The Nub

Struggling Motor City – Team and All – Merits Support

(Posted: 9/30/11; update 10/1/11)

Heresy Ahead?  Maybe:  As we long ago owned up to our regular-season support for the low-budget Rays, discount sale we’re now ready to come clean about a possible change of playoff-time heart: a real (if conflicted) rooting interest in NYC’s playoff visitors, the Tigers.  Why? For symbolic financial reasons connected with the team’s home city Detroit. (NB: Not about the $100 million difference in payrolls between the Tigers and Yankees.)

Detroit is the only MLB city on a census bureau list of highest-poverty-rate locales.  Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Valverde, et al, could bring needed cheer in the form of a World Series appearance, including infusion of visitor dollars during the ALCS as well as the Series).  Sure, such on-field success would only  provide temporary relief to Motor City residents experiencing the community’s plight, but a welcome diversion it would be.  Detroit’s depressing troubles include cuts in public spending that have hit city schools and trimmed the local safety net, affecting the jobless, homeless, sick and elderly.

Super-lefty author Noam Chomsky went to bat against the type of cuts made in Detroit, focusing on where they start, at the national level.  Speaking on a“Democracy Now” broadcast, he singled out a Congressional pitch for one such cut, scaling back Social Security, as the equivalent of a bean ball that would tumble a sensible Team USA stance maintained for more than half a century: 

“Social Security is based…on the principle that you care about other people. You care whether the widow across town, a disabled widow, is going to be able to have food to eat.  And that’s a notion you have to drive out of people’s heads. The idea of solidarity, sympathy, mutual support, that’s doctrinally dangerous. The preferred doctrines are just care about yourself, don’t care about anyone else. That’s a very good way to trap and control people.  And the very idea that we’re in it together, that we care about each other, that we have responsibility for one another, that’s sort of frightening to those who want a society which is dominated by power, authority, wealth, in which people are passive and obedient.”  

There have been faint signs – the activist occupation of Wall Street, for one – that populist passivity to the power of wealth has ended.  In Detroit, where the unemployment rate has been as high as 30 percent, renewal for the moment centers on Verlander.  He’s been called a human “rallying cry.”  It’s a role that makes him uncomfortable: “I’d rather not be a bright spot for a down city,” he told the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch. “I wish the city was flourishing.  But it’s not…(So) if I can…give people a reprieve every now and again, that’s great.”  The summer reprieve Verlander provided was a long one – from mid-July to the end of September he went undefeated.  He finished the season at 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts in 251 innings; stats that make him a serious candidate for AL MVP.

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Getting to Know Him:  Jim Leyland, on Fister, whom the Tigers obtained from the Mariners just before the end of July trade deadline:  “I don’t really know him all that well…so I’m not going to say (that much)… “He’s a good athlete, as you can see.  He does all the little things.  He’s a talented guy.  At this point we’ve caught lightning in a bottle.”  How miraculous a catch was it?  Fister was 3-12 at Seattle; he’s 8-1 as a Tiger, the number 2 starter behind Verlander.

 Pre-Playoffs Postscript:  Three impressions gleaned from viewing the three competitive wild-card-deciding games:  (1) The most enduring image – Carl Crawford, sprawled at the end of a lunge to catch the Orioles’ winning hit, the ball barely visible on the ground, inches away.  A snapshot of what went wrong this season for him and the pitching-challenged Sox.  (2)  Admiration growing every extra inning for Charlie Manuel, who kept his nothing-to-prove Phillies playing at top gear against the Braves for the entire series. (3) The sense that Manuel’s no-nonsense approach was preferable to Joe Girardi’s.   As Michael Kay noted on YES, Girardi was too cavalier in replacing regulars when the Yanks took big early leads over the Rays Wednesday.  The consequence:  He had few usable first stringers and only call-up pitcher Scott Proctor left when the game went to extra innings.  (3A) “Comes to play” describes no one more than Dustin Pedroia.  Laid-back-looking Evan Longoria is next in line.

If only…Jose Reyes had Pedroia’s class, he would not have made the self-cheapening decision of taking himself out of the season’s last game to protect his NL-leading BA.  He’ll find, we suspect, that he undercut rather than enhanced his free-agent bargaining power with such an  uncharacteristic, timorous move.  Mets fans won’t feel quite so bad now if Reyes signs elsewhere.

Diplomacy:  Two versions of an answer Mets GM Sandy Alderson gave Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, who asked how he was getting along with Jeff Wilpon.  (1) What he said: “It’s been fine.  He’s responsible for the whole operation.  I understand where that authority lies.” (2) What he would have said if he could:  “It’s been fine.  He’s responsible for the whole operation, and up to now he’s left me aloneHe’s the boss’s son, so I know well enough where that authority lies.” 

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

The Help Baseball and Big Business Receive from You and Me

(Posted: 9/26/11; update 9/27)

News of the Mets’ plan to re-jigger the CitiField layout sends this signal: taxpayers, thumb hold on to your wallets. NYC, so generous in subsidizing construction of the new Mets’ home (and even more generous in helping the Yankees with theirs), will surely be asked to chip in public dollars to defray the expense of the changes. It is what club owners everywhere have come to expect.

More than two-thirds of the MLB parks have been built since 1990 – Target Field in Minnesota, unveiled last year, is the latest. Heavy hitters on the subject Andrew Zimbalist and Judith Long (of Smith College and Harvard, respectively) say that about 60 percent of stadium building costs since 2000 were picked up by the public, only slightly more percentage-wise than the taxpayer burden from ’95 to ’99.

What do we fans get for our generosity? More comfort to be sure, but that plus is more than offset by huge hikes in admission and concession prices at the new parks. That lack of fairness characterizes public policy in general, not just as it plays out in ballpark-building. Skipper Obama’s former chief consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is making the fairness pitch part of her U.S. Senate campaign in the heart of Red Sox Nation:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

 Let’s estimate how much Warren will be receiving in corporate cash as she campaigns against Team GOP incumbent Scott Brown. The guess here: next-to-nothing, unless her stats in grass roots-fundraising show her to be a potential upset winner.

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Playoff Fever Not: A prominent Red Sox fan – SiriusXM (and WNYC-FM) disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz – speculated Sunday on the likelihood Boston would “collapse” into the playoffs (owing to losses by the rival Rays). Atlanta can find solace in the same real possibility. The guess here is that the Red Sox will be aided by the Yankees, who are playing the Rays, and that the also one-game-ahead Braves will at least match against the Phillies whatever the Cardinals do at Houston. Such a result will leave the already unprepossessing NLDS with a lineup of the wounded wild card Braves as well as the apparently overmatched (by the Phillies) Brewers and D-backs. Not an exciting picture. The Red Sox could revive by the end of the week, but, as of now, they’ll be solid underdogs in their likely first-round series with the Rangers.

Soft-Hearted Joe: A feeling of happy inevitability filled the Stadium (and the YES broadcast booth) Sunday night when the Yanks loaded the bases in the ninth with two out, prompting Tito Francona to call in Jonathan Papelbon. Call-up catcher Austin Romine, who played most of the year at Double-A Trenton, was scheduled to bat. But Joe Girardi had Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin, among other regulars, on the bench. Who would the pinch-hitter be? We would see after the commercial. “It’s going to be Romine,” said Michael Kay then, disbelief in his voice. It was a rare sign of sympathy Girardi showed for his embattled opponents. A second, more decisive sign came when he sent Scott Proctor in to pitch in the 14th. Now the good inevitability was on Boston’s side, especially with soon-to-deliver Jacoby Ellsbury coming up.

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

Fans Ready to Cheer Effort but Want Results

(Posted: 9/23/11)

 Sox GM Theo Epstein is taking media hits for his team’s September tailspin. That Tito Francona had to send farm-fresh Kyle Weiland to start two key games against the Rays and Orioles epitomized the plight for which Epstein is blamed. But it’s a bad rap. Epstein made trade-deadline deals to get Erik Bedard and Mike Aviles to reinforce what looked to be a successful run for first in the AL East. He went for broke while his Yankees counterpart Brian Cashman played it cool. Cashman decided that in keeping a pat hand he couldn’t lose: either his team would win the wild card and likely face the Rangers, his probable preference; or, win the division and face what figured to be the AL Central-surviving Tigers. (The Yanks took four of six from Texas this year and lost four of seven to Detroit). We won’t know how the options play out until October.

 Skipper Obama has designed his debt-reduction pitch with what he hopes are similar can’t-lose choices. His first option is to meet Team GOP and play out the give-and-take on the field. If he can’t get them into the game the skipper is ready to take the field by himself. Here is the Team Obama strategy as seen by Wash Post-man Ezra Klein:

“The first-best outcome is still striking a grand bargain with the Republicans, and it’s more likely to happen if the Republicans worry that Democrats have found a clear, popular message that might win them the election. The better Obama looks in the polls, the more interested Republicans will become in a compromise that takes some of the Democrats’ most potent attacks off the table.

“But the second-best outcome isn’t necessarily looking like the most reasonable guy in the room. It’s looking like the strongest leader in the room. That’s why Obama…rather than emphasizing his willingness to meet John Boehner’s bottom lines, (his former) communications strategy…(is) emphasizing his unwillingness to bend on his bottom lines.”

Team Obama has learned, says Klein, that willingness to compromise wins early applause from fans, but when such an effort falls through, “the American people don’t give points for effort.” The skipper looked like a “nice guy” but an “ineffectual leader.” Taking the aggressive stance necessary to change that perception is not the way the skipper likes to govern, says Klein. “But it’s the only option…left.”

Not a Pretty Mideast Picture: “This vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council, in one sense it hardly matters – is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for all the usual historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.” – Robert Fisk, UK Guardian’s veteran Middle East correspondent

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Long Knives Time: “The Mets have stuck a dagger in the Cardinals’ heart,” said SNY’s Gary Cohen after the NYM’s come-from-behind victory at St.Louis yesterday. The Cards are now two full games behind Atlanta for the NL wild card with just a week left. The Yankees put Tampa Bay in the same position behind the Red Sox by taking three of four from the Rays. If the metaphorical knives stay put, both NY teams (including, incongruously, a division winner) can claim to be “spoilers.” The Blue Jays did another, more decisive, cutting job as they pecked the Angels three games behind in the AL wild card race.

Joe Girardi could give the Rays a boost by sending his first string against the Red Sox this weekend, but he has made clear he won’t. Ditto Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies will play the Braves in a three-game finale. Two other cliffhangers of less moment (to the outside world, but not to the teams): Will the Tigers or Rangers draw the short straw and be matched with the Yankees in ALDS? They’re tied in W-L now. And will the Brewers or the D-backs be pitted against the Phillies in the first round? Milwaukee has a one-game edge going into a weekend series with the Marlins at home.

Lancing Hopes of a Pujols Return? The Cardinals’ signing of Lance Berkman for 2012 – he earned $8 million this year – is the latest indication the team won’t be able to re-sign Albert Pujols without getting a hometown discount. St.Louis signed a four-year deal with Jaime Garcia this summer at $7 million per, and recently picked up Adam Wainwright’s $10 million option. Throw in the projected salaries of Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina and, maybe, Rafael Furcal, and the team is up around the $75 million mark.. The Cards have a $105 million payroll this season. If they can get Pujols at a bargain $20 million per, they’ll have matched their 2011 outlay before finding the dollars needed to pay secondary players and pitchers. Unless lots of extra money can be found, the math making possible Albert’s return to Busch Stadium does not add up.

A Softcore Field in Queens? Given that the Mets’ outlook for 2012 is no brighter than it was this year, the team’s pending plan to reduce CitiField’s playing dimensions should come as no surprise. The front office knows something drastic must be done to stem mass defections of the fan base. Since GM Sandy Alderson realizes players won’t be the draw, he and the owners have to hope more offense will. He is how he candidly sought to justify the move: “To some extent it’s a question of entertainment. The hardcore baseball fan I think enjoys the 2-1, the 3-2 [score]. We’re appealing to a little broader segment, and I think offense is appealing. Offense sells.”

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

Contagion at Home and in the Grandstand

(Posted: 9/19/11)

On the strip of grandstand façade that serves as electronic billboard at Dodgers Stadium, sales a single word “Contagion” flashed the other night. The movie title (seen during an MLB-TV “look-in”) could have been a comment on the explosive intrusion of distracting ads at ballparks. Yankee Stadium, seek with a similar flashing strip overlooking the diamond at one end of the park and a jumbo electronic promotional board at the other, view is a prime example. It has become an open-air commercial studio with baseball on the side, a variation of the Disney theme park in Anaheim, where the LA Angels play.

The contagion that characterizes political game-playing in the country has been well documented; less so a contagious passivity among too many fans in the political grandstand. Lefty blogger Matt Yglesias received a message from a middle-class working wife that sums up the problem:

“I spend, let’s say 45 minutes a day, thinking about politics – 40 minutes reading (progressive columnists) and five minutes talking to my husband, who has been busy reading (other left-leaning writers). It’s all very lovely to be well-acquainted with (the issues), but I’m starting to realize that I am part of the problem as well. I don’t actually DO anything besides read and fulminate in the quiet of my own home.”

Yglesias recommended taking hacks writing letters to one’s Congressional rep, even if his or her vote on an issue is a sure thing. That’s fairly obvious, as is an at-bat that sends money to admired candidates and preferred causes – the safety squeeze of “doing.” Taking part in mass protests, the activist home run before and after the start of the Iraq war, proved ineffective. Ignored by the elected officials, the protests were treated as little more than photo ops by the media. The best game plan now is for members of the left and center to come together to play like the right, building a network of grass-roots activists in communities nationwide.

Unrealistic? Maybe not. This league would have an organizing model – one whose teams pitch and hit with a political intensity that makes a nationwide impact. Yes, the Tea Party. Formation of a competitive (“Let them live!”) league to counter the contagious inertia would need financial backing similar to what the Tea Party receives from conservative sources. Meeting that challenge and related ones may be essential if Team Obama is to find a way to outscore the opposition in 2012.

Correction: John Lo Cicero, of Manhattan, points out that, contrary to the implication here, Ed Koch never said NY-9 Dem Congressional candidate David Weprin was not a “real Jew.” (Our report last time lumped the former mayor with Brooklyn Councilman Dov Hikind in the leveling of that charge.) Koch made clear that he opposed Weprin’s candidacy as a form of protest against President Obama’s policy toward Israel. We regret committing the error of not making that distinction.

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Reason for Rays to Hope? Johnny Damon says having two series left with the Yankees shouldn’t discourage the Rays as they seek to overtake the Red Sox for the wild card. Quoted on TBS Sunday, he said he expected the Yanks to rest key players in advance of the playoffs. John Smoltz said the Sox, with an easier schedule than the Rays, should worry about also-ran teams like the Orioles: “They’re fired up to make a difference in the race, and they’re dangerous.” By midweek we should have a good idea how the differing theories are working out.

Whatever happens, fans have the Rays to thank for providing “meaningful” games on the next-to-last weekend of what has been a minimally competitive homestretch to the regular season. Viewers – including fair-minded Sox fans – had to agree with Joe Maddon that several questionable calls by home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt deprived the Rays of a victory in the second game. Such a win could have set up a sweep could have made for a post-weekend tie instead of a two-game Sox margin.

Giant Wish List: The Giants want Carlos Beltran to return to SF next season, and Carlos wants the team to sign Jose Reyes as shortstop. Manager Bruce Bochy thinks his team could have remained in playoff contention had Beltran not been sidelined for much of August. He believes Carlos would like to stay. With Ruben Tejada emerging as a more-than-acceptable Mets low-budget alternative to Reyes, it’s ever more likely that free-agent Jose will be going elsewhere after the season. Whether the Giants will be able to afford both Beltran and Reyes, or either of them, depends on how hot the market is for the two memorable Mets.

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

Are the Dems Dealing with a ‘Marvelous Marv’ Factor?

(Posted: 9/16/11)

Who remembers “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry? Queens resident James O’Hare does. In a pre-vote message to our E-mailbag, buy he likened losing special-election candidate David Weprin to the symbolically bumbling Mets player who made a then-record 17 errors while playing first base in the team’s opening season (1962). O’Hare believes even a non-Marv-like Dem candidate would have lost the NY-9 Congressional race, sale which played out in his bailiwick. “Seeing up close what is going on,” he said, showed him that “serious political discussion has been destroyed” by Team GOP.

Like the Mets, who outlived the legend of Marvelous Marv, but only for awhile, the Dem team faces the 2012 season in disarray. The game on the NY-9 electoral diamond displayed not so much a lack of talent (although it suggested that as well); rather, it showed that the Dems, for all their skills, can’t seem to cope with the cocky, rough-and-tumble play of their opponents. Bloomberg News-man Al Hunt sees a potentially effective GOP game plan unfolding:

“Republicans believe that the U.S. is a center-right country, and that most voters now accept their agenda of free markets, lower taxes and pro-growth policies. They contend that the difficulties of recent years underscore those virtues, and say privately that Americans are forgetting that a lot of the problems began under President George W. Bush.

“Moreover, Republicans say that Obama, such an effective communicator and storyteller during the last presidential campaign, has fumbled and faltered on the public presentation of his economic policy and message. The White House communications strategy this year, Republicans say with relish, has ranged from embarrassing to pathetic. They believe that the agenda now is being fought more on their terrain.”

The challenge Team Obama may find it hard to meet, says Hunt, is to make the contest less a referendum on the skipper’s record and more about “contrasting visions” and “the evils of a Republican Party that’s supposedly been captured by its right wing.”

Both sides agree on one thing: a tough race lies ahead.

‘Up-Close’ Recap of NY-9: “In the end, what turned it was probably stuff that (Bob)Turner’s surrogates like (former NYC Mayor Ed) Koch and (Councilman Dov) Hikund were saying behind the scenes. Stuff that, if Turner said it, would have been called anti-Semitic… about Weprin not being a ’real Jew.’ Even in my non-Jewish but conservative neighborhood (Richmond Hill), people were saying that Weprin is ‘not for Israel’.”

– James O’Hare (who describes himself as a “broke ambulance-chaser”).

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What We Know at Pre-Playoff Time: The Angels still have a prayer at overtaking the Rangers in the AL West, and the Cardinals have a remote chance of catching the Braves for the NL wild card, but the race to avoid meeting the Phillies in the NLDS is the one to watch. Arizona and Milwaukee have identical records with 12 games left. Whichever has the better W-L mark at season’s end gets to meet the Braves (probably); the other team draws the formidable Phils. The D-backs have nine games left at home, three each with the Pirates, Giants and Dodgers; the Brewers have six away against the Reds and Cubs, then six at home against the Marlins and Pirates. All that’s clear is the key role to be played by Clint Hurdle’s Pirates. Clint has that spoiler glint.

The Tigers could overtake the Yankees for top spot among the AL’s final four and thus draw the Red Sox instead of the Rangers, likely West division winners. But it looks as though the AL will have two interesting playoff matchups – Rangers-Yankees and Red Sox-Tigers. The NL, we know, will have one heavily favored team and three long-shots.

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

Off- and On-Field Legacies, One Sad, the Other Brutal

(Posted: 9/12/11; update 9/13)

Four years ago, usa almost to the day, drugstore the Mets began their monumental fade, levitra blowing a seven-game NL East lead with only 17 games to go. The now-beleaguered team and its fans have experienced the fallout from that fizzle ever since – a feeling the Mets will find a way to lose.

Some observers are evoking the memorable collapse in an attempt both to inject interest into the season’s end and life into the wild-card chances of the Rays and Cardinals. But the Mets’ crash is truly worth remembering as a cautionary tale: life offers few sure things.

Team GOP front-runner Mitt Romney would do well to take the tale to heart. The polling scorebook shows him to have a solid strategic edge in the contest to make it to the electoral world series. Why? Romney is the closest to a moderate in the GOP field, unless you count Jon Huntsman, who up to nowsits at the far end of the team bench. The party’s savvy fans know their presidential candidate must hit as much up the middle as possible if he is to win at game’s end.

Romney’s challenge will be to resist altering his stance so as to hit to right enough to woo archrival Rick Perry’s tea-party fans. Such a move could set in motion the type of homestretch turbulence that helped flummox the Mets: a shortage (through defections rather than injury) of key personnel when most needed, a tentative swing toward the middle by Perry, or an ’07 Phillies-like rally by Huntsman, hitting hard to show he is the more electable moderate.

Notable at the opposite end of Romney’s place on the Team GOP scorecard: the names of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Ron Paul, seen as too far afield to make it home.

In the aftermath of 9/11’s tenth anniversary, there is this grim reminder of what is being done far afield in our name as a consequence of the attack. It comes through an eerily familiar description of a war-prisoner detention camp run by the Japanese during WW2: 

“It was a secret interrogation center called Ofuna, where ‘high-value’ captured men were housed in solitary confinement, starved, tormented, and tortured to divulge military secrets. Because Ofuna was kept secret from the outside world, the Japanese operated with an absolutely free hand. The men in Ofuna, said the Japanese, weren’t POWs; they were ‘unarmed combatants’ at war against Japan, and, as such, didn’t have the rights that international law accorded to POWs. In fact, they had no rights at all…Some one thousand Allied captives (were) hauled into Ofuna, and many would be held there for years.” from “Unbroken” – a World War II Story (Random House)

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2007 Redux? Late last week, the Red Sox had a seven-and-a-half game lead over the Rays with 19 games left. After the weekend, the lead was down to three-and-a-half games with 15 left. Are the Sox experiencing a Mets-like swoon? Unlikely. The ’07 Mets had two reliable starters, Johan Santana and Tom Glavine. In the last week of the season, when every game was super-crucial, they had to send minor league call-up Philip Humber to start. At the same time, the team’s hitting just stopped. The Red Sox have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester at the top of their rotation, and (except at rare intervals) a reliably potent offense. The Rays must play 11 of their last 17 games away, four each against the Sox and Yankees. They have three more with the Yanks at home at the end of the season. Boston has the easier schedule – three with the Yanks (away) and six with the Orioles as well as the four with the Rays at home and two with the Jays in Toronto.

The LA Angels – An Up-Close Rating: Their general manager fails to gird the roster with the necessary bullpen arms, their fans were overwhelmed this weekend by the louder Yankees fans, their lineup sometimes resembles the Texas Rangers’ junior varsity. But…they face it and move on…(to) Oakland, where they have lost six of their last seven.” games.” – Bill Plaschke, LA Times

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

Scutaro and the Skipper: the Question of Return

(Posted: 9/9/11) 

You are Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro, discount click and you’ve been included in manager Terry Francona’s rating of the team’s defense.  Speaking to The Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Francona calls the work of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury “huge,” that of corner fielders Carl Crawford, Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald “good” and “solid.”  First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is “really good”, says Francona, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia “as good as you’ll find.”  The skipper says the play of Kevin Youklis has been “huge” at third base, and catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek have been “terrific.” 

Francona interrupts the gushing to hint that Scutaro is no more than a middlin’ infielder: “(He) makes the average play.”  Marco, finishing a two-year contract, clearly has reason to doubt that he’ll be invited back next year. 

Fan-based evaluation of Skipper Obama has been lower than Francona’s of Scutaro; it’s been so low, even when voiced by supporters, that there is clubhouse concern voters won’t bring him back for a new stint as skipper.  But just as Scutaro has earned the above-average respect of close observers in Red Sox Nation, Obama still commands generalized praise from influential corners of the national grandstand.  Oprah Winfrey, for one, says she continues to believe in his “integrity and…heart.”  NY state Skipper Andrew Cuomo hails Barack’s defense of the “role government plays…in keeping the American dream alive.”

While Scutaro has showcased his overall value with a hitting spree – he’s batting .600 in September (12 for 20) and has raised his BA from under .250 to .292 since late August – Obama’s feeble offensive game has forced fans to look hard to find something specific to cheer about.  Thus California Senator Barbara Boxer had to shake off dismay over the skipper’s abandoning new air pollution rules; she chose to applaud his default pledge to protect the Clean Air Act, and to hint at a reason for hope – a possible revival of the Obama “fighting spirit.”  And some Dems thought his “punchy” (NY Times) jobs speech Thursday night would energize the party base.

In fact, the skipper’s dugout coaches seem to concede that the fighting 2008-style campaign pitches won’t work anymore, perhaps agreeing with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi: “We are back in campaign mode and Barack Obama has started doing again what he does best – play the part of a progressive.  He’s good at it.  It sounds like he has a natural affinity for…ordinary people…But his policies are (pure) corporate/financial America… I just don’t believe this guy anymore, and it’s become almost painful to listen to him.”

Confirming, however inadvertently, that Team Obama is banking more on opposition miscues than its own spirited play, coach David Axelrod told the NY Times he’d be more worried about retaining the title if Team GOP had something “compelling(ly) new” to offer.  Indeed, the reality is that, unless a fresh GOP strategy or leader emerges, the skipper, more than Scutaro, can expect to return to his current job.  But fans in left field know not to relax:  a lot can happen over what remains of a long season.

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Waiting for October:  The vistas of vacant seats that jump out at TV viewers during game roundups attest to the competitive disaster that is September baseball this year:  a single race – Rangers-Angels – in the six divisions.  Undeterred, MLB boss Bud Selig sees light a few weeks away:  “If everything holds, a great October is shaping up.  I’m not unhappy.  Sure, you hope the division races are better.  But this has a chance to be historic.”  Well, yes; the likely D-backs-Phillies NLDS matchup could well set a new mark for one-sidedness.

Sound Familiar?  “The Cubs and White Sox are both in the process of doing one of the most maddening things a team can do — playing their best when it means the least.”  – Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

Stat CityHow offensively dominant have the Yankees been?  Six of 20 slots comprising the top five AL players in BA, HRs, RBIs and SBs are filled by Yanks: Curtis Granderson (38) and Mark Teixeira (36) in HRs, Granderson (109), Robinson Cano (105) and Teixeira (102) in RBIs, and Brett Gardner (43) in SBs.  The Red Sox fill four places – Adrian Gonzalez (.343) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.317) in BA, Gonzalez (106) in RBIs and Ellsbury (36) in SBs.  The Brewers’ Ryan Braun (.329) in BA and 95 RBIs, and Prince Fielder (31) in HRs and 108 RBIs fill four slots at the top of NL list.

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

Can Jeter’s Example Help End Obama’s Slump?

(Posted: 9/1/11; update 9/12)       

Remember, discount a few months ago, buy when we all focused on Derek Jeter’s front foot and blamed its positioning, at least, in part, on his early-season batting slump?  Remember, a few weeks ago, when media pundits, and many of his fans were demanding that Skipper Obama “get off his ass” (Kevin Drum, Mother Jones) and “do something” to end his political slump?  We know that, during three weeks on the DL in June, Jeter found his stroke, staying back instead of striding forward at the plate.  Since July 4, his BA has gone from a mostly-singles .250 to power-added .295.

Can we reasonably hope that Obama found his stroke while vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard for a week-and-a-half?   The honest answer, based on what we and pressbox observers have seen, is “doubtful.”   A credible game plan for the offensive “pivot” Team Obama has promised to execute could involve a series of executive-order line drives: they would give the O-team limited, short-term success – hits into the alleys past out-of-position opponents who normally serve as obstacles on issues and appointments. That still-speculative recess-period rally could help fans who are hurting and give many of them belated reason to cheer.

What many of us fear instead is a series of “symbolic minor measures” (Paul Krugman) and firey campaign pitches that, given the ’09-11 scorecard, have lost all believable bite.  Of course, few believed that Jeter, seemingly over the hill, would bounce back.  The skipper, in some ways a Jeter kindred spirit, could surprise us: where disconsolate Derek pulled back from the plate, Barack might offer at least the hint of renewed hope – by digging in up-front, and swinging for the fences, as desperate skippers must be ready to do. 

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Differing Approaches:  We know that games now like Yankees-Red Sox may count statistically but don’t matter competitively – both are in the playoffs.  Lest fan interest be diminished, SNY’s Michael Kay quoted Dustin Pedroia as saying “I’m playing to win the division; I don’t think about the wild card.”  Kay added, however, that managers may not feel as players do.  Some are more concerned with “setting up their rotation” and match-ups, than whether they finish first or second.  How concerned can Joe Girardi be when he slots the two marginal members of his rotation – Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett – in the “big” series against the Bosox?

Un-needed Difference:  Jim Leyland, quoted during a KC-Tigers “look-in” on MLB-TV Wednesday: “When the rosters are expanded (as of 9/1), I manage entirely differently.”  What’s different, we know, is that managers can insert bench players and relief pitchers freely, no longer having to worry about running out of personnel.  Baseball thus loses an interesting dynamic that lessens the challenge teams face when the homestretch pressure (for some) is on.   One of MLB’s many bad ideas.    

All About Attitude:  Why the Giants unloaded veterans Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada on the eve of possibly carrying as much as a 40-man roster?  Teammate Mark DeRosa put it this way:  “When you find yourself on the bench day after day after day, it beats you up. You feel terrible not being out there, and then when you go out there, you don’t play well and you’re back on the bench for a couple days.”  Translation: Rowand and Tejada were unhappy and didn’t care who knew it.

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