The Nub

Where A-Rod Fits in Resentment Against Team Labor

(Posted: Feb.28/Update 3/1)

 Alex Rodriguez, discount medical poster-boy for fan hostility to players’ salary levels and their union, canada was in the news over the weekend.The NYC media learned that A-Rod – he with a $275 million 10-year contract – pays virtually no real estate tax on his $6 million Manhattan penthouse.  Rodriguez is benefiting from a city tax abatement program to encourage construction of affordable housing.   Although the deal has nothing to do with A-Rod, the disclosure can’t help but add fuel to the national furor over the privileged position unions play in the American economic game. 

Eight years ago, the players union blocked a trade that would have sent A-Rod from the Rangers to the Red Sox because he had agreed to a slightly downward adjustment in his salary.  The move seemed overly protective and an outrageous example of overstepping to Red Sox fans, especially.  It reminded many fans around the country why unions had earned their resentment.  More than overstepping, corruption in the labor movement was rife, former rank-and-filers profiting illegally from the leadership roles to which they’d been elected.  Then there were widespread pension-padding practices whereby members worked extra overtime hours their final years, the resulting elevated annual earnings the basis for their retirement pay. The perception of featherbedding was also widespread, the sense that union contracts require more members than necessary to do certain jobs. Seniority rules, protecting longtime employees at the expense of well-regarded new employees was – is – another problem.  And in many parts of the country, unions were – are – known to engage in racism and nepotism, hiring preferences given to white relatives of longtime members. 

All this contributed to Team Labor’s loss of fan as well as governmental support.  At that stage of the game, some time after World War II, corporate franchises began playing hardball in an effort to drive the organized labor team from the field.  How successful the corporate-and-media game has been can be gauged in this down economy by hearing even liberal commentators talk of labor’s need to agree to a trimming of their “generous” benefits.  Those are the same benefits that were the norm when many of our parents and grandparents joined the work force.  They were benefits, including job security, living wages, etc. that made possible stable home ownership, college educations and a post-war period of prosperity throughout the country.

The current contest of interests could serve to rally and renew labor’s clout in the American workplace or further accelerate its decline.  Team Labor is certainly the underdog, but the final outcome is still unclear.  What is clear, says Wash Post-man E.J. Dionne is the potent righty-hitting game plan:”Private-sector workers are taking it on the chin, and conservatives now see a chance to cripple organized labor altogether by killing off public-sector unions, the most vibrant part of the movement. The underlying argument is actually insidious: If workers in the private sector have it bad, shouldn’t workers in the public sector have it bad, too?”

One thing traditional labor contracts provided that the players union does not: job security.  Ask respected veterans David Eckstein, Kevin Millwood, and Bengie Molina, to name an infielder, pitcher and catcher among the nearly 50 still-unsigned free agents, most of whom thought they had earned an mlb contract from someone to play another season.   

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Surprise Catch: Joe Girardi took some of the suspense out of the Yankees’ backup-catcher competition Sunday on YES.  Talking to Michael Kay and Kenny Singleton, he all but gave the second-string catcher’s slot to touted rookie Jesus Montero, a non-roster invitee.  “He’s improved defensively and can learn a lot from the bench,” Girardi said.  Where does that leave Francisco Cervelli? “He has an incentive to have an outstanding spring,” said Kay, to persuade the manager to change his mind.

West Coast Woe:  Mets fans may be underwhelmed by their cash-strapped team’s post-season additions.  But they have company in LA, where the Dodgers were hindered in quality recruiting by their owners’ money-eating divorce battle.  LA Times columnist T.J. Simers tells of the talent-shortfall without mincing words:

“There are so many uplifting stories to tell, like Dioner Navarro’s courageous effort to hit better than .200. He got so close last season at .194.  Here’s hoping they put Tony Gwynn Jr.’s locker near Navarro’s — Gwynn an inspiration for Navarro since he hit .204.  It’s not that hard to gush about the new guys.  How about Marcus Thames?…Maybe he’s not known for his defense, but…(he) has a career .248 batting average.  That’s almost .250.  Our new relief pitcher Matt Guerrier (is someone) whom the Dodgers are really counting on. Someone maybe youngsters might admire. He’s pitched seven years, has five saves and 16 blown saves, but he keeps on trying.  Now you know why Ned Colletti signed him to a three-year deal.”

West Coast Consensus: The Dodger will finish third in their division.  The Mets, we know, will be lucky to finish fourth in theirs.   

Slow-Weaving Webb:  Two ex-players who should know – Mitch Williams and Dan Plesac – watched on a TV monitor the other day as Brandon Webb did some long tossing at the Rangers training camp in Arizona.  How is the former D-backs ace  return from shoulder surgery going?  Both ex-pitchers said (on MLB-TV) that Webb’s stiff-armed delivery signaled he is at least many weeks away from showing if he can possibly replace Cliff Lee in the Rangers’ rotation.   

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Should Working Fans Rally Around Team Labor?

(Posted: 2/25; update 2/26)

Snap Quiz: What do Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Wisconsin Skipper Scott Walker have in common? Answer: Unhappiness with labor unions. La Russa complains publicly that the players union is pushing Albert Pujols to maximize his new-contract demands to “raise the bar” of salaries generally. Walker thinks his state’s public employee unions have priced themselves out of business. In effect, usa healing he wants to drive Team Labor out of the game in Wisconsin.

 It is hard to blame those who agree with Walker that public employees get too much more in pay and benefits than non-union working people with similar jobs. When your state-worker neighbor, discount pharm with a similar background and tax bracket, clinic is living better than you – more paid days off, superior health care plan, pension and job security – it can’t help but make you resentful. The resenters should recognize, however, that their real gripe is with the inadequacy of their own situation – two weeks vacation a year, no paid overtime, etc. When, awhile ago, roughly a third of American jobs were unionized and jobs in general were plentiful, the disparity was not an issue. Now in a bad economy, non-union workers are playing under minor-league conditions. And, good as they are, Team Labor’s contract provisions are no match for those covering union workers in Europe, on teams the corporate media pitch as “sotic.”

 Back to La Russa, and his resentment of the union doing its job, using superstars like Pujols to spur upward mobility in the pay scale of all players. That was the way the non-baseball-playing public scored in the quality-of-life league on the heels of newly gained union benefits. The Wash Post’s Ezra Klein kept a detailed scorecard: The weekend is one of those benefits, and so too are the pensions and health-care packages that many employers offer. A lot of the safety rules that many workers take for granted were the product of union agitation and pressure.  Plenty of industries have had to increase their wages because unions took root in certain companies and the threat of their spread forced the non-unionized companies to give their employees gains similar to those made by the unionized workers. Unions are also the most powerful lobby fighting against things like tax cuts for the rich and for things like universal health care.”

 Adds NY Times lefty slugger Paul Krugman: “You don’t have to love unions…to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s…due… to the decline of …unions.”

The oft-noted irony in the latest push toward rule by the deep-pockets clubs: Conservative skippers are using the Wall Street-created budget crisis as an excuse to crush their overmatched by still-formidable union adversaries. 

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Royal Flush: One team placed five of the top 19 prospects on the list compiled Baseball America: the Kansas City Royals. Only two teams – the Braves and the Rays – have more than one player among the top 19, each placing two. The Yanks’ catching hopeful Jesus Montero earned third place on the list, behind the Nats’ Bryce Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout, both outfielders. First baseman Eric Hosner, third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder/catcher Wil Myers – all Royals prospects – were eight, nine and 10 on the list. 

 The Loner: In his first group interview as a Milwaukee Brewer, Zack Greinke acknowledged to experiencing social anxiety and occasional depression. He told media people, including Journal-Sentinel columnist Tom Hunt he’d rather that people left him alone: “I don’t like talking bad about fans, but they annoy me a lot of times, like the autograph guys out here. The ones who annoy me the most is when we get to the hotels. Sometimes I feel like I can’t go outside because there are fans downstairs.”

Dynamic Duos: After MLB-TV teammate John Smoltz interviewed Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youklis, described as two Red Sox indispensables, Billy Ripken, Mitch Williams and Dan Plesac picked whom they considered key duos in the NL: Ripken chose Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun of the Brewers; Williams selected the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales, Plesac picked Ryan Howard and Chase Utley of the Phils. “What about Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday?” said someone. “Yes,” came the reply: “We could go on all night.”

Those 89ers: Larry Bowa, on why managers give first-string catchers minimal playing time during spring training: “You never know when number 89, trying to make a name for himself on the other team, is going to come barreling into home and send your key defensive player to the DL.”

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The Wishful Baseball and Political ‘Ifs’

(Posted: 2/21; update 2/22)

The Wishful Baseball and Political ’Ifs’

 It’s a familiar theme to Mets fans:  “If we can stay in it until…”  Two seasons ago, discount unhealthy the team publicly hoped to stay competitive until summer, best when Carlos Delgado would return from the disabled list; last season, the hopeful waiting had to do with injured Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes.  It’s started already this unpropitious year:  “If we can stay in it,” said manager Terrry Collins the other day, “look who we’re getting in June (Johan Santana).” The waiting for saviors to propel the Mets to victory didn’t work in ‘’09 and ’10.  We know for certain it will not work this year.

 Nor is it working on another field: the Democratic team in Congress seems to be saying “If we can hang in there with Team GOP, causing minimal offense, until 2012, we can regain our numerical clout with a better economy and Skipper Obama at the head of our ticket.”  The Dems, with a Senate majority, should be able to turn back the aggressive play of their loaded lower House rivals.  Instead, there’s a constant danger of their responding with a punch-and-judy game.  That’s  especially true in the current budget deadlock. 

Watching from the press box, the Wash Post’s E.J. Dionne says the feisty GOP conservatives have effectively bullied their moderate Dem opponents: “By saying they will never, ever, ever raise taxes, conservatives intimidate moderates into making concession after concession…You would think that moderates could at least hold out for a 50-50 split.  But no, they’ll do anything to (be conciliatory).”

How crucial is the role of taxes in our present budgetary bind?  Dionne points out that, if we allowed all the tax cuts scheduled to expire in 2012 to go to the showers, the $4 trillion in revenue gained would clear the “d – (for deficit) word” from the competitive field.  That’s a case the Dems have been reluctant to make, and their fans know the hope that they will do it, should they win big next year, may be akin to the Mets waiting for Santana to save their season.

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Spring Clouds: For an upbeat time, spring training this year has a spate of downbeat stories: Joba Chamberlain, reporting to the Yankees camp overweight is one.  Joba’s weakness for food and drink in excess was first noted when he became involved in a 2009 off-season DWI incident near his Nebraska home.  His bright star began to blur at that point.  A DWI episode has marred the start of Miguel Cabrera’s season; it’s seen as a possible sign he’s still fighting an alcohol problem that could derail a potential Hall of Fame career.     

Restraint: The Twins’ Joe Nathan is cautious about his recovery from elbow surgery.  He sounded tentative about his condition in speaking to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo:   “ It’s been a long process and I still have a long road ahead of me…We’ll see how I bounce back (after pitching in games).”

 What We Know (and they know in Chicago, too): From the Chi Trib’s Phil Rodgers: “The Mets… are dying on the vine while majority owner Fred Wilpon is being sued for as much as $1 billion.”

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Looking Over the ‘Overlooked’ in Both Fields

(Posted: 2/18/11; update 2/19)

Looking Over the ‘Overlooked’ in Both Fields

“Overlooked” was the theme of an MLB-TV group workout the other night in which regulars picked teams that should be taken more seriously going into the new season. The Twins topped the list; defending AL Central champions, they’ve been largely ignored because of uncertainty about how well first baseman Justin Morneau and closer Joe Nathan will rebound from their 2010 injuries. The Marlins and A’s, treatment two teams only Larry Bowa went out on a limb for – he predicted a month ago they would win their divisions – were two others chosen to be surprise contenders.

Among political teams, Connecticut’s new state Skipper Dannel Malloy has been overshadowed by neighboring governors, fellow Dem Andrew Cuomo in NY and Team GOP’s Chris Christie in NJ. Both C-men have taken their cuts to right while playing budgetary hardball. Their targets: programs for the poor like Medicaid, and for the masses, like public education. While taking swipes at social spending, they’ve also backed away from reducing the pain through even a modest hike in taxes. Malloy, meanwhile, has produced a different game plan – pitching for a raise of $2.9 billion in taxes on residents, businesses and labor unions in an effort to spare the most vulnerable of the state’s residents. “The alternative,” Malloy said in his budget message, “would require us to completely shred the safety net… Which is to say there is no alternative.”

Malloy aims to maintain spending at last year’s level and overcome a 20-percent deficit through making judicious cuts as well as demanding sacrifices from everyone including his union supporters. It’s a big-time challenge he’s set out for himself. If he meets it, his days of being overlooked will be over.

An Overreach? Impossible to overlook what is happening in other state capitols and throughout the country as the conservative team and the corporate media effectively swing inside-out to right field. Veteran lefty slugger Noam Chomsky, who has seen many bush-leaguers riding high over the years, is nevertheless awed by the effective game being played by the right. Here is how, taking a bemused cut with his verbal bat, Chomsky described the opposition game on “Democracy Now”:

“There’s been a wave of propaganda over the last couple of months, which is pretty impressive to watch, trying to deflect attention away from those who actually created the economic crisis, like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase…to (those allegedly) responsible…teachers, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, their huge pensions, their incredible healthcare benefits… and their unions, who are the real villains, the ones who are robbing the taxpayer by making sure that policemen may not starve when they retire. And this is pretty amazing.”

The extreme-right stance of so many elected members of Team GOP could ignite, with Skipper Obama’s help, a massive national pro-social democracy rally of the type Wisconsinites staged in Madison this past week. As The UK Guardian’s Michael Tomasky put it: “What ends up happening in Madison will set a template for other states and determine how hard other Republican governors press their (argument)”. If they press it too hard, signs of the reaction spreading are sure to get stronger. An exciting few days, or weeks, may be in store.
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Wither the Mets: Everyone who follows the already-out-of-contention Mets knows that the only hopeful aspect connected with the team is a possible change of ownership. Everyone, that is, except the boss’s son Jeff Wilpon who has a gift for dashing hopes and fan interest. Instead of keeping quiet and letting fans dream – however unrealistically – of a post-Wilpon era, Jeff had to say the other day that sale of a majority share of the Mets was “off the table.” Three words perfectly designed to discourage the team’s once-loyal followers and accelerate their departure.

What We Know about the AL East: The Red Sox are the team to beat; the Yankees will give the Sox a run for division dominance; the Rays have a good enough rotation to remain contenders; the Jays are improved enough to cause trouble; the Orioles have a better roster than last year and Buck Showalter back for all of this year. On NESN the other night, Peter Gammons said that potentially win-producing five-team lineup means one sure thing: “No way” does the wild card come from the AL East.

The Pujols Problem as seen by SI’s Tom Verducci: “If the St. Louis Cardinals are not prepared to pay Albert Pujols more than the Phillies pay Ryan Howard — that’s $25 million per year – then… he is as good as gone….’The problem the Cardinals have,’ said one baseball executive,’is the math doesn’t work. They probably can’t get to 120 [million dollar payroll] in that market, so they only have so much to give Albert and still have a competitive team around him’.”

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For Baseball Fans, Sunday Far From Super

If you’re a politically lefty baseball fan, sale diagnosis you have more than the usual reasons (excess of hype, advice sterile playing conditions) to want to look away from the Super Bowl.  For all its fat-cat backdrop, generic the match-up, pitting the Packers against the Steelers, exemplifies economic equality non-existant in our national pastime.

 Consider that, if the Packers win, the NFL champion will represent a town of 100,000; Green Bay is the smallest city in either major league sport, yet its team has as much a chance of winning each year as do richer franchises from New York, Chicago, Dallas, etc.  The grid league’s policy of spreading the wealth, such a non-starter with baseball owners, has made pro football the country’s most popular spectator sport.    

 HBO humorist Bill Maher did a further comparison on his “Real Time” show:

It’s no surprise that some 100 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl…that’s…85 million more than watched the last game of the World Series, and in that is an economic lesson for America.  Because football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich almost always win and the poor usually have no chance.  The World Series is like ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’. You have to be a rich bitch just to play. The Super Bowl is like (cheap)Tequila.  Anyone can get in.

That the political variation of the we’re-in-this-together policy hasn’t caught on with most Americans attests to the power of the corporate media; a media quick to amplify the mantra that any redistribution of wealth, no matter how miniscule, amounts to som. The media and players in right field identify taxes – investment in public services and programs – as a badly disguised sotic spreading of the wealth. 

Maher links the NFL approach to the way the progressive Dem team plays the game: “The NFL share(s) the wealth, through salary caps and revenue sharing – TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put all of it in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways. Because they don’t want anyone to fall too far behind.  That’s why the team that wins the Super Bowl picks last in the next draft.  Or what the Republicans would call ‘punishing success.’  Baseball, on the other hand, is exactly like the Republicans…their economic theory is every man for himself.  The small market Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl more than anybody – but the Pittsburgh Pirates… payroll $40 million, (while) the Yankees’ is $206 million? They have about as much chance at getting in the playoffs as a poor black teenager from Newark has of becoming the CEO of Halliburton.”

A Timely Hit:  The NY Times’ comment on NY state Skipper Andrew Cuomo’s anti-progressive budget “Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to consider any new taxes, or even extend a surcharge on the state’s highest earners, means that his budget — his first — is harsher than it needs to be with the heaviest burden borne by some of the most vulnerable citizens.       

Pitch from a Savvy Veteran: “This is not a soccer match.  The crowds are part of the picture, but they will not decide the outcome.  Mubarak has been with us for 30 years; he will not disappear overnight.”  – Longtime Egyptian journalist on Al Jazeera                                            

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Good Bet:  Smart money says that, in response to Andy Pettitte’s retirement, the Yanks will make a major move, trading for a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter.  Two names most buzzed about: Joe Blanton and Fausto Carmona, of the Phils and Indians.  We know the matter is urgent: The Bombers can’t depend on any of their current crop after C.C. Sabathia performing Pettitte-like to keep them in the hunt.  This 10-month-old statement from Pettitte, quoted in the latest Sports Illustrated, tells how hard it is for him to hang up his spikes: “I think the tough part is you’re never not going to enjoy what we do … Like, I don’t think we’re ever not going to love jogging out to the mound, you know what I’m saying?”

Catch-Time:  On MLB-TV, Todd Zeile, who caught for the Cardinals before being converted to a third baseman, said this about the adjustment required:  “You’re expected to a call a good game, play good defense as a catcher.  You’re not expected to do much hitting.  At third base, you feel the pressure to be an important part of the offense.” Mike Piazza, on what he worked hardest on behind the plate: “As a catcher, you can’t turn a ball into a strike; but you can turn a strike into a ball.  I made sure to set myself up to stop the ball from carrying out of the strike zone.”                                             

Baseball and (More) Football Talk:  SI’s Tom Verducci suggests that Larry Walker and Todd Helton were helped to become hitting machines by “premium conditions” at Coors Field.  He says similar conditions inside Domes have helped the Colts’ Peyton Manning and Saints’ Drew Brees rack up impressive stats.  The downside for both of them: They don’t do well in cold weather.  Manning’s record in below-freezing playoff games: 0-2; Brees has the same mark in below-50-degree post-season contests.  The Patriots’ Tom Brady has the best record both in below-50-degrees and below-freezing playoff games, 11-3 and 7-2.

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Nub will be away on a pre-spring training road trip, returning two weeks from today.