July 1, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Nationals almost sweep the Pirates
And vice versa! All three games were decided by a single run and easily could have gone the other way. The Nats began their holiday home stand on Monday with two much-need wins over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in both cases came from behind with clutch hits in the eighth inning. In the first game, Erick Fedde had yet another solid outing but was in line for the loss until the bottom of the eighth inning. That's when Maikel Franco hit an ultra-clutch two-run homer to give the Nats a 3-2 lead. Kyle Finnegan only allowed one batter to reach base in the ninth inning and got the save, his first of the year. In Game 2, Patrick Corbin had perhaps the greatest outing of his entire career, striking out 12 batters while giving up just one run (a solo homer), two walks, and five hits over eight full innings. I could not believe my eyes when Davey Martinez sent him back to the mound in the eighth inning, when his pitch count was already over 100, but Corbin struck out all three batters he faced, the last one on pitch #113. Talk about guts and determination! In the bottom of that inning, Yadiel Hernandez came through with a clutch two-run, two-out, two-base hit to give the Nats a 3-1 lead. After Tanner Rainey got three outs in the ningth, that gave Corbin his fourth win of the season, bringing his ERA down to 6.06. After all his frustrations from earlier in the year, you have to admire his competitive spirit.
In the finale on Wednesday afternoon, the same situation arose in the bottom of the eighth, with the bases loaded and the young shortstop Luis Garcia up to bat. Could he rise to the occasion and make it three comeback wins in a row? Sadly, no. That game was marred by a bizarre play in top of the fifth inning, in which the Pirates were awarded a run on a rules technicality. With runners on second and third with one out, Ke'Bryan Hayes lined out to first baseman Josh Bell, who threw the ball to third baseman Ehire Adrianza who tagged the runner (Hoy Park) who had reached third base without tagging up, and then stepped on third base for good measure. Ordinarily that would have forced out Jack Suwinski, who had run on contact and crossed home plate without tagging up, for a fourth out. But because of the stupid baseball rule that says that the team on defense is obliged to protest the runner not tagging up and throwing the ball to the base in question, and because the Nationals had already left the field thinking that the inning was over, they could not protest, and the run counted. UNBELIEVABLE! If Adrianza had stepped on third base before tagging Hoy Park, that run would not have counted. That one bogus run ended up making all the difference in the Pirates' 8-7 victory, most of which was the result of the three home runs hit by Bryan Reynolds.
Best pitching rotation!?
Don't look now, but the Washington Nationals seem to have reversed their awful pitching woes over the past week and a half, and rookie Jackson Tetreault suddenly emerged as a potential ace of the future. In fact, over their last 10 games before Wednesday, the Nationals' starting pitchers recorded an aggregate ERA of 1.82, which I read somewhere (but cannot prove) was the lowest in the major leagues! That is based on 12 earned runs given up over 59 1/3 innings from the second game on June 17 through the game on June 28. This table summarizes those ten games.
|Date||Starting pitcher||Innings pitched||Runs allowed||Winner||Loser|
|June 17 (2nd game)||Paolo Espino||5 IP||2 ER + 1 UER||PHI 8||WSH 7 (10)|
|June 18||Josiah Gray||6 IP||0 ER||PHI 2||WSH 1 (10)|
|June 19||Jackson Tetreault (W)||7 IP||0 ER + 3 UER||WSH 9||PHI 3|
|June 21||Erick Fedde (W)||6 IP||0 ER||WSH 3||BAL 0 @|
|June 22||Patrick Corbin (L)||4 IP||3 ER||BAL 7||WSH 0 (6) @|
|June 24||Paolo Espino||5.1 IP||1 ER||WSH 2||TEX 1 @ |
|June 25||Josiah Gray||7 IP||2 ER||TEX 3||WSH 2 @|
|June 26||Jackson Tetreault (W)||6 IP||1 ER||WSH 6||TEX 4 @ |
|June 27||Erick Fedde||5 IP||2 ER||WSH 3||PIT 2 |
|June 28||Patrick Corbin (W)||8 IP||1 ER||WSH 3||PIT 1|
Underlines indicate pitchers credited with the decision. "@" = away game.
Soto haggles over salary
According to unconfirmed, scurrilous rumors of dubious provenance, the Washington Nationals reportedly made a new offer to Juan Soto: $425 million over 13 years, after he turned down a $350-million contract offer after last season, but even the extra [$75]* million apparently wasn't enough. Soto says he is open to staying in Washington, but for some reason he just doesn't seem too enthusiastic about it. He is a charismatic media darling and fan favorite, potentially serving as a vital link between the Nationals' past glory days and a potential future return to World Series greatness, but Soto may be a little too eager to win another championship ring sooner rather than later. With the franchise's financial situation less solid than it used to be, there is just no guarantee that the team will return to championship contention any time soon. See the Washington Post. I really hope Soto recognizes how his name could go down in history in Washington as a beloved superhero, like Mickey Mantle in New York or Roberto Clemente in Pittsburgh. It may depend mainly on Soto's agent, Scott Boras, who epitomizes much of what is wrong with baseball today.
"Let's make a deal!?" During the Ryan Zimmerman retirement ceremony on June 18, Juan Soto took time to greet the Lerner family. The founding owner and patriarch Ted Lerner is in front, wearing the pale suit.
Harper's thumb is broken
In a game in San Diego on Saturday, Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch thrown by Blake Snell, leaving his thumb broken. He was angry at first, as any normal human being would be, but later said he didn't blame Snell for the injury. Harper had surgery on Wednesday, and there is a good chance he could return to the lineup by mid-August if he heals quickly. It's really a shame, as he was having a great year, with a .318 batting average (#6 in the NL), 15 home runs (#13), and 48 RBIs (#9). (See MLB.com.) A second MVP award if not a Triple Crown was within the realm of possibility.
Get well soon, Bryce!
Random fun facts:
Almost as soon as I asked "Can anybody beat the Yankees?" last week, the Houston Astros answered in the affirmative. In fact, they beat the Yankees 3-0 in a combined no-hitter last Saturday, the very first no-hitter in New Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were very close to being swept on Sunday, down 3-0 after six innings, but then came back to tie the game and won it 6-3 in the tenth inning on a walk-off home run by -- who else? -- Aaron Judge.
Kyle Schwarber hit 12 home runs in June, as many as the entire Detroit Tigers team! (In that same month last year, when he was with the Nationals, he hit 16 homers, all of which were after June 11!)
The Washington Nationals had the very same record this May as they did in the same month one year earlier (11-17), but their record in June of this year was only marginally better (11-16), in contrast to their amazing upsurge (17-9) in June 2021. The Washington Nationals page has been duly updated with data for June as well as for the first half of the 2022 season.
Nationals Park BIG update!
Based on a close inspection of some of the peripheral areas of the stadium during the games I saw two weekends ago, in particular the access ramps, the Nationals Park diagrams have been revised. [In addition, the rear extension of the roof, which hangs over the concession stands that ring the outer edge of the stadium, is now shown for the first time. It consists of an approximate six-foot "blade" that probably serves as a wind shear and is separated from the main portion of the roof by a gap of six feet or so.] It is the first significant update to those diagrams since August 2015, aside from a minor tweak in July 2018. If you click on the diagram and then move your mouse away to reveal what has changed, you will notice that most of the peripheral elements of the stadium have shifted several feet to the south (first base side). So even though the field is the same as before, and the grandstand is essentially the same (except for the upper deck being a bit higher than before), this revision is a pretty big deal.
Since late last year I have begun including various important details into my diagrams, and all of the diagrams will be likewise upgraded in the next few months, as long as the information is available.
- Indicating home dugouts (H) vs. visitor dugouts (V), and likewise for bullpens when they are not self-evident.
- Including bullpens details such as mini-"dugouts" (often located in small recesses beneath seating areas) and exit ramps.
- Labeling the gates by which fans gain entrance to the stadium.
- Consistently indicating (with arrows) the upward slopes of access ramps and major stairways.
- Differentiating ramps from stairways by, respectively, solid medium gray vs. pale gray interiors with medium gray borders.
For example, you can now see the ramps from which relief pitchers exit the bullpens in Nationals Park. I did not realize until recently that those bullpens are about three feet above the field level, as is the case with most other contemporary MLB stadiums. Hence the need for a ramp. Finally, I added the names of adjacent streets to the "full view" diagram, which includes the parking garages to the north and the triangular office building on the southwest side of the stadium.
Nationals Park, following the Ryan Zimmerman ("Employee #11") retirement ceremony, just before the June 18, 2022 game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
More on Camden Yards
When I announced (on April 17) that my diagrams of Camden Yards had been revised, I neglected to include a link to an article explaining the background. Well, here it is: MLB.com. Given that fair territory has grown from 108,100 to 111,900 square feet, it is now obviously much less slugger-friendly than it used to be. Nevertheless, in the Nationals' 7-0 loss to Baltimore on June 22, with light rain falling, the Orioles managed to hit three home runs to left field: Austin Hays crushed one into the first row of seats in left-center field, Anthony Santander hit one into the bullpen near the deep corner, and Trey Mancini hit on down the left field line, where the foul pole remains where it was before: 333 feet from home plate. I heard during one of the Nationals games in Baltimore last week that, [if the left field wall had not been moved back this year,] Orioles' slugger Trey Mancini probably would have had five more home runs. (His current total is a modest 7.)
July 2, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in June: high adventures!
The month of June began with Jacqueline and I going for a casual country drive through northern Augusta County. Since March she has been avidly watching a web cam live video feed of a Bald Eagle nest along the Dulles Greenway in Loudoun County, Virginia, and she has become quite attached to baby "Orion," who recently fledged. So I took her to Elkhorn Lake, where we had seen an eagle nest on March 18 (see May 31), and sure enough there were TWO (2) young Bald Eagles in that nest! Otherwise, there really weren't many birds out that day, other than Yellow-billed Cuckoos; one came very close to me on the east side of that lake by the dam. I couldn't get a decent photo of it, but I did get a photo of a different one that I heard at an overlook as we were driving back.
Friday, June 3rd, was a big day for me, as I finally made it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends south of the Shenandoah National Park all the way to North Carolina. I saw two bird species for the first time this year: Cerulean Warblers, which seemed to be everywhere, and Yellow-breasted Chats, at the Afton Mountain overlook, where I saw one of them about a year ago. There were at least two of them making their distinctive cacophonous racket, and I eventually got a decent photo. It's wonderful news that this quite uncommon and delightful species seems to be settling into a new breeding ground. At various points along Rt. 610 or the BRP I also had good views of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstarts, Black-and-white Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, an Acadian Flycatcher, and an Eastern Wood Pewee. Some Yellow-throated Vireos were making a lot of noise, but weren't very cooperative, and my only photo of one was mediocre. Indigo Buntings were abundant, as usual, and I was lucky to get a nice view of a female, in the center of the montage below.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart (M) Scarlet Tanager (M), Cerulean Warbler (M), Yellow-breasted Chat, Acadian Flycatcher, Black-and-white Warbler (M), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), and in center, Indigo Bunting (F). (Blue Ridge Parkway, June 3.)
On the morning of June 6 I visited Bell's Lane and finally got decent photos of a Common Yellowthroat and a Willow Flycatcher, unmistakeably identified by its "FITZ-bew!" call. But the highlight of the day was seeing 3 my first Warbling Vireo of the year! They are very vocal, of course, but because I hadn't heard one since last year, my first was impression was that it was an Orchard Oriole; then I thought it might be a Blue Grosbeak; and finally I figured it out. It was by the former "beaver pond" by the northeast end. I also saw a Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrashers, Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Great Blue Heron, an Eastern Phoebe, and of course many Gray Catbirds and Tree Swallows.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow Warbler (M), Tree Swallow, Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Warbling Vireo, Common Yellowthroat (M), Great Blue Heron, Willow Flycatcher, and Cedar Waxwings. (Bell's Lane, June 6.)
The birding climax of the month, and perhaps of the year, came on the weekend of June 11-12, when the Augusta Bird Club held an overnight field trip to Highland County, hosted by Lisa Hamilton. The club usually holds a field trip there every January and June, but that pandemic ruined those plans for the last two years. Since it is over an hour drive to get there, we had often talked about the possibility of having a sleepover so that we could do some early morning birding, and it worked out just fine. On Saturday morning (June 11) we began at the Laurel Fork Sapsuckers maple sugar farm along Rt. 250 in western Highland County. I arrived a little late, so I missed the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that the others saw, but I did see two Bald Eagles on my way there: one juvenile and one adult. Our group went for a 2+ mile hike along a pleasant woodland trail lined with Mountain Laurels in full bloom. Among the bird highlights there were Scarlet Tanagers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbirds, and a Black-throated Green Warbler right next to the cabin / dining area. After a fine lunch provided by the Laurel Fork Sapsuckers folks, In the afternoon we went to Bramble Hill, where the late Margaret O'Bryan used to live, a few miles north of the town of Blue Grass. The house is now owned by the Virginia Society of Ornithology, whose members take turns residing in it. Lisa Hamilton spotted a Golden-winged Warbler in some bushes not far away, but the rest of us only managed to hear it. Another disappointment! Near the house we saw Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles, and House Wrens. That evening we dined at Lisa's house, and saw Red-headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, and more! It was just wonderful!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bald Eagle, Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Orchard Oriole (F), Ovenbird, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M), Red-headed Woodpeckers, Indigo Bunting (M), and Scarlet Tanager (M). (Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, Bramble Hill, and New Hampden, in Highland County, VA, June 11.)
On Sunday morning (June 12) I had some great looks at Bobolinks in the pasture next to Lisa's house. Their metallic song is just unreal. Down by the stream was a Yellow Warbler and a couple Eastern Phoebes. After breakfast the group headed west along Laurel Fork Road, stopping at the Straight Fork meadow, one of our traditional "hot spots." There we had great views of Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, Least Flycatchers, and an Alder Flycatcher, which are hard to distinguish from Willow Flycatchers. Further west we stopped at several spots along the road where we heard various warblers, vireos, Veeries, Scarlet Tanagers, etc. I had a brief look at a Magnolia Warbler, confirming the species ID by the Merlin app, as well as a Veery, but couldn't get a photo of either one. Two of the highlights of the day came as we approached our destination at Laurel Fork: Blackburnian Warbler (at the top of spruce trees) and Canada Warblers, which taunted us by singing from hidden locations for over a half hour before finally making an appearance in and around the Rhododendron bushes. I saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year at that location! As we emerged from the forest on our way back we had a great look at a Bald Eagle perched at the top of a dead tree. It was a fitting finale to a superb weekend of birding. Thanks again to Lisa Sargeant Hamilton, Lisa Matkins, and John Spahr for all they did to make this event happen.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bobolink (M), Canada Warbler (M), Least Flycatcher, Bald Eagle, Yellow Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Common Yellowthroat (M), and to the right of center, an Alder Flycatcher. (New Hampden, Straight Fork, and Laurel Fork, in Highland County, VA, June 12.)
I had high hopes for a great day of birding as Jacqueline and I drove up toward Reddish Knob on June 26. At the customary first stop along Briery Branch Reservoir, we had a great look at a Northern Parula in the sun, and Jacqueline was very impressed. At the forest clearing near the top we heard Chestnut-sided Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Eastern Towhees, etc., but the only bird that popped into view was a Red-breasted Nuthatch; strangely, it was almost devoid of color! In the distance was a Red-tailed Hawk, which I later realized was carrying either a stick (for a late nest?) or a snake. By then the clouds were gathering, and just as we got to the crossroads at the top rain drops began to fall. I'm pretty sure I saw a flock of ten or so Red Crossbills landing in a tree, but couldn't confirm it. I heard and briefly glimpsed a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and heard a Black-throated Green Warbler as well. We saw several Dark-eyed Juncos as we ascended the gravel road, and heard Wood Thrushes and Veeries, among others, but the rain only got worse, and I finally gave up and headed home. Overall, it was quite a disappointment.
In contrast, my "field trip" hike along the Shenandoah Mountain trail on Wednesday June 29 (which had to be rescheduled on short notice after I tested positive for covid-19 a week earlier) turned out to be a huge success in terms of bird species, especially warblers. The problem was that nobody else came, except for one guy who arrived hours later. Beginning from an elevation of about 2,800 feet near the Confederate Breastworks overlook, I soon heard Wood Thrushes and glimpsed a Scarlet Tanager in the tree tops. I also saw various warblers high up, and identified some of them as Black-throated Green Warblers (the first of at least eight) and Blackburnian Warblers. Further along I saw a Pine Warbler and heard several Eastern Towhees. At the intersection with the Georgia Camp trail (which was my intended destination) I heard and then saw a Hooded Warbler, my first one of the year! (New late date for me.) Since the weather was so pleasant, I decided to keep going, and soon saw multiple Black-throated Blue Warblers and Canada Warblers, to my utter delight. I got gradually ascended to about 3,700 feet before descending to a clearing (elev. 3,350) where electric transmission lines cross the mountain ridge. That was where I finally saw Chestnut-sided Warblers, at the farthest point of my hike, about a mile and a half beyond. At various points along the way, I also saw some Ovenbirds, a Worm-eating Warbler, and a Black-and-white Warbler, and I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler that was identified by the Merlin app, which I used for the very first time. Eleven warblers altogether! (Merlin also indicated a Red-tailed Hawk screaming nearby, as well as a Barn Owl, about which I am quite dubious.) Previously I had only hiked about two miles each way along that trail, but this time I hiked over three miles in each direction, for a total of six plus. I also saw several Indigo Buntings (mostly female!), plus the usual Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Wood Pewees, etc. As I was within a mile of the trailhead, I saw another club member, Huck Hutchens, and we talked for a bit. It's just a shame that I was unable to share this wonderful outing with other birders.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), Hooded Warbler (M), Black-throated Blue Warblers (M & F), Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler (M), Blackburnian Warbler (M), and Canada Warbler (M). (Shenandoah Mountain trail, June 29.)
Electric transmission tower at the top of Shenandoah Mountain, June 29.
So, it was another successful month of birding, even though I still haven't seen any Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
July 4, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Happy 4th of July!
Yankee Doodle Dandy Stadium update
And they said it couldn't be done... After a "false start" at the end of last year, when I suddenly ran out of time before finishing the task of graphical refinement, I am pleased to announce that my Yankee Stadium diagrams have been revised. It is the first such update to those diagrams since 2008. Why so long? Over the years I have probably spent a hundred or more hours closely scrutinizing photos and other graphical materials on this stadium alone, trying to reconcile discrepancies until I was satisfied that I had it right. Not perfect, but pretty darned close. There is a new 1967 version that includes minor changes compared to the 1946 version, which is the "classic" Yankee Stadium that ballpark aficionados all know and love. As with other recent stadium updates (e.g. Nationals Park, Polo Grounds, etc.), the new diagrams include several new features:
- New diagrams for the lower and middle decks are included, showing entry portals and structural support beams.
- The upward slopes of the access ramps are now shown.
- The home and visiting team dugouts (and in some cases bullpens) are now properly indicated.
- The gates around the periphery of the stadium are labeled.
I have also changed some of the photos on that page, and have added a new travel-oriented section ("Visit New York!"), as I have done with other recent stadium page revisions. In this case it includes a photo montage of prominent city landmarks.
The grandstand in the new diagrams is significantly different compared to the 2008 diagrams, as is usually the case with major diagram updates, but in this case there is also a change to the field itself. It turns out that right-center field was about six feet closser to home plate than I had previously estimated, which means that there wasn't as much of a change between the old (1988) version of Yankee Stadium relative to its 2009 successor. The fence in right-center field in New Yankee Stadium is about 12 feet closer (rather than 18 feet, as I had estimated before) to home plate than was the case in the previous stadium so named.
Roll your mouse over this diagram to see how the new and old Yankee Stadiums compare to each other, before and after my latest diagram revisions. (The old version dates from 2009.) The area in red represents the net LOSS of territory in right field.
After the game on July 22, 2004. Yankees 1, Blue Jays 0.
All-Star 2022 picks
The first phase of All-Star voting ended last week, and the top two vote recipients in each league are automatically in: Aaron Judge (Yankees) in the American League, and Ronald Acuña (Braves) in the National League. Most of the names are familiar, but there are a few newbies in there, such as Jose Trevino, catcher for the Yankees. The results of the final voting will be made public this Friday evening, with the final rosters being announced on Sunday. See MLB.com. The only Washington National player who is clearly worthy of an All-Star invite is Josh Bell, but Paul Goldschmidt (Cards) and Pete Alonso (Mets) are the finalists at first base, so if Bell gets in, it will be via one of those back-door mechanisms designed to make sure that all teams get at least one All-Star representative. The game will be played at Dodger Stadium two weeks from tomorrow; that was originally going to be the site of the 2020 All-Star Game, which was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Nationals almost avoid getting swept by the Marlins again
It was definitely NOT a happy 4th of July weekend in Our Nation's Capital. The Nationals suffered lackadaisical losses on Friday night and late Saturday afternoon, with both Josiah Gray and Jackson Tetreault having a hard time on the mound, both getting tagged for the loss. In Sunday's game the Nats were without a hit until the seventh inning, when they finally showed some spunk. Josh Bell hit a leadoff double, followed by two more hits, but the Nationals only managed two runs in that inning, tying the game and letting starting pitcher Erick Fedde off the hook. One inning later Bell hit a two-out solo homer, giving the Nats the lead for the firt time in the series. And the crowd went wild! In the top of the ninth, Tanner Rainey got the first two batters out, then walked Avisail Garcia (on a full count), and then had a 2-2 count on Jesus Sanchez who hit a two-run homer to right field, taking back the lead. Arghhh! But in the bottom of the ninth Victor Robles hit a clutch two-out RBI single to send the game into extra innings. More exciting and inspirational heroism! But in the top of the tenth Carl Edwards Jr. gave up singles to the first four batters he faced, and the Marlins ended up winning after all, 7-4. What a crushing letdown! Adding to the misery of that game was the fact that Juan Soto was replaced in mid-game, after pulling a calf muscle during a rundown.
This morning, just after 11:00, Patrick Corbin took the mound for the Nationals and put in a very solid performance. It was a similar sequence of events, with the Marlins taking an early 1-0 lead and the Nationals tying it in the eighth inning, thanks to a walk and a stolen base by Ehire Adrianza and a clutch RBI single by Luis Garcia. Juan Soto took a bases on balls as a pinch hitter (but was replaced by a pinch-runner), loading the bases with just one out. But neither Lane Thomas nor Josh Bell could get a run in, and the game went to extra innings, again! Tanner Rainey took the mound, and just like in the ninth inning the day before, the Marlins scored two on a home run -- this time by Bryan De La Cruz. Arghhh-hhh! The Nats could only get one run in the bottom of the inning and once again lost -- their fifth consecutive defeat and their fourth straight loss to the Marlins. It's almost like they are cursed or something...
This was the sixth time the Nationals have been swept this year, the third time they have been swept by the Marlins this year, and the first time they have been swept in a four-game series since August 2-5, 2021, against the Phillies.
Furthermore, these were the fourth and fifth extra inning games that the Nationals have lost this year. They won their first such game, on May 18 against the Marlins, but then lost their next five. Guess what? I was at two of those games, on June 17 (2nd game) and 18! After today's game the radio announcers (Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes) pointed out the Nats' poor record in extra-inning games over the past two years, and how the Nationals haven't fared well under the new rule by which a "ghost runner" starts on second base when extra innings are played. That made me curious about how the Nats have done in extra-inning games further back in time, so I compiled my voluminous spreadsheet data and came up with the following results:
Years marked with a green background are when the Nationals made a postseason appearance. There doesn't seem to be much correlation between extra-inning wins and losses versus their overall performance.
July 4, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Happy 4th of July!
Big weekend in Washington
Although the main objective of my trip to Washington two weekends ago was to see baseball games, I did take the time to see various historic buildings and other landmarks. On Saturday morning I drove across Rock Creek Park in the upper northwest part of the city, and spent a while at the visitor center. It is full of stuffed animals and birds of every kind. Then I stopped at the Howard University Hospital, hoping to see the historical placque indicating where home plate of Griffith Stadium used to be, but the person at the front desk told me that no visitors are allowed inside on weekends. So then I drove along Florida Avenue toward the southeast, passing Ben's Chili Bowl on H Street NW, and then stopped at Lincoln Park, which is about a mile east of the Capitol. I was prompted in part by reports that the District of Columbia government is trying to have that monument removed, on the grounds that it portrays the slave being emancipated as demeaning. It's a shame that some people see it that way. When I read that the original funding for that statue came from former slaves who wanted to express gratitude to President Lincoln, my eyes got teared up. On the east side of that park is a monument to Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), an African-American teacher and civil rights activist. For more on Lincoln Park, including the life of Ms. Bethune, see nps.gov.
The Abraham Lincoln Freedom monument, in Lincoln Park.
Next I drove west toward the U.S. Capitol, and I was lucky to find a parking place along a side street only about three blocks away. I approached the Supreme Court building, bathed in sunlight on the east side since it was morning. It has probably been over 35 years since I last walked through the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Ever since the wave of protests following the leak about the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, including harrassment and threats aimed at the conservative justices, security at the Supreme Court building has been beefed up considerably. There is now a heavy steel fence around the entire perimeter, a sad commentary on the divided state of our nation.
The Supreme Court from the east side, June 18, 2022.
I was hoping to get into the U.S. Capitol visitor center, as a consolation for being unable to get an online ticket to take a tour of the Capitol itself, but apparently the visitor center is only for those who have an advance registration. The next available date is in August, but most folks could probably get a pass from one of their senators or representatives. I knew the visitor center was underground, but was surprised by what a big staircase there is descending to the entrance. It was built about ten or fifteen years ago, I think. So, I just walked around and took photos, mingling with all the tourists and imagining the horror that unfolded on the west side of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. There were a few barriers and security measures in place, but overall not as much as I had expected.
The U.S. Capitol from the southeast side, June 18, 2022.
Finally, I took a look at the ornate Library of Congress main building, just southeast of the Capitol. It has a greenish copper dome that is unfortunately only visible from a distance, so this photo doesn't really do it justice. One of these days I'm going to go inside and see about doing research there.
The Library of Congress from the southwest side, June 18, 2022.
These are just a few of the 20 or so new photos from the past few months, including scenic shots of mountains and flowers in bloom, that can be viewed on the Chronological (2022) photo gallery page.
July 7, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Supreme Court abortion ruling sets off firestorm
Ever since the leak of a draft opinion at the Supreme Court in early May, there has been little doubt that Roe v. Wade's days were numbered. The only question was how drastic the ruling would be. But any signicant diminution of abortion rights was was simply anathema to many people, and pro-choice activists immediately cried foul. The Democratic leaders in Congress (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer) even accused the conservative justices of having "ripped up the U.S. Constitution." (cbsnews.com) Such a reaction seemed premature to me, given that there no official ruling had been made at that time, but their notion of what the Constitution actually is struck me as especially troubling. Granted, there is a strong tradition of respecting existing case precedent (more about the doctrine of stare decisis below), especially when it comes to decisions by the Supreme Court, but there have been numerous exceptions throughout U.S. history. Anyone who claims that any given Supreme Court ruling of the past has equal weight to the words contained in the Constitution itself is just not thinking clearly.
The Supreme Court building on June 18, 2022 -- six days before the landmark ruling was announced. Note the recently-installed tall black steel fence in back of the standard "bicycle rack" barriers that are often used for crowd control.
Justices are menaced
The uproar that followed the leak soon escalated from mere harsh rhetoric to threats of physical violence. In early June, a California man named Nicholas John Roske was arrested near the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and was later charged with attempting to murder Kavanaugh. According to police, he was arrested while armed with a Glock-9 pistol, a knife, and tools used by burglars. (dailymail.co.uk) The perpetrator was affiliated with left-wing political causes, affirming that he was trying to thwart the Supreme Court from making a ruling, but for some reason this story did not get as much national media attention as it probably should have.
In response, it was decided by Supreme Court Marshall* Gail Curley to beef up security around the Supreme Court building, which for many decades has served as a forum for peaceful dissenting voices. She also sent requests to top leaders in Maryland and Virginia to bolster the security of the homes of the nine Supreme Court justices. It is truly frightening that political activists think it is acceptable to harrass and intimidate the members of the Supreme Court and their families, and anyone who makes excuses for such actions is a subversive wretch. Just as the ugly barriers around the U.S. Capitol were slowly being scaled back and removed, as the prospect of a repeat insurrection à la January 6 diminished, the same such measures had to be taken to protect the nation's highest court of justice. It is another example of the ongoing polarization of U.S. society, and a reminder that the threat of political extremism exists on both sides of the political spectrum. Little by little, the fundamental democratic norm of respecting the rule of law and refraining from violence is coming undone.
Behind this ominous fence is the Supreme Court building as seen from the northwest side. (June 18, 2022)
* I was previously unaware of this office.
The decision is reached
On Friday, June 24 the decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case was made public, and it was immediately clear that the scope of the ruling was even wider than pro-choice advocates had feared or that pro-life advocates had hoped for. Just before noon, the major TV networks cut into their regular broadcasts, and for an hour or more reporters on the scene and legal analysts in the studios tried to make sense of it all. On Facebook there was an instantaneous flood of posts, either expressing jubilation or angrily condemning the decision. To me, that is one of the most disturbing signs of all, the fact that a large majority of people are so convinced that their own opinion is right that they were utterly blind to the tragedy that this ruling -- and ultimately, the Roe v. Wade decision itself -- has unleashed.
Many pro-choice advocates seem to revere the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision as though it were engraved in gold upon a stone tablet. Oddly, however, not many of them seem to understand the constitutional basis for that ruling, or they have not reflected upon what a weak legal foundation the opinion of nine robed men from a half century ago is. The original Roe v. Wade decision (just after Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second term as president) was based on a broad reading of the right to privacy, which was established by the Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) case. (That case dealt with access to contraceptives.) The First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments were cited in Roe as collectively implying a right to abortion. Most people agree that there is an implied constitutional right to privacy, but it is by no means a certainty, and some people frankly disagree. (Some liberals have reacted with panic to the suggestion by Justice Clarence Thomas that other rights may be revisited on similar grounds.) The fact that the putative right to abortion has been derived from a right that is itself merely implied means that its legal foundation is tenuous at best, and at worst terribly weak. In sum, Roe went one big step too far.
The Supreme Court ruling (see supremecourt.gov), by a 6-3 vote, declared unequivocally that both the Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) decisions were wrong to assert that the Constitution confers the right to an abortion. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito emphasized that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment encompasses rights that are explicitly protected by the first eight amendments to the Constitution as well as those other rights that are "deeply rooted in [U.S.] history and tradition" and are essential to "ordered liberty." (The Ninth Amendment does allow for the existence of such rights, in effect erring on the side of freedom, thereby limiting the government's ability to control people.) In Alito's mind, the fact that there were virtually no state laws protecting abortion rights until the latter half of the 20th Century meant that it was not a well-established custom. This is true as a matter of law, but Alito somehow neglects that the Roe decision did in fact change social practices and attitudes, so much so that abortion became fairly routine by the following decade.
In his concurring opinion (about two-thirds the way to the end of the ruling cited above), Chief Justice Roberts expressed strong reservations about the extent of the ruling. He noted that the writ of certiori by which the Supreme Court accepted the Dobbs case noted that the plaintiff (the state of Mississippi) did not expect Roe v. Wade to be overturned as necessary to win its case. "Today, the Court nonetheless rules for Mississippi by doing just that. I would take a more measured course." Essentially, Roberts pleaded for judicial restraint, and I wholeheartedly agree with him about that. Just as Roe v. Wade went too far in establishing a nationwide right to abortion, provoking an inevitable backlash, so too the Dobbs decision went too far back in the opposite direction. The question is not whether there will be a backlash, but rather how strong it will be, and whether the Supreme Court's emphatic ruling will ultimately bring about unintended political consequences. Conservatives may come to rue the day that Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Writing for the Washington Post, Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow focused on Chief Justice Roberts' nuanced, rather anxious concurring summary. Even though he agreed that Roe was wrongly decided, he expressed fear that the issue would not go away, and that the ruling would perhaps not ultimately stand up. That's ironic, because the stare decisis principle (respecting case precedent) was basically cast aside by the other five justices in the conservative majority. For people with a certain, very firm set of moral standards, it is more important to be right than to be practical. That is why in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case the Supreme Court overruled the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that "separate but equal" was consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment. Sometimes bad decisions are made, and they eventually have to be corrected. Was the Roe decision as bad as Plessy v. Ferguson? I don't think so.
Whereas most people argue this issue substantively on the basis of very dogmatic premises (e.g., that a woman has absolute autonomy over her body or that life begins at conception), such assertions frankly mean very little in practice. The biological process by which a fertilized egg transforms into a human being consists of gradual phases that simply cannot be defined with any degree of precision, and there will never be broad agreement. Can you tell the difference between a whale fetus or a pig fetus from a human fetus at three or four weeks gestation? I sure can't. Fetal development is a gray area, and there will never be a broad agreement over metaphysical concerns such as when a soul is created. Anyone on either side who insists that their view must be the basis upon which law is made is not only a bigot, but a dangerous authoritarian.
Instead, I strongly prefer to address this issue in procedural terms, minimizing the importance of difficult questions such as fetal viability and thus avoiding the harsh polemics expressed by the opposing factions. I am a radical pluralist, in the Madisonian tradition, with a sober, skeptical, and modest view about prospects for resolving such contentious issues as abortion. In other words, I accept as a permanent (or at least long-term) condition the deep divide between pro-choicers and pro-lifers and see the only possible way of effectively dealing with the issue is by devolving the decision-making process to a lower level.
Abortion rights: 50 states
One of the supposed advantages to the American semi-decentralized form of government known as federalism is that sharp differences of opinion based on particular cultural values or traditions can better be accommodated when states are allowed to exercise some discretion over policy. In other words, federalism is conducive to cultural diversity, a notion that has become something of a cliché in recent decades thanks to the "Culture Wars." This is the practical side of argument that abortion ought to be decided at the state level. In the class at Mary Baldwin University that I taught this past spring, we briefly discussed the wide variation among states in how they have handled abortion. After the semester was over, when the leak about the impending decision in the Dobbs case came out, I consulted a variety of sources to come up with the following map that attempts to summarize the legal situation across the country. It is one of the maps found on the new Comparative state politics page.
On a strictly personal level, I find the harshly vindictive laws banning virtually all abortions, such as those passed in Texas and Mississippi, to be quite detestable. Many thousands of women will suffer agonizing unwanted pregnancies as a result, and I do not see what good can come from compelling women to have unwanted babies. There are obviously deeper moral issues at stake here, and one cannot ignore the likelihood that the large number of abortions that have been performed every year is a sign of a spiritually unhealthy society. But the bottom line for me is that, when in doubt, trust the women to judge for themselves. More often than not, they are the victims.
State abortion laws May 2022.
Supreme Court: 9 justices
On the 31st of June, Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing Steven Breyer, who announced his intention to retire back in January. This marks the fourth new justice in the past five years, three of whom were nominated by former President Trump. One of the reasons for the ferocious wave of protests against the conservative majority is the widely-held notion that the Supreme Court has been taken over by right-wing extremists, and that this has been accomplished by devious or subversive means. We all know about the "Biden rule" by which then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided not to hold hearings for then-President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland in 2016. In 1992 then-Senator Joe Biden said that nominations for the Supreme Court should not be considered in a presidential election year, and there is a good reason for that. After Trump won the 2016 election (in an upset) Neil Gorsuch became the replacement for Antonin Scalia, a full year after Scalia had died. Then in 2018 Brett Kavanaugh replaced Anthony Kennedy (who had decided to retire), amidst fierce attacks on his character, which may or may not be well-founded. Personally, I thought that Trump should have asked Kavanaugh to step aside and let someone else be nominated. In any case, liberals were extremely angry over that. And then two years later the icing on the cake was when Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away after months of cancer treatments, and Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett. This was in the fall of 2020, in the middle of the presidential election campaign, and was obviously a direct contradiction of the "Biden rule." What did Senator McConnell say about that? Nothing. As a cynical ultra-pragmatist, being consistent with principles simply does not count for much. As a result, the Supreme Court shifted strongly to the right, and liberals went even more ballistic than they had been before. In this case, frankly, I can't blame them.
So now we are in a situation in which some Democrats are seriously suggesting that President Biden nominate additional members to the Supreme Court, to either restore some kind of balance, or else to impose a liberal / progressive majority by democratic fiat. Such a move would be a disaster for our country, and would further weaken respect for the rule of law. I earnestly hope that President Biden and the more sober-minded members of his party reject such advice. "Packing the court" would unleash a right-wing backlash that would make January 6 look like a picnic.
I drew up the following list of Supreme Court justices to call attention to a peculiar imbalance -- not a "red" (conservative) vs. "blue" (liberal) imbalance, but a Catholic vs. Protestant imbalance. Ever since the Republican Party began making political hay out of discontent among social conservatives (especially regarding abortion), every Supreme Court nominee has either been Catholic or (in the case of Neil Gorsuch) a Protestant with affinities toward Catholicism. If you want to know why the Supreme Court has taken such a strong stand on abortion, religious affiliation is an obvious answer. I have nothing against Catholics, and I respect sincere pro-life activists, but I am utterly appalled by the opportunistic mobilization of moral and religious sentiment on behalf of a partisan political agenda. That sort of practice only accentuates the trend toward polarization in our nation, and makes us all less trustful of our government and judicial institutions.
|Name||Title||Year began||Nominated by||Religion|
|John Roberts||Chief Justice||2005||G.W. Bush||Catholic|
|Clarence Thomas||Assoc. Justice||1991||G. Bush||Catholic|
|Samuel Alito||Assoc. Justice||2006||G.W. Bush||Catholic|
|Sonia Sotomayor||Assoc. Justice||2009||Obama||Catholic|
|Elena Kagan||Assoc. Justice||2010||Obama||Jewish|
|Neil Gorsuch||Assoc. Justice||2017||Trump||Episcopalian *|
|Brett Kavanaugh||Assoc. Justice||2018||Trump||Catholic|
|Amy Coney Barrett||Assoc. Justice||2020||Trump||Catholic|
|Ketanji Brown Jackson||Assoc. Justice||2022||Biden||Protestant|
* Gorsuch also attends Catholic services on occasion, so he may exemplify the "Anglo-Catholic" tendency within the Anglican Communion.
Final note: I have updated the Supreme Court page to include the name of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was sworn in on June 31.
July 13, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Baseball road trip 2022: northbound!
As usual, my long-distance road trips are usually not focused specifically on baseball, but I always try to squeeze in a few precious minutes to see new ballparks or baseball-related places of interest. Such was the case last year when I ventured into the Deep South for the first time. This year my main objective was to visit Niagara Falls, and fortunately, that took us very near to several current and former baseball and/or football stadiums. Perhaps more importantly, it provided a perfect opportunity to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Southeast entrance to what used to be War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, Rogers Centre in Toronto, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Buffalo: home of the Bills and Bisons
En route to Buffalo, I passed through the suburb of Orchard Park, which I learned from a friend who used to live up there was once noted for its fruit tree orchards. I made a point to take a slight detour to see Highmark Stadium, formerly known (at various times) as Rich Stadium, Ralph Wilson Stadium, and New Era Field. I learned recently that the Bills plan to replace it with a new stadium across the street to the west by the 2026 season. That has been added to the Football stadiums photo gallery page. It is the 17th photo of a current or past NFL venue that I have taken from close by, and I have seen a few others as well.
Once in Buffalo itself, I stopped to take photos of Sahlen Field, which was called Coca-Cola Field the last time I was there, in July 2015. Whereas my previous visit was in the dead of night, this time I had bright morning sun which was ideal for picture-taking. The Buffalo Bisons were hosting the Syracuse Chiefs, and I thought about going to see them play, but I was too tired from driving all day. Later in the morning I drove about a mile northeast to the athletic center where War Memorial Stadium used to be. I only learned a couple years ago that the ornate Art Deco gates at the southeast and northeast corners of that city block were preserved when the rest of the stadium was demolished in 1989. I was glad to see some of the old stadium with my own eyes. That land is now a facility for amateur sports, named after a local leader by the name of Johnnie B. Wiley. (NOTE: Diagram updates for those two stadiums, as well as for Rogers Centre, are pending.)
Toronto: just a quick drive-by
During the brief time I was in Toronto, I was hoping to see the historical marker for Exhibition Stadium, just south of BMO Field (for soccer), but the traffic there was so bad that we lost an hour or more driving time. So, I had to content myself with just a quick look at Rogers Centre as we passed through downtown. I learned that there was some kind of big music festival in the waterfront area, but it was postponed due to an Internet outage affecting Rogers customers, accounting for over half the Canadian market. That only added to the chaos. I made a few quick changes to the Rogers Centre page, such as adding a full-sized version of the photo above (taken from an awkward position underneath the freeway) as well as a crude map of Toronto showing the relative locations of Rogers Centre, Exhibition Stadium, and BMO Field. (The latter one overlaps the land on which the second one formerly stood.)
Cooperstown: my first pilgrimmage
In retrospect, it seems odd that I waited so long to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But things worked out very well on this trip, and I was able to spend about two hours at the museum (or "MVSEVM" as it it written in gold letters above the entrance) before I had to leave. In my haste, I neglected to stop at take a peek at Doubleday Field, located about a block southwest of the Hall itself. FRIENDLY ADVICE: Don't use the shuttle bus from the remote parking lot on the northwest side of town unless you are pretty sure that you need to. I paid $5.25 and waited over 20 minutes, but the bus never came, so my wife and I drove into town and found a streetside parking place that was free! Cooperstown is a beautiful town, located at the south end of scenic Otsego Lake, and there are plenty of natural and cultural attractions in the area, for those who are not full-time baseball fans.
Mickey Mantle's Hall of Fame plaque.
The Washington Nationals' display "locker" at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Most of those players have either moved to different teams (Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Kurt Suzuki) or have retired (Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman). Only Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg are left. I was impressed that it has been updated recently to include recognition of the retirement of Ryan Zimmerman's uniform number 11.
The current World Series champion team always gets a prominent display at the Hall of Fame, and if I had been there two years earlier I would have seen something for the Washington Nationals.
Nats are in another losing streak
Nationals almost avoid getting swept by the Braves again. The first game of the series in Atlanta was just awful, as Erick Fedde only lasted three innings, as the Nats lost 12-2. But the Nats came close in the latter two games, and they were actually ahead late in the third and final game, thanks to a three-run homer by Lane Thomas in the sixth inning. But the Braves tied it in the eighth inning, and after both teams wasted multiple run-scoring opportunities in extra innings, the home team won it in walk-off RBI single by Austin Riley in the bottom of the 12th inning. The Nats lost both the Saturday and Sunday games by the same score: 4-3.
After a day of rest on Monday, and a rained-out game last night, the Nationals played two home games against the Seattle Mariners today. In the first game, the Nats' starting pitcher Josiah Gray had terrible command in the first inning, and walked two batters. Then Eugenio Suarez came up to bat and made him pay for it, hitting a three-run homer. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Juan Soto also hit a three-run homer, but all that did was narrow the gap. Final score: Mariners 6, Nats 4. In the evening game, Erick Fedde had a much better outing, and neither team scored until the sixth inning. That's when Jesse Winker hit a solo home run, soon followed by a sac fly RBI. Just like in the first game, Juan Soto homered in the bottom of the ninth inning, but this time nobody was on base, and the game ended in a 2-1 loss for the Nats -- their sixth loss in a row. The Nationals are now tied with the Oakland Athletics in having the worst record in the major leagues: 30-60; that's a measly .333 winning percentage.
Ten-game winning streaks!?
The Seattle Mariners were expected to do well this year, but the Baltimore Orioles had low expectations, much like the Nationals. Well, both teams extended their winning streaks into the double digits tonight. Throughout April, the Orioles performed at historically bad levels, but in May they gradually turned things around. After beating the Cubs in Chicago tonight, they are officially over .500, which says a lot given that they are in last place in the American League East Division. As things stand, all three of the American League wild card teams will come from the AL East. Believe it or not, the Orioles cannot be entirely dismissed as postseason contenders.
July 21, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Last hurrah? Juan Soto wins Home Run Derby!
It may be of small consolation to Nationals fans, who are coming to grips with the strong possibility that the guy who just replaced Ryan Zimmerman as the "face of the franchise" may soon depart D.C., but Juan Soto managed to win the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. He was fourth-seeded, facing the fifth-seeded Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Guardians (formerly Indians) in the first round, 18 to 17. The big first-round surprise was that Albert Pujols, who was given the privilege of participating in recognition of his impending retirement, defeated top-seeded Kyle Schwarber, a former National who now plays for Philadelphia. After Pujols' contract with the L.A. Angels expired last year, he returned to his original team -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- for a nostalgic "swan song." Also surprising was that sixth-seeded Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners hit 32 home runs, defeating third-seeded Corey Seager (a former Dodger now with the Texas Rangers), who had 24. In the second round, Soto defeated Pujols 17 to 16, and in the final round Soto got off to a slow start with zero home runs in the first 30 seconds, but ultimately defeated Julio Rodriguez 19-18. With all that has been on his mind, it is remarkable that he kept his composure and focused on knocking balls over the fence. In the first round, he hit the longest homer (482 feet) of all the eight contestants, and his longest homer in the third round sailed 471 feet.
In the post-derby interview, Soto exhibited mixed emotions of pride and unease, related to his precarious situation with the Washington Nationals. (See below.) For the time being, Nats fans could relish their second team victory in the Home Run Derby, but it had somewhat of a bittersweet taste. Bryce Harper won it (at home in Nationals Park!) in 2018, his final year with the Nats.
AL wins All-Star Game again
For the ninth consecutive year (excluding 2020, when the game was canceled), the American League won the All-Star Game. The National League got off to a good start with two runs in the bottom of the first inning, but in the fourth inning, Tony Gonsolin (of the Dodgers) gave up a single to Jose Ramirez and then a home run to Giancarlo Stanton, tying the game at 2-2. The very next batter, Byron Buxton (center fielder for the Twins), homered as well, giving the American League the lead. For the rest of the game nobody scored. The final outcome almost seemed inevitable, and the game was frankly a little on the dull side. Juan Soto replaced Mookie Betts in center field (later shifting to right), and did not even reach base. Still unclear is why the guy with the third-best batting average in the National League (Josh Bell, with .311) was not chosen for the All-Star Game.
Accordingly, I just updated the Annual baseball chronology page with that 3-2 score in favor of the AL. From it, you can see that in only one year since 2014 has the All-Star Game been played in an American League stadium: Progressive Field, in 2019. They used to alternate between leagues from one year to the next, but for some reason that practice ended in 2016, when Petco Park became the second consecutive National League stadium to host the Midsummer Classic.
No deal; Soto becomes trade bait
Last weekend it was revealed via a leak (I won't speculate by whom, but it's not hard to guess) that Juan Soto turned down the Nationals' latest (and perhaps final) offer of $440 million over 15 years. (See the Washington Post.) That would have been the biggest such contract in baseball history, but it wasn't enough for Juan Soto (or his agent Scott Boras). It worked out to an average annual value of $29.3 million, which is notably less than the $36 million a year that Mike Trout is making with the L.A. Angels. Since the Nationals were badly burned with the Stephen Strasburg contract (we just learned that he is not expected to pitch at all for the rest of the year), it is entirely understandable that they would hesitate to meet the lofty expectations of Soto & Bora$.
Obviously, Soto's rejection of the Nats' generous offer raises the likelihood that he will be traded by the deadline on August 2. He is under control of the team through the next two seasons, after which he becomes a free agent, so he is worth more on the market now than he will be later on. One strong indication that the Nats front office has essentially given up on Soto: the large ads for upcoming game tickets in the Washington Post no longer feature Soto, but rather the other up-and-coming stars of the future such as Lane Thomas and Kiebert Ruiz. It's a sad indicator of the awful twists of fate that have befallen the Nationals franchise.
I generally disdain to speculate on trade rumors, but this being a special situation, I'll bend my rules just a little bit. According to MLB.com, the Nats will not trade Soto to another team in the NL East, but the big-market teams such as the Yankees and Dodgers are obvious possible suitors. Maybe the big-spending Texas Rangers? They are known for wasting hundreds of millions on players that don't really pan out, as are the L.A. Angels. The St. Louis Cardinals are a good potential match because their big stock of young, high-caliber talent that "rebuilding" teams such as the Nationals need. It is being suggested that the Nats would try to combine Patrick Corbin with Soto in any trade, a transparent (and unseemly) attempt to rid themselves of a financial burden represented by Corbin's contract, which has two more years to go. Corbin has been pitching better lately, but he is nowhere near the expectations set when they signed him before the 2019 season. For a non-contending team, there's no point to retaining an expensive and underperforming player.
As bad as things have been for the Nationals for the past twelve months, I frankly couldn't imagine that the Nats front office would be unable to come to terms with Soto. They have made it clear that he is (or was) expected to be the centerpiece of the franchise for many years to come. Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong, either in the organization or in the advice that Soto is getting from his agent. Hey, maybe all these rumors are off base, and perhaps the Nats and Soto will reach a deal after all. Us fans can indulge in a little dreaming, can't we? The apocalyptic losing streak of late July 2021 was soon followed by the Nats trading away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and other top players; it was an unthinkable shock. But if they do lose Soto, all hope of success (meaning contention for the postseason) for the next few years would appear to have vanished. It would constitute an incomprehensible fall from grace, less than three years since their World Series triumph.
Nats end losing streak
On a brighter note, meanwhile, the Washington Nationals finally put an end to their losing streak (at nine games), beating the Atlanta Braves 7-3 in Washington on Sunday. From June 29 until Sunday, the Nats had won only one game, while losing 15. I'll have to check, but that may be their lowest-ever record over a 16-game stretch. They took an early lead thanks in part to a home run by Victor Robles, and Juan Soto hit his 20th homer of the year late in the game to pad the lead. Soto has raised his average recently, and is now batting .250. Until a month or so ago, Soto had the lowest batting average (about .220 or so) of the Nats' entire lineup, which was hard to believe. Ironically, the Nats didn't even have a starting pitcher available, since there was a double-header on Wednesday July 13, and Erasmo Ramirez pitched the first three innings. Of note, in eleven of those 16 games the Nats scored either 3 or 4 runs, and in four of the other five games they scored even less -- consistent mediocrity. The seven runs on Sunday was the most the Nats have scored since their 8-7 loss to the Pirates on June 29. So there's that.
July 25, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Cooperstown welcomes Big Papi, and six others
The man who played the lead role in putting an end to the "curse of the Bambino" in 2004, lifting the Boston Red Sox to the heights of glory, was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, New York yesterday. David Ortiz ended his career with 541 home runs, just ahead of Mickey Mantle (536) on the all-time list, with 1,768 RBIs and a .286 batting average. He was elected (back in January) by the Baseball Writers Association of America, with 77.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. No other players on this year's ballot reached the 75% cutoff line, but six others from decades past were chosen by the "Era Committees"; see below. (See www.washingtonpost.com.)
Ortiz was born in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, on November 18, 1975, and was signed by the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent in 1992 -- age 17! Four years later he was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he played for six seasons, partial and full: 1997-2002. He racked up a total of 58 home runs during that time, barely hinting at what was to come. In January 2003 he signed with the Red Sox and hit 31 home runs that year, helping Boston get to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1990. During his 14 years with the Red Sox he hit 483 home runs, or 34.5 per year. Amazingly, he hit more homers in each of his last four years than in the year before: 30, 35, 37, and finally 38. See baseball-reference.com. Stocky and muscular, he was the archetypical designated hitter, very few of whom have made it to Cooperstown. I saw him play in exactly one game: August 1, 2009 against the Orioles in Baltimore, which the visiting team won, 4-0. Ortiz doubled that day but did not score. The next time I saw the Red Sox, in a 2017 spring training game, he was already gone.
For those who may have forgotten, the New York Yankees had won the first three games in the 2004 American League Championship Series, including a 19-8 shellacking of the Red Sox in Fenway Park in Game 3. The situation appeared utterly hopeless for the home team in Game 4. After the Red Sox tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Ortiz came up to bat in the bottom of the 12th and hit a two-run homer to win the game. Jubilation in Bean Town! The following night, the Red Sox once again overcame a deficit to tie the game 4-4 in the late innings, and with two outs and runners on first and second in the bottom of the 14th, Ortiz hit a line drive single to center field for his second walk-off triumph in two nights. Simply incredible. Of course, the Red Sox grabbed the momentum and never looked back, as Ortiz homered in the top of the first inning of Game 7 in Yankee Stadium, and the rest is history. (See my October 18, 2004 and October 21, 2004 "post facto" blog posts, as well as the Postseason scores page.)
Of note, Ortiz became a free agent after the 2011 season and signed a one-year contract extension with the Red Sox, getting a pay hike of about $2 million (roughly 17%) -- from $12,500,000 to $14,575,000. A year later, they went through the same thing, and he actually received an initial pay cut to $14,000,000, following by one-million dollar raises in the two subsequent years. (See the above baseball-reference.com link.) It is interesting to contrast what Ortiz was getting paid with certain superstar players of recent years, such as Manny Machado or Juan Soto. Big Papi's devotion to Red Sox fans and to Boston in general was best exemplified when he spoke to the Fenway faithful a few days after the deadly terrorist attack during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2003: "This is our f*cking city!" His love for the city was emphatically reciprocated, as suggested in this photo I took during the final year of his career:
As his career was about to come to a close, a large billboard across the street paid tribute to David Ortiz. (See the original September 16, 2016 blog post.)
The "Eras" Committee (formerly called the "Veterans Committee") also elected the following players to the Hall of Fame, the first (Fowler) and last (O'Neil) being chosen for their contributions to the sport as "pioneers" who promoted baseball in African-American communities:
- Bud Fowler (various Black barnstorming teams, 1880s)
- Gil Hodges (Brooklyn & L.A. Dodgers, 1943-1961*) +
- Jim Kaat (Minnesota Twins, 1961-1973) +
- Minnie Miñoso (Chicago White Sox, 1951-1961) +
- Tony Oliva (Minnesota Twins, 1962-1976)
- Buck O'Neil (Kansas City Monarchs, 1938-1948*)
The teams shown here are the ones for which the respective players are primarily known, and the years pertain to those teams.
+ = also played for other team(s)
* = interrupted by military service
The main entrance of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame (and Museum), in Cooperstown, New York, which I visited earlier this month.
Nationals avert sweep by D-Backs
It wasn't pretty, as the Nationals committed three errors and flubbed multiple scoring opportunities, but a combination of timely hitting and solid relief pitching late in the game were just enough to tip the balance in Washington's favor on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. After lopsided defeats at the hands of the Diamondbacks on Friday (10-1) and Saturday (7-2), the Nats kept a close margin until they tied it on an usual play in the top of the seventh inning. With a runner on first base and two outs, Josh Bell smashed a ball that landed just in front of the fence in the right field corner, and it bounced up and then backwards into foul territory as Cesar Hernandez crossed home plate. The umpire initially called it a ground-rule double which would have put the runner back on third base, probably keeping the D-Backs ahead, but after further review, the run counted. That was huge. One inning later, Lane Thomas managed to stretch a long single to left-center field into a double, and then Keibert Ruiz batted him in with a clutch single to right field. With Juan Soto's fate being so uncertain right now, it is Thomas and Ruiz who are expected to anchor this young, struggling team for the immediate future, and they sure came through on Sunday.
[Humorous note: After D-Backs pitcher Madison Bumgarner (the former Giant!) called Nats outfielder Victor Robles a "clown" for pausing to admire the solo home run he hit in the eighth inning on Saturday night, Robles wore a red clown nose in the dugout before the game on Sunday. That may have boosted the Nats' team morale just a little bit.]
Tonight the Nationals (32-65) begin a three-game series against the Dodgers (64-30) in Los Angeles, and it would take a minor miracle for them to win even one of those games. Paulo Espino is starting tonight, and Josiah Gray starts against his former team tomorrow night. Given that at least some of their best players are expected to be traded during the next two weeks, and that they are 14 games behind the fourth-place Miami Marlins, it is a virtual certainty that the Nats will end the season in last place for the third year in a row. (They shared that "dishonor" with the Marlins in 2021.) The Nationals have only a slim chance of rising to the .400 "threshhold of respectability" by the end of the season, and all they can realistically hope for is to finish ahead of at least one other team, such as the Oakland A's or the Cincinnati Reds.
Whereas the Nats pitching rotation was on quite a hot streak one month ago, they have all struggled of late. Only Josiah Gray has been credited with a win this month, while Patrick Corbin and Erick Fedde have been tagged for multiple losses. The newly-added starters, Paolo Espino and Anibal Sanchez, are somewhere in between. The promising young Jackson Tetreault has a stress fracture of his right scapula that may or may not take a long time to heal. There is no chance of Stephen Strasburg returning this year, and closing pitcher Tanner Rainey is likewise in doubt for the next several weeks.
Winning & losing streaks
The L.A. Dodgers have won eight in a row, leading the majors in that regard. The Toronto Blue Jays have won six in a row, while the Houston Astros have won five. After winning 14 games in a row before the All-Star break, the Seattle Mariners lost three straight games against the Houston Astros at home in T-Mobile Park. On the down side, the Boston Red Sox have lost five in a row, and are in danger of falling behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings.
July 29, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Miracles on grass in Los Angeles!
A few days ago, I wrote that it would be "a minor miracle" for the Nationals to win even one of the games against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. What can a demoralized last-place team expect to do against a team full of superstars such as the Dodgers? Well, there were actually two miracles, as the Nats somehow managed to win the first two games of that road series. On Monday the Dodgers scored first, on a solo home run by Trayce Thompson (who?), but the Nats tied it in the top of the fifth thanks to a leadoff home run by Yadiel Hernandez. Two quick groundouts followed, but then the Nats took the lead on three consecutive singles and a clutch triple by Juan Soto. Starting pitcher Paolo Espino got into a jam in the bottom of the fifth, when Andres Machado came in and shut down the Dodgers. Neither team scored for the rest of the game, as the Nats' bullpen continued to show improvement, and the visitors actually won it, 4-1.
Well, that was just a fluke, right? Nope! The Nats scored two runs in the top of the first on Tuesday, thanks to three singles and some smart base-running. In his return to his former home in L.A., starting pitcher Josiah Gray gave up a solo home run (to Mookie Betts) in the bottom of the first, and the Nats held the lead until the fifth inning. That's when the Dodgers scored two more runs, putting Gray in line for a possible loss. The Nats wasted multiple run-scoring opportunities, and things looked bleak until the top of the eighth. Josh Bell singled, and Luis Garcia came through with one of the most significant home runs of his career, smashing the ball into the right field bleachers to retake the lead, 4-3. One inning latter all heck broke loose as the Nats added four more runs. Final score: Nats 8, Dodgers 3. Unbelievable!
Having matched their season-high three consecutive wins, the Nats started dreaming about a sweep of the Dodgers, which would have been earth-shattering. That was not to be, however, as starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, who had shown signs of improvement lately, simply imploded on the mound. The Dodgers knocked balls all around the field, and before you knew it the score was 6-0. Corbin was replaced by Erasmo Ramirez, and for the rest of the game each team scored exactly one run, for a final score of 7-1. Back to reality. For the series as a whole, the Nats scored 13 runs, compared to 11 for the Dodgers.
After a day of rest, the Nationals welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to Our Nation's Capital this evening, with Anibal Sanchez on the mound. The Nats have a record of 5-17 for the month thus far, and this weekend series will determine whether July 2022 replaces July 2008, when they went 5-19 (.208), as the team's worst month ever. They need to win at least one game against the Cardinals to prevent that from happening.
Sahlen Field update
In light of my recent visit to Buffalo, New York, I felt compelled to update the diagrams for Sahlen Field (pronounced "SAY-len"), which the Toronto Blue Jays* were obliged to call "home" in both 2020 and 2021. (Likewise, you can count on an imminent update to the War Memorial Stadium diagrams.) I thought it would be a fairly easy task, basically just moving the bullpens to right center field to reflect what was done last year before the Blue Jays moved in, but the more I looked, the more changes I found were necessary. For one thing, I noticed from watching videos (local TV news as well as professional ball-snagger Zack Hample) that the the distance markers in the power alleys show the reverse of what sources such as Wikipedia indicate. It is actually 367 feet to left-center field and 371 feet to right-center field. It may not seem like much, but it turned out that the angles of the outfield fence were significantly different than what I originally concluded. Also, I noticed that the original outfield fence was mostly a circular curve except in right field, much like Turner Field in reverse. In addition, I noticed that the fence in front of the grandstand angles back slightly between the dugouts and the foul poles, in order to provide enough room for the bullpens, which were originally in foul territory. As usual, I added the usual "new" juicy details such as gate numbers and "UP" labels for major ramps and stairways. Finally, I created a new map of Buffalo, New York, showing where the baseball stadiums and other pro sports arenas are located, and added a photo montage of notable city landmarks. Enjoy!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ellicott Square building, General Mills food processing complex, Erie Community College (the old Post Office building), and the Electric Tower.
I also updated the Anomalous stadiums page, which now has only one entry per stadium in each section, with multiple lines showing the respective teams and dates of special games played therein. There will soon be such special games in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and Dyersville, Iowa...
Rogers Centre renovations!
* Speaking of the Blue Jays, I recently became apprised of the details concerning the major renovations to Rogers Centre that will commence after this season is over. I was previously aware that they intended to completely replace the lower deck, since there is no longer any need to reconfigure the stadium for football games. That will take place after the 2023 season, but what I did not know was the extent of changes planned for the outfield seats. There will no longer be an empty void beyond the outfield fence, and the bullpens will be raised a few feet. Also, the outfield portions of the upper deck will be removed and replaced with new party decks, etc. Those are simply wonderful, and I look forward to seeing a game at Rogers Center after the work is finished. Obviously, this will keep me busy with diagram updates this fall as details emerge. You can take a look at some excellent artists' conception at urbantoronto.ca, and a video at YouTube. Major league hat tip to Mike Zurawski!