Why is the Nationals bullpen so bad?

At the dawn of the 2014 season, the Nationals made their last, best offer to re-sign shortstop cornerstone Ian Desmond.  He turned it down.  After that season–with only one year to go on Ian Desmond’s contract–Mike Rizzo went out and traded one of his best assets for a young shortstop named Trea Turner.  It’s worked out quite well, and Turner is likely to man the shortstop position for the Nats well into the next decade.

It’s an example of foresight and planning.  General Managers aren’t just responsible for the current team–they’re responsible for next year’s team too.  And the one after that.  GM’s who neglect the future will eventually be fired, and they should be.  The Nationals had a gaping hole at shortstop after Desmond let the team know he wanted to go to free agency.  Mike Rizzo went out and fixed it.  It wasn’t an accident; it was a conscious choice to build for the future.  It’s a good illustration how the Nationals have been able to maintain their contending status years after experts thought their “window” would close.

This track record of success only makes the 2017 bullpen that much more puzzling.  The foresight demonstrated in other areas simply hasn’t translated to bullpen construction.  This year’s bullpen is a Frankenstein’s Monster of futility.  It’s a collaboration of raw prospects (Koda Glover, Enny Romero), journeymen castoffs (Ollie Perez, Matt Albers), and guys who just haven’t developed (Blake Treinen).  It’s a crew you’d expect a rebuilding team to throw together, not a defending division champion expecting another playoff appearance.

Great bullpens aren’t build in a day, and they’re usually not built in one offseason.  Like the rest of the roster, it takes years to come together.  You know, foresight.  Planning.  This offseason, 2016 closer Mark Melancon signed with San Francisco after the Nats were outbid.  Letting him go was probably the right move.  Melancon is on the wrong side of 30 and the Giants gave him a ton of money (Melancon, by the way, is already on the DL).  The Nats also tried to bring in Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.  He eventually re-signed with LA for a truckload of money.  Each of those failed attempts to fix the bullpen seems logical.  You don’t want to break your payroll with an age 30+ closer.

The question, though, isn’t whether they should have signed one of those guys, it’s why this team is in the position where one or two lost bidding wars puts the bullpen on a path to failure?  This isn’t a matter of the Lerners not spending enough on the bullpen.  It’s more complicated than that.  This bullpen is the result of a series of miscalculations, mistakes, and misplaced priorities over time.

Adam Eaton is a great player and his trade will continue to benefit the Nationals well into the future.  But he didn’t come cheap; the Nationals gave up some of their best minor league assets to acquire him.  This was a choice.  They could have devoted those prospects to get bullpen help.  Andrew Miller–quite possibly the best relief pitcher alive right now–could have been traded for last season at that price.  Instead the Nats targeted Melancon at a cheaper price–and he is now gone.  Last offseason, the Nats traded Drew Storen, a relief pitcher himself.  I was ok with this–Storen and his bad attitude needed to go–but there was no corresponding move to replace him.  The closest thing was sending Yunel Escobar to LA for reliever Trevor Gott, who is currently somewhere in minor league purgatory.  Perhaps the Nats felt they didn’t need to replace Storen because they had Jonathan Papelbon.  Papelbon, acquired in lieu of other more effective closers in 2015 because he was cheaper, wore down last year, causing the Nats to chase Melancon in the first place, giving up a young reliever Felipe Rivero who is pitching very, very well in the Pirates bullpen right now.

There’s no one decision that led to this debacle.  The above track record is only the tip of the iceberg–unmentioned are the dozens of lower and mid-level transactions where serviceable relievers possibly slip through the Nats fingers.  Every signing or trade the Nats make for a position player is another missed opportunity to address the relief pitching.  It’s a matter of priorities.

This leads to the biggest problem.  The Nats system simply isn’t producing the relievers needed to staff a bullpen.  A pitching staff isn’t built through free agency; the bulk of the players come from down below.  A few weeks ago, I wrote how the team needs to change the way they think about pitchers and their development.  In it, I suggested then-AAA starter Jacob Turner could be an option in the bullpen.  The other night he pitched 4 innings of scoreless relief.  Whether he becomes a valuable reliever this season is unknown, but it’s a step in the right direction.  My recommendation still holds: the Nats need to be more creative.  They also need to take bullpen construction more seriously because their current ad-hoc approach isn’t working.

One way to fix replay: eject managers for lost challenges

It’s not a secret that I hate replay.  I am by no means a baseball traditionalist entirely opposed to change.  I simply think the existence of replay makes the game worse by adding delay while providing little tangible benefit.  Replay exist to “get the calls right,” but more often than not, managers challenge calls they know to be right or plays that are too close to know for sure.  There’s no downside to a lost challenge, and huge upside to a won challenge.

It’s all infuriating to watch.  Managers often challenge calls in the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning because they have a challenge left to burn.  A call the manager would ordinarily let stand in the 1st inning suddenly becomes something worth sending to the replay booth in New York because the game is almost over.  Fans have to sit there and watch umpires stand around wearing headsets at the point in the game where it already begins to drag due to frequent pitching changes.  Late-game “Hail Mary” replays also illustrate the biggest paradox of the system.  It exits to ensure an obviously wrong call doesn’t stand (think Armando Galarraga’s non-perfect game).  Yet, the close call that could go either way–thus a play less worthy of a challenge–take the longest to review as replay officials parse every possible camera angle.

Aside from acting as a safety net to prevent a Galarraga perfect game mishap, replay has achieved one other positive result.  Managers rarely argue with umpires anymore since they now have a more productive outlet for their disagreements.  Some traditionalists may lament this, but I don’t.  It, too, was a waste of time, since managers hardly ever succeeded in changing the umpire’s mind.  Managers argued for catharsis or to “fire their team up.”  Earl Weaver made arguing with umpires part of his brand, and his ejection record reflected that.

Since replay started to poison Major League Baseball, I’ve brainstormed ways to discourage unnecessary challenges.  Recently, MLB imposed a 30-second time limit for managers to challenge.  This doesn’t solve the problem; in fact it might make the problem worse since managers now have less time to know whether their challenge is a worthwhile one.  Here’s my solution.  If a manager loses a challenge, he’s ejected from the game.  If you waste our time with a pointless challenge, go to the showers.  This might sound harsh, or even unfair since replay often returns unexpected results.  But that is entirely the point.  Replay is there to fix obvious mistakes.  It’s not a late-game dice roll when things aren’t going your way.  I’m more convinced now more than ever MLB needs to dis-incentivize a bad replay challenge.  Publicly humiliating a manager who wastes our time is a good start.

Nationals need to be creative to solve their bullpen problems

In 2009, the Nationals drafted a guy named Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick. Nine picks later, they selected a guy named Drew Storen, a relief pitcher from Stanford* with the idea he could make the major leagues quickly and become a closer.

I always hated that pick, and not because I expected Storen to blow two playoff series and otherwise be a head case and malcontent. I simply think 1st round picks should be “high ceiling” selections and relievers are inherently volitile and unpredictable who live very short MLB shelf lives. A good rule of thumb: if you can’t imagine the guy winning multiple Cy Young or MVP awards, don’t pick him. 

At the same time the Nationals were drafting Strasburg and Storen, another young pitcher started 24 games just up the road in Frederick, VA. His name was Zach Britton and he was the best reliever in baseball last season. Britton was drafted as a starter and worked his way through the Orioles farm system. He even started 46 games in MLB as such. In 2014, the Orioles permenantly gave up on him as a starting pitcher and a bullpen star was accidentally born. 

Twenty-five picks after Storen, the Orioles selected a young shortstop named Mychal Givens, who was converted to a relief pitcher in 2013 after a few offensively challenged seasons as a position player. Givens is now a very effective reliever in the Orioles bullpen right along side Britton. 

The two teams’ approaches to relief pitcher development couldn’t be more different. The Nats tend to pigeonhole their pitchers into two categories of relievers and starters. Aaron Barrett started zero games above the New York-Pennsylvania league (low A). Koda Glover didn’t start any. Same with Storen. Treinen and Solis both started games in the minors, but were converted to the bullpen relatively quickly in the majors. Meanwhile, starting pitching prospects often come and go without a stop in the bullpen. Some are “blocked” in AAA because there’s no “room” on the major league roster (AJ Cole, Taylor Hill, Austin Voth, and ironically Jacob Turner who was drafted the pick before Drew Storen in 2009). Some are traded away because the Nats can afford to trade their starting pitching “depth” (Reynoldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Nate Karns).  

The Nationals have struggled this season to find enough reliable arms to fill their bullpen. Last offseason, they were priced out of (or priced themelves out of) free agent options that might have helped like Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen. This requires the team to be more creative. Perhaps continuing to pigeonhole pitchers as “starters” and “relievers” is part of the problem. Zach Britton didn’t become Zach Britton until the Orioles threw up their hands and gave him a shot in the bullpen. Same with Andrew Miller, a former starter who the Red Sox converted to a reliever in 2012. The Nats may be tempted to look far and wide for bullpen solutions, but the answer might be right in front of them. 

* the original version of this post said that Drew Storen went to LSU, not Stanford. I am an idiot. Carry on. 

All 12 Nationals Home Openers ranked from worst to best

12. 2010 – The Nats are blown out 11-1 by the Phillies. Worse, the stadium was filled with Phillies fans thanks, in part, to Stan Kastan’s policy of selling block tickets to out of town fans before individual tickets went on sale to the public. Coming off two horrific seasons in 2008 and 2009, there’s a good argument this day was the low point in Nationals history.

11. 2009 – The Nats entered the game 0-6 and left the game 0-7 after losing to the defending champion Phillies, 9-8. By the time this game ended we were all on notice that the 2009 season would be just as painful as 2008. One bright spot: Christian Guzman went five for five.

10. 2011 – It was cold. It wasn’t even April yet. Livan Hernandez turns in a quality performance in his last opening day start. But the Nats lose a lackluster 2-0 game to the Braves.

9. 2007 – The last opening day at RFK. John Patterson got rocked and the Nationals lost 9-2 to Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins. It was an inauspicious start to the beginning of the Manny Acta era.

8. 2006 – Everything about the home opener in 2006 was a little bit of a bummer. The team was already 2-5 on their way to 91 losses. Opening Day starter Ramon Ortiz gave up four runs and the Nats lost 7-1 to a superior Mets team. The excitement of the previous years home opener had already started to wear off. Can anyone name the leadoff hitter from the home opener in 2006? Anyone? Brandon Watson.

7. 2014 – Not great weather as the Nats lose 2-1 to the Braves in part due to the Justin Upton ground rule double fiasco. The loss wouldn’t be nearly as bad if it didn’t breathe more life into the annoying “the Nats can’t beat the Braves” narrative.

6. 2016 — Tanner Roark had a rough day. After giving up 3 runs to the Marlins in the first inning, he didn’t make it more than 4 innings.  The Nationals scored 3 runs in the first inning too, which was cool, but they didn’t do much more than that.  Bryce Harper hit his 4th opening day home run, which is becoming a fun trend.  The Nats lost 6-4.

5. 2015 – The game started well. Great weather. Bryce Harper homering in his second at bat. Max Scherzer beginning his Nats career with 5 shutout innings. Unfortunately, a critical miscommunication between Dan Uggla and Ian Desmond on a routine pop-up opened the door to some Mets runs and the Nats bats were silenced by Bartolo Colon and the Mets bullpen (including recently traded Jerry Blevins). It was a foreshadow to a disappointing 2015 season. The Nats lost 3-1.

4. 2012 – Nationals win a 3-2 walk off against the Reds in the 10th inning after a blown save by closer Brad Lidge (spoiling a nice start by Gio Gonzalez). The win moved the Nats record to 5-2 to start the season. After quality end to 2011, we started to get the feeling that the Nationals were actually playoff contenders.

3. 2008 – The first game at Nats Park. The excitement of a new stadium puts this game high on the list. But Ryan Zimmerman’s walk off homerun in the 9th inning puts it higher. Unfortunately the temperature dropped steadily throughout the game. By the time Zim hit his homer, the stadium was half empty and freezing. Also, while the Opening Night walkoff provided a signature moment for the new stadium, nobody in that park thought the Nats would be contenders that season dampening some of the enthusiasm.

2. 2013 – Almost everything about Opening Day 2013 was perfect. Bryce Harper hit the first two good pitches he saw out of the ballpark. Stephen Strasburg nearly threw a shutout. And the game was over in record time. That season didn’t turn out as planned but on that day it looked like the Nats would be cruising to their second straight National League East title.

1. 2005 – This will be #1 forever. Everything was perfect. The President threw out the first pitch (and didn’t bounce it). Livan Hernandez threw a gem. Vinny Castilla almost hit for the cycle (thanks Lance Cormier). The stands were bouncing. Most importantly professional baseball was back in Washington DC.  It’ll never get better than Opening day 2005.

You may not like him, but the Nationals were right to invite Donald Trump to Opening Day

img_7425Listen, I don’t like Donald Trump either. Setting aside the fact that he’s a deplorable human being who brags about committing sexual assault, he’s a willfully ignorant narcissist who’s largely made a joke out of our electoral process. He won the nomination of his party by slinging school yard taunts and playing on the worst xenophobic and racist impulses among the least educated and refined of our populace. He’s neither prepared the job he holds, nor does he respect the basic civic institutions of our democracy. His grasp on reality is so tenuous I question his ability to be employed whatsoever, let alone his qualifications for the most important public office in the most consequential and powerful country in the world.

You probably either wholehearedly agree with that characterization or wildly disagree with it. I don’t particularly care which. This is America. You’re entitled to your opinion.

But since this is America, let me state one principle that should be sacred: the President of the United States should throw out the first pitch in Washington DC on Opening Day. I don’t care about the party and I don’t care about the policies. Some things should transcend politics.

Washington DC doesn’t have a lot of baseball traditions. There are no retired numbers on the façade of the upper deck (other than 42), and the pennants flying above the scoreboard are very lonely. Most of DC baseball history is littered with losing and misery. When Broadway wanted produce a musical about a terrible professional baseball team, they chose the Washington Senators.

DC baseball may not have a tradition of winning, but we have an unseverable connection between the Presidency and baseball. The first President to attend a professional baseball game, Benjamin Harrison, saw the Senators lose to the Reds (of course) in 1892. It was at a Senators game in 1910 the tradition of the first pitch was born. William Howard Taft became the first President to throw out the “first ball” on Opening Day. He did it again the next year. President Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition, throwing out the first ball on Senators Opening Day three times. The next nine Presidents all threw out the first ball on Opening Day in Washington DC, combining to do it 40 times. When professional baseball came back to DC in 2005, President George W. Bush was on the mound. He was there again when the Nationals opened their new stadium in 2008. President Obama threw out the first pitch in 2010 (albeit wearing the wrong hat).

When it was leaked Tuesday morning that the Lerners intended to invite President Trump to throw out the first pitch next Monday, the reaction on social media was predictably negative, ranging from mild disapproval to outright anger. I get it. Lest you think I’m a fan of Trump, I direct your attention to the first paragraph above.

The problem is there is no credible argument not to invite him, unless you intend to kill this DC baseball tradition altogether. Some argued that Opening Day is meant to be a happy occasion that shouldn’t be interrupted by such unpleasantries like protests and political animosity. This is a paper thin argument, likely covering a dislike of the personality involved.  Most people making this argument probably wouldn’t be doing so had the election swung the other way, and they probably didn’t make it 7 years ago when President Obama was invited to Nats Park.  It’s fine, I suppose, to argue politicians should stay away from ceremonial sporting events altogether. But I won’t entertain that argument if it was only discovered this morning.

Others argued that the Lerners should respect the values of their fans, who voted overwhelmingly against then-candidate Trump. Washington DC as a city voted 96% for Hillary Clinton and every neighboring county voted the same way, although not to those numbers. The problem here: Washington DC always votes Democrat, and always overwhelming so. Applying a popularlity test before a President is invited to Opening Day elminates 50% of our Presidents.

The most common objection, though, were those who said they weren’t opposed to a President, even a Republican, from throwing out a first pitch, just this President. There’s something–indeed many things–that are so uniquely distasteful about him. He’s an outlier. I am sympathetic to this argument. See above. However, this line of thought can be applied to any President (think Nixon or the anger toward Bush 43 after the Iraq War). As politics coarsen and the lines of political division harden, this problem will only get worse. You don’t like this guy? You probably won’t like the next guy either.

The biggest problem, however, is taking a purely ceremonial, non-partisan job, and disqualifying the applicant for purely partisan reasons. Throwing out a first pitch is the least political thing a President can do. It’s one of the few places he can be a fan and we can forget about the policies he may or not be pursuing. Objecting to the President because you don’t like him takes a non-political activity and makes it political.

It’s hard to escape the unprecedented unpleasantness of our current national political dynamic. The sitting President, especially a locally unpopular one, throwing out the first pitch would have–for only a minute–been a symbol that some things are not as abnormal as they might seem. Baseball survived through World War I, World War II, and Watergate. Presidents of both parties were there to throw out first pitches both before and after.

You may think locking Donald Trump out of Opening Day keeps baseball’s sacred day from becoming political. But locking him out because of his politics does the opposite. You may not like him, but the Lerners were right to invite him. This is Washington DC’s greatest baseball tradition and it should be kept alive at all costs.

DC may be a swamp. But turning Opening Day into a political litmus test would only make it swampier.

Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #23 Progressive Field

2016-10-06_Progressive_Field_before_ALDS_Game_1_between_Cleveland_and_BostonLast year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

26. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

25. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)

24. Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)

23. Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)

The last entry on this list, Guaranteed Rate Field (formerly U.S. Cellular formerly Comiskey), carries the distinction as the last stadium to be constructed before Camden Yards changed the rules for building stadiums.  Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) carries the opposite distinction–the first one to be built afterward, along with the Texas Rangers’ new stadium, then called The Ballpark at Arlington.  Camden opened in 1992–the Indians and Rangers opened theirs in 1994.  These two stadiums, even more so than the one in Baltimore, cemented the trend of retro-modern stadiums in MLB.

After it’s construction, Jacobs Field was a massive success.  Most teams see attendance booms in the first year of a new stadium.  Many fade after one season.  The Indians sold out every game at their new stadium for 455 consecutive games from 1995-2001, a streak only recently broken by the Boston Red Sox.  Of course, the Indians had great teams in the late 1990’s, but the excitement of the new stadium helped fill the seats.  There were several seasons during their sellout streak where every ticket was purchased before the season began.

Things have changed since then.  Even with a pennant winning team, the Indians couldn’t even average 20 thousand fans a night last season.  Progressive Field is now neither new, nor unique.  Eighteen different teams have opened new ballparks since the Indians first christened Jacobs Field.  Think about that.  Progressive Field is now in the top half of oldest MLB stadiums.

Had I made this list 20 years ago, there’s no question the Indians stadiums would have been ranked in the Top 10, probably Top 5.  The fact that it’s now ranked number 23 is not a reflection on the ballpark, it’s a reflection on the creativity and ingenuity being used in modern stadium construction.  This ranking isn’t an indictment of Progressive Field; it’s a compliment to modern baseball architecture.

In many ways, Progressive Field is the perfect stadium for the Indians and for Cleveland. For comparison, the Texas Rangers have already made plans to replace their stadium opened the same year.  Turner Field, built after Progressive Field, has already been retired.  As noted, the Indian’s stadium has aged, but it’s not showing it.  On the contrary, the team has continually tinkered with the stadium to keep it fresh and to current with modern trends.  A two-year renovation was just completed, adding new amenities like updated club levels and a new bar.  Most notably, they decreased capacity to roughly 35K, which is more appropriate for Cleveland’s market size.  Unlike Texas and Atlanta, it’s unlikely to see Indians fans clamoring for a new ballpark anytime soon.

Part of Jacobs Field’s initial attraction back in 1994 was the upgrade it provided from the Indians former home, Cleveland Stadium.  Commonly referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake,” Cleveland Stadium was a largely lifeless multi-purpose stadium the Indians shared with the Browns.  Too big for the baseball with over 70 thousand seats, the park would be freezing from Lake Erie winds during the colder months and swarming with midges during the warmer months.  The move to Jacobs Field presented a contrast in almost every way.

The new stadium was downtown, away from the lake winds and among restaurants and bars.  The ballpark became a centerpiece of a largely successful city downtown revitalization.  The Cavaliers now play right next door at Quicken Loans Arena.  Where Cleveland Stadium was cavernous, Jacobs Field was intimate, with seats closer to the field with improved sightlines thanks to it’s baseball-only design.  The old stadium was plain, the new one had quirks–an asymmetrical outfield and eccentricities like the mini-Green Monster in left field.  Even the stadium lights were unique–a toothbrush-like design so distinctive the team put it on its stadium logo.

Progressive Field is a hard stadium to rank.  There is nothing about it that’s lacking, but there is also nothing about it that makes it transcendent–at least not anymore.  Back in 1994, the Indians discovered the right formula to build a ballpark.  Unfortunately for it’s spot on these rankings, it’s a formula easily replicated throughout the country.

Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #24 Guaranteed Rate Field

1024px-thumbnailLast year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  (Oakland Athletics)

28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)

27. Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)

26. Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers)

25. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)

24. Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)

In 1988, then-Baltimore Orioles President Larry Lucchino met with representatives of the architectural firm HOK (now Populous) to discuss designs for the team’s new stadium.  The HOK reps brought with them a replica of the Chicago White Sox’s replacement for Comiskey Park, slated to open in 1991.  Baseball had just emerged from a period of multi-use cookie stadiums like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, which were drab and lifeless.  HOK tried to update the prototype by designing a cookie cutter baseball-only venue with modern amenities and, most importantly to the owners, revenue generating suites.  The result was the design for the new stadium in Chicago.  HOK hoped to replicate it throughout baseball.  With luck, the league would be filled with identical new Comiskey Parks–fully functional, modern venues that were in no way distinctive or unique.

Lucchino, of course, told them to get out and come back with something better.  It was too late for the White Sox, however, who got saddled with new stadium that was obsolete before its first birthday.  Guaranteed Rate Field (renamed last year) looks different now than it did when it opened in 1991.  The team quickly realized how badly they missed out on the 1990’s retro-ballpark craze, and they decided to renovate and make their home less antiseptic, since a new stadium wasn’t an option.  Starting in 2000, the White Sox began tinkering with what was then known as Comiskey Park and later became U.S. Cellular Field.   Arguably no baseball stadium has changed so quickly in such a short amount of time.  The blue seats became green.  A multi-layered concourse was added in the outfield.  The team added seats closer to the field and removed ones furthest away.  Outfield dimensions were changed to make them less symmetrical and to make room for new bullpens, party decks, and restaurants with a field view.  Guaranteed Rate Field is far more fan friendly now than it was in 1991, and it’s no longer the snaggletooth of new MLB stadiums.  It’s a pleasant place to watch a game, and it has almost everything a fan wants.

The White Sox play on the South Side of Chicago, amid highways, parking lots, and housing projects.  The site was chosen because it was adjacent to the old Comiskey Park, one of baseball’s old great stadiums, built in 1911 (the old home plate is still preserved on the site).  The atmosphere surrounding Guaranteed Rate Field is the inverse of Wrigleyville on Chicago’s North Side, with its walkable streets filled with neighborhood bars and overpriced townhomes.  The contrast further validates the stereotype of the White Sox as Chicago’s blue collar team.

In the run up to the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1908 last October, ESPN’s SportsCenter flashed a graphic of “Chicago’s Championships” since the last time the Cubs won.  It listed titles won by the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks, while completely omitting the White Sox, who ended their own multi-generational World Series drought in 2005.  It was like ESPN forgot Chicago had a second baseball team.  Symbolic and not surprising.

We are counting down the top MLB stadiums from worst to best.  It’ll be a while until we get to Wrigley Field.  The White Sox may or may not be Chicago’s forgotten baseball team, but they definitely play in Chicago’s forgotten stadium.