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December 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Uruguay elects ex-guerrilla

Uruguay flag In the small but relatively prosperous country of Uruguay, former guerrilla leader Jose Mujica was elected president over the weekend. He defeated conservative Luis Alberto Lacalle, who had served as president from 1990 until 1995. Mujica is a member of the left-wing Broad Front, as is the current president, Tabare Vazquez. Not surprisingly, Mujica has tried to avoid discussion of his involvement with the Tupamaro rebel movement during the early 1970s. Like Argentina and to a lesser extent Chile, Uruguay was then in the midst of a virtual civil war, with frequent kidnappings and battles in the streets. Mujica says he will continue the policies of Vazquez, which have carefully balanced radical impulses with market realities, much like "Lula" da Silva has been doing in Brazil. See CNN.com.

The big question now is whether Mujica's left-wing populist sympathies will lead to greater cooperation with Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has targetted economically vulnerable countries such as Uruguay, in effect "buying" their support with his petro-dollars. See August 2007. A decline in Venzuela's oil exports has undercut this "crude" form of diplomacy, for the time being.


December 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Bud Selig plans retirement

Commissioner Bud Selig announced last week that he will retire as Commissioner of Major League Baseball in 2012, when he will reach 78 years of age. He was originally scheduled to step down at the end of this year, but the MLB owners persuaded him to stay on for three more years. That means Selig will be in charge of negotiations with the Major League players association, as the current contract ends after the 2011 season; see October 2006. Selig says he would like to teach college, and in fact he taught a course last year. See MLB.com.

So, what are Mr. Selig's main accomplishments over the course of his (thus far) 17-year tenure as Chief Executive of Baseball? Here's a cynical review:

  • The Great Stadium Taxpayer Swindle (1992-2011)
  • MLB Players' strike (1994-1995)
  • Steroid scandal (2002-2007)
  • All-Star Game ends in tie (2002)

Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Bud; it's not like he actively sought the position, after all. Our National Pastime is clearly in desperate need of a strong leader who can stand up against the short-sighted owners who are largely to blame for most of what ails the sport today. Former President George W. Bush has expressed interest in such a position, but his record as president raises questions about whether he is the best man for the job. Any other ideas out there?

Metrodome update

After scrutinizing a variety of sources, I have revised the Metrodome Metrodome diagrams. The profile is much more accurate than before, thanks in part to some construction photos posted on baseball-fever.com, and the grandstand is about ten feet deeper than I previously estimated. Finally, there are now three brand-new diagram versions: one for the original configuration (1982), one showing the roof (just as there will be eventually for all domed stadiums), and one for basketball! While watching some Vikings home games on TV recently, it appears that the "cutout" behind home plate has been filled in with extra rows of seats, so I may modify the football version diagram. The Metrodome page is sponsored by loyal fan Mark London. (Hint!)

Now that the Minnesota Twins have left the Metrodome, only two MLB ballparks with artificial turf remain: Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre. So, I also updated the Turf page to reflect that.

Target Field photos

And as for the Twins' future home, on the other side of downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota Ballpark Authority has a fascinating "slide show" with the latest photos from Target Field; link via baseball-fever.com.


December 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

White blanket covers Staunton

The Shenandoah Valley had its first snowfall of the season [on Saturday], forcing dozens of churches to cancel their services. We had about five inches worth, quite a surprise. Whenever it snows here in Staunton, kids head over to the slopes surrounding the soccer field at Mary Baldwin College to go sledding. It's almost like it's a public park, and the long-standing "open doors" policy is one reason why relations between the city and the college have remained so strong over the years. (There was a fatal sledding accident there a few years ago, after which the soccer facilities on the field were moved farther away from the slope.) Sunday morning the skies turned bright blue, perfect for taking pictures, so I posted six photos from around Staunton on a new photo gallery page: December 2009. I will probably add more photos to that page later this month.

Snow sledding at MBC

Snow sledding at Mary Baldwin College; roll mouse over this image to see Hunt Dining Hall, with the MBC landmark bell tower on top.


December 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Election in Honduras: legitimate

Honduras flag Voters in the Republica of Honduras elected conservative candidate Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, by a substantial margin, 56%. With a turnout ratio of 60% (better than average for the United States!), it is clear that Hondurans overwhelmingly rejected the call for a boycott by former President Manuel Zelaya, a left-wing populist. There were a few street protests aimed at disrupting the election, but no significant violence. Neither the Organisation of American States (OAS) nor the European Union sent election observers, but there were other foreign monitors present to ensure that the election was fair. Zelaya was ousted by an apparent "military coup" last June and now is taking refuge in the embassy of Brazil. Porfirio Lobo, who leads the National Party, was the losing candidate in the 2005 election, which was won by Manuel Zelaya. A businessman, Lobo (whose last name means "wolf"!) is expected to restore investor confidence in Honduras, which is poor and badly needs increased trade with the United States. See BBC.

Brazil is among the countries whose governments have declared that they will not recognize the Honduran election, because Zelaya was not returned to power before the election was held. Argentina, Spain, and of course Venezuela are other countries in the rejectionist camp. What do they all have in common? Left-wing governing majorities. To its credit, the Obama administration has affirmed the Honduran election results as legitimate, parting ways with those Ibero-American governments, in spite of its ideological affinity to some of them. (!) See Washington Post, which noted:

The International Republican Institute, a group that sent observers and has ties to the Republican Party, said the election was "free of violence and overt acts of intimidation" and appeared credible.

Prior to the presidential election, the de facto president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, temporarily stepped down from power. That was intended to allay fears that he or any elite forces were trying to rig the process to hold onto power. Zelaya, who has called the agreement dead, told CNN en Español that Micheletti's move was "a fake resignation." The big question will be whether the losing candidate accepts the election results, or opts for the "sore loser" approach of Al Gore and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost in Mexico's 2006 election and then refused to accept the results.

Election in Bolivia

Two thousand miles to the southeast, meanwhile, voters in Bolivia went to the polls. Not surprisingly, incumbent Evo Morales claims victory. He apparently received at least 60% of the vote, and is poised to take full control with a majority in Congress belonging to his "Movement To Socialism" party. See BBC.


December 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Climate summit in Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, Denmark, delegates from 192 countries are gathering to save the planet from the menace of global warming. Across the North Sea at the University of East Anglia, meanwhile, the research unit that is widely cited as justifying urgent action has been gravely discredited. It will take several weeks before we get to the bottom of "Climategate," so we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that it was all bogus. As things stand now, however, the body of evidence is seriously tainted, and any prudent minded person would insist on further scrutiny of the data. As the Wall Street Journal Online notes, White House Science Adviser John Holdren may be involved in the apparent scientific coverup. (I noted his controversial political role in September.)

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen has described the UN climate summit in Copenhagen as an "opportunity the world cannot afford to miss". (See BBC.) Whoa, there! Let's not forget the lesson of Iraq in 2003, the bailout bill last year, and the stimulus package this year: hastily making big decisions under the false premise that there is an overriding emergency can lead to disaster.

For the record, I am a skeptic of global warming claims (see June 29, for example), especially the idea that it can be blamed exclusively on the human race. I have seen photographic evidence that glaciers in several parts of the world are melting at an alarming rate, however, so am by no means complacent about the potential threat, either.

In a related story from last month, Al Gore got carried away with "heated rhetoric" once again, claiming that Earth's inner core is "several million degrees." That is true of the sun, but is an extreme overstatement of how hot our own planet's core is. See newsbusters.org.

Politics and morality

Carl Tate made a pitch in favor of good government on Facebook today, rejecting the idea that politics is necessarily dirty. So, I took a moment for a brief lecture:

That's a noble sentiment, Carl, one that I heartily endorse. However, one must remember Reinhold Niebuhr's point that the ethical "children of light" must take into account the Machiavellian insights which the "children of darkness" use to their advantage. Without some grounding in reality, our hopes for a better, cleaner (political) world will end up as vain utopian dreaming.

Also, the problem is not "establishment elites," it's a decay in moral standards all across society, including the "grassroots."

This is Deeds country

Soon after entering Bath County during an Augusta Bird Club field trip last month, our group came upon this creative expression of support for hometown hero Creigh Deeds. It reminds me of what the Angel Clarence told George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in the movie It's A Wonderful Life: "No man is a failure who has friends."

Deeds 4 Gov, hay stacks

Political hay stacks on Mountain Valley Road (Route 39 / 42) in Bath County, Virginia:
"DEEDS 4 GOV"!


December 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nats acquire Pudge & Bruney

Not much was expected of the Washington Nationals as the annual winter meetings were approaching, but two major deals have come as a very pleasant surprise. On Monday the Nats obtained Yankee relief pitcher Brian Bruney for a player to be named later. Bruney can throw a fastball in the upper 90s, but he spent some time on the disabled list this year, which may be cause for concern. For now, he is in line to become the team's regular closer, a role they have sorely missed ever since Chad Cordero lost his "mojo" from his RFK Stadium days. (He was let go after the 2008 season.) Meanwhile, Nationals middle reliever Saul Rivera was released after a disappointing year, but manager Jim Riggleman said Rivera may yet return. See MLB.com.

Today we learned that the Nats signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a two-year contract worth $6 million, pending a physical exam. "Pudge" has played for the Rangers, Tigers, Marlins, Yankees, and Astros over the years, playing in 14 All Star Games altogether. Even though he is in the twilight of his career (just turning 38), he can still provide offensive punch, solid defense, and most importantly, veteran leadership to the Nationals. He will be considered the Nats' backup catcher, but may get plenty of playing time if the Nats' first-string catcher, Jesus Flores, needs more time to heal. Flores missed almost the entire 2009 season because of a freak shoulder injury. Unfortunately, this acquisition means that the journeyman catcher Wil Nieves will not be given an offer. See MLB.com


December 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Banking scandal in Venezuela

Venezuela seems to be going through the same sort of financial scandal that the United States has experienced over the past several years. Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon resigned last week because his brother Arne Chacon was involved in lending irregularities at Banco Real (of which he was president), and there are rumors that other top political figures may be implicated as well. It all began on November 20, when the government seized control of four banks that had loaned money to companies owned in part by the banks' directors themselves. The opposition is using the scandal as an opportunity to accuse the Chavez government of widespread cronyism, deriding the new elite as the "Boli-burgesia," or Bolivarian bourgoisie. (Hugo Chavez calls his socialist regime a "Bolivarian" republic, evoking the memory of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar.) See BBC.

Whether the President himself is tainted remains to be seen. It always seems, however, that political leaders who boast that they are the champions of the common people are among the most likely to be raking in the "loot" for themselves.

The big question now is whether this scandal is an indication of increasing fragility in the Venezuelan economy, which has suffered over the past year as crude petroleum prices have declined. Argentina in the early 1950s and Mexico in the early 1980s were classic examples of the tendency in Latin America to go through extreme cycles of economic boom followed by bust, and the irresponsible policies instituted by populist leaders such as Juan Peron and Hugo Chavez are always to blame for the disasters.


December 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Health care moment of truth

So, the big question facing America right now is: Which is better, a watered-down version of a health care bill that is totally misguided in its underlying premises as well as its proposed remedies, or no bill at all? It looks like Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats are determined to push through some kind of patched-together ugly compromise health care bill before Christmas, come hell or high water or perhaps even high snow. (Yikes!) The fate of our nation now seems to rest in the hands of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), the lone Democratic holdout. (I thought Joe Lieberman was going to vote "no.") See politico.com. To their credit, leftists such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, Howard Dean, and MoveOn.org are calling for the rejection of the bill as being pretty much useless without the public option. From the leftist point of view, they are absolutely right. In the New York Times, however, usually reliable left-liberal Paul Krugman tries to argue in favor of the half-assed bill that Harry Reid is pushing. Krugman claims that "Whereas flawed social insurance programs have tended to get better over time, the story of health reform suggests that rejecting an imperfect deal in the hope of eventually getting something better is a recipe for getting nothing at all. " (Hat tip to Connie.)

Another Times columnist, David Leonhardt, argues that failure to fix the problem will undercut America's competitive edge in the world economy, as health care costs swallow up small firms. He quotes Mr. Roeding who laments, "Health insurance ... is distorting the decision-making." Well, duh!!! Why is it so hard for people to understand that the problem is TOO MUCH INSURANCE!!?? Oh, now I remember. Because that's how politicians grab more votes from the clueless constituents back home.

Coincidentally, Steve Kijak picked up on this theme, ridiculing the notion that Congress must take care of people who are too irresponsible to look out for themselves: "We must provide them universal health care for it is their "Right"... " To which I replied,

Good point, and it ought to be obvious to everyone by now. How long can this folly go on? As long as there are enough people in other countries who are willing to sneak across our border and do the work that lazy-ass Americans should be doing.

Have you seen the movie "Idiocracy"? That's where we are headed. (imdb.com)

What we need to do is get some of those obese, excessively fertile morons from the Jerry Springer or Judge Judy shows to testify before Congress. Maybe that would be enough to shame the Democrats. But probably not.

How Obama can save jobs

It was a pleasant surprise this week when an editorial writer for the Washington Post named Charles Lane hit the bulls-eye with a critique of President Obama's misguided approach to creating more jobs. Lane writes, "Instead of trying to 'create' jobs by tweaking this tax break or increasing that spending program, why not stop doing things that destroy jobs?" He is exactly right, and lays out three examples of job-killing policies that ought to be abolished ASAP:

  • End federal protectionism and price supports for sugar
  • Repeal the Davis-Bacon Act (1930)
  • Reduce the federal minimum wage

A noble sentiment, but in Washington that's easier said than done. The entrenched forces defending the filthy rotten status quo can be very hard to overcome. Still, Mr. Lane is to be commended for making such a frank, blunt suggestion about a crucial problem that is going to get worse before it gets better.

Tea Party anniversary

I was too busy with school to make a proper recognition on this blog of the 236th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, on Wednesday. I did make brief mention of it on Facebook, however:

On Dec. 16, 1773, a large group of American patriots dressed as Indians boarded three ships in Boston harbor, seized the cargo of tea crates and heaved them into the water. This was a "grass-roots" protest against the Tea Act, which gave preferential tax treatment to the nearly-bankrupt East India Company, stirring outrage in the colonies. Coincidentally, the IRS just gave preferential tax treatment to Citigroup... (Washington Post) Time for a "change" in Washington, perhaps??

That deal fell through, however, after which Citigroup shares fell sharply. Ha!

2nd Amendment rights

I recently came across a blog piece on an upcoming Supreme Court case that illustrates the constitutional theory of "incorporation" with regard to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Most people assume that the Constitution guarantees all Americans equal protection under the laws, but that amendment was traditionally interpreted to apply exclusively to the Federal government. During 20th Century it was gradually extended by court rulings to apply to state and local governments as well, except with regard to the Second Amendment, which is why they can ban handguns in certain states. Fortunately, however, that may be changing, at long last. Read Jeff Schreiber's lengthy, thoughtful piece at America's Right.


December 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

How do birds survive a blizzard?

If you think about what little protection they get from their feathers, it really is a miracle that wild birds manage to live through deep freezes and major snowstorms that cover up their regular food sources. Nowadays birds that live near populated areas can count on "handouts" to get by during the bleakest days of winter, but what about a few hundred years ago? Back then, not many humans had enough spare money or time to provide food for birds, so the idea probably didn't even occur to them. Anyway, the simple answer to "How do those birds survive this weather?" is high-caloric intake.

Needless to say, we have had plenty of bird traffic out back today, with nearly two feet of snow on the ground -- and more is falling! Besides Cardinals (a male is shown here), we have had many Juncos, a few White-throated sparrows, as well as one each of House finch, Mourning dove, Song sparrow, House sparrow, Blue jay, and Red-bellied woodpecker. No Chickadees or Titmice, however. The suet feeder fell off the hook hanging from the tree, and is now buried beneath the snow. While shoveling the snow this afternoon, I spotted a single Turkey vulture flying around, but I doubt that it was able to find much road-kill food in these white-out conditions. This photo is a zoomed-in vertical version of a photo that I posted on Facebook earlier today:

Cardinal at feeder in snow

A male Cardinal gets much-needed sustenance at the feeder out back, while the snow keeps falling. Roll the mouse over this photo to see some indoor "snow birds." smile

The classic "snow bird" that migrates to these parts from the northern latitudes and upper altitudes every autumn: a Dark-eyed Junco. (Taken Nov. 27)


December 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Winter trades rock big leagues

While the eastern United States digs out from one of the heaviest and most widespread snowfalls in living memory, thoughts of hard-core baseball fans turn to deals made around the proverbial "hot stove." And what a month it has been!

The Washington Nationals signed right-hand pitcher Jason Marquis, a free agent, to a two-year contract worth $15 million, soon after he passed a physical exam. He had a record of 15-13 playing for the Colorado Rockies last year, and went to the All-Star Game. Besides his intrinsic value to the team, he is supposed to serve as a mentor to the many youthful pitchers on Washington's roster. That role was filled in past years by Livan Hernandez. See MLB.com. Another coveted pitcher, Matt Capp, will apparently sign either with the Cubs or Nationals. On top of the acquisition of Pudge Rodriguez and Brian Bruney, this means the Nationals are in position to be a competitive force in the NL East next year -- for the first time since their 2005 inaugural season!

But for most baseball fans, the really big trading news involves the trade of Roy Holladay from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies, who in turn traded Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. Since being called up in 1998, Halladay had spent his entire career with the Blue Jays, and felt obliged to post a full-page newspaper ad with a letter thanking Blue Jays fans: "Toronto will forever have a special place in my heart." See MLB.com. That's a commendable gesture by Holladay, and it's too bad more professional athletes don't take the trouble to express their appreciation for fans more often. As for the departure of Lee, that's a puzzle, and some Philadelphia fans aren't too happy about it either; see Yahoo sports. (Hat tip to Bruce Orser.)

The Yankees traded outfielder Melky Cabrera (and two other players) to Atlanta for two pitcher -- Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. Vazquez pitched for the Yankees in 2004. That may keep a place for Johnny Damon, whose possible shift to the DH slot was made less likely by the tentative deal with Nick Johnson, a former Yankee and National. See MLB.com. Boy, is this getting complicated...

And finally, the Los Angeles Angels signed free agent Hideki Matsui to a one-year contract worth about $6.5 million. His health was too shaky to warrant another contract with the Yankees, and at least he left New York on a positive note, earning the 2009 World Series MVP award. [LINK UPDATE: See MLB.com.]

Zurawski's ballpark news

Mike Zurawski is on top of the complicated stadium situation on the west coast. It seems that Oakland may be back in the running as a permanent home for the A's. Three sites for a new stadium on the waterfront are being explored, while the Oakland Coliseum site is on the back burner. Mayor Ron Dellums insists that the city is making a bona fide effort, but federal assistance may be required to make this happen. (Can you say "stimulus package"?) Hey, don't laugh, many minor league stadiums were built with National Recovery Act money in the 1930s Depression. The Major League Baseball stadium committee will issue a report in January. See the San Jose Mercury News.

Across the Bay, the Santa Clara city council approved an environmental report on a proposed new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. They will hold a public vote on the measure next June 8. Owners of the "Great America" amusement park that currently occupies the land in question are trying to block the deal, but the Kelo court case (June 2005) undermines their property rights claims. See fieldofschemes.com. The NFL is putting pressure on the 49ers and Raiders to share in building a new stadium, like they are doing in New York Jersey; see NBCSports.com.

Further south, the San Diego Chargers are getting tired of QualComm (Jack Murphy) Stadium and are asking for public money for a new stadium to be built downtown. The total cost would be about $700 million to $800 million, way above the city's budget. This makes a relocation to the franchise's original home in L.A. more likely. See The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Back east in The Bronx, meanwhile, the entire lower deck of Old Yankee Stadium and much of the second deck (loge level) have been removed. Yikes -- "The End Is Near." frown See demolitionofyankeestadium.com as well as baseball-fever.com. It may not be much longer before the upper deck comes down, which I assume will come about by simultaneously cutting the support cables that keep the upper deck suspended as if by magic. Ka-boom!!!

Another batch of ballpark news to come very soon...

The mail bag

In case you're wondering about my lack of recent diagram updates, this time of year means I'm swamped with exam grading chores. I do expect to post several revised diagrams over the holiday break, however, so please check back.

James Simmons wrote to say that he appreciates my diagrams that show how multipurpose stadiums converted and wonders if I'll ever do football stadiums or arenas. Maybe on a limited scale for stadiums I've been to, but I won't get around to "tackling" such a large-scale diagram project any time soon, I'm afraid.

Likewise, Brennan Mense reminded me that they used to play football in Ebbets Field, and you know what that means...

Chuck Freedman pointed out that my list of baseball movies on the Civic Religion page is woefully incomplete. I'll have to get that fixed over the holidays as well.

I was asked by a fan whether high-resolution versions of my ballpark photos are available. Some of them will be for sale for a small price some time next year, subject to certain (very reasonable) conditions.

Finally, Nicole Adams was kind enough to include this blog as among the "Top 25 Blogs for Baseball Fans" at constructionmanagementdegree.org:

25. Clem's Baseball : Stadiums frequently flaunt just as much - if not more - character than the baseball organizations themselves. An exhaustive resource on current, former, and upcoming constructs, prolific blogger Andrew Clem analyzes the architecture of the buildings from an artistic and sociopolitical perspective. He writes extensively on how the stadiums may affect the surrounding community in positive and negative manners, offering some exceedingly insightful and intelligent reading for those who find the subject fascinating. In addition, numerous other articles and photos on elements of baseball beyond its homes abound throughout the site. Keep a keen eye out for news, statistics, and histories as well.

Most of us are well aware of David Pinto's superlative Baseball Musings, but there are a lot of other interesting sites listed there as well, so go check 'em out! (But don't forget to come back here!)


December 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Musings on health care "reform"

As the Senate Democrats' version of health care "reform" nears final passage, seemingly unstoppable, champions of freedom across the Fruited Plain are getting glum. frown On Wall Street, however, stocks of health insurance companies rallied sharply, in anticipation of a windfall to come their way as millions of Americans will be forced to purchase insurance from them. How ironic is that? If nothing else, it establishes without any doubt that the Democrats' proposed watered-down compromise measure is not real "reform"!

President Obama continues to insist that this reform will cut the budget deficit and lead to greater efficiencies, but few people really believe that. The budgetary gimmicky by which the revenues increase immediately while the benefits are delayed a few years, creating the false impression that the deficit will decrease, is relatively well known. But there's much more to it than that. In the Sioux Falls Argus Leader (hat tip to Dan), Dr. Dennis Johnson (one of my economics professors from college) explains how the planned reduction of payments to Medicare suppliers may well backfire as many of those suppliers will be encouraged not to accept Medicare patients. But the economizing itself is illusory whenever third-party insurance is involved: "we never are as careful in spending other people's money as we are in spending our own." It's a fundamental point that I keep arguing, but it just doesn't register with most people.

What is most galling is that the crucial legislative victory (the vote of cloture) came about after Sen. Ben Nelson won special tax treatment for his state of Nebraska. Once again, the important vote came in the middle of the night, when few Americans were paying attention. Well, I was watching at least. The Senate bill permanently exempts Nebraska from paying its share of Medicaid costs, a flagrant violation of the constitutional norm of equal protection under the laws. The entire federal system of government rests upon the notion that there is to be no discrimination among the states.

Unconstitutionality

One positive sign is that attorneys general in seven states are considering a legal challenge to the constitutionality of that special tax break for Nebraska. (Some will recall that the land now occupied by Nebraska was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and therefore this adds another layer of irony to the recent "purchase" of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote last month. See Yahoo News; hat tip to Carl Tate. If you ask me, however, that is only a small part of the overall problem of Obamacare's unconstitutionality, so I replied to Carl on Facebook:

A widespread commitment to abide by the rules is what separates civilized people from barbarians. If the universal health insurance mandate is not ruled unconstitutional, then it's hard to imagine what other congressional measure ever would be. Twilight of the American Republic?

Let's just hope enough Supreme Court justices realize what is at stake to prevent this act of government coercion from being enacted.

Fiscal irresponsibility

Many Republicans are decrying the dire fiscal consequences of Obamacare, but those complaints ring hollow to anyone who has been following the news closely for the past few years. Historian Matthew Poteat called attention to a fine column on Republican budgetary hypocrisy at Forbes.com by Bruce Bartlett. It focuses on the Medicare drug benefit of 2003 and other examples of fiscal profligacy under the Bush administration. So, I commented on Facebook:

Oh, DO I remember it! Unfortunately, those of us who criticized the prescription drug benefit at the time were called disloyal, and now those very same Bush supporters are pretending to be fiscal conservatives! WTF!?? The author of that op-ed piece, Bruce Bartlett, wrote the book "Impostor," a fine expose on the Bush-Rove cronies and their sorry legacy of fiscal irresponsibility. See my Politics blog page.

[The full title of Bartlett's book is Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.] If only the Republican Party had a credible record on balancing the budget, we might be able to convince enough independents and moderate Democrats to stop Obamacare before it's too late. What a pity...

Dem switches to GOP

Many moderate Democrats are fearful that supporting Obamacare will cost them their jobs in next year's election. To save his career, Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith has switched to the Republican side, the first House Democrat to do so since 2004. In August Griffith announced he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for another term as House Speaker, a sign of discontent within Democratic ranks. See politico.com. Welcome Congressman Griffith! Let's just hope that the right-wing Republicans don't instantly jump all over Griffith for being a "RINO." After all, our side desperately needs to encourage more Democrats to switch.

Human rights in Darfur

One of my favorite Republicans in Congress, Frank Wolf, is distinguished as a reliable Reagan conservative, strong on budget balancing and foreign policy, but also very committed to idealistic causes such as human rights. He recently posted a video that he and other members of Congress made to Darfur, in western Sudan. This is one of the few cases of an issue that ought to be drawing broad bipartisan support, and yet very little action has been taken by the State Department. See Wolf's Web site.


December 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Metropolitan Stadium update

After doing Target Field and the Metrodome, I figured I ought to finish the state of Minnesota, so I updated the Metropolitan Stadium Metropolitan Stadium page with a set of revised diagrams. The most notable changes involve the diagram profiles, rendering the concourse levels and access ramps more accurately. Also, my estimate of the stadium's height has been reduced from about 105 feet to 95 feet. I added a new 1956 version diagram as well as a 1964 version football diagram, and while I was at it, I modified my "hypothetical alternative" design as well. The main difference is that the upper deck of the movable grandstand is smaller than before, and the upper deck now extends all the way to the end of the grandstand near the right field corner. As was the case at Mile High Stadium in Denver, it would have been hard to carry out the baseball-to-football conversion without doing a lot of damage to the grass in left field, which is why it would have been better to have a smaller movable grandstand.

R.I.P. George Michael

While attending the SABR convention last summer I had the pleasure to see former sportscaster George Michael, when he introduced baseball greats Frank Howard and Rick Dempsey. I was surprised that he looked so frail, and now I know why. The famed creator of the innovative "Sports Machine," which came to franchised nationwide, passed away on Thursday morning after a long battle with leukemia. I was an avid fan of Michael's show when I lived in the Washington area during the 1980s, the glory days of the Redskins, and only rarely did I miss his weekly sports wrap-up at 11:30 every Sunday night. (I never did find out what he thought about the British pop singer of the same name who rose to stardom during the latter part of that decade.) For a look at the life of the sportscaster George Michael, see the Channel 4 Web site at nbcwashington.com. It's just too bad that baseball did not return to Washington until his career was just about over.

Nationals get Capps

Continuing their off-season campaign to acquire enough top-rate talent to compete with the Phillies and the rest of the NL East, the Washington Nationals reached a one-year, $3.5-million agreement with relief pitcher Matt Capps. His main alternative ball club was the Chicago Cubs, and the fact that they are getting stars like Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Marquis to sign with them is a beneficial side-effect of the deal with Stephen Strasburg last summer. I wasn't entirely convinced at the time, but it was a gesture of serious intent that has really paid off this month. Credit is also due to general manager Mike Rizzo, who assumed that role on a temporary basis last March, and was given a secure position in August. See MLB.com.

Nationals Park parking

Finally! The Washington Nationals front office is getting realistic about its seat prices, radically simplifying the pricing structure, and lowering the price of most outfield seats and some seats in the upper deck. "Prices on over 3,000 seats will be reduced through the creation of the Outfield Reserved area (101 through 107 and 138 through 143) with all tickets cut to $24, and Lower Right Field Terrace seats (Sections 222 through 236) cut from $20 to $17." Another change is the elimination of the "Nats Express" free parking arrangement at RFK Stadium, in conjunction with new lower-cost parking areas closer to Nationals Park. See MLB.com. Some people complained about the end of the "Nats Express," but it was bound to go eventually. I tried that option once, and enjoyed the "sightseeing tour" of southeast D.C., but the trip takes at least 15 minutes and would get boring after repeated visits.

Marlins Stadium news

The future Marlins stadium will have a rather unique home run "feature," consisting of a fountain and some kind of psychedelic jumping fish animation in center field. It looks kinda cool, but is it baseball? Read all about it at the Sun-Sentinel; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.


December 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Global warming affects Peru

Call me a heretic, but just because global warming is being oversold for blatant political purposes does not mean that the problem does not exist. Tainted research at the University of East Anglia notwithstanding (see Dec. 7), it doesn't take a degree in physics to see with your own eyes the photographic evidence of receding glaciers all around the world. Some glaciers may disappear within a few decades, with unknown effects on the regional ecology. In Peru and other mountainous countries, glaciers constitute one of the primary sources of fresh water. According to CNN.com, "Peru has been cited by Oxfam as the third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change after Bangladesh and Honduras, with over 35 percent of the population living in poverty." That article has a set of photographs that purport to demonstrate the effects of climate change.

I don't necessarily accept the alleged link between the plight of Peruvian farmers who face water shortages and excessive carbon emissions by "greedy" industrial nations, however. More scientific research -- and less political proselytizing -- will be needed before the extent and nature of the problem(s) is properly ascertained. World poverty and (apparent) climate change are both serious problems, but they are not necessarily related. Furthermore, the respective causes of those two problems are complicated and not well enough understood to warrant the kind of global concerted effort that some activists are demanding. Indeed, there are ample grounds to suspect that global warming is a mere red herring to serve as an excuse for promoting statist or globalist restrictions, taking choice away from individual consumers and handing power over to a select elite. Skeptics need to be convinced otherwise.


December 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Decade of creation, and destruction

Neoclassical As the bleak and depressing decade known as "the aughts" comes to an end, it is useful to look back at one of the more positive aspects -- from the perspective of baseball fans, at least. From the year 2000 to 2009, eleven (11) brand-new "neoclassical" baseball stadiums were built in ten different cities all across the Fruited Plain. That is one more than were built in the nineties, and taken together, the last 20 years constitute a veritable renaissance in the world of American sports architecture. It was certainly more of a creative achievement than in the sixties, when 13 new stadiums (mostly dual-use "cookie-cutters") were built. That was more than in any other decade, but in terms of quality it was the pits. Ten "classic" ballparks were built during the the "teens" one century ago, mostly of splendid and original design. Two of them (Fenway Park and Wrigley Field) will soon celebrate their centennials. Will NBC's Willard Scott give them a special 100th birthday salute on the Today Show? smile

On the other hand, the past decade witnessed the demolition of no fewer than ten (10) former baseball stadiums, eight of which were designed to be shared with pro football teams. (Only two of them were built in the sixties, however.) [The next-closest decade was the seventies, with six demolished stadiums, one of which (Sick's Stadium) was only used in the majors for one year.] It is a perfect example of the economist Joseph Schumpeter's argument that the capitalist system is characterized by a never-ending cycle of "creative destruction." Nowhere is that phenomenon more evident than in professional sports in the United States. In any case, I have updated the Stadium chronology, annual page to reflect the latest status changes, with a few corrections and enhancements. It is perhaps discomforting to point out that the "peak" year for stadium demolition was in 2001. The table below shows the chronological progression of demolition within each decade, embellished with some iconic editorializing on my part.

Ballpark demolition

Decade 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1950s Baker Bowl League Park Braves Field
1960s Ebbets Field
frown
Seals Stadium Polo Grounds Griffith Stadium Busch Stadium I
1970s Forbes Field
frown
Colt Stadium Crosley Field Connie Mack Stadium Munic-ipal Stadium Sick's Stadium
1980s Metro-politan Stadium
1990s Arling-ton Stadium Cleve-land Stadium Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
2000s King-dome Memor-ial Stadium Milwau-kee County Stadium Three Rivers Stadium Mile High Stadium Cinergy Field Vet-erans Stadium Busch Stadium II Shea Stadium Tiger Stadium
frown

(Stadium names used at the time of demolition are shown.) Yankee Stadium will probably be completely gone within the next few months frown, just as the new decade of the "teens" begins, though demolition work in The Bronx was slowed by the recent blizzard. The WCBS radio traffic helicopter took some aerial photos of the snow-covered "basilica," available at wcbs880.com.

Ka-boom!

One notable aspect of stadium demolitions over the past 15 or so years is the use of explosives to hasten the process. The suitability of that alternative depends on whether there is enough margin of safety around the stadium. For a thrilling retrospective experience, take a look at "The 7 Greatest Sports Stadium Demolitions Of All Time" at supertremendous.com. That page is a compilation of seven YouTube videos of stadiums that were imploded in one fell swoop, rather than piecemeal. Five of them were baseball/football dual-use "cookie cutter" stadiums, and the violent manner of their demise was appropriate, given that they were among the least-loved venues in all of baseball history:

  • Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (Aug. 2, 1997)
  • Kingdome (Mar. 26, 2000)
  • Three Rivers Stadium (Feb. 11, 2001) LINK
  • Cinergy Field (Dec. 29, 2002)
  • Veterans Stadium (Mar. 21, 2004)

Note that even though Cinergy Field was imploded near the end of 2002, the demolition cleanup work was not finished until early the next year. With regard to the Stadium chronology, annual page, note that the naming rights contract for "Land Shark Stadium" expires late next month, and it is yet uncertain whether the name will revert to "Dolphin Stadium" or not. Once they make up their minds, I will update the diagrams on that page to reflect the recent enlargement of the concourses around the stadium.

Speaking of which, the "stadium-to-be-named-later" just north of Miami will host both the Pro Bowl (January 31) and Super Bowl XLIV (February 7), a little over a month from now. The Pro Bowl had been played in Aloha Stadium for the past three decades, but that tradition came to an end last February. I suppose that filling the week of rest prior to the Super Bowl with an actual game will help generate fan interest in the otherwise-pointless Pro Bowl, but it's too bad they have to abandon Hawaii. Perhaps President Obama will do some lobbying on behalf of his home state and get the Pro Bowl back to the Aloha State. Or maybe not -- his efforts on behalf of Chicago didn't have much effect on the International Olympic Committee.

All-Star/World Series Stadiums

On a related note, while I was working on the Metropolitan Stadium diagrams over the weekend, I realized that it was among the elite group of stadiums that have hosted both the All-Star Game and the World Series during the same year. Here is the complete list, along with the corresponding pennant-winning teams:

  • Yankee Stadium (1939) -- N.Y. Yankees
  • Fenway Park (1946) -- Boston Red Sox
  • Ebbets Field (1949) -- Brooklyn Dodgers
  • Memorial Coliseum (1959) -- L.A. Dodgers
  • Metropolitan Stadium (1965) -- Minn. Twins
  • Riverfront Stadium (1970) -- Cincinnati Reds
  • Yankee Stadium (1977) -- N.Y. Yankees
  • Jacobs Field (1997) -- Cleveland Indians

Tiger Stadium tweak

Thanks to some superb aerial photographs brought to my attention by Bruce Orser, I realized that the 1936 version of the Tiger Stadium diagram needed to be revised. Here are the details: 1) The upper deck extended all the way to the property line along Cherry Street, about ten feet further than I had thought; 2) the roof did not extend as far in right-center field as it did from 1938 on; 3) the scoreboard was about 30 feet closer to the left field corner than I had thought; and 4) there was an access ramp from the back side of that scoreboard to the underside of the upper deck in center field. That diagram and page should be pretty darned accurate now. Because of that ramp, however, I estimate that the distance to the center field corner for 1936-1947 was several feet shorter than the official figure of 459 feet. Stay tuned...


December 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Whither the Republican soul? *

In the wake of a major rebound in their electoral fortunes last month, you might think that the Republican Party would be absorbing the lessons and beginning the process of healing and reunification. But you would be wrong. Instead of seizing on the one issue that unites virtually all Republicans -- fierce opposition to the statist agenda of President Obama and the liberal Democrats -- the "grassroots activists" are on the rampage once again, excoriating those in the party who do not toe the party line -- or their version of it, that is.

This is particularly odd, because the elections of 2009 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Republican Party prospers when it emphasizes pragmatic issues that appeal to independent voters. Have people already forgotten how Bob McDonnell won the governor's race? He sure didn't "campaign to the right," as I recently heard from one commentator. It is almost as though the hardline conservatives (if that's what they are) don't want to win. Can that be the case?

Ironically, the recent ideological purification drive had its origins in the Republican National Committee, currently led by the (relatively moderate) conservative Michael Steele. At the behest of RNC member James Bopp Jr., from Indiana, the RNC floated a proposed list of ten key policy positions that Republican public officials and candidates were expected to support during the 2010 campaign. These were spelled out in a Wall Street Journal blog by Peter Wallsten, who noted that it pays lip service to Ronald Reagan's belief that "the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views." (My reaction follows each item, highlighted in yellow.)

  1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill; OK, but...
  2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare; OK
  3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation; OK
  4. We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check; OK
  5. We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants; OK
  6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges; OK, but...
  7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat; OK
  8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act; not sure
  9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing, denial of health care and government funding of abortion; OK
  10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; OK

It goes on to say that a "candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy positions" will not get funding support from the Republican National Committee. Well!

Personally, I have qualms about item #1, based on the inherent tension between some of those policy goals, and my priority of reducing the budget deficit over cutting taxes. The GOP has a weak fiscal record in recent years, moreover, so there ought to be a frank acknowledgment of that. As for #6, no one should expect the success of the troop surge in Iraq to be replicated in Afghanistan, where "victory" is simply beyond our means. We must set our strategic goals there more realistically. As for #8, I oppose "gay marriage" but I have doubts about the Defense of Marriage Act, which seems to contradict Article IV of the Constitution. Do I agree with the assertion in the preamble of that "purity test" that President Obama is a socialist? Probably, but I'll reserve judgment until another year has passed. In sum, it would be difficult for me to pledge unequivocal adherence to all of those positions as stated.

Obviously, my opinion carries little if any weight in the Republican Party, but I'm sure there are many fine conservative prospective candidates around the country who feel the same way as I do. The last thing the GOP needs right now is to alienate potential leaders of the future. As Kathleen Parker wrote in the Washington Post on November 29, that pledge amounts to a "suicide pact" for the party at the worst possible moment -- "Just when independents and moderates were considering revisiting the GOP tent." What is so sad about the Republican Party today is that the Bush legacy has imbued party activists with a deep suspicion of outsiders. The suggestion that the party should grow does not register, and the "big tent" metaphor has become a code word for closet liberals. It drives me nuts to think that millions of sensible people across the country are being shut out from the Party of Lincoln because of a psychological wound, the source of which most Republicans cannot even identify! Meanwhile, guess whose face you see almost every day commenting about world events on Fox News? That's right: Karl Rove, the notorious "architect" of the short-sighted Bush "victory" that ironically paved the way for "Obama-nation."

Just in case anyone thought that the GOP litmus test would be a good way to placate the right wing in the party, no such luck. As Richard Viguerie wrote, "Conservatives Don't Need a Litmus Test for RINOs." In short, if relative moderates like Steele thought that appeasing the fire-breathers on the right would do any good, they were gravely mistaken.

Clearly, something is preventing a large number of conservative activists from thinking straight. One of the best recent examples of "cognitive dissonance" (which I explained in Dec. 2008) is a piece by Matt Latimer called "It's The Philosophy Stupid," at humanevents.com. He attacks David Brooks, one of my favorite TV pundits, for suggesting that Republican candidates should "avoid talking about their 'conservative bona fides.'" Brooks does not mean to disparage conservatism because, after all, he identifies himself as a conservative, but rather to downplay a potentially problematic aspect. Anyone who thinks that there is a consensus about the meaning of the word conservative right now is just not paying attention. That being the case, the less we argue in public about whether we are conservative or not, the better the chances will be that conservatives will win elections. It's a simple matter of electoral expedience, something that the naive ideologues of the Right who prattle on about their "principles" cannot even grasp, evidently.

A similar problem is the growing tendency among conservatives to engage in heated, hyperbolic rhetoric that fails to convince undecided folks but merely serves to fire up those who think the same way. It is as though Ann Coulter were the role model for everyone in the GOP. For example, a recent piece by logisticsmonster.com (hat tip to Stacey Morris) laid out a strategy for combatting the Obama agenda that contained several good points, but overall it left me very disappointed. As I commented on Facebook:

Much as I agree with the general thrust of that "open letter," I find the strident tone and contempt toward "moderate republicans" (why the small R?) and "big tent" politics (a.k.a. garnering a majority) to be stupid and self-defeating.

And speaking of "stupid," that would be a fair description of anyone who suggests that Thomas Jefferson had anything to do with framing the U.S. Constitution. (Yes, that includes whoever did that Web page for the Constitution Society.) Jefferson wasn't even in America when the Constitutional Convention was taking place in Philadelphia, and as an Anti-Federalist, he was a fervent opponent of the Constitution! I am not big on name calling, and adhere almost fanatically to a code of politeness in this blog. But I am getting so sick of all the right-wing crap out there that I'm not sure I can keep doing so.

So, what should Republicans do to rally the troops in preparation for the coming year's great electoral battles? I'll leave the details for later, but for now suffice it to say that we should spend more time articulating clear alternatives to the Obama agenda, to convince those in the middle that Republicans are not just a bunch of stubborn nay-sayers. The more time we spend elaborating persuasive rational arguments in support of a comprehensive market-oriented set of policy reforms, rather than attacking other Republicans, the more chance that we can still save freedom in America.

* An allusion to the book The Conservative Soul, by Andrew Sullivan.


 

Free speech? Not!

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a high school valedictorian Brittany McComb, whose Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada. June 15, 2006 school administrators proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to "the Lord" and the only mention of the word "Christ." Rutherford Institute.

My, look at the time: smile


December 31, 2009 [LINK / comment]

A (half) decade of baseball in D.C.

The end of the 2009 season marked a full five years of baseball in Our Nation's Capital, so it is appropriate to look back at the moments of exhilarating glee and despondent gloom. Please bear in mind that this comes from the perspective of a fan who had suffered in the wilderness for decades waiting for baseball to return to Washington. Imagine, if you will, a man dying of thirst crawling through the desert who suddenly comes upon an oasis. Well, that's me! So, here is a brief summary of the team's first half decade, culled from my Washington Nationals page.

2005: The Nationals' "honeymoon year" in Washington surpassed all expectations, and until late in the season, they even had a shot at making it to the postseason playoffs. With a ramshackle assemblage of pretty good veterans led by third-baseman Vinny Castilla and pitcher Livan Hernandez, the Nationals somehow found a way to consistently win by narrow margins during the first half of the season. Closing pitcher Chad Cordero was at peak performance, earning a trip to the All-Star Game, along with Hernandez. The Nationals had a lead of 5 1/2 games in the NL East by July 4, whereupon the Mets beat them, marking the beginning of a downturn. As the season came to an end, the dream of a postseason berth faded away. By any reasonable standard, nevertheless, the Nationals were a huge success on the field and at the ticket office.

81-81 record, 2.7 million attendance

smile HIGH POINT: June 2 - June 12, ten-game winning streak, sweeping the Marlins, the Athletics, and the Mariners, all at home, to take first place in the NL East.

frown LOW POINT: Sept. 17 -- Padres beat the Nats 8-5 in 12 innings, after closer Chad Cordero blew a 5-0 lead in the 9th. D'oh!

2006: The fortuitous acquisition of Alfonso Soriano raised hopes prior to Opening Day, but brutal reality soon reared its ugly head. The Nats lost nine of their first ten home games, and in spite of several promising moments, they never really got into the groove after that. In May, Major League Baseball finally completed the sale of the Nationals franchise to the Lerner family, for a total price of $450 million. Soriano was the team's only All-Star in 2006, and he achieved a monumental feat, becoming the fourth player ever to get 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in one season. (The other three -- Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez -- were all implicated in the steroid scandal at one point or another.) September was the only month in which the Nats had a winning record in 2006, going 15-14. At the end of the season, it was announced that Hall of Famer Frank Robinson would be replaced as manager for the next season, but fans made up for the less-than-graceful treatment by giving him a warm farewell at RFK Stadium on October 1.

71-91 record, 2.1 million attendance

smile HIGH POINT: June 18 -- Nationals beat the Yankees 3-2 on Ryan Zimmerman's 2-run homer in bottom of the 9th, winning two out of three in the series.

frown LOW POINT: Sept. 27 -- Phillies win 8-7 in 14 innings at RFK Stadium, even though the Nats had scored a run in the 9th, 10th, and 14th innings.

2007: Unable (or unwilling) to bid for Alfonso Soriano, the Lerners concentrated on rebuilding the franchise's farm team system, but General Manager Jim Bowden did make another savvy deal, signing veteran first baseman Dmitri Young to fill in for Nick Johnson, who had broken his leg late in the 2006 season. Young surprised everyone by having one of his best batting years in his career, and made it to the All-Star Game. The Nationals got off to another bad start, however, and the rest of the season was pretty much like the year before, with September being the only winning month. There was some satisfaction as a "spoiler," nevertheless, as the Nats swept the Mets in a three-game series in late September, which ended up deciding the NL East race in favor of the Philadelphia Phillies.

73-89 record, 2.0 million attendance

smile HIGH POINT: Aug. 4 -- Ryan Zimmerman two upper-deck home runs; Nats beat Cards 12-1. (I was there!)

frown LOW POINT: Sept. 12, 14 -- Braves beat the Nationals in two consecutive extra-inning games, the second of which was a blown save opportunity by Chad Cordero.

2008: The inaugural game at brand-new Nationals Park was nationally broadcast, and the way it ended (see below) was as though it were scripted in Hollywood. The Nats won their first three games, raising fans' hopes, but then lost the next nine. The slogan "Welcome home" to the new stadium soon acquired a sour taste, as the team fell into a deep slump that persisted throughout the season. Cristian Guzman returned to the lineup after missing most of the two preceding years, and he finally played up to the level of expectations. The Nats' best month was August, when they went 14-15. The team then fell into a slump to close the season on a dismal note.

59-102 record, 2.3 million attendance

smile HIGH POINT: Mar. 30 - Ryan Zimmerman hits the game-winning home run in the 9th inning to inaugurate Nationals Park, as the Nats beat the Braves, 3-2.

frown LOW POINT: Sept. 19 -- The bullpen collapses once again, as the Padres score 5 in the 14th inning; beating the Nationals 11-6.

2009: In spite of the acquisition of slugger Adam Dunn, the Nationals could not get organized. Once again, the team played poorly during the early weeks, losing ten of their first eleven games. Ryan Zimmerman provided plenty of thrills early in the season, however, hitting safely in his 30 consecutive games. In spite of superb batting by Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, and Dunn, the pitching staff performed miserably. Complaints about manager Manny Acta's laid-back approach in the face of desperation led to his dismissal in July, replaced by Jim Riggleman. The team won a few games in the days that followed, but then fell into another slump in August. Adam Dunn failed to reach the [40] home run mark for the first time in six years. Nevertheless, there was a modicum of success at the end of the season, as the Nationals won their last seven games.

59-103 record, 1.8 million attendance

smile HIGH POINT: Sept. 6, 2009 -- Ryan Zimmerman game-winning 9th-inning two-run home run; Nationals beat the Marlins, 5-4. (I was there.)

frown LOW POINT: Apr. 17-19 -- The Marlins come from behind and win in the 9th inning in three straight games.

In conclusion, I stand by what I wrote at the end of July 2008, which was the worst month in the Washington Nationals' history (5 wins, 19 losses):

For sports fans in Washington, a last-place team is better than no baseball at all!

Brighter days ahead...

Fortunately, those days of last-place finishes may be at an end. With the acquisitions made by the Nationals over the past month, there is every reason to hope that the team will do much better in 2010, probably exceeding the .500 mark for the first time. As Thomas Boswell wrote in yesterday's Washington Post, General Manager Mike Rizzo knows what he is doing, patiently taking advantage of economic conditions to acquire good players at a bargain price. Unlike the boisterous Jim Bowden, Rizzo keeps his mouth shut while he surveys the player market and makes good deals.


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