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 Power Game: Baseball, the Streets, Board Rooms

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(Posted 9/30/14)

The Power Game: Baseball, the Streets, Board Rooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–    –         –

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

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

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

-o-

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

What Fans in Both Fields Crave: Competition

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(Posted 9/15/14)

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

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

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

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

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

–       –       –

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Hard-to-Like Performers in Both Pastimes

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(Posted 9/13/14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

–       –       –

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

 

Reading the Minds of Players in Both Pastimes

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(Posted 9/9/14)

On YES the other night, two ex-players doing color – John Flaherty and Paul O’Neill – caught our attention during a Red Sox-Yankees game. They remembered the pressure prospects feel in September: “They worry about the challenge,” O’Neill said, “of playing later in the season than they’re used to.” Then, with a camera trained on pensive Red Sox newcomer Brock Holt, who had just made out, the two imagined what he could be thinking: “I was batting .280; now that’s dropped toward .270. Suppose I stop hitting and the average keeps going down? The time when I was going good could be forgotten.”

 Holt’s BA edged up a bit since that game, but not his playing time. He only played in one of three over the weekend against Toronto. He was on the bench again last night against Baltimore. His average this morning is .281.

We’ve borrowed the YES idea, training an imaginary camera on political players as they dwell on worries of their own:

Although New York State Skipper Andrew Cuomo has big-time clout, he can’t help thinking: “Why can’t I get the many people on my side, not just to go to bat, but to like me?”

 Almost everybody likes Hillary Clinton; yet even she is spooked by the thought of an underdog clogging her baseline: “Please, God, don’t let Elizabeth leave the dugout, and this time be sure Caroline stays on my team.”

 John Kerry, almost hitless in many far-flung times at the plate, wonders: “Am I showing the strain? I can seem stiff when facing repeated rejection. I am tired. It’s thankless these days trying get anybody to play ball.”

Barack Obama, faced with charges of doing “stupid stuff”: “What can I do? I’m pitching a good game –some brush-backs, no head-hunting. But in this smack-talk season, media people feel only wimps avoid collisions.””

Vladimir Putin, on reading the corporate mainstream media: “Being blamed for everything going down in my part of the international ballpark, I guess I should be glad they’re not calling me “Rasputin.

                                                    –       –       –

 The Wild, Wild Card: The Brewers’ downward spiral – they lost to Miami last night – together with a Pirates’ win over the Phillies, give the Bucs a game-and-a-half breathing room in the NL WC race over Milwaukee and Atlanta. The loss also solidifies the Cardinals’ division lead at four-and-a-half games. The only two division races that can realistically be considered still in place: the AL Central, where KC now leads Detroit by only a game, and the NL West, where the Dodgers have moved three-and-a-half ahead of the Giants.

 Who They Are? Skipper Bob Melvin thought his Oakland A’s couldn’t get much worse after suffering a four-game sweep by the Angels over the last weekend in August. But the A’s went 1-6 in the next seven games, making them 14-22 since the start of last month. That’s how they looked, going into last night’s game against the White Sox (which they lost). “It’s been embarrassing,” says Melvin. “It’s not who we are.” Now eight games behind the Angels in their division, Oakland can hope for a wild card spot, but maybe not. Seattle and Detroit only trail the A’s, the Mariners by one, the Tigers by a game-and-a-half. So even the WC could slip away if Melvin can’t get them back to being “who we are.,”

 Nobody Asked, But: Even allowing for a possible last-minute switch in ESPN’s Sunday Night dugout-interview plan, Dan Shulman and John Kruk were embarrassingly inept while talking to the Giants’ Jake Peavy. The pair tossed a long series of softballs the pitcher, recently traded to SF from Boston: “What do you think of your new team? (“Good bunch of guys, a great organization.”) “How do you like playing for Bruce Bochy?” (“The best manager I’ve ever had.”) “How do you and Tim Hudson get along?” (“We go back a long way together…We’re both Alabama boys…”) etc. That the half-inning of the game in Detroit in which the interview was conducted seemed to go on forever compounded the embarrassment. The least negative thing to be said about the Shulman-Kruk team: Their presence does not engender a sense of urgency about watching Sunday night games.

 Wake-Up Time: “Why the Brewers lost energy after leading the division for 150 consecutive days is one of those mysteries for the ages. They have (18) games remaining to get re-energized and avoid a historic late-season collapse. During this disastrous stretch, when asked about getting headed in the right direction, players inevitably have said, ’There’s plenty of time left.’ Well, one of these days they’re going to wake up and find there’s not enough time if they don’t start playing winning baseball now.” Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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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.)

Differing Destinations: Free Agents at Home and Abroad

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(Posted 9/6/14)

Chris Young, released by the Mets three weeks ago, is back in the bigs with the Yankees, who signed him as a free agent to a minor league contract last week. The Mets are paying Young $7.5 million for a season in which he hit .205 in 88 games. He’ll pick up a little extra change for arranging to play as part of the expanded September roster with the Yanks. Young may not be having a good year as a hitter; as a negotiator, however, he’s done quite well.

Journalistic free agents James Foley and Steven Sotloff had no negotiating power as freelancers; they went to bat as part-time players in the Middle East, Foley for the (Boston-based) Global Post, Sotloff for Time. Neither outfit publically intervened on their behalf with Team USA after the two were caught in a deadly rundown that ended in their beheadings. Team Obama dared not accept an offer from ISIS to release the pair in return for ransom payments. If it did, the political blasts from hawkish legislators and a bloodshed-biased media would risk leaving the team and its party disabled.

Yet, the O-team knows fans in the national ballpark favor ransoming lives rather than losing them on Middle Eastern fields; they recognize we can score there by launching lethal long balls, but never hope to win. It is clearly because he has gauged the war-fatigue sentiment that the Skipper refuses – despite the tough rhetoric – to join the military-led rally to up the stakes in belligerency. The game is far from over, however, and could go either way.

How the Beheadings Complicate the Game:“(Obama) surely knows that it is precisely at moments like this, when politicians and pundits are demanding vengeance, that presidents are most prone to do ‘stupid stuff.’ He’s staked his foreign-policy legacy on being the president who doesn’t do that. But it is precisely because of this caution and calm that he’s losing political control, even in his own party. And God knows how many beheadings are still to come. – Peter Beinart, Atlantic On-Line

–        –       –

Wild Card Changes: Seattle slips a half-game ahead of Detroit into second AL WC spot behind Oakland. Milwaukee edges a game ahead of Atlanta into second NL WC spot behind San Francisco. Three tight division races – KC now two ahead of Detroit in AL Central; Cardinals three ahead of Brewers in NL Central; Dodgers two ahead of SF in NL West.

Caught Napping: Brett Gardner, who has been carrying the Yankees offensively, did not get a pass from John Flaherty (on YES) when he sabotaged a double-steal against the Red Sox in the first inning Wednesday night. As Derek Jeter took off from second, “Gardner (on first) was asleep,” said Flaherty. Brett’s late start ended in a double play – his being thrown out at second and Jeter cut down after passing third and failing to get back. Former catcher Flaherty commended Sox rookie catcher Christian Vazquez for his heads-up play in recognizing Gardner’s lack of alertness, and acting on it.

Give-Up Time? After the Yankees lost the first game of the three-game series with the Sox Tuesday night, Peter Gammons (on Gammons Daily) ventured that neither team would make the playoffs this year. He noted it would be the first time both teams missed the post-season since 1993.

In Case You Didn’t Know: “The last time that Washington and Baltimore, which both had major league franchises as long ago as 1901, were in first place on Labor Day (and after) was — never.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

-o-

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

 

 

 

The Fun of Engaging in Work That is Play

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(Posted 8/23/14)

A year ago in early June, Durham Bulls (Triple-A) outfielder Rich Thompson broke his foot while making a running catch in Indianapolis. After 14 minor league seasons – with a few intermittent cups of coffee in the Bigs – Thompson’s baseball career was over. He had just turned 34.

Best-selling author John Feinstein tells what made Thompson a ball-playing lifer in his latest book “Where Nobody Knows Your Name.” “I can’t imagine any job being as much fun,” he quotes Thompson saying, not long before the fun ended. “I love baseball, he said, “but when you have three kids at my age, it gets tough to keep bouncing around.”

We read the account of Thompson’s bounces through the farm systems of Toronto (which signed him in 2000), Pittsbugh, San Diego, Kansas City, Arizona, Boston, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, soon after checking out a book (“Excellent Sheep”) about elite players in our educational system. Author William Deresiewicz, who taught at Yale and Columbia, strikes a contrasting chord in describing the game prize student-prospects get caught up in. He notes that economics, leading to a career in finance, has become the most popular major at Ivy League schools. It’s where the big money is in the marketplace. The allure of a high-income life prompts many to trade away their career dreams for uninspiring-but-remunerative work. It is true, in our experience, of a large number of would-be space scientists, doctors, oceanographers, engineers, – even ballplayers – from all collegiate levels They gravitate, if not toward the major-league financial game, then into related tech-like and insurance work that assure comfortable security.

Deresiewicz deplores the trend: “You can live comfortably in the United States,” he writes, “ as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist…. You have to live in an ordinary house instead of an apartment in Manhattan or a mansion in L.A.; you have to drive a Honda instead of a BMW… but what are such losses when set against the opportunity to do work you believe in, work you’re suited for, work you love, every day of your life?

The most significant scorebook entry on our wealth-producing, education-fed financial sector is this: economic research, conducted in part by the International Monetary Fund, details harm caused by the widening earnings disparity since the 1980s. The stats suggest the trend has brushed back national growth, and a rally for more income equality, by as much as a third.

Where does the recently retired outfielder fit into the current picture? Rich Thompson has moved into the certified public accounting game, full of work, not play. But it keeps his family afloat – a source of satisfaction, if not “fun.”

–       –       –

Division Races Outlook: NL East – none; Nats are in. AL East – almost none; Orioles close to in. NL Central – three-team donnybrook, Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates. AL Central – two-team scramble, Royals and Tigers. NL West – Dodgers, Giants duking it out. AL West – Angels and A’s, in what may be the tightest two-team skirmish (now that the LAA’s have lost ace Garrett Richards).

Yearning for Yoenis (Not): “We don’t rely on one guy here; have never relied on one guy here. It’s up to us as a group to pick it up some, because we’re putting a little bit more pressure on pitching at this point than we should.” – Oakland Skipper Bob Melvin, on whether the trade of Yoenis Cespedes has affected the team’s suddenly unproductive offense (largely responsible for its 8-11 record, going into last night’s game, a win overt the Angels). – quoted by NY Times’ John Branch

Castillo’s Challenge: The Red Sox can only hope new Cuban signee Rusney Castillo pays a fraction of the early dividends fellow countrymen Yasiel Puig paid the Dodgers and Jose Abreu the White Sox. Puig signed a seven-year deal for $42 million, more than $30 million less than Castillo will receive ($72.5 million) for the same number of years. Abreu has the highest annual pay – $68 million for six years.

The Hitters Have a Friend: Baseball’s traditional strike zone runs from below the shoulders to above the knees. On YES the other afternoon, Michael Kay noted that umpires rarely call what should be a high strike. Color man John Flaherty said such calls have become more frequent since a video system installed at all parks monitors whether a pitch is on or off the plate (but not whether it’s within the strike zone, letting the umpires judge unmonitored). Said Kay; “It’s a good thing they don’t call the high strike more often. It would further reduce scoring at a time when offense has gotten scarce around both leagues.”

-o-

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

The Dangers on Both Fields of Disloyal Dissent

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(Posted 8/19/14)

It was almost a year ago – Seattle fans surely remember – that Mariners Skipper Eric Wedge turned on the people who ran his team. He said the Mariner front office was “dysfunctional” and that he wouldn’t “hang around” for another rebuilding season after which he would likely be let go. Wedge could not foresee the signing of Robinson Cano, the in-season additions of Kendrys Morales and Austin Jackson, plus the emergence of Chris Young and re-emergence of Hisashi.Iwakuma as reliable members of the Felix Hernandez-led rotation. Unforeseen overall was the credible turnaround of the team, led this year by new manager Lloyd McClendon.

Wedge hoped that his willingness to go public with what he honestly perceived as shortcomings would earn him another managerial job. In that he was disappointed, although he did land a slot at ESPN. The unemployment risk Wedge accepted was trivial compared to that embraced by Hillary Clinton, who, like him, spoke out against her former boss. Her target, we know, was far from sports team executives; it was President Obama, whom Clinton hopes to succeed as national skipper.

Hillary must have felt she could afford to take on the risk because she is the single heir-apparent as Dem-team nominee in 2016. Her hawkish views, she knew, would not be welcomed by many Dem fans, but they could score with supporters of Team GOP. She may be right about the effectiveness of hitting the other way. But her pre-empting the Dem presidential field defies the democratic tradition of competitive elections, especially when a vacant presidential seat is at stake. Such a stance constitutes Hillary’s biggest danger: that, in the words of Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, her evolving positions may well encourage potential challengers” who can build a late rally from a resentful Dem-team base.

A long-shot at the moment, with no viable-looking candidate in sight. But dramatic change in the standings is as much a part of politics as it is of baseball.

                                                        –     –     –

Volatility: Late-August 2014 has emerged as the V-season – V for “volatile.” By their stunning sweep of the Dodgers in LA, the Brewers banished the doubts of many: “We must be taken seriously,” was the message. Similarly, Seattle’s handling of the Tigers, taking the series at home, was a statement: “We’re no fluke.” The Mariners and Tigers are now in a virtual tie for the second AL wild card behind Oakland. The Yankees are three games out in the WC race. The schedule – two games at home against the Mets – suggests Oakland will end its five-game tailspin tonight or tomorrow. The sweep of the A’s put the Braves back in the brink-of-wild-card picture. The Pirates needed to stop their five-game bleeding in the home opener against Atlanta last night. They didn’t, losing, 7-3.The Angels took advantage of a chance to take undisputed lead of the AL West by beating the Red Sox in Boston, 4-2.

Fading: Cincnnati has lost eight of 10 and fallen nine games behind in the NL Central, and five games out in the wild card scramble. Brandon Phillips is back, but the long, continuing absence of Joey Votto has been mortally hurful.

How Long…Can Jim Johnson Hang on with the Tigers? The former Orioles ace reliever gave up three runs (two earned) and two hits in two-thirds of an inning against the Mariners Sunday.

Streakers: Nationals +7, Pirates – 6, Oakland – 5

-o-

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

 

Irresistible/Immovable Game on Both Fields

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(Posted 8/16/14)

Even many sit-back ball fans who enjoy sporting violence now accept the new homeplate anti-collision rule; that’s our guess anyway. But there are holdouts, even among the players: catchers Jarold Saltalamacchia (Marlins) and A.J. Ellis (Dodgers) disagree with the rule. Ellis dissents this way: “The rule…takes away the game-changing or game-saving play. It’s something we train for, we prepare for, and can be the difference between a win or a loss. It’s similar to… turning a tough double play in the middle. .. I don’t see (it) being taken away.”

We’re intrigued by how the bruising bash has given way often to a homeplate ballet, the catcher dancing aside and whirling glove and ball on to the incoming runner. We’re a long way from the irresistible running force and the stationary immovable object.

That type of violent confrontation is in effect on the political field, where Israel’s irresistible squad contends continually with an un-budging Team Hamas. Hamas’s willingness to sacrifice an endless number of its fans, young and old, rather than yield to what it considers unacceptable peace terms, has put Skipper Obama in a political bind. It’s one Robert Kuttner describes from his Huffington Post press box:

“The Israelis are… dependent on the alliance with the United States, but at the end of the day no American president has been willing to apply necessary leverage over inflammatory Israeli actions on settlements on the West Bank or normalization of civilian life in Gaza.   Obama…bemoan(s) his lack of leverage. (In an interview with the Times’ Thomas Friedman), he praised ‘the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people,’ and quipped that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ‘poll numbers are a lot higher than mine’ and ‘were greatly boosted by the war in Gaza.’ Obama added, ‘And so if he doesn’t feel some internal pressure, then it’s hard to see him being able to make some very difficult compromises, including taking on the settler movement.’

“All true, but the U.S. has been reluctant to use the leverage it has. In fairness to Obama, no American president has been willing to push the Israel alliance to its breaking point. But once again, this president appears disengaged and weak.”

Behind the extra-inning bind: the remarkably effective electoral clout of pro-Israel fans in our national ballpark.

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A Different NL East: The NL East standings tell a nerve-wracking story for Braves fans. The much-improved Marlins look to be division difference-makers this year, good enough to prevent Atlanta from gaining a wild card. Miami’s final regular-season record figures, as of now, to clinch three playoff spots for NL Central teams, the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates.

Insecurity-Time: CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman elicited some disquieting news for Mets Skipper Terry Collins this week. Collins’ contract runs through next season, so he must have felt reasonably secure. That is, until GM Sandy Alderson replied to a Heyman question about Collins’ future. Terry would be back, Anderson said, hinting, however, that another late-season “collapse” would put Collins’ job in jeopardy. Alderson surely knows that such a collapse would not help his chances of returning. Theo Epstein’s Cubs, in a third year of rebuilding compared to the Mets’ and Alderson’s fourth, trail Sandy’s team by only a few games. Should the Cubs finish with a better record, Jeff Wilpon might say he’s had enough of Alderson’s annual (90-wins-like) optimism.

Buck Knows Hockey: We quoted Rays exec VP Andrew Friedman the other day, saying Baseball’s “economic disparity is only widening.” Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter followed up on the thought, talking Monday about the Yankees adding Brandon McCarthy and the “line change,” Martin Prado, Chase Headley and Stephen Drew, before the non-waiver deadline: “Somebody jumps off the ice and somebody jumps on it. That’s kind of how it is. It’s what they do, God bless them. I’d do the same thing, if I was them, and could do it.” – quoted by Andrew Keh, NY

Lest It Be Forgotten: Amid all the puffery about the naming of new Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, Sporting News’ Jeff Spector deserves an accolade for putting the job in perspective this way: “It’s easy to think of the job as an independent overseer, the person running MLB operations and the ultimate authority on all things relating to the game. The commissioner still has plenty of power, but only so long as he acts in accordance with the desires of his bosses, the owners.”

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

 

The Speed-Up Effort – on the Ballfield and Political Game

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(Posted 8/12/14)

How successful has second-guessing umpires’ calls been this first year of Baseball’s expanded video review system? Well, up to the All-Star break, just over half of more than 600 calls were overturned. The stats vindicate the system, as does the fact that the umpires themselves are happy with it. Yes, tinkering is still needed: the manager killing time on the field while a coach checks the replay delays the game unnecessarily; we suggest (as have others) that the decision to challenge be required within a few seconds of the re-viewing.

On the related matter of speeding up games, players like the Yankees’ Brett Gardner should not be allowed to leave the batter’s box between pitches as often as he does. Gardner and others like him, take roughly 20 seconds to regroup, often more than once. The cumulative time lost is considerable. (Paul O’Neill,on YES) says the batters need the time to figure out what to do next.)

Our national media have speeded up the political game with regard to plays unfolding in the Ukraine. The possible new cold war developing on that field is pitched as the fault of wild-swinging Vladimir Putin and Team Russia. We’ve challenged that call more than once, and will do it again now, through a repeated look by a pinch-hitter, the International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff:

“(The) demonization of Vladimir Putin has been so successful in the American press and public, and its secrecy about the American role in Kiev, has left the public in the United States… convinced that this has all been the result of a Russian strategy of aggressive expansion into Ukraine…(Instead it was) a bungled and essentially American attempt to annex Ukraine to NATO and the European Union, and to undermine the domestic political position of President Putin…. The Ukrainian coup d’état in February was prepared by Washington. Why else w(as) the State Department(‘s) Victoria Nuland…and a number of intelligence people present, in company with the ‘moderate’ Ukrainians programmed to take over the government; (the event to take place) after the planned overthrow of the corrupt (but elected) President Viktor Yanukovych?… One must ask what was accomplished by all this that did not discredit the United States and the EU, and draw towards Ukraine and the American troops today deployed in Poland and the Baltics, and towards NATO itself, the storm-clouds of a useless war?…

“Where we are now (is that) Russia’s reaction is not simply that of an aggressive and authoritarian President Putin — as the West likes to make out — but the hostility of a significant part of the Russian population, which only now has recovered its national self-confidence and ambition. What was the intent of all this? To create an east-west civil war in Ukraine? Why is that in the American interest?”  

The mystery deepens as to why Pfaff’s perspective on the anti-Putin game is not reproduced in the Trib’s parent publication, the NY Times? The explanation, we suspect, is Times support for the self-serving play of Team Obama.

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Update: They may be riding an-about-to-burst bubble, but the KC Royals have soared past the struggling Tigers to the top of the AL Central. And they’ve done it without injured first baseman Eric Hosmer, always a power threat.

Key WC-Race Scores: KC 3, Oakland 2 (Royals now a half-game atop their division, A’s three-and-a-half atop theirs); Orioles 10, Yankees 3 (NY now three games out of WC, Orioles atop AL East by six games over Toronto); Pirates 11, Tigers 6 (Pittsburgh now atop WC, half-game ahead of Cardinals, game ahead of Giants); Seattle 11, Toronto 1 (Mariners now game out, Jays two games); Dodgers 6, Braves 2 (Atlanta two-and-a-half games out, two games behind Giants, Dodgers atop NL West by five); Marlins 6, Cardinals 5 (Marlins four-and-a-half games out);

A Non-Saving State of Mind: “’I want to play for 10 years instead of two, (so) I don’t want to do this much now’: ”Nobody here is really programmed to think that way. We’d be happier winning the World Series this year and never playing again. It’s that type of deal. You’re (going all) out…(doing) everything you can do now.” – Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, quoted by Derrick Goold, St.Louis Post-Dispatch

Debunker: Baseball would have us believe the MLB has entered a golden age of parity – many teams spending more to compete for players with the elite clubs. Rays exec vp Andrew Friedman, who felt obliged to trade away David Price, says it’s just propaganda: “I think it’s obvious to anyone who follows the game that the economic disparity is only widening, and it makes it a little bit more challenging in our quest to always balance the present and the future. But we can’t waver from who we are and how we need to do things to have success.”

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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.)

Scary Stats as Playoffs Near in Both Pastimes

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(Posted 8/9/14)

Bet City: Here is what the official Nevada-based oddsmakers are saying in the aftermath of last week’s artificial, attention-hyping deadline: the Cardinals, reinforced by John Lackey, will overtake the Brewers and finish atop the scramble in the NL Central. The Pirates – although now ahead of the Cardinals – will finish third, behind Milwaukee. The Nationals and Dodgers will win in their divisions; the Giants the best bet for one of the NL wild cards. In the other league, the Angels and Blue Jays (not KC) will be wild cards, the LAAs behind Oakland in their division, the Jays behind the Orioles in theirs. Detroit, we know, solidified its uniquely dominant position in the AL Central by acquiring David Price from cooling-down Tampa Bay.

To indulge in a re-rant, one example of how destabilizing was the faux deadline: The AL East went from a five- to a three-team race in the space of a few days. (The Red Sox, with Jon Lester, Lackey and Peavy, still had a playoff shot, however long). Odds-ly numbers: Tigers, 2-1, over Oakland for AL pennant; Dodgers, 8-5, over Nationals for NL pennant. Tigers, 4-1, to take Dodgers in World Series. (Line provided by Sportsbook.ag)

The projections reinforce the challenges facing division-pace-setting Milwaukee, and 10 other teams fewer than five games behind in the wild card races. Along with the Angels, Blue Jays, Giants, Pirates and Cardinals, there are the Royals, Yankees and Mariners,, Braves and Reds. One team among that group took greatest advantage of deadline-deal-making: the Yankees, who are nevertheless hampered by a thin rotation.

Barring a late surge by the likes of the Marlins, Indians and/or Rays, 13 teams will have no recourse but to embrace the role of spoilers. Most such also-rans in the national political playoffs belong to an underdog Dem team thath faces intimidating numbers at this stage of the midterm electoral races. How disquieting are the projected Dem numbers? Left-leaning New Yorker columnist John Cassidy reported this “bad (let’s call it “challenging”) news” for the Dems a few days ago:

“With less than a hundred days until the midterm elections, the Republicans have a very realistic chance of retaking the Senate (and) overall control of Capitol Hill for the next two years…Election Lab, a model operated by the Washington Post…puts the probability of the GOP takeover at 82 percent…The model constructed by the Upshot team at the Times is less definitive, but it puts the chances of a new Republican majority at 53 percent.”

Lest there be any doubt as to the politics of fans he considered his readers, Cassidy walked off regretful of the message he’d just delivered: “I told you this was likely to depress you,” he said.

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Premature Perhaps, But…Tentative prize for best pre-deadline moves must go to the Yanks’ Brian Cashman. His minimally publicized deals for Chase Headley, Martin Prado, Stephen Drew, etc., have energized the Pinstripers, now a half-game off the wild card. Suddenly great starting pitching hasn’t hurt.

Irresistible: “Those guys are rarely, if ever, available. If that caliber of player is out there, you go get him.” – Oakland GM Billy Beane, on decision to trade for Jon Lester. – (quoted by SI’s Ben Reiter)

Wither the Tigers? Don’t look now, but Detroit lost back-to-back-to-back four-game series to the Angels, Indians and, most recently, to the Yankees. And last night, while they were beating Toronto, Miguel Cabrera went 0 for five, buttressing the sense, felt during the Yankees series, that he’s hurting. It’s not pitching that’s Detroit’s problem. It’s a shaky Cabrera, and, after their clean-up spot generally, the Tigers lineup has no teeth.

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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.)