January 10, 2016
Late Wednesday afternoon it was announced that Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza were selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Over his 22-year career [(12+ years with the Mariners, and 8+ years with the Reds), Griffey had 630 home runs, 2781 hits, and a .284 average. Piazza had 427 home runs, 2127 hits, and a .308 batting average during his 16-year career -- about six with the Dodgers and eight with the Mets. That's only half as many new HOF members] as last year, when Piazza barely missed the 75% cutoff.
I saw Piazza play in Washington on April 30, 2005, the very first Nationals home game that I attended. (I was at the Nats' inaugural game in Philadelphia on April 4.) He became a free agent at the end of that season, played for a year with the San Diego Padres, and then likewise with the Oakland A's to end his career in 2007. (baseball-reference.com)
I saw the Reds play twice during the years that Griffey was with them: in Cincinnati on August 15, 2004 (losing to San Diego, 7-2), when he was on the DL, replaced by Wily Mo Peña, and in Washington on August 2, 2008 (the Nats won, 10-6), two days after he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. (MLB.com, baseball-reference.com) Darn!
Among the fifteen candidates whose eligibility has now expired are Mark McGwire and Alan Trammell, who played his whole career with the Detroit Tigers. McGwire has only himself to blame, whereas Trammell probably deserved the honor. The other strong candidate from last year, Curt Schilling, received 52.3% of the vote this year, and is thus still in the running for next year at least. See the complete vote totals at MLB.com.
The name of one other ineligible retired player surfaced in the news last month: Pete Rose. He appeared at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati last July, raising questions about whether he might be given a
second third fourth chance. Not very likely, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently made it clear that the lifetime ban on Rose remains in effect. What's more, Rose has been implicated in even more betting activities, showing he never really changed. As Bob Nightengale wrote for USA Today (and affiliated newspapers), Rose is now officially "dead to baseball."
The Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo has been quite busy over the past four weeks, perhaps feeling the heat for the big disappointment of last year. During the first half of December, the trades and deals with free agents that he sought failed to materialize. In particular, relief pitcher Darren O'Day, switch-hitter Ben Zobrist, and outfielder Justin Heyward all ended up elsewhere. Heyward signed instead with the Cubs, Rizzo also sought to make a trades for pitcher Mike Leake and second-baseman Brandon Phillips with the Cincinnati Reds, but those fell through. It was thought that Phillips' familiarity with ex-Reds manager Dusty Baker would have worked out well. Altogether, those misfires were a possible sign of concern about the team's prospects. Nats fans were starting to worry. And then on the proverbial "Night Before Christmas," something really big came to pass...
'Twas the 24th of December, when all through the house, that Mike Rizzo got free agent Daniel Murphy to sign a three-year contract worth $37.5 million. Whoa! The deal was contingent upon the usual physical exam, etc., and not until January 6 was the transaction completed, celebrated with a live televised press conference from Nationals Park. With the Mets last October, Murphy set a record with home runs in six consecutive postseason games, which was unusual because he only had 14 homers in the entire regular season. What's more, he committed errors in World Series Games 4 and 5 that proved critical in the Mets' loss to the Royals.
Because of his defensive shortcomings, Murphy will no doubt play at second base. That means that Anthony Rendon will stay at third base on a regular basis (rather than move back to second base, where he had been in 2014. It also leaves Danny Espinosa as the presumable shortstop, but he will have to compete for the spot with Stephen Drew, who was also signed as a free agent. Drew is expected to play as a backup infielder.
Just this past Friday, slugging outfielder Ben Revere was acquired (along with a "player to be named later") from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Drew Storen and cash. Revere had been traded from the Phillies to the Blue Jays in July. This was a huge move, as he is fast (31 stolen bases) and a high-percentage hitter, and thus ideal as an leadoff batter, replacing Denard Span. His arm isn't that strong, however, so that may detract from his effectiveness on defense. See MLB.com. The deal was mutually beneficial, as Storen made it clear he wanted to be traded after being replaced as closer by Jonathan Papelbon in July, and the subsequent meltdown of which we would just as soon forget. Now the question is whether Papelbon can be traded on terms that don't impose too much financial sacrifice on the Nats' owners.
It's a bittersweet parting of ways for Drew Storen, a fine, gutsy pitcher who literally came within inches of championship-caliber glory in both the 2012 and 2014 National League Division Series, but Fate was not on his side. I have the greatest respect and admiration for him, and wish him all the best in Toronto.
The Washington Nationals traded third baseman Yunel Escobar to the L.A. Angels for relief pitchers Trevor Gott and Michael Brady. Gott had a 3.02 ERA last year, and is expected to be the backbone of the Nats' bullpen, which was in dire need of reinforcement. See MLB.com. Escobar did fine at the plate last year (.314 average), but he wasn't that good in clutch situations, and his fielding ability left much to be desired. The trade was in great part a reflection of just how desperate the Nationals were to bolster their bullpen.
So, basically, Ben Revere is replacing Denard Span, and Daniel Murphy is replacing Yunel Escobar, with a modest improvement in relief pitching. All in all, not too bad.
For a complete run-down on the Nationals' recent player transactions, see MLB.com.
Besides Trevor Gott and Michael Brady, who were acquired via trade (see above), the Nationals signed free agent pitchers Yusmeiro Petit, Shawn Kelley, and Oliver Perez in December. The Nationals will no doubt keep Felipe Rivero, a possible future closing pitcher, and probably Blake Treinin, who showed promise but was inconsistent. Aaron Barrett, A.J. Cole, and Matt Grace are big question marks.
Some people think that the Nats need to acquire another starting pitcher to make it to the postseason, but I disagree. I still think getting another top-notch reliever is more important. Their most likely pitching rotation for this year includes three of the original starters from last year, the others being Jordan Zimmermann (who signed with the Detroit Tigers) and Doug Fister (still a free agent):
*Roark was a starter in 2014, earning a superb 15-10 record and 2.85 ERA, but was relegated to relief duty in 2015 after the acquisition of Max Scherzer. Ross was called up from the minors last June, more or less replacing Doug Fister, and chalked up some very respectable numbers in his rookie year, with a 5-5 record and 3.64 ERA.
Finally, closing pitcher (?) Jonathan Papelbon filed a lawsuit against the Nationals for not paying him for the final four games of the season during which he was suspended. Is that chutzpah for bargaining purposes, or is the guy just sick in the head? I'm inclined toward the latter hypothesis.
In other Washington sports news, the Redskins squandered an early 11-0 lead and lost to the Green Bay Packers this evening, 35-18. A couple missed opportunities set the stage for an adverse momentum shift, and the Washington defense just couldn't contain veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It's a tough loss to take, but at least the Redskins surpassed expectations this year. Next year, they'll do even better. HTTR!
All four home teams in the first round NFL playoffs lost this year, the first time that has ever happened, and in two of those cases (Minnesota and Cincinnati) it was because of totally inexcusable gaffes in the last couple minutes.
Tomorrow night, the Clemson Tigers will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at the NCAA National Championship Game in Phoenix. Guess who I'm rooting for?
The Veterans Stadium diagrams have been revised, and as with Jack Murphy Stadium (the other "octorad" stadium), the main objective was to render the lateral walkways and entry portals in the upper deck more accurately. And once again, that led me to make further corrections and enhancements, though not as many. (Thank goodness!) The upper deck is one row (about three feet) bigger than before, with the entry portals correspondingly higher up. The difference stems from the (previously-neglected) stairs from the lateral walkways, which occupy a single row for most of the circumference. Also, the bullpens and the concourses in the lower deck are now rendered more accurately.
Another newly-included detail is the "ribbed" roof, with prominent structural beams visible from the air. Other stadiums with such a ribbed roof are Angel Stadium (of Anaheim), Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Riverfront Stadium (Cincinnati), Exhibition Stadium (Toronto), Olympic Stadium (Montreal), and Hiram Bithorn Stadium (Puerto Rico); diagram updates for some of those are pending...
Long-time New York sports journalist and author Phil Pepe passed away last month. Among his many books is one that I bought in Yankee Stadium twelve and a half years ago: The Yankees: An Authorized History of the New York Yankees (centennial edition, 2003). See the obituary in the Washington Post.
I had previously reported a total home attendance in 2015 for the Washington Nationals of 2,620,443 (or 32,351 per game), but I noticed on a Washington Post page from September 30 that that was 600 more than the official figure of 2,619,843 (or 32,344 per game). So, I checked my daily attendance figures against those on baseball-reference.com, and pinpointed the discrepancy on the April 18 game, which was 35,330 rather than 35,930. I was fortunate that my mistake did not occur much later in the season. My Washington Nationals page has now been duly corrected.