lane & Verona, Nov. 25, 2021)
On Saturday December 4 Jacqueline and I went to the trail behind the Murphy-Deming School of Health Sciences in Fishersville, and I was pleased to see some Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Hermit Thrush (first of the season!) in the bushes. As I was about to leave I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling, but figured it was probably just a Blue Jay doing an imitation thereof. To my surprise, I spotted the real thing perched on a corner of the roof of the building, and snapped a picture just before it flew off. Then we stopped at the quarry pond on the south side of Fishersville, and I saw several American Coots -- my first ones of the season.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, American Crow, Eastern Bluebird, and in center, American Coot. (Fishersville, Dec. 4, 2021)
For the next two weeks I was very busy with classes, but squeezed in some time along Bell's Lane at dusk on Tuesday the 12th. There were a couple other birders there, and after waiting a while in the cold we finally spotted two Short-eared Owls, my first of the season. I got one photo that shows a dull profile, and that's it. On Friday the 17th I stopped briefly at the Mill Place trail in Verona, and saw a Swamp Sparrow (perhaps the same one as before), a Northern Flicker, among others.
On Saturday December 18, I participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count. I got started late, and began with Montgomery Hall Park. There were several dozen American Robins flying around the picnic area at the summit of the big hill, along with woodpeckers, etc. I glimpsed a Red-tailed Hawk in a tree top not too far away and managed to get a photo before it flew off. Next I stopped at Bessie Weller Elementary School, just on the spur of the moment, and it turned out to be a smart move! I heard and eventually saw an Eastern Towhee, and got a great closeup look at a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet displaying his namesake red crown. My next scheduled stop that day was Betsy Bell Hill, but to my surprise, that turned out to be a big bust. So I finished the day over at the Frontier Culture Museum, where I managed to spot a Swamp Sparrow and a few other birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, Eastern Towhee (male), Pileated Woodpecker, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet (male). (CBC: Mont. Hall Park, Bessie Weller E.S., etc., Dec. 18, 2021)
The day before Christmas I spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker out back, as well as a Downy Woodpecker. The day after Christmas I went to Bell's Lane and saw a few Cedar Waxwings, White-crowned Sparrows, and some Common Mergansers (first of the season) on a distant farm pond. And that wraps up the year 2021, in which I saw exactly one new life bird: a Black-bellied Whistling Duck at Willow Lake on June 1, 2021; see my July 10 blog post and my life bird list, which now totals 508.
More bird photos can be seen on my Wild Birds chronological page.