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 $125 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. 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.)
June 24, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Nationals honor "Employee #11," end losing streak
NOTE: This post is a couple days behind schedule because I've been feeling under the weather this week. Today I found out why: a positive covid test result! I took the test after getting a notification on my "Covidwise" phone app that I had been close to someone with the dreaded disease last weekend, almost certainly at one of the baseball games I was at. That'll teach me! Don't worry, my symptoms have been fairly mild, and frankly I was surprised by the test result.
Over the last weekend, many present and past members of the Washington Nationals paid tribute to their long-time de facto leader, Ryan Zimmerman. I was at the game on Friday night with my old friend Dave Givens, but my determined efforts to arrive early were thwarted by a big festival around the National Mall in Washington. "It's always something!" At least I had a pre-paid parking permit at the lot south of Audi Field (bought via spothero.com), so once I got there it was just a ten minute walk. We sailed through the turnstiles using the new-fangled tickets on our cell phones (my first time using that system), got our "Employee 11" Ryan Zimmerman T-shirts inside the gate, and soon made it up to our seats during the top of the first inning.
Coincidentally, it was almost exactly a year earlier that I had last seen a game at Nationals Park, and the very same guy as last year was on the mound once again as starting pitcher: Paulo Espino. Back then, he was an emergency replacement called up from the minors, but now he is on the starting rotation, having been promoted from bullpen duty. He did very well, finishing five innings while only allowing two earned runs. There was an unearned run in the top of the third inning, thanks to a bad throw to first by rookie shortstop Luis Garcia. The highlight of the day from the Nats' point of view was that Josh Bell hit two home runs, but only one was with a runner on base.
In the fourth inning, with Nelson Cruz on first base, Josh Bell hit his second home run of the night to tie the game 3-3.
In the top of the fifth inning, Kyle Schwarber (a former National) tried for extra bases on a line drive to right field, but was thrown out at second base by Juan Soto. That may explain his grumpy appearance.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Nationals added two runs, thanks to a sac fly by Maikel Franco and an RBI double by Luis Garcia. That gave the Nats a 5-3 lead, raising hopes that their losing streak was about to end. But they kept wasting run-scoring opportunities, going only 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. And then "karma" struck...
In the eighth inning a pinch hitter named Bryce Harper (another former National!) smashed a two-run double into the gap in right-center field. Arghhh! Many fans booed (a low-class display), and Harper acknowledged them by throwing up his hands as if to say "bring it on."
In the top of the ninth inning Matt Vierling hit his second home run of the night to give the Phillies a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the inning, down to their last out with two runners on base, Nelson Cruz hit a ground ball to shortstop, but Didi Gregorious threw it off line and Cesar Hernandez scored the tying run. The game went into the tenth inning, when the Phillies scored two runs on a very controversial play. J.T. Realmuto hit a hard ground ball up the middle that just got past shortstop Luis Garcia, who was charged with obstructing the runner (Rhys Hoskins), who was really the one who should have been charged with interference. Hoskins was thrown out at the plate (not even close), but that was nullified by the umps. Davey Martinez rightly argued the call and got thrown out of the game. In the bottom of that inning, with two outs and a two-run deficit, a little-known pinch-hitter named Ehire Adrianza surprised me with a two-out RBI double, keeping hopes for a comeback alive. But then Cesar Hernandez grounded out to end the game, as the Nats lost 8-7. It was the first time I had seen the new extra-inning "ghost runner" in person, and it is just plain weird. I sure hope they get rid of that rule next year, but apparently the players' association insisted on it as a condition for restarting baseball in March. Even though the Nats lost, they played a good game against a worthy opponent, so I can't complain. Just a couple quirky things changed the outcome for the worse.
I went sightseeing in Washington on Saturday morning, and it was much cooler and windier than the day before. My second stop was Howard University Hospital, which is where Griffith Stadium used to stand. Since my previous visit a few years ago, I learned that there is a baseball home plate placque embedded in the floor as a historical marker, but the lady at the front desk told me there's no visitors on Saturday, so I was out of luck.
On Saturday afternoon, I made sure to get to Nationals Park early. I snagged cheap parking at the marina (two blocks southwest of Audi Field) and waited in line for nearly an hour to get one of the cheap five-buck tickets in the upper deck: Section 402. It was the first time I had availed myself of that nice accommodation to budget-minded fans. After lunching on pupusas (a Salvadoran specialty) I watched the ceremony for Ryan Zimmerman from in back of the lower deck. It was quite an emotional ceremony, with a red carpet for all the former Nationals players to walk on. Ryan Zimmerman's family was there, including his wife Heather, his three kids, his father Keith and his mother Cheryl, who is in a special wheelchair because she suffers from multiple sclerosis, a.k.a. MS. (It was for her that Ryan started the ziMS Foundation.) Most of the Lerner family was there, including the patriarch founder Ted and his son Mark, who has assumed responsibilities as "managing principle owner."
At least 30,000 fans were there for the Ryan Zimmerman ceremony at Nationals Park last Saturday, and the game itself was officially sold out, with 42,730 in attendance. I estimated a couple thousand empty seats, so I'd say that just under 40,000 fans saw at least part of the game. (Note the black drapes at the upper right, before Ryan Zimmerman's named was unveiled.)
Ryan Zimmerman speaks to dignitaries. With him on the stage were his immediate family, principal owner Mark Lerner, manager Dave Martinez, general manager Mike Rizzo, MASN sportscaster Dan Kolko, and of Ryan's two former team mates: Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth. On the far right are his father Keith and his mother Cheryl.
What made that afternoon so special was the presence of so many former Nationals players, some of whom have been retired for several years or more. There was some confusion when the announcer (Dan Kolko) briefly started talking about Jordan Zimmermann, who for some reason apparently did not walk up to the stage from the dugout. Danny Espinosa sported a Texas-sized cowboy hat. Besides the ones shown below, Laynce Nix and perhaps one or two other players was (or were) also present. You can see when they played on the Washington Nationals page. Two former Nationals also recorded video tributes to Ryan: Bryce Harper (now a Phillie) and Trea Turner (now a Dodger). Two current Nationals made a brief appearance at the ceremony: Juan Soto, who shook hands with the Lerners, and Sean Doolittle, who has been on the IL for over a month. Doolittle also recorded a video tribute.
TOP ROW (L to R): Brian Schneider (C, 2005-2007), Gio Gonzalez (P, 2012-2017), Daniel Murphy (2B, 2016-2018), Adam LaRoche (1B, 2012-2014)
BOTTOM ROW (L to R): Ian Desmond (SS, 2010-2015), Jayson Werth (RF & LF, 2011-2017), Jordan Zimmermann (P, 2009-2015), and Danny Espinosa (2B & SS, 2011-2016).
Ryan Zimmerman, his wife Heather, and two of his three children. I've got a hunch that little "BZ" will follow in his father's footsteps and become a baseball player some day.
The ceremony culminated with the unveiling of Ryan Zimmerman name from in front of the upper deck on the first base side.
It was clear from what all those players said that the affection and friendship they felt for Ryan was genuine. "No crying in baseball"? Well, there are exceptions to every rule. After all the speeches were over, it was time for the ritual #11 jersey removal and uncovering the new Ryan Zimmerman name, located not far from the name of Jayson Werth, who was the first National to be be honored on the "Ring of Fame." In front of the stage were Ryan's two Silver Slugger award trophies and his Golden Glove, along with the Nats' 2019 World Series trophy. It was the very first time I had seen it in person. I'm not sure exactly when that "Employee #11" expression got started, but I assume it was in an interview with Ryan being his typically modest self.
Anyone holding the 2019 World Series trophy must wear white gloves, apparently.
TRUE STORY: After the ceremony I got on the elevator heading to the upper deck, and I noticed a couple tall guys standing in back. One of them had a hat, shirt, beard, and blonde pony tail just like one of the Nationals you see in the photos above. That ultra-zoom shot I had taken of him left no doubt in my mind. Yes, it was Jayson Werth himself!! The other people were facing forward, but I offered my hand as he exited at the suite level, and he shook it. All I could think of to say was "You da man!" I was trying to play it cool and be low-key, figuring that he would have been annoyed by people asking for a photo or making a big fuss. A guy standing next to me likewise realized who it was and he too got a quick handshake. Indeed, a woman in that elevator freaked out and started screaming his name when she realized who she had just missed seeing.
Josiah Gray pitches himself out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning.
The Saturday game was much different than either of the games on Friday: It was a classic pitchers' duel, and the Nats' starter Josiah Gray once again lived up to his high promise. The first inning was nerve-wracking, as he gave up a single, hit a batter, and then a walk to load the bases with two outs. Fortunately, he struck out Alec Bohm to get out of the jam. Believe it or not, for the next five innings that he pitched, the only Phillies to reach base did so as the result of an error (on shortstop Luis Garcia) and a wild pitch strikeout. NO more hits, and NO more walks!!! Unfortunately, the Phillies' pitcher Aaron Nola was even better, giving up only four singles and a walk over eight innings, while strking out eight Nats batters. Gray had a high pitch count, and was replaced in the seventh inning by Erasmo Ramirez, who gave up a home run to the second batter he faced: Yairo Muñoz. In the bottom of the ninth, Juan Soto got a lead-off walk, but the next two batters grounded and flew out, leaving it all up to Lane Thomas, pinch-hitting for Yadiel Hernandez. And guess what? The promising young star came through in the clutch with an RBI single to send it into extra innings! For some reason, Davey Martinez left Reed Garrett (who?) in to pitch a second innning as a reliever, and everything fell apart. The first batter, Rhys Hoskins, hit an RBI single, followed by a walk and another single before Andres Machado was brought in to prevent further damage. It's a miracle that the Phillies failed to score any more runs, but it didn't matter since all three Nats either flew out or lined out to left field in the bottom of the inning to end the game. Final score: 2-1.
The lineups for the two games I saw were fairly similar; all but two of the photos below were taken on Friday night.
TOP ROW (L to R): Lane Thomas (LF), Luis Garcia (SS), Juan Soto (RF), Josh Bell (1B), and Keibert Ruiz (C)
BOTTOM ROW (L to R): Cesar Hernandez (2B), Maikel Franco (3B), Victor Robles (CF), Josiah Gray (P), and Nelson Cruz (DH).
Roll your mouse over the image to compare these players to the ones at the respective positions one year ago; only four of those ten players were in the lineup last year. (Obviously there was no designated hitter in the National League last year; Josh Harrison was a pinch hitter.)
The Washington Nationals page now has photos for nearly all of the regular position players and pitchers.
Having been swept by the Atlanta Braves earlier in the week, and having lost the first four out of five games in the weekend series, the Nationals were in jeopardy of setting an inglorious record. Five-game series are quite rare, and I'm almost sure that the Nationals have never been swept in such a series. Fortunately, the very same rookie pitcher who had endured such a brutal "baptism" a week earlier, Jackson Tetreault, put on a masterful display, allowing no runs and only two hits over seven innings. In the second inning, Juan Soto hit a three-run homer, and in the fifth inning Maikel Franco (a former Phillie) homered as well. Thus, the Nationals finally beat the Phillies, 9-3, and their second eight-game losing streak of the season was over.
After a day of rest, the Nationals headed to Baltimore for a two-game series against the Orioles. They won the first game 3-0 thanks to a rock-solid outing by Erick Fedde, who went six innings on the mound. In the top of the ninth, Lane Thomas hit a home run over the high scoreboard in right field to add an insurance run. The Wednesday game was the exact opposite, however. Patrick Corbin was the victim of circumstance, while Austin Hays became the sixth Oriole player in history to hit for the cycle. Final score: O's 7, Nats 0.
Can anybody beat the Yankees?
It would be remiss of me not to call attention to the spectacular year the New York Yankees are having: with a 52-18 record thus far, they are almost assured of a postseason berth, and could easily set some historic records by the end of the season. And speaking of records, Aaron Judge currently leads the majors with 27 home runs, well ahead of Yordan Alvarez (Astros), who has 22. If he keeps it up, Judge could threaten Roger Maris's non-PED era home run record of 61. This weekend the Yankees welcome the Astros to town, a possible ALCS championship series preview.
As for the Atlanta Braves, their winning streak came to an end at 14 games last week. Nevertheless, they have won four of their last five games, and are now only four games behind the New York Mets in the NL East. That would have seemed very unlikely early this month. This weekend they face stiff competition as they welcome the L.A. Dodgers to town. Meanwhile, the Nationals, who could not stop the Atlanta juggernaut last week, are playing against the Texas Rangers (the former Washington Senators!) in Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
June 21, 2022 [LINK / comment]
New page: Hamtramck Stadium!
Whenever a particular date worthy of historical commemoration is officially designated a federal holiday, the actual date becomes less important and whichever day falls on a Monday takes its place. Such was the case with Juneteenth, which was originally June 19th, the day in 1865 when African-American slaves in Texas found out from liberating Union Army forces that they were freed from bondage under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. (General Lee had actually surrendered two months before, and the 13th Amendment was not officially ratified until late in 1865.) And since Congress made "Juneteenth" a federal holiday one year ago, it was observed today, Monday, the 21st of June.
The Abraham Lincoln Emanicipation Monument, in Lincoln Park, about a mile east of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo taken last Saturday.)
Why is this relevant for baseball? Because as part of the "Juneteenth" celebrations, the city of Detroit had an inaugural ceremony for a former Negro League ballpark, Hamtramck Stadium. It is one of only six such ballparks -- including Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama and Hinchcliffe Stadium in New York City -- still in existence. People from the "Navin Field Grounds Crew" who labored for years to make the land on which Tiger Stadium once stood a ball field for local youth have turned their efforts to Hamtramck Stadium. For more information, see historichamtramckstadium.org. Hamtramck is an urban enclave inside of Detroit, but with a separate government. It so happens that I used to know somebody from Hamtramck back in my college days, and she told me stories about the Poles and other ethnic minorities who worked in the nearby General Motors automobile plant. "Life was hard back then."
At the request of Gary Gillette, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and a leading authority on ballpark history, I drew three diagrams for Hamtramck Stadium, including a "roofless" version that shows details in the small grandstand. Detailed photographs are sorely lacking, so future updates and corrections in the diagrams and the text on that new page are almost a certainty. Enjoy!
Wonderful weekend in Washington
The Washington Nationals lost both games I saw over the weekend (Friday night and late Saturday afternoon), but I really wasn't expecting much. At least they bounced back on Sunday and avoided being swept by the Phillies in five games straight. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the "main event" of the weekend, which was the official retirement ceremony for Ryan Zimmerman. Much more on that, along with a boatland of photos, tomorrow.
June 17, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Watergate: the 50th anniversary
Among people of my age group, I had a rather "precocious" degree of interest in politics since I was 12 years old or so. The Vietnam War and social conflicts related to the civil rights movement were obvious reasons why anyone would become absorbed by politics in the late 1960s, but in my case I was "following in my father's footsteps." (He was a professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.) So, by the time the Watergate scandal erupted in June 1972, I was already a "seasoned" observer. The Vietnam War was heating up again, and Nixon ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in response to the Communist spring offensive. Would these events threaten Nixon's prospects for winning re-election in November?
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for burglarizing the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex in Washington. Eventually it became clear that they were working for the Nixon White House, which you might think would be a pretty big deal. For first several months, however, Watergate elicited little more than a big yawn from most Americans. It was just a "third-rate burglary." To my dismay, Watergate had virtually no effect on the presidential campaign, and Nixon beat South Dakota Senator George McGovern by a landslide. After all, Henry Kissinger said "peace is at hand" in Vietnam, severely undercutting McGovern's main issue. (After the election, Nixon started bombing Hanoi again, but that's a whole different story.) Vice President Spiro Agnew blamed the Watergate hubbub entirely upon the "nattering nabobs* of negativism" in the media, a theme which came to dominate Repbulican political discourse in the decades that followed. Whenever something went wrong, they just blamed the "mainstream media." But thanks to the relentless investigations of Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in January 1973 the case broke wide open. Numerous administration officials were soon facing criminal charges, and President Nixon was obliged to declare that he was "not a crook." Presidential advisers H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman resigned in April, and Attorney General John Mitchell did so in October, the first step in what became known as the "Saturay Night Massacre." (Hooray for Archibad Cox!) During the early months of 1974, congressional inquiries led to the subpoena of the White House tapes of Oval Office conversations, and when the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 on July 24 that Nixon had to turn them over, it was all over. He resigned effective at noon on August 9, at which point Gerald Ford was sworn in as his constitutional successor -- the first man ever to serve as president without having been elected to national office.
Contrary to what many people think, there is nothing "inevitable" about the way historical events unfold. Were it not for Woodward and Bernstein's determined efforts, or John Dean's noble "betrayal" of his boss, or for the conscientious leadership of men such as Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), Nixon might well have weathered the storm and served a full second term. But the truly decisive factor that tipped the balance against Nixon during the first half of 1974 was public opinion: the American people shifted from being sick and tired of hearing about Watergate to becoming sick and tired of the lame excuses for criminal conduct coming out of the White House. Why did public opinion change? People might not like to admit this, but then as always, "it's the economy, stupid." The United States was experiencing the worst bout of inflation since the years following World War II, while the economy was in a deep recession. They even coined a new word for it: staglation. Like it or not, that played a big role in the widespread popular discontent leading to Nixon's resignation. it is interesting to consider how economic conditions affect the current controversies surrounding the investigation of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
But there is another contemporary factor is one that frankly offers very little hope for holding future U.S. presidents accountable to the law. Whereas in the 1970s there was still a strong print newspaper industry and three major commercial TV networks that pretty much dominated the air waves, today we have a weak and declining newspaper industry, coupled with a television industry that has become so fragmented that there is no longer a common factual basis for discussing politics. Cable TV and new streaming services have resulted in news operations that "narrowcast" to specific audiences, reinforcing their pre-existing biases, rather than broadcasting to the masses. That being the case, the possibility that the minority (in this case pro-Trump) faction that is so skeptical of the congressional hearings that they just ignore what Rep. Liz Cheney (W-WY) and Adam Kinziger (R-WA) have to say.
To illustrate the problem of fragmented news, this past spring I gave an assignment to my students in which they were required to watch two or three different TV news live broadcasts and provide their impressions about the content and any perceived bias. In most cases, however, students didn't even bother to watch live TV, they just used YouTube to pick and choose from a few recent broadcasts. That contradicted the whole purpose of the exercise, but it made me realize what a big barrier there is to getting people tuned in to "mainstream media." Streaming videos has accelerated the trend toward "narrowcasting," making it very unlikely that many people will ever get the full picture about what is going on in Washington, or in their state or local governments. The ruthless exiling of Liz Cheney and just about any Republican who deviates from the pro-Trump party line is one of many signs that they Party of Lincoln has become captured by a cult whose members believe all sorts of absurd conspiracy theories. It is a very worrisome trend.
Are we better off with more news sources? According to standard economic theory, increased competition among producers (in this case, news outlets) will lead to higher quality and more efficient production, hence lower costs to the consumer. Paradoxically, however, it seems that we had more accurate news reporting back in the days when television was basically an oligopoly consisting of ABC, NBC, and CBS. It would be worth the effort to unravel why the theory seems to be contradicted by the facts. By the way, it is no secret that Walter Cronkite -- "the most trustworthy man in America" back in the 1970s -- turned out to be a strong liberal, after he retired. Did his bias affect his reporting? Probably yes, to a degree, but that did not mean that you couldn't believe the news that was being reported.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that if he had to choose between a government and no free press or a free press with no government, he would opt for the latter alternative -- anarchy? Well, that was just rhetorical excess, but it does illustrate the predicament that "government of the people" finds itself in today. If we can all pick and choose which "facts" to believe, there is almost nothing standing in the way of a ruthless future president clamping down on dissenters and turning the United States of America into some kind of an authoritarian regime.
* According to my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, nabob originally meant: "a native provincial deputy or govenor of the old Mogul Empire in India."
June 17, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Ryan Zimmerman: the greatest Nationals' leader
[Being short on time, I made several mistakes and omissions in the original post on Friday afternoon (17 Jun 2022, 3: 29 PM). Asterisks below indicate corrections, and [brackets] indicate text that has been added.]
Early in the spring, the man who led the Washington Nationals from their dark early years to their ultimate World Series triumph in 2019, Ryan Zimmerman, announced his retirement in a letter to fans yesterday.* This weekend there will be a series of retirement ceremonies in his honor, and I'll be there! It's certainly not the best of times for Nationals fans, having just been swept by the Braves and then clobbered by the Phillies thanks to an unusual set of circumstances last night, but it's "times like these" that define who the true fans are.
A trip down Memory Lane
[Significantly, perhaps, he was born in Washington, North Carolina, and after his family moved to Norfolk, Virginia he became a baseball team mate and friend of David Wright, who went on to become a star player for the New York Mets. From the beginning] I have paid close attention to Ryan Zimmerman in part because he also went to the University of Virginia, where I earned by doctoral degree about the same time he entered. After starring on their baseball team, helping make it a true national team for the first time in program history, in June 2005 the Nationals drafted him as their number one pick. It was the first draft by the franchise since relocating from Montreal after the previous year, and Ryan came to embody the new team's identity.
As it happened I was there at RFK Stadium in September 2005 when he got his first big league hit, a double in the fifth inning. In June of 2006 he made a name for himself by hitting a walk-off home run to beat the New York Yankees, converting a likely 2-1 loss into a 3-2 win. That November 2006 Zimmerman came in second place to Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins won the NL Rookie of Year award: a margin of 14 first-place votes to 10 first-place votes. The total number of points was 105 to 101 -- "the closest NL vote since 1980." Another memorable moment came in May 2007, when Ryan hit a walk-off grand slam to break a tie in the bottom of the ninth, helping his team to beat the Florida Marlins 7-3. In August 2007 Zimmerman hit two huge home runs, helping the Nats sweep World Champion St. Louis Cardinals! (I was there for the 12-1 victory!)
LEFT TO RIGHT: Felipe Lopez, Ronnie Belliard, Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, Manny Acta, and Brian Schneider confer on the mound; September 22, 2007.
Perhaps Zimmerman's most famous walk-off home run was when he inaugurated Nationals Park on March 30, 2008. It was a line-drive to the "Red Porch" power alley in left center. In May 2009 Ryan had a hitting streak that topped out at 30 games. In September 2009 he smashed a low-trajectory home run into the "Red Porch" seats in left-center field, quickly ending the game in an unimaginably dramatic and spectacular fashion.
One of the most wistful moments in Ryan's career is when he was part of a big first-inning rally in Game 5 of the National League Divisional series against the Cardinals, October 13, 2012> he hit a home run into the seats to the right of center field. Just like that, it was 3-0 with nobody out. But later in the game, things fell apart, and the rest is (sad) history.
In May of 2013 Zimmerman hit three home runs, giving the Nats a 6-2 lead, but pitcher Jordan Zimmermann faltered in the the bottom of the seventh inning.
Ryan Zimmerman, August 15, 2013 in a game against the San Francisco Giants, who scored 3 runs in the top of the ninth inning to win it, 4-3.
One of my favorite moments was when Ryan hit a home run that landed close to where I was sitting [in the Red Porch section], and a father grabbed the ball and gave it to his son, who surely experienced the thrill of a lifetime.
[In the sixth inning on September 22, 2013], with Denard Span on first, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run to the Red Porch, closing the gap to 3-2. The momentum was shifting in the Nats' favor, [but the Nats ended up losing.] (See September 30, 2013.)
Zimmerman experienced various physical ailments during the middle of his career, but he staged a huge comeback in 2017, perhaps his best year ever. The Nats went to the postseason once again (the fourth time!), but once again the outcome was a crushing disappointment, [thanks this time to the Chicago Cubs]. (See October 2, 2017.)
In the sixth inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, with Daniel Murphy on first (or second?) base, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run to the Red Porch, giving the Nationals a 4-0 lead. (September 29, 2017)
The scoreboard shows what a great day Ryan Zimmerman was having: coming up to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning, he had already hit two doubles and a home run. About 30 seconds after I took this photo, he hit another home run! The scoreboard also shows what a great year he was having -- the best of his career, in fact. He ended the 2017 season with the most number of home runs (36) and RBIs (108) among the Washington Nationals, while his .303 batting average came in second behind Daniel Murphy. (September 29, 2017)
["After further review," I was surprised by the number of games that Zimmerman missed during the second half of his career. In early April 2014 he broke his thumb, which took two months to heal, and in July he tore a hamstring muscle. As a result, he ended up playing only 61 regular season games that year. In the next year plantar fasciitis became a big problem (see June 2015), limiting him to just 95 games. By then he had shifted from third base to first base, where he remained for the rest of his career. That condition apparently abated in 2017, but in 2018 he suffered an oblique strain, causing him to miss nearly two months. He bounced back quickly, however, and in August 2018 he was named National League Player of the Week for the fifth time. In 2019 (when the Nats won the World Series) he only played in 52 regular season games plus 16 postseason games, and due to the covid-19 pandemic, he skipped the 2020 season entirely. In his final year, 2021, he played in 110 games. Given his history of injuries, and all the pain he must have endured, it's no wonder that he decided to hang up his spikes this year.]
[In that world championship year of 2019, one of Zimmerman's biggest contributions was as pinch-hitter on September 3rd. The New York Mets had staged a 5-run 9th-inning rally to take a seemingly insurmountable 10-4 lead. After the Nats had narrowed the gap by two runs, Ryan smashed a two-run double to the gap in right-center, soon followed by a three-run walk-off homer by Kurt Suzuki. That incredible 11-10 comeback win played a big role in securing a wild card spot for the Nationals in the postseason. Likewise, in the memorable wild card game against the Milwaukee Brewers, it was Ryan's pinch-hit single with two outs in the eighth inning that sparked the big rally that culminated with Juan Soto's three-run single that put the Nats ahead for good. Once again, Ryan came through in a clutch situation. In the fifth inning of Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series, with the Nationals facing elimination, Ryan belted a three-run homer to center field that put the Nats ahead by four runs, virtually assuring that the series would go to a fifth game. And in the top of the second inning of World Series Game 1, just after Max Scherzer had given up two runs to the Astros, Ryan's solo home run to center field in Minute [Maid] Park revived the team's spirits. That changed the entire psychological context of the game, helping the Nats to win an upset game on the road, and was probably one of the most decisive turning points of that historic series triumph.]
With the bases loaded in the sixth inning, pinch-hitting Ryan Zimmerman hits a long fly ball to center field at Nationals Park, coming just short of a grand slam. It was the last time I ever saw him at bat, and would have been his seventh such feat in his career. (June 16, 2021)
Zimmerman's grand slams
For the record, I made a few updates to my Washington Nationals BIG moments page, [the contents of which used to be part of the Washington Nationals page.]
Zimmerman holds the Nationals' record for most number of career grand slams, with six. The Nationals lost the first of those six games but won the rest. All but the first and last ones were at home in Washington, either in RFK Stadium (1) or in Nationals Park (3). I never had the fortune to see one of them in person. Appropriately, two of Zimmerman's grand slams were walk-off home runs: [in the 9th inning at home].
- Apr. 22, 2007 -- FLA 12, WSH 6 [9th inn.] @
- May 12, 2007 -- WSH 7, FLA 3 [9th inn.]
- Aug. 19, 2011 -- WSH 8, PHI 4 [9th inn.]
- July 7, 2013 -- WSH 11, SD 7
- Aug. 25, 2015 -- WSH 8, SD 3
- Apr. 19, 2017 -- WSH 14, ATL 4 @
* You can see the list on the brand-new Washington Nationals BIG moments page, which includes lists of the late comebacks and/or blown leads, grand slams, walk-off home runs, "cycles", no-hitters, and shutouts in the history of the team (since 2005). The contents of that page used to be part of the Washington Nationals page.
Zimmerman's walk-off home runs
Zimmerman not only holds the Nationals' record for most number of career walk-off home runs (11), he is only two behind the leader (Jim Thome) among all MLB players in history! I actually did see one of his walk-off homers, on September 6, 2009. (See the blog post next day.) The list below (from MLB.com) was up to date as of last December, and the vast majority of them are either in the Hall of Fame, or are destined be so named in the future:
- 13: Jim Thome
- 12: Jimmie Foxx
- 12: Mickey Mantle
- 12: Stan Musial
- 12: Albert Pujols
- 12: Frank Robinson
- 12: Babe Ruth
- 11: David Ortiz
- 11: Tony Perez
- 11: Ryan Zimmerman
- 10: Dick Allen
- 10: Harold Baines
- 10: Barry Bonds
- 10: Adam Dunn
- 10: Jason Giambi
- 10: Reggie Jackson
- 10: Mike Schmidt
- 10: Sammy Sosa
BOLD FACE denotes players who remained with the same team for their entire career.
- June 18, 2006 (2-run) -- WSH 3, NYY 2 #
- July 4, 2006 (3-run) -- WSH 6, FLA 4 #
- May 12, 2007 (grand slam) -- WSH 7, FLA 3
- March 30, 2008 -- WSH 3, ATL 2 (Nationals Park very 1st game!)
- September 6, 2009 (2-run) -- WSH 6, FLA 4 (I was there!)
- July 6, 2010 ; WSH 6, SD 5
- July 31, 2010 ; #
- August 19, 2011 (grand slam) -- WSH 8, PHI 4
- July 26, 2013 -- WSH 2, NYM 1 (2nd game of double-header)
- May 19, 2015 (2-run) -- WSH 8, NYY 6 (10 inn.)
- August 22, 2018 (2-run) -- WSH 8, PHI 7 #
# : overcame score deficit, turning defeat into victory.
Zimmerman's career stats
Because all information about players were taken down from the MLB website and mobile apps during the lockdown, there was no way to track Zimmerman's lifetime performance statistics [during the off-season]. Zimmerman came in second place in voting for Rookie of the Year in 2006, just behind Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins in the voting; it was the "the closest NL vote since 1980." (See November 13, 2006.) He won the National League Golden Glove [for third basemen in 2009, consistently excelling on defense. Zimmerman won also the NL Silver Slugger Award for third basemen in 2009, and repeated that accomplishment in 2010. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 2009 and in 2017. As a reflection of his repeated injuries, unfortunately, his cumulative career numbers are not up to the standards expected of Hall of Fame members.]
For all of the cumulative statistical measurements above except for walks, Zimmerman ranks #1 all-time among Nationals and Expos players, as indicated by a pale orange background. He ranks #2 in walks. He also ranks #1 in all-time strikeouts, with 1,384.
[ Congratulations on a wonderful career, and thank you, Ryan!
You will always be "Mr. National"! ]
June 14, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in May: prime time for migration!
I began the month of May at the Mill Place Trail in Verona, where I saw two species that I had missed on the day before, which was Big Spring Day: an Orchard Oriole (my first one of the year, a first-year male) and a Pied-billed Grebe on the pond. I also spotted a a family of Canada Geese: two adults and four goslings. In back of our abode were a Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-breasted Nuthatch.
Three days later, on May 4, I went to Bell's Lane in the early afternoon. A male Baltimore Oriole caught my eye while he was chasing a female, obliging me to pull my car over to the side of the road and get a photo. It was then that I noticed a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos in a similarly amorous mood. Both species were the first ones I've seen this year. The singing White-eyed Vireo was in the same location that I saw it a few days ago, probably the same individual. I had hoped he would stay for the summer, but I didn't see him again. Pairs of Cedar Waxwings (finally!), Great Crested Flycatchers, as well as Brown Thrashers and many, many Gray Catbirds were further indications of breeding activity. I also saw both a male and female Common Yellowthroat (FOY), though in separate locations.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, White-eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole (M), Gray Catbird, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Great Crested Flycatcher. (Bell's Lane, May 4)
On Monday, May 9, I went to Bell's Lane just before noon, and after searching a while finally came upon a male Magnolia Warbler, one of the best views I've ever had! I had two other first-of-year sightings as well: Willow Flycatcher ("fitz-bew!") and Green Heron. I also saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Northern Parula, and Yellow Warbler, and heard a Common Yellowthroat and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Baltimore Orioles were engaged in intense courtship behavior at two different locations, which probably means multiple nesting pairs. I also heard (but didn't see) the Bobolinks which Ann Cline had photographed a couple days ago.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Magnolia Warbler (M), Green Heron, Yellow Warbler (M), Baltimore Oriole (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, and Northern Parula. (Bell's Lane, May 9)
On the morning of Wednesday, May 11, I went to Betsy Bell Hill for the first time in several weeks, and as soon as I stepped out of my car I heard the friendly whistle song of Eastern Wood Pewees! Nearby were two other first-of-year birds: a Swainson's Thrush and a Bay-breasted Warbler. Also present were at least four Wood Thrushes, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Later I stopped at the Cheese Shop near Stuarts Draft, and saw at least a dozen Purple Martins flying around; another first-of-year! FInally, at the pond next to the Target distribution center I saw a Least Sandpiper (FOY), a Solitary Sandpiper (FOY), and a Killdeer.
On Friday the 13th (!) of May I did a bit of birding along Mountain View Rd., which makes a loop that parallels the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad that I used to explore on a regular basis, before it was closed to the public. There I heard a Yellow-throated Vireo (FOY) and a Chestnut-sided Warbler or two, and I finally got a distant look at the latter but not the former. On a brighter note, I did get a great view of a Great Crested Flycatcher and an Eastern Wood Pewee, which was nice. I also saw a Red-eyed Vireo far away, and on nearby Commerce Rd. (Rt. 11), an Indigo Bunting or two.
I spent the morning of Saturday the 14th working on the May newsletter for the bird club and then headed to Bell's Lane in hopes of catching a warbler "fallout" between the rain showers. I'm pretty sure I heard a Common Yellowthroat and a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and saw a pair of Cedar Waxwings overhead in a bare tree. I also noticed a pair of Carolina Chickadees tending to a hole in a birch tree on the right side of the shrub-enclosed pond. I had better luck at the Mill Place trail in Verona, where I was greeted by a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and several Northern Rough-winged Swallows. I heard and eventually saw several Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles in the big trees. I think there are two or three breeding pairs there, in fact. One of the singing males was a first-year bird, and he seemed to be getting along OK with an adult male, making me think it might have been his father. I have heard that first-year male Orchard Orioles learn how to be parents by serving as an "apprentice" with their father, so maybe that is true of Baltimore Orioles as well. I was also pleased to see a Scarlet Tanager, a species that usually prefers dense woodlands. An even bigger surprise was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that flew past. In a bare tree near the dam I spotted what I initially thought was a Least Flycatcher, based on its size, or perhaps a Willow Flycatcher, but based on its peaked crown and long primary wing feathers, it was more likely just an Eastern Wood Pewee.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Wood Pewee (prob.), Baltimore Oriole (1YM), Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole (M), Scarlet Tanager (M). (Mill Place trail, May 14)
On May 17 I heard a sharp song out back, and soon spotted a Northern Waterthrush, perhaps the same one (or its offspring) that had come to visit us exactly four years earlier. On May 18 (a Wednesday) I went to Augusta Springs for the first time since last month, but most of the birds were notoriously shy. Red-wing Blackbirds were all around the pond, and some were harrassing a Red-tailed Hawk. I saw a Canada Warbler or two for the first time this year, as well as an American Redstart, but I just couldn't get decent photos of either one. There were several Red-eyed Vireos, Worm-eating Warblers, and Wood Thrushes, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that landed on the boardwalk railing just a few feet away from me! A squabbling threesome of Scarlet Tanagers created a dramatic moment, but I just couldn't get a photo. I heard at least one Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but it stayed far away. Toward the end I saw a pair of Cedar Waxwings, an Indigo Bunting, and a female Wood Duck with several babies.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Indigo Bunting (M), and in center, Wood Duck (F). (Augusta Springs, May 18)
On May 20 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip for the first time this year, joined by three other members at the Mountain Home picnic area along Ramsey's Draft in western Augusta County. There weren't that many birds in the low area, so we hiked uphill for just a bit along the Road Hollow trail. There I had an amazing close encounter with a Blue-headed Vireo, just a few feet away! I also glimpsed a Blackburnian Warbler, my first of the year, but the photo I took was barely recognizable. A little later we saw a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Black-and-white Warbler. On our way back to Staunton, we stopped at the Georgia Camp trail head, and just as I was hoping, we had a nice closeup view of an Acadian Flycatcher! After we said goodbye I made a separate brief visit to the Dowell's Draft trail, where I had a nice view of a Pine Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Scarlet Tanager (F), Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Acadian Flycatcher, and in center, Scarlet Tanager (M). (Ramsey's Draft, Georgia Camp trail, and Dowell's Draft, May 20)
Because of family obligations in Maryland, I couldn't be part of this year's Augusta Bird Club picnic brunch on May 21, but that didn't stop me from birding. I was aware that Prothonotary Warblers breed along the Potomac River downstream from Washington, so I consulted eBird to find a suitable birding hot spot near where I was, and I decided upon Piscataway Park, just east of Fort Washington. It was slow going at first, but then I noticed a Red-headed Woodpecker on a nearby dead tree! Then I heard the distinctive, repetititve song of the Prothonotary Warbler, but just couldn't get a good view of it. I did get a good view of several Blackpoll Warblers, however, including the first ones I had seen in spring for several years!! I am convinced that they have shifted their migratory patterns, as others in Virginia have reported seeing them, but not in Augusta County, as far as I know. Then it got real busy, with a young Bald Eagle, a Great Blue Heron, Northern Parulas (too high up to see), three Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a couple Eastern Phoebes all raising a ruckus. Finally I had a clear view of my main target bird -- Prothonotary Warbler, making my day complete. On my way out I heard and then glimpsed a Black-throated Blue Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Prothonotary Warbler (M), Bald Eagle (J), Great Blue Heron, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-headed Woodpecker, and in center, Blackpoll Warbler (M). (Piscataway Park, MD, May 21)
As a storm front was approaching on the afternoon of May 27 I went to Bell's Lane to see what kinds of birds were breeding there. Once again, I saw multiple Baltimore Orioles, Brown Thrashers, and the other birds you see in the (pre-storm) "rainbow" display below. I also saw an Eastern Towhee, an Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebirds, a pair of Orchard Orioles, and of course many Gray Catbirds. Finally, I spotted a pair of Downy Woodpeckers going into and out of a nest hole in a dead tree branch directly above the road. (Two weeks later I discovered that the branch had fallen down and was lying by the side of the road. Perhaps it fell on that same afternoon after the storm blew in.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Baltimore Oriole (M), Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting (M), House Finch (M), American Goldfinch (M), and Cedar Waxwing. (Bell's Lane, May 27)
Finally, on May 31 I paid a visit (with Jacqueline) to the Shenandoah National Park for the very first time this year. We did a bit of hiking north from the Turk Mountain trail parking area, which was full of Mountain Laurels in full bloom. Birds were singing everywhere, most notably, Indigo Buntings, American Redstarts, Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Red-eyed Vireos. We also saw a Black-and-white Warbler, and along Skyline Drive as we were returning home, a female Wild Turkey with some young ones close behind. (Jacqueline saw them, not me.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Worm-eating Warbler (M), Indigo Bunting (M), American Redstart (1YM), Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird (M), Wild Turkey (F), and Red-eyed Vireo. (Shenandoah National Park, May 31)
In sum, it was a very intensive, fairly successful month of birding, as I finally had some free time on my hands, and made the best of it. I was hoping to see more uncommon migratory species, but was content with the excellent view of the Black-billed Cuckoo, Magnolia Warbler, Prothonotary Warblers, and Blackpoll Warblers. Somehow I missed out entirely on Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds! The above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
June 9, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Marlins sweep the Nationals
Just as soon as the Washington Nationals showed a spark of life in their 3-1 series win over the Cincinnati Reds, they managed to suffer a relapse and got swept by the Marlins in Miami. In the game on Tuesday their starting pitcher Joan Adon gave up five runs in the second inning, including a grand slam hit by Jazz Chiholm; it was his first home run of the year. Later in the game he hit his second home run. The game was basically a farce, and the final score was 12-2. [Adon was immediately sent down to the minor leagues. His first name is pronounced "YO-ahn," which is the Catalonian version of "Juan."] Wednesday's game was much better, with neither team scoring for the first nine innings. The Nats' young starter Josiah Gray gave up six hits and got six strikeouts over five innings, a very good outing. The Nats scored one in the tenth inning on an RBI by Keibert Ruiz, but the Marlins scored two in the bottom of the inning to win it. There was a very close play at home plate that would have been the second out, probably sending the game into the 11th inning, but the Marlins won a challenge and reversed the call -- their second challenge of the game, [which is not permitted.] (Apparently it was an umpire-initiated review, but that is not how it was announced on the field; somebody screwed up badly.) In tonight's game Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the first time in over a year, but he got off to a rocky start, giving up three runs [in the first inning]. The Nationals almost tied it in the top of the fifth inning, but then Strasburg fell apart and the Marlins scored four more runs. Final score: Marlins 7, Nats 4. And thus the Nationals were swept in a three-game series for the fourth time this year.
Other streaks: losing and winning
Perhaps the Nationals shouldn't feel so bad, since the Los Angeles Angels have lost fourteen (14) games in a row! In the seventh inning of tonight's game against the visiting Boston Red Sox, however, they have a 5-1 lead and are in line to finally end that string of ignominious losses. Elsewhere in the American League West Division, the Oakland Athletics have lost eight in a row, but they were not expected to contend for the postseason. In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers have lost six games in a row, and are in danger of falling out of first place for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, some teams have really gotten going. The Atlanta Braves have won eight games in a row, while the Philadelphia Phillies have won seven. They are both several games behind the Mets in the NL East, however, and have a long way to go to become real contenders. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox have won seven games in a row, rising above the .500 mark, but they are still in fourth place in the AL East Division.
[UPDATE: The Angels held on to beat the Red Sox 5-2 late tonight, ending both team's long streaks.]
Managers get fired
On June 3rd, the Philadelphia Phillies fired their manager Joe Girardi, an expression of dissatisfaction over their 22-29 record. The acquisition of Kyle Schwarber and other big players during the off-season just hasn't paid off, and it's easier (and cheaper) to fire a manager than terminate a player. Girardi led the Yankees to their last World Series title, in 2009.
And two days ago, the Los Angeles Angels fired their manager Joe Maddon. Two weeks earlier, the Angels boasted a 27-17 record, but now their path to the postseason looks a lot more difficult. In 2016 Maddon led the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series title in over a century.
June 6, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Russia's invasion of Ukraine: How to respond?
As had been anticipated for several months, on February 24 the Russian army launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing destruction and terror not seen in Europe since World War II. Motivated by a deep craving for revenge against the West, President Vladimir Putin seemed to expect that Ukraine would capitulate within a few weeks, but instead he elicited a heroic rally that will go down in history books for many decades to come. Putin has often dismissed the idea that Ukraine is even a real country, but their own people have made a loud affirmation of their nationhood.
As a first step toward formulating a more thorough proposal for U.S. policy-makers, here are my preliminary reflections, written and posted on Facebook several days before the invasion actually began:
It's hard to pick on the Biden administration for its woefully inadequate response to Russia's campaign of aggression against Ukraine thus far, since it's only a reflection of the American foreign policy establishment's obsolete toolbox. Every time some rogue regime threatens its neighbors or commits atrocities against its own people, it's always the same routine: stern talk, economic sanctions, and displays of military might.
What makes the current situation different is that Vladimir Putin is on the verge of outright conquest of a neighboring country in direct violation of the 1945 United Nations Charter and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. It's more than just a matter of forcibly changing borders, as when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Whether Vladimir Putin gives the order to attack or not is not really the issue here. The very fact that Putin is able to use the threat of invasion and conquest as a means to subdue the free and democratic government in Kyiv is itself a sign that the underpinnings of world order have already come undone. For an ambitious and calculating despot such as Putin, the threat of economic sanctions by western democracies (assuming that the United States can get its allies to go along) is laughably lame.
Given the vast disparity between Ukraine's strategic value to Russia vis a vis its value to the United States, there is no sense in pretending that we might escalate this confrontation in order to dissuade Russia from attacking. Doing so would only highlight the awkward fact that the United States bears a solemn obligation to defend the sovereignty of three former Soviet republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. (Does the average American high school student even know where they are located?) Putin's obvious long-term plan is to erase NATO's security umbrella from eastern Europe and restore as much of the old Soviet empire as he can. We may eventually have to choose between upholding our treaty commitments by fighting in the streets of Tallinn and Riga as the first phase of World War III, or retreating from Europe altogether.
The choice facing the Biden administration is clear: either acknowledge that Russia's campaign of aggression signifies the deathknell of the current world order, or downplay its significance and pretend that nothing much has changed. Granted, facing up to harsh dilemmas is not exactly a strong point of the complacent experts in post-Cold War Washington, DC. But if Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, Jake Sullivan, and other Biden officials really want to make Russia pay a price for its naked aggression, they will recommend that -- if worse comes to worse -- either Russia be expelled from the United Nations or that the United Nations be expelled from the United States. Perhaps such a threat will serve a purpose, and perhaps it won't. But what's the use of pretending that the U.N. serves any purpose if one of its five founding members gets away with doing exactly what the U.N. was created to prevent? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and like it or not, that's where we are today.
Obviously, the Ukrainians have done much better defending their country than most people expected. Two of the most pertinent reasons are: superior morale and leadership relative to the Russians, and possession of large numbers of advanced weapons provided before the war by the United States and other NATO nations. (Ironically, the presence of such weapons served to validate Putin's claim that Ukraine was serving as an arm of NATO, menacing Russian security.) Anti-aircraft missiles (e.g. Stinger) have kept the skies over Ukraine relatively free of Russian fighter-bombers, and Javelin anti-tank missiles have impeded the advance of Russian mechanized forces.
In the early weeks of the invasion, through mid-March roughly, Russian land forces advanced in two main columns: from Belarus in the north toward the capital city, Kyiv (no longer referred to by westerners with the Russian name "Kiev"), and from Crimea in the south. Within days the Russians took control of the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the eastern edge of the Pripet Marshes, and approached the suburbs of the capital. Maps in the Washington Post indicated that Kyiv was on the verge of being surrounded, but that turned out not to be the case; Ukrainian defenders managed to block Russian tank columns, creating traffic jams that stretched for 20 or more miles. In the south, Russia seized the city of Kherson near the mouth of the Dnepr River, and for a few weeks they seemed to be threatening Nikolaev to the west and even Odesa (formerly "Odessa"), which became Ukraine's only port after Russia seized control of Crimea in 2014. But, as with the northern front, the Russian advance stalled.
Meanwhile, Russia unleashed a massive and devastating bombardment campaign, destroying hundreds of civilian buildings in Kyiv and other cities. It was clearly aimed at subjugating Ukraine by terror tactics, but all it did was prompt a large flow of refugees to Poland and other countries to the west. (Most of those refugees have since returned to Ukraine.) If there was any doubt as to the legitimacy of Russia's claim on Ukrainian territory (based mainly on the large number of Russian-speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine), their barbaric methods have erased them.
By late March it was obvious that Ukraine was not going to surrender any time soon, and Russian forces were suffering high casualties, including several general officers. So, Putin ordered a withdrawal from Kyiv, redeploying Russian ground forces to begin a second offensive in the eastern Donbass region, which is rich in coal and boasts several big steel mills and other industries. This attack began during May and has made slow progress, in spite of fierce Ukrainian resistance. Kharkiv, the second biggest city in Ukraine, remains threatened by the Russian army. At some point, Russia's superior numbers are bound to have an effect, in spite of their lower morale.
The key question now is whether Ukraine will continue to receive enough high-tech weapons from the west to be able to hold their own in the Donbass region. Putin is patient and determined, and the authoritarian system he has established in Russia not only prevents dissenting forces from getting organized, it systematically distorts the people's minds the with fake news propaganda. There is no free press in Russia any more, and if there is any samizdat movement (such as in the latter years of the old Soviet Union), it doesn't seem to be having much of an effect yet.
It is tremendously gratifying that the cause of freedom and democracy has made such a good show in Ukraine up until now. Many Americans have concluded that Ukraine's successful defense validates the idea that we must provide them with ever-more quantities of advanced weapons and other military equipment. But given Russia's numerical superiority, the iron will of Putin, and the likelihood of continued large-scale civilian deaths as the war progresses, the advantage seems to lie on the side of Moscow. Here is where the factor of national interests come into play: the United States has very little at stake in Ukraine, whereas it is of supreme importance to Russia. This would be the case no matter what kind of government there was in Moscow.
Given the disproportionate national interests at stake, it is clear that Russia will hold the initiative at every level of escalation that may unfold in this conflict. Their threats are credible, whereas ours are not. (That's why all those economic sanctions announced by President Biden before and after the war began were such a waste of time.) Since the beginning of June, in response to reports that U.S. might provide Ukraine with longer-range missiles (possibly threatening Russian cities), Putin warned once again that Russia would respond with overwhelming destruction. Past actions indicate that he is dead serious about this.
As for President Biden, it is hard to know what he really intends. Several weeks ago he made an impromptu remark to the effect that Putin cannot be allowed to remain in power. Is regime change in Moscow official U.S. policy? Apparently not, because White House aides quickly clarified that Biden's words did not signify a change in policy goals. Biden's habit of making rhetorical gaffes is not helpful at a delicate time such as this.
On the other hand, is there any way for this war to end with Putin remaining in charge of the Russian government? I told my students in classes this spring that for there to be a real peace, either Putin or Ukrainian President Zelensky has to go. The most likely outcome right now seems to be a protracted conflict with occasional small shifts on the battlefield, somewhat like in the latter two years of the Korean War. Then as now, a negotiated settlement seemed hopelessly unrealistic, with two radically-opposed systems of government locked in a grim stalemate.
The war in Ukraine has given birth (or rebirth) to an old-fashioned idealistic spirit among many Americans. After two decades of mostly futile (intermittent) war in Afghanistan and Iraq, they now see themselves once again as a benevolent force on the world stage. For a while there was a cynical faction, composed mainly of Trump supporters who simply refuse to see Russia as malevolent. (FOX News' Tucker Carlson is their main cheerleader.) But most Republicans and Democrats have come to agree that the United States cannot afford to let partisan divisions weaken us at this moment of peril. That illustrates one of the perennial side-effects of war, which is to galvanize national unity in countries that are under attack. We ourselves are not under attack yet -- but most of us are aware that if one side or the other makes a faulty calculation, we might be.
Are most Americans willing to risk escalation to World War III for the sake of Ukrainian independence? I don't think so. We should provide enough weapons for Ukraine to hold onto as much of their territory as is feasible, but we must be very careful not to give them too many weapons. We don't want them launching some kind of missile strike on Moscow, obviously, even though they might be perfectly justified in retaliating in such fashion. This illustrates the irony that bold, idealistic motivations often result in cynical, half-hearted actions. As Halford Mackinder once wrote, democracies are inherently incapable of thinking or acting strategically, unless their own survival is at risk. That is why, sadly, the best we can probably do for Ukraine is to prolong their agony -- enabling them to fight well enough to survive, but not enough for them to achieve a clear victory. It will be up to Russia to decide what peace terms it will accept and put an end to this horrible, unnecessary episode in human history.
D-Day + 78 years: What to remember?
Except for the four paragraphs above written back in February, I wrote this piece while watching the 1962 movie The Longest Day, about the invasion of France by Allied forces on June 6, 1944 -- 78 years ago today. The battle scenes of the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy were overall less gruesome than the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan, but the theme of bitter sacrifice for a higher cause is at the heart of both movies. At a time when many Americans are complaining about inflation (without taking the time to understand why it has come about), we need to keep in mind the necessity of bearing hardships for the greater good of our country, and of the planet.
June 4, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Lane Thomas leads Nats to big win
With the Nationals in the midst of another tailspin into doom, somebody had to rise to the occasion, and that somebody was Lane Thomas! Who? Thomas was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for veteran pitcher Jon Lester late last July, after which he hit seven home runs and batted .270 for the Nationals. For the first two months this year he had hit just three homers, but yesterday he doubled that total, and now has six. He hit a a two-run homer in the third inning, putting the Nats ahead 4-2, followed by solo homers in the fifth and seventh innings. The Nats had an 8-2 lead until veteran Joey Votto hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning, his second such feat in as many days. In the bottom of that inning Thomas had a chance to join the 18 major league players who have hit four home runs in one game, but his fly ball to center field fell short for an out. Final score: Nats 8, Reds 5. After losing four games in a row, that was a big boost to team morale.
As the following table shows, Thomas is in rare company among Nationals players who have hit three home runs in a single game. This first six names are (or were) all renowned sluggers, and some may end up in Cooperstown. Does this portend a bright future for this young would-be slugging star? I say yes! Thomas will turn 27 in August.
"@" = away game
* Apr. 30, 2017 was the first time in MLB history that a player hit 3 home runs, 6 hits, and 10 RBIs in a single game!
It is striking that the Nationals scored about the same number of runs in almost all of those games, April 30, 2017 being the obvious exception. A modified version of the above table will soon be added to the Washington Nationals BIG moments page, which also features rare feats such as grand slams, complete-game shutouts, etc.
Blown lead in Cincy
In the fifth inning of this afternoon's game in Cincinnati, with the Nationals ahead 3-2, Jordan Weems came in to relieve starting pitcher Erick Fedde. Weems was called up from the minors on May 31, and pitched in the two games in which the Nats were shut out by the Mets -- in other words, games that the Nats were not expected to win. Today Weems promptly walked the bases loaded, then walked in a run, and then gave up a grand slam (to Albert Almora Jr.) that put the Reds ahead of the Nats, 7-3. Why put an untested rookie pitcher into a high-leverage situation like that? WHY??? It's not the first time that Nats' manager Davey Martinez has made an incomprehensible bullpen decision, and it won't be the last. After the big encouragement yesterday, the blown lead today puts the Nationals right back where they were, stuck in a discouraging rut.
[UPDATE: "After further review," it would appear that I was a bit hasty in my negative reaction to the five-run disaster in the fifth inning. Well, I had a social obligation to attend to, and felt compelled to render a judgment before all the facts were in. As most baseball fans know by now, Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning (his second HR of the game), Luis Garcia hit an RBI double in the eighth inning to tie the game, and then Maikel Franco and Luis Garcia combined for three more RBIs in the ninth inning to give the Nats a highly improbable 10-7 lead. Tanner Rainey gave up just one run in the bottom of the ninth and earned his seventh save of the year. That means that the Nationals are now ahead of the Reds at the tail end of the overall National League standings. I still think pulling Erick Fedde in the fifth inning and replacing him with Jordan Weems was a terrible decision, but nevertheless "I STAND CORRECTED!"]
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