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

Hillary Scoring With Scherzer Strategy

As soon as Max Scherzer signed the seven-year, $210, 000 deal with the Nationals, the second-guessing started about Jon Lester’s signing with the Cubs. “He could have done better than $155 million for six years,” was the sentiment heard on MLB-TV. “After all, Lester’s proven, especially in the playoffs, that he’s at least as good as Scherzer.”

But Lester, and his agents Sam and Seth Levinson, were willing to establish the value level for available top-tier pitchers. By waiting for the bar to be set, Scherzer, guided by Scott Boros, was able to negotiate the superior deal. Hillary Clinton is the top-tier political equivalent of Scherzer. Her strategic stance of postponing a decision on whether to commit to the 2016 presidential race is paying off far more than Scherzer’s wait-and-see pitch. Clinton’s Dem team has produced no announced competitor to the former First Lady. Thus, for the moment, Hillary has both the vacant field to herself, and, owing to the perceived likelihood that she will run, a formidable lead in fund-raising, as well.

Scherzer and Clinton part company as strategic teammates when facing the challenge of vindicating their success as front-running performers. Scherzer can be expected to help lead the Nationals to a strong start this spring. Clinton has a trickier play to execute: while going to the plate as her party’s sole candidate for national skipper, she must persuade millions of diverse fans that she’s worthy to be their candidate. It will be difficult to portray herself as a fighter for more economic fairness, for example, when she allows banks to sponsor her appearances, as happened last week in Canada. Then there’s her warrior stance that polls show most fans find worrisome. Still, with its farm system devoid of prospects (Elizabeth Warren having renounced going to bat), the Dem team has no alternative as the primary-race season approaches: It must come to terms with, and rally around Hillary, their canny Scherzer counterpart.

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More ‘Coming to Terms’: Newly departed Commissioner Bud Selig has, we know, forced what’s left of Mets fans to accept their underfinanced team. SI’s Cliff Corcoran reminds us, while reviewing Selig’s mixed-bag tenure as commish, that he took the Dodgers away from suddenly impecunious Frank McCourt. Selig, however, has failed to make a similar move regarding the Mets.” Corcoran points out. “The Wilpon family’s finances have been similarly compromised by a series of bad investments, most notably the involvement with notorious Ponzi scheme operator Bernie Madoff. The Mets have managed to improve modestly despite their financial limitations, but with the Wilpons still deeply in debt and trying to re-finance loans they can’t afford to pay off, one of the two teams in MLB’s largest market remains as compromised as the Dodgers were under McCourt.”

The A-Rod-Yankees Drama (cont.)   Alex Rodriguez expects to add $6 million to the $61 million remaining on his 10-year contract with the Yankees. It would come when, and if, he hits six more HRs to tie Willie Mays, who totaled 660 of them. A-Rod would also qualify for three more $6 mil bonuses should he tie Babe Ruth’s 714, Hank Aaron’s 755 and Barry Bonds’ 762 HR records. The bonuses are part of a separate marketing deal negotiated in 2007. The Yankees say Rodriguez won’t get a cent of the bonuses because he violated the game’s drug policy. According to the Daily News, A-Rod could file a grievance with the Players Association if he qualifies for a bonus the Yanks decline to pay. The saga continues.

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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.)

How Politics Connects With Baseball’s Competitive Sport

How did the new rule designed to prevent home-plate collisions work in its rookie year 2014? The record book shows the rule batted 1.000, in that no catcher or runner was hurt on the numerous close plays through the season. Overall, there was one non-violent glitch: when Marlins catcher Buster Mathis blocked the plate – perhaps inadvertently – against a runner far from home, Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart – who was a sure out. The umpire gave the Reds the run, which in the end cost the Marlins the game.

Catchers can still get hurt from foul tips, errant wild pitches or being hit by back-swings, but injury resulting from deliberate violence has, it seems, been eliminated. That baseball has shunned the carnage which helped make football our most popular spectator sport is why it deserves continued acknowledgement as the national pastime.

Many believe the political game has lost popularity because it is played like the more combative of our two leading sports. Vox’s Ezra Klein sees politics losing ground with the public as it takes on those perversely crowd-pleasing football-like traits. He makes the case by composing a State of the Union speech Skipper Obama should have given had ‘he been totally honest’:

“The political system is like a football game. You ever think about why football games are the way they are? You have all these guys hitting each other so hard they cause each other permanent brain damage. So why do they do it?…It’s not because they hate each other.. .They do it because that’s how the game works. They do it because the rules are you line up in front of the other team and then you hit them as hard as you can. They do it because, for one side to win, the other has to lose. And they do it because, if they don’t do it, they’re off the team. Football has no place for conscientious objectors.

“The honest truth is that that’s how politics works, too. We’ve got two teams. And only one of them can win the election. So they line up and they hit each other as hard as they can. They don’t cooperate because the rules don’t let them cooperate. They don’t agree because agreeing means losing — and losing is political death.”

Klein noted that, in his actual speech, Obama did utter this sobering, totally honest line: “Our politics seems more divided than ever,..proof not just of my own flaws — of which there are many — but also as proof (of our skewed) vision…and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.”

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Excitement: Oh, to be a baseball fan in the Chicago area: two of the three or four teams that had “exciting” hot-stove seasons – the White Sox and Cubs – will be playing in the Windy City. Many observers pick the Pale Sox to win the AL Central and more than a few say the Cubs will make the playoffs. San Diego and Toronto deserve shout-outs, too, for their off-season upgrades.

Respect: First it was Toronto Skipper John Gibbons who publicly regretted the lack of chemistry in his 2014 team. Then, Wednesdayt night, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg lamented the “distractions” that undercut the intensity of his team last season. On MLB Now, Mike Lowell said he was sure one player Sandberg was not talking about: “Marlon Byrd comes to play every game,” he said. Lowell played against, but never with, Byrd, whom the Phils traded to the Reds early in the post-season.

Ready Replacements: Our annual check of the affiliations of Baseball America’s 28 Triple- and Double-A All Star teams from last season suggests which MLB team has the most ready reinforcements for 2015. The winner: the Red Sox system, which had three All Star pitchers, Anthony Ranaudo of Triple-A Pawtucket, and Brian Johnson and Henry Owens of Double-A Portland. Also Portland shortstop Deven Marrero.

Three One-Year Signings: Ryan Vogelsong back with Giants, Jonny Gomes joining the Braves, Ichiro Suzuki going to the Marlins.                               

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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

Martin Luther King’s Debt to Early MLB Black Players

Twenty-seven years ago, Skipper Tony La Russa said of his Oakland ace Dave Stewart, “I have never met a player or person of higher quality.” La Russa could have added “of greater ability:” Stewart is one of the handful of pitchers to win at least 20 games in four straight seasons, 1987-1990. ( Juan Marichal and Tom Glavine are most recent other members of the list.) La Russa showed last summer that he hadn’t forgotten Stewart, and meant what he said . Shortly after taking over as chief baseball officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he named Stewart the team’s general manager, and only the fifth African-American to be appointed to such a job in MLB history. At the moment, Stewart is the only black GM among 30; that is, he represents 3.3 percent of African-Americans in that exec capacity, compared to around seven-and-a-half percent of black players in the bigs.

The number of African-Americans earning their way on to teams surged toward 25 percent in the later fifties and sixties, a decade after Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Martin Luther King told Newcombe, less than a month before he was killed ”You, Jackie and Roy made it easy for me to do my job.”

Remembering Dr.King on this week of his birthday celebration, it is striking and dismaying to note how now-familiar issues were debated then, nearly a half century ago. Here is some of what he was saying (cited by Writer’s Almanac):

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”…From the start of a “Poor People’s Campaign” to fight economic inequality.

On April 4th, 1968, exactly one year after his first anti-war speech, King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his Memphis motel room. He was preparing to lead a protest march in solidarity with garbage workers who were on strike. He said:

If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

On NPR’s “Takeaway” program in which King’s utterances were remembered, a man in Texas said something that MLK might have proclaimed were he alive today: “Through Citizens United, the wealthy are purchasing our democracy with hard cash.”

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Sorry… Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, the NL has new juggernaut…at least for the moment. The signing of Max Scherzer – $210 million for seven years – establishes the Nationals as the most formidable team, probably in both leagues. With a rotation of Scherzer, Jordan Ziimermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, the designation is inarguable. Of course, one of that four may be dealt before the season starts. Still…

Staying Aggressive:  Theo Epstein yesterday reinforced the sense that the Cubs will be in the NL Central’s playoff mix this season. He traded infielder Lewis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily to Houston for outfielder Dexter Fowler (a top-ten black position player, incidentally). Although injury-hampered last season (BA .276, HRs 8, 11 SBs in 113 games), Fowler, about to turn 29, gives the Cubs a solid leadoff man at a reasonable $7.3 million salary. The Astros hope to add Straily to their starting rotation. Milwaukee, meanwhile, has traded pitcher Iovani Gallardo to the Rangers for three Brewers prospects, including middle infielder Luis Sardinas..

Clubhouse Blues? Toronto, the strongest AL East team on paper after adding Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson, may have a chemistry problem to dispel. Skipper John Gibbons conceded the team “wasn’t tight-knit” after the season ended. And, sometime later, Blue Jays broadcaster Mike Wilner said the teams had “a terrible clubhouse.” Jose Bautista said everybody got along fine, though R.A. Dickey had said publicly he didn’t think so. When asked last week about the situation, Dickey said: I think you saw where the front office sat on the issue by the way they made the moves in the offseason.” – (from reporting by National Post’s John Lott)

Clocking Out: Pitch clocks to reduce the length of the average game are coming to baseball, and SI’s Cliff Corcoran doesn’t like it: “Baseball is famously, and I thought proudly, the only major North American team sport to be played without a clock… The deleterious impact of a clock on the feel of the game, its natural ebb and flow…would seem to me to be far greater than the positive impact on the length of the average game… Ultimately, MLB has to consider how willing it is to alienate its core fan base in order to appeal to the fringe viewer for whom that extra 10 or 15 minutes would matter.”

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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 Provocation Game in Both Pastimes

The rebuilding Braves may face a rough 2015 season, but Turner Field in Atlanta is sure to be a lively place. It will rock if, for no other reason than A.J. Pierzynski will be catching for the Braves much of the time. Throughout a 16-year career that started with the Twins and continued with the Giants, White Sox, Rangers, Red Sox and Cardinals, Pierzynski has earned a reputation as a rambunctious guy to be around. Ozzie Guillen, who managed A.J. during most of his eight years with the White Sox, described what it was like to have him as a teammate: “When you play against him, you hate him. When you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

Pierzynski takes pride in the resentment he stirs up because it’s connected to playing the game, as he sees it, the right way. When he sees sloppy play, “he gets upset “– says Guillen – “and sometimes he says things he shouldn’t say.” There are some things he shouldn’t do – like, according to opposing players – using his spikes as an offensive weapon. Or, as he did against the Cubs one season, bowling over the opposing catcher, then tagging home plate with a gratuitous flourish (for which he was punched in the face).

Gratuitous is a telling aspect of a provocateur like Pierzynski. It’s telling, too, when unnecessary attacks on the geopolitical field are leveled in the name of “free speech.” Charlie Hebdo’s spikes-high slam at Muslim behavior in France may have been offensive to members of that community, but it was a fair play made at home about the tension there. Attacking one of the great religions’ prophet and founder Mohammed is, as we see it, unnecessarily provocative. “Some things,” said a passing Parisian interviewed by the BBC, “should not be touched.”

Here at home, the right to speak freely can degenerate into an extension of bullying – witness the cheap as well as gratuitous “free-speech” movie ridiculing a foreign leader, North Korea’s much-maligned Kim Jong-un. On the political field, he may be a troublesome dictator of a small country. But who are we to say that, despite our suspicions, he is not revered by his people?. The free exercise of a “nothing sacred” right to attack a person or group also offers a choice: to decide possibly that disrespecting an entire country – even an enemy one – should “not be touched.”

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More on A.J. The season when Joe Girardi did color for Yankees games on YES, one of his colleagues noted that Pierzynski seemed to make himself unpopular wherever he played. “He can play for me anytime,” said Girardi. In another tribute to his former player, Guillen said this: “A.J. shows up to win. He’s not just showing up to play, he’s showing up to win, and some people can’t handle that.”

A Bright Side? Well, look at it this way: The Braves are bound to have a number of discount and family nights at Turner Field next season…There’s goes Evan Gattis. He follows the same worn path out of town as Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. After trading the good two-thirds of his starting outfield, Braves president John Hart completed — I’m assuming — his radical makeover of the team’s every day lineup Wednesday by dealing catcher/outfielder Gattis to the Houston Astros for (yes) prospects… The Braves…are now without their Nos. 1, 3 and 5 (Upton, Gattis, Heyward) home run hitters from the 2014 season, their Nos. 1, 3 and 5 (Upton, Heyward, Gattis) RBI men from last year…Open to debate is whether (GM John)Hart should have been able to get more in trade than he did. What’s not open…the Braves have taken a massive hit in this rebuilding effort. – Jeff Schultz, Journal-Constitution

From KC to SF: Our reaction to the signing of former KC Royal Nori Aoki by the Giants: What took so long? Why didn’t some team, not necessarily SF, sign him long ago? He can run, rarely strikes out, as a lefty hits lefties well –.363 last season, a .285 hitter overall, a base-stealing threat. At $4.7 million, the Giants will almost certainly get their money’s worth.

Skeptic: Former Nationals and Indians Skipper Manny Acta (on MLB Now), on the over-reluctance of teams to trade away their top prospects: “We know they have ‘potential’. But what does ‘potential’ mean? You haven’t proved anything yet.”

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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.)

 

 

Counter-Productive Plays in Both Pastimes

How could it happen, we wondered…when Joe Maddon took advantage of an opt-out clause in the Rays contract to clear his way to the Cubs. Didn’t the team’s owner Stuart Sternberg realize that his agreeing to provide the skipper an escape route could one day compromise the on-field stability of the franchise? Sternberg’s generous gesture was a hurtful disservice to the Rays’ few loyal fans.

New manager Kevin Cash may retrieve the situation; he’ll, perhaps, find a way to keep the largely intact small-market team competitive in a division in which big spenders – the Yankees and Red Sox – comprise half its AL East opponents. And the other half – the defending champion Orioles and beefed-up Blue Jays – don’t figure to be also-rans.

Skipper Obama has fallen into a Sternberg-like trap in which policy and politics are at odds. Politically, he has alienated his team’s fan base through policy-implemented generosity toward righty opponents who believe the only worthwhile public spending is on military muscle. While polls show his fans are suffering from war-fatigue, the Skipper persists in making war-like moves. The scorecard shows: he’s ordered combat stances for many of the 10,000 armed players on training missions in Afghanistan;. and, at the same time, almost doubled the number of military team advisers in Iraq, adding 1,500 additions to the roster of 1,600 already on deck there.

All this field-based activity supplements air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, a mission that began last August. The further move to “boots on the ground” seems inevitable, just as certain as the Taliban’s continued presence in Afghanistan and President Assad’s in Syria; a reckoning that will be evident long after Team USA has abandoned its generous – and excessively expensive – effort to remake the region in its own image.

That the abandonment will not come soon is assured by Team GOP’s support for shows of military muscle. That support is an exception to the team’s hitting out against government spending of almost any other kind. The Times’ Paul Krugman comments on the contradictory way they play the game: “When it comes to possible cuts in defense contracts, politicians who (deplore outlays) at the expense of the private sector suddenly begin talking about all the jobs that will be destroyed…(They don’t talk about similar losses) from spending cuts on roads, bridges and schools.”

Maybe when – if – this endless war finally winds down, Team USA policy-makers will at last have learned their lesson.

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Rebound/ On MLB Now, these consensus reasons why Oakland may again be a factor in the AL West: newly added Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar plus the eventual returns of pitchers A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker. In Zobrist and returnee Josh Reddick, analytics-ace Brian Kenny points out, the A’s have two wins-over-replacements studs.

Playing Hard to Get? James Shields is un-enticed by a five-year, $150 million offer: that’s the rumor circulating about the 33-year-old“Big Games” pitcher . One dubious GM said “There isn’t a team who wouldn’t want Shields for three years. But five? That’s where it gets tough.”(quoted by The Globe’s Nick Cafardo)

An Early Take on the Mets: They have the pitching to insure they’ll make trouble, but not the playoffs: insufficient position-player talent says they can’t do that. SB Nation’s Grant Bisbee adds this assessment: “The Mets are an interesting team that could have been a magnificent team with a creative offseason. Instead, the offseason plan was ‘michael cuddyer?’ written on a whiteboard in the world’s least-creative front office.”

Colorado Outlook Rocky: Highlight of the Rockies’ hot stove dealing was making Cuddyer a qualifying offer, and having it declined. The Mets had to give up a number 15 draft pick to sign the 36-year-old problematic left fielder for two years. The soured Rox fans thus emerged with lemonade. But, to quote SI’s Cliff Corcoran: For a team that hasn’t topped 74 wins since 2010, the point isn’t to avoid getting worse, it’s to get better. The Rockies haven’t done that to any significant degree at any level.”

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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.)

 

 

 

Switch-Hitting Suddenly Popular on Both Fields

The debate over whether “cheaters”, like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, deserve to be voted into Cooperstown, helps fill the cooled-down part of the hot stove season. Other than that, many of us could care less about the Hall-of-Fame business. We’re happy for John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Craig Biggio, but Baseball’s Hall disqualified itself from serious attention when it went political during the George W. Bush era. We remember when, a dozen years ago, its execs thumbed the showing at the Hall of “Bull Durham” because stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon had publicly gone to bat against the Republican Skipper.

The debate, however, has had a salutary effect: many media voters publicly backed Bonds, Clemens, et al, noting that PED-taking was widespread when they were among the comparatively few implicated: “If nearly everybody may have been doing it, why should they be ostracized,” is the argument. We may disagree (we do), but welcome the airing of that contrarian point of view.

Meanwhile, on the rocky political field in Ukraine, there is something similar to baseball writers’ switch happening: both France and Germany have altered their stance with regard to Vladimir Putin. They want to stop demonizing him for what he’s doing on that field: “Mr. Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine,” said Frcnch President Francois Hollande about that ruckus. “What he opposes is a NATO army on Russia’s borders.” Germany now signals it believes that Putin deserves relief from the Western economic pressure on his country.

The belatedness of this realism suggests that Team Obama and its parroting press box scorekeepers ignored signs flashed by such respectable insider sources as Foreign Affairs magazine. As long ago as early last fall, an FA article by U. of Chicago Prof. John Mearsheimer laid out a reasoned defense of Putin. Had it been widely quoted, the piece excerpted here, would have ended the hysterical demonization of the Russian Skipper:

Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend….Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.   Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.”

Perhaps this game-changing switch in attitude will catch on at last, in the big-market franchise to which we belong.

Personal memories of former Pirates farmhand and late Governor Mario Cuomo: Always a Yankee fan. Asked what he liked best about being governor: “When I push the stone, it moves.” Told there was speculation he would seek to reduce the state subsidy to a public TV station because its president supported his gubernatorial opponent: “That would be a sin.” To a staffer’s suggestion that he act to raise taxes to help balance the budget: “You’re the only one in the state who feels that way.” During a state visit to Quebec City: “Isn’t this great, seeing a foreign country? And you know the best part – we’ll be back in Albany before midnight. If you stay overnight, there’s need for a new shirt: the problems become geometric.”

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Trade Talk Worth Attention: Sabermetrics dean Bill James (on MLB Now) re the potential decisive impact of two prominent newly traded players: “Josh Donaldson (now with Toronto) could well be the player of the year…Jason Heyward (Cardinals) – I should have mentioned him first – is in the same category.”

On-Field Entertainer: Bill James, on the player who is “most fun” to watch: “Salvador Perez (KC catcher): he’s always moving around.”

Dissenter: “I’m skeptical of the Marlins getting their money’s worth out of Giancarlo Stanton: he strikes out too much.” – James, on Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract with Miami.

Two-Sport Hall of Famer: Former Long Island high school football star Craig Biggio, on giving up catching, which he did after two seasons with the Astros: “It was hard: when you’re a catcher, you’re at the center of things, like a quarterback in football.”

Belated Welcome: To January, the last of three non-baseball months. Only five weeks, roughly, to pitchers and catchers.

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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.)

Almost Back Together: Two Baseball-Loving Franchises

Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Arnoldis Chapman: just a few of the 19 (on opening day) Cuban-born players who brightened the 2014 Baseball season. Most are surely wondering how the revamping of U.S. relations with the homeland will affect their status as exiles. Almost all sacrificed close contact with their families, a keenly felt hardship. Rey Ordonez, who defected from Cuba in 1993 and played seven seasons with the Mets, did not hide his problems adjusting to life away from his family. A new Cuban travel policy made it possible for Ordonez to return to the island in 2013.   But he had retired as a player by then; were Ordonez still active, he might not have been welcome.

Americans able to make elusive travel arrangements have always been welcome in Castro’s Cuba. A group that included baseball fans made three visits several decades after the Fidel-led revolution seized power from corrupt Fulgencio Batista in 1959. At a playground near our Havana hotel on one trip, we saw a stickball game that replicated those played in schoolyards back home. Except: the rules required walking, not running, around the bases after a hit. At a well-played league game in the equivalent of a triple-A U.S. ballpark in the central part of the island, we and other fans were admitted free. A sign on the outfield fence explained why: “SPORTS IS A RIGHT” it said.

The record book details Team USA’s desire to keep Cuba within its “sphere of influence” – that is, indirect control – after the revolution. The friction that caused brought on the still-in-place trade embargo, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Missile Crisis. That the conflict, between two baseball-loving franchises, appears to be easing after 55 years, should be cheered by fans and non-fans alike.

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The Feelings-Hurter: First, Phillies GM Ruben (tell-it-like-it-is) Amaro conceded that his team would be “rebuilding” this season; now, he says, flat out, that the team would be better off if a trade for Ryan Howard can be arranged. Howard’s big contract – he has $50 million coming to him through 2016 – makes that unlikely unless the Phils add lots of cash to the deal.

Tribal Quiescence: The Indians, who finished last in MLB attendance last season, are trailing far behind in post-season upgrading activity. Cleveland has added first baseman Brandon Moss from the A’s and free-agent pitcher Gavin Floyd, who went 2-2 in nine games with Atlanta in 2014. Two reasons for the inertia: money owed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Both are signed through 2016, Swisher due a total of $28 million, Bourn $24 mil. Both were injury-plagued busts last season: Swisher hit .208 and eight HRS in 97 games, Bourn .257 in 106. His vaunted running game was next to non-existent – 10 SBs in 16 attempts.

Batterymate Should Know: Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamachhia, on new Yankee pitcher Nathan Eovaldi: “At the end of the year he figured out how to throw a new pitch that is really going to help him. He throws hard and all of his pitches are hard, so this new pitch will help that out.” (quoted by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo)

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

 

 

 

The Pro-Peace Versus Anti-Terror Game

We’ve long felt that the accolades Bud Selig received as Baseball commissioner were overblown. Now, the Yankees have prompted us to reconsider: Selig deserves credit for diminishing the sport’s economic inequality to the point that the Yanks are no longer thought of as the “Evil Empire.” Sure, the mega-rich Dodgers could become the MLB’s new dominant team, and Tampa Bay and Oakland may always have cash-flow problems. But Selig has left us – at least temporarily – with a team-by-team lineup featuring near-parity and peace.

By acting to normalize relations with Cuba, Skipper Obama has made a good start in a similar way toward teams in the international geopolitical league.. It’s a long shot, but we can hope he will follow up with friendly overtures – and possible prosperity as well as peace – to Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc. – clubs that don’t play the Yanqui – style of ball.

We know that Team Obama, like its predecessors, prefers to play the power game. The O-team takes pride in not yielding to adversaries. How it’s handling the hostage crisis posed by jihadists is revealing.   Where the French ransom captives and celebrate their survival and release, America remains defiant. We “courageously” sacrifice the lives of our countrymen, unwilling to pay to prevent beheadings. Then we express outrage at the inhumanity of those who tried to bargain with us.   A difficult stance for the world to appreciate; especially after publication of a scorecard detailing the torture that was our terrible response to anti-terrorism.                                                    –       –       –

San Diego Makeover: New Padres GM A.J. Preller has seized the off-season wheeler-dealer record in the last few days. Here are the prominent players he has added to his roster: outfielders Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Justin Upton (Braves), Will Myers (Rays); catcher Derek Norris (A’s), third baseman Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox). Preller gave up mostly prospects in the trades. The Yankees, meanwhile swapped Martin Prado and pitcher David Phelps to the Marlins for hard-throwing Nate Eovaldi and first baseman Garrett Jones. The Giants re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year contract.

Basement Survey: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland/Houston, Colorado/Arizona, Cincinnati: all possible division doormats accounted for, except in the NL East. Would you believe there it’s Atlanta, as dominant over much of the past two decades as the Yankees were in their peak periods?

Badmouth the Big Gamer? No Way: “(James)Shields had a 6.12 playoff ERA, fueled by two bad starts with the nation paying full attention — in the AL Wild Card game (five innings, four runs) and in Game 1 of the World Series (three innings, five runs)… (But)maybe the playoff record is just an arbitrary beginning and endpoint that happens to occur when we’re all paying close attention. If you’re hung up on those five starts, how about his three starts beginning Aug. 30? Facing the Indians, Yankees and Tigers, three teams involved in the pennant race, Shields gave up one run. One. Three starts, with the season on the line, working into the ninth inning twice, and giving up one run. That counts, too. If three starts with the season in the balance doesn’t do it for you, how about his last 16? From his start July 7 through the end of the regular season, his line looks like this: 16 starts, 110 innings pitched, 1.32 ERA. Maybe…I’m biased. But that looks like a ‘Big Game James’ to me.” – Brian Kenny, Sports on Earth

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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.)

 

 

‘Who We Are': Whether Yankees Or Team USA

A scene at the close of Baseball’s Winter Meetings last Thursday:  Yankees GM Brian Cashman departing empty-handed, looking, in the words of MLB-TV’s Brian Kenny, like a “game, gritty underdog.”  Far from the usual way Pinstripe People are perceived.  The Yanks’ won-loss record at the meetings, 0-2; that’s zero and a big two.  They lost closer David Robertson to the White Sox and starter Brandon McCarthy to the Dodgers.  How could this happen?  How could the sport’s second richest team, with a $200 million-plus payroll, be outspent in competing for two key players.  “This is not who we are,” groan Yankee fans.  In this new era of expanding financial clout, that may no longer be the case.

Similar words were spoken by the nation’s Skipper and others in DC after disclosure of the Senate report on torture.  What we did, Obama said, was “contrary to who we are.” In Atlantic on-Line, author and CUNY Professor Peter Beinart, says the Skipper has taken a wild swing, and missed on the facts. Beinart provides details from the record book:

“In times of fear, war, and stress, Americans have always done things like this. In the 19th century, American slavery relied on torture. At the turn of the 20th, when America began assembling its empire overseas, the U.S. army waterboarded Filipinos during the Spanish-American War. As part of the Phoenix Program, an effort to gain intelligence during the Vietnam War, CIA-trained interrogators delivered electric shocks to the genitals of some Vietnamese communists, and raped, starved, and beat others. America has tortured throughout its history. And every time it has, some Americans have justified the brutality as necessary to protect the country from a savage enemy… After 9/11, while George W. Bush was announcing that God had deputized America to spread liberty around the world, his government was shredding the domestic and international restraints against torture built up over decades, and injecting food into inmates’ rectums. Those actions were not ‘contrary to who we are.’  They were a manifestation of who we are. And the more we acknowledge that, the better our chances of becoming something different in the years to come.”

A shameful Team USA tradition we prefer to overlook.                                        

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Head Count:  With the White Sox’s signings of Melky Cabrera, Chase Headley and Jed Lowrie, roughly two-thirds  of what are generally considered the 35 “name” free agents are off the board.  The still-available dozen or so include:: Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo,  Ryan Vogelsong, Edinson Volquez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nori Aoki, Michael Morse, Stephen Drew,  Ichiro Suzuki, Dan Uggla.

Lesson of the Matt Kemp Trade:  Every player can be traded, no matter who he is. Now that long-tenured (Derek) Jeter and (Paul) Konerko have retired, and Jimmy Rollins is on the cusp of being dealt — coincidentally — to the Dodgers, baseball’s longest-tenured players with one team are Chase Utley and David Ortiz, who debuted with, respectively, the Phillies and the Red Sox in 2003. After just 12 years, Utley (36) is likely not long for Philadelphia, and Ortiz, at 39, is likely not long for baseball.  Had Kemp played out his contract in Los Angeles, he would have been a Dodger for 14 years, but his trade represents a reminder that players who remain with one team for anywhere approaching that length of time are significant outliers. The business of baseball has changed.” – Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

‘Do Something!’ Say Baseball and Political Fans

(Posted 12/9/14)

Until late last week, the complaint heard among Yankee fans included the word “dithering.” Their team was too passive a part of the post-season upgrading process. The signing of coveted reliever Andrew Miller quieted the restiveness, as did the trade for the possible Derek Jeter successor, Didi Gregorius. Now, fans in Ohio, of both the Reds and the Indians, in Texas, of both the Rangers and Astros, and in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, among other cities, can feel similarly impatient. Four of seven top-of-the-market free agents have been signed – Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez by the Red Sox, Victor Martinez by the Tigers, and Nelson Cruz by the Mariners. Mega-ace pitchers Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields, as well as (among others) lesser-level starter Justin Masterson, and position players Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley, are still up for grabs. “Do something!,” say the fans.

The leading , and – for now – the Dem team’s only presidential prospect, is taking similar hits from the media. The prodding of Hillary Clinton is the inevitable brush-back to her aura of inevitability. The impatience centers on her refusal, despite her dominant stance, to go to bat on any burning issue that might elicit boos. The Politico’s Roger Simon addresses Clinton’s play-it-safe game and urges her to change it:

Americans want to hear what you intend to achieve and how you intend achieve it. They want to know where you will take the country and the world. They want from (their) Hillary what Hillary doesn’t want to give them: the ‘vision’ thing that she finds… embarrassing…(Instead) Hillary… will soon begin a ‘listening tour,’ the same shopworn stunt she used in 1999 when running for the U.S. Senate from New York…(Her listening) so far has moved her to silence.”

The scorebook Simon has assembled notes Clinton’s unwillingness to comment on the events in Ferguson, or the proposed Keystone pipeline. It also shows her polling numbers have hit their lowest point since she left Team Obama.

Pending emergence of a credible competitor, Hillary’s slide is calamitous news for the Dems, signaling, as it does, a potential 2016 walkoff win for Team GOP.

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Guessin’ Game: That the Yankees let David Robertson go to the White Sox is a signal Brian Cashman will go for broke in signing Chase Headley. That’s the guess here, anyway.

You May Not Have Heard This One: Most speculation at yesterday’s start of the Winter Meetings we’ve heard before – Jon Lester will sign with the Red Sox, Cubs or Dodgers, Chase Headley nearing deal with the Giants, etc LA Times birddog Bill Shaikin offers a new possibility – the Dodgers to deal for Jimmy Rollins, perhaps their “best hope” as fill-in shortstop in 2015.

Returnee: He’s not Lester, but the Cubs are happy to have re-signed 32-year-old righthander Jason Hammel, whom they dealt to Oakland last summer. Hammel went 8-5, .298, with the Cubs last season

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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.)