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September 4, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg gets surgery on elbow

When Stephen Strasburg was put back on the disabled list two weeks ago, it was cause for concern but not panic. The initial diagnosis was a "strained flexor tendon" in his right arm, something that would require rest but not repair. Everyone knew that the Nationals front office was proceeding very carefully with him, protecting the value of their $15 million investment, as well they should. Then came the news that the MRI results indicated that he has a torn ligament, a devastating blow to the long-suffering fans of the Washington Nationals. Strasburg handled the adversity with characteristic calm, maturity. After a few days, it was agreed that he would get "Tommy John surgery," which involves grafting a tendon from the leg into the arm.

The surgery on Strasburg was performed yesterday by Dr. Lew Yocum and Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, the team physician, and the operation was declared to be a success. Assuming that's the case, Strasburg will get physical therapy at the Scripps clinic in San Diego, and will join his team mates in Viera, Florida for spring training next year. MLB.com.

There is every reason to be optimistic about Strasburg's future. As Yahoo sports states, "More than 150 baseball players have had Tommy John surgery, the majority of them pitchers." Among the most successful post-operation pitchers they list are Tim Hudson (Braves) and Francisco Liriano (Twins). (There is a similar list at MLB.com.) Indeed, one of the young starting pitchers for the Nationals has just returned after missing a year due to Tommy John surgery: Jordan Zimmermann, who raised high hopes until his injury in July 2009. He has just returned to the Nats' starting rotation, and pitched six innings while only giving up one hit against the Marlins on Tuesday. That was a very encouraging sign indeed.

And so, the intensely-anticipated rookie season of "The Phenom" comes to a bittersweet, premature end. In 12 starts, he won 5 games and lost 3 (the first of which I saw!), with an ERA of 2.91 and 92 strikeouts. At the time of his departure, he was leading the team in the strikeouts category. He will miss all of the 2011 season, most likely, postponing the hoped-for emergence of the Washington Nationals as a pennant-contending team.

So what lesson should we draw from this major misfortune? Most people seem to agree that the Nationals weren't pushing Strasburg too hard, and in fact were going pretty easy on him. (One local commentator, Chris Graham, even suggests that Strasburg may have been underworked, but that is a minority opinion.) To me it seems more likely that Strasburg was pushing himself too hard, trying to live up to the superhuman expectations that surrounded his arrival in the big leagues. It's perfectly understandable, and indeed, wanting to excel is only human. But here's the problem: In the frenzied, hypercompetitive world of today, in which obsessing with "World Class" is the norm, it is almost inevitable that people are going to get hurt trying too hard. Sports fans, franchises, sports agents, and the players themselves are all part of a frenetic hype-saturated system that may be spinning out of control. If we don't learn to adjust our expectations and demand top-notch performance all the time, more and more players are going to melt under the pressure, some never to return. I dearly hope that's not the case with Stephen Strasburg.

Get well soon, Stephen!

Nyjer Morgan: brawler

Nyjer Morgan has not performed up to expectations this year, and he seems to be getting increasingly frustrated and angry. Twice in the past week he ran into the catcher at home plate rather than sliding, and in the Nats' 1-0 loss to the Marlins on Tuesday night, it might have cost them the game. On Wednesday, when the Marlins scored ten runs in the first two innings off Scott Olsen, Morgan was hit by a pitch in obvious retaliation, which is the way things are done. But when the pitcher threw behind Morgan on his next at bat, he charged the mound, sparking a bench-clearing brawl that drew so much attention that it made the CBS Evening News and ABC's Good Morning America. That's not the kind of attention the Nationals need. Apparently the Marlins took offense when Morgan stole two bases even though the Nats were far behind, 14-3. Whatever the reasons, Morgan was given an eight-day suspension, on top of the preceding seven-day suspension which he appealing, and from the comments he has made, Morgan seems not to be at all contrite, and probably deserves the suspension. Meanwhile, Nats manager Jim Riggleman and coach Pat Listach were suspended for two days, forced to miss the first two games of this weekend's series in Pittsburgh. See MLB.com. Riggleman is not known as an argumentative hot-head, such as, say, Earl Weaver or Billy Martin. But he did stand by his players on this occasion, and he paid the price for doing so. I hope his team reciprocates the gesture of loyalty...

Wil Nieves: father

The Nats' backup catcher, Wil Nieves, recently took temporary leave to be with his wife as she gave birth to a baby girl. (After the game my wife and I saw on Friday the 13th, he said during a TV interview that his wife was at the game, which may have given him an incentive to hit his fourth career home run!) Nieves was temporarily replaced by catcher Wilson Ramos, one of the franchise's leading young prospects. If Jesus Flores doesn't recover from his dislocated shoulder, Ramos could become the team's regular starting catcher after another year or so. Pudge Rodriguez has one more year on his contract with the Nats, and he has expressed interest in extending the term, saying he would like to finish his career in Washington. Anyway, Nieves stunned everyone during that controversial 16-10 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday, when he smashed a home run into the upper deck at Sun Life Stadium. (Two days before that, Ryan Zimmerman had hit a homer to left-center field that knocked out part of an electronic sign on the front of the upper deck.) So Wil's not only a father and a catcher, he's becoming a slugger, too!

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Nieves!

Pujols hits 400th HR

During my hiatus, the Nats showed promising signs, taking three of four games from the St. Louis Cardinals in Washington last weekend. They spoiled the occasion when Albert Pujols hit his 400th homer on August 26, beating the Cardinals 11-10 in a thrilling 13-inning game. With a two-run lead, Tyler Clippard blew a save opportunity as the Cards scored four runs in the top of the ninth, and just when things looked bleakest, Roger Bernadina hit a two-run homer to send the game into extra innings. Four innings later, Ian Desmond hit an infield single, allowing Nyjer Morgan (!) to score the winning run.

MASN fires Rob Dibble

MASN sportscaster Rob Dibble, known for being a somewhat acerbic "color commentator," took a leave of absence after making some controversial comments, and then was fired. One day he made a gratuitous remark about women talking too much, referring to some female fans sitting just behind home plate. (Lesson for the day: Never insult top-paying fans!) Then he said something to the effect that Stephen Strasburg should quit complaning about his sore arm, which turned out to be grossly inappropriate. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Since it's so late in the season, they probably won't replace Dibble with a full-time guy until next year. For the time being, Ray Knight moved from the "Nats Extra" show to join the amiable and professional Bob Carpenter doing play by play in the press box.

Roger Clemens pleads not guilty

The biggest news in baseball late last month was the indictment of Roger Clemens on charges of having lied to Congress about his past use of steroids. He plead not guilty, and even though his trial in federal court is set for next spring, many insiders expect it to be delayed for several months, as the prosecution and defense go through the "discovery" process, disclosing to each other what evidence they each have. It's an awful situation for a Hall-of-Fame caliber player to be in, but as Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post Roger Clemens is facing the consequences for the risk he took. Let's just hope he doesn't follow in the footsteps of Pete Rose, stonewalling and denying long after his credibility has evaporated.

It seems probable that former team mate Andy Pettitte told on Clemens; see Feb 2008. For more background on this scandal, the Mitchell Report was released in December 2007.

Another new sponsor

Many thanks to Thomas Tomsick, MD for sponsoring the page for Cleveland Stadium, where he worked as a bullpen catcher for the Indians in the 1960s. He is the author of Strike Three! My Years in the 'Pen, just published this year. His book is a unique blend of personal reminiscences and Sabermetric analysis, chock full of fascinating details and insights. Dr. Tomsick presented the results of his study on the relationship between number of strikeouts and the size of foul territory at this year's SABR annual convention, held in Atlanta. He used my diagrams as the basis for estimating foul territory at each of the American League ballparks in the mid-1960s.

I made the Top 20

According to onlineschools.org, I have been ranked among the Top 20 MLB Blogs in the whole USA. Really?? Well, I certainly appreciation the recognition.

Top MLB Blog

Back to school baseball

Every once in a while, the responsibilities of my "day job" intrude upon my work in updating this Web site and blog. For various reasons, I was busier than usual during late August this year, hence the longer-than-expected hiatus. There has been a lot of big news in the baseball world over the past two weeks, and I'm sorry for missing out on that. The good news for fans of this Web site is that I have nearly finished work on revising the Miller Park diagrams, based largely on my recent visit there, and have made great headway on a couple others. Y'all come back now, ya hear? smile


September 13, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Fall migrants are arriving

For bird watchers, this is the second-biggest peak of the season, as the neotropical migrants that passed through in May on their way to the north make their return trip toward warmer climes. On Sunday morning, I managed to spend an hour on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, which I discovered has become heavily overgrown with tall grass and poison ivy. It was slow going for a while, bird-wise, but I finally came across a busy "hot spot" toward the end. Highlights:

  • Common Yellowthroat (prob.)
  • Redstart (prob.)
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler (prob.)
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Bluebirds
  • Swainson's Thrush
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Catbirds

On Saturday, I joined the Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Rockfish Valley Trail, in Nellysford. Here are the birds I saw; some members saw additional species.

  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Kestrel
  • Kingfisher
  • Black (& Turkey) Vultures
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Connecticut Warbler? *
  • Goldfinches
  • Bluebirds
  • Phoebes
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Song Sparrow
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Catbirds, etc. etc.

* Some people think it was a Nashville Warbler or a Yellow Warbler, but I got a good close look at the under side of the tail and am pretty sure about the ID. Further discussion pending. I also managed to get some closeup photos of butterflies:

Monarch butterfly spread wings

Monarch butterfly, on the Rockfish Valley Trail. Roll mouse over the image to see a Buckeye butterfly.

A week ago, on Labor Day, I went for a solo three-mile loop hike on the Appalachian Trail just north of Humpback Rocks. Highlights:

  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Scarlet Tanager (F)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireos
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warblers
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Black and White Warbler (F)
  • Redstarts (F)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (F)

September 15, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Tea Party triumphs in Delaware

As if Joe Miller's victory in the recent Alaska primary election weren't proof enough, Tuesday night's upset victory by Christine O'Donnell leaves no doubt that the Tea Party movement is in the driver's seat. The young "grassroots conservative" candidate created a sensation that shocked the Delaware political establishment. The "Tea Party Express" has been calling the presumptive winner of the senate seat, Rep. Mike Castle, a "liberal RINO." He apparently voted in favor of Pres. Obama's highly dubious "cap and trade" energy legislation, an unforgiveable sin, in many quarters.

As someone who is deeply ambivalent about the Tea Party, agreeing with its professed principles but alienated by their leaders' populist rhetoric and wary of their partisan infighting, I didn't have a strong preference in this race. As I wrote on Carl Tate's Facebook page:

Who cares??? Delaware Republicans had two mediocre candidates to choose from, each mediocre in their own way. As Carl said yesterday, it is a bitter dilemma. The failure of the party to function as it is supposed to -- recruiting winning candidates -- makes getting a GOP Senate majority a very long shot.

Rush Limbaugh practically admitted as much today, albeit unintentionally, when he said that getting 51 seats in the Senate wouldn't matter much anyway. Sour grapes, in advance.

Limbaugh also said it's better to have a Marxist in the White House than a pretend conservative who often votes like a Marxist. (What??!!) Rush really lost control of his hyperbolic rhetoric, and I'm getting tired of his rants.

For me, one way to evaluate O'Donnell is her past affiliation with George W. Bush. Is she really a "grassroots" activist? Her years working for the Republican National Committee in Washington would call into question such a claim. She seems to be the archetypal social conservative populist spawned by the Bush-Rove political machine. That's why I was taken aback when I saw Rove arguing with Sean Hannity on FOX News last night. For once in my life, I found myself agreeing with Karl Rove, that O'Donnell lacks the requisite experience to serve effectively as U.S. senator, and that her many financial problems raise doubt about her judgment. Andrew Sullivan also picked up on the huge irony:

"But we also can't make progress if we have candidates who got serious character problems ... [O'Donnell] attacked [Castle] by saying he had a homosexual relationship with a young aide with not a bit of evidence to prove it," - Karl Rove.

I'm ashamed to say it's hard not to take some pleasure in Rove being Roved. Couldn't happen to a more deserving creep.

Not surprisingly, Facebook friend Bruce Bartlett "has never been happier not to be a Republican than tonight." My reaction was rather different:

As Andrew Sullivan wrote, becoming a conservative requires overcoming some painful loss in one's own life, and applying the tragic experience to minimize further loss of what is most precious, in the public sphere and in the private sphere. After the tragedy in Delaware, I'm feeling very conservative. How's that for irony?

In sum, this "mad as hell" populist wave, as exemplified by Christine O'Donnell, poses a real risk of ruining what's left of the Republican Party, turning it from a fractious amalgam of loosely-connected interests into a vast mob of angry simpletons. (Oh, oh, does that sound elitist of me?) I hope common sense prevails before it's too late, but I wouldn't count on it.

christineodonnell.com is perhaps the only political Web site I've ever seen in which the only content is an online donation form. Shouldn't the candidate be providing voters with biographical or career details? I was wondering whether she qualifies for the minimum age requirement to serve in the U.S. Senate (30), but according to the often-reliable Wikipedia, she's 41.

It's not often that Delaware makes the news, other than when a plane carrying the bodies of fallen American service personnel returns from overseas. On its vehicle license plates, Delaware claims to be the "first state," based on its having been the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, on December 7, 1787. Then there's hard blues-rocker George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers: "Move over nice dog, a mean old dog is movin' in."

Tea Party in Colorado

Another case in which the Tea Party is raising hell and causing more GOP infighting is Colorado, where the Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper has a commanding lead because the Republicans have split apart. Hickenlooper, who has been a successful entrepreneur and is the current mayor of Denver, is ahead of Republican Dan Maes and way ahead of former Republican Tom Tancredo, a populist favored by the Tea Party who is running as a candidate of the American Constitution Party. See www.rasmussenreports.com. In another place and time, Hickenlooper might be a fine Republican candidate. See www.hickenlooperforcolorado.com, and a video at youtube.com. As for Tom Tancredo, Susan Davis assesses his problems at the Wall Street Journal blog. Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams (who also was the campaign director for then-Sen. George Allen in 2006) told the Denver Post, "Tom Tancredo has nobody's interest in mind other than his own." Ineresting.

Republican headquarters opens

Last Friday afternoon, Rep. Bob Goodlatte spoke to a small group of supporters at the grand opening of the Augusta County Republican headquarters. He talked about the huge importance not only of stopping the Democrats' big government agenda, but of restoring freedom and free enterprise in this country. Del. Dickie Bell and Augusta County GOP chairman Bill Shirley also spoke for a few minutes. Unlike two years ago, when Democrat Sam Rasoul was a candidate, this year Goodlatte faces no opposition. In the neighboring districts, the Republican challengers have an excellent chance of winning: Robert Hurt in the Fifth District, and Morgan Griffith in the Ninth. The Republican Party in Virginia has gone through similar fratricidal conflicts over the past few years, but the tension seems to have subsided, thankfully.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Emily Griffin, Carl Tate

Rep. Bob Goodlatte speaks at the Augusta County Republican headquarters grand opening. Emily Griffin, Harold Tate, and Carl Tate listened. Roll the mouse over the image to see the headquarters from the outside.

On loyalty

My comment to Shaun Kenney on Facebook:

Loyalty can be a virtue, but placing an exaggerated value on loyalty, as was the case in the Bush administration, distorts perceptions of reality and leads to bad policy. It also paves the way for rogue leaders to rise to power.

September 17, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nationals play spoiler in Atlanta

Well, sports fans, it's getting close to the end of the baseball regular season, which means that the only remaining purpose for also-ran teams like the Washington Nationals is to spoil the hopes of upper-division teams. Three years ago, in September 2007, the Nats played a key role in denying the New York Mets a trip to the postseason. This week they may have done the same thing to the Atlanta Braves. They got off to a rough start in the series as they hit the road, losing their sixth consecutive game, but they came back with a vengeance the following night. Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond, and even the pitcher Livan Hernandez got home runs, blanking the Braves, 6-0. In the rubber match on Wednesday afternoon, a grand slam in the second inning by Justin Maxwell was all the Nats needed to win, 4-2. As a result, the Braves fell to three games behind the Phillies in the NL East.

So, will the Nats do the same to the Phillies, as their weekend series in Philadelphia begins? Not according to the way the first game went: Jason Marquis was tagged with six earned runs in the first inning, and he only got one out before being relieved. I hope this isn't a sign he has lapsed into the awful state he exhibited early in the 2010 season. It was a huge disappointment, and after surgery and rehabilitation, he came back in August much improved. For the Nats this year, if it's not one thing, it's another.

With the final month of the season half over, the Nats are 5-9 in September. Only once this year have they won as many as seven games during a ten-game span: May 4 - 13. Their longest winning streak this year? A pathetic three games. frown Hopes that they might finish the year with their second- or third-highest percentage since being "reborn" in Washington six years ago are fading fast. With an aggregate record of 62-85 (.422) right now, they would have to win nine of their remaining 15 games to equal their 2006 record of 71-91 (.438). It's possible, but it's not very likely.

Rookies show great promise

Even though the Nationals are headed toward another mediocre end, there are signs of hope for the future. In particular, Danny Espinosa, the rookie infielder just called up from the minors, who was batting over .500 in his first week in the majors. In the Nats' 13-3 win over the Mets on September 6, Espinosa hit two home runs, including a grand slam, as well as a single and a double. It may have been a case of beginner's luck, unfortunately, because in the eight games he has started since then, he has had only three hits. Another bright spot is Wilson Ramos, who is in line to become the regular catcher in the next year or two. New pitcher Yunesky Maya, a defector from Cuba, has not quite lived up to expectations, losing his first two starts, but that doesn't mean much, necessarily.

For the Cincinnati Reds, meanwhile, another Cuban defector-pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, is playing a key role in their astonishingly successful season. With a fastball that exceeds 100 MPH, he has been another "phenomenon" on par with Stephen Strasburg. Unfortunately, he lost his first game tonight, on the road in Houston. Astros 5, Reds 3.

Roundup of ballpark news

Obviously, I've got a lot to catch up on, so here goes some news from Mike Zurawski: The Marlins give a tour of their future home on July 15, and there is a gallery of photos from that event at palmbeachpost.com. More construction photos can be seen at www.baseball-fever.com. According to the latest update on the Marlins' Web site, "The project is scheduled to hit a great milestone next week; the east retractable roof truss panel will be rolled from the west side of the project to the east side to begin the installation of the roofing material."

In Arlington, Texas, meanwhile, Rangers president Nolan Ryan (soon to be co-owner) said the team is exploring various ways to reduce the temperature at The Ballpark in Arlington, but warned "You can't justify putting a retractable roof on this stadium at the current cost of doing so." See ESPN. I'm still amazed that the Rangers have had such great playing success in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings.

Personally, I'll never understand why they designed the Rangers' stadium with virtually no upper-deck overhang, exposing almost all the fans to the hot sun. After the horrible experience with Arlington Stadium, you'd think they would have learned something. I think they ought to tear out the existing tiny roof, and put a large new one in, to cover the entire upper deck. That would require support beams, like they did in U.S. Cellular Field, but the Rangers seldom sell enough tickets to make obstructed views an issue. Creating more shade would make Rangers Ballpark much more pleasant for fans.

In response to pressure from Major League Baseball, officials in San Jose postponed a referendum on whether to pay for a ballpark until next spring. It would be located just north of downtown. See mercurynews.com and fieldofschemes.com. One occasionally hears of efforts to keep baseball in Oakland, and if there is enough public support, that would be great. Given the shifting economic tides, however, San Jose seems like a more viable location.

R.I.P. Steinbrenner, Sheppard, & Houk

If I had been in town in July, I would certainly have called attention to the passing in that month of three great men who were intiminately connected to the New York Yankees. Each in their own way, they helped make the Yankees one of the greatest sports franchises of all time. Longtime owner George Steinbrenner bought the team from CBS for the ridiculously low price of $10 million in 1973. He was not a warm and cuddly man, but was an overbearing titan whose force of will had an impact on and off the field. He knew what it took to win. His battles with Yankee manager Billy Martin were legendary, and his relationships with players such as Reggie Jackson and Craig Nettles were often dicey as well. His frenetic, arbitrary style of leadership was lampooned on the Seinfeld show in the 1990s, as George Costanza kept figuring out ways to keep his job without really working. In the real-life Yankee front office, that was not very likely! Some have noted his repeated threats to relocate the Yankees to New Jersey if New York City didn't help him build a new stadium, and I suppose he was only doing what anyone else in his position would have done. His final legacy was the opening of the New Yankee Stadium in 2009, capped by the team's first World Series win since 2000. He had been ailing for the past few years, and died at the age of 80. "The Boss" went out as a champion. See MLB.com.

Bob Sheppard, who worked as the Yankee Stadium public address announcer for 57 years. He was widely liked, and it was said that he sounded like the "voice of God" coming through the loudspeakers. He was 99 when he died. See New York Daily News; link via Bruce Orser.

At about the same time, Ralph Houk, who managed the Yankees in the early 1960s, passed away as well. He replaced Casey Stengel as manager after the Pirates won the 1960 World Series, and he won two world championships during his 20 years as a big league manager. He was 90 when he died. See MLB.com.

An Oscar for Derek Jeter

And speaking of the Yankees, their shortstop winced in obvious pain after being hit by a pitch last night, and trotted down to first base. Thanks to modern video technology, however, we know that Mr. Jeter was just faking it, as the ball clearly hit the end of the bat, not his wrist. National Public Radio replayed the interview in which he said his job is to get on base, and of course, he's absolutely right. smile The back-and-forth race between the Yanks and the Rays is immensely entertaining; how do the Rays keep pace with the Bronx Bombers??

Clearing out the mail bag

I recently called attention to the new book by Thomas Tomsick, MD, Strike Three! My Years in the 'Pen. I should have pointed out that the book is not only an autobiography, it deals with a variety of factors that affect pitching performance. The author focuses on the Cleveland Indians' pitching staff of 1964-1968, most notably Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, and Sonny Siebert. They set several strikeout records, and Dr. Tomsick had a unique first-hand perspective on that. His book refocuses attention on the effect of drugs on pitchers' strikeout records, which becomes especially relevant in light of Roger Clemens' recent indictment. For more on Dr. Tomsick's career on the ball field as a catcher and in the hospital as a physician, see the University of Cincinnati.

Another new book has come to my attention: Edward Achorn's Fifty-nine in '84, about Providence Grays pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, who won 59 games in 1884. It's a rousing tale of the rough-and-tumble world of baseball and America in the late 19th century. The author is a deputy editor of The Providence Journal, and as a keen observer of politics in Rhode Island has successfully pushed for reforms in the state government. See oldhoss.com.

Bruce Orser recommended a video of the Nationals' future slugging sensation Bryce Harper being introduced to the media, at Yahoo sports. The kid seems pretty level-headed.

Jim O'Brien was kind enough to send in a donation via PayPal, and you can too. Thank, you Jim!

Hal Lerch just wrote to say he enjoys looking at the old stadiums. I appreciate that, too.

Still more messages to get to. Please stand by...

What if: LBJ Stadium?

By happenstance, I recently learned that RFK Stadium was almost named LBJ Stadium in 1969. As Dan Steinberg wrote at the Washington Post last March (via William Yurasko), Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall exercised bureaucratic prerogative to stall President Johnson's effort to get his name on the stadium, and in the last day of the LBJ administration, he pulled a fast one with a surprise announcement that it was to be called Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, too late to rescind by the outgoing president. Udall, from Arizona, was a friend of the environment, and died last March. His brother Mo Udall was a presidential contender in the 1970s, and died in 1998.

Big football upsets

By now, almost all sports fans know about the incredible victory by the James Madison University Dukes over the Virginia Tech Hokies last weekend. Likewise, the Washington Redskins' triumph over the Dallas Cowboys has reenergized Our Nation's Capital, seeming to validate the acquisition of coach Tom Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb. But how many people knew that the University of South Dakota Coyotes (a humble Division I-AA team) beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers last Saturday? USD won by a score of 41-38 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. For a wrap-up of that game, see washingtonpost.com. The University of South Dakota's athletics program is best known for the camera Dakota Dome, where the football and basketball teams play, as well as other sports. Diagram pending...


September 17, 2010 [LINK / comment]

The U.S. Constitution and Freedom

On this happy Constitution Day, the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, I though it would be appropriate to reproduce the words of the Preamble, which make it clear what it was all about:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

In my U.S. Government class lectures this week, I have emphasized that the Constitution was not a divinely-inspired work of perfection, but was rather the result of pragmatic compromises among various factions. We should all be thankful that the "Miracle of Philadelphia" came to happy fruition, but we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that our Founding Fathers were benevolent geniuses. They were just very wise, practical men who knew their history and had a clear-eyed view of human nature. For further details, see the complete U.S. Constitution text. And yes, this will be on the final exam! smile

Another issue raised by the Constitution is the meaning of the phrase We the People. Which people, exactly? Acceptance of the Constitution was by no means universal, and it took some heavy-handed persuasion to get the necessary nine states to ratify it. North Carolina initially voted against it, but then later accepted it, while Rhode Island became the last state to do so on May 29, 1790. In his book Restoring the Lost Constitution (2004)*, Georgetown professor Randy Barnett inquires into the question of Constitutional legitimacy, and consequences of less-than-unanimous acceptance. Are dissenters morally bound to respect the Constitution as "supreme law of the land"? Barnett says that they are, but only as long as the Constitution protects the preexisting rights of the people. As long as individuals have a solid guarantee against arbitrary government intrusion or seizure of property, they are considered bound by its terms. So what happens if the government oversteps its rightful bounds and starts to oppress the God-given rights of its citizens? In that case, I'd say all bets are off...

* Hat tip to my former colleague at Sweet Briar College, Dr. Stephen Bragaw, for suggesting that book to me. It is a more advanced, scholarly treatment of the topic addressed in the excellent book Who Killed the Constitution?, written by Thomas Woods and (Facebook friend) Kevin Gutzman.


 

A flexible Constitution?

It is fashionable, especially among progressives, to derogate the importance of the Constitution or to bend its meaning according to contemporary tastes. Among our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson would be the one most inclined to agree with this point of view. When I was in Washington last June, I stopped at the Jefferson Memorial and took note of this quotation engraved in stone on the interior of the wall:

I am ... not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. ... But ... laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

While at the Jefferson Memorial, I bought a book, Selected Writings of Jefferson, edited by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. It includes the above quote, on page 89, from Jefferson's letter to to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816, or 1810, according to some sources such as monticello.org. Ellipses (...) added where the original text was deleted.

As noted at the Tenth Amendment Center, President Obama [cited Jefferson in his commencement address at the University of Michigan last May to promote activist government,] an example of "Hijacking Thomas Jefferson" for purposes in direct conflict with his own deepest-held values. Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he knew that his flexible, enlightened, progressive philosophy were being used today to advance an agenda of ever-increasing government power.

Tea Party constitutionalists

The rise of the Tea Party movement calls to light a fascinating paradox: The folks who insist on upholding the Constitution as it was originally meant to be ironically embody the destabilizing force against which the Constitution was designed to protect! Last summer, for example, right-wing rabble-rouser Richard Viguerie, released the Mount Vernon Statement: "Constitutional Conservatism: A Statement for the 21st Century." If you listen to Sean Hannity or Sarah Palin or just about any right-wing populist these days, you'll probably hear the same description: "constitutional conservative." That's what they call Christine O'Donnell. Good grief... The invocation of the Constitution by agitating demagogues raises big doubts in my mind.

Speaking of Viguerie, he had an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last April that offered advice with which I strongly agree [up to a point, but then he got the situation backwards]:

Most important, tea partiers must remain distinct from both political parties. The GOP would like nothing better than to co-opt the movement and control the independent conservatives who are its members. But we must keep in mind that perhaps the single biggest mistake of the conservative movement was becoming an appendage of the Republican Party.

Given the recent "grassroots rebellion" against RINOs, in Delaware, Kentucky, and Utah, that is a pretty ironic statement. Those of us with first-hand experience know all too well the hollow pretense of those conniving rebels as though they were fighting like David versus Goliath against the "Republican Establishment." Those "grassroots" are the crooked insiders!

In today's Washington Post, cartoonist Tom Toles captured that irony very aptly, showing the Tea Partiers tossing two GOP elephants overboard from the cargo sailing ship: "Who knew we were the tea?" smile In sum, the "conservative movement" is becoming an even more exclusive, closed-minded faction every year that passes, drifting farther and farther away from the authentic conservative principles which it espouses. "Conservatism," as it is known in America today, is no longer a philosophy, it is a pathological social phenomenon. Much more on that later.

Constitutional disclaimer

In a sign of the times, the Wilder Publications Company received heavy criticism for putting a warning label on the U.S. Constitution. "This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today." Good grief! See foxnews.com; hat tip to Shaun Kenney.

Back when Barry Goldwater became the first member of the conservative movement to be nominated for president, the movement had just two legs -- free markets and a strong national defense. After religious conservatives became the third leg, conservatives won three landslide presidential elections in the 1980s. But even that was not enough to stop the expansion of government.

The tea party has added a fourth leg -- an emphasis on limiting government through fidelity to the Constitution and our nation's founding principles, without being operationally aligned with either party.

Constitutional nostalgia?

My friend and colleague Matthew Poteat recently had an op-ed column in the News Leader, "The Good Old Days Never Were." His basic point seemed to be that people who profess to support the Constitution are really engaging in a fanciful nostalgia, imagining a utopia of freedom in the years following the Revolutionary War. My comment:

I don't know of *anyone* who claims that we are less free today than in the 18th century, or that our freedoms have steadily eroded since the Revolution. Please name names! The libertarian argument is, rather, that freedoms have been under attack since FDR's New Deal, and it would be very hard to deny that. Indeed, many people who support a bigger government candidly rationalize this loss of freedom as necessary for our security, or as the inevitable consequence of modernization. ("Brave New World")

You seem to misconstrue the objectives of those who call for a restoration of constitutional liberties. It is not a reactionary campaign to go back to a nostalgic Eden that never was, but is instead a forward-looking movement that is faithful to the *ideals* of the Founding Fathers: to create a "more perfect union." The expansion of minority rights, which you rightly emphasize, goes hand in hand with individual liberty. Take that away, and one of these days, the Feds will come after YOU.

Matthew responded to the effect that Ron Paul once said that the U.S. has suffered a loss of liberty during each war fought over the past 200 years. (Beginning with the War of 1812, evidently.) It's a highly arguable contention, but not altogether without merit. Matthew also cited a libertarian group, the Future of Freedom Foundation, which states quite clearly that the United States began to lose its freedom "in the 20th century." That is almost exactly what I would argue, and does not imply anything about America being more free in the late 18th century than it is today. There are probably a few people who suffer from a deluded nostalgia about the era of our Founding Fathers, but I'm still waiting to hear evidence that would back Matthew's basic claim.

Index of Economic Freedom

A few months ago, Facebook friend Bruce Bartlett called into question the Heritage Foundation's annual Index of Economic Freedom: "Has America Really Become Economically Unfree?" See forbes.com. It's a highly provocative notion, given the controversial effort of the Obama administration to "transform" the United States of America. Stay tuned...

I used the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom in my dissertation, helping to assess economic policy trends in various countries. There is a certain connection between economic freedom and political freedom, but it's often subtle and indirect. For example, Peru gained in terms of economic freedom during the Fujimori regime of the 1990s, but became less free politically. Nowadays Peru is much freer both economically and politically, following in the footsteps of Chile, which was a military dictatorship for nearly twenty years, but is now a shining example for the rest of Latin America. The big question for us now is, what about China? Will its shift toward free-market capitalism also result in more freedom and democracy? Or will such a transition be delayed for a few decades while its vast working class gradually catches up to the living standards of the industrialized world? By then, sadly, the United States may well have lost its freedom...

I know among the academic elite today that most professors downplay the alleged loss of freedom in our country, and my view is a distinct minority opinion in such circles. Perhaps a quote from Joni Mitchell would be appropriate:

You don't know what you've got till it's gone...

Blog archive

Among the many Web site maintenance chores I've been doing lately is to recreate blog archives for the period prior to November 2004, when I began blogging in a regular, systematic fashion. So far, I've completed that task for the politics and baseball blog posts, which constitution a large majority of all my blog posts. See the Politics Archives page, which now includes a button for 2004. Ultimately, I will do likewise for the other blog categories, going back to May 2002. Each of those blog posts ends with this text: "NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives." The date stamp will be the same as today.

It's all about me

One final Web site enhancement to mention: I moved all of the biographical information from the Home page to the brand new About page, making a few additions and a few deletions along the way. The new montage includes a photo of me playing guitar at church in March 2009, and that's Matthew Poteat standing in back, playing the harps (harmonica). There is a full paragraph about my adventures in local politics, which achieved some big successes, as well as some bitter disappointments. C'est la vie. I plan to explain those controversial events in greater detail some time in the near future. Note that the core political beliefs to which I subscribe remain unchanged. I will redo the Home page in the next few weeks or so, making it simpler and hopefully more "entertaining."


September 18, 2010 [LINK / comment]

"It's Miller time!" Miller Park update

At last! The Miller Park Miller Park page has been thoroughly revised, with major corrections and enhancements. The profile is much more accurate than before, and the overall size of the structure is just a bit smaller. It is the first update to those diagrams since April 2006. My recent visit to the home of the Brewers provided me with vast quantity of useful information that helped to get the details just right. There were no tours offered that day, but I was able to get a look at the field inside by having lunch at the TGI Friday's in left field. It's an excellent vantage point, but I would be nervous about home run balls headed my way if I were dining during a game. The retractable-roof stadium is an architectural marvel, and the high arched roof is quite daunting. It's not an ideal setup for baseball, because the roof casts a huge shadow even on sunny days when it's open, but at least it assures fan comfort during the spring and autumn months. It also takes the element of uncertainty out of the equation, so out-of-town fans can make the trip to Milwaukee without worrying about a rain-out. Overall, my impression of Miller Park was very favorable.

Miller Park center & right field
 

600th save by Hoffman

Earlier this month, relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman recorded his 600th save, as the Brewers beat the Cardinals, 4-2. See MLB.com, which notes, "the big banner over the left-field bullpen, the one that was stuck on 596 for nearly three months, finally read '600.'" You can see that in the photo above, which was taken on August 2. It was just a matter of time, and in any case, Hoffman is still the all-time leader in saves, well ahead of the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who has 555 of them. Before moving to Milwaukee in early 2009, Hoffman spent virtually his entire career, 16 seasons, with the San Diego Padres.

Coincidentally, one of the photos on the PETCO Park page shows Hoffman being congratulated by his fellow Padres for his 479th career save, when he became the all-time leader in that category.

Statue for Bud Selig

Late in August, Commissioner Bud Selig was honored with a statue at Miller Park, near the statues of Robin Yount and Hank Aaron, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame. (Aaron was only a Brewer for a couple years, but he spent 13 years with the Milwaukee Braves before they moved to Atlanta in 1966.) MLB.com. Well, you have to give Selig credit for helping his team, but it's too bad their new stadium was "tainted" by the conflict of interest between his responsibilites as owner and as commissioner. After a slow start in the years following the opening of Miller Park, the Brewers have become regular pennant contenders, and have exceeded the three-million attendance mark for the past two seasons. For a medium-small city like Milwaukee, that's very impressive. I was interested to learn that Selig's impassioned campaign to bring baseball back to his city got in the way of his plans to become a history professor. (!)


September 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Jupiter is rising, getting "closer"

While walking outside a few evenings ago, I was startled to see a very bright object close to the eastern horizon. I correctly surmised that it was the planet Jupiter, which has been concealed by daylight for the past several months. I learned there are actually two reasons why it appears brighter than usual: it has been getting closer to the Earth lately, and in fact today the two planets are the closest they have been to each other since 1963; they won't get this "close" again until 2022. Right now it is 368 million miles away from us, or about four times as distant as the sun. The other reason Jupiter is getting brighter is that its "South Equatorial Belt ... has been hidden under a layer of bright white ammonia clouds" for about a year. For more details, see space.com; thanks to Angela Nebel for alerting me to this astronomical event. Jupiter will get higher in the east-southeastern skies for the next few months. You can't miss it.

New fangled periodic table

New! I have just added a colorful, interactive Periodic table of the elements to the Science & Technology blog page, for which there have been no posts for some time. All that table shows right at present are the atomic numbers, the atomic weights, and the groups of elements. Eventually it will include information on the valences and electron shells as well.

One thing I learned while putting together that table is that there are nine more named elements than there were when I was in high school. I also learned that the standard classification of elements now includes two new groupings: "Metalloids" such as Silicon, found along the diagonal borderline, and "Light earth metals" such as Calcium, somehow distinguished from regular Light metals such as Potassium. I got that information from Periodic Table by Chemicool. But wait, there's more: the metal Gallium has a melting point of about 85 degrees Farenheit, which means that, like a chocolate bar, it literally melts in your hands. You can even watch a video demonstrating the bizarre phenomenon. Cool!

Healthy skepticism

I always make an effort to see both sides of an issue, especially with regard to big controversies such as global warming. I tend to be a skeptic on that issue, so I found this article interesting: "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming" at grist.org.


September 23, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Pudge sparks huge Nats comeback

Having lost ten of the last twelves games, including one of the worst heartbreakers in recent memory,* the Washington Nationals were desperate for a win at home in D.C. [Tuesday] night. The game started off on an ominous note, as the Houston Astros scored three runs in the top of the first inning. Fortunately, John Lannan regained his composure and went six more innings without giving up another run. He has been one of the Nats' most reliable pitchers since his return from the minors in August, and it was a big relief that he got past the first inning intact. But the Nationals' batters failed to come through in the clutch for most of the game, leaving men in scoring position several times.

Then, a runner on base and with two outs in the eighth inning, Ivan Rodriguez swung at a low slider and connected perfectly. The ball sailed high to the left field corner and struck the foul pole for a home run (his fourth of the year), tying the game, 3-3. Yes! smile In an instant, the whole dynamic of the game was reversed, and suddenly the Nationals figured out how to hit the ball. The next four batters reached base, sending five (5) more runners across the plate. Adam Kennedy put the Nats one run ahead with an RBI single, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman added to their ample RBI totals, as well. It was the Nats' biggest comeback victory since May 31, when they scored nine runs in the seventh inning to beat ... the Astros! The same inning, and the same opponent!

In the top of the ninth, Drew Storen came on in relief, but he quickly gave up a home run and then walked a batter. Remembering Sunday afternoon,* no doubt, manager Jim Riggleman pulled Storen and let Sean Burnett close the game, which took only one pitch to do. Final score: Nats 8, Astros 4.

The momentum from Tuesday's big win continued through Wednesday, as the Nats edged the Astros, 4-3. The clutch situation offensive power was provided by Mike Morse and Danny Espinosa, each of whom hit home runs. Espinosa started his major league career with a blast, but then hit a "speed bump," as his batting average fell to the lower .200s. Not only does he show great slugging potential for the future, he is performing splendidly on defense at second base, being part of three double plays last night. See MLB.com.

So, the Nats have managed at least a tie with Houston in the four-game series, a rare bit of good news lately. The final game is underway right now...

UPDATE: The Nats had another big rally in the sixth inning, capped by another home run by Danny Espinosa, with two more runs an inning later, yielding a final score of 7-2. The Washington team has thereby won a home series for the first time since they played the Cardinals in late August, another four-game series. Mike Morse had another homer today, as did Roger Bernadina. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn both had the day off, the latter having been dinged by a pitch on Wednesday. The Nats are now back in the winning column at home this year, 38-37, whereas their record on the road is an awful 27-51.

* Phillies sweep Nationals

When facing a postseason-bound team like the Phillies on their own home field, about the best thing you can hope for is to avoid getting swept. It was no surprise that the Phillies dominated the Nats in the Friday and Saturday games, but in last Sunday's game it looked like the "D.C. 9" were going to salvage some respectability out of this road trip. (They took two of three games in Atlanta last week.) In the sixth inning, Mike Morse hit a three-run home run to take the lead, 4-3, and the Nats added an insurance run in [each of] the next two innings. So, Drew Storen comes on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and promptly gives up a single, a double, another single, and then ... a walk-off home run to Jayson Werth, turning a 6-3 lead into a 7-6 loss. Storen failed to get a single batter out. He is supposed to be the Nats' closer of the future, but he is still a rookie, and probably should not have been put into that situation, facing batters like Polanco, Utley, and Howard. Anyway, that was how the Phillies swept the Nationals, adding to their lead in the NL Eastern Division. frown

For Washington sports fans, things only got worse after that. In Landover, Maryland, the Redskins gave up a huge lead over the Houston Texans, who somehow managed to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, and then went on to win in overtime. Two near-certain victories by Washington teams squandered at the last minute. Gr-r-r-rrr! frown

Dunn hopes to stay in D.C.

I've been hearing conflicting reports on whether Adam Dunn is likely to be offered a renewal contract by the end of the season, when he becomes a free agent. Some people complain that he strikes out too often when runners are in scoring position, but how can you argue about a guy [who not so long ago had] the second most RBIs in the National League? Until recently, he was also in contention for the lead in home runs as well. His batting average climbed to about .290 in August, but since then he has fallen back to about .260. Dunn has been appearing on MASN promotional advertisements along with Manager Jim Riggleman and General Manager Phil Rizzo, a possible hint that they expect him to stay with the club. Dunn is a first-rate slugger, a genuine crowd-pleaser, and has learned to play first base very well. He is a huge asset to the team, and has stated clearly that he wants to stay in Washington. You put all those factors together, and it's obvious: Dunn deserves a decent contract offer. Plus, we Nats fans deserve to see somebody like Dunn wearing a Nationals uniform. According to the Washington Post, Dunn said "We're going to work something out, I think." I certainly hope so!

Hot tips from baseball fans

Over the past few months, a group of history-conscious citizens from the Detroit area has been keeping the grass mowed in the vacant lot where Tiger Stadium once stood. Last weekend, they raised the American flag up the old flagpole which has been re-erected. Three cheers for good old-fashioned volunteer civic spirit! See some inspiring photos at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Regarding the "Mystery of Miller Park Right Field" (a good title for a Hardy Boys book!), Mark London got first-hand confirmation from a guy he knows who used to work at Miller Park. (Mark is the Sponsor of that page, by the way.) It turns out that the right field distance has been 345 feet all along, not 355 feet in the earlier years, as indicated by Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals. Prior to the installation of the picnic area in right field in 2006, there was a manual scoreboard there, and it was positioned diagonally, from the corner of the bullpen to the foul pole, leaving a triangular empty space in back. Minor diagram correction pending...

Brian Hughes was kind enough to share a link to a photo gallery of (mostly) extinct baseball stadiums, taken in 1988-1990 by major league pitcher Jerry Reuss, who is now retired. He used a very consistent approach, taking the pictures several hours before game time, when the stadiums were empty. They are of excellent quality, showing Reuss to be a skilled photographer, and some of them show details I have not seen anywhere else. Included are the Kingdome, Exhibition Stadium, Arlington Stadium, and a host of other long-gone MLB venues. Take a look at flickr.com. Reuss pitched for eight different teams between 1969 and 1990, amassing a superb career win-loss record of 220-191.

Another %#&@*! hiatus

My apologies for the sparse posts of late, but my Internet service has been quite balky (!), forcing me to reboot over and over again. frown The technician is on the way...


September 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Twins clinch AL Central Division

Congratulations to the Minnesota Twins for clinching the American League Central Division title, the first team to clinch a division title this year. Making full use of their sparkling new home at Target Field this year, the Twins began a hot streak in August, while the rival Chicago White Sox fell way behind in the standings. Another reason for the Twins to celebrate: they just broke their single-season attendance record, with 3,063,327 fans at Target Field in its inaugural year thus far. Their previous annual attendance record was 3,030,672, at the Metrodome in 1988, the year after they won the World Series. See MLB.com.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, and the Philadelphia Phillies are each virtually guaranteed a division title, with magic numbers of three or four. Two of those teams, the Rangers and the Reds, have not reached the postseason in over a decade, so this will make for some interesting matchups. In only two divisions is there any drama left: the National League West, where the Giants have surged ahead of the slumping Padres, with the Rockies not far behind. The Rockies have been extremely hot lately, reminding one of their amazing finish of the 2007 season, when they reached the World Series for the first time. The Giants last reached the postseason in 2003, but they have not won the World Series since they moved to San Francisco 52 years ago. The Padres last made it to the playoffs in 2006. In the American League East, meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays refuse to give up in their race against the Yankees to claim first place in the AL Eastern Division. After losing the first two games in the series at New York this week, they bounced back with two straight wins. The opponents they are set to play against next week are much less formidable than the Yankees' opponents, so one can't rule out a divisional title for the Rays. Whoever loses in that race will become the AL wild card team. As for the NL wild card spot, the Atlanta Braves have a razor-thin lead over the Padres right now.

In Our Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals (65-88) are virtually guaranteed to finish in last place for the fifth time in their six years of (relocated) existence. If they win all nine of their remaining games while the New York Mets (74-78) lose all ten of their remaining games, however, then those two teams will end up tied in fourth (but still last) place. The Nationals are going for their fourth straight win tonight, facing the Atlanta Braves in Nationals Park. That would be the Nats' longest winning streak of the 2010 season -- not much to brag about. During each their first five years, they had a winning streak of at least six games. Whether or not the Braves' long-time manager Bobby Cox retires on a happy note will depend to a large extent on how the series in Washington goes this weekend...

Suzuki sets hits record

In Toronto yesterday, Ichiro Suzuki hit safely for the 200th time this year, the 10th year in a row he has reached that very high plateau. Wee Willie Keeler did so for eight consecutive years, once upon a time, while Pete Rose reached the 200-hit plateau in ten seasons, but not consecutively. With 2,230 total hits in career thus far, the 37-year old Suzuki could conceivably reach the 3,000-hit mark. Unfortunately for him, the 1,278 hits he had during nine seasons in Japan won't count for MLB records. See MLB.com. It's too bad the Seattle Mariners can't field enough players of his caliber to be a postseason contender. Among active players, the current career hits leader is Washington's own Ivan Rodriguez, with 2,815.

I had the pleasure to watch Suzuki in action at Target Field last month, but he did not get any hits that day, or even a walk.

Miller time, again

Finally, I have slightly revised the 2001 version of the Miller Park diagram, taking into account an "insider tip" shared with me by Mark London: the distance to right field has been 345 feet ever since the stadium was built. According to Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals (2006), the right field distance in 2001 was 355 feet, and was then reduced to 345 feet a year later. That is erroneous, as it turns out: Mark's source states unequivocally that the foul pole has not been moved. Well, nobody's perfect, not even the widely-acknowledged original authority in the field. The old scoreboard in that corner of Miller Park was positioned diagonally, with a triangular space between it and the seating section in back. With the new picnic area, the fence in right field is parallel to the seating section in back. Mystery solved!


September 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]

The GOP "Pledge to America"

As someone who was at first a bit wary of the GOP "Contract with America" in 1994, but was ultimately convinced that the Republicans in Congress were serious about governing, I view yesterday's release of the GOP "Pledge to America" with mixed feelings. I certainly sympathize with its stated goals, and I was glad that it was drafted with a healthy dose of pragmatism, playing down the "wedge issues" that the Christian Right often harps on. But the main defect in my view is that it fails to address the most painful policy dilemmas, which make budget cuts so difficult and painful.

As for the main points, I couldn't agree more with upholding the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution, fostering more economic liberty, and honoring traditional values. But I was discouraged right after the heralded "plan to stop out-of-control spending and reduce the size of government" to read "With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops..." I'm sorry, but everyone is going to have to shoulder the economic burden if this country is to save itself from financial ruin. The current generation of elderly people is enjoying a high level of retirement, Social Security, and Medicare benefits that will simply not be available to future generations. The time to begin necessary entitlement reforms, across the board, is NOW.

Likewise, I agree that the new health care law should be repealed, but I don't think it's a realistic goal to set. Among the proposed alternative health care reforms, there is no hint of awareness that the fundamental problem in this country is too much health insurance already. That's what keeps driving up costs.

cbsnews.com has an embedded e-book version of the Pledge, and Rep. Boehner's Web site has a video clip explaining the Pledge.

As noted at the dailycaller.com (hat tip to Facebook friend Bruce Bartlett), many conservative Republicans are angry about what was left out, such as a promise not to use "earmarked" appropriations. Another FB friend, Andrew Murphy, concurred about the weakness on specifics as far as spending cuts, and the fiscally irresponsible devotion to keeping taxes as low as possible. My comment:

Just when they had the chance to differentiate themselves from the sorry Bush legacy once and for all, and show that they had the guts to do what was necessary for the national interest, even if unpopular, the GOP leaders flinched and played it safe with retread tax cuts. Too bad.

I'm not going to give up on the Republicans, because I know that they have to bridge factions. "You can't always get what you want." Nevertheless, if the Republicans really seek to win over a large number of thoughtful independent voters to take back a majority in Congress, they are going to have to work very hard between now and November 2.


September 25, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Kasten resigns from Nationals

Stan Kasten announced that he will resign as president of the Washington Nationals at the end of this season. The news came as quite a shock, as the franchise is fraught with deep frustration and has so many uncertainties hanging around it. So what does this sudden departure really signify? Before it was even announced, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell expressed a strong wish that Kasten would stay with the Nats, fearing the "vacuum" in the front office if Kasten were to exit:

If Kasten leaves -- even if he soft-pedals his departure, praises his handpicked GM Mike Rizzo and crows about the futures of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and the rest -- the Nats' reputation will take a hit within the industry. And they will have a hard time replacing his broad skill set.

Another possibility is that Kasten may be a leading candidate to replace Bud Selig as MLB commissioner. Outgoing Braves manager Bobby Cox raised that possibility, and he should know as well as anyone, having worked under Kasten for several years. See MLB.com.

Kasten was named as president of the Nationals in May 2006, when Major League Baseball announced that it was selling the Nationals franchise to Theodore Lerner and family. He has provided the ownership group with a veneer of credibility within the baseball world, and the pressure is now on the Lerners that they are serious about building a winning team, not just milking a taxpayer-supported oligpolistic industry for all its worth.

Was it just a coincidence that Kasten made his announcement just before his former team, the Braves, came to play in Washington last night? Who knows? The Nats extended their winning streak to four games last night, beating the Braves 8-3, powered by two more Adam Dunn home runs. Time to head up to D.C. and catch one of the last games of the season!


September 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nationals spoil Braves' hopes, again

In a repeat of the series at Atlanta last week, the Washington Nationals beat the Braves in two out of three games, putting them a half game behind the Padres* in the wild card race. (Atlanta is 87-69, San Diego is 87-68.) Jacqueline and I attended the game on Saturday afternoon, with bright skies and very warm temperatures. We had front-row seats behind home plate in the upper deck "Gallery" level, Section 310, close enough to tell balls from strikes. Yunesky Maya pitched pretty well for the Nats, but in the sixth inning he gave up a walk, a double, a single, and then a home run, hit by Alex Gonzalez. That gave the Braves a 5-0 lead, ending Maya's day on the mound. No more runs were scored after that. The jury is still out on whether Maya (0-3) is as good as his reputation from his years playing in Cuba would indicate. For the Braves, starting pitcher Derek Lowe allowed five hits and one walk, scattered harmlessly across five innings.

No mere idle spectator, I voiced my presence on two occasions. The first couple times Adam Dunn came up to bat, I started a "sign Adam Dunn" cheer, and several other fans joined in -- probably just enough for him to hear. Then in the bottom of the ninth inning, Justin Maxwell came up to bat and responded to my loud "go Justin!" yell by smashing a double off the left field wall. Another few feet and it would have been a homer.

For a game wrap-up, see the Washington Post.

* The Giants and Padres are battling down to the wire in the NL West, while the Rockies have just about dropped out of contention. In the AL East, the Rays are clinging to a half-game lead over the Yankees. Nail biting time on the east and west coasts!

Unfortunately, Ryan Zimmerman was not in the lineup at the Saturday game, or in any of the last four games. He has been suffering from a strain right rib, and it probably out for the rest of the season. (Only six more games.) That's too bad, but at least he is sure he will end the season with a .307 batting average (a career high), as well as 25 home runs (his second-highest). His 2010 total of 85 RBIs is only his fourth-best season performance, however.

This marks the fourth game I've seen at Nationals Park this year, of which the Nats won two and lost two games. Friday the 13th last month was the most enjoyable of those games, I'd say. Including the game I saw at Target Field, I've seen a total of five major league games this year, a "personal best."

Sunday's rubber match game was a tense, low-scoring affair. With a 2-2 score going into the 7th inning, three Nats batters reached base on walks, and with two outs, Ian Desmond hit a clutch single up the middle, and that was all it took. Braves manager Bobby Cox was most annoyed at the way his team gave up the lead, putting the dampers on their postseason hopes. The Nationals host the Phillies tonight, Tuesday, and Wednesday, while the Braves host the Marlins in Atlanta. It's do-or-die time for the Braves!

I've added new photos to the Nationals Park page, including an upper-deck panorama. To my surprised, I noticed that the two-level press box in the upper deck is now dark blue, matching the seats, whereas it used to be bright red. They must have repainted it some time in the last month or so.

Jacqueline, Andrew at Nationals Park

Yours truly tries to force a smile while Jacqueline gloats over the Braves' big lead.

Rangers clinch AL West

Congratulations to the Texas Rangers for winning the American League Western Division title, earning their first trip to the postseason since 1999. The big question for them is whether Josh Hamilton will be healed in time to play in the postseason. He has been on the DL since September 4 due to minor rib fractures, but says he is "hopeful" he'll be back for the playoffs. With an batting average of .361, far ahead of the #2 hitter in the majors right now, Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies (.341), it would be a shame for the Rangers' star not to see any action in October. See MLB.com.

COMMENT by: Prof Clem, of Roanoke, VA on Sep 30, 2010 10:12 AM
Sorry folks, my Internet service is down once again, preventing me from doing any updates, so I'm using my computer at work as an emergency backup. Of all the times, at the climax of the baseball regular season! Anyway, congratulations to the Cincinnati Reds for winning the NL Central Division, after many years of frustrating disappointment. The Atlanta Braves have a 1.5 game lead over the Padres in the NL wild card race, and the Giants are close the clinching the NL West. Will the Rays hang on to the lead in the AL East over the Yankees? The Orioles proved to be tougher competitors than many expected, taking two out of three games in St. Petersburg.


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