Stadiums: What’s the Big Deal?

Call me a sourpuss, but I fail to see the importance of the hallowed grounds in baseball. When I was a kid, my uncle would tell me about how he’d been to Connie Mack Stadium, and that he’d been to Yankee Stadium, and that he’d been to Candlestick Park. I’d hear all of the lore of the players that took the field during his youth, and all of the memorable moments: the game-winning homers, the remarkable catches, the ninth-inning drama. But I was never impressed by it; the locale seemed to have little relation to the events that took place.

Going into the 2008 regular season, I’m being constantly reminded of this season being the last for the current Yankee Stadium, and that Wrigley Field could be renamed.

Knock ‘em down, I say. Knock all those old stadiums down.

We all have our personal reasons to be attached to a ballpark, but I will never understand why I should revere Connie Mack Stadium, or Yankee Stadium, or Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field, stadiums in which I’ve either never been or don’t have any emotional stock invested. Sure, I was sad when Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was demolished in favor of Citizens Bank Park. I’ve been to many a game there and never had a bad time despite how unattractive, poorly maintained, and unsanitary it was. One of the best memories I have of a game I attended at the Vet was Kevin Jordan’s pinch-hit grand slam against the Braves. But that’s all they are: personal memories, and they are certainly no reason to keep a pathetic excuse for a stadium alive. All things said, Veterans Stadium lived way longer than it should have.

I think Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and Wrigley Field should all be demolished (assuming all of the logistics of doing so, and building new stadiums are in place).

Regarding Wrigley Field, I cite the Chicago Sun Times:

Wrigley is a baseball treasure that puts fans on top of the action. But its washrooms are the pits — and there aren’t enough of them. Concessions are mediocre. Concourses are so narrow you could play three innings in the time it sometimes takes to get out of the place.

And let’s not forget the infamous falling concrete of 2004. An overhaul — accomplished over several off-seasons, so the Cubs wouldn’t have to move out — would eliminate the need for the netting installed to catch falling debris after it happened three times in six weeks.

It’s unfair to lump the other stadiums in with Wrigley, since I doubt Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium have falling debris the way Wrigley does (or did, assuming they nullified that problem). But they’re all old, they’re all probably slightly behind technologically, and it’s just so more aesthetically pleasing just to watch a game at a newer stadium, even if it’s on TV. I’ve never ranked baseball stadiums by my personal favoritism, but I have no doubt that it’d be close to ordered chronologically.

To quickly delve into the pragmatic aspect of new stadiums, new parks for teams like the Red Sox and Cubs (the Yankees are moving into new digs after this season) would be excellent for their respective cities. New stadium construction would create more jobs in a recessing economy, generate more tourism, and generate more money for their franchises, which leads to the potential signing of big name free agents that can help bring a championship home, which leads to more fans in attendance, which leads to more concession and merchandise sales, which leads to more television advertisement and national television exposure, which all leads to more money for the city and for the franchise. It’s a big circle; Economics 101.

Fans don’t really think about that stuff when they wax poetic about old stadiums, though. Among other moments, fans think of Carlton Fisk’s home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series when they think of Fenway; they think of “The Sandberg Game” (June 23, 1984) when they think of Wrigley. They don’t think of C.C. Sabathia — who is the prime free agent pitcher after this season — with a Cubs logo sewn on his jersey in 2009, or a couple thousand people who are better able to feed their families because of the jobs created by the creation of a new ballpark.

Fans, for the most part, are hopelessly romantic (to use a tired cliche). Maybe there’s a genetic defect that I have that hasn’t been discovered yet, but I have never seen the need for sentimentalism. That fits in all areas of life: I think engagement and wedding rings are superfluous and inane traditions (probably part of why I don’t plan on getting married). I think the current fad with picture-taking is some kind of social scream of “I’m here; I’ve had an impact on other people — I’ve lived!” And I think that the romanticism of old baseball stadiums is, in the same vein, illogical, delusional, and in most cases, selfish.

I realize it’s borderline heresy to claim that I am an avid baseball fan and in the same breath denounce Fenway and Wrigley, and maybe that’s part of my defect as a human being. I just don’t see the big deal. I’d much rather spend three and a half hours and $60 at a game in a new, clean stadium with relatively state-of-the-art facilities than at a game at an old, ill-maintained stadium. Some of that is probably colored in with having been spoiled with Citizens Bank Park after many years of Veterans Stadium. The rest of it seems to be practical.

Maybe I’m just being a Negative Nancy in refusing to be immersed in the beauty of these old stadiums. Or maybe I’m just being realistic in realizing that Fenway Park’s seating is cramped and the green hue of the structure clashes unfavorably with the green of the outfield grass, the ivy on Wrigley Field’s brick outfield walls is unappealing (not to mention the bricks being dangerous), and the blue gradient of Yankee Stadium reeks of a Viagra misadventure. You tell me.

A Quick Commentary on the Updated Mortal Sins List

Vatican updates its thou-shalt-not list.

In olden days, the deadly sins included lust, gluttony and greed. Now, the Catholic Church says pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experiments are on its updated thou-shalt-not list. Also receiving fresh attention by the Vatican was social injustice, along the lines of the age-old maxim: “The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.”

In the Vatican’s latest update on how God’s law is being violated in today’s world, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, was asked by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano what, in his opinion, are the “new sins.”

He cited “violations of the basic rights of human nature” through genetic manipulation, drugs that “weaken the mind and cloud intelligence,” and the imbalance between the rich and the poor.

Besides the fact that “updating” the list shows just how fake this religion is, it’s overtly hypocritical that they are citing excessive wealth as a sin. Christian churches rake in nearly $20 billion every year, cost taxpayers nearly $1,000 every year due to religion’s tax-exemption, and own between 20 and 25% of the land in the United States (source).

If Christianity wants to point the finger at those accumulating wealth, they need look no further than in their own mirror.

That aside, it’s amazing how vague they are in describing the sins (either the fault of Yahoo! News/Associated Press or the Vatican). What, exactly, are drugs that “weaken the mind and cloud intelligence”? I’m assuming they’re talking about heroin, cocaine, and other drugs like that (since they’re anti-science, I’m sure they’d also wrongfully include marijuana). Do they account for prescription drugs, most of which are potentially more harmful than street drugs? What about people who can take the drug with no ill effects on the strength of the mind or the non-cloudiness of intelligence? These are questions I’m sure no one asked, since their motive isn’t philanthropy anyway.

And, of course, they are, in part, referencing embryonic stem cell research when they cite genetic manipulation as a sin. You know, ignore the fact that stem cell research has a far higher probability of curing diseases like AIDS and some forms of cancer than anything else we’ve come up with thus far, but we shouldn’t take that road because of their intentionally ambiguous criteria for what constitutes life.

I will give credit where credit is due and applaud them for at least taking a positive step forward with their anti-pollution message. However, a familiar adage may apply here: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Lastly, I would just like to point out and laugh at one more piece of the article:

Closer to home, Girotti was asked about the many “situations of scandal and sin within the church,” in what appeared to be a reference to allegations in the United States and other countries of sexual abuse by clergy of minors and the coverups by hierarchy.

The monsignor acknowledged the “objective gravity” of the allegations, but contended that the heavy coverage by mass media of the scandals must also be denounced because it “discredits the church.”

Yeah, read that last sentence again. The media should be denounced because they’re not helping to cover up the religion’s dirty little secrets. Somehow, I’m sure that no one will care that one of the top guns in the Catholic Church is more concerned with people holding them accountable than holding pedophiles in their own ranks accountable. Religion always gets a free pass with this stuff.

As always, a screed against religion isn’t complete until George Carlin is cited. Enjoy:

Why Eva Longoria and I Will Elope to WARP-3 Island

Eva LongoriaLet’s play a guessing game. In the last five years, how many mainstream baseball journalists have linked to anything on Baseball Prospectus? I’m going to go ahead and guess “three.”

Today, Todd Zolecki makes it four with an article titled “Phillies show striking out not all that bad.” I believe every dead baseball purist just rolled over in his grave. But there are a few people who are interested in hearing more: me, the other mother’s basement-dwelling nerds, and Eva Longoria (pictured to the right with the caption, “It’s so sexy when a man rattles off statistics”).

Zolecki links to two BP articles:

Just Another Out?

Baseball Prospectus looked at the relationship between teams’ strikeout rates and run production from 1950 to 2002. It found there was no correlation between the two. It also found that a hitter’s strikeout rate correlates positively to power, slugging percentage, and walk rate.

Whiff or Whiff-Out You.

After another look at strikeouts by Baseball Prospectus in 2005, analyst James Click wrote, “On a very rough scale, a strikeout costs a team about three one-hundredths of a run. Looking at team totals from 2004, Reds batters led the league in strikeouts with 1,335. . . . All those failures at the plate cost the Reds an estimated 13.6 runs over the course of the season, or just over one win.”

Most interesting in Zolecki’s article isn’t the plethora of statistics that show strikeouts as rather meaningless for a hitter, but the feelings of Ryan Howard regarding the use of K’s to judge a hitter’s worth:

Ryan Howard struck out 199 times last season, the most strikeouts in a season in baseball history. He’d rather talk about anything else.

“I feel like I’m back in double A,” he said. “That’s all people used to talk about were strikeouts. You don’t hear anybody say, ‘That guy led the league in ground outs last year.’ “

Howard could benefit from reducing his strikeouts, but they are part of his game. He is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He has hit 100 home runs faster than any other player in baseball history.

“You ground out. You fly out. You strike out. An out is an out,” Howard said. “People want to glorify what they want to glorify. If hitting into double plays were a big thing, then people would make them a big thing.”

Howard’s logical reaction is a breath of fresh air, especially when you consider some of the bigger names in baseball have become all hot and bothered with the advent of in-depth statistical analysis. Derek Jeter, when he was told that “clutch” hitting doesn’t exist, said, “You can take those stat guys and throw them out the window.”

It’s not just the players that have balked at the notion that you can better understand the game of baseball with Microsoft Excel; fans (especially the better-educated sportswriters) have been just as unresponsive to the science of baseball. We, of course, remember Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News, but there’s also Jon Heyman, Bruce Miles, Joe Morgan, and a plethora of other guys out there scowling at the calculations.

For Zolecki to not only link to, but quote a Baseball Prospectus article and to write a non-traditional article like “hitters striking out means nada” — bravo.

Congratulations aside to an honorable Philadelphia sports journalist (one of very few), I do take issue with just one thing he wrote towards the end of his article:

Howard is a career .291 hitter. He has struck out 493 times in 1,461 career at-bats, which means he hits .439 when he puts the ball in play. If he could have cut his strikeouts from 199 to 175 last season, his average would have jumped from .268 to .289. He might have hit 50 homers instead of 47.

First of all, Howard’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .353, not .439.

Zolecki states that if Howard cut down on his K’s, his production would increase as a result of putting the ball in play more often. However, there’s no way to know this, even if we know his BABIP. The theory hinges on all of the variables staying exactly the same except for strikeouts, as if none of them are related to each other. Howard’s power production is, in fact, related to his propensity to strike out.

Look at the kings of not striking out. They are overwhelmingly players with puny to mediocre slugging percentages, like Juan Pierre and Jason Kendall. You don’t see 20+ HR player on the page until you hit Albert Pujols. The defense against a swinging strikeout is a shorter swing. Shortening the swing results in more bat control but less power.

If we learned one thing from Zolecki’s article, it’s that we shouldn’t go into cardiac arrest every time we hear “strike three.” But if we learned another, more important thing — say, from Dan Shaughnessy — it’s that Zolecki and his calculator are “living at home, in the basement, rent free.”

P.S. Sorry, Tony Parker, you just weren’t nerdy enough for her. You didn’t even cry when Gary Gygax died.

Don’t Ray-Gun Me, Bro!

Check out this baby: The Pentagon’s Ray Gun. You can watch a clip from 60 Minutes about the Active Denial System, a new technology being developed for crowd control. According to the ADS Fact Sheet (PDF file):

The ADS projects a focused beam of millimeter waves to induce an intolerable heating sensation on an adversary’s skin, repelling the individual with minimal risk of injury.

It sounds cool and it seems like another positive advancement in technology, but when you watch the 60 Minutes clip and think about some of the possibilities, it brings with it far more detriment.

For instance, did you notice in the clip that the ray gun is being tested on anti-war protesters? And these protesters, armed with nothing more than rocks, are perceived as a safety threat to armored and armed soldiers? Yes, that’s how you deal with people carrying signs that say, “Hug Me,” “Peace Not War,” “Love For All,” and “World Peace” — you microwave them to shut them the hell up with their crazy ideas.

This really has little to do with foreign crowd control; it’s really a domestic crowd control weapon. We’ve seen the advent of the Taser and in its relatively young age, and we’ve seen it abused — far too much. The ADS will be abused in the same way, only this new technology, since it controls large crowds, is more beneficial for politicians interested in squelching dissenters. It’s bad enough that you have to register to protest in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 1 when the Republicans arrive (the protesters are penned like livestock far away from the intended recipients of the message), and it’s bad enough the federal government has specified “protest zones.” The ray gun only helps the advancement of a police state and only hurts the existence of free speech.

Equally as appalling in the 60 Minutes clip is that David Martin never once asks about any potentially harmful side effects that may arise from the 100,000 watt beam. How does it react to those wearing contact lenses? Won’t the beam heat up the lens and cause it to fuse to the cornea? What happens if the victim is caught in the beam for too long, perhaps because he’s been trampled by the rest of the crowd? Won’t it cook the victim from the inside?

And most importantly, what steps are being taken to ensure oversight on the use of the ray gun, so that it is not abused?

Seriously, are crowds of protesters really a danger to armed members of the military? I thought the real danger was that there are terrorists hiding in caves in the Middle east, not sign-carrying proponents of peace.

Another possibility to consider: Blackwater, the privately-owned (by the son of a Christian neo-conservative) military company. They have essentially everything the military has, but they aren’t required to abide by military law. What happens if they get their hands on this ray gun? Considering that they’re right-wing Christian war-mongers, the possibilities are endless, and none of them are good.

It’d be nice if the media (which definitely doesn’t have conflicted interests) actually did some real investigation about the potential uses of this ray gun, instead of simply assuming that power never corrupts. It’s cliche at this point to reference George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but this ray gun has Thought Police written all over it.