The Nub

Delusions Dogging Baseball and Team USA

(Posted: 8/29/11l update 8/30)      

Let’s take time to shed crocodile tears for baseball: only two of 16 NL teams are still in a playoff race, sales sale and only four of 14 (two barely) remain in an AL race.  All that, diagnosis with a whole month left in the regular season.  Then there is the likelihood that one of the three richest franchises will win the World Series, and oh, yes, attendance is down drastically, especially for the NL’s LA and NY teams, both saddled with bad ownership.

One more thing:  Joe Torre, now a Bud Selig deputy, reminds us of MLB’s ridiculous rationale for limiting replays of disputed calls.  Despite recent cases of an umpire admitting he missed a decisive call in an extra-inning game, and a re-play showing belatedly that a key HR call in another game was mistaken, Torre  says he’s against “wholesale replay”.  Why?  Joe recited the party line to an SI reporter: “We’re always going to have the human element in the game,” he said.  Why we have to accept human error along with the element he never addressed, nor has his boss. 

Baseball’s unwillingness to acknowledge its self-imposed deficiencies is trivial next to what’s happening to Team USA in foreign affairs. Skipper Obama and Congressional players on both Dem and GOP teams are delusional in thinking the Arab Spring will strengthen our game in the Middle East.  That’s the grim assessment of the Europe-based Herald-Trib’s William Pfaff, who has a clear field to the action:

“There is a dilemma in Middle Eastern affairs which…for domestic political reasons it is impossible for any administration to acknowledge. Washington’s total allegiance to Israel and to Israeli’s expansion and domination of legally Palestinian territories, renders impossible any close, impartial, disinterested or candid relationship with an Arab government.

”Washington’s previous ‘alliances’ with Egypt and Tunisia, and its present relations with Yemen and Bahrain — the countries that have experienced the Arab ’Awakening’ of 2011…have always been constructed upon money, intimidation or blackmail. Washington will do whatever it can to manipulate the internal politics of the new governments that emerge in the region.  It has no alternative…

“The Arab Awakening movements… have been spontaneous.  That makes it impossible for the United States to deal with them (from an advantageous position)… American relations with new…governments will grow worse, assuming these are…representative governments.   America is now more hated in Egypt – and in Afghanistan and Pakistan – than ever before.  A Palestinian demand next month for full UN membership will undoubtedly worsen the situation, since Washington may be expected unconditionally to oppose this initiative.  The outcome could be still more violence and hatred.” 

Baseball’s pathetic initiative to deal with lack of smaller-market competitiveness at this time of year – adding a second wild card team in each league – will goose regular-season attendance a bit, but serve only to debase the playoffs.   

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Rays of Hope for Tampa Bay:  The Chi-Trib’s Phil Rogers identifies a fringe benefit of the second wild card while talking about the future of Rays’ GM Andrew Friedman: “What I’ve been saying about Friedman from the start (is this):  He’d be a great guy for the Cubs or any organization but there’s a genuine bond between the top guys in Tampa Bay.  Plus MLB is about to throw the Rays a bone with a second wild card.”

Stat City:  Baseball’s team leader in pitching and fielding: the Phillies, with a 3:09 ERA and by far the fewest hits yielded – 427, compared to 471 for the second-place SF staff; the Phils’ top fielding percentage, .988, includes fewest errors, 57 in 129 games.  The Red Sox lead the majors in hitting, with a .279 average, compared to the runner-up Rangers’ .276.  With a fourth-best fielding percentage, Boston finishes second to the dominating Phillies in the composite hitting/pitching/fielding categories. Tampa Bay, second in fielding and sixth in pitching, has produced the third-best overall performance among the three-category top-ten-performing teams.

Which Way Jose?  With an assist from the media, the Mets have an added dynamic in the return of team dynamo Jose Reyes.  Ruben “Tejada Is Turning Heads and Securing Future” said an NY Times headline Sunday.  Tejada, only 21, filled in for Reyes since Jose re-pulled a hamstring on August 7.   As of pre-game(s) Monday, Tejada had fielded well and batted .379, with seven doubles and two stolen bases.  The team’s not-so-subliminal message to its fans and to Reyes himself:  We have a capable replacement should Reyes reject our post-season offer.  How generous the Mets make that offer will depend on Jose’s performance, and durability, over the next month.  Reyes knows Sandy Alderson et al need him if the team hopes to begin to win back its fan base.  If Reyes plays with the same dynamism he displayed until his second DL stint, he’ll almost certainly be re-signed.  If his performance slacks off, the Mets might well decide to take the more feasible financial route and turn to Tejada, waiting in the wings.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

NY Boasts MVP Prospects on Two Different Fields

(Posted: 8/26/11)

In American League baseball and the national political circuit, store New York has two potential MVPs.  Curtis Granderson is the more obvious of the two.  The Yankees center fielder has emerged as a strong five-tool player, treatment with stats to match.  Rookie State AG Eric Schneiderman is emerging as a fighter for fans caught in a housing-bubble scam  who feel powerful opponents have blocked they’re going to bat for what they are owed.

Schneiderman has flashed the stop sign on a Team Obama hit-and-run play freeing banks via settlement from facing mortgage-abuse claims in court.  The settlement being pitched by most states as well as the O-team, would require the implicated banks to pay only around $20 billion total as a penalty for filing false foreclosure papers in local courts.  More than 14 million homeowners victimized by the collective fraud owe $753 billion as a consequence.  Team Obama says the $20 billion deal would give them at least partial quick relief.

Schneiderman says the hit-and-run proposal was devised before the bank game received a closer look from the sidelines.  Several other AGs, including Delaware’s Beau Biden, have joined Schneiderman’s effort to see about, among other things, keeping open homeowers’ legal options

Granderson is the man in Joe Girardi’s lineup.  Only a .278 hitter, he has made those hits do impressive damage:  36 home runs, 103 RBIs, 119 runs and a .591 slugging percentage.  He leads the league, not only in RBIs, but in total bases, triples and extra-base hits.  Curtis is second in home runs and slugging percentage and third in on-base/slugging percentage (OPS).  He also ranks in the top 12 in stolen bases and walks, while playing a solid, wide-ranging center field.  He will have to lift his BA if he is to beat out Adrian Gonzales.  The new Red Sox super-star is hitting .348, with 23 HRs and stats that, except for stolen bases and triples, are comparable to Granderson’s.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman gave up a lot to get Granderson from Detroit: young center fielder Austin Jackson, lefty Phil Coke, and the pitcher who is now D-backs ace Ian (16-4) Kennedy.

Schneiderman, ace of the NY Dem team under Skipper Andrew Cuomo, has yet to hear from his leader, one way or the other, about the way he’s pitching.  Eric’s fans hope a sign of support from the skipper will be flashed soon.

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What We Know Update:  Three of the still-playoff-contending teams in the AL are locks – the Red Sox and Yanks – or near-locks, the Tigers.  Three of the five NL contenders – the Phils, Braves and Brewers are sure-things.  D-backs look determined to stay mano-a-mano with the Giants until October.  They’ll be playing together six times between now and then. Should both stumble, the Rockies remain a long, long-shot in the NL West.

Off the Radar:  While the under-financed, roster-decimated Rays have earned the admiration of everyone in baseball, the team behind them in the AL East deserves a similar accolade.  John Farrell has guided the Toronto Blue Jays to a winning record.  The Jays and the Rays are the only teams below the top two in the six divisions to accomplish that feat.  (NB: the AL Central has only one team – the division-leading Tigers – with a winning record.)

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Lopsidedness and Lost Interest Linked in Both Fields

(Posted: 8/22/11; update 8/23)

“How do you think the Giants look?” a NY baseball fan asked the other day.”Looks as though the D-backs are going to give them a battle, sildenafil sovaldi sale ” we replied. “No, canada view I mean the New York Giants, pharm ” he said. His focus – that of a Mets fan – had shifted to pro football. In Pittsburgh, the sports talk is surely of the Steelers, not the Pirates any longer. In Minnesota, the Vikings have taken over the conversation,replacing the Twins. It’s the same no doubt in Seattle, Kansas City, Houston, and on and on.

A month-and-a-third still remains in the regular baseball season, but more than half the teams have fallen out of playoff contention. Who can blame fans of the also-ran clubs from losing interest? The top three moneyed teams, the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox, have become the sport’s equivalent of giants of the banking game: Too big to fail.

Concern about the financial – and therefore competitive – lopsidedness in the major leagues has been expressed repeatedly since free agency, as big-market teams like the Yankees got richer, and player salaries escalated. In the political/economic field, alarm about a similar trend was sounded a decade-and-a half ago by the skipper of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. Thomas Hoenig warned at a world forum in 1996 against providing an expanded safety net to protect financial teams making risky and ever more complex investments. “To the extent that (they) become ‘too big to fail’,” he hit out again at a global league gathering in’99,”(and) are protected by implicit government guarantees, the consequences can be serious.”

The inaction over the years to rectify the damaging imbalances in both fields has, we know, triggered a feeling of fatalism among alienated fans. Hoenig has a remedy that should (but won’t) be adopted by decision-makers, both in baseball and in the financial-oversight league. NY Times firebrand Gretchen Morgenson paraphrased Hoenig in a recent column before quoting him directly:

“If there were a sense that everyone, big and small, powerful and weak, would be asked to sacrifice (he said), we might be able to agree on a way forward…‘We have to bring a greater sense of equitable treatment. When we do that, Americans will say, Yes, we are all in this together’.”

Notable since “togetherness” has become an ejectionable word in our current don’t-get-in-my-way game: the decline of Team USA’s status in the world and a growing sense of betrayal among baseball – and all manner of – fans here at home.

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What We Know with three-quarters of the season completed: an Atlanta-Milwaukee first-round playoff matchup is a lock. The Phillies will play in the other NL first-rounder against either the Giants or the D-backs. The Giants should win on the strength of their pitching, but if there is to be a Cinderella team this year, the D-backs are it. The Yanks and Red Sox we’ve long known to be playoff cinches in the AL. Suspense-killing standings thus identify five of eight post-season finalists, with five-and-a-half weeks to go.

Fade-away: It is now clear the Mets’ try-for-.500 effort ended on August 7, when they lost Jose Reyes for most of the month, and Daniel Murphy for the season. Fans didn’t need Jason Bay to describe the “lull” enveloping the team to recognize a mailing-in process.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar( are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Manny Being Manny, Verizon Being Management

(Posted: 8/11/11; update 8/12)      

Manny Ramirez comes to mind in this week of off-field labor strife.  Remember Manny, buy physician with the Red Sox three years ago, sildenafil demanding that the club revise his contract so he could make more than he had coming in 2009.  We know that the Sox corporate team rejected the demand, saying a contract is a done deal and can’t be undone unless by agreement of both sides.  Manny then famously sulked and all but stopped playing until traded to the Dodgers in the three-way deal that moved Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston.

In the strike against Verizon by 45,000 union technicians begun last Sunday, it is the  corporate team that demanded a rollback in the terms of a contract that expired last Saturday.  The workers, members of communications (CWA) and electrical workers (IBEW) unions, adopted a stance similar to that of the Sox front office, rejecting give-back demands  in the new contract proposal.  Verizon says new “economic realities” nonexistent when the old contract was negotiated three years ago is forcing it to play hardball. The union has batted away the company’s pitch for concessions that would cut back a benefits lineup including provisions for health care, pensions, job security and sick days.  Refusal to play the game and accept changes, Verizon has warned, “can be catastrophic” for the company and workers alike.

Manny, we recall, thought the economic realities surrounding his performance with the Sox in 2008 – hitting just under .300 (.299) with an on-base-percentage of just under .400 (.398) and 20 HRs in 100 games – warranted his going to bat for a new deal.  It didn’t work.  Whether Verizon will take a similar hit is not clear.  “We have 45,000 families that don’t have income coming in,” said a union coach.  “But we have to draw a line…We bargained for 50 years to gain these things and we don’t want to give them back.”

The contest, already in extra innings, could drag on until the economic strain tells on one side or the other.  The unions know they are underdogs in such a game of attrition.                                                      

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Not Yet Closing Time:  Torii Hunter on Mariano Rivera, who will be 42 in November:  “He’s going to get older, and it’s going to slow down for him, but I still don’t want to face him.”  (quoted by Tyler Kepner in NY Times)

Skimming the Standings:  As of near-mid-August, here are the numbers of legitimate contenders left for division titles: AL East, two (Red Sox and Yanks), AL Central, three (Tigers, Indians, White Sox), AL West, two (Rangers and Angels).  NL East, one (Phillies), NL Central, two (Brewers and Cardinals), NL West, two (D-backs and Giants).  Atlanta, we know, is a virtual lock for the NL wild card (as are either the Yanks or Red Sox in the AL); still showing heartbeats, however faint: the Twins and Rockies.  Dismissed with regret: Pirates and Reds.

Wisdom of the Sports Page:  Clint Hurdle, on counseling his Pirates team reeling from  10-straight losses:  “I tell them there are two kinds of people in life – those who are humble and those who are about to be.”

Oldtime Mets catcher Rube Walker, to a distraught friend who had just learned of his firing as a minor-league manager: “Don’t fret, hon, life is full of curveballs.” (quoted by Dan Rather in The Nation)

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

Declining Stats Signal Trouble for Political Players

(Posted: 8/8/11; update 8/9)         

Stat City Special:  Three players at the bottom of Monday’s list of regular MLB hitters – Adam Dunn, tadalafil hospital BA .163,   and Alex Rios, .215, of the White Sox, and Vernon Wells, also .215, of the Angels – are stuck in dramatic offensive declines.  Dunn batted .260, with 38 HRs last season, playing for the Nationals, Rios .284, with 21 HRs, for the Chisox, and Wells .273, with 31 HRs for Toronto.  Dunn and Rios have only hit 11 and seven homers, respectively, in 96 and 105 games.  Wells is the only one to have kept his power stroke – 16 HRs in 86 games.  The abrupt falloff in Dunn’s production might possibly be explained by the change of leagues, and Wells has been hurt part of the time.  Rios, fit and still young (30) is a conundrum.  Twice an all-star with Toronto, his season has been a constant struggle to return to form.

There’s no mystery on the other field as to why the stats of our main political players – Skipper Obama, and members of the Dems/Team GOP Congressional farm system – have plummeted so badly.  Their performances in the deficit and debt games shocked everybody, scouts as well as fans.  The scorecard numbers tell how deep and broad was the dismay: The skipper lost 15 points in a Gallup survey of his approval rating among independents – down from 52 percent in 2008 to 37 percent now.  He tallied a 42 overall, his lowest score since he entered the record book.   The Congressional farm teams did even worse, earning only an 11 percent approval rating among independents, 14 percent overall, in a CNN poll last week.  That was another new low.  The debt-ceiling agreement – the work of the skipper and his bi-partisan affiliates – received a thumbs-down from 50 percent of independents questioned by Gallup last week (compared to 33 percent approvers).  Overall, thumbs-down won by a 46-39 score.       

Ron Brownstein, the National Journal’s veteran observer, says the figures signal possible game-changing volatility in the 2012 electoral contests:

“It seem(s) as if we (a)re witnessing a simultaneous vote of no confidence from the public in both the American economy and its national government.  On both fronts, the gathering gloom points to a (dramatic) wavering of national confidence… The …question posed by this alienation is whether it could simultaneously threaten all incumbents, perhaps overturning the Republican majority in the House, the Democratic majority in the Senate, and Obama’s hold on the Oval Office… No previous election in American history has produced such an equal opportunity ‘throw-the-bums-out’ (potential).”

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No Surprise:  White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, on the big-season potential he couldn’t see in the team’s new acquisition, Adam Dunn: “He was hitting in spring training the way he’s hitting now.  Nothing’s changed.”

“Cut to the Chase”…says The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy about Yankees-Red Sox.  He notes that the teams are overdue to meet in the playoffs, having last met there seven years ago:  “We’ve seen the best of this rivalry and it’s time to go back to the golden days of Boston and New York.  There are just a few guys left from those magical times. The Yankees still have Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and (certainly by October) Rodriguez. The Red Sox have David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, (Jason) Varitek, and Kevin Youkilis (he was on the Division Series roster in ’04). These players are like Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. They know things that no one else knows. The new generation of Sox and Yankees can only imagine what it’s like to be involved in a Boston-New York baseball playoff.  At its height, Sox-Yankees makes Patriots-Jets look like a pickup game at the local YMCA.”

Star Emerging:  Our nominee for the most overlooked contributor to Boston’s winning the series: Carl Crawford.  He went nine-for-12, scoring three runs, stealing a base, and raising his BA 18 points – from .242 to 260.  Crawford, the former Rays superstar, seems to be coming around at last, bad news for the Yankees and all Sox opponents.

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

Farm Systems Crucial on Two Fields

(Posted: 8/5/11; update 8/6)          

If we look at the 16 teams still in playoff contention, generic we find this common denominator: a productive farm system.  More than 70 percent of Baseball America’s Triple-A All Stars last season belonged to still-contending teams this year.  Some started the season with parent clubs, buy others joined those clubs later on, still others were used as trading chips.  Two examples: pitchers Ivan Nova of the Yankees; Dan Hudson, traded to the D-backs by the White Sox.  It’s a familiar pattern of success.

On the political field, the national skipper’s farm system is composed of Dem players in Congress and the Senate.  If they cannot be counted on to produce when needed, the skipper will come up short in crucial contests like the one involving the debt limit.  Obama could not swing the negotiating bat with enough authority to match the collective clout of Team GOP.  His fans expected the skipper and the Dem team, which outnumbered their righty opponents, to play with similar determination.  But the spikes-high intensity of the right squad flummoxed the skipper, who got little help from the farm in mounting a counter-attack.  A sample of loose Dem team work: NY Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand took opposite sides in the debt-limit game.

 The buck stops, however, with the man doing the managing, as left-leaning press box observers have let the skipper know.  Here is how the HuffPost’s Bob Kuttner saw what happened:

“For the first time in modern history, one of the two major parties is in the hands of a faction so extreme that it is willing to destroy the economy if it doesn’t get its way.  And the Tea Party Republicans have a perfect foil in President Barack Obama. The budget deal is the logical conclusion of Obama’s premise that the way to make governing partners of the far right is to keep appeasing them.  He is the perfect punching bag.  He can be blasted both as a far-left liberal and as a weakling.”

Surely, one of the most painful hits the skipper took was this comparatively mild rebuke from a former cheerleader, the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg:  “(Obama’s) all too civilized, all too accommodating negotiating strategy – indeed…his whole approach to the nation’s larger economic dilemma (has been) the most disappointing aspect of his presidency.”

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What We Know (or think we do):  Although it is too early to count out the Pirates and the Reds, the NL Central race has become a Brewers/Cardinals contest.  The Brewers have an obvious edge, except for their consistently poor play on the road.  Similarly, in the AL Central, the White Sox and Twins seem unequal to the task of catching the Tigers.  The Indians’ chances of doing so may depend on how effective Ubaldo Jiminez peforms at, or near the top of their rotation. 

Oversight:  The D-backs have given us our come-uppance for not taking them seriously in the NL West. Their taking two of three from the Giants this week helped call attention to two things: their legitimacy as possible division winners; ditto their (or the Giants’) chances of grabbing the wild card away from the Braves. 

An Accolade for Adrian B:  How important is Adrian Beltre to the Rangers?  Skipper Ron Washington says his team hasn’t been the same since Beltre pulled a hamstring two weekends ago.  Washington told reporters in Detroit this week that the team misses Beltre in the field as well as at bat, and in the clubhouse, too: “He keeps everybody loose.”   Beltre is batting .276, with 20 HRS and 76 RBIs. 

The Wang Watch:  “His arm doesn’t look right.”  On MLB-TV Wednesday night, former pitchers Mitch Williams and Dan Plesac agreed that Chien-Ming Wang is not back to where he should be with the Washington Nationals. They came to that verdict while watching Chien-Ming tossing (wildly) to first base against Atlanta.  The same pair declared Brandon Webb far from ready to pitch for the Rangers just before the beginning of the season.  Webb, the hurting onetime D-backs ace, still hasn’t returned to action.

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