The Nub

Fred and Eddie: Out of Control in Two Fields

You’re Fred Wilpon. You own the National League’s richest franchise, canada the Mets, lately one of baseball’s poorest-run teams. You let it happen. You don’t know baseball, but you do know money. Or maybe not. You’re about to lose total control of the team because of what looks like a big-bucks bobble.

You have a fellow bumbler in your home county, NY state’s richest, Nassau. The county’s Skipper Edward (Eddie) Mangano has done such a poor job with his gilt-edged franchise that he, too, is losing control of it. But the sports pages give you top billing in the sloppy-play department.

When Bernie Madoff got caught stealing, you knew it wouldn’t hurt for people to think the Mets’ owner had taken a hit. Among other things, it gave you an excuse to cut the team’s 2010 payroll. In fact, you had scored as a Madoff investor. But if losers in Bernie’s game show in court that you should have known not to play ball with Madoff,, you and the Mets could lose close to a billion dollars. That means you must find a partner to help pay the bills.

Skipper Eddie has an oversight board as a partner for the moment. He was a tea-party player who upended Team Dems’ Tom Suozzi in November 2009. On his opening day that January, Mangano cleared his ballpark of an unpopular energy tax. Pressbox observer Steve (Washington Monthly) Benen describes what Eddie promised next:
“Mangano would slash taxes, cut spending, and create a nice little utopia. Voters loved the sound of it. A year later, (he) had slashed taxes as promised, but struggled to limit public services that the community had grown to appreciate. (Last) week, the consequences of Tea Party economics became clear — Nassau County, facing a full-fledged fiscal crisis, saw its finances taken over by the state.”
Mangano can get out from under state control if he revises his budget realistically before the 15th of the month. Wilpon’s only recourse, pending the lawsuit’s outcome: get used to having a partner looking over his shoulder. Fred’s team is in a variation of the Knicks’ futile “Waiting for Lebron (James)” stance last year. The Mets are counting on the extra multi-millions they’ll have to spend in 2012 when the salaries of, among others, Carlos Beltran, Ollie Perez and Luis Castillo, come off the books. We know that’s another way of saying this: “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”

The Bottom Line on Egypt’s Immediate Future:   With Team USA providing close to a billion dollars in military aid to Cairo, “We are calling the shots.” (Democracy Now)

Talk About Precautions: The Yankees-wary Red Sox included a clause in Carl Crawford’s contract with this stipulation: Should the Sox trade him, Crawford’s new team must first agree NOT to send him to the Bombers.

Wells (almost) Worth It:  MLB-TV’s Mitch Williams on the Jays’ Vernon Wells’ switch to the Angels: “After playing in the AL East and knowing his team didn’t have a chance, he’ll be rejuvenated. Will he be worth $23 million a year? No. But he’ll hit and field like the near-All Star he is, and be great in the clubhouse.”

Won’t Be Long Now:   On the first day of the month, baseball is back in the air: we can look forward to the opening of spring training in a little over a week and half: seven teams – the Cardinals, D-backs, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates and Tigers – will see pitchers and catchers report on Sunday, the 13th. By the 18th, when the Marlins open camp, every team will have battery mates in action. Who cares about the snow?

Yanks Taking Cue from Deficit-Conscious Congressional Team

A post-season shocker: For the first time in years, the Yankees have become budget-minded! The Steinbrenners clearly want to reduce the payroll from the $215 million spent last season. Their attitude and that of most other clubs mirror our deficit-conscious political team in Washington. Without the Yanks’ spendthrift habits to discuss, pills pressbox observers are fixated on the money spent in exceptional deals like the ones for Carl Crawford, Vernon Wells and Jayson Werth by the Red Sox, Angels and Nationals. There is much talk, too, about the many millions saved by the Rays and Blue Jays in ridding themselves of their high-salaried players.

The cost-containment trend has made players more security-minded than is commonly the case Of 419 players tracked in the post-season by, only five – the Twins’ Clay Condrey, the Phillies’ Greg Dobbs and Jamie Moyer, the A’s’ Gabe Gross, and the Mariners’ Casey Kotchman – rejected off-roster assignments by their teams, opting instead for freedom to hit the open market. So far all remain unsigned.

Team GOP, we know, wants to return health care to a wide-open market and send Obama-care back to the Dem clubhouse from whence it came. Anticipating the skipper’s appeal last Tuesday night, the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein said the GOP’s effort, if successful, would have a liberating effect that might not be well received:

“With (last) week’s vote to repeal President Obama’s health care reform, House Republicans struck a blow for freedom.

“They struck a blow for the freedom of hospitals to avoid financial penalties, no matter how many Medicare patients develop infections under their care. They struck a blow for the freedom of hospitals to avoid consequences, no matter how many Medicare patients are re­admitted soon after treatment. And they struck a blow for the freedom of health care providers to receive unending annual increases in their Medicare reimbursements, even if they fail to improve their productivity by even a fraction of what’s occurring in other industries.


“Take that, Big Government.”

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More on Money: The nearly unanimous pressbox boos for the Angels’ deal for Wells is the puzzlement of the week. Sure, the LAAs are tying up a lot of money for the next few years, but the immediate payoff is what fans care about, and it should be large. In Wells, Tori Hunter and Bobby Abreu, the Angels have three big sticks and two ballhawks. Put Peter Bourjos in center (if he starts to hit) and you have one of, if not the best defensive outfield in baseball. What’s a few dollars if it’s not coming out of the pundits’ pockets? Add the returning Kendry Morales to the Angels’ offensive mix and you certainly have a title contender in the AL West.

Still More: The Cardinals are either going to give Albert Pujols an NL-record salary or lose him after this season. If it’s the former (as is likely), the team will be thin financially and in blue-chip prospects. The Cards didn’t place a single player among last season’s 28 Triple- and Double A All Stars listed by Baseball America. The St.Louis farm system is rated close to the bottom of the 30 monitored annually. GM John Mozeliak is finding his predecessor Walt Jocketty a hard act to follow. From 1995 through 2007, Jocketty’s teams won seven Central Division and two NL championships and one World Series title. During Mozeliak’s three seasons, the Cardinals made the playoffs once – in 2009 – only to be swept by the Dodgers in the first round. Jocketty, meanwhile, has quickly built the Reds into an NL Central power. After Cincinnati reached the playoffs last season, Jocketty was named baseball’s Executive of the Year a third time.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments

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Baseball and the High Court: Final Score Is Not Game’s End

The man whose sacrifice freed baseball players from a form of servitude would have been 73 this week.   Curt Flood’s name should rank with that of Jackie Robinson.  As a pioneering black major leaguer, Jackie faced prejudice, even hatred, in the fight for racial justice.  Flood fought a long, less dramatic battle for economic justice, and, when it was won, could not benefit from the victory.

Flood took his case, challenging the Cardinals’ right to trade him to another team and city, to the Supreme Court in 1972.  The Court turned Flood away, upholding baseball’s power to treat players like private property.  Much like their reaction to the High Court’s Citizens United ruling a year ago, some of the media attacked the ’72 decision as a victory for corporate rights over human rights.  The outcry, also voiced in Congress, eventually forced baseball to negotiate player-liberating reforms that led to the free-agent system.

Are similar reforms possible now in reaction to Citizens United?  With Team GOP in control of Congress, it’s a long shot.  But strong public support for legislation that would require corporations to show how they spend money on elections could rally enough bipartisan backing for such a “people’s” initiative.  Still another remote, but not unreal, possibility: passage of a law setting up a public financing system that would give clout to small donors.  The system in NYC is a model of what could happen nationwide.  The city matches small donations at a 6-1 ratio, making grass-roots fundraising competitive in importance to the seeking of corporate money.

If nothing else, greater disclosure and public financing could become potent populist   issues in the 2012 election. 

Aftermath:  Back to Flood, who sat out the 1970 season (for which he would have earned almost $100,000) and the one in ’71 while his case moved slowly to the Supreme Court.  Without a paying job, he was nearly destitute when the legal game ended.  Flood wound up scrimping, drinking, suffering a series of marital breakups and experiencing always a sense of ostracism from the game he loved.  He couldn’t get employment with a team or even with the players union, which had financed the case.

And when, at 59, Flood died of cancer – 14 years ago last Sunday – not a single active player attended his funeral.  Union reps David Cone and Tom Glavine issued a prepared statement instead, acknowledging the loss.  Brad Snyder, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, paid proper tribute to Flood.  Snyder sidelined his legal career to tell Curt’s story in a moving 2006 book called “A Well-Paid Slave.”  This is how the book ends:

“(Jackie) Robinson and Flood took professional athletes on an incredible journey – from racial desegregation to well-paid slavery to being free and extremely well paid.  Robinson started the revolution by putting on a uniform.  Flood finished it by taking his off.”

  Warmth for the Rays and A’s:  The Rays may have slipped as AL East title threats with the departures of Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, etc., but they still rank high in one way in Boston, NY and elsewhere.  Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez may both be over the hill, but the excitement they bring gives the Rays at least as much fan appeal as they had with their former stars.  And, since it’s always fun for NYY fans to see old friend Hideki Matsui, the A’s should be more welcome than usual at the Stadium this year.

A Minnesota Chill Ahead?  The Twins as a rule are more efficient than colorful.  This season their effectiveness will depend in large part on the contributions of two returning convalescents: Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan.  The Twins were content to keep two other key performers this post-season, re-signing Carl Pavano and Nathan.  But they lost relievers Jesse Crain to the White Sox and Matt Guerrier to the Dodgers, so they could wind up skating on thin Minnesota ice. 

The Mets, we know, have their Morneau-medical-equivalent in Jason Bay.  Justin and Jason, both Canadians from British Columbia, are returning after suffering concussions. Morneau had an infield-impact incident, Bay collided with an outfield wall.  Both profess to be healthy again.  Comparing their play will be an interesting statistical sidelight this season.