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November 5, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Washington Nationals: year in review

Now that the amazing, thrill-packed, unforgettable World Series of 2011 is over and done with, I can get back to various deferred tasks such as recapitulating the highlights of the Washington Nationals' 2011 season. With a win-loss record of 80-81 (.497) for the year, it was immensely satisfying and perhaps long overdue. There were a few "lowlights" along the way, but not nearly as many as in the past few years. The absence of Stephen Strasburg from the roster until late in the season lowered expectations, but a few other players really came through with consistently superb performances.

As has so often been the case, the Nats got off to a slow start in the first week, but in mid-April they swept the Milwaukee Brewers at home in Nationals Park, a good sign of better things to come. They were in third place for most of the first month, gradually sliding into fifth place by late May, and then rebounding strongly in June, climbing into third place with a win-loss record over .500. It was at this point that manager Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned, frustrated that his demands for negotiations for a long-term contract were being ignored by the Nationals front office. He was replaced by veteran (semi-retired) manager Davey Johnson, but the team sputtered for the next two months, falling to 11 games under .500 (65-76) by September 8. Then, things started to come together all of a sudden. The return of Stephen Strasburg and news reports about the slugging feats being performed by minor league hot prospect Bryce Harper gave a big boost to morale. From September 11th (!) until the final game on the 28th, the Nationals won 14 games and lost only 5. If it weren't for a walk-off home run by a Florida Marlins player on September 27, the Nats would have finished the season above .500 for the first time since relocating from Montreal to Washington in 2005.

In the batter's box, the loss of free agent sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, who had played very well for two years in Washington, was a big gap to fill. It was expected that former Phillie Jayson Werth would more than make up for the offensive power, but it didn't exactly turn out that way. (He signed a seven-year $126-million contract with the Nationals in December 2010.) Indeed, Jayson had his worst year since becoming a regular major league player in 2004, with a batting average of .232 and 20 home runs. Another bit of bad luck was that Ryan Zimmerman was injured in mid-April, straining his abdominal muscles, and had to have surgery that cost him two full months. He finished the season with a .289 average but only 12 home runs. In contrast, the Nationals were extremely fortunate to have the services of Michael Morse, whom the Nationals obtained in a trade from the Seattle Mariners in 2008. He had been plagued by injuries early in his career, and no one knew what to expect of him. In 2010 he showed signs of becoming a slugger, and in 2011 he had a true breakout year, with 31 home runs (tied for 16th in the majors), 95 RBIs (tied for 24th in the majors), and a batting average of .303 (tied for 26th in the majors). If he makes next year's All Star Game, which is a very real possibility, you can bet he will make a "splash" in the Home Run Derby! (The game will be played at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, which features a nice waterfall.)

While pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang (see below) slowly healed, Jason Marquis re-entered the Nationals rotation, and actually had a fairly decent year, with 8 wins, 5 losses and a 3.95 ERA. On the other hand, John Lannan had a rather mediocre year, going 10-13 even though he has been the team's number one pitcher for three of the past four years. The old reliable workhouse, Livan Hernandez, continued to eat up innings, but his record was only 8-13. This may be his last year in Washington. Former Cub Tom Gorzelanny did OK on the mound, but nothing spectacular, and by September was relegated to serving as a long reliever. Perhaps the best news for the Nats, pitching-wise, is they finally had a reliable closer, for the first time since Chad Cordero was injured in 2006. Drew Storen got 43 saves and was chosen for the All Star Game, where he faced exactly one batter, and gave up an RBI single, and yet ended up getting credit for the National League's win in that game. Go figure.

"April showers" caused several of their games to be delayed or postponed. There was an unusual number of extra-inning games in the first half of the season, four or five each month. During one three-day stretch -- May 11-13 -- the Nats played in three extra-inning games, losing the last two. For the year as a whole, the Nats won 12 extra-inning games and lost just 8, another good sign. Attendance started to pick up in September, and the total for the year (1.9 million) was a modest improvement over the past two years. Best of all, the Nats won 14 of their last 18 games of the season.

As a fruit of my research effort, I just finished a major overhaul of the Washington Nationals [broken link fixed] page, which summarizes the team's performance since being "reborn" in Washington seven years ago. (Has it really been that long?) That page now displays the "usual starting positions" for each year in a graphical tabular format, such that the center fielder is listed at the top, the catcher at the bottom, etc. There is even a brown "warning track" around each of those annual tables. It is now much easier than before to compare how the team's roster and performance changed from year to year. In the process I learned (or remembered?) a lot, such as that Royce Clayton was the Nats' shortstop for most of the 2006 season. To be honest, I had completely forgotten that name. The first-string rosters for each year are summarized in an annual table toward the bottom of that page, along with annual data on wins, losses, streaks, attendance, etc. For the sake of brevity, I removed the photos from that page, and removed most of the text as well. The Nationals' 9th (+) inning comebacks and/or blown leads are tabulated at the very bottom, along with grand slams (five for the year, making 23 altogether).

This table of data for each month is also shown on that page:

Nationals, 2011: month-by-month summary
Month Wins Losses NL East place
(at end)
Number of
home games
Total
attendance
Average
attendance
April 2011 12 14 T 3rd 14 272,151 19,439
May 2011 11 17 5th 11 238,427 21,675
June 2011 17 10 4th 10 269,671 26,967
July 2011 11 15 5th 17 410,610 24,154
Aug. 2011 12 15 4th 13 324,285 24,945
Sept.* 2011 17 10 3rd 15 425,336 28,356
2011 80 81 3rd 80 1,940,480 24,256

SOURCE: My unofficial daily tabulations from MLB Gameday stats, Washington Post, and other newspapers.

Also, I have updated the last two years' sections on the Washington Nationals page with a detailed (though abbreviated) listing of the "memorable moments." If you're not well-versed in baseball shorthand and jargon, you will probably be bewildered. Here is a quick rundown of the ones for this year:

    2011 memorable moments


  • Apr. 10 -- Pudge Rodriguez RBI, L. Nix HR in 11th inn.; WSH 7, NYM 3. @
  • Apr. 17 -- (dblhdr.) Pudge, Espinosa, Desmond HRs; WSH 8 & 5, MIL 4 & 1.
  • Apr. 29 -- J. Marquis complete game shutout, Desmond 3/3; WSH 3, SF 0.
  • May 11 -- Nats scored 2 in 9th, 4 in 11th inn.; WSH 7, ATL 3. @
  • May 20 -- Jayson Werth 2 HRs, other Nats 3 HRs; WSH 17, BAL 5. @
  • May 27 -- Espinosa HR, Morse GW HR in 9th inn.; WSH 2, SDP 1. I was there!
  • June 5 -- ARI 3 runs in 9th; M. Morse grand slam in 11th inn.; WSH 9, ARI 4. @
  • June 15 -- Michael Morse two home runs; WSH 10, STL 0.
  • June 21 -- Wilson Ramos game-winning grand slam in 9th inn.; WSH 6, SEA 5.
  • June 23 -- Manager Jim Riggleman quits after 11th win in 12 games; WSH 1, SEA 0.
  • June 24 -- White Sox 3 runs in 9th; both 1 run in 10th & 12th inn.; WSH 9, CWS 5. @
  • July 4 -- C. Marmol wild pitch, run scores in 11th inn.; WSH 5, CHC 4. I was there!
  • Aug. 19 -- Ryan Zimmerman game-winning grand slam in 9th inn.; WSH 8, PHI 4.
  • Aug. 23 -- Small earthquake postpones start of game; ARI 2, WSH 0.
  • Aug. 30 -- Morse, Zimmerman, Espinosa, Nix HRs; WSH 9, ATL 2. @
  • Sept. 3 -- Tom Milone (pitcher!) homers on first pitch in majors; WSH 8, NYM 7.
  • Sept. 16 -- Marlins' Javier Vazquez CG shutout; FLA 3, WSH 0. I was there!
  • Sept. 26 -- M. Morse 3-run homer (#30!) in 9th inn.; WSH 6, FLA 4. @
  • Sept. 26 -- S. Strasburg 10 strikeouts, 1 hit in 6 inn.; WSH 3, FLA 1 in final game at Sun Life Stadium. @
  • "@" = away game

Nats sign Wang, lose Bixler

On Friday the Nationals signed right-hand pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year contract that is worth $4 million. The Nationals wanted an option for a second year, but Wang wanted to retain negotiating leverage in case he improves so much that he could get a better deal one year from now. See MLB.com. It's a sign of good faith and mutual trust on the part of both sides; Wang missed almost three years because of a bad arm that seems to be fully healed now. He had two great years with the New York Yankees, going 19-6 in 2006 and 19-7 in 2007. If does anywhere close to that well next year, it would make a big difference in the Nationals' win-loss record.

Another free agent, Brian Bixler, just signed a contract with the Houston Astros. He did pretty well as a utility bench player early in the season, and played a key role in the amazing 14-inning marathon in Chicago on June 24 mentioned above (see blog post), but ended the season with only 17 hits in 83 at bats.

Coming attractions (rev.)

For a variety of reasons, I have altered the list of "Coming Attractions" shown in the right column of the Baseball blog page. You will soon be seeing major revisions to diagrams of stadiums from the San Francisco Bay area, and from Flushing, Long Island...

Coming Attractions

Goodbye Comic Sans MS

After realizing that many platforms (such as our family iPad) no longer support it, I am finally giving up on the archaic font known as Comic Sans MS, which has been a signature stylistic element of my baseball pages since the very beginning of this Web site, nearly ten years ago. (!!??) For the record, here is what the above mini-headline is supposed to look like:

Goodbye Comic Sans MS

November 5, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Another late-arriving warbler

It was just about one month ago that we had two warbler species (a Common Yellowthroat and a Nashville Warbler) show up on our back patio, and I thought it was rather late in the season for them. Wouldn't you know it, yet another such latecomer showed up at the very same place just yesterday! I saw a small grayish bird with a distinctive green back hopping among the plants in search of small insects, and I initially assumed it was probably a Kinglet, but soon figured out that it was actually a Tennessee Warbler! The dark line through the eyes and the short tail with white undertail coverts leave no doubt. We have already had several nights dipping below the freezing mark, and birds such as these that depend on insects have a tough time keeping nourished. I was hoping that this might be a new record for the latest this species has ever been seen in the Augusta County area, but alas [according to YuLee Larner's Birds of Augusta County], someone saw one in Waynesboro on November 29, 1979. I'll bet they didn't get as good a photo as this to provide definitive proof, however!!

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler, almost certainly a male based on the dark coloration of the underside of its tail, in Staunton on November 4.

I often see Tennessee Warblers during spring migration, when they usually spend their time high in the tree tops looking for food. It's hard to get a good view of them, however, and they are one of leading causes of the common malady suffered by birders, "warbler neck." As my warblers specialized field guide notes, Tennessee Warblers can be seen in a variety of habitats during autumn migration. Indeed! Nashville Warbler before, and now a Tennessee Warbler ... Is that just a coincidence?

On Monday (which was Halloween), we had an interesting combination of birds out back: a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, [a White-breasted Nuthatch,] and some Dark-eyed Juncos.

On October 13 we had our first Dark-eyed Junco of the season out back, very early! Also a Towhee, which is unusual for this neighborhood, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. On October 11 (no school because of "Columbus Day") a Palm Warbler came to visit, and the next day we had a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, for the last time this year.

That pretty much gets me caught up with blogging about birds for now, as far as my own sightings go. Stay tuned for more...


November 7, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Citi Field to be downsized

As befitting the sorry state of the American economy in general, and the financial sector in particular, the nearly-new home of the New York Mets will be "downsized" next year. Workers have begun erecting a new fence in front of the left field wall at Citi Field, which will make it easier for sluggers to hit home runs next year. [It will only be eight feet tall, half as high as the wall on that side of the field.] Whether change this was necessitated by ongoing contract negotiations with free agent Mets (such as Jose Reyes) is not certain. See ESPN. It's probably a good idea, but I don't like the way the new fence is apprently slightly askew of the existing left field wall, rather than parallel to it. I have a feeling the "358" distance marker visible in some of the artists' depictions (misplaced, according to my calculations) is intended to evoke memories of Shea Stadium. That was the distance to the fence in front of the bullpens, near the respective foul poles.

And so, I have updated the Citi Field Citi Field diagram, with a note explaining that the changes are planned and therefore the diagram may need to be tweaked a little bit between now and Opening Day. While I was at it, I made some other major changes, such as moving the dugouts away from home plate and making the grandstand between the infield and the foul poles angle inward slightly more than before. Also, I made some corrections to the profile in the diagram, basically raising each level by 1.6 feet (one pixel), adding up to about ten extra feet in total height. As if that wasn't enough, I also added a first deck version of Citi Field for the first time, showing exactly where the overhang in right field is (or was). Finally, thanks to a tip from a fan named George, I learned that a soccer match was played there last June 7, so I included a soccer version diagram as well.

[Belated hat tips to Mike Zurawski and Terry Wallace, who cited a New York Times article, with the same diagram.]

McCourt agrees to sell Dodgers

Frank McCourt has agreed to a to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers, as part of a highly complicated judicial process involving bankruptcy and divorce. Details and a timeline are yet to emerge... MLB.com. Well, the Texas Rangers handled bankruptcy just fine in 2010, when they won their first-ever American League pennant, so maybe this will help the Dodgers in 2012.


November 7, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Elections in Virginia, 2011

Tomorrow is the big day on the political calendar for this year in the Old Dominion, and in a couple other states. The big questions is, Can the Republicans regain a majority in the State Senate? Some people are afraid that a GOP victory would herald an extremist agenda, which seems a little exaggerated to me. I can't say much about the rest of the state, but I can say that the Republican candidates for state and local offices in this area (Augusta County and its environs) are solid, responsible mainstream conservatives, not hot-headed populist fringe activists. (See below.) Unfortunately, turnout is not expected to be high for this election, so winning and losing will depend largely on the candidates' own efforts to get their supporters motivated to go to the polls.

The current party split in the State Senate is 22-18 in favor of the Democrats, so only two seats need to flip for at least parity to be reached. (Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling presides over the State Senate and casts the tie-breaking vote where necessary.) Saturday's Washington Post took a look at how various top party officials are campaigning on behalf of their parties' legislative candidates. The 2011 election is being portrayed as a referendum on Governor Bob McDonnell, who is regarded mainly as a moderate within the party, and who may face pressure from the GOP right wing if they get control of the state Senate. The hottest races are in the 17th District, where Democrat State Senator Edd Houck (of Spotsylvania) is being challenged by Republican Bryce Reeves, and in the 20th District, where Democrat Roscoe Reynolds (of Martinsville) is being challenged by Republican William Stanley.

In most State Senate races, however, there is not much competition. Part of the reason for that is the redistricting, which consciously sought to minimize the number of districts in which the incumbents were exposed to a serious risk of losing. It was a disappointing, even shameful exercise in crudely self-serving politics, and both parties were guilty of it. (See April 3.) That is true of the 24th Senate District, which was stretched like a pretzel by the Democratic Senate majority, and where incumbent Emmett Hanger is assured of another four-year term in Richmond. Apparently the right-wing activists realized that more can be accomplished by forging consensus among conservatives than by seeking to oust incumbents who aren't deemed conservative enough. If so, that's a hopeful sign for the future.

Of the three local House of Delegates races, only one (20th House District: Dickie Bell) is being contested. The Democrats are running Laura Kleiner, a recent graduate of Mary Baldwin College. She seems earnest, and I have seen a few of her campaign signs, but am not clear on what her main issues are. It's a good thing that there is a real choice on the ballot, but I have to say that I strongly support Dickie Bell, who is unapologetically conservative and yet independent minded. He is not some ambitious party hack, he is just a civic-minded person who cares about his community. One of the things that impresses me about him is that he has not succumbed to pressure to sign Grover Norquist's infamous "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," by which many Republican officials are forced to put their own re-election ahead of the public good. Meanwhile, the other local incumbent Republican Delegates, Ben Cline (24th District) and Steve Landes (25th District), are each cruising unopposed to another two-year term.

Confusion in Augusta County

Here in Augusta County (well, just outside the Staunton city limits, that is) there is a fascinating challenge to the local "Republican establishment." As an outgrowth of the tax revolt that erupted in March 2009, an alliance has been formed between conservative Democrat Supervisor Tracy Pyles and some former Republican "grassroots" activists. An independent named Susan Kubany is running for Commissioner of the Revenue against the incumbent Jean Shrewsbury, but it is unclear what agenda or partisan affiliation she may have. She waited until the last minute before filing her candidate registration. There is also a challenge to Sheriff Randy Fisher, a guy named Edward Carter who also ran for Sheriff four years ago. He obviously has a deep grudge of some kind. Treasurer Richard Homes, who overcame a challenge from "grassroots" Jason Bibeau at a Republican mass meeting in July, is running unopposed in the general election.

Augusta County Board of Supervisors
Magisterial
district
Republican
candidate
"Independent"
candidate
Independent
candidate
Beverly Manor Jeremy Shifflett David Karaffa
Middle River Larry Wills
North River Larry Roller Marshall Pattie Steve Morris
Pastures Jim Warren Tracy Pyles
Riverheads Michael Shull
South River David Beyeler
Wayne Jeff Moore Kurt Michael

NOTE: Incumbents' names in bold face.

It is worth noting that two Republican members of the Board of Supervisors -- Larry Howdyshell (North River) and Gerald Garber (Middle River) -- decided not to run for re-election, citing the negative political climate in this area. Conservation-minded Independent Nancy Sorrells (Riverheads) and Wendell Coleman (Wayne) also decided not to run again. That is why at least half of the seats on the board will be held by novices as of January.

I noticed in the News Leader that retiring Supervisor Nancy Sorrells endorsed incumbent Jeremy Shifflett, and so did Shifflett's Democratic opponent in the 2007 election, Lee Godfrey. (She is currently running for the Augusta County School Board.) It is a tribute to Jeremy's growing reputation for thinking independently and refusing to bow to political pressure.

Augusta County districts 2011 change

The situation is somewhat confused this year because two nominal Republicans are running as "independents": Kurt Michael (Wayne District) and David Karaffa (Beverly Manor District). Kurt Michael and David Karaffa have formed an alliance with incumbent supervisor Tracy Pyles and Marshall Pattie, stating their clear intention to jointly set the agenda for the county government. Michael is running against Republican Jeff Moore in a seat being vacated, and Karaffa is challenging Republican incumbent Jeremy Shifflett, who has proved himself very able during his first term. In addition, Republican Larry Roller, is facing two opponents in his race for the North River BOS seat: Marshall Pattie (part of that Michael-Pyles alliance) and Steve Morris. Finally, Republican Jim Warren is challenging Tracy Pyles in the Pastures District. I put the word "independents" in quotes because the four candidates running under that label (other than Steve Morris) are decidedly not "independent," they are in fact operating in conjunction with each other. It really is an Orwellian twist of words.

As another sign of confusion, the News Leader endorsed two of those "independent" candidates, Kurt Michael and Marshall Pattie. Their editorial this weekend acknowledged the disruption that Michael had caused in years past: "we remember another of his public faces -- a raving Republican making more waves than sense over a state election in 2008 [sic]." They probably meant 2007, but may have been thinking about the Republican Party mass meeting snafu in April 2008. That was only the most public and visible incidents in a long string of outrageous and embarrassing acts that call into question his capacity to serve in public office. Evidently, word has not yet gotten around about all of the other misdeeds that were committed out of naked political ambition. Perhaps, as the editorial suggest, he has matured. If he wins tomorrow, we'll find out soon enough.

Along those lines, at Rightside VA, fellow veteran blogger Steve Kijak probes more deeply into the issue of party labels, especially with regard to Kurt Michael. It is very ironic that the very same activist who berated Sen. Emmett Hanger for not being a true Republican, or even a "Democrat Lite" would now pursue his political career outside the party he tried so hard to control. It's also ironic that some of those who praise the "independent" faction led by Pyles and Michael downplay party politics, when those very people are the ones who built political alliances across the state.

But at least one good thing has come about from this campaign: Thanks to the public records about candidates' names, we finally know what the mysterious "Y" in Kurt Y. Michael stands for: Yanchenko! It sounds Ukrainian to me, but further investigation may be required.

R.I.P. Andy Rooney

Long-time commentator on CBS Sixty Minutes, Andy Rooney, passed away a few days ago, not long after signing off for the last time. I always enjoyed his reflections on the mundane annoyances of daily life, but he occasionally revealed a few deeper thoughts here and there. In his last months, he acknowledged more explicitly leaning toward the Democratic side, which is no surprise. I was a little taken aback that he really doesn't like being accosted by strangers he meets in public places. I guess I assumed anyone in TV journalism would have gotten used to such attention. Anyway, it will be hard to replace the original, one-of-a-kind Rooney.


November 9, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Republicans gain, State Senate is tied (?)

The results of the elections held in Virginia on Tuesday aren't final yet, but as of tonight, it appears that the Grand Old Party is on the verge of a real legislative majority in Richmond. The Republicans increased the number of seats in the House of Delegates from 58 to 67, and added at least one and probably two seats in the Senate, which would yield an even 20-20 split between the two parties. It's not quite a smashing victory, but it's pretty close. With Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote, there is relatively little need for any kind of "power-sharing" arrangement, as some people are talking about. Hopefully they can at least make some token accommodations to the Democrats, for the sake of comity. McDonnell says he will push on socially conservative issues, while the Democrats' leader in the Senate, current Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, warned Republicans not "to go crazy with some far-right agenda." See the Washington Post. His definition of a "far-right agenda" is probably much different than mine, or else I would tend to agree with him on that.

There will certainly be a recount in the 17th Senate District, where at one point the margin of victory was less than 100 votes, too close to call. RPV Chairman Pat Mullins reported (on Facebook) that "Today's re-canvassing of the votes in the Bryce Reeves vs Edd Houck race showed another numerical error in Bryce's favor. Bryce's margin has gone from 86 votes to 224 votes!" That is indeed what it says about the on the State Board of Elections Web site. The other big race was in the 20th Senate District (south side, Martinsville, etc.), where Republican William Stanley unseated incumbent Democrat Roscoe Reynolds.

Here in the Valley, incumbent Republican Emmett Hanger won without any opposition, a tribute to the broad respect and admiration he has earned. His 24th Senate District now includes Madison County and most of Culpeper County, well to the east of the Blue Ridge. In Northern Virginia, Jeff Frederick lost by a substantial margin.

I have a feeling the redistricting mess will come back to haunt the state legislators in the months and years to come...

As I commented on the NBC-29 Facebook wall:

Two cheers! With power comes responsibility, and I just hope that the Republican members follow the example of our governor in putting the state's best interests ahead of party or ideology.

GOP prevails in Augusta County

Most of the Republican candidates won in Augusta County, but the "Independent" faction won three of the four contested Board of Supervisors seats. That may be a troubling sign for the future. There were two very close BOS races: in Beverly Manor District, David Karaffa edged out incumbent Jeremy Shifflett, and in Wayne District, Jeff Moore prevailed over Kurt Michael. Now that the "grassroots" faction has come out openly against the local Republican Party, and making common cause with two leaders who were affiliated with the Democrats until recently, it will be interesting to see whether the local SWAC leaders (Kurt Michael and Lynn Mitchell) remain active with their Republican allies in other parts of the state. Who knows, perhaps word will start to get around about what they've really been up to for the past five years...

Augusta County Board of Supervisors election results
Magisterial
district
Republican
candidate
% "Independent"
candidate
% Independent
candidate
%
Beverly Manor Jeremy Shifflett 47.5% David Karaffa 50.7%
Middle River Larry Wills 99.2%
North River Larry Roller 23.8% Marshall Pattie 64.3% Steve Morris 11.7%
Pastures Jim Warren 34.8% Tracy Pyles 65.1%
Riverheads Michael Shull 95.6%
South River David Beyeler 98.6%
Wayne Jeff Moore 53.2% Kurt Michael 46.6%

NOTE: Unofficial results from the State Board of Elections. Winners' names in red background. Incumbents' names in bold face.

I was struck by the fact that voters rejected three of the four BOS candidates who were endorsed by the Staunton News Leader. The sole winning endorsee, Marshall Pattie, is an effective public speaker. I saw him at a candidates' forum in Verona several weeks ago. Perhaps the fact that he has a background as a Democrat means that he will be less likely to take marching orders from the leaders of the "Independent" faction.

Steve Kijak joined the victory party at the Augusta County Republican headquarters*, and posted some photos of it at RightsideVA. (I was teaching an evening class and couldn't be there.) My comment:

It is a shame that Jeremy lost after building strong credentials as a leader with a mind of his own. I agree the way the News Leader reported that non-attendance non-issue was unfortunate. I heard a radio ad for Karaffa this morning, all patriotic and all but pretty vague about issues. Now he'll be watched very closely. At least the voters were aware of Kurt Yanchenko Michael's past record of mischief.

* Speaking of the local unit headquarters, I checked the RPV Web site, and it indicates that the Augusta County GOP HQ is in Verona, but the last time they used that location was at least three years ago. It also states that the Staunton GOP HQ is at 123 Greenville Ave., which is downtown. I highly doubt it. Somebody needs to update that Web site!

Requiring photo IDs to vote?

As the polarization of the American body politic continues to rise, suspicions that the other side may be cheating rise as well. The razor-close presidential election of 2000 is a perfect example of this sad phenomenon ("Gore losers!"), but in recent years, some Republicans have indulged in such behavior as well. Some folks on the right actually seem to believe that Barack Obama did not really win the 2008 election, but somehow stuffed the ballot boxes or contrived to get millions of extra votes counted in their favor. Not very likely. It is for this reason that Facebook friend Bill Shireman expressed a strong dislike of the idea of requiring photo identification cards to cast a vote, calling attention to a New York Times editorial last month. It cited a study of various recent state laws by the Brennan Center for Justice. My response to Bill:

I would agree that exaggerating the extent of voter fraud is dangerous, but so is underplaying it, as that NYT editorial does. I just can't see any reason to object to the various legislative measures covered in that Brennan Center study. Building confidence in our voting practices ought to be a matter of consensus, and establishing one's identity for a solemn civic act such as voting is not unreasonable. As for partisanship, it was the Democrats who were crying "fraud" after the 2000 Bush-Gore disputed election. We don't want that to happen again, especially in the current deeply polarized political climate. As long as getting a proper photo ID is free and easy, there is no reason to fear discrimination. Critics of these laws should focus their efforts on ensuring access to ID cards.

Misc. Facebook comments

For the record, here are a few other Facebook comments I've made recently:

In response to Chris Graham's assertion a few days ago that there is a job crisis right but not a debt crisis, as claimed by the Tea Party folks, I commented:

In neither case is it truly a "crisis," which implies an emergency. Both the employment situation and the debt/deficit situation have been getting worse for a long time, and both problems are symptoms of severe underlying structural imbalances in the economy. Neither party seems to have either the brains or the willpower to address the causes of those imbalances, however. Trying to push for either more jobs or lower deficits without making more basic reforms would only have temporary results and would be ultimately futile. I'm not very optimistic.

In response to some derisive jabs about Indiana Senator Richard Lugar being a "RINO," etc. (he will apparently face a challenger next year from within the GOP ranks), I wrote "He is a decent, responsible leader with strong national security credentials who puts the national interest ahead of partisan agendas."

Finally, back in September, after finishing the book cited below, I posted this brief observation of current political trends:

Clinton Rossiter wrote in "Conservatism in America" (1962) that the conservative movement must throw off or control the various "eccentric or irrelevant" factions (such as pseudo-conservatives or the populist "poujadistes") that seek to control it. Regarding the latter pathology, "for this is to escape into a never-never land where the answer to every social problem is very simply: 'Cut taxes.'" Wow, half a century ago! Maybe things don't change as much as we think.

November 10, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Nats' catcher Wilson Ramos is kidnapped in Venezuela

There was a news report last night that Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped at gunpoint while at his home in Valencia, Venezuela. Today it was learned that police found the kidnappers' automobile abandonded in a nearby town a few hours later. There is no word of any ransom demands, but of course, such demands hardly ever becomes public. See masnsports.com and MLB.com. Ramos was playing for the Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela's Winter League. (See the Latin American leagues page.)

Ramos was one of the most-improved players in the Nationals roster this year, and to the surprise of many people, became the first-string catcher by the end of May, largely replacing Pudge Rodriguez. Those are big shoes to fill. His biggest feat of the 2011 season was hitting a three-run game-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against the visiting Seattle Mariners on June 21; see my June 23 post.

Anyone who has travelled in Latin America knows that kidnapping is a serious problem in some areas, and tourists need to take extra precautions. There was a movie starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan vividly dramatizing the issue, Proof of Life (2000). Definitely not for the faint of heart. (See imdb.com.) It's really a shame that the growing lawlessness in Venezuela had to strike an innocent victim like Wilson. He is not only a fine athlete with great promise, he is devoted to community service and (as reported on ABC News this evening) has a reputation for taking extra time to sign autographs for fans. Prayers go out for a quick return of Wilson to safety.

Birth of the curve ball

Here is an item of historical curosity brought to my attention by a historian colleague of mine, Matthew Poteat. According to research cited by the North Carolina Civil War 150 blog, the curve ball was invented in North Carolina during Civil War. I wonder when and where the knuckle ball, slider, and even the spit ball were invented?

Corrected page link

In my November 5 blog post, I originally had a bad link to the Washington Nationals page, so I have corrected it. Sorry about that.


November 11, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Wilson Ramos is found safe!

This is a huge relief for baseball fans everywhere: Ben Goessling, at masnsports.com, reports that "Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who was abducted in front of his home in Valencia, Venezuela, on Wednesday night, has been found safe by Venezuelan authorities." Further details are expected to become available soon...

UPDATE: Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami confirmed that Ramos had indeed been freed in an announcement on state television. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement, "Though details are limited and we have not yet talked directly with Wilson, we are thrilled with reports that he has been rescued and is being safely returned to his family." See MLB.com.


November 11, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Veterans Day 2011

To mark Veterans Day this year, the PBS program Need to Know (see pbs.org) had a special report entitled "Coming home: The enduring sacrifice." It focused on the plight of military veterans struggling to cope with a bleak economy. Some of them are even homeless, or dependent upon relatives for shelter. Unemployment among war vets runs 12.1% nationwide, compared to 9% overall. There is a report about the reasons for this at www.washingtonpost.com. The biggest reason cited by prospective employers was uncertainty about the veterans' jobs skills. Whatever the cause, it would seem to be a matter of widespread consensus that Congress pass the necessary laws to make sure that current and past armed forces personnel get the proper training and counseling they need to transition to the civilian labor force. Those who have sacrificed years of their lives for the sake of their country deserve nothing less. There is no excuse for stalling on this issue.

Tomorrow there will be a Veterans Day parade in Staunton, which I plan to attend.

Johnny Clem, the drummer boy

When Jacqueline and I were visiting Arlington National Cemetery in September, I was startled to come across a large tombstone with the Clem family name on it. It turns out that it marks the final resting place of John Joseph Klem, a hero of the Civil War. After repeated attempts to volunteer at nine years of age, he was finally accepted by the 22nd Michigan (Regiment), where he served as an unofficial drummer boy. He went on to perform feats of bravery and heroism at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, gaining fame as "Johnny Clem, the drummer boy." He changed his name to John Lincoln Clem in honor of the president. After the war, he stayed in the Army and eventually became commissioned as an officer and rose to the rank of general before retiring in 1915. See the New York Times. Hat tip to Connie.

John L. Clem grave

John L. Clem grave, at Arlington National Cemetery.

[See the updated Military photo gallery page, including additional views of World War II aircraft I took in October 2009.]


November 19, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Houston Astros to join American League

On Thursday, Commissioner Bud Selig formally announced what has been rumored since at least September: the Houston Astros will move to the American League, effective with the 2013 season. Only one team has ever changed leagues before: the Milwaukee Brewers, who joined the National League in 1998. Thus, both leagues will have the same number of teams for the first time since 1997, when both leagues had 14 teams. The Astros will be part of the AL Western Division, along with the Texas Rangers, so all six divisions will have five teams each. See MLB.com. These changes were made possible by two events: the sale of the Houston Astors to Jim Crane, who is getting a $70 million "discount" in exchange for agreeing to move the Astros to the AL, and a tentative agreement on a new labor deal with the players' association. (Meanwhile, the NBA lockout continues with no hope in sight for any resolution; that's just fine with me.)

Another aspect of the realignment is that there will be two wild card teams beginning in 2013, forcing the top two non-division-winners to slug it out prior to advancing to the divisional playoff series. I think that's a healthy development, but as the Washington Post noted:

Had such a format been in place in 2011, it would have rendered meaningless the dramatic, four-city, last-day-of-the-season finish that some have called the greatest day of regular season baseball in history. But the new format undoubtedly will provide a greater incentive for teams to win their division and avoid the somewhat arbitrary one-game "play-in."

Indeed, all the nail-biting drama of September 28, 2011 would have been nullified.

As a result, for the first time ever, the two leagues will have an odd number of teams, meaning that on every "full-slate" day during the regular season, there will be a "leftover" team in each league. That, in turn, means that there will have to be interleague games throughout the season. That will make some traditionalists cringe, and I too fear too much blurring of the distinction between the two leagues, but I don't see a big problem in this. Another change they should consider is extending the divisional series from best-of-five to best-of-seven, to make sure the better team wins. I suggested that one month ago, as long as they also cut back on all the "travel/rest" days in October.

I have mixed feelings about the realignment. On one hand, I agree that the two leagues needed to be brought into parity in terms of the number of clubs, but as I have long argued, the Arizona Diamondbacks would have been a much more logical choice in terms of geographical distribution. At present, four of the six teams in the far southwest (California and Arizona) are in the National League, an easy opportunity to even things out. Besides, the Astros have a much longer franchise history (half a century) -- and therefore a more well-established identity -- than the D-Backs (14 years). And why put both Texas teams in the same league? Only one of the eight current states that are home to multiple Major League franchises does not have at least one team in each league: Pennsylvania. And in that case, the two teams (Phillies and Pirates) are in separate divisions. I suspect the reason has something to do with the reluctance of the Diamondbacks' owner to go along with switching leagues.

Be all that as it may, I have updated the MLB Franchises page [link fixed], with a new "Historical summary timeline" (shown below) at the top, and text revisions where appropriate. That page also includes updated 2011 annual attendance figures, from baseball-reference.com. I will also need to update my "If I were commissioner" list on the Baseball blog page, since moving Arizona to the American League is no longer in the cards.

Historical summary timeline

League 1901-
1960
1961 1962-
1968
1969-
1976
1977-
1992
1993-
1997
1998-
2012
2013-
National League 8 teams 8 10 12 12 14 16 15
American League 8 teams 10 10 12 14 14 14 15

Rangers Ballpark renovations

Wouldn't you know it, I just updated the diagram(s) of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington less than one month ago, and now I learn they have begun making renovations on it. (See www.dallasnews.com; hat tips to Mike Zurawski and Terry Wallace.) All that nice green grass has been taken out from the plaza beyond center field, where a large "batter's eye" restaurant and new concession stands are being built. Too bad. In addition, the visiting team bullpen will be rotated 90 degrees, paralleling the outfield fence. That's fine; in fact, the difficulty in seeing that bullpen from the visitor's dugout led to a big communication breakdown in World Series Game 5. That bullpen will eliminate most of the bleacher rows that used to be in deep left center field, and the last few rows of bleachers to the right of center field will be removed as well. As a result, bleacher capacity will be less than half of what it was before, an unfortunate squeeze on budget-minded fans.

And so, I have updated the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Rangers Ballpark in Arlington diagrams, yet another sudden change in my plans. I added an original (1994) version diagram for the first time. Also, I noticed a couple small errors with the "old" diagram: the deep corner to the right of center field has been moved a bit to the right, and right left field fence (and the double-decked grandstand in back) is a little closer than before. The old diagram indicated a distance of about 355 feet to the bend near the right field corner where the "349" sign is. (That sign and the "354" sign at the corresponding bend near the left field corner are displayed in the full-size diagram version, which shows the stadium as it was in 2009. As a general rule, I try to avoid excess clutter in stadiums which have many outfield distance markers.) As a result of the changes, the jog in the fence where the Rangers' bullpen is located is smaller than before.

Kauffman Stadium name change?

According to the NBC affiliate in Kansas City, KSHB-TV, the Royals have sold the naming rights to Kauffman Stadium (see nbcactionnews.com), but if so, it's not official yet. David Glass, owner of the Royals, says that no such agreement has been reached. See MLB.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The original name was "Royals Stadium," and was changed to "Kauffman Stadium" in 1993, just before the franchise's original owner Ewing Kauffman passed away.

On the subject of stadium names, what I'd like to know is when the Miami (not Florida!) Marlins are going to announce the name of their new stadium? Hopefully, it will last longer than did the various names of the stadium (Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphin, Sun Life, etc., etc.) which they have called home for the last 18 years.

New team unis, logos

Four teams will be getting new uniforms and/or logos next year: the Toronto Blue Jays (logo only), the Miami Marlins (both), the Baltimore Orioles (logo only), and the San Diego Padres (both). There was a rumor about the Marlins' new logo being rather garish, and that indeed seems to be the case. See ballparkdigest.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Wilson Ramos visits D.C.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos paid a brief visit to Washington, just nine days after being rescued in a dramatic shoot-out. He talked with General Manager Mike Rizzo for a while, and later joined Rizzo and Ryan Zimmerman at news conference. Rizzo praised the government of Venezuela for taking extraordinary measures to make sure Ramos was returned safely. See MLB.com.

Welcome home, Wilson!


November 21, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Verlander gets AL MVP and Cy Young awards

Only a couple days after receiving the American League Cy Young award for 2011, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was also named the League's Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. It's the first time a pitcher has been named MVP since 1992 (reliever Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A's) and the first starting pitcher since 1986 (Roger Clemens, then of the Boston Red Sox). Verlander got 13 out of 28 first-place votes, leaving no doubt he was the clear choice. With a record of 24-5 (including a no-hitter on May 7), an ERA of 2.40, and 250 strikeouts, it's easy to see why. (Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox and Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays came in second and third, respectively.) See MLB.com. As the 2011 season progressed, Verlander just kept outperforming himself time and again, and his pitching arm was what kept the Tigers alive in Game 5 of the ALCS. (See Oct. 15.) In short, I think it's safe to say,

You da man, Justin!

I was hoping Curtis Granderson (who got the fourth-highest number of votes) would get the AL MVP award, since I prematurely reported that happening seven weeks ago. That was almost as bad as my repeated gaffes about hockey facts in June 2009. smile

In the National League, Clayton Kershaw of the L.A. Dodgers received the Cy Young award. As Roger Schlueter notes at MLB.com, there was really no question about it in either league, since Verlander and Kershaw each won their respective league's pitching Triple Crowns (win-loss, ERA, strikeouts).

Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves won the honors for National League Rookie of the Year. Kimbrel [had a great year as closer, with 46 saves and an ERA of 2.10,] but blew the final game of the season, which was how the St. Louis Cardinals sneaked into the postseason and won the World Series. In the American League, Jeremy Hellickson, a pitcher for Tampa Bay, was named Rookie of the Year.

Meanwhile, Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay, AL) and Kirk Gibson (Arizona, NL) were chosen as the respective League Managers of the Year. And at Wrigley Field in Chicago, finally, the Cubs announced that Dale Sveum will be their team's manager next year.

GMs: busy wheeling and dealing

The winter meetings of the baseball general managers are underway, the Phillies have acquired Ty Wigginton from the Rockies in a trade for an unnamed player. Before last season, Wigginton played for the Orioles. Meanwhile, Twins' closing pitcher Joe Nathan signed with the Texas Rangers, and both the Washington Nationals and the Florida Miami Marlins are pursuing left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle.

Two of the biggest names in big-market cities recently signed new contracts with their old teams: C.C. Sabathia (Yankees, one added year, through 2016, $25 million) and free agent Matt Kemp (Dodgers, eight years, $160 million). The Phillies declined their options on pitchers Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge, while the Braves traded away Derek Lowe for a minor leaguer. (Ouch!) (The Nationals are supposedly interested in Oswalt.) You, too, can keep with all the "hot stove" news.

At the culmination of these meetings, it is expected that a new labor agreement between the owners and players will be reached.

Mariners player murdered

This is not a good time to be a foreign-born Major League Baseball player. Two weeks after Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped (and later freed), Mariners outfielder Greg Halman was stabbed to death in the Netherlands, where he was born and grew up. His brother is a suspect in the murder. See MLB.com, which lists other players from the past who died under sudden, tragic circumstances. Halman represented the surge in interest in baseball in the Netherlands, which began in that country's former possessions in the Caribbean, Aruba and Curacao.

Busch Stadium III tweak

Based on further input from Jonathan Karberg, who must have been using a magnifying glass (!), I updated the Busch Stadium III Busch Stadium III diagrams. Most of the changes are in the outfield bleachers and adjacent structures. For the time being, I have left alone the old football version of Busch III, so that you can see exactly what changed.

The mail bag

Angus MacFarlane asked me how high the upper deck at the Polo Grounds was. My tentative estimate is that the front edge of the upper deck was about 40 feet high, and the roof was about 88 feet high. That may change somewhat after I have tackled those diagrams.

Terry Wallace brought to my attention a bunch of old photos of Griffith Stadium, which will be useful in getting those diagrams more accurate.

Finally, Bruce Orser thinks the recent dramatic rescue of Wilson Ramos would make an excellent plot for a motion picture.


November 21, 2011 [LINK / comment]

GOP candidates bash each others' brains in

I have made a conscious effort to pay as little attention as possible to the "debates" between the Republican presidential candidates this fall. With the general election still nearly twelve months away, it is just plain ridiculous for any serious candidate to be campaigning this early. From a Republican perspective, the extended campaign season is extremely dangerous, as the rivals sling mud at one another, providing lots of rhetorical ammunition for the Obama campaign next year. It boggles the mind to think that a president with approval ratings below forty percent stands a very good chance of re-election next year. It is almost unheard-of that an incumbent could get re-elected with unemployment hovering around the nine percent rate. So what's wrong with the Republicans???

Clearly, much of the problem stems from the media feeding frenzy that drive television news coverage and gives an incentive for states to schedule their primaries earlier and earlier with each election cycle. You can't blame the Republicans for that. It's a built-in systemic defect that plagues both parties.

But there is another aspect of this campaign which the "debates" have highlighted: the increasingly low-brow level of discourse that has come to prevail in the party. We've been through several campaigns dominated by dumbed-down slogans such as "Drill here! Drill now!" The idea that economic policy might involve anything more than adjusting the tax rate seems to have eluded many people's thought process. I say this with full realization that my own involvement in the Republican Party has not exactly been helped by my academic career, and therefore almost anything I say on the matter has to be taken with a grain of salt. (Sigh...)

But you can at least take it from Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, who responded to a Newsweek essay by Paul Begala, "The Stupid Party." Parker speaks of the "Palinization of the GOP, in which the least informed earns the loudest applause." Darn tootin'! More seriously, Parker observes that whereas the extremely erudite William F. Buckley "tried to rid the GOP of fringe elements, notably the John Birch Society, today's conservatives have let them back in. The 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference was co-sponsored by the Birchers." Yikes.

This phenomenon would explain why many Republicans seem nonplussed by Herman Cain's "brain freeze" on Libya. He got started on the right track, correctly stating that President Obama had been supporting the insurgent faction, but soon he got lost in a fatigue-induced fog, trying to recall talking points that Henry Kissinger had apparently been coaching him on. I know what it's like to lecture when I'm dead tired, so I can sympathize with Cain to a certain extent. But there are many other incidents with Cain that make one wonder whether he is really a serious candidate. On ABC's This Week, George Will expressed strong doubt about that, and I agree. Cain seems quite intelligent and sincere, but his lack of experience in politics (and world affairs) are crippling handicaps for him. Whether all those accusations of past sexual misconduct are based in fact remains to be seen...

Obviously, Gov. Rick Perry is a perfect example of this "Palinization" syndrome. As a candidate he is very popular with the GOP Base, but he has quickly proven himself to lack the basic competence to address serious questions in a public forum. His repeated brain freezes and gaffes make you wonder how he ever got elected governor. He made light of himself on David Letterman, but he's not going anywhere, and there are a lot of wealthy campaign donors out there who want their money back. Ironically, even though Perry has positioned himself as a moderate on the issue of illegal immigration, a risky stance, he declared a couple months ago that U.S. military intervention might be required to deal with the problem of narco gang violence in Mexico. See BBC. Such a suggestion is absolutely ludicrous.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, each in their own way, illustrate the pitfalls of campaigns that stress emotional commitment and downplay intellectual engagement. Bachmann is a lawyer by training, and is evidently bright, but her law degree is from a religious school that was once affiliated with Oral Roberts University, and is reputed to be weak academically. Her early debate performances were very compelling, but too many of her statements were outside the mainstream. Santorum seems hopelessly lost, a tragic figurehead for the Bushite social conservative faction that makes lots of noise, but attracts fewer voters with every election cycle.

I really wish Jon Huntsman (Utah) and Gary Johnson (New Mexico) would be taken more seriously. Huntsman is too moderate for me on many key issues, such as health care, but I deeply admire his frank, unapologetic appeal to independent-minded voters and his criticism of GOP ideological dogma on tax cuts, etc. As Kathleen Parker noted, "Huntsman committed blasphemy when he told ABC's Jake Tapper that he trusts scientists on global warming." (To me, it's clear that atmospheric changes are taking place, but not at all clear what's causing it.) Johnson is a Libertarian without the reputation for saying kooky things that Ron Paul has. He has the added benefit of having been a governor. I was not even aware of Johnson before Facebook friend Nick Sorrentino brought him to my attention; clearly Facebook has many good uses. smile Johnson may decide to run as an independent, or else on the Libertarian ticket.

So that leaves us with Newt Gingrich versus Mitt Romney. They are both intelligent, experienced, and articulate, and both are deeply flawed. In their race to round up Republican voters, they are forced to pander to The Base, coming across as quite cynical in the process. I favor Gingrich in terms of the issues, but his personal history and general grouchy attitude -- like Bob Dole in 1996? -- cast big doubts on his ability to sustain a long campaign and defeat Barack Obama. Romney has a good a chance as any candidate to win, and I happen to agree with his rationale for mandatory health insurance being appropriate for Massachusetts but not the country as a whole. It's a logical application of the Tenth Amendment, but it may be too subtle, especially for some of the low-brow voters in the Republican ranks. It will be easy for Obama to play the demagogue on this, calling Romney hypocritical for not supporting his (Obama's) health care law. I hope the American people are smart enough to make the distinction, if Romney ends up with the nomination, but I wouldn't bet on it.

In sum, I'm not very enthusiastic about any of the Republicans running for president, and I'm afraid the party's recent troubles will result in this country continuing in the statist direction that President Obama has begun. When will a true leader emerge to challenge people's thinking and tell them what they don't want to hear? Too bad New Jersey's Chris Christie just doesn't have the "fire in the belly."


November 25, 2011 [LINK / comment]

MLB, players reach labor agreement

Baseball fans had much to be thankful for on this year's Thanksgiving Day, as Major League Baseball and the Players' Association had just agreed to a new contract that assures peace and harmony in the sport for at least the next five years. Unlike the U.S. Congress, where the opposing sides seem willing to ruin the country if they don't get their way, the leaders of baseball put the broad interests of the sport above their own narrow agendas. As reported at MLB.com, the main elements of the deal are:

  • A "luxury tax" on teams that spend more than a specified standard amount on draftees, with higher rates for the 5%, 10%, and 15% surplus brackets.
  • Limits on signing bonuses for international players, from a shared pool of money.
  • The minimum player's salary will rise from $414,000 to $480,000.
  • 22% of players will be eligible for salary arbitration after two years, up from 17%.
  • Mandatory testing for human growth hormones (HGH).
  • A ban on players carrying tobacco products on the field or in interviews.
  • No discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Expanded use of instant replay, as long as the umpires agree to it.
  • The Houston Astros will move from the National League to the American League. *
  • One extra wild card team in each league, with a "play-in" game. *

* The latter parts of the deal were previously announced.

It's hard to say what the ultimate outcome will be, but it's fairly certain that Our National Pastime will have more balanced competition for the near-term future. The extra wild card slot may be instituted as early as next fall. At masnsports.com, Ben Goessling notes that the deal "will likely limit the Nationals from going on the draft spending sprees they've undertaken in past years." (A commenter on that page named David Lint warns that the new limits will prevent ambitious lower-ranked teams of the future from ever competing with the "big boys of baseball.") Indeed, the Nats front office may have spurred the other owners into taking concerted action to prevent future bidding wars from getting out of control. It's ironic, because the Lerners seemed reluctant to spend so much on Stephen Strasburg back in August 2009, agreeing to most of his demands at the very last moment.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was almost ecstatic with joy over the "monumental" accord. Like Goessling, he observed that the restrictions on bonuses for rookies would have made it hard if not impossible for the Washington Nationals to have signed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but on the other hand, the extra wild card "play-in" will make it easier for the Nats to reach the postseason. In other words, for the Nationals, the timing of this labor agreement could not have been better.

Boswell also praises Commissioner Bud Selig, who has adapted after years of blunders, and will (presumably) retire next year with a proud legacy of accomplishments. Who woulda thunk it? I won't deny that Selig deserves credit, but I would like to point out that with the huge amount of public money that has been spent on new baseball stadiums over the past two decades, fans should have expected no less. All that money has the indirect effect of raising players' salaries, and in hard times like these, it would be stupid for either the owners or the players to give the slightest appearance of being greedy.

Braun is named NL MVP

As expected, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun received the National League Most Valuable Player award from the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received 20 first-place votes and came in second on the rest of the 32 ballots. Matt Kemp, who flirted with the Triple Crown all season, received 10 first-place votes and was the runner-up with 332 points. He had the second-best batting average in the National League (.332), behind Mets' Jose Reyes, and came in just behind Matt Kemp in home runs (33) and RBIs (111). Kemp was the NL MVP runner-up. First baseman / outfielder Michael Morse, the rising star for the Washington Nationals, received one seventh-place vote and one tenth-place vote. He had a batting average of .303, 31 home runs, and 95 RBIs, not far behind those other guys. See bbwaa.com.

Shea Stadium update

Since I recently redid the Citi Field diagrams, I figured I ought to do the same for Shea Stadium Shea Stadium, where the Mets used to play. Voilà! The profile is much more accurate than before, with each level being a couple feet higher, adding up to an overall difference of at least 15 feet. The base paths, dugouts, and adjacent areas are now rendered more precisely, and the the lateral walkways and entry portals in the lower level are now displayed. In addition, there are two brand-new diagram versions: one that shows just the lower deck, and one that shows what Shea Stadium would have been like if they had ever completed the grandstand, making it into a full circle. That would have been huge! The lower deck diagram also shows the approximate position of Citi Field beyond center field, under construction from late 2006 until early 2009.

I expect to continue making further progress on other diagrams over the Thanksgiving holiday. You can look forward to even more intriguing "what-if" hypothetical diagrams in the very near future...

The mail bag

Finally, I learned from Mike Zurawski that the Cleveland Indians may be putting pressure on the city government to pay for major upgrades to Progressive Field, formerly known as Jacobs Field. If they succeed, you can expect other teams to follow suit, putting a damper on the good spirits brought about by the new MLB-Players contract. Read what Neil deMause has to say at fieldofschemes.com.


November 28, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Franchise pages updated

Whoopee! The new (2012) edition of the World Almanac (and Book of Facts) just came out, showing the complete results of the 2011 baseball season, including the postseason series. That's pretty fast turnaround for a mass market publication, barely a month after the final game of the World Series. It also features, for the first time, the official population data from the 2010 Census, showing the continued decline of upper midwestern "Rust Belt" cities and the growth of cities in the "Sun Belt" south and southwest. And so, the Baseball cities page has been updated and corrected, at long last. (Yes, I know the data was already available online (worldalmanac.com), but I'm old fashioned, dang it!) Previously, that page had annual attendance data for 2001-2008; now it simply shows the average attendance and growth rates for the previous decade as a whole, with annual data for 2010 and 2011. The analytical text on that page needs to be updated, which I expect to complete in the next few days.

Left out of that table are some of the other cities that could conceivably become home to a Major League team some day, if they add new franchises (very doubtful), or relocate either the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics. The table below shows the top five such cities, including the third biggest city in Canada, Vancouver. Montreal should not be overlooked, if relocation ever happens again. Orlando, FL, [San Antonio, TX,] and Riverside, CA might qualify in terms of population, but they are so close to bigger cities that already have baseball teams that it just wouldn't make sense.

Other possible
baseball cities:
2010 population
Portland, OR 2,226,009
Vancouver, BC 2,220,306*
Sacramento, CA [2,149,127]
Las Vegas, NV 1,951,269
San Jose, CA 1,836,911

In addition, I updated the 19th Century Leagues page and the Baseball in Washington (D.C.) page. Enjoy!

[UPDATE: Corrections made to the text and table above, and to the Baseball cities page; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. *Estimate, from the World Almanac.]


November 28, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Newt gets real (?) on immigration

In the Republican debate on national security last week, Newt Gingrich confounded not only political pundits but the conservative Base by calling for a more practical, humane policy on illegal immigration. It wasn't supposed to be the main focus of the debate, but an offhand comment he made sort of took a life of its own. In response to a query about the issue, he said:

If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids, two grandkids, paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church -- I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

While I basically agree with what he is saying, and am glad that Gingrich took a firm stand on behalf of reality-based politics, I was a little annoyed that he kept using that same cliché over and over again. That kind of situation probably accounts for less than five percent of all illegal immigrants, so Gingrich was in a sense using a red-herring argument. Of course nobody's going to deport some immigrant who is well established and abides by the law. And the repeated reference to belonging to a church -- as if some bureaucrat is going to check up on church attendance to see if someone gets to stay in this country or not. Not very likely.

Meanwhile, the rest of the candidates in the debate wasted no time in "get tough" rhetoric, making sure to please the hard core conservatives who dominate the party. In doing so, they demeaned themselves and the party. It reminds me of the rather ugly campaign brochure distributed by State Senatorial candidate Scott Sayre in the spring of 2007. Then, as now, I object to the idea that we need a massive police dragnet to get rid of all illegal immigrants. Deporting the criminals is an obvious first priority, and attrition will take care of most of the rest of the problem. But the first thing that needs to be done is get everyone who is already here illegally registered, as a prerequisite to any future chance at getting long-term legalized status. On that part, Newt Gingrich is absolutely correct. We can figure out what to do with the rest of them in due course.

In the Washington Post, columnist Dan Balz doubts that Gingrich can manage the balancing act for very long. He sees the matter in terms of voter ethnicity: "An overwhelmingly white party must find a way to expand its coalition if it hopes to have success in a country that is growing more diverse by the day." I agree it's a challenge for the GOP, but it would be a terrible mistake to set policies according to calculations of how they will affect particular groups, ethnic or otherwise. Facing up to the severe distorting effects that illegal immigration has on our economy as a whole is absolutely essential for undertaking the kinds of long-term structural policy reforms that will promote the creation of good jobs for American workers.

Dream Act? Dream on.

Rick Perry's waffling stance on the right to education by illegal immigrants brought to light a curious fact about the Lone Star State. As reported by dallasnews.com:

The number of illegal immigrant college students paying in-state tuition and receiving financial aid at Texas' public colleges and universities continues to climb, according to state higher education records.
During the fall semester, 12,138 students - about 1 percent of all Texas college students - benefited from the state law granting in-state tuition, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Most of the immigrants among those students are illegal, and some others are not legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
Texas awarded about $33.6 million in state and institutional financial aid to those students between fall 2004 and summer 2008.
In 2001, Texas became the first state in the country to pass an in-state tuition law. The law created a national movement. Many private universities also now award aid to illegal immigrant students.

And in case you're still not convinced that illegal immigration is harmful, take a look at what has happened to the town of Maywood, California at thelandofthefree.net. Pro-Latino immigrant radicals have run amuck, and the municipal government can no longer provide essential city services. Also see Americans for Legal Immigration. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

Debates on Facebook

The flap started by Newt provides me with an opportunity to present, for the record, various Facebook comments I have made on immigration over the past few months. Obviously, it's an issue that I care deeply about, and have for a long time. I think this will help lift the veil of ignorance from some of the canards and false premises that are often repeated by opponents of immigration reform, such as "those who want to keep out undocumented aliens are probably racists." I'm not even sure exactly when I wrote most of those things, probably in August or September. I have kept each comment in its entirety, even though the lack of context may make some of those sentences puzzling. ("Bruce" is Bruce Bartlett, "Andrew" is Andrew Murphy, and "Kevin" is Kevin Gutzman; I'm not sure about Michael and Steven.)

Here in Virginia, Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart obtained official records which revealed that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement released hundreds of illegal aliens who had been detained; see this outrage for yourself at youtube.com. My comment on Facebook:

Congratulations on responding to this latest travesty in an effective and proper way. Even many apologists for illegal immigration are starting to have second thoughts. I also appreciated your point that immigration enforcement agencies need more funding and resources to do their job.

[CLARIFICATION: The next two sets of comments responded to criticism of people whose protests against illegal immigration are grounded in the need to uphold the rule of law, which those critics regard as a hypocritical stance.]

I'm still not sure who Bruce was referring to by "strict constitutionalists ignore the plain meaning of the 14th amendment." I agree that the bill proposed by AZ state Sen. Pearce violates the 14th Amendment; that's self-evident. What disturbs me is the continuing wave of derision by Bruce and others aimed at those of us who defend the rule of law, on immigration as well as other areas. The status quo is unsustainable, so if you've got a better solution to the myriad ills caused by mass-scale illegal immigration, please let us know.
@ Bruce -- I know of some people like that, who make excuses for tax evasion but rail against illegal workers. Their hypocrisy makes me sick, but I don't think they are typical of those who defend the rule of law.

@ Murphy -- Labor CAN cross borders, just like capital. In both cases, however, such movements are subject to laws of the respective countries and to international agreements. If the legal framework is scoffed at, the very notion of a fair society is subverted. The arguments you provide in favor of more immigration are just missing the big picture. The status quo constitutes a fraud of gigantic proportions, allowing companies to weasel out of providing workers the benefits that legal workers enjoy, just so the upper classes can enjoy goods and services at cheap prices.

That being the case, to take the libertarian/globalist position of just opening up the borders and letting everybody in -- at a time when unemployment is very high -- would amount to declaring war on the American working class. If you want to go that route, then be open about it and push for new laws to raise the annual quota, or just do away with quotas. But don't be surprised if self-appointed border militias or Pat Buchanan's "peasants with pitchforks" go berserk.

A *conservative* (in the classical sense) position would strike a prudent balance between economic forces (i.e., partial accommodation of globalization) and social forces (i.e., preserving national identity and giving lower-class Americans a stake in their country's future). To me, it's obvious we need to raise the quotas, but I would insist that it be as part of a reform package that includes cutting back worker entitlements (esp. UI) and cracking down on employers who profit from the "indentured servants." Without such a reform -- which is NOT what Pres. Obama or most immigrant advocates mean when THEY talk about "reform" -- it's pointless to argue over whether to restrict or loosen up on immigration.

Another series comments of mine on Bruce Bartlett's page:

Kevin is right: You really need to live in Latin America to understand that their poverty is largely a reflection of a defective culture that sneers at civil society and the rule of law. For most of them, the way to get ahead in life is to cheat. I say this not as a "bigot" but with sadness and pain, because there is also much to admire in Latin American culture. Unless we get a handle on the influx of immigrants and assimilate them, however, we will become more like them.

Back to Bruce's original comment ("Arizona-type laws are losers, politically"), I agree, ironically. Of course the polls in Arizona indicate support, because those people know what is going on and have to face the consequences, but in other parts of the nation it's easier to adopt a "compassionate" posture, scorning the "racist bigots." Pathos trumps logos.

The same general phenomenon also applies to cutting the budget deficit, reforming entitlements, reforming education, and just about every other cause I believe in. Likewise, the civil rights reforms of the 1950s and 60s were suicidal in political terms, and we should be thankful that LEADERS ignored conventional-minded nay-sayers and did what was RIGHT.
That seems to be the exact opposite argument of the cultural determinists such as Lawrence Harrison or Max Weber. I take a more nuanced view.

If it were not for the fact that the status quo deliberately fosters mass-scale illegal immigration, then the adaptation of which you speak might have been feasible. Tragically, that did not happen, and now we have a tacit system of apartheid in which cultural pride militates against the healthy and fruitful "cross-pollination" between Anglo and Latin cultures that I used to dream about.
Sure: It's an unholy tacit alliance between (mostly Republican) businesses that need cheap labor with no bargaining rights and Latino immigrant advocates (mostly Democrat) who are desperate to get their foot in the door as the first step toward legalized status. Neither party at present represents the public interest, and the current populist thrust of the GOP raises the danger of xenophobic hysteria, blaming the exploited victims for the failure of U.S. immigration policy.

Certainly pride does not have to be toxic, but when illegal ("undocumented") people come to be a dominant proportion of the Latino immigrant community, there arises within the legal faction a mixture of shame and resentment of the way their compatriots are treated. The established practice of tolerating illegal immigration is creating unbearable psychological tension in individuals, and leading to greater tension in society as a whole.
Michael -- We are speaking not of immigrants in general, but of ILLEGAL immigrants, who by definition are excluded from Social Security benefits, can't join unions (at least not yet), and lack standing to seek legal redress for grievances. As you say, they can just turn down a job if they don't like it, but their mobility is severely limited, and most of them would prefer to remain exploited rather than going hungry or try to find a way to return home. It is a perverse and evil human condition.

In most cases, their ILLEGAL (no need for quotes) status is why they are here in the first place. Making them legal en masse would automatically entitle them to the benefits listed above, thus voiding their attractiveness to sleazy employers, who would then have to find NEW illegal immigrants to hire. It would merely speed up the process that has been going on anyway for the past few decades, as earlier cadres of illegals eventually gain legal status, and need to be replaced by new cadres with no rights. It's a colossal scam, and you're not going to rectify matters by letting the co-conspirators off the hook.

The essential corollary point that I have made elsewhere is that the status quo of generous "compassionate" entitlement programs undermines the incentive for native-born Americans to do manual labor. We're not as bad as France yet, but we're getting there. Until unemployment insurance is abolished and replaced by some kind of public works program, there will remain a huge demand for illegal workers.

On a separate point, you are quite right that many immigrants have learned to become successful entrepreneurs, defying the "wetback" stereotype. It's indeed a ray of hope, but it's clouded by the fact that many of those businesses (or their clients) operate on the margins of the law.
Steve -- Mexico, etc. are as much a part of the globalizing economy as we are, and perhaps more. Many Americans can get by in spite of being ignorant of international market conditions, but poor countries don't have that luxury. I wouldn't call them "victims," necessarily, but their choices are more sharply constrained, at least.

Michael -- I'm afraid I don't understand why you and many others resist using the word "illegal" when it comes to immigrants who have broken the law, in one way or another. That attitude is itself at the root of our country's inability to grapple with the problem, leading to greater polarization within the U.S., and needless enmity with our neighbors to the south. It's not just a quibble over terms, the status of illegality is rather a fundamental aspect of the socially bankrupt social entitlements system in this country. American businesses NEED illegal workers in order to circumvent obligations to provide unsustainably generous wages and benefits which are mandated by law. (You seem to not want to make that connection.) But hardly any Republican politicians want to alienate their big business contributors, so they pander to the xenophobic crowd and make a big noise while doing nothing to address the underlying forces that create the problem.

The way to address the plight of illegal immigrants (in which they share culpability with the employers) is not to give them legal papers, as though the government were admitting that its laws were not valid, but to encourage them to press for reforms in their own countries, including more free and open markets. The choice between the U.S. becoming more like the Third World out of a misguided sense of compassion or Latin America achieving broad-based socio-economic development is crystal clear.
Michael -- Sorry for the hiatus, I'm back. I'm still puzzled by your not wanting to have "illegal" modify "status," but if it's just a syntactical issue, it's probably not worth hashing over. Many people object to the very notion of illegal aliens, which is a dispute of a substantive nature.

As for wages and benefits, I'm referring to the panoply of labor laws including minimum wage, unemployment insurance, etc. and in particular those which companies that do business with the Federal government must heed. The fact that there is such a huge number of illegal workers here is primarily a function of the artificial shortage of domestic workers caused by policies which raise the price of labor (wages, etc.) far above the equilibrium level. We're following in the footsteps of European countries (especially France) where workers are coddled with so many entitlements that native-born people refuse to do the "dirty jobs" necessary to keep society running. Hence the huge influx of (UN-entitled) immigrants from S.E. Europe, Africa, and Asia, leading to social strife, xenophobia, etc.

As you suggest, part of any lasting solution to the problem of illegal immigration would be to sharply curtail such entitlements, so that a semblance of equilibrium would return to the labor market. Some favor an isolationistic policy, trying to preserve the old way of life for American workers, while others embrace globalization, implying that the standards of living of American workers will gradually converge with those in the Third World. I'm in between those two extremes.

I'm not sure on what basis you believe that current laws are "wrong," but the law IS the law. Mass amnesty would spark mass outrage. I would say the law needs to be brought into rough concordance with economic realities, as part of a reform of labor laws, etc. In the current polarized political climate, however, I'm not very hopeful.

Asylum for Obama's aunt

In ironic juxtaposition to the fierce debate over immigration policy in Arizona and elsewhere, a court has granted asylum to President Obama's aunt, who was about to be deported to Kenya six years ago. Now Zeituni Onyango has a precious "path to citizenship," no doubt raising hopes for millions of others in the Third World waiting for their golden opportunity. See the Washington Post. Well, isn't that special?


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