Nationals to host Yankees in season opener
Believe it or not, major league baseball is on track to get underway in less than three weeks, and at last they have released the actual 2020 schedule. Until today the MLB.com website still had the same schedules that were in effect back in March, which was very strange. So, at 7:00 PM on Thursday July 23rd, the World Champion Washington Nationals (that sure sounds nice!) will have the honor of opening the 2020 season by hosting the New York Yankees. Later that evening the L.A. Dodgers will play the Giants. The games are set to be broadcast by ESPN, which is too bad for the many millions of fans who have "cut the cable" in recent years. If they were smart, they would co-broadcast it on ABC, which is owned by the same parent company, Disney. Presumably Max Scherzer will start for the Nationals, and I heard that Gerritt Cole might start for the Yankees, even though I thought he was among those who are "opting out" this year. It will be a strange and surreal, and yet very emotional and dramatic event.
Summer training (or retraining) began last week, under strict protocols such that only players who have tested negative for covid-19 are allowed into the stadium. In today's Washington Post, relief pitcher Sean Doolittle said he hoped to play when the season starts on July 23, but expressed concern about health and said he might opt out. "Sports are like the reward of a functioning society," he said, making it clear that he thinks this country is not handling the pandemic effectively enough. Dootlittle, who like Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, has been known as a socially conscious players who is very attuned to workers rights and minority issues. Even though I very much want baseball to get underway, I don't blame the players for hesitating. For professional athletes, their bodies are their livelihoods, and damage to one's lungs could wreck a career.
I saw a report on ESPN.com that 38 MLB players have tested positive for covid-19, which is about 1.2% of all those tested, but it could be more. Two Nationals players have tested positive, but we don't know which ones yet. Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is among those affected.
Barry Svrluga points out in Friday's Washington Post how strange it's going to be when baseball starts well after what would be the midpoint of the season: "It's going to get late early." On a wry note, he laments that with no fans in the stands, the Houston Astros will not have to endure the loud jeering by fans which everyone expected, and which would be richly-deserved.
The Astros cheating scandal
For the first three months of this year, while I was preoccupied with teaching duties, the big news story in baseball was the cheating scandal involving the Houston Astros. How soon we forget! (Quick rehash: for at least three years up through 2019, including their 2017 World Series championship, the Astros had been stealing signs from the catchers via a TV camera in center field of Minute Maid Park, and relaying the signs to somebody in the team clubhouse, so that the Astros batters would get a warning (clang, clang! with a garbage can lid) if the next pitch was going to be off-speed or not. That might explain why the Astros had the best win-loss record in home games in all of major league baseball last year, and why it seemed so remarkable that the Nationals overcame that record in the World Series. Reactions varied widely, from the cynically dismissive to the righteously outraged. Somehow or other before or during the World Series the Washington Nationals caught wind of what had been going on, and they evidently took the appropriate counter-measures. As one side-effect of the scandal, Manager Alex Cora, who played for the Astros while the cheating was going on, was released as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
So how big a deal was it, really? Back in March, senior Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell noted that Oriole Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken thinks the Astros aren't that much worse than many other teams, and that sly cheating in one form or another has been going on for a long time. Players are always going to bend the rules to get a competitive advantage, but what the Astros were doing was far beyond what's tolerable. It's too late to revoke their World Series title, but there should definitely be some asterisks in the record books. Those who said it was far worse than what Pete Rose did may have a point, and MLB officials will need to consider more thoroughly what sort of sanctions there should be.
Comiskey Park update
Since last year I had been meaning to make some minor corrections to the Comiskey Park diagrams, and finally got it done. While I was working on it, I came across a few puzzles and inconsistencies that I had to resolve. The support beams in the profile diagrams have been moved back a couple feet (one pixel), and such things as the size of the dugouts have been tweaked as well. I've concluded that the "real" distance to the foul poles for most of the years since 1934 was 347 feet, rather than 352 feet or 349 feet as it was sometimes reported. Photos indicate that the left foul pole was at the exact same position when the sign said "347" as when it said "352," and I think somebody goofed in the measurements back in the 1930s, and it never got corrected until 1986. I have compiled my own estimates of the actual outfield dimensions over the years, and I may include that information on that page.
The mail bag
Terry Wallace suggested a baseball-fever.com page as a nice diversion. It provides an annotated series of old photographs of the ballparks in which Babe Ruth hit home runs going 500 feet or more. He also pointed me to a page with all of Ed Burns' "Burns-Eye Views" stadium sketches from the late 1930s.
Angel Amezquita pointed out a glitch on the Turner Field page, so I fixed that and updated the rest of that page as well. Note that I am in the process of segregating the hard data and estimates for each stadium from my own subjective evaluations of them: the "Clem Criteria." I am also experimenting with putting the crude city "maps" that show the stadiums' approximate location in a separate section toward the bottom of each page.
Last fall, David Marshall asked me about doing a diagram of London (West Ham) Stadium where the Yankees and Red Sox played last year. So, I got restarted on that little project as well.
I've still got a boatload of other news items and tips from fans that I need to cover, so please be patient while I get caught up...