The Nub

Regular ‘Challenges’ Needed in Baseball and Political Media

(Posted: 1/30/12; e-mail update 1/31)

At least one baseball fan thought right away of Bud Selig when a turnover led to the dramatic overtime victory of the football Giants a week ago. Selig, best defender of the “human element” in umpiring calls, had just gotten a two-year contract extension that all but rules out baseball soon using the latest technology on a sensible, football-like basis.

 The limited “challenge” system, whereby controversial calls can be double-checked via video slo-mo, insured that the game’s outcome would not be skewed by faulty refereeing. The fourth-quarter loose ball that grazed the would-be punt-returner could not have been detected by the naked eye. Similar situations, we know, can – and do – happen in baseball.

Press box challenges on the political field are rare when the game involves foreign policy. The corporate media tend to accept calls made from the home side of the diamond. Those same plays are seen from a different perspective abroad, where umpires and press box observers are less influenced by partisanship. One challenging observer, the International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff, questions the decisions designed to provoke or punish Team Iran:

The military victor of the (Iraq) war, but politico-strategic loser, was the United States, which destroyed a country in no position to harm the United States, at a trillion-dollar cost, enormous human suffering and waste, and the effective transfer of Iraq to Iran’s zone of military and strategic influence. The present debate over Iran’s nuclear program, like the pre-2003 debate concerning Iraq’s non-existent WMD program, has never extended to the most important question in the matter. What difference would it make if Iran did have nuclear weapons? What could it do with them, considering the nuclear deterrent force possessed by Israel, generally thought the fifth or sixth largest and most sophisticated nuclear power in the world? “  

Pfaff offers an obvious answer to his “important question”: nuclear weaponry would give Iran a deterrent to attack by enemies. (“Impermissible,” say those enemies, who already field such a deterrent.) Staying with the question, compare Pfaff’s published challenge to the unquestioned, aggression-rallying report from Jerusalem on the front page of the NY Times last week. The article’s main pitch is delivered by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “If Israel feels itself forced into action, the retaliation (from Iran) would be bearable. There will not be 100,000 dead…The state of Israel will not be destroyed.”

Back on the baseball beat, Selig’s extended contract all but destroys the hopes of Mets fans that the Wilpons will be forced to sell the team to someone – anyone – who could instill in them confidence the team has taken on savvy ownership. Selig talks often of his close relationship with Fred Wilpon, something he didn’t have with ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. Selig pressured McCourt, in financial straits similar to Wilpon’s, to sell his team. It’s hard to conceive of Bud doing the same to his friend Fred.

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Bud the Believer: Selig usually gets what he wants; we know he wants an additional wild card team in each league. Now, he says he “believes” the arrangement will be in place this season and not have to be deferred to next year. The inclination here is to put it down as a done deal.

Doing What It Takes: The White Sox only nailed 28 percent of would-be base-stealers last season. New bench coach Mark Parent, a former catcher, told fans at a team seminar that he would work to improve the mechanics of A.J Pierzynski and speed up the deliveries of pitchers like Gavin Floyd. Announcer Steve Stone suggested an alternate plan: pouring “10 gallons of water near first base.” “We can try that,” said Parent, interrupting fan laughter. “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

 Traditionalist: New Yankee Hiroki Kuroda told the LA Times he received better-paying offers than the ($10 million) one from the Yanks for the coming season. He chose the pinstripers for their “incredible tradition…I will be proud to be part of such a team.” Whom will the ex-Dodger miss in LA? Among his former teammates, fellow pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who played catch with him on most days. “He was really nice to me.” 

Terrific: Baseball Prospectus, on the prospect of Prince Fielder, mediocre defensively, at first, and poor-fielding Miguel Cabrera a third, comprising half the Detroit infield: Paired with Ryan Rayburn at second base and Johnny Peralta at shortstop—two players moved to less demanding defensive positions years ago, only to shift back to harder ones—the Tigers are threatening to field one of the more terrifying infields in recent memory.”

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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.)

Budget-Balancing Booed in Sox Nation and NY State

(Posted: 1/27/12; e-mail update 1/28)        

 The budget-balancing game, sildenafil view underway on both fields, is being booed everywhere political and baseball fans are watching.  In Red Sox Nation, the cost-consciousness of the team’s revamped front office is making natives restless.  In New York, the adroit playing of budgetary politics by a corporate-popular state skipper has brought howls from the left field stands.  

Press box observers praised the dust-raising skill of NY’s team leader Andrew Cuomo; he executed an eye-popping double play: both raising the tax rates of $2 million-plus millionaires while saving them money by swiping away a surtax on their income.  Even more remarkable was a trailer to that play – designating players earning between $300,000 and $2 million “middle class” and tossing them a tax cut.  The Nation’s Eric Alterman was one of the few press people to sum up Cuomo’s tax plan plainly:  “So the rich’s higher taxes are actually lower taxes.  And…budget cuts (will be made) to those services desperately needed by the working poor, unemployed and unhoused.”

Sure enough, in his subsequent budget message, the skipper proposed, in the words of the AP’s Michael Gormley to delay half of a modest increase in the basic welfare grant, now about $350 a month for a family of three.  In June, the basic grant was scheduled to increase 10 percent. But the governor wants to split that over two years. The increase this year for a family living through a historic recession would be 50 cents a day.  Total savings to the state: $6 million. ‘To say, We’re going to take $6 million from the poorest of the poor,  sort of riles us up,’ said (a spokesman for) Hunger Action Network of New York.”

Another riler-upper: Cuomo’s silence on pleas to raise the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, unchanged since pre-recession 2004.  NY trails 17 other states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and California, in its minimum-wage level.  The NY wage works out to just over $15.000 a year.

Remembering the Skipper’s Father:  “We believe a balanced budget that fails to meet the needs of the poor would be the emblem of hypocrisy.” – Governor Mario Cuomo

Baseball fans in places like Boston and New York are less concerned with struggling workers than with seeing rich players paid generously.  The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy epitomizes the attitude:

Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, Jonathan Papelbon…are all gone, and we just learned that Carl Crawford had surgery on his wrist, which isn’t going to make things easier for his big bounce-back season.  I can live with all of the above – even if we won’t have J.D. Drew to kick around anymore – but I can’t stand talk about payroll limits. (I don’t like seeing) the Sox suddenly…fiscally responsible in this bad-news winter.”

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Spending Shuffle:  How have the big-money deals – $254 million for Andrew Pujols, $214 million for Prince Fielder, etc. – affected the MLB teams’ spending lineup?  According to an MLB-TV projection, the top six salary-paying teams for 2012 will be the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, Tigers and Giants, in that order.  In 2011, the order was the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels, Mets, Cubs.  The Tigers and Giants are new to the top-six lineup; the Mets and Cubs dropouts.  The Mets payroll will reportedly sink by a record amount of more than $50 million – from, roughly $140 to $90 mil.

‘From the Ground Up’:  Mets VP for Player Development Paul DePodesta avoids the word “rebuilding” when talking about the team’s currently dismal outlook.  “We’re building for a dynamic run,” he said in a televised interview, “building an organization from the ground up.  We can do what we did in Oakland (when he assisted Billy Beane on his ‘MoneyBall’ run a decade ago) with big-market resources behind us.”

Far From Home Run Heaven: Carlos Beltran, on his otherwise enjoyable late-season experience with the Giants:   “AT&T Park is a big place,  hard on hitters like me.  I hit one ball I thought was going to be gone.   It didn’t even reach the warning track.”

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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.)

Why American Blacks Abound in Pro Sports Except Baseball

(Posted: 1/23/12; e-mail update 1/24)        

The prominence of black athletes in the NFL, sovaldi and their dominance in the NBA, generic for sale raises this baseball-related question:  Where are the African-American players?  They comprised, roughly, a quarter of MLB rosters four decades ago.  As of last season, that figure had dropped by two-thirds, to 8.5 percent.  The outsized performances of Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and CC Sabathia obscure the paucity of home-grown, big-league blacks.

The influx of Latino players, who have replaced blacks numerically, now accounting for 27 percent of MLB personnel, is one explanation.  The political game offers a more telling reason.  National Journal scorekeeper Ron Brownstein picked up a sign of what’s happening country-wide while covering play in Team GOP’s South Carolina primary contest.  Brownstein sees race influencing game strategy in SC and beyond:

“Far more than in the days of the backlash against integration, (South Carolina) previews what national politics will increasingly resemble if it continues along its current trajectory… Mostly, racial conflicts in state politics now play out through… differences over the role of government.  African-Americans and other minorities overwhelmingly believe that they need an activist government investing in services, such as education, job training, and health care, to help them ascend into the middle class.  Most of South Carolina’s whites are comfortable with a governing model (of)  limit(ed) taxes…(and minimal)… invest(ment) in public services.”

Federal cuts in education and state aid, generally, have meant less money to pay for high school baseball programs and maintenance of playing fields.  That’s especially true in poorer school districts, many of which used to spawn black baseball talent.  Nationwide, the consequences of reduced public funding transcend baseball, threatening to undercut popular support for a Dem team that can’t seem to produce for its fans.  Brownstein sums the danger up this way:

“Democrats face two huge headwinds among… whites. One is the enduring belief that too many government programs benefit the indolent—a group that in many minds is disproportionately composed of minorities…. The second problem is a sharp rightward shift among white seniors, who see little personal benefit in the education or infrastructure investments that Democrats favor. “They feel differently about paying taxes for kids they don’t have anymore,’ says (one key) Democratic state Representative.

A major challenge for the Dem team’s skipper will be to persuade the seniors to change their stance.

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Blacks-in-Baseball Stats:  Numbers produced by the Richard Lapchick Institute that researches the subject show 1995 to have been the peak year – 19% – for blacks in the majors over the past two decades.  The percentage hit bottom at 8.2% in 2007.   It jumped back to double digits – 10.2 – in 2008 before going into a three-year slump.

Good Soldier Bobby: Red Sox skipper Bobby Valentine put a brave face on the trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies.  But his words said otherwise:  “We feel like we have enough coverage at shortstop.  Mike Aviles is an interesting player, and the young man is going to get his chance…“We can take the money and improve our team in other ways.’’  Colorado assumes Scutaro’s $6 million contract.  For the moment, the Sox are going to make do with range-challenged Aviles and Nick Punto sharing the shortstop role. 

One Way of Looking At It:  Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan on the Mets owners’ response to their financial problems:  “An impoverished ownership group so intent upon keeping its claws in the franchise it had no qualms sacrificing a season or two, and maybe more, to ensure it stays in power.”

Youth Will be Paid:  What’s behind the arrest of Indians pitcher Fausto Cardona for false identity in the Dominican Republic?  The answer, according to SI’s Linda Segura, connects to the desire of young Dominican ballplayers to appear even younger than they are. A talented 16-year-old player is valued at more than three times what an 18-year-old is.  The comparative signing-bonus figures cited in SI: $20 million for 18-year-olds, $65 million for 16-year-olds.  That’s apparently why Robert Hernandez Heredia – Carmona’s real name, according  to police – took on a new identity: to shave three years off his age.  Heredia is 31, Carmona 28.  Now we know why there is so much questioning of the claimed ages of Latino players.  Look for names to be questioned now.

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

Remembering Baseball’s Economic Justice Hero

(Posted:1/20/12; e-mail update 1/21)         

 This is the week to ponder the avoidance game major leaguers are playing with the Occupy Wall Street team.  Why this week?  Because it marks the anniversary of a player who sacrificed his career to bring economic equality to baseball’s 99 percent.  Curt Flood, shop born 74 years ago Wednesday, was a one-man occupy-owners movement.   His refusal to let the St.Louis Cardinals trade him to Philadelphia in the 1969 led after a long legal battle to freeing players from the total financial control of those owners.  Flood’s lonely stance eventually plated the free agency system, transforming most major leaguers from “well-paid slaves” to independent  millionaires.   

Yet Flood never received support from the very players who would benefit from his principled effort.  They did vote through their union to pay his legal fees, but not one of them stood with Flood in public, fearing possible loss of their livelihood.  Asked why his teammates wouldn’t at least attend court sessions involving Flood’s – and their – case, Joe Torre, then a Cardinal, said “I know we talked about it…I can’t give you a good reason why we weren’t there.”  The players today are apparently satisfied with their reason for staying away from Team OWS.  As members of the one percent; they don’t want to stand against their own team and go to bat for the 99 percent.

The players union, which allowed its members to distance themselves from personal support of Flood, should pitch hard now to have them step up for the team that represents their fan base.  If nothing else, a players-OWS connection would undercut fan resentment of the difference in pay between themselves and the athletes. Furthermore, to counteract the ignorance of most players today about what Flood accomplished for them, the union has another pitch to make: it should push for a baseball tribute to him, similar to those staged for Jackie Robinson (with whom Flood worked in the civil rights movement). Four decades after Flood’s  heroism, such an acknowledgment is long overdue.

Brad Snyder, author of the superb Flood biography “A Well-Paid Slave” (A Plume Book), summed up what Jackie and Curt accomplished:  “Robinson fought for racial justice.  Flood fought the less sympathetic fight for economic justice.  Robinson started the revolution by putting on a uniform.  Flood finished it by taking his uniform off.”

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Praise from the Master:  If there was any doubt about taking Yu Darvish seriously, Nolan Ryan’s testimonial to the Rangers’ newly signed Japanese-Iranian pitcher should put it to rest: “He’s as comfortable throwing his breaking ball as well as his fastball…he has several really quality pitches…When you look at him, you realize pretty quick that he is special.”

A Yankee Dilemma?  If true that the Yankees might re-sign either Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui as a lefthanded DH, choosing which of the two won’t be easy.  The recent numbers each have put up are very similar, beginning with their ages – Damon is 38, Matsui will be 38 in June.  Damon batted .261 last season, Matsui 251, each with more than 500 ABs.  Damon hit 16 HRs, driving in 63 runs, Matsui 12 HRs, with 72 RBIs.  Their strikeout/walk ratios – 92-51 for Damon, 84-56 for Matsui – are close.  Matsui made a million less than Damon in 2011, so he could come cheaper.  But Damon, who stole 19 bases in 25 attempts compared to Matsui’s one stolen base in two attempts, probably has an overall edge on the basis of comparative speed.

‘Miserable Mets’:  Robert Creamer, biographer of Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel, confessed to being a Mets fan, during an (excellent) interview with baseball blogger Graham Womack.  “The miserable Mets”, Creamer called them.  At around the time of the interview, Fred Wilpon was deepening the misery of Mets fans with comments at an owners meeting.  “I came from nothing,” he said.  “I meet the challenges.  So does…(son) Jeff. ..We’ll be fine.”  Wilpon should know better than to remind fans that his son is part of the package he hopes to see running the team into the future.  For nearly a decade, Jeff Wilpon was complicit with Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya in operating the team badly.  There is no more effective way to make fans desperate for change and despairing of the future than to affirm that Jeff will have owner-influence in the coming years.  

Creamer, on the perceived advantages of a sports-writing career:  “It’s nice work, but it’s work.”

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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

2012 Contests in Both Pastimes Predictable, More or Less

(Posted: 1/16/12; e-mail update 1/17)

About a month ago, usa ask we quoted a Yankees “insider” (it was the team physician) saying Brian Cashman would begin making deals as spring training-time approached. Well, remedy pitchers and catchers start reporting in five weeks, and, sure enough, the Yanks GM has just sprung $10 million (allegedly a bargain price) for Hiroki Kuroda. More significantly, Cashman has, we know, traded two prize prospects, catcher Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi, to the Mariners for impressive young starter Michael Pineda, and a minor league righthander Jose Campos. Suddenly, the rotation-thin pinstripers have fattened up.

The deals erase doubts about the Yanks’ readiness for 2012 play, reestablishing them as playoff-likely. The predictability of teams expected to qualify for the post-season is more than matched by the near-certainty of how the current presidential contest will play out. Wash Post numbers game-watcher Ezra Klein sees the race between now and November unfolding in an unsurprising way:

“One of two things will happen in South Carolina. Mitt Romney will win the primary and go on to capture the Republican nomination or Mitt Romney will lose the primary and go on to capture the Republican nomination… President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both credible, seemingly decent men who will lead competent, professional campaigns. The differences in effectiveness between the two campaigns is likely to be marginal. Anyone who wants to vote for one of them, or against the other, will have more than enough excuse to do so. For all the coverage campaign strategies will receive, it is very unlikely that one campaign will absolutely stomp the other.”

 Klein agrees with the conventional wisdom that the state of the economy will be decisive. If the job stats are rallying – never mind the numbers – Obama will win. If the reverse turns out to be true, Klein says Mitt Romney is likely to be our next skipper.

Something to Watch For: The record book shows (according to author Dylan Ratigan) that the presidential candidate who raises the most money wins 94 percent of the time.

Things are murkier in baseball than politics, because, as we know, eight (possibly 10) teams qualify for the race to top spot. We know, too, that in the short preliminary playoff match-ups, upsets are commonplace. A further complexity will exist this season if the single wild-card-per-league arrangement remains in effect one more time. The AL West now has two teams – the Rangers and Angels – ready to compete on even terms with the Al East’s Yankee, Red Sox and Rays. Under the traditional format, only three of those five teams (instead of the usual three of four) will qualify for the climactic contests.

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Speaking of predictability, the NY area media found a lot to like in the Yankees’ deal for Pineda and, in effect, said good riddance about Montero’s departure. Most stories stressed Montero’s deficiencies as a receiver while hailing Pineda’s upside. Times-man David Waldstein, for example, quoted an NL talent evaluator on the two prime trade-ees: “(Pineda)’s the real deal. He’s a top guy, better than any of the free agents out there, and they got him for Montero? He doesn’t even have a position.”

To Cashman’s credit, he avoided plugging what the Yankees gained in the deal when talking to the Record’s Bob Kapisch: “I gave up a ton. To me Montero is Mike Piazza. He’s Miguel Cabrera.”

Communications Problem? If reports of the contract talks are accurate, it is inconceivable that the Rangers will fail to sign Japanese ace Yu Darvish. The deadline is Wednesday at 5p (ET). The sticking point is contact length, with a twist: the player – Darvish – wants a shorter-term deal than the team does. The Rangers would like to sign Darvish for six years, he wants five. If such a trivial difference can’t be bridged, the two sides are not speaking the same language

Chipper Jones, on What It’s Like to be Playing at 40: The game is getting harder for me. When you first come to big leagues the game is so fast. It takes a while to adjust to it. When you’re in your prime, the game slows down almost to a slow-pitch softball. As you get older, the game starts to speed up again. I’d be lying if I said the game wasn’t really, really fast for me right now. It seems like everybody is throwing 100 mph. The pitchers’ mound gets closer to home plate whenever you’re hitting, and third base gets farther away from first base.” – Atlanta Braves blog

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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.)

Fenway and Female Players in the Political Game

(Posted: 1/13/12; e-mail update 1/14)        

Elizabeth Warren remembers how Fenway Park figured in the special election two years ago to succeed Ted Kennedy as Massachusetts senator.  The Dem team’s would-be successor Martha Coakley spoke disdainfully about campaigning “outside Fenway, buy pharm in the cold, buy shaking hands.” She lost the contest, upset by Team GOP’s Scott Brown, who had made a point of pitching for the support of sports fans.  Warren, the Dem’s prime hopeful  to succeed Brown,  was outside Fenway last weekend, shaking hands.  A few days later, her team reported Warren had raised $5.7 million in the last three months of 2011.  A remarkable number for a rookie candidate, one that can’t quite be attributed to Red Sox magic.

Female candidates and baseball somehow don’t make a comfortable match.  Recall how, in 1999, soon-to-be Senate candidate from NY Hillary Clinton professed to be a Yankees fan.  That revelation came after an earlier claim that she supported a team from her home state, the Cubs.  Michelle Obama, wife of the nation’s number one White Sox fan, joins him at Sox games.  But Michelle could be a Cubs fan herself, for all we know.  She doesn’t talk baseball, at least, not for public consumption.

The new book mainly about the First Lady, “The Obamas”, depicts her as a Larry Bowa-type who has the skipper’s ear and is not someone team members want to cross.  The skipper’s former bench coach Rahm Emanuel concedes it was “maddening” to have to deal with her.  Former press secretary Robert Gibbs hurled the f-word in frustration over the way Michelle plays her insider game.  At the same time, she is described by the skipper as a “moral force…(who)…reminds me of why I’m (here) in the first place.”  We don’t know if Michelle tried to save Warren from being cut from the team roster when Team GOP resisted the idea of her heading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  We do know that the skipper’s political team thought urging Warren into the Senate race would soften liberal disfavor over her demotion.

Do We Care About Our Own Terrorism?  One could wish for Team Obama to exert moral force to stop the shadowy targeting of Iran’s nuclear scientists (another in a series was killed this week). Wash Monthly’s Kevin Drum deplores our widespread indifference to the U.S. being implicated (with Israel) in the murders:

“If you think Iran is a mortal enemy that needs to be dealt with via military force, you can certainly make that case.  But if you’re going to claim that terrorism is a barbaric tactic that has to be stamped out, you can hardly endorse its (possible) use by the United States just because it’s convenient in this particular case.”

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Pitching Central in Ohio:  The addition of free agent Ryan Madson, after the trade that brought former Cub Sean Marshall, gives the Reds the NL Central’s perhaps most potent late-bullpen duo.  Cincy’s relief corps could also include super-fireballer Aroldis Chapman, if he isn’t placed in the rotation.  Marshall and Chapman provide a leftward tilt to the reliever staff, which also includes southpaw Bill Bray. Ohio’s other team the Indians have meanwhile assembled what may be the strongest group of starters in the AL Central.  To name five in no particular order: Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and Fausto Carmona.  A competitive Cleveland team will not be a surprise this year. 

Rays Go Right:  Luke Scott has replaced Curt Schilling as the embodiment of baseball and politics.  Outspoken as a gun-rights supporter and right-wing religious devotee, Scott even questioned while an Oriole in 2010 whether Skipper Obama was born in the U.S.  Baltimore gave him a non-political release after a shoulder-injury-plagued 2011 season.  The Rays signed him this week to a one-year deal, figuring him to be a sometime outfielder-first baseman as well as a designated hitter.   The deal dashes Florida resident Johnny Damon’s hopes of returning to the Rays, something he is not happy about.

Bouton’s Latest ‘Ball’: As fans of Jim Bouton’s long-ago classic “Ball Four”, we feel confident in making an unprecedented pitch for “Foul Ball,” the ex-Yankee’s account of trying to get an independent-league team established in Pittsfield, MA.  It’s been described as “a perfect combination of politics and baseball, written in ‘Ball Four’ style.”  The book can be ordered via e-mail to Bouton’s address,

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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.)

Some Players Take Their Game Seriously

(Posted: 1/9/12; e-mail update 1/10)

“I have to produce.” We noted those words of Ichiro Suzuki last time. Ichiro has been a consummate professional throughout his decade-long career in Seattle, usa pharmacy and, buy before that, in Japan. We don’t see enough of him in the East to appreciate him fully. Closer to home, we have another model professional. Dustin Pedroia epitomizes the teammate we’d all like to have. We were reminded again of his winning intensity when he talked in a radio interview about the upheaval in Boston after the collapse of the Sox in September.

“I show… up to work every day ready to beat the other team…(Losing like) that hurts, man…I think about it every night. I watch all the playoff games. I sit there. My wife probably hates me. It’s a part of the job, thinking what could I have done differently to help us win one more game.” – WEEI, Boston

A Pedroia equivalent in the political journalism field is Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone reporter who interviewed General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan in 2010. The interview cost McChrystal his job, and career, because Hastings reported what he said about how bad things were going. Hastings’ unwillingness to cultivate his powerful source by protecting him – a common journalistic practice – earned him denunciations from teammates in the trade as well from government officials. His Pedroia-like reply:

“Look, I went into journalism to do journalism, not advertising. My views are critical but that shouldn’t be mistaken for hostile – I’m just not a stenographer. I view these issues… through hard-earned experience, not something I learned going to a cocktail party… That’s what reporters are supposed to do, report the story.”

In a new book about what he saw in Afghanistan, Hastings recalls an observation by McChrystal that underscored the incestuous nature of the military-media relationship: “We started talking about the larger issues within the media, which I felt he was in a unique position to discuss. McChrystal was a spokesperson at the Pentagon during the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003…’We co-opted the media on that one,’ he said. ‘You could see it coming. There were a lot of us who didn’t think Iraq was a good idea.’

“’Co-opted the media’. I almost laughed. Even the Pentagon’s former spokesperson realized…how massively they were manipulating the press.” (We must give credit, as well to Rolling Stone, one of few media teams that don’t let economics discourage in-depth reporting.)

Hastings has a lot more on media manipulation in his book: “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan.”

Re: Skipper’s Pedroia-esque Recess Appointments: “The citizenry loves a fighter, far more than a punching bag. The right hates Obama, In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, he might as well earn that hatred.” – Bob Kuttner, The American Prospect

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The View from Chicago: If you’re a Mets fan, you have Dodger envy. The ongoing sale that is certain to turn around the fortune of the Dodgers is likely to be followed by one in New York…Fred Wilpon’s ownership group looks less and less viable long term (after) hir(ing) CRG Consulting, which handled the Rangers’ bankruptcy sale.” – Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

The Metric Puzzle: The mystery of metrics continues. We remember that Derek Jeter, who looked to have had a good, if not great, season defensively, was, metrically speaking, the lowest rated regular shortstop in the majors. Jeter was computed to have performed at a defensive level 18 games under what an average replacement would have done. Turns out that Jose Reyes, who seemed to defend outstandingly for the Mets, was calculated to be 11 under what his average replacement could have scored. Hanley Ramirez, who will shift to third for the Marlins to make room for Reyes, was only slightly better than Jose, at minus-eight.

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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.)

The Media Shill Game: Promoting Ballclubs, Team USA

(Posted: 1/6/12; e-mail update 1/7)

Journalism 101.  It won’t be long now before fans of nearly all 30 MLB clubs will be told how optimistic the 2012 outlook is for their favorite teams.  There will be a few exceptions: for the Mets, buy tadalafil we know, buy sickness optimism will be a hard sell; same goes for the Astros, and and maybe the Mariners.  But the sports media will do what they do most of the time – promote a popular product and source of advertising dollars.

In the political field, the media’s coverage of teams in the foreign affairs league is even more predictable: Team USA can seldom do wrong; rival teams, if they are deemed unfriendly, will rarely be treated in balanced fashion.  When the Mets-Phillies rivalry was hot (a longer and longer while ago), the media in NYC and Philadelphia treated opposing teams with consistent disdain.  Team USA’s aggressive play has made enemies of teams and fans in the Mideast and elsewhere.  Its bellicose blunders are reported, but the media devotes minimal sympathy to the victims.  The constant in the coverage is hostility toward any club that doesn’t play ball with the home team.

Iran is Team USA’s and the media’s current favorite target.  Salon’s Glenn Greenwald sees our stance toward Iran and Egypt as a clear sign our pro-democracy pitch during the Arab spring was a misleading curve.  He cites polls that “found vast, overwhelming Egyptian support for the view that Iran has the right to have a nuclear weapon, and for the view that a nuclear Iran would be a net positive  for the region. That, too, tracks general public opinion in the Arab world which supports Iran’s right to have nuclear weapons.  In light of these facts, does anyone believe that the U.S. government and its…foreign policy community have even a slight interest in actual democracy in Egypt specifically or the Arab world generally?”

Greenwald quotes a 2011 Pew survey that found “nearly eight-in-10 Egyptians have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S.” Furthermore, he notes that regional polls generally see the U.S. (along with Israel) as the area’s biggest threat to peace.  The polling numbers sum up the propaganda score this way: contradicting our media’s point of view, Team USA is seen as having its own self-serving agenda, one that puts its interests far ahead of democracy in the region.

From the E-Mailbag (re Sears/Kmart closings covered in previous Nub) – One important point: Sears has been run for most of the last decade by hedge fund manager Eddie Lamprey, whose defining philosophy was that businesses waste too much money on staff, upkeep etc. Under Lampert’s watch, the stores have been neglected, customer service trashed.  The result has been 18 quarters of falling sales!  That is an amazing record.  But I think it says a lot about what we can expect as a nation if we refuse to invest in education, innovation, infrastructure. “  – Jeremy M, Manhattan                                               

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Decision Time for Ichiro:  Seattle’s seemingly imperturbable Ichiro Suzuki – 10 straight years of 200 hits or more – became human last year, seeing that streak end and batting just .272.  Now, Ichiro concedes that advancing age – he’s 38 – may have made him more sensitive to media criticism in 2011.  “Mental stress,” he told a local newspaper in Japan (reported by Reuters) was something he couldn’t shake.  “(It’s) a lot worse than physical stress,” he said.  Suzuki has been rumored to be receptive to retiring to a GM’s job with his former team in Japan.  But he’s coming back to the Mariners this season to see if it’s really the end of his playing career.  “It’s lame to blame everything on age,” he says. “But I know if I consider myself a professional, I have to produce.”     

Hot Miami Combo:  The volatile combination of newly acquired Carlos Zambrano and reluctant third baseman (former SS) Hanley Ramirez could make for clubhouse fireworks that will explode the playoff chances of the Florida Marlins this year.  On the other hand, if new manager Ozzie Guillen can keep Ramirez calm and is right about Zambrano being ready for a big year, the deal with the Cubs this week may well make the Marlins authentic NL East threats.  A rotation of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Zambrano, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez alone stamps Miami as a serious contender.

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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.)

The New Year Double Play: ‘Rightsizing’ and Restlessness

(Posted: 1/2/12; e-mail update 1/3)

In the off-field corporate world, a new watchword is “rightsizing” (forget the d-word).  We first heard it when Sears announced a plan to send 120 store locations to the showers soon.  Our reflexive thought was of the Sears Tower in Chicago, sickness and then of the White Sox and their rightsizing game.  Of the just under 200 players listed on ESPN’s Free Agent Tracker, the Sox have signed a total of zero (the Cubs have added four). The White Sox just traded outfielder Carlos Quentin to the Padres for two minor leaguers, a rightsizing move, while through the entire post-season, GM Kenny Williams has kept the team’s serious-money pockets zipped.

Two-thirds of the listed free agents are still unemployed, as will be thousands of workers laid off at the Sears and Kmart stores leaving the field.  Seventy-nine of the 120 to-be-cut outlets have been identified – 11 in Florida, the hardest-hit state; and six each in Georgia, Michigan and Ohio.  Sears merged with Kmart in 2005,  the year the White Sox won the World Series.  Two years later, the retail team hit its sales peak, but, from then until now – while the Sox also lost their edge –  Sears failed to keep improving:  It fell behind both conventional competitors like Macy’s, Target and Wal-Mart, and, crucially, electronics-and-appliances specialty teams, Home Depot and Lowe’s.  

Sears’ downward spiral has been truly dramatic – a share score of $192 in ’07, skidded to $33.3  this past week.  A Credit Suisse scout had this report on Sears’ prolonged slump: “Here is a company that is deteriorating in front of our eyes…Somebody should be worried about th(e job loss.”  Lamented company Skipper Lou D’Ambrosio about Sears’ disappointing holiday sales: “We did not execute with the consistency or speed necessary in areas (where we’ve always been strong).”

The Cost-Containment Game: The White Sox have lots of MLB company in their spending slowdown.  Four other teams, the A’s, Astros, Blue Jays and Braves have yet to sign a free agent.  The usually spendthrift Yankees have gone on a budget-conscious binge, contenting themselves with re-signing Freddy Garcia and Andruw Jones.  They’ve also added Hideki Okajima on a cost-containing minor-league contract.  The Red Sox have only signed two marginal agents – Kelly Shoppach and Nick Punto. The Mariners, Padres, Rangers and Rays have each signed only a single one.  The Rangers, of course, are ready to splurge if they can complete a deal for the star Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.

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Naming Names: Arrival of the last of three non-baseball months means that some non-marquee, unsigned free agents will soon get restless and lower their salary demands. Interesting players who might be in the potential-bargain-price category include: pitchers Joe Saunders, Francisco Cordero, Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler; catchers Chris Snyder and Jason Varitek, infielders Jeff Keppinger and Jack Wilson; outfielders Cody Ross and Luke Scott.   

The A-Rod Mis-Investment:  “When (Alex) Rodriguez signed his (10-year, $275 million) deal (in 2007), he was coming off a season in which he hit 54 home runs and won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.  He had, over the previous seven seasons, averaged 47 home runs and 159 games.  It’s that last figure that now seems like a mirage…(Since then)Rodriguez has given the Yankees just one season commensurate with his compensation:2008, the first season of his contract…That spring,  he missed 17 games with a thigh injury.  In 2009…28 games while recovering from hip surgery.  In 2010…a couple of weeks with a calf injury.  And in 2011…38 games while recovering from knee surgery…

“Even if (a recent experimental medical) procedure helps, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that if it’s not Rodriguez’s (arthritic) knee, it will be something else.  And although things could get better, they could also get worse…”  – Rob Neyer, 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.)