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 Inside Game of Caring for Well-Off Players

One major league ballplayer spoke out when Dee Gordon was suspended last week for drug use: Justin Verlander said the news was “killing me.” It remains to be seen if there are enough players union members who feel as pained about the still-prevalent cheating problem as the erstwhile Tigers ace. Enough, that is, to succeed in demanding tougher punishment of offenders. Gordon will be sidelined without pay for 80 games. Panelists on MLB Now Friday scoffed at what they considered a tap on Gordon’s wrist. On SNY during the Giants-Mets game that night, ex-pitcher Ron Darling said the suspension should be season-long and the offending player’s contract voided. “When the player returns after a year, he’s paid the minimum salary until he and the club agree on a new contract.”

It will be a surprise if the players take any remedial action, much less the tough kind Darling recommends. There is so much predictable talk of “love” for the offenders on the part of front offices and even teammates. “Let’s not upset a good thing,” seems to be the attitude, just as it is in non-Baseball life. Thomas Frank, who said in his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” that the Dem team had embraced the wealthy and deserted the working class, now says the problem has gotten worse. In his most recent book, “Listen, Liberal”, Frank suggests that former Treasury Secretary (under Bill Clinton) Larry Summers typifies how Dems have lost touch with their struggling teammates. He quotes Summers, early in Obama’s Skipperdom, saying “inequality has probably gone up (because) people are being treated closer to the way they’re supposed to be treated.”

Summers was speaking around the time the new president had installed NY Fed chief Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Summers himself as head of the National Economic Council. Obama’s economic team was dominated by people – including Geithner and Summers – who had ties to Goldman Sachs’ former co-chair Bob Rubin. It was a Democratic roster of major Wall Street-connected players.

The question now is whether Hillary Clinton, if she becomes next Skipper, will follow Obama’s lead and recruit from a similar roster? Or will she heed the concerns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and, in Warren’s words, acknowledge that “personnel is policy.” And that it’s time for her Dem team to swing hard in a different direction.

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Syndergaard’s ‘Sin’: It didn’t take long for the opposition to find a chink the arm-or of Mets fireballer Noah Syndergaard: 12 of 13 runners have stolen bases, exposing his weakness in holding them on. Reds runners went five-for-five against him last week; and, on Sunday, the Giants went three-for-three. Syndergaard is reluctant to develop a slide step lest it disrupt his delivery. Madison Baumgarner, who shut out the Mets for six innings Sunday, sees the adjustment as a necessity: “You’ve got to do it,” he says. “It’s no fun when you’re giving guys 90 feet.”

Who Is This Guy? The one unfamiliar name among the nine on MLB’s early season Fantasy team belongs to a journeyman catcher on the Diamondbacks. He’s Wellington Castillo, who has bounced around the majors for parts of seven seasons, with the Cubs and Mariners, before landing last year with the D-backs. So far this season, the 29-year-old Castillo has hit six HRs in 20 games and is batting a respectable .282. The rest of the Fantasy lineup: Mark Trumbo, 1B, Jose Altuve, 2B, Nolan Arenado, 3B, Trevor Story, SS, Bryce Harper, Starling Marte and Mookie Betts, outfielders, and Chris Sale, pitcher.

Streakers: Tigers + 5, Yankees – 5

Slow Start: As of this morning, only 13 of 30 teams have winning records. Cubs, at 18-6, have best mark, Braves, 6-19, the worst.

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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 Downside of Domination on Both Fields

What we know (or think we do) at the end of the first month of the season: the Cubs are going to run away from NL opponents, including the Nationals. They’ll make it, as widely predicted, to the World Series. We know Cubs fans will be the envy of their 29 counterparts. And we know, too, that, as the runaway proceeds, Joe Maddon’s team will be both widely admired AND MLB’s most hated club. That’s the price of domination. Teams that played in back-to-back Series – the A’s of 1988-89-90, the Braves of 91-92, the Blue Jays of 92-93, the Phillies of 08-09, and, of course the Yankees of ’96 and 98-99-2000-2001-2003 –all felt the whiff of away-fan resentment. It hasn’t happened to the 14-15 Royals yet because they’ve snuck up on us.

There’s a similar reaction prevalent in many of the quadrennial presidential series and, particularly, in the intra-party playoffs leading to the final match-up. Hillary Clinton ought to be bracing for a campaign devoid of a level of enthusiasm she’d like. She experienced comparative indifference when running against Barack Obama in 2008. Then she confronted an exciting young opponent seeking to make presidential history. Now, her differences with 74-year-old Bernie Sanders are more pronounced and could damage her in the likely presidential playoff against Donald Trump. Bloomberg,net’s Al Hunt ticks off Hillary’s potential obstacles, beginning with economic issues, on some of which Trump sounds more like Sanders than Clinton:

“…taxes, health care and regulating Wall Street…On national security, too, as Clinton hasn’t much moderated her interventionist bent. She was a leading advocate for the 2011 military action in Libya. The aftermath of the invasion turned out disastrously and Obama has expressed his regrets. She hasn’t…If she is the Democratic nominee, she’ll need Sanders followers in the autumn. She (can’t) rely on Trump’s unpopularity…If it weren’t for Trump’s (record polling negatives – 65-24 pct.), the story would be about Clinton’s negatives. In the same (Wall Street Journal/NBC News) survey, she was viewed unfavorably 56-32.”

Hillary surely knows how she can soften much of the progressive resentment she’s encountering: express sincere support for many of the “revolutionary” policies pitched by her rally-generating Dem adversary, Bernie..

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Where Did He Come From? We’re talking about the MLB hitting leader Aledmys Diaz; he’s the 25-year-old Cardinals shortstop from Cuba who replaced Ruben Tejada, who, in turn, replaced injured Jhonny Peralta. A .380 BA breakout over 14 games with Triple-A Memphis late last summer earned Diaz promotion to the Cards this season. He is hitting .420, with four HRs in 21 games – a surprising performance helping the Redbirds remain in flight in the NL Central.

Jeter Redux? Californian Eric Byrnes says (on MLB-TV) he has no doubt about the identity of the current player who comes closest to comporting himself – on and off the field – as did Derek Jeter. He’s Buster Posey, the Giants’ catcher and acknowledged team leader.

Byrnes’ ‘Bests’: Byrnes’ regional pride was manifest earlier this week in these other insights: “The Giants are the best team in Baseball…ATT Park is the best ballpark.”

Streakers: Mets +7, Marlins +6, Pirates +5, Dodgers – 5

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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 Numbers Games: How They’re Playing Out on Both Fields

Stat City: The Nationals surely regret not re-signing Jordan Zimmermann. He’s the MLB’s leading pitcher, at 3-0 with an ERA of .000 for the Tigers. On the other hand, the Nats must feel good about grabbing the Mets’ un-re-signed Daniel Murphy; he’s atop the hitters list – with a .411 BA and a .679 slugging pct. Rockies shortstop Trevor Story is maintaining his stance at the top of HRs, but he’ sharing the lead now with Bryce Harper, who hit his eighth Thursday; Harper’s far ahead in RBIs, with 22.

Reviewing the NY Primaries scorecard (thanks to to Robert Borosage’s Campaign for America’s Future blog), “Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders 57.9 to 42.1, adding 72 delegates lead in that category. Sanders won young voters; Clinton seniors. Sanders won white men; Clinton did better among white women than usual. Sanders was unable to break into Clinton’s hold on African American voters. Latinos went 64-36 for Clinton. Clinton won those focused on who was more electable and experienced; Sanders won those focused on who was more honest and more caring about ‘people like me.’

“Democrats ranked the economy as their biggest concern, with nearly half very worried about it. They split on whether trade costs or creates jobs. Clinton’s tactic of wrapping herself in Obama worked: half of Democrats said they wanted to continue Obama’s policies, only four in 10 said they wanted more liberal policies. By 64 to 29, New York Democrats thought Wall Street hurt rather than helped the economy. Sanders won nearly 60 percent of those who thought it hurt.”

Post Script: Bernie obviously felt a hurtful need to fire the woman who helped him craft his statement calling for greater Israeli restraint toward the Palestinians. Her rough language in referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on social media – and the outcry it provoked – reportedly prompted the move.

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Keeping Bryce Would Be Nice: Bryce Harper can become a free agent in 2018. The fear that he will opt to test the open market then, and likely leave the Nats, is already causing Agita in the DC area. WashPost’s Tom Boswell saw the crisis approaching in a column earlier this week:

“What do we know about Harper? He has overcome injuries and criticism. Celebrity and pressure feed him. He has hit for power in two playoffs. He grows each year in on-field demeanor and clubhouse esteem. What don’t we know? What the multi-billionaire Lerner family will do. They are the wealthiest owners in baseball. They’ve seen Harper win an MVP award, then come back the next season with his passion and drive intact, not eroded…In other words, the Lerners have almost all the answers they…should need, to decide how much they want Bryce Harper. Do they grasp it?”

Baltimore’s Loss: Ex-Oriole Jake Arrieta, now with the Cubs, could test the market in 2017. He pitched his second no-hitter in 11 regular season games Thursday night and 15th win out of 16 outings. The Cubs are surely wondering if he’ll be around after free agency. For the moment, Dexter Fowler has this to say about the team’s ace: “You’re (usually) shocked when something like this happens. From my point of view, we always expect that from Jake. Any time he goes out there, we think he can throw one.” (Chicago Tribune)

By the Way: Perhaps unsurprisedly, the Cubs are first among the 30 teams in pitching. The Pirates lead in hitting, the Nationals in fielding. The Nats are second in pitching, the only team to make the top five in more than one performing category.

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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.)

Remembering an Away Game on a ‘Rainy Night’

“Rainy Night in Georgia,” a song hit from a half-century ago, came to mind during the Atlanta’s nine-game losing streak to open the season.   Felt sorry for Braves fans – as well as those in Milwaukee – faced with a rebuilding effort this year. (The Phillies, with good, young pitching, are, for the time being, on hold.) The Braves are going with a castoff-dotted roster except for first baseman Freddy Freeman and right fielder Nick Markakis. The front office is looking toward 2017, when, reinforced with a stock of Triple-A talent, the team is scheduled to open a new ballpark. We’ve been hoping Jimmy Carter, to be 91 then, will still be coming to games. A longtime Braves fan, Carter has been a Nubbian presidential favorite.

We continue to feel that way, despite some critical official scoring by respected military historian Andrew Bacevich. It was Carter, Bacevich says – in a new book, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East,” – who set a hawkish precedent in the ‘70’s; he did it by ordering American intervention in Afghanistan during a conflict that already involved a short-lived Soviet misadventure. Carter compounded his regional blind spot by warning the world that Team USA would respond with armed clout if any other team tried to pick off the Persian Gulf oil fields. The threat, remembered in the record book as the Carter Doctrine, launched what Bacevich calls America’s endless military presence in the Middle East.” To seem to equate our 39th president with George W. Bush and, yes, Hillary Clinton, is a stretch hard for Carter fans to swallow. But Bacevich is recognized as a diligent birddog with no partisan pitch to mar his game. Perhaps Carter himself will seek to vindicate the way he skippered the team from 1977 to 1981 by challenging the Boston U. prof’s account.

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Rebound: The Braves are now 3-9, after sweeping the Marlins over the weekend.   The Twins are 4-9, defeating the Brewers last night, on top of a three-game sweep of their own, against the Angels.

What’s the Story? Simply this: a record eight HRs in 13 games- the latest last night – by Trevor Story, the Rockies rookie shortstop.

“Looks Like We Made a Pretty Good Trade”: That’s Phillies Skipper Pete Mackanin about righthander Vince Velasquez, who has struck out 25 batters in 15 scoreless innings; slated to pitch tonight, Velasquez came to the Phils from Houston, who received closer Ken Giles in return. The Mets did pretty well for themselves two years ago when they received Noah Syndegaard from the Blue Jays in the deal for R.A. Dickey. Syndergaard, who beat the Phillies last night, has fanned 29 in 20 innings. Like Velasquez, he is 2-0.

Late Lightning: Yankee relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have combined to strike out 27 of the 33 batters who have failed to get a hit off them. By mid-May, they may well be joined by Aroldis Chapman who will have completed his 30-day suspension. The trio should give the Yanks a late-innings trio, at least to match the storied KC Royals’ relieving threesome at the top of their game.

Making It Clear: The Cubs left little doubt last night about who’s in charge of their division: they blanked the Cardinals, 5-0, in St.Louis. Ex-Card John Lackey struck out 11 en route to the win.

Painful Split: It’s rare for a team to execute five double plays in nine innings, ,have its starter blank the opposition for six-and-two-thirds innings. And lose. But that’s what happened to the Red Sox against the Blue Jays on Patriots Day. Clay Buchholz pitched magnificently for the Sox, leaving the game ahead, 1-0. Relievers unraveled in the eighth, yielding four Toronto runs.. Boston could only add two in the ninth, settling for a four-game split with the Jays..

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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.)

 

Looking for ‘The Edge’ in Baseball and Politics

It may be presumptuous this early in the season to identify teams with an apparent “edge” over their MLB competitors. But double-digit games already in the books embolden us to take the plunge. On the basis of most bucks, the Dodgers and Yankees should be atop the edge list. And, indeed, the Dodgers have assembled the most impressive array of young talent with their willingness to spend. But they seem to lack the balance that consistently solid older players could offer.   The Yankees, on the other hand, are dependent, we know, on too many once-great veterans – Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira.

It’s almost scary how formidable the Theo Epstein-constructed Cubs have performed so far: picked by most observers to make it to the Series, they’re not wasting time heading that way. Yet, the team commanding even more respect, as we see it, is the Giants, who have seized a Cubs-like edge of their own, and one they’ve nurtured over a longer haul. Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, alerted the baseball world to the basis of that edge: identifying home-grown talent recruited with apparent unmatched precision – a Buster Posey, earmarked to be the long-term catcher, Joe Panic seen as the future second baseman, Brandon Belt, the once and future first baseman.   The edge, we know, has been blunted lately on the pitching side: Matt Cain hampered by injuries, Tim Lincecum wearing down, etc. Only Madison Bumgarner, who lost in a duel with Clayton Kershaw last night, maintains the tradition.

The “edge” the Giants own today is the result of stable management operating outside the circle of elite-spending teams. The well-run franchise is a throwback to days in the national ballpark when stable living standards attracted a large batch of fan support. We know that’s no longer the case in 2016 America. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have promised to bring about positive economic change. Here’s what The Nation magazine says about the match-up: “On many…issues, Clinton has developed credible positions, but she keeps arguing for lowered expectations and more limited goals. That’s not what is needed. When Sanders speaks of the need for a political revolution, he evidences an understanding of just how serious the moment is and just how bold we must be in fighting for the future.

Also for Bernie: In a rare nod toward Sanders, the NY Times printed this endorsement Wednesday from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley on its editorial page: “It is time to recommit ourselves to that vision of a country that measures our nation’s success not at the boardroom table, but at kitchen tables across America, Bernie Sanders stands for that America, and so I stand with Bernie Sanders for president.”
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At Last: Friday night was one of celebration for two slow-starting teams: the Twins and Braves both broke into the “win” column – Minnesota edging the LA Angels, 5-4, Atlanta beating Miami, 6-3. Each are 1-9 now. At the other end of the standings spectrum: the Nationals, 8-1

Already? The Cubs, touted near-unanimously as the team that would dominate this season, are doing just that: a rare loss yesterday to the Rockies notwithstanding, Joe Maddon’s team has scored 65 runs and yielded only 27, a 38-run differential, and an 8-2 W-L that is second best in the MLB at this point. The Cubs are third in pitching, and, surprisingly, only 12th among the 30 teams in hitting.

Rundown…of other teams at, or near, the top in the various performing categories: Colorado leads in hitting, the White Sox first in pitching, Kansas City best in fielding. KC is also near the top – fourth place – in pitching.

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The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments on Nub material are welcome. Previous Nubs are available by scrolling below.

Good or Bad: Health Matters in Whichever Ballpark

Stat City: MLB’s consensus ranking of the top farm systems now lists the top ten this way: 1) Red Sox, 2) Dodgers, 3) Rockies, 4) Cubs, 5) Twins, 6) Pirates, 7) Phillies, 8) Astros, 9) Rangers, 10) Yankees. Seven of the 10 made Baseball America’s corresponding top list: Astros (1), Pirates (3), Phillies (4), Cubs (5), Twins (6), Dodgers (8), Rangers (10). The scoreboard, combining the ratings lineups, puts the Cubs on top followed by the Astro and Pirates, then the Phillies and Twins, and, finally, the Rangers. The Yankees just missed the cut, the Red Sox, surprisingly weren’t close. The Cubs have suffered a cruel cut in the loss of Kyle Schwarber for the season, as have the Diamondbacks in losing A.J. Pollock. Shwarber’s absence will hurt, but not as much as Pollock’s. The Cubs have usable, if not the hitting-equal of Schwarber; the D-backs will be hard-put to fill the multi-tooled hole left by Pollack.

The injuries -torn ligaments sidelining Schwarber,  a broken elbow benching Pollock – dramatize how crucial it is for most teams to stay healthy if they are to meet competitive expectations. If Team USA had to depend on superior national health to compete in international conflicts, it would be hurting as much as the D-backs.

Health care rankings among 11 major countries, a rough equivalent of the Baseball ratings, show Team USA finishing dead last in the most recent survey completed by the World Health Organization. Forbes magazine published the findings, which listed this lineup: Britain, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, German and Holland, New Zealand and Norway, France, Canada and the U.S. A scorecard of the survey included these observations by UK scouts: “Not surprisingly – given the absence of universal coverage – people in the U.S. go without needed health care because of cost…The U.S. has poor performance (owing to) national health expenditures and administrative costs as well as duplicative medical testing…Americans with below-average incomes were much more likely …to report not visiting a physician when sick, not getting test, treatment or follow-up care. The U.S. rank(ed) last on indicators of healthy lives – mortality amenable to medical care, infant mortality, and healthy life expectancy at age 60.”

The Affordable Care Act came into effect after the survey; it may be cutting down some of the listed shortcomings of the U.S. system. But the pace of progress, we know, is uneven and far from rapid.

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Stat City (2): The Rockies rookie shortstop Trever Story continues to lead both leagues in HRs and RBIs. He has seven and 12, respectively, in six games. The BA leader is another rookie, Astros first baseman Tyler White. He’s batting .545 – 12 for 22 – in seven games; he’s second in RBIs with nine.

Baltimore Unblemished: Only one team has survived its first six games without a defeat: a three-run homer in the ninth by Chris Davis climaxed a game in which the Orioles handled both Red Sox starter David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel en route to a 9-7 victory yesterday.

Sly Move: Fox Sports’ Saturday Baseball anchor Joe Buck sounds like a happy man, less edgy than he was the past two seasons. The experiment that had Buck sharing game broadcasts with Tom Verducci and Harold Reynolds exuded discomfort; the three just didn’t mesh. Buck’s new partner John Smoltz is both effective and expansive as lone color man. Buck lets him fill gaps in the action for as long as he wants: something that should make fans happy, too.

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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.)

 

Learning Lessons on Both Fields

Most ballplayers are “done” at age 35: Ron Darling, former pitcher and now Mets broadcaster, said it the other day on National Public Radio. He was talking about his own career and, specifically, about his role in the seventh game of the 1986 Red Sox-Mets World Series (subject of a book he’s just written). Asked about drug use then, and later, when Barry Bonds set the home run record (73) in 2007, Darling he said “When a player excels early in his career, then does even better between the ages of 38 and 42, you know something’s not right.” Bonds was 43 when he broke the HR record. Implicit in Darling’s comment was the belief that Baseball looked the other way when illegal substances were used, and failed to act earlier to stop it.

That “should-have-known” feeling became familiar to Baseball fans at the time of the Mitchell Report on doping in the sport, published just four months after Bonds’ feat. The sense of betrayal lingered for a brief period, but, as we know, it soon faded. A more serious awareness of betrayal should fill the national political ballfield today because Team USA has made us fans what could be called prisoners of war. Boston U. Prof Andrew Bacevich notes that, as of the time of the Korean conflict (1950), Congress shrugged off its Constitutional task of signaling the Skipper to declare war. Instead, it gave him permission to go to bat himself.   Bacevich reminds us what happened a half-century later, during the post-9/11 period:

“During the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States embraced torture as an instrument of policy in clear violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, ordered the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen, a death by drone that was visibly in disregard of (our laws). Both administrations — Bush’s with gusto, Obama’s with evident regret — imprisoned individuals for years on end without charge and without anything remotely approximating the ‘speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury’ guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Should the present state of hostilities ever end, we can no doubt expect Guantánamo to become yet another source of ‘lessons learned’ for future generations of rueful Americans.”

Bacevich further notes that, through air strikes and special operations attacks, Team Obama has caused extensive bloodshed in four countries: Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Libya…(they) share at least this in common: none of them, nor any of the groups targeted, had a hand in the 9/11 attacks.”

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The Story…of the season’s first week: Trevor Story, the Colorado Rockies’ 23-year-old rookie shortstop. He’s hit six HRs in his team’s first four games, four of them away from Coors Field. Story is replacing Jose Reyes, who’s been suspended for his involvement in domestic abuse.

Another One: The Astros’ rookie first baseman Tyler White leads the majors in batting, having gone nine-for-13 in the opening four games. That’s a .692 BA. White, 25, was a 33d-round draft pick.

Difference of Opinion: The Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber on season-ending injury suffered Thursday after colliding with center fielder Dexter Fowler: “I have no regrets about playing hard and getting hurt. I’d rather that than not play hard and not get hurt.” Cubs Skipper John Maddon: “I’d rather see the ball go over the fence.”

 

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Teams and a Non-Candidate Woman Playing Hardball

The sense here as the new season starts: just two of 30 teams can feel confident of making the playoffs next October: the Cubs and Dodgers. The Cubs because they have a powerful mix of home-grown prospects and top-class free agents obtained with big bucks. The well-stocked Dodgers, we know, have enough money to fill any lineup holes as the season moves toward the fall. That’s the word: pay no attention to any over-optimistic talk from Mets, Nationals, Cardinals, Pirates, Giants, Rangers, Astros fans, etc. It’s not to say that some teams aren’t showing impressive determination. Two, in particular, the Red Sox and Tigers, have made moves that say “we mean business.” For the Sox, it was adding David Price at one end of the pitching staff, Craig Kimbrel at the other; for the Tigers, it was obtaining Jordan Zimmermann for the rotation and Justin Upton, to upgrade the offensive lineup and outfield.

In the national political ballpark, a woman not a candidate working the left field grandstands may be the most potent player as the presidential race approaches its climax. National Prospect’s Robert Kuttner turned in this scouting report:

“Notwithstanding the Sanders campaign, Elizabeth Warren is widely recognized as the leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in Congress. She has defined, in a compelling phrase, why the economy is not serving ordinary people—the rules are rigged. Warren is a hybrid of the breakthrough appeal of Hillary Clinton as a woman leader and of Bernie Sanders as a progressive straight-talker…She is a shrewd legislator with major practical accomplishments to her credit, one who knows how to play both an inside and an outside game, and how to lead from the left.”

A sample of her unrestrained clout – in effect, a message to the next (Dem) Skipper. appeared in the NY Times not long ago:

“Presidents don’t control most day-to-day enforcement decisions, but they do nominate the heads of all the agencies, and these choices make all the difference. Strong leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Labor Department have pushed those agencies to forge ahead with powerful initiatives to protect the environment, consumers and workers…Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission, suffering under weak leadership, is far behind on issuing congressionally mandated rules to avoid the next financial crisis. It has repeatedly granted waivers so that law-breaking companies can continue to enjoy special privileges, while the Justice Department has dodged one opportunity after another to impose meaningful accountability on big corporations and their executives.”

It is a mark of Warren’s influence and political acumen (adds Kuttner) that, as someone yet to endorse (Clinton), she could well have significant influence over the next president’s economic team. She is surely right that personnel is policy, a phrase that is original to her. I know of no other case of a senator from a potential president’s own party pursuing this sort of strategy. Elizabeth Warren plays progressive hardball and plays it well.”

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Key Parts: Al Leiter was reaching for the apt word during an MLB-TV “look in” as the Giants were padding an early lead against the Brewers in Milwaukee yesterday. Angel Pagan and Denard Span combined to score a run via a Pagan single and steal of second, followed by a Span RBI single.   “The Giants have the components,” he said: the right word to describe why SF may well live up to its touted status this season.

The Jewish Jeter: Nine years ago today, The Nub left the on-deck circle and moved up to the plate. Featured players in that first turn at bat were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Derek Jeter. The Dem presidential playoff was nearing the homestretch. We did not dislike Clinton, but resented the coronation aspect of her game, managed by the party front office. We liked the idea of an African-American president, and expressed the hope (only partially realized) that he possessed some of the clutch gifts displayed by fellow bi-racial Jeter. When the latest playoff began last fall, we were even more resentful of another party-staged coronation. We welcomed Bernie Sanders’ decision to run, because it provided voters with the merited gift of a competitive race. Bernie, we know, has been much more than a coronation-spoiler. A Jewish Jeter, he has Derek’s gift for awing fans with the quiet intensity of his game. And, perhaps, making miracle plays in the homestretch that were the Captain’s trademark.

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Why Challenging the Big Guys in Both Fields Doesn’t Work

What does the average fan think about Alex Rodriguez, who says he will retire next season at the end of his 10-year contract with the Yankees? Most probably feel indifferent or negatively about him; yet, he seemed to win over home-team fans with a 33-HR, 86 RBI season in 2015. Whatever the overall attitudes, A-Rod has come a long way in fan estimation over the three years that began with MLB suspending him for PED use. He was considered the most hated man in the sport when he unsuccessfully sued both Baseball and the Players Association to get his season-plus suspension lifted.

Now, having repented, he is back in MLB’s and the players union’s good graces. And. like Barry Bonds, once treated as a pariah and now a popular coach with the Marlins, A-Rod has won respect from the media. The moral of both stories: if you’re back in favor with organizational power, you’ll find the news business has become your friend. In the game of politics, particularly in the presidential season, the rules followed by the media are the same. Bernie Sanders said publicly that he couldn’t bypass the power party – the Dem team – and run as an independent if he hoped to get media coverage. Without it, he said, he wouldn’t be able to raise money outside the party process. Ralph Nader, who played the independent game in the 2000 presidential race, looked back with regret:

“The reality is that Sanders is right, and the backlash against him reflects all too well what two-party tyranny can do to a more-than-nominal third-party challenger. This is especially true of candidates like Sanders, who — despite advancing political views similar to the classic Democratic New Deal platform — now sits well to the left of the party’s corporatist, hawkish establishment.” (quoted on Common Dreams)

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pitched an elaboration of Nader’s message on the same scorecard:

If you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, or watch CNN or even MSNBC, or listen to the major pollsters and pundits, you’(ll notice this): Every success by Bernie is met with a story or column or talking head whose message is ‘but he can’t possibly win’…The real reason the major media can’t see what’s happening is because the national media exist inside the bubble of establishment politics, centered in Washington, and the bubble of establishment power, centered in New York. As such, the major national media are interested mainly in personalities and in the money behind the personalities.”

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On the Benching of Pablo Sandoval: “Before we applaud the Red Sox and manager John Farrell for not pandering to an overpaid, underperforming veteran and for making an unconventional baseball decision, understand it’s not pure meritocracy fueling this move. It’s pure desperation for Farrell and the franchise to avoid the abyss.   On a short leash, Farrell is desperate to keep his job, and the Sox are desperate to get out of the American League East basement, where they’ve taken up residence three of the last four seasons…It’s much easier to adopt that tough-guy-manager mien when the man who signed Sandoval isn’t determining your employment. That man, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, lost his job last August. Farrell wants to avoid joining him. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has given Farrell a mandate to put the best players on the field. Dombrowski doesn’t care if the Sandoval signing looks like an utter disaster, because it’s not on his résumé.” – Christopher Gaspar, Boston Globe

Seen It Before: The national champion Mets are entering the 2016 season in flawed fashion, familiarly so: strong starting rotation, weak offense, mediocre defense, shaky bullpen. They won last year, helped by the late addition of Yoenis Cespedes, but mainly because of the homestretch collapse of the Nationals. They can’t expect the same cooperation, either from the Nats or the Marlins. The Yanks have the pieces that could come together. Their problem: four solid competitors in their division compared to only two facing the Mets in the NL East.

Choice Cut: “If you could have the body of another player, whose would you choose?” That was MLB-TV’s question to Blue Jay players interviewed at the team’s training camp in Florida. The near-unanimous choice was the member of another team: Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins.

More on Blue Jays: Former Giants’ third-base coach (now MLB-TV broadcaster) Tim Flannery, on why there’s reason for optimism in Toronto: “Troy Tulowitzki is healthy again. You can’t get a fastball by him; everybody knows that.”

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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 Playing Fields: Starting to Get More Even

For most teams, medicine the loss for up to 14 weeks of a player like Andre Ethier would be a serious setback. For the Dodgers, the wealthiest MLB club by far, Ethier’s absence will hardly be missed. The Dodgers seem to represent a return to the unbalanced days when the Yankees dominated through their financial clout. A look (thanks to Tracker) at current 2016 team payrolls, however, demonstrate that the wealth lineup isn’t nearly as top-heavy as it was when the Yanks were the game’s well-heeled kings. The Yankees are still among the rich, with a $222 million payroll, $26 million below the $248 million Dodgers. The Red Sox and Tigers, $198 and 192 million, complete the cash-laden top four. Seventeen of the game’s 30 teams have payrolls above $100 million. Only the Rays ($60 mil) and Brewers ($50 mil) are on strikingly short rations.

Clearly, although it has a ways to go, Baseball is moving toward greater parity. In the other ballpark, it’s possible that the back-to-back pitches of Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders have given the U.S. at least a start toward evening its economic playing field. New Yorker mag birddog Nicholas Lemann describes why progress, real as it might be, has been slow.

“Our campaign-finance laws allow big businesses to buy a great deal of influence in Washington. The sociology of the American élite means that the people at the higher rungs of government and the people at the higher rungs of business often went to school together, live in the same neighborhoods, and move back and forth between the two sides during their careers. That dulls the edge of their putative opposition… The odds are that, a year from now, Bernie Sanders won’t be in the White House pushing the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act. Still, the 2016 Presidential campaign has demonstrated that many Americans don’t feel that the system—the dominant institutions in government and in business—is working for them… At times, (the feeling) seems dormant; at times, it comes heatedly to the fore. But the conflict is as elemental as anything can be in American political culture; it isn’t ever going away.”

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Fret-Time: Sure, the games don’t count, but fans of the Orioles (7-14), Pirates (7-15) and Mets (7-13) should begin to worry about how badly their teams are doing in exhibition games. The results may not say much about team regulars, but they do suggest all three will be going into the season 10 days from now with weak benches, including shaky bottom-of-staff relievers. Look for them to seek help as better-stocked teams make late cuts.

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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.)