The Nub

Redemption in One Field, Regrettable Play on the Other

(Posted: 10/31/11; e-mail update 11/1)      

 All is forgiven, sildenafil baseball.  The dramatics on the last day of the regular season (September 28) and the sixth game of the World Series (October 27) redeemed what seemed to be a disastrous year: nearly all races over in late August. (Raise your hand if you had any doubt the Phillies would make it to the Series.)  Fans will long remember how the Cardinals and Rays slipped into the playoffs, aided by the collapsing Braves and Red Sox.  And even non-Cardinal fans will be hard put to forget the heroics of last Thursday night.

So, despite the persistent rich/poor-team problem, the prevalent bad “human error” calls, and the fan-betrayal sellout to TV scheduling, baseball has reason to celebrate.  2012 will be remembered as a terrific year for the sport.  What about Team USA?  What have its followers had to cheer about?  Well, as with baseball, the big political Team could point to two crowd-pleasing dates, October 20 and May 1.  Two weeks ago, we heard about the lead-from-behind success in Libya.  In his announcement, Skipper Obama was careful not to exult in the way it played out with Moammar Gaddafi’s backroom execution: “We can definitively say that the Gaddafi regime has come to an end… one of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more.” (One reason for the skipper’s soft pitch may have been to distance himself from coach Hillary Clinton’s harsh delivery in Tripoli prior to Gaddafi’s death:  “We hope he can be captured or killed soon so (Libyans) don’t have to fear him any longer.”)

The president’s May 1 report of the death of Osama bin Laden had almost a gleeful, we’re-number-one tone.  It’s an at-bat we like to think he now regrets.  Salon’s hardball-playing Glenn Greenwald has a stinging reminder of how the skipper styled his political grand slam:

“When President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden…he said something which I found striking… : ’Tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.’  That sentiment of national pride had in the past been triggered by putting a man on the moon, or discovering cures for diseases… or correcting America’s own entrenched injustices.  Yet here was President Obama proclaiming that…  our national greatness was (related to) our ability to hunt someone down, pump bullets into his skull, and then dump his corpse into the ocean.  And indeed, outside the White House and elsewhere, hordes of Americans were soon raucously celebrating the killing with “USA! USA!” chants as though their sports team had just won a major championship.”

Team Obama gets points for honesty, however unwelcome: it did acknowledge a game plan calling for assassination of enemies. The success of that plan in Osama’s case reached millions during an ESPN broadcast of a Mets-Phillies game. The news was greeted with patriotic chants that resonated through Citizens Bank Park and beyond.  A bad night for both pastimes.                                              

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Primer on Theo Epstein’s Cubs and the role of sabermetrics“(Computer analysis is) a tool of the new reality at Wrigley Field, where WAR does not stand for Waveland Avenue Reclamation, but Wins Above Replacement.  Beyond Matt Garza (5.0 WAR), Starlin Castro (3.4) and Darwin Barney (2.2), the Cubs are in trouble… Alfonso Soriano still is owed $57 million (his WAR: only 1.3).  Now, it could surprise some critics, but two potential Cubs free agents actually score well in WAR, Aramis Ramirez (3.6) and Carlos Pena (2.6).

”WAR is just one of myriad statistics worth analyzing. But there’s also OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages), RC (runs created)… and UZR (a formula to find a defensive player’s range).  And that’s just scratching the surface… Sabermetrics savants love walks and hate sacrifice bunts and stolen bases…”

Epstein (Channeling Billy Beane) on What He Looks For:  “I think a big part…revolves around the box right around home plate both for pitchers and hitters.  So … the hitter’s job is to know the strike zone … not so you can walk.  That’s sort of a happy symptom of the approach, not the end-all.  Probably the most important thing to do (for a hitter) is not make an out… (Seeing more pitches) has an effect that builds. … It leads to scoring runs.  Scoring runs leads to wins.” – Dave van Dyck, Chicago Tribune

P.S.  The MLB leader in taking pitches last season: Curtis Granderson of the Yankees (4.4 per plate appearance.)

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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.)

Familiar Stances: Clinton, Obama, Cuomo, and Billy Beane

(Posted: 10/27/11; e-mail update 10/28)

Commenting on the movie celebrating him and his system, salve Billy Beane says it’s no secret why the “MoneyBall” approach – using advanced number-crunching to find un-hyped prospects – isn’t working for his Oakland A’s today. “Now even the large market teams, buy pharm ” he says, have adopted his “values.” They’re beating the bushes for prospects with overlooked potential, like those with a knack for getting on base, one way or the other.

The adoption game, copying what has worked for other teams, is practiced on the political field as much as in baseball. In the late ‘90s, Team USA’s Skipper Bill Clinton introduced a “triangulation” play whereby he positioned himself between the left and right, keeping players on both sides off-balance. His rallying cry, uttered in the 1996 State of the Union address, set the tone of his strategic game: “The era of big government is over.”

Skipper Obama, borrowed from the Clinton playbook an approach he calls “bipartisanship.” That variation has not played well on either side of the field up to now, but the O-team persists in trying to make it work. Down a league level, NY Skipper Andrew Cuomo has scored big in less than a full season with his keep-them-off-balance play. He set the tone of his game by pitching hard, and successfully, last winter to end a millionaire’s tax. Opponents were unable to mount a rally against that right-side-of-the-plate delivery until the Occupy Wall Street movement set up camp at a park not far from the Capitol in Albany. Cuomo swung hard to have them removed, but he couldn’t get the police or local DA to play ball. A pressbox observer for the local Times-Union saw the situation this way:

“Mr. Cuomo seemed all too ready to…us(e) armed officers to silence people critical of, among other things, his own policies. Among the issues at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street protest and its offshoots around the country is higher taxation of the rich, a matter on which Mr. Cuomo may be rather sensitive. While most New Yorkers favor such taxes, Mr. Cuomo contends that continuing an income tax surcharge on millionaire earners would drive them out of New York. Critics chide the governor for cutting school aid to give the rich a tax break.”

The first sign of a Cuomo slump appeared in the middle of the month when he defended his tax break for the rich with what was a politically tone-deaf comparison: he likened his unpopular stance in support of wealth to the equally unpopular opposition to the death penalty taken by his father Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1980s.

Suddenly, says The Politico’s Ben Smith, Skipper Andrew’s vulnerabilities are showing. Besides the current rhubarb, he says, there is this: “As Attorney General, (Cuomo) represented a… breather between Eliot Spitzer’s guerilla war on Wall Street and Eric Schneiderman’s revival of cases that, under (Andrew), had not been pursued. Cuomo’s (own) occupation of Wall Street come(s) in the form of high-dollar fundraisers, and New York’s disgruntled liberals are…waiting for their moment to use that combination of facts to put a dent in his national ambitions.”

Outlaw League Lineup: Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Western Union. These big-money financial players are hitting out against the WikiLeaks team and the free flow of (often embarrassing) information about government activities. We urge sending them to the bench, and use of pinch-hitter procedures for financial transactions.

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The Fatalist: Billy Beane, on where baseball has gone since the MoneyBall system was first described: ““Back to an efficient market…where whatever you spend, that’s where you’re going to finish.”

Second Thought: Tony La Russa, asked if he might use ace Chris Carpenter in tonight’s sixth Series game: “No chance…Little chance.”

Theo Tidbit: “Epstein, in a surprising revelation Tuesday, said he might still be in Boston if (Tito) Francona was still the manager.” – Peter May, NY Times

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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.)

For Teams on Both Fields It’s Complicated

(Posted:10/24/11;e-mail update 10/25)      

In baseball and in politics, usa pharm the looming end of the World Series leads to what we can call the complication season.  Just the names Albert Pujols, buy pills Jose Reyes, cheap Prince Fielder signal complicated, big-money decision-making on the baseball side,  Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and, even Marco Rubio, tell of the tricky political challenges facing Team GOP.

Fans of the electoral game will be paying closest attention to Team Obama and how it proposes to play to its strength while getting around its error-prone-ness. Focusing on one bailiwick (Mountain States), National Journal scout Ron Brownstein lays out the parameters of the O-team’s broad swing-voter problem:

“On one side are demographic trends that favor Democrats…rising levels of racial diversity, education, and urbanization.  On the other is the ideological backlash that the party has repeatedly faced…particularly from whites, when it has controlled the White House and implemented a national Democratic agenda.”

Implicit in Brownstein’s report:  Where polling stats made the Skipper confident of winning over the majority of swing voters in 2008, the numbers now say his winning them in 2012 is both uncertain and a necessity. 

The Mets, we know, are reckoning how realistic it is for them to re-sign Reyes, given their Madoff-related budgetary bind.  A front-office member acknowledged that one money-raising alternative – trading away David Wright – was under consideration, however long a shot.  NY Post-man Joel Sherman spoke to an AL personnel source who described the Wright-related complication:

“Here is the problem:  The industry values David Wright as a good to very good player who might already be trending the wrong way and is about to get very expensive. A lot of teams like the Rockies and Angels need a third baseman.  But still the return package will be good, not great, and can the Mets sell a good, not great return to a fan base that still thinks Wright is a superstar?”

A Wright-like dilemma faces most MLB front offices independent of top-tier player decisions.  It’s the season… 

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Not Ready to Rejoice:  MLB-TV’s Matt Yallof tried to make the post-game interview with Josh Hamilton Sunday night a feel-good session.  After all, Hamilton had doubled home the lead run in the 4-0 Texas victory and appeared to have recovered from his groin injury.  “You seem to be much better,” Yallof said.  Hamilton said he had tried to find a stance that would let him hit more comfortably.  Nothing about feeling better.  Yallof nevertheless implied, as the interview drew to a close, that Hamilton’s groin was virtually healed.  Sorry, Matt.  “It’s feeling bad now,” said Hamilton.     

MLB-TV’s Larry Bowa on the un-healed Hamilton continuing to bat third: “Ron Washington’s doing the right thing leaving him there.  Hamilton is an impact player.  Just having him in the lineup disrupts the opposing team’s approach.  And even injured, he could get a pitch he can drive.”

 Steadfast:  Among the Series’ notable off-field TV shots:  those showing an always impassive spectator, former first lady Laura Bush.  The picture of a dutiful wife.

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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.)

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A Political Take on Baseball’s Post-Season Climax

(Posted: 10/21/11; e-mail update 10/22)

 A political fan’s view of the Cardinals-Rangers Series: one team is from a pink state (Missouri), canada salve the other from a dark red one (Texas). Possible to favor neither; sit back and let the better team win.

A baseball fan’s view of the concurrent political contest involving the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements: one team is batting against the bankers, check the other against government. Each is aiming at a valid target in the economic game. Root for them to get together.

International Herald Trib observer William Pfaff makes a similar point: “Both sides are obsessed with the other, and cannot recognize what they have in common, which is victimization by a finance- and corporate-dominated American business establishment in effective control of the United States government.”

 With an overview from the grandstand’s upper deck, NY Times stat man Nate Silver reports that only 39 percent of occupiers surveyed in NYC bothered to vote in the 2010 election. Most deplore “politics as usual.” Silver notes that in its early, less pull-to-right stage, the Tea Party team attracted more fan support than it receives now. The same cooling of support could await the occupiers, he implies, if they stop hitting down the middle:

“Perhaps it’s the lack of overt partisanship that people are responding favorably to. Perhaps, even, ‘post-partisanship’ will emerge from the left and right of the country rather than from the center.”

Offering advice to the Occupiers, Prof. George Lakoff of Cal, Berkeley, cites the need for a patriotic movement, with a moral, rather than a political focus. That such an approach would appeal to teams at both political extremes is unlikely, but so, we fans remember, was the Cardinals’ miraculous end-of-season comeback.

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Tuning In: It isn’t as much fun listening to the familiar team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver do the World Series on Fox as it was to the more spontaneous NLCS color men Ron Darling and John Smoltz on TBS. But Buck/McCarver are indisputably solid. Buck picked up immediately on Albert Pujols’ damaging failure to handle the cutoff throw in the ninth Thursday night that permitted Elvis Andrus to take second base; it put him and Ian Kinsler (on third) in position to score the decisive runs. And the Fox production crew did magnificent work when Andrus and Kinsler combined to execute a sprawl-shuffle-and-catch-on-the-run start of a key double play in the fifth. It had to be seen in perfect slo-mo to be believed. McCarver later noted how Tony La Russa was maneuvering his relievers to seduce Ron Washington into using up his players – two to every one pitching change.

Kudos For Kinsler, who drew the opening ninth-inning walk and scored the tying run. He is vindicating Tito Francona’s accolade last week – Tito called him an overlooked star, comparable to Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano. Kinsler leads the post-season Rangers in BA (.319), and is second to Nelson Cruz in total bases (22/30) and extra-base hits (8/5). His fielding has ranged from near-flawless to brilliant.

Back Home Where for Beltran? The Giants reportedly are pushing hard to re-sign Carlos Beltran, which is surely bad news for the Mets. After he let Beltran go to SF this summer, Sandy Alderson said he could well try to bring Carlos back next season. Alderson knows that, for Mets fans, the return of Beltran would ease – however slightly – the pain of the probable loss of Jose Reyes. The Giants, in better financial shape than the Mets. seem primed to spoil that possible backup plan.

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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.)

Volatile Seasons: Spring in the Mideast, Fall Near Fenway Park

(Posted: 10/17/11; e-mail update 10/18)

Snap quiz: What do the Arab Spring and Red Sox Nation have in common? Answer: regime change. Just as popular reaction to failed leadership caused the ousting of decision-makers on Middle Eastern teams, treatment so has a similar response to the Sox’s collapse led to departures of the team’s skipper and his boss. 

Tito Francona, the antithesis of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, was nudged from his Sox job, in part, for giving his players too much freedom; Mubarak lost his top front office slot for exercising dictatorial control over fans in his bailiwick. The post-collapse turmoil helped persuade GM Theo Epstein that it would be a good time to leave Boston for Chicago. Tunisia’s corrupt former Skipper Ben Ali responded to a warning hit-and-run sign by scampering to a new home in Saudi Arabia. As for Mubarak, he has been consigned to what may be a permanent disabled list.

Arab Spring is also credited with expediting the Israel-Palestinian swap of prisoners, a trade that coincides with a still-to-be-completed exchange of Cubs prospects for Epstein. The long-view backdrop of Theo’s decision to leave with a year left in his contract – the sense that, after a triumphal eight years as Boston GM, he craved a new challenge – is well known. Less so is how the aggressive Spring game around Arabia advanced the prisoner-exchange timetable. Institute of Policy Studies author Phyllis Bennis monitored the action:

“As the Arab Spring…the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, and political shifts inside Israel all came together, (one faction in) the prisoner deal faced new pressure. Hamas, which governs in the Gaza Strip, suddenly had to answer a rare surge of support for its political rival, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. When the PA’s leader Mahmoud Abbas…brought the demand for Palestinian statehood and UN membership to the General Assembly last month, he won a sudden increase of popular acclaim.” It was an initiative, says Bennis, that forced Hamas to step to the negotiating plate. She also notes that the score, returning Palestinian prisoners 1,023, returning Israelis 1, attests to the lopsided power of the team with the lower number.

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Recapitulation: Five of eight playoff teams figured to have a shot at the World Series – the Phillies, Rangers and Yankees in the top tier, the Tigers and Brewers with an outside chance. The Cardinals, D-backs and Rays were no-shots. Hail to Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and the Cards’ front office (as well as the team itself)! They’re long shots to beat the Rangers, but they’re hot as they go against Ron Washington’s collective hammer. Who would bet against the Cardinals now? 

The Bandbox Effect: John Smoltz (doing color on TBS), on the 18-run scoring rampage in Miller Park Sunday night: “Throughout the playoffs I’ve been talking about the importance of shut-down innings. I ain’t saying that anymore.”

Red Sox Nation’s autumn of discontent, updated by the Globe’s multi-tooled Dan Shaughnessy: Baseball in Boston…it’s pretty bad right now… The Sox still don’t have a manager and they won’t have a manager until their general manager leaves…I love the notion that the Sox are in their offices working furiously to correct the problems of 2011 and make things better for 2012 . . . all while Epstein is still running baseball ops. Don’t they usually change the locks and walk you to your car when you take a job at a competitor?”  

Lifesaver: “Today is the anniversary of 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake. It struck San Francisco Bay at 5:04 p.m., during the televised warm-up to Game Three of the World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants; as a result, it was the first earthquake in the United States whose opening shocks were broadcast on live television. The earthquake reached a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale, occurred as two plates slipped along the San Andreas Fault, and lasted about 10 to 15 seconds. There were 63 fatalities; that number likely would have been closer to 300, had it not been for the World Series. Many people had left work early, or were otherwise parked in front of televisions at a time when they usually would have been crowding the freeways and bridges.” – (Writer’s Almanac)

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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.)

The Critical Importance of Team Chemistry in Both Fields

(Posted: 10/14/11; e-mail update 10/15)

It was a treat listening to Tito Francona this past week as he shared the Fox broadcast booth with Joe Buck Francona replaced convalescing Tim McCarver for the first two games of the Tigers-Rangers AL championship series. He brought fresh-off-the-field insights to his color assignment – “I consider (Ian) Kinsler one of the best players in the game; he doesn’t get enough credit.” 

In a low-key way, buy pharm Francona emphasized the importance of team chemistry. Some of his Red Sox players who weren’t in a game, discount he said, would stay in the clubhouse rather than take a place on the bench: “I thought they should support their teammates.” Shortly thereafter, he extolled his former third baseman Adrian Beltre, now with the Rangers, first, for his ability to hit pitches on either side of the plate with power. Then he added: “That’s only half of what Beltre brings to a team – he’s a leader who keeps everybody loose.” Of both the Rangers and the Tigers, Francona said “they look after each other, and they love what they’re doing.”

The message was clear: chemistry, a metric that can’t be measured by numbers, is a key element in a team’s success. Baseball downplays the unmeasurable, giving priority to stats that tell of hitting, fielding and pitching effectiveness. Team USA has a similar fixation about the place of money as an indicator of our standing in the world. Author David Rothkopf says (in the NY Times) that singular emphasis overlooks a lineup of values equivalent internationally to what chemistry is in baseball:

“We have consistently relied on indicators that keep us focused on the interests of business, financial institutions or the defense industry whereas equity, quality of life, and even social mobility metrics are played down…(But) the purpose of a society is not merely creation of wealth, especially if most of it goes to the few…Happiness has become the watchword (now) for those seeking different measures that might better guide governments.”

To the inevitable question about the components of happiness, the consensus is this: living in a society offering equal opportunities to achieve a quality of life that makes possible material contentment. We know that hardly looks like the field on which Team USA is playing these days.

 Re: the effort to make that field more level – Here, we believe, are two game-changers, either of which can sideline the Occupy Wall Street team: (1) the oncoming cold weather; (2) letting the movement become politically partisan: the “99 percent” can’t – and shouldn’t – be pigeonholed anywhere on the electoral diamond. Populist scorekeeper Barbara Ehrenreich notes that the “dream of uniting people of all races and collar colors into ‘one big working class’” is playing out. That lineup implicitly includes people of all political persuasions.

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Now You Know: Logical prediction based on comparison of LCS pitching staffs: the World Series will match the Rangers and Brewers. Logical gut feeling: most unaligned fans are rooting for the underdog Tigers and Cardinals.

Boston Backlash: ESPN’s Gordon Edes summing up the shabby treatment Francona received from the Red Sox:

“He was supposed to say the decision to end his eight-year run as Red Sox manager was all his, and leave it at that. Instead, he said that he wasn’t sure ownership had his back, suggesting that the reason he walked out the door was because it was held wide open for him. Well, that obviously didn’t sit well with some people in the highest reaches of Sox management, for now we are told…that not only did the Red Sox collapse in September, but that Francona’s troubled marriage and his use of pain medication may have been contributing factors. This is how it’s done, Tito, Boston-style. No one ever escapes clean, regardless of what you might have accomplished here.”

Tito-Speak: Francona, discussing the effect of Jim Leyland’s intensity on opposing managers and teams: “He gives tense.”

Regret: Brewers Skipper Ron Roenicke on former Met Carlos Gomez, who was not in the lineup Wednesday when fly balls eluded his outfielders: “He can catch any ball anywhere out there. He is a great defensive center fielder.”

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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.)

Occupy Team Playing the ‘Money Ball’ Game at Wall Street

(Posted: 10/7/11)

A baseball fan thought of “Money Ball” while visiting the Occupy Wall Street bailiwick this week. The occupiers are following a game plan similar to that started by Oakland GM Billy Beane, purchase as described in Michael Lewis’s book about the low-budget A’s. Just as Beane and his staff used imagination and stats analysis to make the A’s competitive with wealthier teams, ambulance the occupiers are betting that organized people can match the organized money of Wall Street.

And just as ball teams as with savvy front offices – think Rays, Phillies, Giants and, yes, the Yankees – build around young players, so the occupy-team knows its game depends on youthful energy and fervor. The occupy-supporting march from Foley Square to Wall Street last Wednesday was alive with the cheering, chanting, singing and laughter of 20-year olds. Their purpose was serious, however. WashPost-man Ezra Klein became an o-team fan after hearing from the younger players:

“(Theirs) are small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it…College debt shows up a lot… It’s more insistently present than housing debt, or even unemployment. That might speak to the fact that the protests tilt towards the young. But it also speaks, I think, to the fact that college debt represents a special sort of betrayal. We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt…You did everything you were told to do, and it didn’t work out… That hurts, of course, but it’s a bad economy, and everybody is suffering. At least, that’s what they say.

“But you look around and the reality is not everyone is suffering. Wall Street caused this mess, and the government paid off their debts and helped them rake in record profits in recent years. The top 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income and 40 percent of its wealth. There are a lot of people who don’t seem to be doing everything they’re supposed to do, and it seems to be working out just fine for them…This is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street…seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium.”

Much has been made of the fact that the occupiers have no specific demands. “What do they want?” They want a fair game, a more even playing field. Naysayers may call it trite. But should the movement, with the help of fans, sustain itself and grow, the pitch for more fairness could play in the national ballpark. Then- the ultimate possible dream – fan-fed insistence pushes key players on the major political teams to do some game-changing.

Pre-game notes: Few baseball fans evident among the thousands of marchers Wednesday: a single baseball cap noted, worn (presumably) by a Pirates fan. Was the absence of Yankees caps a sign of fan pessimism? Union supporters lent lots of noise to the occasion: “What’s disgusting? Union-busting. What’s outrageous? Poverty wages.” John Lennon was remembered through this variation on his anti-war song: “All we are saying: Don’t give greed a chance.”

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3-D Victory: The Yankees didn’t play badly; yes, Ivan Nova was an unfortunate choice to start. It was lack of timely hitting that did them in. When that happens, you tip your hat to the opposition. The Tigers won, let’s say via 3-D: Dave Dombrowski, Doug Fister, Delmon Young. GM Dombrowski did what Brian Cashman declined to do, picking up Fister at the trade deadline and Young in late August. They were the difference.

The Other League: Whatever happens in game five, Tony La Russa’s Cardinals have done a miraculous job in taking the Phillies to the NLDS limit. We know that, of the eight playoff teams, the Phils were deemed “most destined” to make the World Series. And, with Roy Halladay pitching the decisive game at home tonight, expectations are justifiably high that they will move on. The Cards will have to pull off a super-miracle to beat Charlie Manuel’s well-balanced crew. If Milwaukee is not quite as heavy a favorite to beat the D-backs in their game five, it could be because Arizona Skipper Kirk Gibson has figured out how to pitch to Prince Fielder – give him nothing to hit, let him walk if he wants.

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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.)

The ‘Can’t-Lose’ Label Comes with No Guarantee

(Posted: 10/3/11; e-mail subscriber update 10/4)      

Can’t-lose teams in 2011: the Phillies, buy order Red Sox and Yankees.  Two out of three ain’t bad…unless you’re a Sox fan.  Given no time to grieve, buy Red Sox Nation is reeling from the fallout of the team’s collapse – the abrupt departure of Tito Francona and the possible (however unlikely) defection of GM Theo Epstein.

What happened?  The guess here:  Just as Fred Wilpon got tired of spending big bucks for four years of Met failures and fired the team of GM Omar Minaya and Skipper Jerry Manuel, so Sox owner John Henry didn’t like having little to show for an outlay of close to half-a-billion going back three years.  Epstein’s stature in the Nation and beyond – something Minaya didn’t have – spared Theo for the time being.  Henry surely noticed, as Francona himself did, that some Red Sox weren’t hustling or playing when half-hurt; the team had a laid-back look of “entitlement” (Tito’s word).  So the separation had a mutual-agreement inevitability about it, which gave Francona a face-saving out.

The skipper of Team USA can’t expect the type of gratitude Francona has earned, if he, President Obama, flubs the can’t-lose electoral season ahead.  Unlike Tito, who had to compete with the likes of Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon, Skipper Barack faces what most fans agree is an underwhelming array of opponents.  He certainly can’t lose to Nobody is the conventional Dem belief.  Alas for the skipper’s fans, the polls do not support that confidence. A Census Bureau survey of economic impact identifies nine “swing” states – that switched from Bush in ’04 to ‘Obama in ’08 – as having taken a harder income-level hit than did the nation overall.  The lineup: Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada.

To the National Journal team of Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland, the stats suggest a much tighter race ahead than widely expected: “If the recovery doesn’t accelerate considerably…the president will be compelled to stress ‘much more of a contrast message—that these Republicans are going to take us down if you let them in power again.’ History suggests that’s a tough argument to sell.  But such are the unappetizing options available for an incumbent when economic suffering, like an early frost, blankets almost every state on the map and falls especially hard on the states he needs the most.”

In other words, it is surely possible that a Nobody like Mitt Romney, nudged along by the bad economy, could pull off a Rays-like upset.

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Sweeping Expectation:  If Arizona finds a way to beat the Brewers Tuesday, it will be only the second time in the 16-year-old playoff system that at least one of the four division series did not end in a sweep.  The single year no team lost all LDS games was ’03.  Sweeps have occurred in 40 percent of series over the 16 years, 26 of the 64 first-round match-ups.  Often, owing to fan-and local media dismay over the home team losing so decisively, clubs that are swept would have been spared extra denigration by avoiding the playoffs.  Most swept teams: Red Sox, Twins and Cubs (three each).

Who Will Replace Ozzie?  In Chicago, they’re saying Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, and maybe his Indians’ counterpart Sandy Alomar Junior, are first in line for the White Sox managerial job vacated by Ozzie Guillen.  Both for the moment are ahead of Tito Francona.  Martinez spoke to the ChiTrib’s Dave van Dyck about the reliance he developed with Joe Maddon during his four-year audition for a skipper’s job:  “My first year Joe got kicked out of the game…Usually a manager sits in a chair in the back.  So a situation comes up and I told someone to go down and ask Joe what he wants to do.  He comes back up and says, ‘There’s ain’t no Joe there.’  I told him to get back, maybe Joe is in the bathroom, and he comes back and says, ‘Joe says he got kicked out and he’s having a glass of wine’.”

Quality: Turner Broadcasting has brought together at least two top-notch division-playoff teams:  Brian Anderson, Ron Darling and John Smoltz are insightful, objective, unobtrusive in their coverage of Tigers-Yankees (a relief from regular-season pro-pinstripe bias).  Don Orsillo and Buck Fernandez match that trio with their play-by-play and color of Rays-Rangers.  Bob Brenly enhances the Cardinals-Phillies series with his color work.  At a swinging moment in a Hunter Pence at-bat, Brenly said “Did you hear that grunt?”  That’s high-level intensity, he said, a rare asset on any team.

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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.)