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February 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

New Nationals at spring training

Position players began reporting for spring training last week, and practice games will begin as soon as the calendar page turns to March. The Washington Nationals have undergone some major roster changes during the off-season, in fact, the biggest changes since 2011. (That was when the Nats acquired Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and several other players.) Here are the most important new faces on the team, starting with the new (if not exactly young) manager:

Baker is highly respected and well-liked as a manager, and thus far at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, he seems to be operating in a loose fashion. Creating a positive atmosphere to rebuild team spirit after the disaster of last year (July in particular) seems to be his priority mission. Murphy and Revere offer potential offensive advantages, but their net effect on the defensive side remains to be seen. I have updated my Washington Nationals page with the new projected defensive positions and pitching rotation, with smiley faces in lieu of the players' actual faces. smile

Will those new guys fill in the big void left by former pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (now with the Tigers), former center fielder Denard Span (Giants), or former shortstop Ian Desmond? "Desi" is still a free agent, and it's a surprise that no other team has snatched him up.* He won the Silver Slugger award three times, but his reputation took a dive after his mediocre performance in first half of the 2015 season.

[* UPDATE: Ian Desmond reportedly just signed a one-year contract worth $8 million with the Texas Rangers. Strangely, he is expected to play in left field until Josh Hamilton's left knee heals. See; hat tip to Darien White, on the Facebook group "Washington D.C. Baseball - Yesterday & Today." The Nats made a "qualifying offer" of $15.8 million in October, which he surely regrets having rejected. He should fire his agent. ]

But the biggest question this year is whether veteran players Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman will get over their various health issues and live up to the high expectations that were held for them. For next year, the biggest question is whether the Nats will sign Bryce Harper to a contract with a big enough salary to keep him in Washington. He'll become a free agent after next year, and the Nats could not afford to get into a bidding war.

Comiskey Park update

Comiskey Park

The Comiskey Park diagrams have been revised, with a few notable improvements in accuracy. For example, in the 1910 version, the outfield fences actually angled inward, rather than being perpendicular to the foul lines. I've been aware of that for at least three or four years, but waited to make the correction until I was ready to redo the rest of the diagrams for Comiskey Park. (That shows you how far behind schedule I am in my diagram updates.) There is a brand-new lower-deck diagram, and two (2!) upper deck diagrams. After squinting at ancient photos from every conceivable angle, I made a few interesting discoveries. The original portion of the upper deck (surrounding the infield) only had three entry portals altogther, and one of those was eventually subsumed into the press box, meaning that fans only had access to two of them. The extended sections of the upper deck were "normal," with an entry portal in between each successive pair of support beams. (They also had five more rows of seats than the original portion of the upper deck.) I noticed an oddity: the three most distant upper deck entry portals on the left side were several feet lower than the rest of the outfield entry portals. That was presumably because the ramp leading to the platform inside the upper deck from in back of the center field scoreboard was not high enough. (Those two center field ramps "wrapped around" each other, so the one on the right side was seveal feet higher.) Some time in the 1970s, the White Sox built an expanded press box and luxury suite level in the upper portion of the original upper deck.

As usual, including the support beams allowed me to get the positions of details such as the light towers more precise. It also helped me resolve an inconsistency: If you look at the corners near the foul pole, you will see two support beams that are very close to each other. As I was working on these last week, I had the "crease" in the upper deck closer to the infield than the lower-deck "crease," but a close inspection of photos led to the conclusion that the opposite is actually true. After scratching my head, I finally realized that the front edge of the upper deck was three or four feet closer to the field than I had previously estimated. There is (or was) one row of uncovered seats behind the lateral walkway in the lower deck, not two or three as I had thought.

[UPDATE: I was going to mention that this completes all the stadium diagram updates for Chicago, just a week after I did likewise for Philadelphia with the Baker Bowl update. Updates for the remaing ten MLB cities still lacking are "just around the corner."]

Dimension discrepancies

When it comes to disentangling contradictory figures on outfield dimensions, I am a strong skeptic, perhaps even an "agnostic." Why? Measurements were notoriously sloppy in the old days, and misprints in newspapers were common. According to Lowry's Green Cathedrals (2006), the foul lines as of 1927 (when the grandstand was completed) were 365 feet and center field was 455 feet. The distances then supposedly fluctuated for the next couple decades, but here is the problem: In none of the many photos that I have seen were the foul poles more than a foot or two away from the corner of the grandstand, and I am almost certain that there were no significant changes in the seating rows prior to the 1960s. Here is what one section of my Comiskey Park page formerly said, followed by the revised text:

BEFORE: During the 1930s home plate was moved four more times: 5 feet forward in 1930, 14 feet forward in 1934 (in hopes of generating more home runs from newly acquired slugger Al Simmons), another 14 feet forward in 1936, and then 18 feet backward in 1937. At some point during this period several additional rows were added to the front of the grandstand in foul territory.
REVISED: Prior to the 1934 season, home plate was moved forward by 14 feet (in hopes of generating more home runs from newly acquired slugger Al Simmons), and then it was moved back by 14 feet in 1936, to roughly the same position as before. Contrary to my earlier conjecture, I have found no evidence that additional rows of seats were added during this period.

In other words, I believe that from 1927 until 1933, and from 1936 until 1949, the foul lines were about 352 feet and that center field was about 440 feet. (It might have been 349 feet and 436 feet, figures which are occasionally listed, but no less than that.) I remain open to opposing arguments, and look forward to consulting with other experts such as Ron Selter and Bruce Orser, but for now that is my conclusion based on the hard facts that I have at my disposal.

Baker Bowl tweak

Never satisfied with just "good enough," I added a few more juicy details to the Baker Bowl diagrams. My estimate of fair territory at Baker Bowl is now 96,700 square feet, rather than 96,300 as before, while foul territory is now 28,600 square feet, rather than 31,900 as before.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 28 Feb 2016, 7: 11 PM

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