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March 10, 2006 [LINK]
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Rout at WBC
Ken Griffey Jr. apparently felt obliged to make amends for not backing up the left fielder on that bizarre inside-the-park home run by Canada on Thursday. Today he hit two homers and racked up seven RBIs altogether, as the United States annihilated South Africa 17-0 in a game that was called on account of mercy after four and a half innings. Roger Clemens only allowed one hit in the four innings he pitched. (We still don't know if the Rocket will play in the majors this season; I'd say more than likely "yes.") I was pleased to see that Washington Nationals closer Chad Cordero struck out the only batter he faced to end the game. For some reason, this climactic matchup was played in Scottsdale Stadium rather than Chase Field. See worldbaseballclassic.com. Take that, Dave Matthews! Same to you, Charlize Theron! So, the U.S.A. and Mexico advance to the next round, to be played in Anaheim. If I were Canadian, I would be gnashing my teeth at the way the tiebreaker system works.
Super-sized roof in K.C.
Most sports fans are aware that the NFL and the football players reached a labor agreement that will avoid a possible strike this year. Only a few know, however, that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue conditionally awarded Super Bowl XLIX (forty nine) to Kansas City. That will be nine years from now, in 2015. There is a small catch, however: the referendum set for April 4 to authorize funding for the renovation of the Truman Sports Complex must pass. The main element of that plan is a gargantuan rolling roof that would cover either Arrowhead Stadium or Kauffman Stadium. It would be the only football stadium roof in which the arches run the long way, parallel to the sidelines. Since this roof was envisioned as an eventual option from the very beginning, I can't help but wonder why they didn't build Arrowhead Stadium oriented north-to-south rather than east-to-west. Wouldn't that have allowed for a smaller, less expensive roof? For details, see the Kansas City Star; it has a cool animation of the proposed roof in action, but you'd better be patient while it downloads. Including debt service, the entire project would cost one billion dollars. Yikes. If I were a taxpayer in Jackson County, Missouri, I would think long and hard about spending that much money just to land the Super Bowl. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
March 9, 2006 [LINK]
WBC: Canada stuns U.S. team
Is this revenge for losing the Expos to Washington? Or perhaps for the invasion by American troops in the War of 1812? A team of virtual unknowns from North of the Border trounced the United States team at Chase Field last night, 8-6, putting the home team on the brink of elimination in the World Baseball Classic. Shame! Was Ken Griffey Jr. dragging his heels in center field on that bizarre inside-the-park home run? That's what it looked like to me. Steven Poppe is attending the games in Phoenix, and I look forward to his perspective on this. Canada and Mexico play this evening, and the U.S. plays South Africa (!?) tomorrow afternoon. The tie-breaking procedures in the WBC are from the International Baseball Federation, rather unfamiliar to American fans. It has something to do with runs allowed per game; see if you can figure it out at worldbaseballclassic.com.
FEEDBACK: Canadian fan Matt Bahm took exception to the phrase "virtual unknowns" referring to his country's team, of which he has every right to be very proud. No disrespect intended. I know of Corie Koskie, but the name of Pirate All Star Jason Bay was somehow missing from my feeble memory, which just goes to show my lack of familiarity with most non-East Coast teams. In my defense, I try to stay abreast of political developments in Canada and expect my students to at least know who the Prime Minister is. (Do you know? He's new.) Back to baseball, I think Canada's surprise victory validates my point yesterday (in reference to Kirby Puckett) about team effort outweighing "star power" when it comes to winning Big Games.
UPDATE: Mexico beat Canada 9-1 this evening, which was quite a shocker, but good news (for us folks south of the 49th parallel) nonetheless. It means the United States can still advance to the next round in the WBC by beating South Africa tomorrow. In that case, the three NAFTA partners will be tied at two wins and one loss each. If Mexico's margin of victory had been less than three runs, under the tiebreaking rules, the U.S. team would have been eliminated no matter what. I agree with Johnny Damon: the WBC tiebreaking procedure "makes you use your mind a little more than you want to." It would appear that Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico are all headed to the next round, which will be held in Hiram Bithorn Stadium, beginning Sunday.
Nats keep Bowden
The Washington Nationals have extended the contracts of General Manager Jim Bowden and his assistant through the rest of this season. That's good news, but I'm a little less confident in Bowden than I was a year ago. Whether the new owners decide to keep him or not depends more than anything else on how Alfonso Soriano behaves after he returns from the WBC. Team player? The Nationals have only won one exhibition game so far this year, and Frank Robinson is rightly upset at his players. See MLB.com. Time to kick some butt in the dugout.
The Cashman Field page has been finished, which means that every Major League Baseball venue used since the early 20th Century is now covered on this Web site -- I think.
March 7, 2006 [LINK]
New book on Barry* Bonds*
Why can't this story just go away? Because we as loyal, hero-worshipping fans are each implicated in the scandal, in a small way, that's why. This cover of this week's Sports Illustrated features a new book, Game of Shadows, written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. They are pretty sure that Barry has been doping himself heavily with multiple drugs since 1998 -- the fateful, seemingly glorious year of McGwire* vs. Sosa*. (hat tip to Bruce Orser)
More on Kirby Puckett
Chad Dotson, the Commonwealth Conservative blogger, questioned Kirby Puckett's Hall of Fame credentials, so I felt compelled to respond:
If baseball were primarily a technical profession, and if most fans were number-crunching wonks, then Chad would have a valid point. I tend to see baseball (and most sports) as a very human, joint endeavor in which hustle and heart count more than innate ability or individual accomplishment. Teamwork! How many World Series rings did Ted Williams get?
To which Chad asked, "Andrew, are you seriously contending that Kirby Puckett was a better player than Ted Williams?" So I wrote to clarify,
Chad - Heavens no, it never occurred to me that Kirby Puckett was anywhere near as good as Ted Williams. My point was simply that it takes more than a superstar to win ball games or world championships. It takes a gutsy guy whose love for the game and willingness to put his team first inspires his team mates to do their best. Ted never really had such "infectious enthusiasm," as most Red Sox fans would grudgingly admit, I think.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch has a preliminary analysis of Busch Stadium III's likely effect on batting. Upshot: It should be "fair and balanced," like its predecessor (and Fox News? ). The designers take pride in avoiding the contrived outfield nooks and crannies that were taken to excess in places like Ameriquest Field and Minute Maid Park. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also relayed this photo of the expanded upper deck at Fenway Park. It will be a real, substantial upper deck, after all, not just an enlarged mezzanine level. Only the sections adjacent to the infield will be expanded, however.
Partly at Mike's prompting, I modified the PETCO Park diagram to account for the slightly shorter fence in right center field. (I wish all diagram revisions could be so easy!) The change is not enough to warrant a "dynamic diagram." PETCO Park will host the final three games of the first-ever World Baseball Classic, on March 18 and 20.
D.C. Council OKs deal
UPDATE: As everyone expected, this evening the D.C. Council approved, by 9-4 vote, the stadium lease deal that MLB officials signed the other day. That clears the way for the sale of the team, after which it will be safe to say that the probability of the Nationals being relocated has dropped to zero. I am very anxious about the stadium design, which will probably be unveiled next week. Council member Jack Evans thinks they can finish the new stadium by April 2008, but without the finishing touches. Like bleachers and lights? If groundbreaking takes place in late April, as they are now saying, I guess that target date is still possible. See WTOP Radio.
March 6, 2006 [LINK]
MLB signs stadium lease deal
It's a huge relief, but not really much of a surprise. Major League Baseball knows full well that taking the dispute over the lease terms for the new baseball stadium in Washington to arbitration would only lower the value of the franchise, which they are very eager to sell. So, they took the revised deal presented to them by the D.C. Council, attaching a few technical stipulations that no further legislation contrary to existing terms be adopted. (Translation: Don't muck this thing up any more.) See Washington Post. According to MLB.com, Bob DuPuy said,
Everyone has to compromise so the Nationals can enjoy a strong future. We are offering a compromise that I call on District leaders to support.
Ah, sweet reason! Does this settle the matter once and for all? Will everything fall apart if the cost cap provisions don't work like they're supposed to? No in both cases. This is just one more landmark event in a long series of contentious haggling over the ballpark that will not end until the final coat of paint and the last plumbing fixtures are installed. MLB will presumably announce the new Nationals owners just before Opening Day, more or less coinciding with the beginning of the demolition of the existing warehouses on the stadium site. Groundbreaking will probably take place by the end of the summer. "Theoretically," the new ballpark could be finished in time for the beginning of the 2008 season, but an opening at mid-year or early in the following year is more likely. For now, RFK Stadium still has a "life expectancy" of three years.
Guillen gets second opinion
Whew! It turns out that Jose Guillen was smart to seek another doctor's opinion about his wrist injury. Further tests indicate that his left wrist is merely swollen, and may heal in time for Opening Day -- as long as he follows doctors' orders and gives it a rest for 7-10 days. See MLB.com. All in all, it's been a great day to be a Nationals fan. Maybe they'll have another shot at a pennant race after all!
Kirby Puckett has died
[UPDATE: Earlier today I reported that Kirby Puckett was hospitalized in critical condition, and since then we have learned that he passed away. The popular hero of the Minnesota Twins' championship teams of 1987 and 1991 suffered a stroke at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona on Sunday morning. His friendly personality and fierce determination to win made him an ideal team player, inspiring others on his team to match his accomplishments. It was a tragedy when his career was cut short by glaucoma in 1996, and this sudden death only compounds it. At least he got to savor the sweet reward of being elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2001. One thing is for sure, he will not be forgotten in Minnesota. For more, see MLB.com.]
UPDATE: Kill an evening here!
Lonnie Spath, a sportswriter whose fine panoramic photos grace the Oakland Coliseum and Fenway Park pages, has included this Web site among his "10 Web Sites To kill 10 evenings with." I'm pretty sure that's a compliment. Much obliged, Lonnie!
UPDATE: WBC Round 1
The national teams of (South) Korea and Japan earned berths to the second round of the World Baseball Championship, which will begin in Anaheim (and San Juan, Puerto Rico) on March 12. It was a surprise that the Koreans beat the Japanese (3-2) in the final game of the preliminary round, winning all three of their games. The Taiwanese beat their mainland Chinese arch-rivals, 12-3. See worldbaseballclassic.com.
March 3, 2006 [LINK]
World Baseball Classic opens
Japan whalloped China 18-2, and Korea (South, presumably) edged China-Taipei (the country formerly known as "Taiwan," and the "Republic of China" before that) 2-0. Both games were at the Tokyo Dome. Attendance was nearly 16,000 for the first game, and barely 5,000 for the second. Not exactly a huge sensation. After concluding the six-game round robin on Sunday, the best two teams from "Pool A" will advance to the next round, facing "Pool B" (North America plus South Africa) in Angel Stadium, March 12-16. See the schedule at worldbaseballclassic.com. Somehow Nicaragua failed to qualify for a berth in the tournament, even though it has much more baseball talent and interest than Italy, Australia, or the Netherlands. It's probably the lack of money.
Guillen injures wrist; Nats S.O.L.
Jose Guillen, upon whose shoulders the Washington Nationals' hopes for this season rest to a very large degree, has torn some tendons in his left wrist, and will be on the disabled list for at least three months. The team doctor recommended surgery, but Guillen wants a second opinion. The high-spirited outfielder says he couldn't stand being out of action for so long. Having lost pitcher Brian Lawrence, and with Alfonso Soriano's future with the team highly uncertain, this is a devastating blow. The Nats have just about exhausted their payroll budget, they have few tradable reserve players, and their farm system has almost collapsed over the past few years. Time to punt... See MLB.com.
In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell laments that "the bloom is off the rose" for the Nationals. Observing the paltry attendance at Space Coast Stadium compared to last year, he gripes about the decline in fan enthusiasm for the Nats since the magical inaugural year. He blames the shortsighted, selfish MLB bosses and politicians in D.C. for putting the franchise in dire straits. Since there is no owner yet, the team is playing with an unfair handicap for the fourth consecutive year. He warns that resorting to arbitration over the stadium finance dispute would further disillusion D.C. area folks about their new team, which might cause attendance to drop, thereby lowering the value of the franchise, currently estimated at $450 million. Are you listening, Bud? How about you, Linda?
March 2, 2006 [LINK]
Shibe Park refinements
Thanks to some helpful comments from Ron Selter and some excellent old photographs from Bruce Orser, I've made some corrections in the Shibe Park diagrams, mostly in the 1909 and 1913 versions. Some of the new findings are interesting. It appears to me that the bleachers in left field ended about 50 feet from the center field corner, 30 feet more than Mr. Selter estimates. In one photo dated 1913, there is a low fence between those bleachers and the right field wall, which would account for the drop in distance from 515 to 502 feet given by Lowry for late 1909. I also used trigonometry to determine the distance to the outer wall in left field: it was 387 feet, nine feet further than the left field foul pole; the difference was due to the scoreboard, which I had not seen previously. A few questions remain, especially about the backstop distance in the early years, and exactly when the far ends of the lower deck were rebuilt, but much has been cleared up. I greatly appreciate the research assistance.
Covering stadium overruns
D.C. Mayor Williams has submitted a plan that would provide $20 million in contingency funds in case the cost of constructing the Nationals' future home exceeds budgetary projections. The extra money comes from (expected) surplus in tax receipts over what is needed to pay interest costs to service the construction bonds. (Aren't those accountants amazing!?) Some Council members fear that the mere act of preparing for cost overruns will make cost overruns more likely; see Washington Post. Indeed, they have a point. In the public sector, there is no real incentive to hold down costs, so the only way to avoid cost overruns is for constituents to constantly scrutinize spending and demand accountability from their elected officials. Bor-ing! Monday is the deadline for Major League Baseball to accept or reject the stadium lease terms with the cost cap stipulated by the D.C. Council.
February 28, 2006 [LINK]
Nats seek starting pitchers
The Nationals just signed Pedro Astacio to replace their recently acquired starting pitcher Brian Lawrence, who just had shoulder surgery that will probably keep him off the roster for most if not all of the season. Astacio pitched for the Rangers and Padres last year. At the age of 36, he has a pretty solid reputation as a veteran, even though his statistics don't look very impressive. As for Lawrence, who formerly pitched for Padres, the Nationals chose not to give him an MRI exam before completing the trade (for Vinny Castilla), because it would have cost upwards of $10,000. See Washington Post.
Meanwhile, at Space Coast Stadium, the Soriano-Vidro soap opera continues without resolution...
Shibe Park questions
Ron Selter of SABR responded to my assertions about Shibe Park's measurements in its early days by bringing to my attention further details about left field configuration. Apparently there was no mid-season change [in 1909] as had been indicated by Lowry in Green Cathedrals (1992). A revised edition of that masterpiece is pending, and Mr. Selter has a lead role in that project. I still have questions about some of the dimensions, however, especially the distance to the backstop. One or two of the the diagrams on the Shibe Park page will be revised soon.
New Shea Stadium
A news item in the New York Post (hat tip to Mike Zurawski) clarified the discrepancy (see Feb. 17) over the seating capacity for the Mets' future home. It will have 42,500 seats, plus standing room for another 1,600 fans, yielding a total capacity of 44,100. It will be built on the east side of Shea Stadium, beyond center field, with center field toward the northeast. What about the name: Giuliani Field? Pataki Park?
February 25, 2006 [LINK]
Outfield dimensions: fiction & fact
The Dimensions page now is essentially finished, though further refinements will no doubt ensue. It basically aims to present comparable data on outfield (and backstop) distances for all stadiums, measured in a consistent way. Many of the discrepancies between the marked and actual outfield distances are already familiar to baseball fans, but there are probably a few odd cases I have found that will raise some eyebrows.
In the process of doing that page, I've made minor format tweaks and corrections in a few of the other baseball information reference pages. In some pages I had, for some inexplicable reason, mistakenly indicated that Sportsmans Park opened in 1910, when it was actually 1909. D'oh!
I was vaguely aware that Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield was less than satisfied with the way his team has been playing, and he is no doubt itching for a World Series ring. Now he has caught some flak from some media outlets for speaking out. See MLB.com. Frankly, I like the guy and admire his cool-headed, professional approach to the game. This latest tiff in the Bronx perhaps also signfies a return to "normalcy" for the Yanks, who are well accustomed to continuous upheaval in the front office and roster. Interestingly, that has been more the case up in Boston since the Red Sox finally won the World Series two years ago. See, winning isn't everything...
February 24, 2006 [LINK]
Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium
I finally finished the revised diagram(s) for the ballpark I always knew as Connie Mack Stadium, but which most traditionalists refer to as "Shibe Park." You'd think a simple rectangular ballpark would be easy to revise, but no-o-o. There are more oddities and data inconsistencies than you might imagine. I have determined from my relentless scrutiny of photographs and various data sources that the original distance to the corners was about
350* feet, not 360 feet as indicated by Lowry (1992) and others. Also, the distance to the backstop during the first few years was about 30* feet less than the 90 feet reported by Ritter (1992); that figure is accurate for 1922-1942. Other unresolved issues remain, however, which is why question marks appear on the first two versions of the dynamic diagram on that page. Another thing: The Eagles (not the rock group) used to play at Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium, but I did not make a football version diagram because I have never seen a photo of a football game there. Has anyone else? * (See corrections on March 2.)
Spring training begins!
At Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers have been practicing for almost a full week now, and there remains a gaping hole in the rotation, with only two really solid starters: Livan Hernandez and John Patterson. Now, the rest of the team is reporting for duty, including the newest National, Alfonso Soriano. He was introduced by GM Jim Bowden and Manager Frank Robinson, but the issue of where he will play is still not resolved. Soriano will begin playing for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic in Orlando on March 3. See MLB.com. Actually, this kind of tension might be the kind of spark the team needs to get motivated. We'll see. Former Oriole Sammy Sosa turned down a second offer by the Nationals, for one mil-lion dollars! That was more than "Dr. Evil" was willing to pay. I've been looking at the various baseball preview magazines, and nearly all of them are paying a lot of attention to Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' rookie third baseman from U.Va. Living up to such high expectations will be a tough task for the former C-ville Wahoo.
I've come across two Web sites that cover the Nationals lately: Nats Fanatics, by Colin Mills, and The Beltway Boys, a photo-filled blog by Farid Rushdi, a former resident of the D.C. area who now lives in Idaho!
The mail bag
Sean Holland recently inquiried about those odd extra seating areas between the dugouts and bullpens at League Park (due for an imminent diagram revision). As far as I can tell from the photos I've seen, they were picnic areas, but I haven't read anything specific on that. Coincidentally, Tom Wolff (the author?) writes to tell me that the Cleveland team did not adopt the name "Indians" until 1915, so I have revised that page with corrected information.
February 17, 2006 [LINK]
Mets push for new stadium
I've been skeptical about their timetable up until now, but it looks like the Mets are really serious about building a new stadium by the Spring of 2009, just like the Yankees. It would be much smaller than Shea Stadium, with either 42,500 or 44,100 seats, depending on which source you believe. In addition, it would emulate several design features of Ebbets Field, including the overall shape, a large roof, and a rotunda. The Mets will pay for most of the $600 million cost to build the new stadium, and the Empire State Development Corporation will hold a public hearing on Feb. 27. See nydailynews.com and queenstribune.com. (via Mike Zurawski, of course). It sounds pretty good to me; I just hope the Mets have better luck with local politicians than the Nationals did in D.C.! The "life expectancy" of Shea Stadium may drop very soon...
More revamped pages
In preparation for another Big Wave of upgrades to this Web site as Opening Day approaches, I have revamped the Baseball Introductory page and the Baseball Site Map. The main change was switching the lists of stadiums from one page to the other, for reasons that should be obvious. The list of stadiums by city on the latter page now indicates the status of each stadium page, in terms of how complete their diagrams are.
The Jarry Park page has a revised diagram (including the swimming pool!) and text, based on recent findings on what's become of the place in recent years. About ten years ago they tore down all of the grandstand except for the original curved portion behind home plate, and added new grandstands for a new tennis stadium. It's very impressive. Pat Schroeder asked me if I was going to add a tennis version diagram, but it's been so many years since the Montreal Expos (now known as the Washington Nationals!) played there, that I don't think it's worth it. That page also has a new interactive thumbnail diagram feature which I plan to add to the rest of the stadium pages, little by little.
Following up on the inquiry from Dave Tucker, Bruce Orser sent me a Google Earth image of Scottsdale Stadium, which has very tight foul territory, much like Jarry Park, and big outfield dimensions: 360 down the foul lines, and 420 to center.
February 16, 2006 [LINK]
The Stadium statistics page has been reformatted, showing the year of contruction and demolition, in addition to the first and last years of use in Major League Baseball. There are a number of other small enhancements on that page as well, such as indicating which stadiums were built next to their predecessors. The distances to the power alleys are no longer shown on that page, however, because those figures -- officially marked versus my estimates of the true distances -- will be a main focus of the soon-to-come Dimensions page. Power alley distances are notoriously unreliable, and the Stadium statistics page aims to be purely objective.
The Shibe Park revisions are nearing completion, but I need to get a few things straight before I post the new diagrams. In the mean time, I did a quick rotation of Jarry Park, which I'll post very soon. Tennis, anyone?
The mail bag
Jay Roberts brought to my attention a discussion thread (from 2002) at japanesebaseball.com in which a guy named Robert Whiting says he counted only 42,761 seats seats at the Tokyo Dome several years ago. Since then, one thousand seats have been removed, and standing room capacity is said to be 3,000. Nevertheless, the Yomiuri Giants routinely claim 55,000 in attendance. Sounds pretty "sushi" to me.
Dave Tucker suggested that I do a page and diagram for Scottsdale (Arizona) Stadium, since it will be one of the venues for the World Baseball Classic. It's unlikely that I would branch out in that direction, certainly not in time for the WBC. My "plate" is full of long-overdue revisions to existing diagrams and pages the way it is.
UPDATE: Sosa turns down Nats
Sammy Sosa has declined the offer of a $500,000 non-guaranteed one-year contract with the Nationals, and may not play at all this season, or perhaps ever again. He apparently wanted more money than Jim Bowden was willing to pay him. See MLB.com. Like Jose Canseco, his performance as a slugger took a nosedive late in his career, before he was ready to call it quits. It's too bad, in a way, it might have been interesting to see him try to regain his past glory and cross the 600 home run threshold in Washington.
February 12, 2006 [LINK]
Spring training nears
Outside there are six inches of snow on the ground, and yet spring training is about to begin in Florida and Arizona. Can it really be true? The Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida this Saturday, Feb. 18, and the rest of the team reports on Feb. 24. Because of lingering doubts over the franchise's long-term plans, the front office and players alike remain in an uneasy "transient" status. In fact, not one player from the Nationals has even purchased a home in the Washington metropolitan area! What a shame; see Washington Post. For a complete rundown of the contract situations of various players, see MLB.com.
I was a little surprised that an editorial in today's Washington Post questioned Mayor Williams' leadership while paying respect to the way the D.C. Council handled the vote on the stadium lease last week: "the council's behavior, we believe, reflected the democratic process at work." Just like the democratic process in Palestine and Haiti, perhaps? Sorry, I'm still recovering from that near-death experience. I suppose the Post editors are just building the stature of the three new council members who voted for the stadium deal after having campaigned against it; some local activists are angry with them.
The Ameriquest Field page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard. The previous "sideways" version remains an viewable option on that page because it includes the entire stadium structure, including the concourse that surrounds the stadium. Note that the actual power alley distance is estimated at 380 feet, rather than 390 feet, as is marked at the bend next to the bullpen in left center. I also updated the Side-by-side stadium comparison page, and may add the various foreign stadiums to it soon.
Domes in Japan
Bruce Orser brought to my attention a satellite photo from Google Earth showing the Sapporo Dome, which I mentioned when I posted the Tokyo Dome page a few days ago. It has an odd "teardrop" shape, with the center field side elongated and squared off, where the movable soccer field enters and leaves the dome.
February 11, 2006 [LINK]
Questions about stadium deal
Major League Baseball officials have taken a look at the revised stadium lease terms with Mrs. Cropp's "cost cap," and they don't like what they see. Right off the bat, no one knows how this provision would actually work, or if it could be enforced. Another problem is that any unspent surplus money must go to the "Community Benefit Fund" rather than the underground parking facility that is urgently needed to accommodate suburban patrons. Even though the South Capitol Street stadium site is two miles closer to Northern Virginia than is RFK Stadium, that advantage would be nullified if there is no place to park. See Washington Post. So what will happen? Some MLB officials, especially Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, apparently want to exercise the arbitration clause, at least as a threat. I assume they'll huff and puff and snort and pout, but in the end will agree to the terms pretty much as they are. Thanks to the $200 million surge in the value of the franchise resulting from the big success of the Nationals' first season, MLB is making out like a bandit the way it is. In Friday's Post, Thomas Boswell wryly observes how clueless MLB officials are about the political and social realities of Washington. I was struck by this quote from Bud Selig:
This team [in Washington] has been a godsend for baseball... Nobody wants to be in Washington more than I do. It's good for my sport.
Well, blow me down! Mr. World Champion Foot Dragger, D.C.-skeptic himself has finally seen the light! Or perhaps he has seen the Nationals' fat bottom line. Anyway, it's nice to have a "convert" on board. Welcome to Washington, Bud!
Nats juggle their roster
In Thursday's Washington Post, Dave Sheinin reminds us of one of the ill effects of the interminable delays in reaching a final agreement on stadium funding and leasing: Not having an owner -- because the franchise sale was contingent upon a signed, finalized lease for a new stadium -- the Nats remain severely handicapped, unable to put together a team worthy of the city's economic clout. Tony Tavares, the team's interim president, has no guidepost and very little decision-making leeway. The same applies to General Manager Jim Bowden, though you wouldn't know it by the way he acts sometimes. Just wait 'til next year!?
An arbitrator ruled against malcontent Alfonso Soriano, who will "only" get $10 million this year, rather than the $12 million he demanded; it's still a huge raise. Meanwhile, the Nationals have offered Sammy Sosa a provisional contract, giving him a chance to make the team if -- if -- he does well enough in spring training. David Pinto wonders whether Sosa's arrival may provide an opportunity to trade away Soriano, maybe even to the Chicago Cubs! A week after acquiring shortstop Royce Clayton, the Nationals sold Jamey Carroll, a reliable utility infielder and pinch hitter, to the Colorado Rockies for $300,000. Too bad, he added real depth and provided a lot of team spirit.
Mike Zurawski sends more news about the ongoing renovations to Fenway Park's small upper deck, which will get somewhat bigger, raising total capacity to 38,805, compared to 36,298 last year. Another thousand or seats will be added over the next few years. See MLB.com. On the down side, however, there are fears that high-rise construction in the neighborhood will cause wind currents to become more turbulent, which may make home runs harder to come by. To me that sounds like more superstition; I thought 2004 put to rest all those jinx anxieties in Beantown. See Boston Globe.
February 8, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council votes "yes," but...
"After further review," the D.C. Council approved Chairwoman Linda Cropp's emergency bill by the required 9 to 4 supermajority at about 12:45 after midnight. I learned of this on WTOP Radio reported at 12:50 AM, barely awake. The bill limits the District's spending to $611 million, but it remains to be seen whether this provision is practicable. Council member Adrian Fenty said, "I hope everyone who voted for this gets a thank you note from baseball... We are voting on a very unfair deal that every member of this council would say is a bad deal." OK, guys, you made your point. Despite Phil Mendelson's earlier claims that he supported baseball, he voted "no" even with the cost cap provision, on the grounds that it is not "iron clad." For the full story, see the Washington Post. [This story was too late for our Virginia edition!]
Well, of course the cost cap isn't "iron clad." Controlling costs on such projects depends much more on relentless vigilance and resistance to the corrupting influence of lobbyists than on legalistic mechanisms. It's like when a legislative body votes for a balanced budget amendment rather than just buckling down and hammering out a balanced budget. Indeed, the more such "fine print" terms are added to such an agreement, the more likely it is that the parties really don't trust each other -- or themselves -- to abide by the terms!
So, will this lease agreement fly with the Lords of Baseball? "MLB President Bob DuPuy was non-committal about the deal..." according to MLB.com. That story indicates that March 6 is the "drop dead" date by which MLB must agree to the lease agreement with the cost cap provision.
This agreement will require careful study by all interested parties, and is by no means the final act in this farce-drama. For the time being, I have lowered the probability of relocating the Nationals from 20 percent to 5 percent; it was 10 percent since last month. Also, the Baseball in D.C. page has been updated with those votes, and a separate new page has been created for the Baseball in D.C. news chronology. I had estimated a 70 percent probability that Linda Cropp, Kwame Brown, and Vincent Gray would vote "yes" on the stadium, and a 40 percent probability that Carol Schwartz would. Who would have thought that Marion Barry (whom I had estimated a 20 percent probability of voting "yes") would cast the decisive affirmative vote? Phil Mendelson (estimated as 40 percent "yes") voted "no," once again.
I just noticed that four members of the D.C. Council have colors for last names, including Schwartz (German for "black").
MLB to help Marlins relocate
It is interesting that this vote took place just as MLB announced that it would take part in the effort by the Marlins to search for a new home city more amenable to funding a new stadium. See MLB.com. Shouldn't they be neutral?
Venezuela wins Caribbean Series
The Caracas Leones (Lions) have won the Caribbean Series, defeating the [Dominican Republic Licey Tigres (Tigers)], the first time a Venezuelan team has won the coveted championship since 1989. Alex Gonzalez (the new Red Sox shortstop) got a clutch RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, and his team went on to score the game-winning run. For details, see ESPN.com (English via David Pinto) and eluniversal.com (Spanish). President-for-Life Hugo Chavez will no doubt bask in the glory. I wonder if any of CITGO's petrodollars get channelled to baseball in Venezuela? For background, see Latin America baseball leagues [revised link].
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council prepares to vote
As of 4:00 this afternoon, still no word on a vote by the D.C. Council. Today's Washington Post has much more on the last-minute negotiations aimed at securing a majority "yes" vote on the stadium finance bill. The fact that everyone involved wants to portray this issue in all-or-nothing terms, rather than take my suggestion or proceeding incrementally and building as much of the new stadium as can be done with the budgeted funds, suggests that all this is mostly for the sake of posturing. Too much money is at stake for the whole thing to collapse. According to WTOP Radio (now at 103.5 FM, rather than 1500 AM), however:
[I]f the District cannot pass the lease, WTOP has learned that Virginia is open to talks with Major League Baseball about pursuing the Nationals in Northern Virginia.
Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Tony Williams is furious with the council for using a consultant with ties to the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.
Now, wouldn't that be something? I give that scenario a one percent chance, optimistically. The Baseball in D.C. page has been reformatted and updated with recent news items.
UPDATE: As of 5:00 PM, WTOP reports that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has expressed willingness to push for a new baseball stadium in Northern Virginia, in case the D.C. situation disintegrates. This eagerness stands in contrast to the prudent, arms-length attitude of his predecessor, Mark Warner. As a Virginian, I always preferred a new ballpark in Arlington (NOT Texas!) as the ideal outcome, and I remain deeply skeptical about the Dulles alternative stadium site. I also think it's a little unseemly for neighboring jurisdictions to be playing against one another in a delicate situation such as this. The D.C. Council is scheduled to vote up or down on the matter this evening. UP! UP! UP!
D.C. Council votes NO!
FURTHER UPDATE: As of 9:00 PM, WTOP reports that the D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 against
Mrs. Cropp's proposed emergency the stadium finance bill [submitted by Mayor Williams]*, which may just deal a fatal blow to the future of baseball in Washington. Or maybe not. Some council members seem to think that Major League Baseball will recognize that they have no better alernative than to make even bigger concessions and keep the Nationals in Washington. Perhaps, but that is taking an enormous risk. I would expect Bud Selig to issue an immediate statement condemning the D.C. Council vote, beginning steps to relocate the Nationals elsewhere (possibly even this season*), and I would have to support him. How in the world can anyone make a long-term commercial agreement with a government that reneges so capriciously on its existing solemn commitments? I have criticized MLB's heavy-handed tactics many times in the past, and there is no doubt that both sides share some of the blame for this disgraceful turn of events, but from what I can tell, the action by the D.C. Council this evening seems completely unjustifiable. It reeks of short-sighted, self-destructive, crowd-pleasing spite. I've been prepared for a lot of bluffing and brinksmanship by both sides, but this outcome is astonishing even to me. It will be interesting to hear what the "no"-voting council members have to say...
* I have raised the probability of the Nats being relocated from 10 percent to 20 percent; there is an additional 10 percent probability of relocation from D.C. to Northern Virginia.
* "EXTRA INNINGS" UPDATE: As of 11:00 PM, Washington's WUSA-TV 9 reports that the D.C. Council is still in session, considering the emergency legislation that was submitted by Mrs. Cropp yesterday. Earlier reports may have been erroneous in terms of which measure was being considered. Mrs. Cropp's bill would attach a cost-cap provision to the lease agreement, but many question whether that would be legally enforceable. A supermajority of nine votes is needed to pass legislation introduced on an emergency basis (so as to avoid hasty, ill-considered goofs), which would mean that four of the members who voted "no" earlier this evening would have to switch their votes. They'd better come with a darn good argument that the cost cap provision is really a deal maker-or-breaker.
LATE, LATE UPDATE: WUSA-TV 9 showed a live televised image of Council member Carol Schwartz engaged in debate as their news cast ended at 11:30 PM. The WTOP Radio link cited above has been updated with further details on the evening's agonizing developments. Finally, here is tomorrow's Washington Post story on the travesty. Unless tonight's meeting somehow resolves the matter, the next step appears to be binding arbitration, but whether an elected government can be compelled by an arbitration board to spend public money remains to be seen. Thanks to David Pinto for linking to this post.
Twins escape lease obligation
A Hennepin County judge has ruled that the Minnesota Twins have no legal obligation under the 1998 use agreement (which expired in 2003) to stay in the Metrodome after the 2006 season is over. According to ESPN, this "could increase pressure on lawmakers to approve financing for a new ballpark." Given the increasingly hostile political climate to subsidizing fatcats via stadium financing bills, however, the Twins may have less leverage in this matter than they think. Where else are they going to go? Besides, they have a long, established franchise history in their home city (metropolitan area), unlike the "at-risk" franchises in Florida. (link via David Pinto)
February 6, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council showdown (Part 78)
Here we go again! According to a late-evening report on Washington's FOX-5 TV, D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp will introduce an emergency bill that sets a cap on the cost of constructing the new stadium when the Council convenes tomorrow morning. Council member Phil Mendelson says he supports baseball in D.C. (?!) but expressed grave doubts about the stadium finance bill's passage unless such controls on costs are included. (It should be noted that he has voted against every stadium measure brought to the D.C. Council thus far.) Of course, it is possible that further delaying tactics by recalcitrant council members will elicit additional concessions by MLB officials, who are obviously tired of getting jerked around, but they may finally decided enough is enough. What then? I shudder to think.
The two reputed swing votes are Kwame Brown and Vincent Gray. Hey, Nats fans! Drop them a friendly line, why don't you?
Baseball in Japan
Adam Myers tells me that the "Nippon Ham Fighters" no longer play in the Tokyo Dome. In 2004 they moved to Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, where they play in the Sapporo Dome, which features "the world's first Hovering Soccer Stage." A fully retractable grass soccer field (much like the soon-to-open football stadium in Phoenix) alternates with an artificial surface for baseball use, as you can see for yourself on a time-elapse video clip on that Web site. Totally awesome! (But is it really baseball?) Thanks much, Adam!
February 6, 2006 [LINK]
Super Bowl "Extra Large"
The Roman numeral label for this year's Super Bowl -- XL -- was appropriate for our "super-sized" couch-potato society. You can find a wide assortment of "XXL" T-shirts in the stores these days, but good luck finding an "S" or even an "M." We can't help it, "we're addicted to cheese!" The game fell somewhat short in terms of excitement, aside from a few big plays, including two dramatic interceptions. I had no strong feelings on the matter, but was kind of hoping the Seahawks would bring home the Vince Lombardi trophy since they -- unlike the Steelers -- have yet to do so. Ford Field, which opened just three and a half years ago, was a pretty good venue for the Big Event. It is next door to Comerica Park (see the new photo!), where I saw the Tigers play in 2004. To my surprise, however, none of the camera angles allowed viewers to see its most distinctive feature: the fact that there is only one main deck on the south side of the field, topped with several tiers of luxury suites. It is interesting that the new home of the Lions was sigificantly "downsized" relative to their old home, the Pontiac Silverdome: the seating capacity dropped from 80,000 to 65,000. I plan to create a new page comparing the recently-built baseball stadiums and football stadiums in the near future.
The Rolling Stones gave a solid performance at half time, but I thought the tempo on "Start Me Up" was too rushed. Those power chords (C to F) need time to resonate fully. "Rough Justice" was a good choice of songs to promote their very good new CD, A Bigger Bang, and Mick Jagger was smart to refrain from finishing the explicit line, "Once upon a time I was your little rooster, but am I just one of your ****s?" (Or perhaps it was censored via the five-second time delay instituted thanks to Janet Jackson?) Some people complained that local Motown stars should have been given top billing, not just a pre-game appearance. I was glad, at least, that the Super Bowl half-time show was not yet another absurdly glitzy, incongruous mixture of various styles, straining to appeal to a broad mass audience.
UPDATE: It was censored! See BBC.
February 4, 2006 [LINK]
Revised stadium deal submitted
Mayor Williams sent another version of the stadium deal to the D.C. Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter next Tuesday, February 7. The key new provision is that developers (mainly the Clark Construction Company) agreed to pay up to $70 million "if" there are any cost overruns; in return for assuming this risk, they would gain control over the direction of the construction project. The mayor pleaded with council members to see all the good that will come from the stadium. "Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) was cautiously optimistic." (Me too.) See Washington Post. She did not comment on the demise of her cherished private financing scheme.
The Tokyo Dome page is now finished, though the lack of good photographs online leaves several unanswered questions about the dimensions of the stadium structure. It's "close enough" for now, but future revisions are likely.
The mailbag: Welcome new fans!
For some odd reason, I've received more than the usual number of friendly greetings from new fans in the past couple weeks, and I've tried to respond. My e-mail in-box is getting stacked up once again, however, so please don't take offense if I don't answer right away. More often than not, it means that a more thoughtful reply is called for.
From intrepid news watcher Mike Zurawski: As previously announced, the fence at Miller Park has been moved in eight feet to make room for a picnic area, so right field will be 333 feet, presumably. "All fans in the area will be furnished with a replica Brewers batting helmet to prepare for home runs..." DUCK! Further renovations are planned for next year. See MLB.com.
Also via Mike: SBC Park, formerly known as Pac Bell Park, will be renamed "AT&T Park" on March 1. "The physical transformation to AT&T Park will require the removal of hundreds of signs and logos at the facility, and the changes should be finished by midseason." See MLB.com
Regarding the Twilight Zone episode that Steve Pixberg asked about, Patrick Schroeder writes:
I just saw that episode last week, "The Mighty Casey." Jack Warden played the manager. It was definitely filmed at LA's Wrigley Field. I recognized the grandstand and the ivy-covered outfield wall.
Chris Haack tells me that he recalls that the football gridiron at Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium was closer to the south end than is indicated by my diagram. I've seen photos with various gridiron positions, but I'll probably modify that diagram based on what he says in the near future.
February 2, 2006 [LINK]
Private finance deal collapses
D.C. official Natwar Gandhi has called off the private finance deal for the new stadium, on the grounds that the District would not be getting any tangible benefit in exchange for the $5 million fee. It involves specific provisions required by Wall Street bond graders. This is a major embarrassment to Council chairwoman Linda Cropp, who had insisted upon private financing as a condition for her support of the stadium deal in December 2004. According to Councilman Vincent Orange, "The whole bank plan was to appease Linda." See Washington Post. So that high-anxiety tension we endured as the crucial vote approached fourteen months ago was all for nothing!? All the wasted months... This outcome validates the skepticism [expressed by] the Post's economics writer Stephen Pearlstein [about the alleged advantages of private financing over public financing]; see my Dec. 21, 2004 blog post.
Some detailed photographs of the progress on the expanded bleachers, along with a snow-covered field, can be seen at chicagotribune.com (hat tip to Mike Zurawski). The extent of overhang over the sidewalk by the two wings of the bleachers increases as they approach the foul poles, because the number of rows in each wing remains constant, rather than tapering down as before. There will be an open-air concourse platform above the sidewalk behind the center part of the bleachers, and an upscale restaurant behind dark glass (rather than dark green shrubbery) in the "batters eye" in center field.
Speaking of Wrigley (the other one), Steve Pixberg of New Orleans asks:
Wasn't an episode of the Twilight Zone also filmed at Wrigley Field in Los
Angeles? The episode was about a man who made an android pitcher for the Hoboken Zephyrs. Think it was the early 1960's.
Does anyone recall that?
UPDATE: Sorry for the glitch in making this post earlier today.
January 30, 2006 [LINK]
Compromise stadium deal
Sensing that the political winds in Our Nation's Capital have shifted in an adverse direction, Major League Baseball has offered a compromise on the D.C. stadium financing terms, thanks in part to the mediation efforts of Dennis Archer. On Friday Mayor Tony Williams submitted a revised lease to the D.C. Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter on February 7. He made several firm pledges from MLB in an accompanying letter, such as funding for a youth baseball program and additional free tickets for underprivileged youth. The biggest change in the lease itself is that the Nationals would have to pay $2.65 million rent for use of RFK Stadium in 2008 if the new stadium is not finished by then. This takes a lot of pressure off the D.C. government, and represents a realistic appraisal of the construction timeline. The lease does not meet all of the conditions demanded by the holdouts on the D.C. Council, but it is probably "close enough for government work." Increased confidence is reaching a deal is indicated by the fact that the D.C. government has resumed legal proceedings to evict the current occupants from the proposed new stadium site on South Capitol Street. See Washington Post.
Have you noticed the days are getting longer and the birds are starting to sing? A quick glance at the Opening Day countdown at the upper left of the Baseball page reveals that we only have a little over two months to wait. In Friday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell muses about the imminence of spring training and Opening Day. He sees the soap opera over the return of Theo Epstein in Boston and the stadium controversy in Washington as circuses to keep us fans entertained while we wait for baseball to resume.
K.C. and the sunshine
I had heard something about the recent renewed push in Kansas City to get funding for a new movable roof that could cover either Kauffman Stadium or Arrowhead Stadium, in case of inclement weather. Mike Zurawski sent me a link to a story about it, including an artist's depiction:
kansascity.com Frankly, I remain dubious about the need for such an extravagant add-on, which might seriously degrade the ambience of that fine ballpark. They say that an enclosure for Arrowhead Stadium would help lure the Super Bowl to Kansas City, but I think the Super Bowl was made to be played in the warmer southern latitudes. Detroit??? Mike also sent this link with a photo of construction on the new left field wall at Citizens Bank Park: delawareonline.com.
Busy with photos
My lack of baseball blogging over the past week (and slow response to e-mail inquiries) is due to my intense preoccupation with revamping my Photo gallery. (Some of you may notice that I modified the stadium montage slightly.) One of the newly added photos is of a stadium construction project in Peru. I'll bet they could save some money on the new stadium in D.C. by cutting corners on construction standards and regulations! What hardhat? What OSHA? What minimum wage? (Just kidding.)
Fear not, however, work is well under way on several of the stadiums on the "to-do" list. I have determined that the existing Shibe Park diagram understates the exterior dimensions by at least 20 or 30 feet. Also, the main grandstand in Yankee Stadium extends 10-20 feet further toward the outfield than is indicated by the present diagram.
January 21, 2006 [LINK]
Cuba to play in WBC
Under pressure from the White House (the First Fan in particular), the Treasury Department has granted the necessary license to the Cuban national baseball team, exempting them from the normal prohibitions on commercial activity with the communist regime in Havana. The team's players will still have to obtain visas, however, but that is just a formality. The Cuban exile community is outraged that their protests were ignored. If Cuba had been excluded, however, some feared that the World Baseball Classic might have collapsed, which would have made the United States look spiteful. See Washington Post. It is interesting to note that, given the resurgence of radical leftist politics in Latin America over the past few years, most recently the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Fidel Castro is enjoying the highest prestige he has in many years. Mixing politics and baseball is just like mixing politics and religion...
D.C. stadium design is simplified
In an attempt to save enough on construction costs to get the D.C. Council to approve the final stadium financing bill, the future home of the Washington Nationals will be a bit plainer than had been originally planned. The biggest change is that there will be fewer large panes of glass on the exterior, which was supposed to be a key design feature. The biggest booster on the Council, Jack Evans, said there's no need for costly "Taj Mahal." He would have preferred a more traditional, brick-faced "retro" design, anyway. The other major economizing proposal is to give full responsibility for adhering to the cost cap to the construction company via a "guaranteed maximum price"; the Clark Company of Bethesda has already been selected. Presumably they would get some kind of incentive for finishing the project under cost. See Washington Post. Well, it's about time some common-sense solutions are getting offered. Just build the thing. It seems very strange, however, that they still haven't released artists renderings to the public. Isn't that what you call buying a "pig in the poke"? I reiterate my suggestion I made in a letter to Mrs. Cropp just over a year ago: Build as much of the stadium as you can until the money runs out, and get around to finishing the bleacher areas or other external parts of the stadium when more money becomes available in the succeeding years. You know, like they used to do in the old days.
Sale of Reds is approved
Major league Baseball quickly approved the sale of the Cincinnati Reds franchise from Carl Lindner to Robert Castellini, who will have a 70 percent stake in the enterprise. I thought it was interesting what Commissioner Bud Selig said:
Everybody raves about [Castellini]. He's very personable. He's a Cincinnati man. It's local ownership. I think this is great. In fact, this was an easy one. It was quick and true. (Emphasis added; SOURCE: MLB.com)
It's good that Mr. Selig puts a priority on local ownership. Let's hope he sticks to that criterion when the Nationals are sold. If the stadium deal goes ahead as expected next month, the team may finally have a real owner by Opening Day!
Dolphins Stadium update
The Dolphins Stadium page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard, as well as revised text, taking into account the Marlins' problems in getting funding for a new stadium. The existing "sideways" diagrams have been tweaked slightly, as well. Of particular note is the newly revised estimate of the (straightaway) center field distance: only 394 feet, give or take a couple. That puts it at the second shortest among current major league ballparks, after Fenway Park. I still think that 434 sign overstates the distance to the far corner by at least 15 feet.
Speaking of such inconsistencies, I was asked about the discrepancy between left center field dimension in the diagram (378) and the data table (389) on the PNC Park page. This happened because the distance marker was moved at the beginning of last season, to make room for an advertising sign. I have added an explanatory footnote. To clarify the new practice I adopted last month, from now on, the diagrams will display the distance markers that are actually posted on the outfield fences in the real stadiums, whether or not they are accurately placed. The data in the tables will show the actual distances to straightaway center field and the "true" power alleys, following a line mid-way between the bases. In coming weeks, I plan to create a new table summarizing all the cases of such discrepancies in outfield dimensions .
Baseball and politics may not mix, but baseball and sex sure do! I saw Bull Durham for the first time in a few years this week, and noticed that the final scene where Tim Robbins was being interviewed was filmed in Arlington Stadium. Most recently, he played the deranged survivalist in War of the Worlds.
January 18, 2006 [LINK]
Jose Guillen plugs Sammy Sosa
Jose Guillen, who earned a reputation as a high-spirited malcontent when he played for the Angels, had some nice words for the troubled former superstar Sammy Sosa, who may try out for the Nationals this spring. Some think that this endorsement will smooth the way for an awkward transition. See MLB.com. I have to say, Guillen and the Nats have been a match made in heaven, and you never know whether Sammy could rekindle his career on a team in which the personal chemistry was just right. Oops, there I go again. It was not intentional, I swear!
Unfortunately, Alfonso Soriano is demanding $2 million more than the $10 million the Nationals were offering, which was already a $2.5 million raise over what he was getting in Texas last year. See MLB.com. What will it take to make the former Yankee happy in Washington? I don't recall him being such a difficult personality. On a more positive note, Brian Schneider signed a four-year contract with the Nationals, for $16 million. That is great news, for he is a reliable, solid, likeable team player.
Twins' stadium prospects fade
In Minnesota, Gov. Pawlenty failed to persuade representatives from the Twins and Hennepin County to come to terms on paying for a new stadium in Minneapolis. He wants to have an acceptable stadium financing bill ready when the legislative session opens on March 1, but it may not happen. The emergency luncheon meeting was in response to a legal motion filed by the Twins that their existing lease at the Metrodome be nullified after the 2006 season is over. Taxpayers would foot just under half the bill of the proposed $478 million ballpark. See startribune.com, and commentary at that newspaper by Andy Brehm: "Replace the Dome or lose Twins." Relocation as early as 2007 is not entirely out of the question.
Negotiations continue in D.C.
The former Mayor of Detroit, Dennis Archer, was chosen to serve as mediator between Major League Baseball and the D.C. government. He is known as a friend of Mayor Tony Williams. If he can't get the two sides to come together within the next 15 days, it will go to a formal arbitration hearing. Mayor Williams plans to submit a revised stadium financing bill to the D.C. Council by the end of the month, and it may be voted upon in early February. See Washington Post. [Mark] Tuohey voiced optimism about reaching a stadium deal, and defended his negotiating abilities versus Jerry Reinsdorf. Many critics think he got taken to the cleaners by those hardball-playing suits of MLB. See Washington Post.
Since most of these negotiating threats and bluffs are purely for effect, it's hard to know what to make of it all. Nevertheless, I've jiggled my estimates of the expected lifetime of the older stadiums and franchise relocation likelihood on the Stadium prospects table. For both the Twins and the Marlins, the likelihood of leaving has increased five percent. I was thinking that my suggested new name for the Marlins in case they move -- the Portland "Salmon" -- just doesn't sound competitive enough; how about the "Whales" or even the "Killer Whales"? Just think, in the extremely unlikely case that MLB pulls the Nationals out of D.C., perhaps the Twins can return to the ancestral home of the franchise, and resume their original identity as the Senators!
Roofs on soccer stadiums
In response to my Jan. 13 post, Adam Myers pointed out that most football (you know, "soccer") stadiums in Europe have large roofs, unlike football stadiums in the U.S. He referred me to an excellent source on that: Football Temples of the World; it's in German, French, and English. From it, I learned that the new soccer stadium on the east edge of Lima, Peru -- "Monumental de la "U" (as in University), which was built in 2000 -- has a bigger capacity than I had thought: 80,000, half again as big as the old Estadio Nacional downtown. It features multiple skybox levels in back of a single rectangular grandstand, with dramatic views of barren mountains in back. It hardly ever rains in Lima, so roofs are beside the point; indeed, many houses are only partially roofed.
January 13, 2006 [LINK]
Hail to the Redskins AND Nationals!
Many people rightly give credit to Coach Joe Gibbs for the fact that the Washington Redskins are in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. What about the possibility that competition with the new Washington Nationals team for the loyalty of D.C.-area sports fans might have been just the kick in the rear that the Redskins needed? Such competition was believed by many people (including me) to have spurred the Orioles to take first place in the AL East early last season.
The Redskins will be playing against the Seahawks (a non-existent bird species) tomorrow in Seattle, where it has been raining for 40 days and 40 nights, more or less. I had thought that Qwest Field had a retractable roof, like next-door Safeco Field, but I recently learned that that huge roof with the arch suspension is actually fixed. It covers 70 percent of the seats, so most of the fans will stay relatively dry even if the rain does continue. It's sort of like Texas Stadium, home of the Cowboys. Otherwise, most stadiums designed for football have little if any roof. Toronto's old Exhibition Stadium would be one big exception. People occasionally ask me if I intend to cover football stadiums in the same way I cover baseball stadiums. I seriously doubt it, but I would be glad to collaborate with someone who wants to take on such a project. There is already one such site: Stadiums of NFL, but from what I can tell, it's not updated very often.
D.C. baseball timeline
The chronology section of the Baseball in D.C. page has been updated for the first time in several months. There is still a gap from July to early October.
UPDATE: That page also includes the likelihood of voting "yes" on the stadium funding bill for each of the 13 council members. Of course, that would depend on the precise terms, so my "guesstimates" don't mean very much.
Movie: The Slugger's Wife
TBS recently broadcast the 1985 movie The Slugger's Wife, which I had not seen before. It starred Michael O'Keefe and Rebecca De Mornay, better known for her roles in Risky Business (1983) and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992). Frankly, she was not terribly impressive in the role of a pop singer from the South. I noticed from the credits on the Internet Movie Database Web page that oddball singer Loudon Wainwright III ["Dead Skunk"]* made an apprearance, but I didn't notice him. Quite a few of the game scenes were filmed in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and both that page and the Civic Religion page have been updated accordingly.
* CORRECTION: I had originally put "Werewolves of London," but was just told by David Peck that the singer-songwriter who created that classic from the '70s was the (late) Warren Zevon, who also wrote "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," often cited by Prof. Herman Schwartz at U.Va. (I checked the Apple Music Store just to make sure.) Thanks, Dave!
January 12, 2006 [LINK]
Cropp offers stadium compromise
D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp, who has been playing a back seat role in recent months, has put forward a stadium finance compromise offer that she says would gain majority support. It involves adhering to the original total cost cap of $535 million (plus $54 million in bond financing fees), stipulating that MLB sell the Nationals franchise to a local investor, and allotting a certain number of tickets to disadvantaged youth. Council members Vincent Gray and Kwame Brown would consider supporting the deal if those terms are included. The District is also trying to get the Federal government pay for upgrading the Navy Yard Metro station. See Washington Post. Perhaps that could be arranged in exchange for giving naming rights to Congress, as I have urged in the past.
All in all, it sounds like a pretty reasonable deal to me, as long as the council members stop their dickering and actually deliver a final financing package. MLB should not expect much if anything more. Governments by their very nature are not oriented toward the bottom line, and the only way to put a brake on cost overruns is for self-interested private interests to assume the risk. It's the American Way.
UPDATE: Neil deMause at fieldofschemes.com thinks that the stadium deal may be dead, and that MLB may start talking about contracting the Nationals and Marlins. Whoa! He cites a Washington Times report that Council member Jack Evans is very pessimistic about persuading enough of his colleagues to pass the necessary financing bill. Well, Jack's been known to be moody in the past, but you know how hard-core fans can be...
Barry's drug problem
Just as this matter reaches a delicate climax, yet another drug incident has undermined Washington's reputation. D.C. Council member Marion Barry tested positive for cocaine after tax evasion charges were filed against him two months ago. He is in bad health condition anyway, and it may be hard for him to attend all the council meetings this year. See Washington Post. It's quite a shame.
Sammy Sosa to D.C.?
I avoid trafficking in rumors, but this one is just too good. Sammy Sosa, who performed miserably last season with the Baltimore Orioles, in spite of being paid $18 million, is discussing a possible contract with the Washington Nationals. See Washington Post. Apparently no other team wants him, and the Nats desperately need a slugger, so it may be worth a shot. Oops! Freudian slip...
Reactions to Sutter
David Pinto is among those who is irate over the elevation of Bruce Sutter rather than Goose Gossage to the Hall of Fame. See baseballmusings.com. Bruce Orser, intrepid stadium researcher, opines that there should be special sections in the Hall of Fame for specialized players such as closers, designated hitters, great fielders whose bats weren't that great, and those who had shortened careers.
January 10, 2006 [LINK]
Fenway Park update
The Fenway Park page, sponsored by Sean Holland, has been revised with new diagrams that conform to the new standard. Among the minor corrections: the angles of the grandstands have been adjusted slightly, and right field bleachers are about 20 feet deeper than I had previously estimated. Because of all the quirky angles and adjustments that were made over the years, that was a major hurdle. Diagram revisions for the rest of the "Classic Era" ballparks should go more smoothly.
Marlins look for new home
The Florida Marlins are making serious approaches to other cities to see if any are willing to pay for a new stadium, since Miami and the state of Florida are reluctant to contribute as much as is needed. Marlins President David Samson and other staff from the Marlins' front office visited San Antonio a month ago, and are now visiting Portland, meeting with Mayor Tom Potter and various baseball proponents. Portland officials have dusted off the proposal that used to try to lure the Montreal Expos to their fair city in 2004. As reported by oregonlive.com) (link via David Pinto),
Outlined in those [presentation] materials is a finance plan that has a much greater gap than the Marlins face in Florida but one that proponents hope will serve as a starting point for serious negotiations down the road, with the Marlins, the Oakland Athletics or some other franchise.
In 2003, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that would secure as much as $150 million in income taxes from baseball teams to go to stadium construction. PGE Park, home of the Triple A Portland Beavers, has 38 suites and a seating capacity of 19,566 that could be increased to around 25,000.
Although six sites for a permanent stadium technically are under consideration, two are clear front-runners: the Central Post Office in the Pearl District and the Blanchard Property near the Rose Quarter.
Cooperstown calls Sutter
Former relief pitcher Bruce Sutter was the only player elected as the Hall of Fame this year, just barely receiving enough votes from the baseball writers. He is the first pitcher ever so honored never to have started a game in his career. It has not yet been decided whether he will wear a Cardinals, Cubs, or Braves uniform when he is inducted next summer. He ranks number 19 on the all-time list of most saves, but ten of those pitchers went ahead of him in the last seven years. See MLB.com. Some people might question his selection, since he was exclusively a relief pitcher. This reminds me of the situation with Edgar Martinez, who was a designated hitter for almost his entire career, and therefore, in the minds of traditionalists, not a "complete" ball player. Well, baseball keeps changing, like it or not, and increased specialization is part of that.
New stadium drawings blog
Take a look at stadiumdrawings.blogspot.com, by Terry Schulz. He has made some superb renderings of proposed renovations to various stadiums, such as the Rose Bowl, and some original designs for the Washington Nationals and other teams. Well done!
January 6, 2006 [LINK]
Arbtitration process begins
Major League Baseball formally asked the American Arbitration Association to resolve the stadium funding dispute with the District of Columbia. Mayor Williams says that constructive discussions are going forward, and since the general framework of the agreement has already been agreed to, there is really no need for arbitration. (Now there's an eternal optimist!) The D.C. Council is beginning to contemplate how much an adverse ruling by a three-person panel might cost the District, if it goest that far. See Washington Post.
Nats news bits
Some of the major Washington-area radio stations will change frequency in the near future, most notably news-talk WTOP, which will go from AM 1500 to FM 105.1. The Washington Post will launch its own radio station on AM 1500 in March, and they just signed a contract to broadcast all Washington Nationals games this year.
Utility infielder Jamey Carroll has signed a one-year contract with the Nats, thereby avoiding arbitration. He was reliable, adding much-needed depth to the team in the 2005 season.
Has anyone ever heard of an early 20th Century ballpark called "Tiger Oval"? If so please let me know via e-mail. I occasionally receive queries from folks who have in their possession some piece of baseball memorabilia, such as an old stadium seat or souvenir. I have seen catalogs of sports memorabilia published by Topps, among others, but I don't know much about that field. If anyone who visit this Web site does have such knowledge, please let me know so that I can forward such inquiries to the right people. Thank you!
January 4, 2006 [LINK]
MLB moves toward arbitration
As expected, Major League Baseball followed through with their threat to hold the D.C. government accountable for failing to pass a stadium financing package by the end of the year. This begins a 15-day "countdown" period for the parties to mediate the dispute on their own, after which the matter goes to binding arbitration. In that event, it might take six months or more before a final settlement is reached. D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp and D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chairman Mark Tuohey both said they think the dispute can be resolved before it gets to that point, however. An outspoken stadium critic on the D.C. Council, Adrian Fenty, said it's just a matter of MLB ponying up more cash, but he did not say how much. Accountants in City Hall are no doubt concocting brilliant schemes to get over the financial hurdle; such proposals include selling land near the proposed stadium to developers at a premium, and having the upgrades to the Navy Yard Metrorail station be paid by the WMATA's general fund. See Washington Post. MLB President Bob DuPuy's op-ed piece yesterday left little doubt that the MLB owners have dug in their heels, refusing to concede anything more, and a fair-minded person must admit that they do have strong arguments on their side. See MLB.com. After all, a deal's a deal. I wouldn't want to be in the position of having to negotiate with the D.C. government, either.
Because of the legal fees involved, I assume this action means that MLB's compromise offer of $20 million toward stadium construction, plus a letter of credit in case of major adverse contingencies, is off the table for now. If they are smart, they will eventually make a bottom-line offer to increase that sum to $30 or $40 million, offset by suitable token concessions by D.C. Ironically, this action will cause further delays in the process of getting the new stadium built, which was supposed to be done in time for the 2008 season. My previous estimate of of three-year expected lifespan for RFK Stadium therefore stands, but it may be even longer than that... I doubt that it raises the likelihood of the Nationals being relocated above the ten percent I have estimated; given the amount of money both sides would stand to lose in such an apocalyptic scenario, even that may be too high.
Lest my recent criticisms of MLB be construed as support for the D.C. Council's dilly-dallying, let me say that it is time for certain attention-grabbing Council members to stop their vain gestures of defiance and cut a reasonable deal. Even though he wore a Nationals hat to a recent meeting, the aging Marion Barry, who takes pride in being known as a friend of hoodlums in spite of being robbed this week, simply cannot be counted on. In contrast, one of the younger, up-and-coming members (Adrian Fenty? Kwame Brown?) could gain a lot of career-boosting prestige by acting like a responsible statesman in this moment of crisis. See the table of D.C. council member votes.
Prolonging RFK's lifetime
The Beltway Boys adds another voice to the "keep RFK" movement, urging that the outfield seating sections (upper deck only) be removed, so that the stadium would be open, much like what they did at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati during its final two years. I added this comment:
I suggested ripping out the upper deck outfield seats at RFK to an architect who was bidding on the renovation project in late 2004. (I don't know if his firm won.) He replied that such a major change was way beyond what was being considered for the short term, but I agree it's an option that should not be dismissed. A view toward the Anacostia River might just have a breathtaking effect, especially if they go ahead with long-term plans to make that area into a nature/recreation area. I also suggested to Tom Boswell in an Wash. Post online chat that RFK be given a few extra years of baseball life, and he seemed to agree with that. You never know...
In keeping with the season (Rose Bowl kickoff time!), and as part of my never-ending endeavor to enhance the functionality of this Web site, making repeat visits here worth your while, the Football use page now includes a scrolling menu that allows you to instantly compare the 27 or so stadiums for which I have completed football version diagrams. It is located near the bottom of that page. In addition, the main table now indicates the years when the Super Bowl and various college bowl games were played in the respective stadiums. Speaking of football, I must say that this past weekend was certainly a good one for football fans in Virginia and the Washington area. The Redskins beat the Eagles, thereby making it to the playoffs for the first time in six years, while the U.Va. Cavaliers and the Virginia Tech Hokies won their respective bowl games. All three games were exciting and entertaining. And as for football stadiums in the Old Dominion, I saw the Rolling Stones in concert at Scott Stadium in October, and drove past Lane Stadium in Blacksburg last week.
Some photos of construction at the New Busch Stadium can be seen at thebirdwatch.com and some of Wrigley Field can be seen at bleedcubbieblue.com. (via David Pinto)
January 3, 2006 [LINK]
DuPuy plays hardball vs. D.C.
In an op-ed column in today's Washington Post, MLB president Bob DuPuy explains "Why the Stadium Deal Isn't Done." Far from being an appeal to reason and compromise, in hopes of persuading one or two fence-sitting council members, it was a brass-knuckled derision of Washington area fans and the city's government. He took pains to argue that MLB had other good choices in the relocation decision last year (yeah, right), an obvious hint that relocation is still an option (well, anything's possible). He certainly has a point that the cost overruns are a reflection of the absence of accountability in the D.C. government, which exposes the hideous scam that modern stadium construction has become under the terms set by MLB: By insisting on public ownership and management of new ballparks, MLB has made cost overruns and inefficiency almost inevitable! Any business person ought to know better than having the government take charge of such a big, complex project. Why not try private enterpise? Just a thought. Of course, such concepts are foreign to privileged monopolies who are used to getting their demands met by pliable city and state governments. It is likewise true that the D.C. Council is not living up to the terms set in the agreement reached one year ago, but DuPuy is being absurdly naive on the political realities of Washington.
Indeed, the negative political atmosphere is the result of MLB's own past decisions on relocating the former Montreal Expos. In the July 15, 2003 Washington Post, DuPuy was quoted as saying the MLB decision would come "when the moons and the sun and the stars and the dollars are aligned correctly. We'll get there." Well, two can play that stalling game. Maybe that's how long he'll have to wait until the D.C. Council passes a satisfactory stadium financing bill! The sad truth is, Mr. DuPuy, Selig, and the rest of the bigwigs at MLB took the risk of waiting too long before committing to relocation, and now they -- and all baseball fans -- are paying the price.
Top 20 questions
MLB.com poses the "Top 20 questions for 2006," including the second-base quandary for the Washington Nationals (Jose Vidro or Alfonso Soriano). It omits, however, the even bigger question of whether a new stadium bill will be approved, and if not whether MLB will excercise the theoretical prerogative to pull the franchise out of Washington in spiteful retribution.