October 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]
2008: a year to forget in D.C.
The year 2008 will be hard to live down for fans of the Washington Nationals, but we have to keep track of things and learn from our mistakes to better next year. Accordingly, I have updated the Washington Nationals page with complete data for 2008, and some new data showing the longest winning and losing streaks for each year, the highest scores, etc.
On the plus side, from a Washington-area perspective, at least the Redskins beat the Cowboys on Sunday. Barring a post-season matchup, that will be the last time the Redskins ever play in Texas Stadium, as the Cowboys are moving into a new stadium next year. It is located near the Ballpark in Arlington. I wonder if the fact that the Washington Senators moved to the Dallas-Forth Worth area in 1972 has anything to do with the bitter rivalry between the Cowboys and the Redskins? Just a thought.
The mail bag
Peter Ballou informs me that that batter on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1953 at Milwaukee County Stadium was none other than Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews. See wikipedia.org. Thank you, Peter.
On the road again...
I will be traveling for the next couple weeks or so, paying homage one last time to the House That Ruth Built, and won't be able to respond to any e-mail inquiries. Please hold off on sending e-mail messages until I return. Thank you very much!!!
October 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]
2008: a year to forget in D.C.
NOTE: Due to some glitch, the October 1 post did not display properly on the baseball blog page, so I posted a duplicate version for October 2, even though it was originally written and posted on October 1. This did not solve the problem either, however, so I deleted the redundant text. More troubleshooting is pending...
October 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]
3 days, 6 stadiums, 0 games
So far, my great Fall 2008 baseball pilgrimmage has gone very well. On Thursday I went to the Flushing district of Queens, New York for the first time, and saw Shea Stadium in the early stages of being dismantled, and its "successor" next door, Citi Park.* I asked the gatekeepers if any tours would be available so that I could get some interior photos, but they said no. While I was talking with them, a guy drove up in an SUV, and after he went in, they told me it was Mets second baseman Damion Easley. After getting photos of Shea Stadium, I walked over to phopograph Citi Field, which is very impressive indeed. The eastern side is right next to the street along which a vast array of auto repair shops are located. It's quite a contrast, but it is expected that the Willets Point neighborhood will be renovated after Citi Field begins operations next spring. The gatekeepers told me that demolition of Shea Stadium will begin in a matter of weeks, to make enough room for parking.
On Friday morning, I met up with Brian Vangor, a Yankees fan whom I met at Nationals Park last May, hoping that we would be able to buy tickets for a tour of Yankee Stadium. I had contacted the Yankees front office and received a non-commital reply, so my trip was based on nothing more than hope. To my immense relief and delight, I learned that there indeed would be a tour that very day, and it was probably the best $20 I ever spent. While Brian and I were waiting for the tour to begin, we walked around the new Yankee Stadium, which looks very impressive with that granite block exterior and gilded lettering. I was surprised that it fits so tightly within the surrounding neighborhood streets. One aesthetic drawback compared to the old Yankee Stadium is that the view of the main entrance behind home plate is somewhat obstructed by the street overpass. It's hard to believe that I had only seen one Yankee Stadium game in my life, and I desperately wanted to tred the field where Mantle, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle once played, and to see the memorials in their honor at Monument Park. Well, it was a wish that came true. The tour guide was a bit impatient with us as we snapped photos from every conceivable angle. We toured the concourse levels behind home plate, the press box, Monument Park, and the Yankees' dugout. Usually, the tours include the Yankees locker room, but someone saw Hideki Matsui entering the stadium, and they probably didn't want him to be disturbed.
On Saturday, I was in the Windy City, and took some quick photos of U.S. Cellular Field as our train passed by. If I had had more time during my layover in Chicago, I would have gone there, but I choose to see Wrigley Field and see all the recent enhancements there. The expanded bleachers that hang over the sidewalks are not as obtrusive as I had thought, so they did a good job with that. It seemed that almost every apartment building had a bleacher section on the top, and I sure hope the Cubs are getting a fair share of the cut from those seats. The lighting conditions for the photos were almost ideal, and I will be posting new photos of this and the other stadiums later this month.
Cubs, Brewers eliminated
I picked a strange time to be in Chicago, right after the Cubs hosted the Dodgers in two games and right before the White Sox hosted the Rays. (My travel plans were in part designed to give me a chance to see at least one postseason game, as I expected the Mets to qualify when I bought my train tickets, but it just didn't work out that way.) It would be very hard to explain the loss by the Cubs to the Dodgers in three straight games. How could their best players commit so many errors and fail to get hits in clutch situations? It's a real shame that their season of such high promise ended this way. The Phillies were expected to beat the Brewers, in contrast, so that series was no big surprise. The Brewers at least won one of their games, making C.C. Sabathia's enormous effort worthwhile. Tonight the Angels and the White Sox will try to stave off elimination for one more day, while the Red Sox and the Rays try to advance to the next round.
October 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Phillies win NL pennant
For the first time since 1993, the Philadelphia Phillies are going to the World Series. Cole Hamels was named National League Championship Series MVP, winning two of the four games in very convincing manner. For several years, the Phillies have had some of the best sluggers in the majors, including Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley, and it's about time they got a shot at the world championship. The player who impressed me the most, however, was Shane Victorino, who got several clutch RBIs and made some great plays in center field. He is from the Aloha State of Hawaii, of all places.
Even with the addition of the phenomenally hot slugger Manny Ramirez to their lineup, the Dodgers just could not match the Phillies. I felt sorry for Dodgers' shortstop Rafael Furcal, who hustles his heart out but commits more than his share of errors, and for their manager Joe Torre, who dealt with more than his share of disappointment during his last few years with the Yankees.
So, hearty congratulations to the team from the City of Brotherly Love. I think it's fair to say that the best team won in this series, though in my personal opinion the best team overall this year was the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, the Cubbies have a bad habit of choking in the postseason -- much like the Braves during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Rays burn Red Sox
On the Atlantic coast, meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have shocked everyone by crushing the Boston Red Sox by margins of 8 and 9 runs at games in Fenway Park! The Rays have a 3-1 series lead, and we may know as early as this evening whether they win the AL pennant, which would be in only the eleventh year of their existence. No one should count the Red Sox out, however. After all, they came back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, and came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Indians in the 2007 ALCS. Both times, as we all know, the Red Sox went on to win the World Series...
After another blog hiatus of several days, I have updated the Postseason scores at the bottom of the Baseball blog page.
For some odd reason (yet to be determined), the blog posts for October are not showing up properly on the Baseball blog page. What a time for me to be out of town and unable to debug the blog system. My apologies to regular visitors to this site.
NOTE: In my previous blog post, I mentioned "Citi Park," meaning "Citi Field," of course. I was writing in haste in an unfamiliar environment, and you know how it is... Thanks to ever-alert Brian Hughes for catching that. I hope this is sufficient "clarification" of my goof.
October 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Rays withstand Red Sox
This had to be one of the most exciting postseason series I've seen in a long time. The Tampa Bay Rays had crushed the Boston Red Sox in Games [3 and 4] of the ALCS and were leading by a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 margin at the seventh inning stretch. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Dustin Pedroia batted in the Red Sox' first hit with a single, and then David Ortiz made up for his recent cold streak by smashing a three-run homer to right field. The Rays' reliever Grant Balfour (Ball Four?) was taken out, and the rest of their usually-reliable bullpen crumbled in the crunch. The Red Sox tied it in the eighth inning, as J.D. Drew got a two-run homer. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Evan Longoria's errant throw to first allowed Kevin Youkilis to get to second, and two batters later he scored the winning run on a line-drive hit by J.D. Drew. Un-[BLANKing]believable!!!
Here's a trivial question that bugs me: The game-winning hit by J.D. Drew hit to right field clearly bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, so why was it officially scored as a single? If the ball had not bounced over the fence into the bullpen, it would have been a double or a triple, and the runner on first would have scored if the game was not yet decided. Since it was (or should have been) a ground-rule double, however, he could only have advanced to third base.
I'll have to admit, I was among those thought the Rays were going to win it all on Thursday, and after that historic comeback by the Red Sox, I thought the Rays would have to win Game 6 in order to stop Boston's momentum. ("Mojo," you know.) Back in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, it seemed that Boston was on its way to yet another amazing postseason series triumph over adversity, as they won, 4-2.
Sunday night's game at The Trop was just perfect, replete with high tension and a stadium packed with loud fans. (More cowbell! ) The Red Sox scored in the first inning on a home run by Dustin Pedroia, giving every impression of nailing down a Game 7 victory, but after that they were shut down to my surprise. Meanwhile, the Rays kept battling back and tied the game 1-1 on a double by Evan Longoria in the fourth inning. In the fifth inning they took the lead on a single by Rocco Baldelli, and in the seventh inning they got an insurance run from Willie Aybar's home run. Rays' starting pitcher Matt Garza, who was awarded the ALCS MVP, faced down the Boston sluggers in the latter innings. Even with multiple runners in scoring position, the Red Sox could not catch up. The Rays withstood the supreme test of nerves against the vaunted Red Sox, winning by a score of 3-1. For all the details, see MLB.com.
And so, hearty congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays for winning their very first American League pennant! And a respectful tip of the cap to the Boston Red Sox for living up to their team's reputation of battling back against near-impossible odds. Those two teams made this October a postseason to remember.
October 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Colin Powell endorses Obama
The endorsement of Barack Obama by former Secretary of State Colin Powell was not a big surprise, but it was a serious blow to the campaign of John McCain nonetheless. Secretary Powell is one of the most respected former Bush administration cabinet officials, and his opinion on the merits of war with Iraq carried a lot of weight as Congress deliberated on the matter in 2002 and early 2003. Appearing with Tom Brokaw on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday, Powell began with a long, thoughtful preamble on the respective virtues of John McCain and Barack Obama, but it soon became clear which direction he was heading. Powell took sharp exception to the harsh practices and right-wing orientation of the Republican Party in recent years (an assessment that I fully share), and that factor seems to have been decisive in his decision to support Obama. It remains to be seen how much effect the Powell endorsement will have on voters. If McCain does lose, however, it will say a lot more about the state of the Republican Party these days than on the candidate himself.
With exactly two weeks to go, all of the national polls show that McCain is several percentage points (or more) behind Obama, but anything can happen between now and November 4. (I dearly hope and pray that Israel does not launch an "October surprise" attack on Iran prior to November 4, as that would be seen as a blatant attempt at manipulating American politics, besides being quite reckless.) The slightest gaffe on a sensitive issue by Obama could radically reshape the political landscape. As heard on a tape recording, Joe Biden recently warned his Democratic supporters that if elected, Obama will be confronted with a challenge from some foreign power in the early months of his presidency, just as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev cconfronted President John F. Kennedy in Berlin and elsewhere in 1961. Perhaps contemplating such a global crisis with an untested rookie president at the helm will give many Americans second thoughts before they go into the voting booth.
Indeed, Obama has multiple vulnerabilities that have not been exposed to the general public as of yet, thanks in large measure to the mainstream media which keeps running puff-piece "news" items on the junior Illinois senator. (I think McCain and Palin put too much emphasis on Obama's association with 60s radical William Ayers, and the rhetoric about Obama's socialist agenda may not sway the large number of voters who have not been paying much attention to the details of Obama's policy proposals. Sadly, the election will probably come down to a war of images and words, rather than a rational choice between alternative future agendas.
McCain clearly waited too long before sharply disassociating himself from President Bush, probably because he prioritized maintaining good relations with the GOP "base." Some will recall that, in the wake of wrapping up the nomination last spring, he took pains to differentiate his position on various issues from the Bush administration. For example, he set forth an agenda for addressing global warming in May. Just acknowledging the possibility that it may be a serious problem is considered heresy by many on the Right these days.
October 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
World Series 2008: ballparks!
Just like I did last year, here's a quickie "side-by-side" comparison between the home fields of the two contending teams, as a special World Series treat. Unlike last year, when there was a drastic contrast between Fenway Park and Coors Field, this year the two stadiums are surprisingly similar in terms of the shape of their playing fields. The fences in left field and right field are both perpendicular to the respective foul line, about the same distance from home plate, and the fence in center field is angled, slightly deeper on the left side. Citizens Bank Park has some sharp angles in deep left center, but Tropicana has some slight angles in that same area as well. The main difference between the two fields (besides the obvious grass vs. carpet) is in the area around the foul poles. As far as the stadium structure itself, there are hardly any similarities, of course: two decks vs. three, roof vs. open, etc. Roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to toggle back and forth between Tropicana Field and Citizens Bank Park:
Rays vs. Phillies: ?
I read somewhere that the oddsmakers give an edge to the Rays in this year's World Series, but the Phillies have a lot of advantages in the slugging department, plus a clear superiority in recent postseason experience. Cinderella teams like the Rays always have some crippling vulnerability, as was exposed in last week's miraculous comeback victory by the Red Sox. I figure the Rays ought to win it in six games.
October 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Pundits frown on Palin
Among elite opinion-makers, of whatever ideological stripe, there is now a solid consensus: Sarah Palin is just not ready for prime time. Conservatives George Will and David Brooks, and moderates such as Fareed Zakaria, have all expressed grave reservations about her fitness to serve as Chief Executive, leading them to question McCain's judgment. As late as September, some such as Andrew Sullivan even called on McCain to dump her, which would have been impractical.
One of the conservative pundits who took flak for criticizing Sarah Palin was Kathleen Parker. She followed up on her previous column by saying that this fall's campaign is proof that the "chickens are coming home to roost" for the GOP. All the recent ideological purges, the demonization of (relative) moderates by the self-described "True Conservatives," and the sleazy campaign tactics of Karl Rove are coming back to haunt John McCain and the Republican candidates for Congress this fall. Parker really hit the nail on the head with that column. As far as the consequences for the upcoming election, perhaps she is right, but there may still be time for McCain to assert his "maverick" credentials. Up till now, he has been spending too much campaign effort shoring up his support within the party, which I think is a mistake. If he can separate himself from the vicious political tactics of which he himself was a victim in the 2000 primary campaign, and thereby show to the American people that he is serious about uniting the country, he can still win.
I think those anti-Palin pundits may be missing the point, however. Hardly anyone really believes that McCain chose Palin based primarily on her qualifications; it was a matter of political expediency -- of trying to bring the party together. Whomever he chose had to pass the muster of the party's right wing. Sarah Palin truly does "energize the base." But perhaps the whole idea of uniting the party under current circumstances is itself not feasible. In my mind, the main question is not whether Gov. Palin is qualified to be president, but whether the Republican Party of today can field a ticket at least one of whose members is not a pawn of the Christian Right and their anti-tax zealot allies.
On the other hand, Gov. Palin showed once again that she is poised and sharp-witted as she joined the "not ready for prime time players" on the latest "Saturday Night Live." It is to (SNL boss) Lorne Michael's credit that Liberal Buffoon Alec Baldwin was made to look like a chump as the real Sarah Palin stood by him during the show's intro.
October 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
GOP divisions in Iowa
Out here on the Great Plains, it appears that the Republican Party is plagued with nearly as much factionalism as has been the case in Virginia in recent years. It may well be a nationwide phenomenon, and it's not a good omen for the McCain campaign as the Moment of Truth approaches. The Sioux City Journal recently reported on a deep rift within the local GOP. After the 2006 general election, when the Democrats won control of the Iowa governorship and both legislative houses, then-chairman of the Woodbury County GOP, Steve Salem, blamed the party's right wing for discouraging voter turnout. His words rang very familiar to me:
If things keep going the way things are going locally and statewide, it is going to be more and more difficult for Republicans to recruit candidates. We have elements of the party who are moral absolutists, who take the approach that if you don't take my position every step of the way, not only will I not support you, but I will destroy you.
Salem was later voted out as chairman of the local party unit, and said that "Christian fascists" had taken over the Republican Party. Those are some very strong words, and well worth listening to...
NOTE: For you folks in Rio Linda, especially Barack Obama , Sioux City is in Iowa and Sioux Falls is in South Dakota.
October 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
World Series is rained out!
At least for two days, that is. Mother Nature played a cruel trick on baseball fans on Monday evening, with a form of water torture that is probably a violation of the Geneva Convention. Game 5 of the 2008 World Series started in a mild drizzle that gradually intensified as the innings progressed until the field had turned into one big mud puddle by the sixth inning. Once the game was half over, with the Phillies in the lead, 2-1, they could have called it officially over under normal circumstances. That would have led to a huge outcry, however, so Commissioner Selig wisely provided assurances in advance that such an ending to the World Series would not even be considered. When the Tampa Bay Rays tied the game in the top of the sixth, the pressure was off, providing a perfect opportunity to stop the game before it turned into a complete farce. The rain continued all day Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, but is supposed to clear in time to resume Game 5 in the bottom of the sixth this evening. We'll see about that.
Shorten the &@#% season!!!
If nothing else, this interlude of rotten weather should serve to remind everyone how ridiculous it is to play baseball so late into the autumn. Why do they keep stretching out the postseason schedule longer and longer each year? Some nitwit "genius" in MLB's Park Avenue headquarters probably convinced Selig, DuPuy, et al. that they could rake in more TV advertising revenues that way. It was mildly reassuring that Selig indicated that next October there would be fewer "rest" days, which are no longer necessary in the Jet Age. (That would be since 1960, more or less.) But they really need to go farther than that.
Accordingly, I would suggest that the Major League regular season should be shortened by a full week -- from 26, as at present, to 25. That would mean fewer rest days during the season, and might lead to more double-headers. (As "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks said, "Let's play two!") Thus, Opening Day would always be in the first week of April and there would never be a regular season game in March or October. For the postseason, I would suggest stretching the first-round divisional series from five games to seven, possibly with a 3-3-1 format to give a bigger home-field advantage to the higher-seeded teams. The league championship series and World Series would remain on the same format as at present, but with NO rest days. To reduce the number of wasted days, each series would start one day after the previous series ended, rather than being definitively scheduled in advance. Thus, the World Series would typically end within a few days of mid-October -- not around Halloween, as is the case under the current system.
October 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Tom Brokaw on Election 2008
I was privileged to have a front-row seat when NBC's former anchorman Tom Brokaw spoke to several hundred people at the University of South Dakota's Neuharth Media Center yesterday. Regarding the current economic crisis and national security threats, he said he couldn't "remember when there has been such a uniform crisis of confidence across America." Brokaw refrained from saying who was more likely to win the election, but emphasized the need for national unity and appealing the centrist voters. He said that whomever is elected president next Tuesday, there will be an extraordinarily daunting set of challenges to face. He harked back to FDR in 1933 and John F. Kennedy in 1961 as precedents for the new era we are about to enter. See the Sioux City Journal.
After his lecture, Brokaw invited questions from the audience -- from anyone except his former professor Dr. Clem, that is. My dad got a kick out of the good-natured recognition. Brokaw majored in political science at USD during the early 1960s, and he also paid tribute to Dr. Bill Farber, who was chairman of the department for many years. Farber always encouraged his students to make a career out of public service. Photos from this special event will be posted in the next few days...