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

The Uncertain Payoff of Pulling to Left Center

(Posted 12/16//17)
A rarity on MLB-TV this week: a discussion of the way consistent financial disparity separates a third of the wealthy teams – like the Dodgers and Yankees – from the other two-thirds, nearly all of whom have no chance of making the playoffs. None of the on-air guests at the sport’s winter meeting complained about the imbalance; how it hurt their teams’ ability to attract fans and the money needed to stay competitive over much of the long season.

Instead, Billy Beane, GM of the have-not Oakland A’s, after acknowledging his team’s handicap, said he liked the challenge of upsetting the rich teams with his consistently underfinanced Athletics. That attitude may play in Oakland, but not with fans of other small-market teams; that is, the ones annually resigned to watching the Red Sox, Indians, Astros , Cubs, and Nationals – as well as the LAD’s and NYY’s – make the post-season. (Counting long-shot teams on the outside looking in – the Giants, Cardinals, Angels, Twins and Rangers – makes a close to precise competitive total of 12 of 30.)

The truism that money equals power is, we know, just as accurate on the political field. That such power can be misused in politics to a more dangerous degree than in professional sports is also well known. In recent years, presidents dating from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon to George W. Bush misused their power to get us into widening wars. Johnson and Nixon did it over Vietnam, Bush over Iraq.

Nixon paid the price for his misplay. He had the money and power to reinforce his bid for re-election in 1974, but he organized a break-in theft of Dem opposition files to lock up a favorable outcome. When about to be caught misusing his office, he fired a series of special prosecutors who were on his trail. Archibald Cox, the first to be removed, warned against public overconfidence that justice would be done, Nixon would be stopped. Never underestimate the power of the presidency, he said, to find ways to protect that power.

A warning that resonates, perhaps, in this period of newly developed left-of-center jubilation.
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(The Nub, a team effort, is produced by Dick Starkey of perfectpitcher.org)
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The Power Shift in Culture, Politics and Sports

(Posted 11/18/17)

It is rare during the sporting period this far beyond the World Series that Baseball holds popular sway over its seasonal big brother, pro football. But while most fans are focusing on the likes of AL Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve and AL’ s top vote-getting pitcher Corey Kluber, the NFL is mired in a petty owners’ quarrel, and worse: TV viewership is down just under 20 percent from what it was this time two years ago. And no wonder: half the league’s 32 teams have losing records.

Three MLB teams, on the other hand – the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Twins – broke into the playoffs, with regulars the Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, Indians and Yankees. Baseball still has too many “nowhere” teams – the Padres, A’s, Braves, Marlins, Reds, and even the White Sox, Mariners, and, as of now, the Royals. But progress is much more evident on the ballfields than the gridiron.

In politics, the Dem team had taken MLB-like control of the electoral field in Alabama, owing to the off-field excesses staining the record of Team GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore. But a similarly embarrassing incident involving a key Dem player, Senator Al Franken, may nullify that control the way shoddy play eroded the NFL’s dominance.

NY Times columnist Michele Goldberg gave this sober argument for how Franken should be treated:

Republicans, never particularly eager to hold their own to account, will use Franken to deflect from more egregious abuse on their own side, like what Trump and Roy Moore are accused of. Women with stories about other members of Congress might hesitate to come forward. That horrifying photo of Franken (appearing to grope the sleeping woman’s breast) will confront feminists every time they decry Trump’s boasts of grabbing women by the genitals. Democrats will have to worry about whether more damaging information will come out, and given the way scandals like this tend to unfold, it probably will.

It’s not worth it. The question isn’t about what’s fair to Franken, but what’s fair to the rest of us. I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat. The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you.

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(The Nub is a team effort produced by Dick Starkey. More are available at perfectpitcher.org)

“Eyeballing” New and Upcoming Changes on Both Fields

 

(Posted 11/11/17)

About halfway through the World Series, play-by-play announcer man Joe Buck had had enough: “What’s with this spin-rate stuff”? he said to color man John Smoltz, who had been describing a new sabermetric pitching measurement. Although Buck’s tone was half-joking, he had tapped into the frustration of many long-time fans; those who wanted baseball to remain an “eyeball” sport rather than one taken over by technology.

Yet the takeover, already embedded, has provided new ways to gauge the value of players – measuring the range of outfielders is one example, focusing on on-base potential (OBP) over batting average another, wins above replacement (WAR) yet another, offering an effective tool to track pitching spin skills. These measurements are useful for many of us at the end of the season, but almost annoying day to day.

And what would be useful changes on the political field, in the crucial warm-up to tax reform? Team GOP is pushing for cuts in what corporations now pay, less concerned with how working people are hit. The best the Dem team can offer is a fight for an “equal playing field” combined with rejection of Trump, a Clinton playbook re-run. On the hopeful-if-perhaps-over-hyped scoreboard: the gubernatorial win in Virginia, and the possibility the favored (GOP) Senatorial candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, has disgraced away his chances. Then there is the Dem team’s not-so-secret weapon as 2018 approaches: health care.

History Lesson: From the political press box, a look back at “intellectual conservatism”, whose heyday coincided with Baseball’s pre-World War 2 emergence: (circa 1938): “War is caused by the conditions that bring about poverty…no war is justified…no war benefits the people.” (Frank Chodorov) An outgrowth of that early game plan (as quoted in last Sunday’s NY Times magazine): “Efforts to combat international Communism would be more dangerous than Communism itself.”

Bi-partisan support today for any such pacific policies, we know, is unthinkable. But shouldn’t the Dem team consider examining the possible military-spending reasons why that is so?.

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(The Nub is a team effort produced by Dick Starkey; it is also available on website perfectpitcher.org)

A Season Where Cheer Is in Short Suopply

 

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

(Posted 11/4/17)

Baseball season is over, Trump’s time goes on and on. Is it any wonder November brings with it – especially to many of us on the East Coast – a deepening discontent.

Baseball ended with (excepting Game 7) what many observers considered the most exciting World Series ever. Here’s what New York Post-man Joel Sherman had to say about it after the two peultimate games.

Game 5 was epic and episodic. It was exhilarating for the Astros to win, excruciating for the Dodgers to lose and exhausting for all who watched a game that took 4 hours, 52 minutes to complete nine innings — then went to extras…The 38th game of this postseason will decide a champion, will finally separate these teams after what has been a back-and-forth series full of draining drama, titillating tension and players draining the last of their talents against fatigue and pressure.”

Neither Sherman nor any other on-site sports writers/commentators noted what games slotted to be played in earlier time zones do to East Coast fans: deny most of them – and nearly all the younger fans – the chance to watch the action to the end. MLB’s willingness to sacrifice a major chunk of its playoff following for TV money matches the sport’s acceptance of the advantage big-money teams like the Dodgers have over most of the rest of the field. (N.B. Note, too, the absence of any mention on theMLB-TV/.com network of how badly so many fans are being treated by their prime Baseball source.) There is little doubt that LA will be back in the playoffs next year, and on and on.

Meanwhile, it’s by no means clear that Bob Mueller and his team will prove President Trump conspired with the Russians to win the 2016 election. More likely, we will hear the frustratingly familiar disclosure: what the Trump team did was “illegal, but not a crime.” A sure-fire bet says the Trumpites, and economically blessed teams like the Dodgers, will be with us again a year from now.

Extra Inning:

Whaddaya-Know, Joe Dept. Re: A big reason Hillary lost the 2016 election campaign. “The fix WAS in. The former interim head of the Democratic National Committee (Donna Brazile) says this in a newly published book: she discovered after she took the reins that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had ‘rigged’ the nomination process — and had essentially been running the organization for a year.”

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(More Nubs, skippered by Dick Starkey, can also be found below)

Dollar Dominance Tilting Political and Ball Fields

(9/1/17)

As Baseball enters the post-Labor Day homestretch, here’s what we feel comfortable predicting: seven of the 10 teams competing for playoff spots will make it: the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Astros in the AL, the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers in the NL. Five of those seven have top-10-level payrolls, with the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox all above $200 million. The Nationals and Cubs are the other two more modestly wealthy playoff-likely teams. Conclusion (1): unless one roots for Arizona, Colorado or Milwaukee in the NL, or the Angels, Orioles, Seattle, and the Rangers in the AL, the season, involving 18 of 30 less financially competitive also-ran teams, has been a bummer.

Conclusion (2): unless the MLB finds a way to bring more payroll-level equality to the sport, it will become less and less able to compete for fans with pro football and basketball, both of which are close to having overcome the inequality problem.

Disappointed progressive fans have surely noticed their teams’ similar problem on the political field: the once-dominant Dem club has all but disappeared in contending with financially superior Team GOP. Attentive observers recognize that the Dems are trying to attract support, not with an offense, but by bemoaning how badly the powerful Trump/GOP opposition is performing. That the Dems chose an ill-equipped leader in Senator Chuck Schumer should have been evident. His skill at playing fund-raising ball with Wall Street, which helped get him the job, is a main reason for his team’s disappearing act.

Asked on “Meet the Press” last week about his party’s inability to awaken an effective vote-attracting offense, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown said he believed the Democrats needed to reaffirm their tradition of standing with Labor. “Fighting for workers”, he said, on such things as the right to living wages for all and overtime pay could trigger and overdue rally. Issues about which the Schumer-led Dems have been mostly silent.

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Leak(e)ing Ship? In the never-say-die city of St.Louis, Cardinals fans have reason to worry that this year’s edition of the Redbirds has given up the wild-card race. The trading of starter Mike Leake to the Mariners on the threshold of decisive September stoked the fears. True, Leake had been a 7-14 disappointment for the ‘Birds, but he’s a near-10-year veteran with a winning record who’s capable of clutch performances at homestretch time.

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(The Nub is a team effort produced by Dick Starkey)

The Midsummer State of Baseball and Politics: Almost Cheerless

A fan-unfriendly move by Baseball provides mid-summer grounds for malaise on the sporting field, with a dour political landscape waiting in the wings. Instead of an All-Star game that counts, the competition tonight in Miami will be a meaningless exhibition. MLB gave up a year ago making the game a battle to decide which league would get home-field advantage at World Series time. Fans are thus left with a ho-hum matchup to watch tonight. On MLB-TV yesterday, anchorman Brian Kenny described the don’t-count tradition of the game “sloppy.”.

Of greater dismaying consequence is the bungled way Team USA has played the international political game. The Trump-ian squad ignored the two main calls at the G-20 gathering in Germany. Those were: for serious worldwide environmental protection, and an equally serious effort to end warfare throughout the global ballpark. While still facing an unpredictable international player, Skipper Donald’s smoothing over relations with Vladimir Putin could be a positive peace-seeking gestiure., Unpopular as it may be with most Americans, the move,, if nothing else, could soften the tension that has dogged the two nations since the end of the cold war.

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More Reason for Dismay: It’s a good bet that titles in three of the MLB’s six divisions are already locked: AL West (Astros), NL East (Nationals), and NL West (Dodgers). Nothing is sure in the other three, although, pending key pre-deadline deals, favorites look to be as follows: AL East: Red Sox/Yankees, AL Central: Indians, NL Central: Brewers/Cubs.

P.S. In the All-Star event’s lone crowd-pleasing competition, the Yankees’ Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby last night, dethroning last year’s winner, Giancarlo Stanton.

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(More of The Nub, produced by Dick Starkey, can be found by clicking below)

The Shaky Lesson that Warfare Teaches Baseball

Chances are owners of the Brewers, D’Backs, Rockies or Twins, four so-far surprising, yet modestly financed teams, will be cautious about the possibility of staying playoff-competitive the rest of the season.: “We know we can’t match the wealthier teams in back-logging high-price talent,” they’ll llikely say, “ but we can choose prospects carefully enough to get the job done.”

Hopeful talk, but undercut by this statistical dampener: since addition of the second wild card a half-dozen seasons ago, only six of the 60 low-budget teams involved – Oakland (three times) Kansas City (twice), Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston and Tampa Bay – made the playoffs’ final eight. If the explosive MLB season, described as warfare using bats instead of lethal weapons, has taught us anything, it’s the aptness of a lesson embedded in that comparison.

A non-baseball fan, Oxford military historian Cathal Nolan, drove home the lesson from a reverse perspective. He debunked the effectiveness of what is a popular baseball as well as warfare strategy t in a recent book (“The Allure of Battle”) reviewed in the NY Times late last month. Nolan calls belief in the success of blow-them-away, scorched-earth engagements of the enemy a “pernicious myth.” Why? Because annals show slow-and-steady – hanging tough into extra innings – almost always win in a walk-off against super-equipped but restless opponents. Team USA learned that in Vietnam as it is relearning now in Afghanistan.

In the national ballpark, fans of small-market teams can – and do – hope for patient, war-like success each season. But disappointment lies in store: Unlike in warfare, Baseball’s “hang-tough-ers” only have to battle one six-month season at a time. Rested when next season starts, they are almost always the teams with bankrolls that take charge when spring turns to summer.

That is, about now.

Six-Division Update:                                                           –     –     –

Let’s identify teams that, before summer, are already involved in the take-charge process. There are two, identifiable by their leading their divisions by double-digits: the Astros, 12-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place Angels in the AL West, and the Nationals, 11 games up on the Mets in the NL East.

Three divisions are involved in much more interesting, tightly bunched races: NL Central, with only four games separating the first-place Brewers and last-place Pirates; the most truly competitive of all races, that of the AL Central, in which just five-and-a-half games separate the leading Yankees and remarkably resurgent Blue Jays, once thought to have eliminated themselves in April. The close now, but least likely of the three to remain so is the AL Central, in which the Twins stand at the top, six games ahead of Kansas City. Cleveland, considered most likely to run away with the division, is only a game behind the Twins. .

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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.)

 

Boos for the Predictably Scornful Press

Shortly after Mattt Harvey broke in with the Mets (2012), we were surprised to hear Ron Darling in the team’s press box say he’d trade his long, superior pitching career for the bright future Harvey had ahead of him. We thought the statement encouraging for Harvey but ill-considered for Darling, who certainly knew the injury pitfalls for phenom starters as their careers unfolded.

We were less surprised late last week when Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters he did not expect Harvey “to be what he used to be” before thoracic arm trouble sidelined him for more than a season.. We saw it as a message to the media, including Darling, even more than to Mets fans, that it should be more restrained in embracing the popular line on would-be local golden boys.

The connection between a predictable line and Donald Trump is certainly visible on our presidential playing field. Skipper Trump has made one wild domestic policy pitch after another, setting up heavy hitters while turning his back on the middle class and the poor. Looking farther afield, he has given the press an almost daily chance to scoff at his swerving statements on China, Syria, and, in particular, on ties with Russia.

Attentive fans know that Team USA has matched Russian misbehavior toward heroes perceived as adversaries here at home – Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and abroad our Australian ally’s whistle-blower Julian Assange. We also know our record is especially shameful on battlefields abroad, with our black sites, torture, etc. And we remember how Snowden taught us about our ability to engage in effective cyber-attacks against teammates on the home field and identifiable opponents around the world.

All this unforgotten devious play should suggest to the media and those of us in the home dugout that whatever friendly pitches the Skipper may have made, with Vladimir Putin are to be cheered, not scorned. Peaceful relations with the Russians should certainly be preferable to cold-war-like tension, in the manner of former Skipper Obama, who promised an end to our war-making adventures, then reneged on that pledge.

If President Trump’s missteps earn him impeachment, the irony will be his punishment results from a rare and credible U.S. leadership role – that of peacemaker..

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Prediction-Time – Late Spring Playoff-Possibilities:

AL East: Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox; AL Central: Indians, Tigers; AL West: Astros, Rangers

NL East: Nationals; NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals; NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks

Playoff Likelies: AL – Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Astros ; NL – Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers

Significant Stat: (Cited on YES, by Michael Kay) Probable BA of hitter taking first-pitch strike: .220; first-pitch ball .260.

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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.)

 

 

Our Misbehavin’ Home Field Media

Our Misbehavin’ Home-Field Media

While Baseball’s performance level in minority hirings has been slipping, its public relations skills are clearly improving. Good work, Commissioner Rob Manfred. Few fans had a chance to learn that the MLB’s latest annual diversity report card was full of low grades. Manfred’s team seemed to insure that the report received little media exposure. One under publicized and little realized fact:: the sport has three big league managers of color now – Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, the Nationals’ Dusty Baker and Rick Renteria of the White Sox – compared to the 10 minority skippers it could boast as recently as 2009.

Overall, MLB dropped more than eight points in racial hiring for on-and-off field jobs since last year and four-and-a-half points in gender hiring at the office level. Scorekeeper Richard Lapchick’s final grade was 76, down six-and-a-half points from 2016. If asked, we would have given Manfred and his team a tougher grade; the decision to return the All-Star game to exhibition from serious competition.deserves a still-lower grade..

Of course, the most egregious misplay belonged to the sporting media, which, by and large, chose to ignore the bad news about Baseball employment. The political media play a similar game while covering Team USA’s relations with counterparts abroad. The Yanqui press corps sends its vaunted objectivity to the showers then; how? by giving a pass to countries that play ball with Uncle Sam and pummeling those who refuse to play along. Venezuela has long been a prime example of a negative media target. The NY Times has consistently attacked Caracas since the days of Hugo Chavez a decade-and-a-half ago.

At the same time, the mainstream media have dutifully followed Team USA’s lead in looking the other way with regard to Honduras, where we have a military base. In 2009, Team Obama, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton playing a prominent role, reneged on supporting liberal president Manuel Zelaya, target of a right-wing coup. After Zelaya was deposed, Honduras became a drug-infested hell-hole. Hardly a word from the Yanqui media after the coup then or now, despite an overdue State Department warning early this year of Honduras’ “high crime and violence rates.”

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Yankee (not Yanqui) haters in this country deserve sympathy for strong early signs the Pinstripers are a playoff team, not the also-rans most observers considered them to be. Yes, it’s early, but the team’s impressive mix of veterans and newcomers – buttressed by good pitching – looks like it will stay the playoff-bound course as the rest of the season unfolds. It seems equally safe to describe the playoff-possibility of .the once-touted 2017 Mets with a single NY word: fuhgedaboudit!

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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 Tanking Game Taking a Toll on Both Fields

On YES the other day, Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay didn’t mince words: “The Padres are tanking,.” he said. San Diego, which tied for last in the NL in 2016, has one of the three lowest payrolls in the MLB this season (along with the Brewers and Rays). The Pods are going with three Rule-5 ($50,000) players on their roster. Opting for a minimal-budget approach that includes players who couldn’t make 40-man rosters elsewhere suggests a willingness to finish low enough to qualify for top-level talent selections next season. In other words: t-a-n-k-i-n-g .now, with eye on the future.

 

The political variation of tanking is on display as Team Dem talks of Resistance to hit-to-right efforts to hold on to Congressional seats. The talk can’t match the money Team GOP is spending to defend its control of the electoral field. An example: Republicans heavily outspent the Dem team in the Kansas special election last week; the GOP also worked harder on the personal level – dispatching Senator Ted Cruz to campaign in the district and having Trump and VP Mike Pence record supportive phone calls for winning candidate Ron Estes.

 

Bernie Sanders and/or Elizabeth Warren could certainly have helped lift the Dem vote, if the party had its organizing act together. And Bernie’s apparent reluctance to provide his successful campaign fund-raising list to the team effort is a disappointment. That’s especially true since the Dems, unlike the GOP, have few, if any politically active billionaires free to enrich their team’s coffers anonymously. .

 

As, spurred by Citizens United, the money-ball continues to bounce toward right field; beyond media hype, progressives have little to cheer about beyond the fading hope that the post-inauguration women’s march marked the beginning of true left-leaning resistance. NY Times columnist Ginia Bellafante noted an aspect of the oversell of such hope in Sunday’s NY Times: ”The age of activism that…Trump’s presidency unleashed has given us as…(a) symbol …of defiance the pink knit hat that women around the world have embraced as a means of communicating their distaste for (his) regressive views.”

 

Just a guess: greenbacks rather than pink hats will make the difference in Georgia’s special House vote being decided today.

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The starters and young and old position players are propelling the eight-straight-win Yankees, but NY Times observer Tyler Kepner calls two barely noticed mid-relievers – Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard – keys to the team’s early success. Entering last tonight’s game with the White Sox, Warren had retired all 20 of the hitters he faced; together the pair had yielded only six hits in 41 at-bats.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, made this reply when asked if he had any player-related insights to offer to the NY Post’s Joel Sherman: “Young, good; old, bad.”

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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.)