Nationals play spoiler in Atlanta
Well, sports fans, it's getting close to the end of the baseball regular season, which means that the only remaining purpose for also-ran teams like the Washington Nationals is to spoil the hopes of upper-division teams. Three years ago, in September 2007, the Nats played a key role in denying the New York Mets a trip to the postseason. This week they may have done the same thing to the Atlanta Braves. They got off to a rough start in the series as they hit the road, losing their sixth consecutive game, but they came back with a vengeance the following night. Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond, and even the pitcher Livan Hernandez got home runs, blanking the Braves, 6-0. In the rubber match on Wednesday afternoon, a grand slam in the second inning by Justin Maxwell was all the Nats needed to win, 4-2. As a result, the Braves fell to three games behind the Phillies in the NL East.
So, will the Nats do the same to the Phillies, as their weekend series in Philadelphia begins? Not according to the way the first game went: Jason Marquis was tagged with six earned runs in the first inning, and he only got one out before being relieved. I hope this isn't a sign he has lapsed into the awful state he exhibited early in the 2010 season. It was a huge disappointment, and after surgery and rehabilitation, he came back in August much improved. For the Nats this year, if it's not one thing, it's another.
With the final month of the season half over, the Nats are 5-9 in September. Only once this year have they won as many as seven games during a ten-game span: May 4 - 13. Their longest winning streak this year? A pathetic three games. Hopes that they might finish the year with their second- or third-highest percentage since being "reborn" in Washington six years ago are fading fast. With an aggregate record of 62-85 (.422) right now, they would have to win nine of their remaining 15 games to equal their 2006 record of 71-91 (.438). It's possible, but it's not very likely.
Rookies show great promise
Even though the Nationals are headed toward another mediocre end, there are signs of hope for the future. In particular, Danny Espinosa, the rookie infielder just called up from the minors, who was batting over .500 in his first week in the majors. In the Nats' 13-3 win over the Mets on September 6, Espinosa hit two home runs, including a grand slam, as well as a single and a double. It may have been a case of beginner's luck, unfortunately, because in the eight games he has started since then, he has had only three hits. Another bright spot is Wilson Ramos, who is in line to become the regular catcher in the next year or two. New pitcher Yunesky Maya, a defector from Cuba, has not quite lived up to expectations, losing his first two starts, but that doesn't mean much, necessarily.
For the Cincinnati Reds, meanwhile, another Cuban defector-pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, is playing a key role in their astonishingly successful season. With a fastball that exceeds 100 MPH, he has been another "phenomenon" on par with Stephen Strasburg. Unfortunately, he lost his first game tonight, on the road in Houston. Astros 5, Reds 3.
Roundup of ballpark news
Obviously, I've got a lot to catch up on, so here goes some news from Mike Zurawski: The Marlins give a tour of their future home on July 15, and there is a gallery of photos from that event at palmbeachpost.com. More construction photos can be seen at www.baseball-fever.com. According to the latest update on the Marlins' Web site, "The project is scheduled to hit a great milestone next week; the east retractable roof truss panel will be rolled from the west side of the project to the east side to begin the installation of the roofing material."
In Arlington, Texas, meanwhile, Rangers president Nolan Ryan (soon to be co-owner) said the team is exploring various ways to reduce the temperature at The Ballpark in Arlington, but warned "You can't justify putting a retractable roof on this stadium at the current cost of doing so." See ESPN. I'm still amazed that the Rangers have had such great playing success in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings.
Personally, I'll never understand why they designed the Rangers' stadium with virtually no upper-deck overhang, exposing almost all the fans to the hot sun. After the horrible experience with Arlington Stadium, you'd think they would have learned something. I think they ought to tear out the existing tiny roof, and put a large new one in, to cover the entire upper deck. That would require support beams, like they did in U.S. Cellular Field, but the Rangers seldom sell enough tickets to make obstructed views an issue. Creating more shade would make Rangers Ballpark much more pleasant for fans.
In response to pressure from Major League Baseball, officials in San Jose postponed a referendum on whether to pay for a ballpark until next spring. It would be located just north of downtown. See mercurynews.com and fieldofschemes.com. One occasionally hears of efforts to keep baseball in Oakland, and if there is enough public support, that would be great. Given the shifting economic tides, however, San Jose seems like a more viable location.
R.I.P. Steinbrenner, Sheppard, & Houk
If I had been in town in July, I would certainly have called attention to the passing in that month of three great men who were intiminately connected to the New York Yankees. Each in their own way, they helped make the Yankees one of the greatest sports franchises of all time. Longtime owner George Steinbrenner bought the team from CBS for the ridiculously low price of $10 million in 1973. He was not a warm and cuddly man, but was an overbearing titan whose force of will had an impact on and off the field. He knew what it took to win. His battles with Yankee manager Billy Martin were legendary, and his relationships with players such as Reggie Jackson and Craig Nettles were often dicey as well. His frenetic, arbitrary style of leadership was lampooned on the Seinfeld show in the 1990s, as George Costanza kept figuring out ways to keep his job without really working. In the real-life Yankee front office, that was not very likely! Some have noted his repeated threats to relocate the Yankees to New Jersey if New York City didn't help him build a new stadium, and I suppose he was only doing what anyone else in his position would have done. His final legacy was the opening of the New Yankee Stadium in 2009, capped by the team's first World Series win since 2000. He had been ailing for the past few years, and died at the age of 80. "The Boss" went out as a champion. See MLB.com.
Bob Sheppard, who worked as the Yankee Stadium public address announcer for 57 years. He was widely liked, and it was said that he sounded like the "voice of God" coming through the loudspeakers. He was 99 when he died. See New York Daily News; link via Bruce Orser.
At about the same time, Ralph Houk, who managed the Yankees in the early 1960s, passed away as well. He replaced Casey Stengel as manager after the Pirates won the 1960 World Series, and he won two world championships during his 20 years as a big league manager. He was 90 when he died. See MLB.com.
An Oscar for Derek Jeter
And speaking of the Yankees, their shortstop winced in obvious pain after being hit by a pitch last night, and trotted down to first base. Thanks to modern video technology, however, we know that Mr. Jeter was just faking it, as the ball clearly hit the end of the bat, not his wrist. National Public Radio replayed the interview in which he said his job is to get on base, and of course, he's absolutely right. The back-and-forth race between the Yanks and the Rays is immensely entertaining; how do the Rays keep pace with the Bronx Bombers??
Clearing out the mail bag
I recently called attention to the new book by Thomas Tomsick, MD, Strike Three! My Years in the 'Pen. I should have pointed out that the book is not only an autobiography, it deals with a variety of factors that affect pitching performance. The author focuses on the Cleveland Indians' pitching staff of 1964-1968, most notably Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, and Sonny Siebert. They set several strikeout records, and Dr. Tomsick had a unique first-hand perspective on that. His book refocuses attention on the effect of drugs on pitchers' strikeout records, which becomes especially relevant in light of Roger Clemens' recent indictment. For more on Dr. Tomsick's career on the ball field as a catcher and in the hospital as a physician, see the University of Cincinnati.
Another new book has come to my attention: Edward Achorn's Fifty-nine in '84, about Providence Grays pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, who won 59 games in 1884. It's a rousing tale of the rough-and-tumble world of baseball and America in the late 19th century. The author is a deputy editor of The Providence Journal, and as a keen observer of politics in Rhode Island has successfully pushed for reforms in the state government. See oldhoss.com.
Bruce Orser recommended a video of the Nationals' future slugging sensation Bryce Harper being introduced to the media, at Yahoo sports. The kid seems pretty level-headed.
Jim O'Brien was kind enough to send in a donation via PayPal, and you can too. Thank, you Jim!
Hal Lerch just wrote to say he enjoys looking at the old stadiums. I appreciate that, too.
Still more messages to get to. Please stand by...
What if: LBJ Stadium?
By happenstance, I recently learned that RFK Stadium was almost named LBJ Stadium in 1969. As Dan Steinberg wrote at the Washington Post last March (via William Yurasko), Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall exercised bureaucratic prerogative to stall President Johnson's effort to get his name on the stadium, and in the last day of the LBJ administration, he pulled a fast one with a surprise announcement that it was to be called Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, too late to rescind by the outgoing president. Udall, from Arizona, was a friend of the environment, and died last March. His brother Mo Udall was a presidential contender in the 1970s, and died in 1998.
Big football upsets
By now, almost all sports fans know about the incredible victory by the James Madison University Dukes over the Virginia Tech Hokies last weekend. Likewise, the Washington Redskins' triumph over the Dallas Cowboys has reenergized Our Nation's Capital, seeming to validate the acquisition of coach Tom Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb. But how many people knew that the University of South Dakota Coyotes (a humble Division I-AA team) beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers last Saturday? USD won by a score of 41-38 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. For a wrap-up of that game, see washingtonpost.com. The University of South Dakota's athletics program is best known for the Dakota Dome, where the football and basketball teams play, as well as other sports. Diagram pending...