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

Pressure: the Price of Inevitability in Both Pastimes

“Don’t worry, they should go all the way.” Host Brian Kenny was bucking up a guest, an admittedly “anxious” Nationals fan, on MLB Now. We thought about the downside of rooting for the 2015 Nats: the sky-high expectations of a championship, and the pressure to meet them. We’ve learned, especially since the addition of the second wild card, that anything can happen in the playoffs. The Nats will surely make the post-season, but surviving into the Series will be a challenge, and winning a world title anything but a cinch.

Hillary Clinton is the Nationals of the political field – a title-winning cinch in the Dem division of 2016 presidential race. She has been declared “inevitable” as a candidate with probably no competition in the first electoral playoff. But when she battles for the top spot with Jeb Bush, or one of Team GOP’s other surprisingly strong contenders, she will be at a disadvantage. Why? Clinton will not have benefited from testing her message against serious competition.

Ezra Klein, scouting for Vox, says Hillary’s rallying efforts in the run-up to the one-on-one fight have been unpersuasive for a glaringly simple reason:

“She sp(eaks)… about bipartisanship and promote(s) her record of working with Republicans in Arkansas and as a senator from New York. Her objective, should she run for president, would be to end partisan gridlock. ‘I’d like to bring people from right, left, red, blue, get them into a nice warm purple space where everybody is talking and where we’re actually trying to solve problems,’ Clinton said (in a recent major speech). But it’s not going to happen…Hillary Clinton doesn’t work in a political system where right, left, red and blue are going to meld into a warm purple.”

Her overriding problem, as we see it: An inability to inspire with words that come from the heart rather than polling results. A further handicap: he coziness with Wall Street has curbed the enthusiasm of progressives. It risks prompting a reluctance to rally behind her, despite the stakes (court appointments, financial deregulation, cuts in social programs, etc.) A sobering prospect for her supporters and the entire Dem team.

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Worth Noting…about MLB.com’s Top 100 Players list: The top three – Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Felix Hernandez – play in the West, for the Dodgers, Angels and Mariners. Five of the top 10 play in the West – Buster Posey (SF) and Robnson Cano (Mariners) are others, 8 and 10, respectively.

Worthwhile Commentaries: Ron Darling, on numbers 4, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, and 9, the White Sox’s, Jose Abreu: “When Stanton takes batting practice, the other team stops to watch.” “Abreu’s great break-in year (36 HRs, 107 RBIs, .317 BA) opened the door for lucrative contracts for the newly signed Cubans that followed.”

Making a Mess: Mark Whicker, LA News, quotes Josh Hamilton’s spiritual mentor Roy Silver, about his switch from the Rangers to Angels: ‘(Josh) has never handled expectations well.’ Whicker adds a second quotation, from the late basketball coach Jim Valvano, about his colleagues chasing dollars: ‘Don’t ever mess with happy.’ “Hamilton did (says Whicker), but maybe he had the same trouble many of us do: Recognizing it.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

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How Baseball and Education Disappoint Young People

Why isn’t there more daylight baseball on TV? We know the answer: more people watch at night, so sponsors pay more for commercials. It’s – of course – about money. In the previous Nub, we noted that Commissioner Rob Manfred ignored the scarcity of day games when he was asked about attracting more young people to the sport. “We want them to play the game,” he said, “and become fans.” The questioner suggested arranging for the All-Star game to be played by day to help attract future fans. Manfred’s silence said that idea was a non-starter…as is the likelihood young people will rally to the game.

Don’t get us started, railing about playoff and Series games climaxing around midnight in the East. It’s crass mistreatment of many adult fans, and especially, of the target young-people’s audience. And, speaking of school-age would-be fans, the role of education as a key player in the income-inequality muddle has gained a prominent place on the national electronic scoreboard. The inferior job schools are doing has been pitched as the reason for the widening financial gap between heavy hitters and utility players. Back-to-back sluggers Paul Krugman of the Times and Vox’s Ezra Klein swung out hard against the right-handed delivery:

“All the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance,” writes Krugman. “Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.”

‘But there’s a reason,’ says Klein, ‘Washington prefers talking about education than power. If the answer to inequality is simply more education, than that’s relatively easy: most everyone agrees… that a better education system would be better. But if the answer to inequality is redistributing economic power, well, that’s more controversial — particularly among those who currently hold the power.’

Controversial, because the economic redistribution would start with a more equitable, left-leaning tax system. It will take a huge amount of political clout to make that happen.  

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A Worst Case Scenario: “It would be horrible not to make the playoffs three years in a row. We’d be embarrassed. So anything [firings or restructuring] would be on the table, yes.” – Yankees co-owner Hal Steinbrenner (quoted by Joel Sherman, NY Post)

Views of an Expert: John Smoltz (on MLB-TV) assessing the 2015 outlook for two young New York-team pitchers. On the Yankees’ probable closer Dellin Betances: “He has what it takes to be dominant. I see him strong enough to pitch two innings twice a week (in addition to normal closing work).” On Mets’ likely ace Matt Harvey: “He will return to form, but fans must be patient: it takes at least two months on return from Tommy John surgery to be back to where you were.”

Self-Imposed Pressure: 37-year-old Marlon Byrd, on what’s expected of him with his new, allegedly leader-light team, the Reds: I need to fill th(e) role of veteran leadership…I have to produce. I have to put up the numbers. I have to fit into this lineup and make sure it flows, one through eight. I also have to play good defense out there.” – (quoted by Mark Sheldon, MLB.com)

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

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Switching Positions and Its Possible Perils

Spring training has barely begun, but the media – normally positive now – have expressed skepticism about the ability of one key player to field his new position.. He’s Wil Myers, ticketed to play center field for the revamped Padres. Press box observers note that the former Ray has played only a shaky right field in his first two MLB seasons. In Petco Park, Myers will have a huge expanse of terrain to cover and be expected to get to balls out of the reach of less-than-sprightly flanking fielders Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. Although not as crucial to team prospects, similar defense-related doubts in this period of optimism have been raised about two other position-switchers: Hanley Ramirez, moving from shortstop with the Dodgers to left field for the Red Sox, and former third baseman Pedro Alvarez, taking over at first for the Pirates. Neither has shown, as of yet, that they can handle their new roles.

Whether another would-be switcher, in this case, in federal law enforcement, would be up to prosecutorial play at the top of that game is still to be resolved. Loretta Lynch could well be approved as next attorney general, succeeding “too big to prosecute” exponent Eric Holder. It was he, remember, who punished Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and the Citigroup for making fraudulent sub-prime loans. His penalty included letting implicated execs off the hook, instead imposing slap-on-the-wrist fines.

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi birddogged the story: “Citi ended up broke and throwing itself at the taxpayer’s ankles. It ended up receiving the single largest federal bailout, around $476 billion in cash and federal guarantees. Why bring this up now? Because…the investigation into that bank, and the subsequent whitewashing deal, was led by…a prosecutor with a reputation for being a highly professional, old-school law-and-order type: Lynch.   Many lawyers who’ve dealt with Lynch describe being impressed by her professionalism and her fairness…But it’s important to understand, as Lynch staggers toward approval for (the AG) job, that she was part of a Justice Department enforcement policy that for years dealt out soft landings for the very companies that have… made the term ‘Too Big to Jail’ famous.”

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The Latest Phenom? The Red Sox have won what amounted to an auction, agreeing to pay a record $31.5 million to sign 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncado. Most observers are convinced Moncado has the makings of a phenom; the only question – which team would pay big to add him to their backlog of prospects – has been answered. On MLB-TV last night, Peter Gammons said the addition of Moncado is a further sign the Red Sox are determined to have the deepest farm system in the game. Other press boxers suggest that Moncado could be playing at Fenway long before season’s end.

One Way of Summing Up…the current saga in Yankee-land: “This will be the third straight spring — and possibly season — in which a dubious Yankees on-field product is overshadowed. The past two years it was by the glorious exits of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. Now, it is the hissing re-entry of A-Rod. – Joel Sherman, NY Post

Adrift: Two former Yankee relievers cut loose by the Tigers, lefty Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain, are still unsigned after disappointing 2014 seasons in Detroit. The Rangers reportedly offered Coke, a minor league deal, which he declined. Coke will turn 33 this summer, while Chamberlain is just 29. Both had similar stats last season, except for W-L. Coke was 5-2, Chamberlain 2-5. Still, because of his age and superior velocity, Joba seems a surer bet to be signed to a major league contract. .

Sensitive Issue: At his news conference yesterday, Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about his focus on getting young people interested in the game. The questioner suggested the possibility of arranging daytime scheduling of an event like the All Star game. Manfred ignored that modest idea, talking instead about attracting kids to play the game. “That way we’ll get them to become fans. We like fans.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

On Taking Sides Against the Home Team

“I’m not a ‘homer’, said Bobby Ojeda on MLB Now the other day. What he said next, after six years of commentary on the Mets for SNY, confirmed his objectivity. Asked to assess the Mets’ playoff chances this season, Ojeda was pessimistic. “David Wright has to bounce back, Curtis Granderson has to bounce,” he said, his voice expressing doubt. Then he talked about the team’s middle-infield weakness, noting that shortstop Wilmer Flores and second baseman Daniel Murphy are both sub-par defensively. Compounding the problem, he added, catcher Travis D-Arnaud doesn’t throw well: “he rarely cuts down runners, and his throws can be wild, not easy for Murphy and Flores to handle.” Ojeda acknowledged the Mets’ strong rotation and identified center fielder Juan Lagares as an all-star in the making. Fellow panelists Brian Kenny, Eric Byrnes and Dan Plesac agreed with Ojeda on the unlikelihood of post-season play at Citifield

We know there aren’t many Team Obama “homers” in the political field press box. After the Skipper called on Wednesday for 60 nations to join the fight against violent extremism, the NY Times, quoting an Ethics and Public Policy official, said the effort was one of “self-deception.” We fool ourselves in believing that we stand on high moral ground in the conflict., says former Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges:

“The barbarism we condemn is the barbarism we commit. The line that separates us from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is technological, not moral. We are those we fight. ‘From violence, only violence is born,’ wrote Primo Levi…Death is the primary spectacle of war. If ISIS had fighter jets, missiles, drones and heavy artillery to bomb American cities there would be no need to light a captured pilot on fire; ISIS would be able to burn human beings, as we do, from several thousand feet up. But since ISIS is limited in its capacity for war it must broadcast to the world a miniature version of what we do to people in the Middle East. The ISIS process is cruder. The result is the same.”

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Second Thoughts: Lots of verbal foul-backs over the just-announced clock-monitored plan to speed up the game. The Padres’ Ian Kennedy says, flat out, that he will “ignore” the clock. MLB’s Eric Byrnes says introducing the clock into the game “irritates me.” Says Ron Darling about the speeded-up challenge procedure – manager, unhappy with a call, can’t leave the dugout: “All we need is a fifth umpire, sitting up high with a video monitor and three buttons. If, after a close play, he pushes one, it’s a good call, a second signals ‘you blew it’, a third says ‘we have to look at the play again.’ The whole procedure wouldn’t take more than 20 seconds.” Also noted: The rule that hitters must keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches has been in existence, but unenforced by umpires, for a decade.

Nevertheless…Everybody agrees that accelerating the pace of the game is a worthwhile goal. Joe Girardi (with a shrug): “We’ll give it a try in spring training, and see how the changes work.”

What It’s About: The ballplayer’s ultimate goal, as seen by Cole Hamels: “I want to be in the playoffs every year. That’s where you make a name for yourself. It’s not about the Cy Young awards and MVP awards. It’s about winning championships. You want to be in a place where you have a chance to win.” (quoted by USA’s Bob Nightingale)

Met-rospective: Bobby Ojeda, who was a member of the “Miracle Mets” rotation in 1986, during the team’s climactic World Series experience against the Red Sox: “After we came from behind to win game 6 (in part, because of first baseman Bill Buckner’s error), we knew we didn’t have to show up for game 7. They were through.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

 

Dilemma-Time on Two Fields

Dilemma-Time on Two Fields

As spring training begins, Baseball finds itself in a “boom-and-brood” dilemma. On the one hand, TV contracts have enriched all 30 teams, providing a previously unmatched semblance of financial parity; on the other, the game’s deciders worry about a possible drop in attendance owing to a low-scoring trend. What can we do, they wonder, to spur the return of crowd-pleasing offense; and do it without spoiling what, overall, has been a good period for the sport? Shrink a strike-zone that has spread in recent years, is one suggestion, eliminate the pitch-to-one-batter reliever another; re-juice the baseball still another; push the mound back six inches a far-out fourth. Our simple – perhaps simplistic – solution: outlaw calling knee-level (or lower) pitches a strike. They are balls; return to the traditional strike zone, which extends from above the knees to below the shoulders. Keep on brooding, is our advice to the fretful, but avoid letting change undercut what you have now…which is also a likely positive result of the end of the steroids era.

Skipper Obama wants Congressional approval to make official what he has now – the power to make war. We hope that – like the desire to tinker with Baseball’s scoring rate – that war-game initiative is put on hold.. National Journal’s Charlie Cook explains the dilemma that signals why such inaction would make sense on the political field:

“Any American president runs the risk of being seen as weak and dithering if there is hesitation or a decision not to use U.S. resources in such a fight. But, no matter how strongly Americans feel the urge to ‘do something’ to stop ISIS or aid Ukraine, committing ground troops would be a very tough sell in 2015 and a politically dangerous one for both parties. The danger for President Obama and the Democrats is getting us into a new mess; the danger for Republicans pushing for greater involvement is that they become perceived as the War Party. Just as the U.S. economy is really improving, foreign policy is increasingly threatening to have a major impact on U.S. politics and potentially send the 2016 elections on an unanticipated trajectory, with unknown results.”

Although Team Obama would have us believe ISIS does not pose a long-term threat, the jihadist team is waging a variation of guerrilla warfare against conventional states. History tells us that guerrillas don’t lose such conflicts. A standoff is reached – it could be happening with the Taliban in Afghanistan – at which point a chastened conventional team declares victory and returns home.

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Heartbreaking Defeats…The subject of a Seattle Times column by Larry Stone. One of the recollections involves the walkoff loss of the Pirates to the Braves in 1992. The Bucs were an out away from returning to the World Series after two decades when the Braves rallied to win. Losing manager Jim Leyland had this reaction: “It’s a man’s game. Yet when it’s over, they’re celebrating like a Little League team, and our disappointment is like a Little League team. Grown men jumping up and down. Grown men crying. It’s unbelievable the emotion both ways.”

Then there is how Indians manager Mike Hargrove felt after losing the 1997 World Series on a late comeback by Leyland’s Marlins: “It doesn’t hurt as much now as it did the first 10 years. But I still catch myself now reflecting on what happened. Late at night, I’ll be sitting watching TV or reading a book, and my mind will wander into that region. If we had made that play, or not thrown that pitch …”

The Carmona Saga: Fausto Carmona, a big righthander from the Dominican Republic,went 19-8 with the Indians in his second season, 2007. Counting the next four seasons with Cleveland, he was 52-56. His career went south in 2012, when it was discovered he had doctored both the name and age on his birth certificate. Since then, under his real name, Roberto Hernandez, the former Fausto has gone a dismal 22-38 while bouncing from the Indians to Rays, Phillies and Dodgers. The best Hernandez, now 34, could do for 2015 was to sign a minor-league deal with Houston. (from reporting by Terry Pluto, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Jim Bouton and Senator Bernie: Rally Activists

Around the time the Mitchell Report on Baseball’s steroid problem appeared in 2007, former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton discussed the issue with former players union head Marvin Miller at a public meeting in New York City. Miller said he opposed the drug-testing of players, then under consideration, on privacy protection grounds. Bouton endorsed the testing idea in terms seldom, if ever, heard until then: “I’d worry that teammates on drugs would take my job,” he said.

That simple bread-and-butter idea, expressed by a pro-union former player, gained enough support through repetition to soften the resistance of the Major League Players Association. A strong testing system soon went into effect. A similar suggestion, based on widely felt economic need, has caused the faintest of stirrings on the political field. Bouton’s counterpart, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, is saying, hoping, over and over again, that the people will rally behind a would-be national Skipper who not only feels their pain, but will swing hard to ease it.

Sanders would like fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren to lead that rally, but recognizes that she has firmly decided against it. He says he would do it, but only if sufficient campaign money can be raised: “I’d want to do it well…It’s important for millions of people who share the same set of beliefs…To do it well, we would have to (attract) millions of people saying, ‘you know what? Enough is enough. We are going to take on the billionaire class’.”

The message could resonate, but not without a viable messenger. For progressives, long-shot Bernie is the only one in sight.

In Wednesday’s NY Times, columnist Mark Bittman calls the bread-and-butter message one of “human rights and well-being.” He hints at a useful role for Sanders: “No one seriously believes that Hillary Clinton will ever put the interests of Main Street before those of her donors…At least, not until she’s pushed and hard.”

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The Ranking Game: Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers, Angels, Giants, Orioles, Red Sox, Mariners, Royals: That’s the early power ranking, 1-10, posited by Sports on Earth’s Anthony Castrovince. We print it because it provides a perfect dart-throwing target. We don’t see the Orioles in the top 10, nor do we see the Cardinals as high as number three. We do believe the Orioles and Red Sox have as good a chance to win their division, as do the Blue Jays and the Yankees. No argument here on the Nationals and Dodgers being at the top of the team-power heap. The Nats could win as many as 100 games.

The Extreme East: The two eastern divisions figure to represent extreme opposites from a competitive standpoint: the Nationals running away with the NL East; while, as indicated, at least four of the five teams in the AL East vying for the top spot.

Appreciation: Talking on MLB Now about the competitive NL West in the upcoming season, Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino paid this tribute to the Giants, after noting the financial and talent depth of the Dodgers: “When you play against San Francisco, you know there is grit that won’t go away.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Stealth Game and Its Players

Baseball’s doldrums – the time between Super Bowl and pitchers and catchers – is, this year, a holding-the-breath period. There’s a deal-brewing sense that some suspect team – the Dodgers, Tigers, Padres, Cubs, Marlins? – is about to pounce. That feeling persists, even after the long-awaited signing of James Shields (Padres); the Tigers must find an interim replacement for Victor Martinez, the Cubs and Marlins know they could be just a quality pitcher short of making the playoffs. And the Dodgers’ operations prez Andrew Friedman is overdue to perform deal-making magic for his new team. Whoever pulls the trigger on a trade has, so far, kept his plan secret, much as the Nationals did before signing premium free agent Max Scherzer.

Secrecy is the key to avoiding last-minute bidding wars for targeted players. In politics, it’s the way elected officials obscure votes or deals that may compromise them with their constituents. New York’s senior Senator Chuck Schumer is a master of such maneuvering. Except for calling every other day for more federal money for his state, or, in the past, for improved support for our troops in Iraq, he has avoided commenting on hot potatoes like, for example, the war itself. “Don’t risk alienating centrist voters” has long been his strategic game. Huffington Post’s Richard Kirsch did this official scoring on one of Schumer’s consistent plays, advancing the winning streak on Wall Street:

“Schumer embodies the contradictions that will tear the Democratic Party apart over the next two years. He understands the need to embrace a populist, progressive narrative and program, but his ties to Wall Street and big money lead him to blunt any real moves by Democrats to take a bold stand for working people against corporate power. The budget proposal to allow more government bailouts of banks that gamble with their depositors’ money was a huge lost opportunity for Democrats to paint Republicans as being on the side of the big banks that wrecked the economy. That opportunity was negated (in part) by… Schumer’s stealth maneuvers (widely known in Congress) to keep the Wall Street deal intact. As a result, the leaders of both parties demonstrated, as they’ve done before, that government is in fact on the side of the rich and powerful.”

A tutorial on the positioning of Senator “Where’s Charlie?” Schumer, as well as many of his teammates working the vote-count in the political game.

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Sorry, San Diego: Although the signing of James Shields, on top of the additions of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, lifts the Padres to a truly competitive level in the NL West, we offer this sobering prediction: San Diego will suffer the same fate as other dramatically reinforced teams. The recently made-over Dodgers, Marlins, Blue Jays and Oakland A’s discovered that a new mix of players needs more than a season to mesh.

Desperation: How desperate for material are the press box people during this late pre-season doldrums? One indication – the obviousness of the supposedly newsy disclosure that SF’s Tim Hudson plans to retire after this season. Hudson will be 40 this summer; he went 9-13 with the soon-to-be World Champion Giants in 2014, not including forgettable playoff performances that said “he’s through.”   Nevertheless, Hudson has had a great 16-plus-years with Oakland, Atlanta, and, to a lesser extent, with the Giants.

Sell-Off Foreseen: More drawn-out media desperation can be found in the chatter over whether the Phillies will trade Cole Hamels. The ultimate 2015 destination of Hamels has been a consistent backdrop to the Whither Lester-Scherzer-Shields drama. The consensus now is that Hamels will be dealt during the season when some contending club finds itself with an emergency need for a top-of-rotation guy. Also possible, according to the grapevine, Cliff Lee will be dealt once he proves in spring training that he’s healthy.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Sad, Unsurprising Fact: Money Rules on Both Fields

It is possible that Baseball America’s deep-stats-based projections of how teams will turn out this season do not deserve to be taken seriously. But, with pitchers and catchers still two weeks away, why not give the so-called Pecota listings a look?

That the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Angels are picked by Pecota to win their divisions is hardly notable. For us, the one truly provocative projection concerns the AL East. Pecota says the Red Sox and Rays will run neck-and-neck, each finishing atop the division 10 games over .500. The question that prediction poses: How in the world could the Rays rate so high? We all know they have no business contending because they’re nearly broke; at least, as compared to their fellow AL East clubs, and most of MLB’s other teams.

Attentive observers can’t help being skeptical about the prospects of a team with “scant resources.” That’s the phrase – or ones like it – political groupies use to dismiss the three Team Dem players remotely interested in running against Hillary Clinton for the team’s presidential nod. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and onetime Virginia Senator Jim Webb are the underfinanced three. They could pitch the idea of setting a ceiling on primary campaign spending. But Clinton could be expected to respond the way the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, etc. (along with the Players Union) would: agreement to lay out a more level financial playing field – otherwise known as “leveling” – goes against the 2015 American grain. Vermont’s Sanders, a Socialist, sees the trend as dire – and, worse, a cause for despair:

“We are living in the United States right now at a time when the top one-tenth of 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent,” he says. “One family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owns by itself more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. And then there are the Kochs, “the second-wealthiest family in America, worth $85 billion ... who are now prepared to buy the United States government.   (We)’re looking at the undermining of American democracy, okay?”… The anger is there, but it’s an anger that turns into saying, ‘Go to hell, I’m not going to participate in your charade. I’m not voting.’ So it’s a weird kind of anger. It’s not people getting out in the streets ... We’re at the stage of demoralization…Can you mobilize people? Can you tap the anger that’s out there?” The answer is — you know what? — I don’t exactly know that we can.” (Washington Post)

A grimly realistic message: A massive popular protest cannot erupt if, as is the case, the people seem demoralized into a state of listlessness. Sanders doubts that Clinton can rally them: “She won’t be as bold as she needs to be.”

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Pastime Realism: It’s unrealistic, alas, to expect that new Commissioner Rob Manfred will be as revisionist about team inequality as he needs to be. One simple step he could take: end the non-waiver trade arrangement in effect until July 31. It makes possible deals that reinforce wealthier teams while often disrupting the momentum of poorer ones. Manfred would have to overcome some owner and, perhaps, union resistance, to make that change. Maybe some day…

For Example…The Tigers had the “resources” last July to obtain David Price from the cash-strapped Rays. The deal helped Detroit stay (barely) ahead of Kansas City, while the Rays disappeared from AL East contention. Similar deals can, and almost certainly will, be made this season to change the continuity of play. We count lower-middle-class Oakland’s trade for Jon Lester last summer as an exception that scrambles the rule.

Late Pre-Season’s First Game-Changer: The possibility that Victor Martinez’s knee injury will keep him out of the Tigers lineup for a substantial part of the season. The likely long absence of his clutch-hitting diminishes Detroit’s chances of repeating as winner of the AL Central.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Corruption: A Mark on One Field, Menace on Another

Veteran Daily News columnist Bill Madden surprised many of us not long ago by saying he didn’t give Mike Piazza a Hall of Fame vote, and why: “I always had suspicions that Piazza used steroids and those suspicions were heightened when a number of players told me he was a user.” Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised; it’s a fair guess that during Baseball’s dark steroids period in the 1990’s and beyond, many players who cheated avoided detection.

We know that cheating in general, undetected by the authorities, tends to be irresistible to many when it can lead to personal gain. That applies outside baseball most devastatingly on the political field involving elected officials. New York has been named among a dozen other states that lead the nation in political corruption. Much of the shady enrichment in politics is legal, coming through vote-buying financed by corporate lobbyists.

Calamitous as is broad-based corruption in our national ballpark, it comes nowhere near matching the c-game playing out abroad with dire consequences. Author Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment provides first-hand accounts of what’s at stake in several parts of the world; she tells the alarming stories in her recent book, “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security.” Appearing on BBC America, Chayes noted the link between violent jihadists ISIS in the Mideast and Boko Horam in Nigeria and pervasive state corruption. The violence starts, in large part, as a reaction to obvious, arrogant dishonesty in the seats of power. she says.

Chayes saw corruption first-hand in Afghanistan, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as Nigeria. Of what’s happening in that afflicted African state, she writes: “For security reasons as well as ethical ones, the United States should stand by its anticorruption rhetoric, applying sanctions and other leverage against members of what many have called Nigeria’s most kleptocratic administration ever.”

Similar efforts are clearly needed in our own ballpark, where the purposeful pass allowed by officials in charge has been a nationwide source of despair.

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A Softening on Mike: Bill Madden amended his stance on Piazza to say that, if the catcher needs a vote on his last chance to get into Cooperstown, he – Madden – would give it to him.

Sorry, St.Louis: No surprise about the overwhelming consensus of who will be the 2015 World Series winner. The talent-loaded Nationals are the choice. The NL Central consensus vote – for the Cardinals – seems shaky to us. That division, like both the AL East and Central, looks, from our box-seat, to be up for grabs.

Overlooked by Some of Us: Among a list on MLB Now of underrated performers in 2014, a list that included the somewhat familiar names of Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes and Mets first baseman Lucas Duda, was an interesting unfamiliar one: reliever Ken Giles of the Phillies. The 24-year-old rookie righthander struck out 64 batters in 46 innings on his way to a 1.18 ERA. Now we know why the Phils feel free to peddle Jonathan Papelbon.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Michael Brantley, the Ukraine, and the Lineup of Events

The other day on MLB Now, host Brian Kenny disagreed with other panelists on the stature of Cleveland’s Michael Brantley. His fellow pundits rated Brantley one of the MLB’s top left fielders after his .327- 20 HR- 97 RBI-23 of 24 SB season. Kenny said one breakout year among his five with the Indians did not establish Brantley as an elite player. We sided with the panelists, but have come to respect Kenny’s refusal to embrace a majority viewpoint, even a near-unanimous one.

“My go-to move,” Kenny has written (in Sports on Earth) ”… is to bluntly point out the gap between perception and reality. Swimming against the tide is a full-time job, but there’s always plenty of work.”

The gap between widely pitched biased accounts in the field of international politics should concern all of us who depend on home-based media for our news. The positive spin on the way our team plays the game against overseas opponents is seldom challenged for one main reason: stories involving the adversaries are seldom covered first-hand; “objective” media reports, therefore, are, in fact, official Team USA versions of the reality.

Robert Parry of Consortium News identified a typical example of what can only be called propaganda in last Saturday’s NY Times. Under a story headed “WAR IS EXPLODING ANEW IN THE UKRAINE” – in this case, covered by reporters on the scene – the “paper of record” disregarded the crucial basis of the conflict. Parry identifies the deviousness this way:

“One way the Times has falsified the Ukraine narrative is by dating the origins of the crisis to several months after the crisis actually began. So, the lead story in Saturday’s editions ignored the actual chronology of events and started the clock with the appearance of Russian troops in Crimea in spring 2014…In other words, the story doesn’t start in fall 2013 with the extraordinary U.S. intervention in Ukrainian political affairs – spearheaded by American neocons, such as… Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain – nor with the U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted (the)elected President…and put one of Nuland’s chosen leaders… in as Prime Minister.

Early this week, columnist Tom Friedman added his blame-the-Russians spin to the falsified narrative.   Sad how we count on the Times for straight news, and how misguided is that trust.

One more thing: Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader and no friend of Vladimir Putin, laments the “triumphalism” of Team USA, which, he says, is dragging the world into a new “cold war.”

Not a ‘Money’ Movie Review: “American Sniper” lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right…to…banish( ) compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth…Many Americans…trapped in a stagnant economy… yearn for the supposed moral renewal and rigid, militarized control the movie venerates. These passions, if realized, will extinguish what is left of our now-anemic open society.”- Chris Hedges, TruthDig

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Ron’s Darling: In an MLB Now on-air survey of the game’s current “best hitters,” John Smoltz and the Times’ Tyler Kepner chose Tigers Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, respectively, as the best. Ron Darling, whose broadcasting work with SNY and TBS, gives him greater opportunity to see more players in action than his colleagues do, submitted a less-acknowledged name; “ Freddie Freeman (of Atlanta) is amazing; he hits the ball with power to left and right…I don’t see anyone else like him.”

Slack-Time: Let’s cut new Commish Rob Manfred some slack: he sounds like he’ll be an acceptable leader, if not a strong one. On the one hand, he wants to make attracting “kids” to the game a priority, on the other, he clearly has no intention to work with the networks to get at least one World Series game played in daylight. Yet, Manfred surely knows failure to challenge a TV schedule that insures most playoff games end near midnight on the East Coast is an effective way to discourage youthful – and even adult – interest in the game.

Dubious Legacy: More disturbing to Mets fans – what’s left of them – is Manfred’s obvious embrace of Bud Selig’s cronyism toward financially beleaguered Fred Wilpon. The new MLB boss has burdened himself with that legacy despite the embarrassment Wilpon’s continued control of the Mets is afflicting on the game and the commissioner’s office.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)