The Nub

Some Fans in Both Fields Just Want to be Entertained

(Posted: 7/28/11; update 7/29)

A friend who is an unusual Mets fan says he loves to go to CitiField just to “enjoy the game.” That the Mets are not playoff caliber this year doesn’t bother him: he likes the scene – seeing Jose Reyes, for sale the color, the fans, the intermittent action. For those of us who want our team to be competitive, playing games that count down to the wire, our friend is an aberration: where he embraces baseball for its entertainment value and spectacle, we treat it like life and death.

The political game, so important to many of us, suffers from a similar clash of fan attitudes. We consider the contest of issues a matter of intense concern, worthy of careful scrutiny. We hang on every play, knowing how much the outcome will count. The political equivalent of the unusual ball fan likes the excitement surrounding the issues game – the cheering and the booing – more than its intricacies. The media-led negative reaction to the appearance of Muslims on the field – echoed in Europe – is a case in point, says TruthDig’s Chris Hedges:

“The battle under way in America is not between religion and science. It is not between…Western civilization and Islam. The blustering televangelists and…our vaunted Middle East spets and experts, are all part of our vast, simplistic culture of mindless entertainment. They are in show business. They cannot afford complexity.

The name-calling and bean-balling in the West’s contentious game with Islam centers on a defensive play Muslims call jihad.  Opponents see it as aggressive. But in the words of a book by Fordham theologian Richard Viladesau, “jihad…mean(s)…defense of the Islamic world, from invasion and intrusion by non-Islamic forces.” “The very nature of Islam,” the book explains, “(is) related to salam or peace.” Given Team USA’s clearly intrusive role in the Middle East, the scandal here is the unwillingness to appreciate the complexity of the Muslim game.

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Meeting a Need: An other-coast perspective on the Carlos Beltran deal from SF Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler: “Beltran is not a superstar, and the Giants gave up pitching-star-to-be Zack Wheeler, but come on. This is a team five steps beyond desperate for a live bat. The Giants have been amazing and amusing this season, building up a nice lead in their division despite a (decimated) batting order…It’s a heartwarming story, the Giants staying afloat despite their offense, but it’s a fairy tale, it couldn’t last. The Giants going into the playoffs without a new hitter would have been (disastrous).”

Need to be Met? The Yankees, like the pre-Beltran Giants, could likely make the playoffs by standing pat. But they clearly need another solid starter if they hope to go all the way. Although an admirable overachiever, Ivan Nova, with his minimal experience, doesn’t quite fill the bill. Brian Cashman may see it otherwise. We’ll know in a day or two.

Somber Bay Watch: Keith Hernandez, in SNY booth, on Mets’ lack of HR power after Beltran’s departure: “Who do they have? (Jason) Bay used to hit the long ball. I don’t see him doing it anymore.”

There They Go Again: No sooner did the blessed NFL lockout end, than pre-pre-season pro football pushed pennant-race baseball to the back of many sports sections. Lead coverage of the end of the lockout in Tuesday’s Daily News filled four-and-a-half of eight (non-box-score) sports pages. On Wednesday, pre-season grid froth accounted for six of 10 pages. Imagine how difficult it will be to find accounts of the crucial MLB September games played daily when the one-game-per-team per week NFL schedule has started. 

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Fan Betrayals Unfolding in LA, NY and in the Capital

(Posted: 7/25/11; update 7/26)     

Amid the dismay felt by fans of the dozen also-ran teams at trade-deadline time, generic illness  there’s a deep sense of betrayal in two cities: Supporters of the Dodgers and Mets have long felt entitled to seeing their well-heeled teams buy, not sell.   This year, we know, owners Frank McCourt and Fred Wilpon have so bungled their fiduciary job in different, disgraceful ways, that Dodgers and Mets fans defected in disgust well before sell-off time.  

We know, too, that on the political field, Skipper Obama seems ready to betray his progressive fans through compromising away parts of Medicare and social security, programs dear to them and to the entire Dem team..  Salon’s Glenn Greenwald sees his deficit-cut double-clutch as a disaster for everyone on the left: 

“Obama is now on the verge of injecting what until recently was the politically toxic and unattainable dream of Wall Street and the American right – attacks on the nation’s social safety net – into the heart and soul of the Democratic party’s platform. Those progressives who are guided more by party loyalty than actual belief will seamlessly transform from virulent opponents of such cuts into their primary defenders.  And thus will Obama succeed – yet again – in gutting not only core Democratic policies, but also the identity and power of the American left.” 

 Greenwald notes the passivity of most Dems to the skipper’s assault on civil liberties.  He could add to evidence of capitulation the disappearance of the anti-war movement that had been so active when Obama’s predecessor was running Team USA.  Daily News sports reporter Andy Martino could have been talking about the political left as well as the Mets when he described the team as “interesting (if not exciting) but now irrelevant.”  

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A Sandy Slip:  The straight-talk statements of Mets GM Sandy Alderson this season have been a refreshing change from the maunderings of predecessor Omar Minaya and his shadow Jeff Wilpon.  But Alderson slipped the other day when he asked Mets fans to believe the team could make a credible effort at re-signing Carlos Beltran after he is dealt to the Phillies, Giants, Red Sox or some other team with spending unconstrained by debt-beleaguered ownership.  Beltran will be gone for good, along with a few Mets fans not yet gone.  Alderson’s next challenge: to resist the temptation to oversell the deal that marks departure of the team’s RBI leader.

Things Could Be Worse (dept.):  “The Dodgers…are so crippled,” says MLB-TV’s Peter Gammons, “they’re trying to pair Triple-A payroll.”

What We (Think We) Know:  Chances are the only real interest for the rest of the season will be in the central divisions: the Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, and the Indians, Tigers, Twins and White Sox duking it out to the delight of Midwest fans.  Once the playoffs begin, however, the focus will shift to the coastal powers – Red Sox, Yanks, Phillies and Giants, plus the AL West’s Rangers.  Add the East’s Braves and (perhaps) the West’s Angels to that list, and the heartland’s pennant hopes have a long-shot quality about them.                                                                 

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Why Pirates Skipper Has Edge Over Team USA’s

(Posted: 7/21/11; update 7/22)     

What do Skippers Clint Hurdle and Barack Obama have in common?  Check-swing answer: Very little.  After 18 years of fans’ steely frustration, discount drugstore Hurdle has transformed the Pittsburgh Pirates into genuine playoff contenders.  Entering the last third of the season, generic the Hurdle-led Bucs are bounding around the top of their division.  He has made his young players believe in themselves, discount banishing the defeatism that had infected the franchise.

On the other hand, we’ve watched Obama turn a team that won big in 2008 into big-time losers two years later.  His apparent lack of win-we-will confidence has been self-fulfilling in contests with Team GOP.  How frustrating has his reticent game been to players and fans?  More than once, the words of another Dem Skipper Franklin Roosevelt have been cited as an example of what Obama’s stance should be.  Here is what FDR said 75 years ago when facing many of the current skipper’s challenges:

“We(‘ve been struggl(ing) with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.  They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred…(They have) met their match…(and soon will have) met their master.”  

The record book shows that in the election shortly after that speech, FDR won by the biggest majority in history, a stat that still stands.  Given that history, say many fans, why won’t Skipper Obama take a leaf from the FDR playbook? Major medical advisor Deepak Chopra has a long-view diagnosis that suggests why Barack can’t be more like Hurdle:

“If you suppose that the average citizen remembers that the right wing are the very ones who got us into this forlorn tangle of wars abroad (and) financial collapse…you have not felt the power that fear exerts.  Since 9/11, playing upon fear has been wildly successful for the right wing — it re-elected a catastrophic president — and now (we have)…the romping recklessness of Wall Street, which paid not the slightest penalty for bringing on the recession.

“If ever there was a time to stand behind the captain, this is it…We need to remember that if (he lost in 2012), it wouldn’t be because President Obama made too many mistakes or failed to pass a sufficiently liberal agenda. The reason would be that all of us forgot the thirty-year reign of reactionary administrations (minus the Clinton years) and the power of debased politics to keep coming back, again and again.” – (San Francisco Chronicle)

So, Obama is dealing with something deeper than the slump after the 2008 Dem rally; he has a losing legacy that goes back almost twice as long as Hurdle’s to overcome. 

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Updating Our Recapitulation:  Fans of 18 (of 30) teams can still look forward to meaningful games.  The rundown:  playoff locks (3): Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies;  playoff probables (2): Braves, Giants; still competitive (11) : Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Rangers, Angels, Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals, Reds, D-backs; still flickering, but barely (2): Rays, Rockies.   

Underachevers:  Noted during a random survey of box scores (early Thursday): these surprising BAs –  Carlos Rios, White Sox, .212; Vernon Wells, Angels, .218; Jason Heyward, Braves, .225; Jason Bay, Mets, .232.

NO, David:  Having looked forward to hearing uninhibited David Cone do color of the Yanks-Rays games this week, we were let down:  the people at YES clearly asked him to tone down his criticism of Yankees like A.J. Burnett (“He lacks toughness late in the game.”)  Cone was sympathetic when Burnett left on the short end of a 4-2 score Tuesday night. Throughout the four-game series, we heard a careful version of Cone; he kept finding both excuses for Yankee lapses and encouragement in most Bomber performances.  David, come home. 

Correction:  We erred last time in calling Carlos Beltran a potential Type A free agent.  His contract stipulates that he can’t be offered post-season arbitration, which, if rejected, could insure the Mets a high draft pick as compensation for his departure.  It would take a miracle now for Beltran to remain on the team’s roster much longer.                                                    

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

How Team Obama and Non-Contending Clubs Can Keep Their Fan Base Happy

(Posted: 7/18/11; update 7/19)     

Skipper Obama is bracing for a “hard time” from his “base” if he plays the deficit game in a way that looks like he’s surrendering to Team GOP.  Front offices of the Astros, salve Padres, buy ed Dodgers, stuff Marlins, Nationals, Mets, Royals, Mariners and A’s are in a similar pickle as they prepare to trade their expensive stars for prospects, the classic late-July salary dump of losers.  Their fans appreciate neither the white-flag signal nor the selloff of quality players. 

In baseball, those fans can dramatize their discontent by staying away from home-team games.  In the skipper’s political game, fans can make their feelings known though polls and the media.  If the skipper has an edge over the beleaguered front offices, it is that he can take a persuasive turn at-bat.  The teams can only appeal for wait-’til-next-year patience.  Last week, while noting the “heat” he and his adversaries were under, as well as the hard time he saw coming, Obama connected with pressbox scorekeepers who had not been generous in the past.  One of them, the respected “call-it-as-I-see-it” Charlie Cook said this about the deficit talks in the National Journal:  

 “Republicans don’t seem to understand the symbiotic relationships in  this negotiation.  Democrats hate entitlement cuts just as much as  Republicans despise tax hikes.  Likewise, just as Republicans dislike  defense cuts, Democrats dislike domestic spending cuts. Yet, both  are necessary. If Republicans expect Democrats to go along with entitlement cuts, the GOP has to be willing to go along with some  revenue increases.  If Republicans expect Democrats to swallow deep hits to domestic spending, the GOP has to swallow deep hits to defense. Instead, the Republicans’ position seems to be that they should be allowed to stand on their principles while Democrats are required to compromise theirs.”

Team GOP has played that game so effectively for so long, it is hard to believe the hit-to- right club may be truly in danger of having its winning streak stopped.

Baseball’s front-office people should understand how damaging to morale is the “death watch” forced on fans of non-contending teams. A big reason San Diegoans enjoy following the Padres is the chance to see Heath Bell close.  The Mets lineup minus Carlos Beltran would mean cruel punishment for the comparative few who have remained loyal to the team this season. Holding on to both – each a potential Type A free agent – could bring the teams high draft choices as compensation when the pair opt to go elsewhere in the off-season.  It’s a fan-friendly option – barring an offer of clearly can’t-miss prospects – that GMs should consider.

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Death to the Death Watch:  Most press-box people love the death-watch period of the season: tracking significant trades and lineup changes is the “most exciting time”, said one prominent scribe on TV.  We disagree (as we’ve said before).  The advantage wealthy teams have at the start of the season is compounded now when they can afford to obtain a pricey missing piece while low-budget clubs like the Pirates and Indians must stand pat.  The fair approach would be to require all teams to stand pat – making only internal changes – as the climactic part of the season approaches. (But since when has baseball cared about fairness?)

The Speculation Game:  If ESPN’s Bobby Valentine and Orel Hersheiser had their way, Beltran would go to the Pirates: “They have attractive prospects and the Mets say they would eat some of Beltran’s salary…He would be the veteran presence that team needs.”  SI reports that the Tigers are in the mix for Beltran.  The Daily News believes the Giants have the inside track because of players lobbying for their team to add Carlos.  As for Bell, Valentine and Hersheiser say his going to the Cardinals would a “perfect fit.”

Key Reinforcements: Results of two of Sunday’s 15 games stand out for their significance:  Homer Bailey pitching the Reds to a 3-1 win over the Cardinals, and Phil Hughes stopping the Jays, 7-2, for the Yanks.  Both have been sidelined – Bailey (4-4) hadn’t won since May 16; for Hughes (1-2), it was his first victory since last Oct.2,  Both seem healthy and ready to contribute the rest of the way.  At the end of the weekend, the Reds were three-and-a-half games out of first in NL Central, the Yanks still a game-and-a-half behind the Sox in the AL East.                                          

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Game-Changing Potential in 2012 Pennant and Political Races

(Posted: 7/14/11; update 7/15)     

 Since we’ve earmarked four of this year’s eight playoff spots to Eastern Division teams (the Red Sox, patient Yanks, help Phillies, Braves, remember?), what’s the harm to looking ahead while we wait for the other four divisions to sort themselves out?

As of now, three potential free agents, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes, are potential 2012 standings-changers.  They can lift whichever team they join (or rejoin) a notch or more than could have been reached without them.  Each can reasonably be expected to have an impact close to that Adrian Gonzalez has had on the Red Sox.  

Chances are at least one of the three (Pujols?) will stay where he is, solidifying his team’s contender status or aspiration.  It’s fair to say, however, that wherever they wind up – let’s do some fanciful guesswork: Pujols at first for the Cubs, Reyes at shortstop for the Giants, Fielder DHing for the Angels – will alter the pennant-race outlook next season.

The principals on the main political field – Team USA’s Skipper Obama and the opposition’s Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, et al – can not at the moment be considered game-changers.  The skipper has opted for a cautious, station-to-station game, dashing his fans’ hopes for a dynamic leader.  The rest of the field has yet to prove it can perform under big-league pressure.

With the competing players less of a factor, umpiring calls could be what decides who wins the political race next season. The nine high court arbiters are expected to rule on closely contested efforts involving the health care law and gay marriage and Arizona-style immigration statutes.  Fan response to the calls, unpredictable this early in the game, will be an important signal as to which team’s skipper will be managing in 2013. 

Whatever the outcome, Bloomberg’s press box observer Al Hunt worries that a string of 5-4 decisions along conservative-liberal lines would deepen divisions in the country.  That’s an added reason, he says, quoting a legal scholar, why the courtly umpires should be aware that they will be playing with “political dynamite.”  

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Big East:  The strength of the NL East was certainly reflected in the league’s All-Star pitching lineup Tuesday night: six of 10 pitchers manager Bruce Bochy used came from the East – Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, of the Phils;  Jair Jurrens, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, of the Braves, and Tyler Clippard, of the Nationals.  The group accounted for all but a two-and-a-third of the nine innings.

Trying Hard to Laugh: Baseball fans across the country have registered their excitement for Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star game, saying they can’t wait to watch the league’s annual showcase of its best players who aren’t injured, aren’t afraid of potentially getting injured, aren’t too tired, are free the night of July 12, didn’t pitch recently, aren’t scheduled to pitch next week, don’t mind making the trip to Arizona, and are actually willing to play two and a half innings of baseball.” – The Onion

Dream-Time’s Over:  Sandy Alderson’s disclaimer notwithstanding, his trading of closer Frankie Rodriguez to the Brewers marks the end of the illusion period, not only for the Mets, but for the 10 or l1 other teams who have fallen out of their division races. Milwaukee’s bold move sets up a challenge for the Cardinals and, especially, the Reds to try to match the Brewers in reinforcing what their existing rosters.

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Under Excessive Pressure, Jeter Provides Model for Team USA

(Posted: 7/11/11; update 7/12)

 “He wants to get this done so he can just go about being Derek Jeter.”

Joe Girardi said it; some fans, salve at least, surely felt it. They wanted to go back to reading about baseball, not one man’s approaching achievement. The media’s focus on Jeter’s run-up to 3,000 hits was excessive; so much so that the living game got lost in a verbal frenzy over the record. A single(but not uncommon) example: the Daily News’ lead story last Thursday on theYanks-Indians contest the previous night devoted 18 of 19 paragraphs to Jeter’s pursuit, a solitary para to the game itself.

Everybody admires Jeter, the consummate team player, and recognizes what the 3,000-milestone signifies about his career. But he made clear the daily 5-4-3-2-1 build-up was adding to his anxiety. He just wanted to help the team win, and for that, not his personal stats, to be the focus. So why intensify the pressure on him? Because he’s prominent, in baseball and beyond. There’s enough interest in what he does, the milestone he now has reached with such flair, to make lots of money for nearly everyone in the communications league.

But why does the public play into that game – preferring to watch headline-attracting individuals rather than groups involved in the daily grind? One possible reason: celebrity achievers like Jeter are the dreamlike embodiment of our I-can-do-it-myself tradition.

That tradition – expressed in references like Horatio Alger, self-made man (or woman), “The Kid from Tomkinsville” (thank you, John R.Tunis) – has competed with another: We can do it together. It’s what economics historian David Cay Johnston calls awareness that we had to give our all as a group, play as a team, if we were to survive as a nation. We discovered, among other things, during early independence that the new ballclub would not last without requiring teammates far and wide to chip in to provide security and regulate traffic on the commercial basepaths.

Out of this team work, Johnston reminds us, came our acceptance of the “moral basis for progressive taxation and, in turn, the radical ideas that people (willing, however grudgingly, to chip in) could govern themselves.” No one liked taxes, but with resentment came the recognition of how essential they were. Johnston says they still are today. He hits hard at the present anti-tax stance:

“We are abusing America — with all of the hate-filled, nonsensical, demagogic talk about tax that dominates one of our political parties and intimidates the other. We have forgotten the wise words of Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism,  who in…1793…observ(ed) that ‘the revenue of the state is the state.’ We seem to think we can raise generations to hate tax, when hate is never a good emotion. We spread  tax (hatred), with no regard for how it undermines America, the liberties of the people, and the very idea of self-governance.”

Perhaps, just as Jeter goes back to being Jeter, Team USA’s fans can retrieve the once widely shared recognition that, likeable or not, progressive taxation offers the fairest, most rational way to deal with the economic challenges that have brought the country a long losing streak and much political jawing.

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From the E-Mailbag (Jeter 2): “I’ve never had a problem with admitting that one of my favorite guys was washed up, and I’ve been saying for over a year now that Jeter seems at least greatly diminished, if not really washed up (and I still think that’s probably true), but what he did today (Saturday) was truly magnificent. This was one of those occasions when I think, Wow. I was truly privileged to watch this guy play. Whatever you think of his contract, or his awful new mega-mansion, or his endless commercials, this guy is a special figure in the history of the game.”- Seth K, Edgewater, NJ

What We Know at the Break: In the several days leading to the All-Star recess, these key developments: the Rangers and Angels have broken from the AL West pack, the Mariners fading, Oakland having faded; nobody’s taking charge in the NL Central – four teams, yes, including the Pirates, bunched; the Twins making it another four-team race in the AL Central; the Giants looking semi-secure in the NL West, and the Phillies/Braves, Red Sox/Yanks near-certain playoff tandems in both eastern divisions.

Sales Time: Had the Mets (4-3) done a bit better on their West Coast swing, and the Braves a bit worse (5-2) in their games this past week, the selloff at CitiField might have been postponed. As it is, we suspect Carlos Beltran will be gone not long after the weekend series with the Phillies (when respectable crowds can be expected). That Jose Reyes has joined slow-healing teammates David Wright and Ike Davis on the DL suggests he’ll be around longer than Beltran, if not to the end of the season.

‘Stealth’ Stars: Jeter, A-Rod, Mariano, Jon Lester, Jose Reyes, Chipper Jones, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco…The list of players who withdrew from the All-Star game is long enough to constitute what conspiracy theorists could call a “stealth boycott.” The reference, obviously, is to the open boycott threatened a year ago when host-state Arizona passed an immigration law (since softened by a federal court) that authorized strict surveillance of Latinos. A peaceful “white ribbon” demonstration against the law will be held as a substitute for the would-be boycott.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Bench-Jockeying: Stop Those Bush-League Plays in Both Pastimes

(Posted: 7/7/11; update 7/8)         

A lineup of plays in baseball and politics that deserve to be booed, discount search more so than they are:

Owners of ball teams in big markets refusing to consider a system that levels the financial playing field making for fairer competition.

Political players, generic thumb right and left, going to bat for big businesses to attract campaign money and the competitive electoral edge it gives them.

 The baseball owners saying “Why should we give up the edge we have earned as savvy investors?  We are not in the charitable game.”

 The electeds saying “If  I’m producing for the people, I must keep my office, even though it means choking up at times in a way that may be bad for them.”

Baseball’s front office and players union joining to resist change, supporting the stance of wealthy owners over that of fans.

Batting clean-up (if out of order):  Supreme Court rulings by 5-4 margins reinforcing the power of big business over consumers and ordinary citizens who challenge that power.  Umpiring recent cases  involving Wal-Mart and AT&T,  the high court calling female employees at one and consumers at the other out in their effort to bring class action suits against the two mega-outfits. 

The scorecard also shows the court striking down a campaign finance law in Arizona that would have helped qualified but under-funded candidates compete with heavy-hitting opponents. (All this coming little more than a year after its Citizens United ruling gave organized money the freedom to wield concealed influence in elections.)

 The signs are clear, says Wash Post-man E.J. Dionne:  If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court’s conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power…

 “In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt warned that the courts had ‘grown to occupy a position unknown in any other country, a position of superiority over both the legislature and the executive.’  Worse, ‘privilege has entrenched itself in many courts just as it formerly entrenched itself in many legislative bodies and in many executive offices.’  What happens to a democracy when its highest court dedicates itself to defending privilege?”

We are re-playing now that one-sided game.  Dionne, in an understated swing, says he fears the outcome of what’s happening will be ever more “unfortunate” as the game unfolds.

On the game’s electronic scoreboard this poignant message:  “A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.“  – Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 2009

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What We Know (from looking at late-week standings):  Four teams, all in the East, are playoff-bound: The Yankees and Red Sox, Phillies and Braves.  The Braves are the only unsure thing.  The Yanks, Red Sox and Phillies are meeting expectations.  The other six post-season places are clearly up for grabs.  It’s safe to say three teams – the Astros, Marlins and Orioles – have taken themselves out of the running, with Jays, Royals, Cubs, Dodgers, and, yes, the Mets, close to joining them.  

Notable:  Cleveland fans had a right to cheer after Justin Masterson’s eight-inning shutout of the Yankees Wednesday (keying a 5-3 victory).  It was the first series – after seven successes – the Yanks had lost since being swept by the Red Sox late last month.  Masterson allowed only three hits, while striking out six and walking only two.

 Martin’s Moves:  David Cone (on YES) identified the most valuable aspect of Yankees catcher Russell Martin’s game:  It’s not his hitting, his arm, his game-calling; it’s “his ability to block wild pitches.  That gives pitchers confidence they can let loose.”

From the E-Mailbag (Re razzing of Yankee Stadium in a recent blog): The new  Stadium is THE most unimaginative and uncomfortable of all the new stadiums built in the last 15-20 years. It is a mock-up of a 1970s renovation that keeps the mainstream fan at bay.  Luxury suites displace site lines from concourses and to get from right field to left, fans push through a narrow underground corridor past Monument Park that closes an hour before game time! Add to that box seats originally costing 100 times the price of an identical seat at PNC Park in Pittsburgh! But don’t get me started. I’m well on my way to have visited all major league parks. However, the next time I go to Yankee Stadium it will only be during the playoff’s or against Boston and likely as someone’s guest.  That’s the only time the thrill, hassle and expense could possibly trump the terrific job done…at any of the other 29 parks in America.” – Gary M, Summit, NJ

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 (The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

NY Skipper: From Disastrous Slump to Political Grand Slam

(Posted: 7/1/11)

Snap quiz:  Only one team has turned a triple play so far this season.  Which team was it?  Answer: The Indians against the White Sox the first week of the season – a three-to-four-to-five turn:  Carlos Santana caught a bunt while playing first base (for the first time) with men moving off first and second.  He threw to Orlando Cabrera, buy hospital covering first, ed for a second out.  Cabrera then threw to Asdrubal Cabrera, drugstore covering second, to complete the TP. 

 The play was part of surprising early momentum the Indians generated.  A prominent political player – NY State’s Skipper Andrew Cuomo – has gotten off to an even more successful start.  A Quinnipiac poll published early this week showed him to have a 64 percent approval rating statewide, 62 percent among white Catholics even after he pushed through the  Gay Marriage law deplored by their church.  It has all the earmarks, a press box scorer points out, of a (Cuomo-led) triple play-plus.  The scorer, the Wash Post’s Richard Cohen, tells of Andrew pointing toward the governorship while a member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet.  That happened before the series of political and marital setbacks – an ill-advised gubernatorial primary challenge to Carl McCall in 2002, and his breakup with Kerry Kennedy after her publicized affair with a family friend.  Cohen brings the story forward with that (and baseball) as background:

 “Rarely has a politician come off the canvas to triumph in such a cinematic fashion.  Not only did Cuomo become governor, but since doing so, he’s dominated the cantankerous Legislature, brought in a budget on time and — history take note — passed a law to legalize same-sex marriage.  He did this with the state Senate controlled by Republicans, the bill having been defeated just two years before, and the Roman Catholic Church strongly opposed.  Baseball analogies are in order.  This was a triple play, a no-hitter and a grand slam.  Andrew Mark Cuomo has become a masterful politician.”

 We disagree strongly with Cuomo’s balk on extending the so-called millionaire’s tax when the alternative includes draconian cuts in the safety net.  But, as another powerful player (that one in journalism) once responded to our criticism, “You don’t have to like it.”  In this case, Cuomo can disregard nitpicks while positioning himself to become a strong presidential possibility in 2016.  The most disconcerting aspect for lefty critics: the NY skipper seems to be on the same basepath with the mostly right-of-center rest of the country.

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Inter-League:  Mid-week sweepers – the Yankees and Angels in the AL (over Brewers and Nats), the Braves, Cardinals and Padres in the NL (over the Mariners, Orioles and Royals).  W-L tally going into the final weekend of inter-league play:  AL 85, NL 83.

Duly Noted:  After being swept by the Red Sox early in the month, the Yankees turned into a June juggernaut: 15 wins in 19 games, including a 12-3 record without their disabled captain Derek Jeter.  Joe Girardi’s team has done it with only one power-starter – CC Sabathia – and with the second most reliable member of the rotation, Bartolo Colon, on the DL for two-and-a-half weeks.  The offense has come through consistently when the pitching forced the team to play catch-up.  The Yanks’ surge likely prompted Boston GM Theo Epstein’s recent resolve to improve the Sox before the July 31 trade deadline. 

Couldn’t Have Said It Better About Yankee Stadium:  “The whole centerfield situation is what really hinders the new stadium most.  Adding to the obstructed seats and shrunken Monument Park is the monstrous 5,925 square foot, 1080p HD scoreboard.  Is it a beautiful screen?  Yes… but maybe too beautiful as it’s too distracting for first-time visitors and diverts fans from the interesting moments between pitches.

“That combined with the loud noise constantly being pumped throughout the stadium doesn’t allow fans to generate an atmosphere of their own.  The message board continually prompts you to ‘do this, cheer for this, look at this.’  It’s little wonder why the Yankee Stadium crowd is listless…” – Sean Hartnett, CBS New York

Amazing for the Moment:  Our apology to the Mets for having predicted weeks ago that they would never go over .500.   They will truly be the Amazing Mets if they are still there after the weekend series with the Yanks.                                                          

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