The Nub

The Nub

"If you don't think life imitates sports, you're not reading The Nub”
                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

“Politics and baseball.  Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on perfectpitcher.org.”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

Hits, Errors Noted in Skipper’s Record Book

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(Posted 10/26/14)

Skipper Obama may have given us a clue as to which of the World Series teams he prefers. He told the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin that, in competing abroad, he’s satisfied to hit “singles and doubles”, rather than swing for the fences. On that basis, the Royals are his team. They out-singled the Giants in the regular season, 1046 to 971, and out-doubled them, 286-257. The Skipper also said he’s keen to “avoid errors.” The Giants won that battle, but only by a little, making four fewer miscues than KC, 100 to 104. A possible complication: SF is from a blue state, KC from a purple one. Perhaps decisive is that, as a regular-season White Sox fan, Obama could be expected to lean from the start toward whichever AL entry makes it to the Series.

The division among Obama’s fans as to how he’s performed as Skipper – singles, doubles, errors, allegiances, etc. – is deep. We’ll see that now in excerpts from opposing-view scorecards kept by Times columnist Paul Krugman and Thomas (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) Frank. Krugman recorded his positive take in Rolling Stone magazine: Despite bitter opposition,” he wrote… “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy… I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot.”

Frank hit back in Slate’s on-line magazine: “If we want to believe that Obama has been a consequential and a great president, then (you have to blame) his right-wing opposition. He didn’t get the king-sized stimulus we needed, liberals often say, because the right wouldn’t give it to him. He didn’t break up the banks or prosecute the banksters because the Tea Party wouldn’t let him. He didn’t get single payer or the public option because Republicans wouldn’t go along with that… However… there is another factor to be taken into consideration here: Obama didn’t do these things because he or his advisors didn’t want to do themAs president, (Obama) couldn’t seem to see what is obvious to everyone… That … facing down the Republicans… on the stimulus, on the banks, on inequality—would have made him…consequential and successful. It might even have spared him the electoral comeuppance he received in 2010, and whose second installment seems likely… a few weeks from now.”

Among extra-base hits missing from either scorecard: the Skipper’s successful roster additions (after the Senate’s filibuster reform) of several key members of the upper-level judiciary. Among alarming errors unmentioned: Team Obama’s all-too-transparent war on whistleblowers.

–         –         –

Key to the Title: Looks as though the Series will come down to which side penetrates the other’s impregnable barrier: SF must solve KC’s 7-8-9 relievers, the Royals must reach Madison Bumgarner in games 4 and (possibly) 7. Edge for the moment (obviously): KC, with its 2-1 lead.

 Say It Ain’t So, Joe: Within a week of saying this – “I want to stay a Ray. I mean that sincerely. I want to be part of a World Series winner wth the Rays” – Joe Maddon says no one can blame him for opting out of his 2014 contract and going for big bucks elsewhere. No “blame” here, Joe; just disappointment.

 Which Team? “The heart of a lion, the will of a warrior, whatever cliché you want to use. These guys are champions inside.”  Raul Ibanez on the Royals (quoted by Vahe Gregorian, KC Star).

From Derek to Buster: Who will replace Derek Jeter has baseball’s active-player icon. On ESPN Radio Tuesday night, Aaron Boone made a logical suggestion: “I think the new face of baseball will be Buster Posey: he’s earned it.”

Impatience: Joe Buck, reacting last night to his two rookie Fox teammates talking too long about the impact of defensive shifts: “It’s official: time for a new topic.”

From His Lips: Before game 2, Eric Byrnes, our favorite MLB-TV team-member, made this Series prediction: “If the Giants win, they’ll sweep. If the Royals win, it will go to seven.”

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

 

Does Sign-Stealing Game Have Anything to Do with Us?

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(Posted 10/21/14)

It was all-star humorist and fan Dave Barry who figured out how to deal with a ball-team that was letting him down: “It has nothing to do with me,” he wrote, after the team went into a terminal tailspin. It’s a phrase Mets fans use to comfort themselves when “meaningful games” become a mid-season memory. Rockies and Rangers fans also had that experience this year. Most will succumb to their annual re-commitment in 2015, at least until their teams don’t measure up again.

We’re often quick to try to distance ourselves from connections that yield long losing streaks.  We’ll do it even faster if the defeats have devastating consequences. When Edward Snowden exposed the loss of privacy owing to signal-stealing surveillance in America, the picture of a police state playing big brother left many of us numbed.

Most fans remain so today, despite media reminders of what’s happened often unclear as to which side they are on. When the story broke nearly two years ago, we noted that most fans in the national ballpark didn’t seem to care about the invasive game being played under the name of national security. It took a German director named Christoph Hochhausler to pinpoint the reason for the apparent apathy. Invited by filmmaker Laura Poitras to attend an early screening of her documentary (“Citizenfour”) about the Snowden saga, Hochhausler said Poitras needed to establish the “gravity” of the situation. Why? “Because most of the people think Yes, but it won’t happen to me and, anyway, I have nothing to hide.”(quoted by George Packer in last week’s New Yorker).

Anticipating this“ It has nothing to do”- like response, Snowden wrote of his fear to Poitras and other teammate, journalist-lawyer Glenn Greenwald: “While I pray… (for)…reform,” he said,  “bear in mind that the policies of men change in time, and even the Constitution is subverted when the appetites of power demand it.”                      

The power game in all its effectiveness on display before distracted fans.

–       –         –

 The Alternate DH Angle: On MLB-TV Sunday night, Eric Byrnes discussed a potential pitfall in the Royals’ 4-3 Series home-field advantage: “The Giants will have Michael Morse as DH for the games in Kansas City. They’re a much stronger offensive team with Morse in the lineup. That the Royals will lose Billy Butler as DH in San Francisco will help the Giants, too.”

Here’s a Surprise: “I think it’s important for us to embrace the financial advantages that we have. We’re not going to shy away from it.” – New LA Dodger exec and former Rays GM Andrew Friedman

Budgetary Big League: The Dodgers’ total payroll expenses for 2014 were approximately equal to the Rays’ combined payrolls for the past four seasons. – Bill Plunkett, Orange County, CA Register

Feel-Good Tale: When the cell phone recently rang as Eric Cooper and his wife motored along a West Des Moines, Iowa, roadway, he glanced down and saw a 212 area code. Cooper, a baseball umpire since 1999, knew the call originated from New York — the home of Major League Baseball. His heart began to race. “I picked it up and he said, ‘Hey, Coop, it’s Joe Torre. How are you?’ ” Cooper said Friday of Torre, the executive vice president for baseball operations. “I said, ‘Well, I just about wrecked the car when I saw the area code.’ Mr. Torre said to pull the car over and put it into park. He said, ‘How would you like to work the World Series this year?'” Cooper, 47, was selected for his first Fall Classic. “It’s one of those two or three phone calls you’re always going to remember in your career,” Cooper said. “Outside of the birth of a child, marriage, kids graduating and those things, it’s a humbling call.” – Bryce Miller, USA Today

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Strike Zones: Their Differing Effects on Ballyards and Battlefields

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(Posted 10/18/14)

During the endless period between first pitch at 8:07 and last out at around midnight of most playoff games, the few stay-awake East Coast fans find lots to grumble about: the imposed sleepiness, the know-it-all assertions of Fox’s Harold Reynolds, and, worst of all, the elastic strike zone. Scholars of the subject report that Baseball has squeezed the widened zone through use of umpire-grading technology. While the monitoring has (allegedly) reduced bad outside-the-plate calls, it now frees umpires to be pitcher-generous on judging high and low strikes. You can almost hear the coast-to-coast groans over the resulting below-the-knees punch-outs.

Amid reasons offered for the sport’s offensive falloff – no more PED’s, killer relief pitching, etc. – the liberal vertical strike zone may be the main culprit. Political observers now identify a similar, overly generous strike-zone culprit on its field; over the years, this one, however, expanded rather than reduced America’s offensive clout. We became trigger-happy at the plate, says HuffPost’s Ivan Eland, because we feared caution could end in a bad call. We thus went for the fences, swinging at pitches outside our comfort zone and of minimal significance to those involved far away. Eland puts it this way:

“(We’ve) constantly seen local threats as more severe than the (affected) countries in a particular region…Thus the United States has leaped into… the quagmires of Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan/Afghanistan, and Iraq–in which the threats to the United States turned out to be vastly exaggerated. Turkey’s reluctance to dive into a seeming threat right on its border should be a wake up call to halt (another) U.S. slide…”

Two open-ended questions: Does our war on ISIS belong on that roster of well-intentioned errors? Is our eagerness to identify menacing enemies abroad linked to economic benefits of a booming war industry?

–     –       –

E-Mailbag: “Two wild cards get to the series….Can you imagine the Giants having a shot at winning three World Series in five years.? Unreal.” – Keith W, Manhattan. The Nub: “There was something almost tragic about the Cardinals running out of pitchers. They had holes in their hitting lineup, but seemed to have pitchers in quantity. Confess to having looked forward to a game 7, and watching two admirable teams with complete neutrality.” (Which is how we’ll watch the World Series)

 Truth-Teller: We remember, back in July, when Raul Ibanez called his KC teammates together to tell them how good they were; how other teams hated to play them because of all their talent. “Nice pep-talk”, we thought, but surely an exaggeration. Now we know: Ibanez knew what he was talking about. Few fans today would bet against the Royals in the World Series.

Looking Ahead: Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter must have seen the handwriting on the wall early in KC Wednesday. Midway through the decisive fourth O’s-Royals ALCS game, Showalter, interviewed on TBS, referred to a costly first-inning play. In it, catcher Caleb Joseph lost control of a ball at home plate, allowing a sliding runner to score. Although only trailing by a run, Showalter told his interviewers he would address how to make that play “in the off-season.”

We’ll See: “I want to stay a Ray. I mean that sincerely. I want to be part of a World Series winner wth the Rays.”  Tampa Bay Skipper Joe Maddon, responding to rumors he would join departing GM Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers. (quoted by NY Post’s Joel Sherman)

History Lesson: “(Yesterday was) the 25th anniversary of 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake. It struck the San Francisco Bay at 5:04 p.m., during the televised warm-up to Game Three of the World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants; as a result, it was the first earthquake in the United States whose opening shocks were broadcast on live television. The earthquake reached a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale… and lasted about 10 to 15 seconds. There were 63 fatalities; that number likely would have been closer to 300, had it not been for the World Series. Many people had left work early, or were otherwise parked in front of televisions at a time when they usually would have been crowding the freeways and bridges.” – (Writer’s Almanac, 10/16)

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

The Speculation Game: Possible Shocks in Both Pastimes

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(Posted 10/14/14)

Let’s take a swing at the most intriguing questions involving potential free agents: Will Nelson Cruz and James Shields re-up with their present teams, the Orioles and Royals? Both have indicated they’d be happy to stay put, but with substantial raises. The Orioles paid Cruz $8 million this season, a unanimously acknowledged steal. He can make double that over several seasons – he’ll turn 35 in July. Shields, soon to be 33, has been making a little over five-and-a-half million per under terms of a seven-year contract signed with Tampa Bay. The guess here is that KC would welcome a deal paying him double – $11 million and change – for another seven years.

We’re talking – that is, speculating about – small-market teams and big money. The question with which each player is likely to grapple: Will I – should I – sign at a discount to stay where I am? The answer is seldom “yes”, as it was with Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox. Orioles and Royals fans are surely hoping Cruz and Shields spring a surprise and go the Pedroia route.

Observers in Europe wonder if a surprise isn’t brewing as Team ISIS barnstorms through Iraq, Syria and, perhaps, beyond. The fear is that Israel will be drawn into the ISIS orbit because of the Islamic State’s support for the Palestinians. The International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff has speculative questions of his own about what could happen:

“If the Palestinians were to rise again against Israel, would the ISIS come to its aid? Would the Palestinians accept such aid? (If provoked), would Israel make full-scale war…against the Palestinians, in view of the declared intention of the Palestinian Authority to seek U.N. membership and pursue Israel before the International War Crimes Tribunal? What would President Obama’s position be in such an eventuality? Has this been considered in Washington? Would the United States, which has given a commitment to defend Israel against any attack, conduct an intervention with American ground troops? Amid those “ifs”, Pfaff blames Team USA political players and the media for pressuring the Skipper to take us into a war for which – because of our earlier meddling – we are largely responsible. Obama “will suffer most dramatically,” he says, “but American citizens will suffer, too, and the battered people of the Middle East most of all.”

–       –       –

Winged: With ace pitcher Adam Wainwight admitting that his right arm “doesn’t feel great” and the team and Baseball’s best catcher Yadier Molina out with a strained oblique muscle, the Cardinals are flying into the best-three-of-five leg of the NLCS on one wing. On MLB-TV yesterday, Cliff Floyd said, having suffered oblique strains in his career, “I consider Yadier’s season over.” Molina flew with the Cardinals to San Francisco for today’s game. But A.J. Pierzynski has been added to the Redbirds roster, a sign the team suspects Yadi won’t be back.

The Looking-to-the-Future Trap: Royals GM Dayton Moore, on taking the long view of a team’s development: “You can’t do that; you have to be involved day-to-day. If you’re doing your job, you’re focused on making the team better now. Thinking about the future is a distraction.” (MLB Now Interview)

Rare Bouquet: Umpires seldom get their due, but, on TBS Saturday night, Ron Darling gave plate umpire Marvin Hudson his: “Marvin Hudson is a conservative umpire who makes his calls by the book,” Darling said early in the second KC-Orioles playoff. “He doesn’t expand the strike zone as other umpires do.” Later, Darling noted that Hudson’s calls had been “consistent” throughout the game.

Heard on the East Coast: Two avid baseball fans discussing the current round of playoffs – “I don’t even know who’s playing,” said one, sadly. “I know,” said the other, “but I’ve lost interest because most games end after midnight.” Memo to MLB: Would insisting on 7p EDT starts that cater to millions more fans mean too big a loss of /TV money? It would certainly make the sport’s spectator-demographic level younger.

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Breaking from the Game Plan in Both Fields

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(Posted 10/11/14)

This unusual exchange occurred in the TBS booth during the final game of the Angels-Royals ALDS matchup last Sunday:

Play-by-play man Brian Anderson (completing a promo for a comedy called “The Big Bang Theory”): “It’s funny.”    

Color man Joe Simpson: “You’re funny…at least, I think you are.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

BA (after seconds of dead air): “You caught me by surprise there, Joe. Couldn’t think of anything to say. Guess I’m not funny, after all.”

JS: “You’ve gone down a notch.”

The byplay gave us a kick: two pros being themselves, not afraid to break from their baseball-reporting assignments, to tell us – through impromptu wit – that they have a personal friendship,

Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz, covering the Nats-Giants series for MLB-TV, candidly conveyed a similar rapport: When Smoltz fumbled for a descriptive word Monday night, Vaspersion found it for him. Said Smoltz: “We’ve reached the point where you know what I’m thinking before I do.”

Those moments came to mind when the political media booed VP Joe Biden for breaking from his talking points at Harvard, and, being himself, said what most of us already suspected: that Team Obama’s biggest problem in meeting the chaotic challenge embroiling the Middle East is getting allies to play ball…with, not against us.

Wednesday’s NY Times pitched one example: the O-team’s supposed ally Turkey refuses to aid embattled Kurds across the border in Syria because the Kurds at home have long been hostile to the government in Ankara. Then there is the conundrum of whether rebel groups we’re supporting in Syria are more interested in overthrowing Bashar al- Assad than in defeating ISIS? And what do we do about Iran and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, fighting on Assad’s side against the rebel groups supposedly on ours? As for the Arab nations formally allied with the U.S., they’ve made clear, informally, that they have no stomach for provoking ISIS.

The Skipper’s former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta injected an interesting complication into the already complex mix: Obama’s reluctance to ignore the war-fatigue rooted in the national ballpark. Polls show fans yearn for peace, while the mainstream media reinforce calls for a military rally. The Skipper, it would seem, favors competing like the Cardinals and Giants rather than the Dodgers and Yankees; that is, staying outside the baseline until crunch-time forces them into the center of the diamond.. Obama is finding, however, that he has no choice; he can’t go against our history of what some call intervention, others meddling. For the moment, the global dominance game is our destiny, much as the World Series is apparently that of teams from St.Louis or San Francisco.

–       –       –

If Offense Counts: last night’s result notwithstanding, only one team in the final four has clout: the Orioles. As such, the O’s figure to make it to the Series title. Of course, that assumes the Cinderella Royals – five straight post-season victories – don’t achieve the crowning feat (even if it’s just the AL pennant) of their magical season.

Efficiency: MLB’s Dan Plesac (a former reliever), on KC’s set up man Wade Davis: “Ned Yost has a lot of animals on his team, but Davis is a ‘gorilla’.” Wade’s line last night: six batters faced in two full innings; no hits, no runs, four strike-outs.

Get Me Mikey: “They need Michael (“Mikey”) Morse,” John Kruk, doing color on ESPN Radio, said the other night. Kruk was remarking on the lack of righthanded punch in the SF lineup. Morse, on the DL since September 19, is scheduled to return to the Giants roster for the NLCS. He hit .279 – .293 against righties – with 16 HRs and 61 RBIs in 131 games.

Buildup in St.Louis: “Free agents leave, stars retire, trades are made. Previous core players such as Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Beltran David Freese and Allen Craig — among others — are gone. No problem. The Cardinals keep winning. They develop prospects and put them with proven veterans and key acquisitions. And then the team that wears the Birds on the Bat goes out and stamps the franchise logo on the October playing fields where championships are won.” – Bernie Miklasz, St.Louis Post-Dispatch

Fallout in LA: “The Dodgers were an incomplete $240-million team and it showed in the division series. Is (GM Ned Colletti’s) job safe? Hard to know, but when Guggenheim Baseball took over, it inherited Colletti and elected to keep him. Its leaders may figure he’s had his chance.” – Steve Dilbeck, LA Times

“Hanley Ramirez has almost certainly played his last game in a Dodgers uniform – and maybe his last as a shortstop for anyone. Unproductive discussions regarding a contract extension with the Dodgers died months ago and are not likely to be resuscitated.” – Bill Plunkett, Orange County Register

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Bite of Reality in Baseball and on Foreign Fields

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(Posted 10/7/14)

How does a 2015 Dodgers rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer sound? And a Yankees’ top foursome of Mashiro Tanaka, David Price, Michael Pineda and James Shields? Pretty strong, especially those LA starters. But, wait: those are conservative estimates as to how the MLB’s two richest franchises will be adding to the pitching part of their rosters. There’s no stopping them if they want to get even stronger through the free-agent-signing route.

That’s the way it’s going to be, allowing for the unlikely possibility the less-wealthy Red Sox and Tigers will try to muscle their way into the bidding. It’s the enduring reality of Baseball’s economic class system. There’s an occasional change – as when the Yanks decided in 2012 to economize to save on the luxury tax. But the reality, the threat, remains, and it will be hard next spring to imagine the Dodgers and Yanks absent from the end-of-season’s playoff teams.

The rich stand their ground in Baseball and the American marketplace. On “Democracy Now” last Friday, journalist-author Jeremy Scahill reminded listeners of militant Islamic reality in the Middle East clinging to their aggressive anti-American stance. Whether known as Al Quaida, ISIS, or, more recently, Khorasan, they are part of the same farm system we’ve been fighting since before 2003. “We empower the threat” those teams represent, said Scahill, “the threat we claim to be fighting.” He gave this example:

“When the Khorasan group popped out of nowhere, and we were told, like, this is the greatest threat—in fact, on NBC News, there was a fantastic—Brian Williams, when he was announcing, you know, the new, latest, greatest threat—trademark—he had a graphic next to him that just said ‘the new enemy.’ And it’s like we could just take a picture of that, and every…two or three months—we can just have Brian Williams there with ‘the new threat.’ It could become an annual holiday in this country where we just celebrate whatever new war is going to give Lockheed Martin and Boeing and all these companies tremendous profits.”

Scahill also reminded his audience of Team USA’s record responsible for the “blowback” in the region: – the torture – waterboarding, force-feeding, etc., the rendition of suspects to “black sites”, the defiling of the Koran and the casual killing of innocent civilians. The anti-U.S. reality in the region is being further solidified these days, he says, by the “collateral damage” resulting from Drone attacks on enemy targets. How often do our mainstream media put those real-world details – including the war industry profit numbers – on the scoreboard? Somewhere between “seldom” and “never.”

–       –         –

“Overflowing with urgency” – the way one local SF reporter put it – understates the task ahead of the Giants in game four with the Nationals today. The series tide shifted against them in the seventh inning yesterday when Madison Bumgarner tried to throw out Ian Desmond at third base on a bunt play. He threw the ball away, allowing both Desmond and Bryce Harper to score in what would become a 4-1 Nats victory.  Bruce Bochy will send Ryan Vogelsong (8-13) against Gio Gonzalez (10-10) tonight. If there’s a fifth game Thursday, SF will face Stephen Strasburg while relying on Jake Peavy to shift the tide back.

Ahead, But Up Against It: The Cardinals, now also ahead 2-1 in games, face even a more formidable task against the Dodgers. Yesterday’s 3-1 win over the Dodgers leaves the Cards to face two of Baseball’s best pitchers – Clayton Kershaw today and, if necessary, Zack Greinke Thursday in LA. A two-run homer by Kolten Wong in the seventh was the difference yesterday.

Head Game: Managers rarely discuss how the mental makeup of a player influences whether he gets into the lineup. But Buck Showalter told reporters before the game in Detroit yesterday that Derek Norris would be pitching instead of Mike Gonzalez because Norris was the more excitable of the two.   Norris would face less pressure in game three than he would in a possible game four, said Showalter, when he might become “nervous.” As it was, Norris allowed only one hit in six-and-a-third innings. “Bud was the difference,” said Buck.

Numbers Game: Two stats provided by TBS play-by-play man Brian Anderson: Delman Young has played in six straight playoffs on four different teams: Twins, Tigers, Rays, Orioles. Then there’s this impressive number put up by the Tigers’Ian Kinsler: Batting leadoff, almost exclusively during the regular season, Kinsler had 92 RBIs. (He had only a single hit in 12 AB’s in the just-completed series, however.)

The Good Broadcasting News: The TBS trio of Ernie Johnson, Ron Darling and Cal Ripken will handle the ALCS between the Royals and Orioles, beginning Friday. The bad: Joe Buck, Tom Verducci and Harold Reynolds will broadcast NLCS games and the World Series. No knock on the excellent Buck is meant. The three don’t mesh. ESPN Radio offers an alternative (on NLCS games) of Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

The Perils of Ballparks and Battlefield Promotions

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(Posted 10/4/14)

 Whatever happened to Derek Jeter? Six days after his baseball career ended at Fenway Park, he must be enjoying the sudden onset of privacy at home in Tampa, or somewhere else. Aside from overseeing a new website, Jeter has time, while adjusting to a new phase of his life, to think about the last phase, his season-long farewell tour. Our guess is that he found it, in equal parts, rewarding and exhausting. He might agree, in retrospect, with critics who say it was unfair to him and the team for Joe Girardi to play him as much as he did. And who can blame him if he secretly deplored the dubious profit-making done in his name – the hike in ticket prices to games wherever he appeared, and maybe even the unregulated sale of the many “Jeter” souvenirs?

Of course, having launched his new enterprise, Derek is aware of a national truism “You can’t blame people for trying to make a buck.” When the enrichment effort is done in a corner-cutting manner, however, as surely happened during the tour, it deserves more than a shrug. Shady profiteering has become part of the culture, whether at ballgames, banks, or – now, in particular – in the promotion of war fever. The Nation magazine has identified three former generals as promoters via the mainstream media. The three – Anthony Zinni, Jack Keane and James Mattis – are now “paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world.” They pitch the need for more U.S. clout in the Mideast without mention of their contractor connections; the three are simply identified as retired military brass. Who are the corporate beneficiaries of their calls for more offensive weaponry and even thousands of “boots on the ground?” The infamous “Blackwater,” (now known as Academi), General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, etc.

When well-heeled boppers like them go to bat, it’s hard to set them down, even when conflicting needs are life-enhancing. The Boston Globe’s James Carroll describes the dilemma: “When confronted with (matters of life and death)…recourse to violent force (can) seem clarifying and empowering. So Obama yields. But the outcome is sadly predictable. It is not only that war trumped the other grave problems at the United Nations… Environmental degradation, refugees, disease, resurgent nationalism, proliferation: Visceral American war-making will make everything worse. Again.”

                                                             –       -       -

Futility: Speaking of previously noted “holes” in the Tigers lineup, they yawned devastatingly in the top of the ninth of yesterday’s 7-6 loss to the Orioles: Brad Ausmus had to send up three light-hitting infielders – Andrew Romine, Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez in a desperate, and futile, effort to avoid falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-three series.

The Other Hand: Delmon Young, who pinch-hit the winning runs home in the eighth made Baltimore GM Dan Duquette look like a genius, especially since he also beefed up his pre-playoff roster by dealing for clutch-hitting Alejandro De Aza and lights-out lefty reliever Andrew Miller.

Looking for Mr. Right: “Right-handed bats are something we’ve always been looking for, which is why Cespy (Yoenis Cespedes) was such a great guy to have, no question. But it’s always been our Achilles heel, finding right-handed bats to complement the lefties. And listen, it’s a challenge for the league, too.” – Oakland GM Billy Beane (to SF Chronicle’s John Shea)

The Lester Defense: On the Jon Lester deal that cost the A’s Cespedes and looked particularly bad in the wild card loss to the Royals, Beane said this: “We wouldn’t have gotten to the playoffs without Jon Lester.”

Catching High Praise: Ron Darling (on TBS) on KC’s Salvador Perez: “He’s generally acknowledged now as the American League’s counterpart to Yadi Molina.” Darling is always worth listening to. But he’s not perfect. Thursday night, he called Mike Trout a “five-tool player.” Trout himself acknowledges that he has a less-than-superior outfield arm.

Free Samples: A sampling of playoff games TV coverage finds the work of broadcast teams, generally, above-average. An unfortunate exception: the Fox team that covered Cardinals-Dodgers yesterday. The superb Joe Buck was saddled with two minimally experienced newcomers, MLB-TV’s Tom Verducci and Harold Reynolds. Both were over-eager to contribute color; their remarks were flat, with a forced quality that caused us to abandon Joe B and the audio part of the broadcast.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Power Game: Baseball, the Streets, Board Rooms

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(Posted 9/30/14)

The Power Game: Baseball, the Streets, Board Rooms

Up to a year ago, this was the season for non-NY fans to worry about the well-heeled Yankees dominating the playoffs. Now it’s the Dodgers who are the super-free spenders; it’s they who figure to be the NL’s strongest playoff entry. Last year, the Dodgers made it only as far as the league’s championship series, losing to the Cardinals in six games. This year, having raised the payroll bar to $240 million, the upgraded team has the talent to go for the Series title

Non-Dodger fans, like their non-Yankee counterparts of yore, feel justified in resenting LA’s dollars-fueled advantage. If payroll parity – or close to it – can be achieved in the NFL, NBA and NHL, most baseball fans would like to see their sport follow suit. It would be nice if it could happen – not once since 1990 did teams in the bottom third of MLB salary levels finish with a combined winning record. But it won’t, for a number of reasons: the players union would never agree to a salary cap; the owners, who would be the cap’s main beneficiaries (were it miraculously approved by the union) would not go along with a “socialization” of the process.s. Then there is a rarely acknowledged reason: some low-income owners are satisfied with the present system – TV revenues, luxury tax proceeds, etc. make their franchises profitable despite comparatively minimal investments.

Fans could do something about the situation, or at least try. They won’t, because they are, by definition, spectators: they’re role – to observe and, if need be, to kvetch. Not to do. Stat-keeping economists see in this Baseball model – its self-involved union, aversion to regulation, free-spending approach – an accurate reflection of America today: its prosperity for some, inequality for most others. They see, too, that, with beleaguered non-baseball unions on the brink of fading away, the Congressional team feels little pressure to get up to bat: to ask more of the super-wealthy, or even to nudge the national minimum wage to a livable level.

Is there any reason to hope for a game-change?   Well, attentive fans in the national ballpark on Earth Day saw a rally of 400,000 activists in The People’s Climate March. Officially an expression of concern about global warming, it was also a massive call for social justice. Some, including organizer Bill McKibben, saw more than that: a possible offensive weapon every successful team needs: “power.”

If you didn’t know the power possessed by Goldman Sachs, the public interest team at Pro-Publica produced an inside story last week of one aspect of it. It told of a whistle-blower named Carmen Segarra who secretly taped what she heard while working for the Fed two years ago. Michael Lewis gave the story’s background on Bloomberg View:

“In early 2012, Segarra was assigned to regulate Goldman Sachs, and so was installed inside Goldman… The job… differe(d) from what she had imagined: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that ‘once clients are wealthy enough, certain consumer laws don’t apply to them.’ After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement — to which the regulator replied, ‘You didn’t hear that.’

“This sort of thing occurred often enough — Fed regulators denying what had been said in meetings, Fed managers asking her to alter minutes of meetings after the fact — that Segarra decided she needed to record what actually had been said. So she … bought a tiny tape recorder, then began to record her meetings at Goldman Sachs, until she was fired…(Her tapes document) the breathtaking wussiness of the people at the Fed charged with regulating Goldman Sachs…(That being demonstrated,)…the only reason you know is that one woman, Carmen Segarra, has been brave enough to fight the system. She has paid a great price to inform us… her job… her career… So what are(we) going to do about it? At this moment the Fed is probably telling itself that, like the financial crisis, this, too, will blow over. It shouldn’t.”

Not Newsworthy? A shocking measure of Goldman’s (and the Fed’s) power is that the story, which ran on NPR, was not picked up by the NY Times or Wall Street Journal or most major news outlets. Politico ran it dismissively.

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Eyeball Power Test: Based entirely on personal eyeballing, five of the 10 playoff teams have power: Dodgers, Tigers, Angels, Nationals, Pirates. The Cardinals, Orioles, Giants, A’s and Royals all have offensive holes in their lineups, holes that should handicap them as post-season play proceeds.

Mr. Impact-Causer: The prize for making the most impactful deals of the 2014 goes – no-brainer – to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. He lured Ian Kinsler from Texas for Prince Fielder, who spent the season on the DL. Kinsler, meanwhile, played in 161 games, mostly at leadoff; yet batted in 92 runs, hit 17 HRs, and was an All-Star selection. Dombrowski also did the Nationals the favor of trading Doug Fister to them for utility man Steve Lombardozzi and two pitching prospects, all of whom had forgettable seasons. Fister, meanwhile, led the Nationals in wins – 16 – and turned in the NL’s fourth-best ERA, 2.41.

Two Big-Gamers: Oakland GM Billy Beane appeared to have been overly aggressive in mid-summer trades that netted him a trio of star pitchers but cost him Yoenis Cespedes and seemed to cripple his offense. Beane’s moves could be belatedly vindicated in the WC playoff tonight, however, when he sends prize acquisition Jon Lester against the Royals and James (“Big Game”) Shields.

-o-

(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)

What Fans in Both Fields Crave: Competition

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(Posted 9/15/14)

Yankee fans recall the Septembers, now a couple of years past, when the Pinstripers were under playoff pressure: indeed, their assignment was, at the very least, to make the World Series. Anything short of that goal constituted a lost season. The team’s position as the MLB’s richest and most free-spending franchise brought on the burdensome expectations. As of last season, the Yanks had fallen to a distant second place as the MLB’s wealthiest team. While they finished outside the playoff circle for the first time since 2008 (this year will be the second), the pressure to go all the way shifted to the new top-spending club, the LA Dodgers. Which is where the burden of expected success now rests.

As of today, the Dodgers, with their $240 million-plus payroll, headed by star pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Josh Greinke, are scrambling to finish atop their division. But they remain a near-cinch to be among the six NL clubs to reach the post-season. Then, Don Mattingly’s men can suspect with confidence that more than half the baseball world will be rooting against them. Thus, the price of being a well-heeled front-runner.

As the Dodgers of the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton is said by polls to be, not just the choice of Dem team fans, but the overall favorite to win the job as national Skipper in 2016. That’s today, when no one has emerged in her party to offer a challenge. But Hillary, who has preempted the field by deferring a decision on whether to run until next year, is not helping her cause with coyness. Just as most ball fans don’t want to see a Dodger runaway, so key Dem players object to Clinton maneuvering herself into a clear field.

“(The) voters want competition; they want their candidates to have to work for it,” Massachusetts Skipper Deval Patrick said at Dem meeting in Florida the other day. He acknowledged that Hillary is “incredibly strong,” but added: “The problem with inevitability is it’s sometimes interpreted as entitlement.” Would he support her if she runs, he was asked: “I’m going to wait until it’s time to make those kinds of decisions,” Patrick said.

It’s no secret that Hillary risks rallying progressive non-support by linking the importance of income inequality as an issue with the equal requirement of making nice to corporate America.

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Wild Card Realism: The weekend results left three teams in each league vying for the two WC spots: Oakland, Kansas City and Seattle in the AL, the Giants, Pirates and Brewers in the NL. KC and SF still have a shot at their divisions, but the Tigers and Dodgers look solid. Three crushing losses to the Rangers all but ended the Braves’ WC hopes. Orioles, Angels, Nationals have locks on their divisions; the Cardinals, like the Dodgers, seem secure atop theirs. (Last-minute revisions not ruled out)

Braves Talk: “Back up against the wall…It’s not a good feeling”: An understatement from Braves Skipper Fredi Gonzalez after his team was swept by the Rangers, essentially swept out of the NL wild card race. Now four games out of WC contention, Atlanta goes from playing the worst team in the MLB to one of the best, beginning a three-game set tonight with the division-leading Nationals.

Ominous Sound? “We’re going to be OK, guys…. “I promise. Trust me.” The words of Mariners Skipper Lloyd McClendon, after Seattle lost two of three to Oakland over the weekend. Commented Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer: “You know times are rough when you have to reassure an indifferent media.” The Mariners, a game behind KC in the WC scramble, now have the daunting challenge of playing four against the Angels in Anaheim.

Tooling Around: Giants broadcaster Duane Kuyper was talking about what he calls:”seven-tool players”. Those are the ones with five playing tools and two to display off-field: “interview presence and general demeanor.” He said all SF’s call-up prospects “have the seventh tool. Meaning, they aren’t tools.” – quoted by Bruce Jenkins, SF Chronicle

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Hard-to-Like Performers in Both Pastimes

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(Posted 9/13/14)

What’s left of the Mets fan base learned this week that the team’s springing for offense on the post-season free agent market will be restrained. Without mentioning names, GM Sandy Alderson told reporters the Wilpons have said money to spend for next year’s team will be “prohibitive.”

Fred Wilpon and son Jeff have overseen running of the team since the end of 2003. Thanks, mainly, to high-salary player purchases – Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, to name a few – the team had one truly good year. In 2006, the Mets came within an inning of making the World Series. Since then, the big city NL franchise has slowly disintegrated. Fred Wilpon made some bad investments, including a few with Bernie Madoff. Backed by Bud Selig, the elder Wilpon has resisted selling the team; his stated intention – to leave it to his son. He sees the Mets as a family entitlement.

The two Wilpons are hard for fans to like, less because they are hanging on, despite being underfinanced; mainly, it’s that heir Jeff, now head of operations, lacks baseball savvy: he has been accused in print (NY Post) “of never hiring anyone who will not give him major input (on) every personnel decision.” Two of many bad-judgment examples: the trading of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano in 2004; the rehiring of GM Omar Minaya for four years in 2008, soon after the team’s downward spiral. Ahead lies an outcome worse than the current mess: Alderson leaves (or is pushed out), Jeff takes charge.

While thinking of a hard-to-like lineup on the political field, the names of three players come quickly to mind: Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel leads off, followed by Skippers Chris Christie of New Jersey and NY’s Andrew Cuomo. All three are strong on savvy, but it’s doubtful they’ll be around as long as the clueless Wilpons. They can remain in place because they own it. Emanuel’s, Christie’s and Cuomo’s staying power will depend on performance and a change to a less aggressive, more likable stance.. Few political players can make that adjustment.

Emanuel, like Cuomo and Christie, orchestrated cuts in public worker pensions over the opposition of unions. They each came across as arrogant in the process. Cuomo is a shoo-in for reelection in NY this November, and Christie won a second term last year. But Rahm may be vulnerable as he seeks a second term early in 2015. His bullying approach has prompted many constituents to look for a reason to vote against him. He may go the way of the Mets, losing a crucial amount of fan support. “Rahm was too clever by half,” his electoral eulogists could soon say. The same fate may await Christie in three years, Cuomo in four, if they don’t cool the scorching drive that got them where they are. And the Mets aren’t.

A ’Hard- to- Like’ Reminder: When the Cold War ended a quarter-century ago, US presidents and policy-makers embraced the role of indispensable Goliath: America would use its overwhelming military supremacy to maintain world order. Americans like to see themselves as good guys, but lots of other people do not share that view. To many, the United States looks like an arrogant bully, a last bastion of colonialism. Furthermore, America’s claim of injured innocence has been deeply damaged by its war-fighting tactics, most obviously in its torture of prisoners.” –William Greider, The Nation  

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“We’re not the only teamthat’s not hitting,” said Joe Girardi yesterday afternoon following the Yanks’ 2-1 loss to the Orioles in 11 innings. “It’s a new game.” A night or two earlier, at Yankee Stadium, Al Leiter listed several reasons why run-scoring is dramatically down: use of performance-enhancing drugs no longer commonplace; comprehensive stats track hitters’ weaknesses; shifts make finding hitting gaps harder than in the past; every team has nasty, hard-throwing relievers. “They all pitch 95-miles-an-hour. It didn’t used to be like that.”

Salivation Time: Much salivating on the West Coast over the possibility of a Dodgers-Angels World Series, and, on the opposite end of the country, a Nationals-Orioles Series. We’re partial to the prospect, however remote, of the Cardinals and Giants tangling somewhere along the way.

Before It’s Forgotten: The season had barely started when Eric Byrnes, on MLB-TV, said of a Red Sox-Yankees matchup: “Those are two teams going in different directions.” He said he thought the Sox would have a letdown after their amazing 2013 season, and that the Yanks would be as formidable as ever. A tad over-optimistic about the Yankees, perhaps. In general, however, a prescient call.

Streakers: Angels +9, Orioles +6, Arizona -7

-o-

(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)