The Nub

Team Obama, Ball Fans and the Taste for Violence

(Posted: 2/27/12; e-mail update 2/28)

 The late comedian George Carlin came to mind when Bruce Bochy ordered Buster Posey to avoid the blocking the plate while a runner is trying to score.  It was Carlin who contrasted football’s love of violent terms – “blitz, medical ” “bomb, usa and ” etc. – to baseball’s affection for the gentle “sacrifice”, cure “home”, and the like.  Carlin’s take notwithstanding, we know about the violent side of baseball.  Runners upend middle infielders, just as they try to knock over catchers.  The rough and tumble can lead to a broken leg, as happened to Posey, sidelining him for most of the 2011 season.  It was a loss the Giants could not overcome; Bochy wants to insure it doesn’t happen again.

Chances are that most of us, while sympathizing with Bochy, would hate to see the crunch taken out of the most exciting moment the game can offer. And yet we know baseball could be made less violent if avoidable rough play – like bulldozing the catcher – was penalized.  Such restraint is unlikely ever to be imposed, because, although the violence could be curtailed, it is welcomed by all of us.  We like the excitement it provides, and accept that it is an integral part of our sport and, indeed, our lives.

The acceptance of hitherto inconceivable violence by Skipper Obama, has led to its becoming a normal, if illegal, practice of his team.  Steve Coll, reporting for the NY Review of Books, runs down the lineup of excesses, linking them in part to the O-team’s intelligence squad, the CIA:

“The past decade has witnessed one of the most egregious misuses of intelligence in American history—the Bush administration’s distortion of information about Saddam Hussein’s terrorist ties and unconventional weapons, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq.  It has also seen a surge of paramilitary activity and covert action that has included the operation of secret prisons, the use of torture, and targeted killing.  The Obama administration ended officially sanctioned torture, but it has…increased the number of covert, unacknowledged targeted killings through the use of armed, unmanned aerial drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.  In all, a president who might have challenged the American intelligence bureaucracy and given it a new direction has instead maintained and even expanded what he inherited.”

We know at least some of the excesses – targeted killings of our own citizens, for example – could be cut from the lineup. Yet the public, led by the corporate media, has taken a pass on all these wholesale violations of our supposedly sacred rule of law.  The reaction of Team USA’s fans has ranged from apathetic to go-get-‘em. “All’s fair when anti-terrorism is the game” sums up the attitude.

Long-Kindled Backfire:  As we witness the deadly reaction of Afghans to Team USA’s latest devastating misplay in their bailiwick – the burning of Korans –  Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reminds us of the bigger picture to explain the “why” behind what’s happening: “The U.S. has violently occupied their country for more than a decade.  It has, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself explained, killed what he called an ’amazing number’ of innocent Afghans in checkpoint shootings.  It has repeatedly killed young Afghan children in air strikes.  It continues to imprison their citizens for years at Bagram and other American bases without charges of any kind and with credible reports of torture and other serious abuses.  Soldiers deliberately shot Afghan civilians for fun and urinated on their corpses and displayed them as trophies.”

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What the Book Says:  A rule that could eliminate some of the basepath mayhem is little known and seldom enforced: it states that a fielder cannot a block a base unless he has possession of the ball.  Often, we know, catchers brace for the impact with a runner at home while the ball is still en route.

One Better-Be-Tough Twin:  Minnesota’s $86 million catcher Joe Mauer, who also spent much time on the DL last year, has, unlike Posey, been told to keep putting his body on the line. “If you’re going to be a catcher, you have to be prepared to have a collision,” said GM Terry Ryan.  A gutsy decision sure to be monitored by second-guessers.

Jarring Josh:  Asked whether he thought he owed the Rangers a hometown discount on his next contract, Josh Hamilton caused a flap around Texas with this response:  “I’m not going to sit here and say I owe the Rangers, because I don’t feel like I owe the Rangers.”  Hamilton later amended the statement to say he owed the Rangers “loyalty” and 100-percent effort.  Commented one columnist: “He tries to be candid, but he sometimes lacks the glib footwork of a preacher or a politician.” 

Albert, Angels at Odds:  It’s all because of Brooklyn Dodger fans that Albert Pujols has told the LA Angels he’d prefer not to have the team promote him as “El Hombre.”  Fans at a Cardinals-Dodgers game in 1946 started calling Stan Musial “The Man” as he sprayed hits around Ebbets Field.  Pujols came to know and idolize Musial, a legend in St.Louis, during his 11 years with the Cardinals. Albert says he’d like not to be called The Man (in Spanish) out of “respect” for the original hombre, “Stan the Man.” The Angels so far have not acquiesced to Pujols’ request. 

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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.)

Political and Ball-Players Facing Tests With Lots at Stake

(Posted: 2/24/12; e-mail update 2/25)

On MLB-TV the other night, ambulance the talk was of teams with four players who insure their playoff-contending status: the Tigers, salve with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jose Valverde and Justin Verlander; the Phillies, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Jonathan Papelbom, the Giants, with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey. Missing among highly-rated teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels, and most interestingly (to us), the Rangers.

The Rangers stand out as the team whose success this season depends – most believe – on a newcomer, their touted Japanese-Iranian righthander Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old Darvish is expected to vie right away to become the team’s ace. Of the 750 players who will start the season on 30 rosters, he will be the most scrutinized as he is tested to meet that expectation.

If Darvish has a counterpart on the political field the next few days, it is Rick Santorum, running to become Team GOP skipper in the presidential race. The pressbox consensus is that Santorum’s crucial test – his shaky debate performance in Arizona notwithstanding – will come in the Michigan primary this Tuesday; it’s a test he must pass (with a victory) to stay in the contest with Mitt Romney. Santorum’s quixotic chances are assessed in this scouting report by the National Journal’s clear-eyed birddog, Ron Brownstein:

“Many analysts have assumed (Santorum) would run well among the growing ranks of non-college white voters in the Republican electorate…, Santorum stresses his determination to rebuild the nation’s manufacturing capacity and laments the decline of upward mobility for working-class Americans in language rare among Republicans…, Santorum highlights his years growing up in Western Pennsylvania steel country…he also projects a regular-guy aura that contrasts with rival Mitt Romney’s vast wealth. Yet so far these assets have not translated into blue-collar success for Santorum…Nor has he demonstrated any particular appeal to Catholics despite his strong Catholic faith….Romney’s weakness with downscale voters suggests Santorum will…emerge more clearly as the alternative to the dethroned front-runner; after all, the voters resisting the former Massachusetts governor must vote for someone… If Santorum is ever to succeed at demonstrating that his mix of economic nationalism and cultural conservatism can galvanize the GOP’s burgeoning working-class wing, he couldn’t pick a better time than (now).”

 Team GOP has made clear that whether Santorum or Romney wins the nomination will not change the primary goal of its game: to defeat Skipper Obama, whatever it takes. And the team has the support of well-heeled fans to make it competitive, whoever the candidate turns out to be. What that backdrop says about the big game is this: the way swing voters take their cuts will be decisive.

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Speaking of Testing…When Ryan Braun’s successful appeal of his failing a testosterone drug test was announced, Eric Byrnes, on MLB-TV, said the average player was going to believe stars like Braun benefit from a double-standard. “We should not sugar-coat this,” he said, that will be the “perception.” Fellow panelists Dan Plesac and Harold Reynolds, seemingly semi-stunned, sought to talk instead of how the decision helps the Brewers pennant chances. Host Ahmed Fareed, to his credit, concurred with Byrnes’ assessment. “This won’t go away,” he said, “there will be dark clouds for some time.”

 P.S. Somebody at the network obviously lectured the refreshingly uninhibited Byrnes during a commercial break. Eric felt constrained to sum up, saying that, as a result of the unprecedented winning appeal, “Everybody wins – Braun, the players union, baseball, the Brewers, the fans…” The clear loser: MLB-TV.

 After Darvish: Some others on whom first-tier teams are heavily dependent: Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Jason Heyward (Braves), Josh Johnson (Marlins), Daniel Bard (Red Sox). Perhaps more than the players, the Cardinals will rise or fall on how well new manager Mike Matheny and new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist perform as replacements to Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan. That may be the biggest challenge of all.

An A.J. Revival? “In joining the Pirates, (A.J. Burnett) escapes both the DH league and the stacked American League East, and will instead get to face opposing pitchers at the plate and pitch in a largely de-fanged division that just lost Fielder and Pujols… and includes an Astros team that is fielding a Triple-A lineup. The opportunity is there for Burnett to salvage his career as a starter.” – Cliff Corcoran, SI

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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.)

Pre-Spring Delirium Appearing in Both Pastimes

(Posted: 2/20/12; e-mail update 2/21)

 What is it these pre-spring days that’s spreading delirium in the press box? A case in point – from the Boston Globe:

“If (Johan Santana)…return(s) to form…they (the Mets) have an anchor in the rotation… If some (other) questions are answered – if Jason Bay returns to form now that he’s healthy, sales search if Mike Pelfrey has a year like he had two years ago, purchase if David Wright rebounds from his injuries, and if the younger players begin to step up – they have a chance to be competitive…”

Competitive for fourth place in the NL East, maybe – and that’s a long shot.  Mets people themselves are promising no more than that the team will exceed fans’ low expectations.

On the other field, we’ve seen the frenzied beating of anti-Iran war drums, including the recent “warnings” on multiple media outlets of possible Iranian terrorist attacks here in the U.S.  The drumbeats are much more insistent in the media than from Team Obama.  NBC and ABC have been egregious examples, basing their reports on pure speculation. In the case of ABC, they omitted from a breathless broadcast this statement (that did appear on their website): Federal officials told ABC News that there is so far no specific intelligence of any threat to Israeli interests in the U.S.

Nobody in the world’s Western league discounts the dangerous game Team Tehran is playing.  Progressive veteran lefthander Noam Chomsky is among those who find the game worrisome.  He sees trouble on both sides if the U.S. media hysteria escalates: 

“The (Iranian) regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population…But the primary threat to the U.S. and Israel is that Iran might deter (with nuclear weaponry) their free exercise of violence.  A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond as well.  Those ’illegitimate’ acts are called “destabilizing”.  In contrast,  forceful imposition of U.S. influence halfway around the world contributes to ‘stability’ and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.” 

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Joe Doesn’t Know?  The problem with Joe Mauer, says the Star-Tribune’s Jim Souhan, is that he doesn’t know he owns the world of the Minnesota Twins.  And that he has responsibilities to that world.  Mauer’s slow-healing process last season exposed that ignorance, Souhan says, adding this analysis:

“In terms of conducting himself like a franchise player, (Maurer) has trouble believing he’s that important. Those who defend him say he doesn’t want to be treated any differently than a utility infielder.  In other walks of life, he’d be described as humble and down-to-earth.  As the most important and best-paid ($184 million) player on an ambitious team, he fails to grasp that he is a symbol and a competitive fulcrum, a player whose performance and attitude affects everything from season ticket sales to clubhouse unity to the front office’s long-term planning…

“Joe should recognize that he’s the richest athlete in state history, a man who can elevate or doom the team he cheered for as a little boy.  If he hasn’t figured that out by now, the question is, will he ever?”

Portent:  The leak to the media early last fall about his medication confirmed for Terry Francona what he had been thinking – that his time with the Red Sox was coming to an end.  Francona spoke of that and another signal he received to the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman:  I called (principal owner) John Henry seven or eight times.  Never heard from him.  I have not talked to John since the day I left.  It makes you kind of understand where you stood.”

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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 Pressure of High Expectations on Players in Both Pastimes

(Posted: 2/17/12; e-mail update 2/18)

 Two men – one political, discount the other in baseball – have dauntingly high expectations to meet in their respective fields. NY AG Eric Schneiderman has played himself into the pressurized position, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington inherited his.  Either way, they know that what happens in their respective bailiwicks will be scrutinized day by day, move by move, this coming season.

Schneiderman, 57, was a brave holdout (with his California counterpart)when Team Obama pushed to have him add NY to the roster of states joining a foreclosure-settlement deal, one that gave big banks the equivalent of a free pass.  For their part in the housing-bubble-and-bust scandal, a lineup of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Bank will pay a total of $26 billion – equipment-bag money – to provide relief for nearly two million homeowners they sent sprawling.  Schneiderman finally signed on to the deal only after it no longer protected the banks from further legal action.  Now, as co-skipper of a federal investigating team, he will have to see that such action hits the banks and puts monetary runs on the board for his fans.

Cherington’s challenge is to field a team that prevents opponents from scoring runs. He spent his rookie hot stove season as GM making only minimal changes to the Sox. As seen from NY, improvement, if any, has been barely perceptible.  Cherington may well have neutralized the loss of Jonathan Papelbon with trades that brought Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon to the team’s relief corps. But the starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz and Daniel Bard still needs reinforcement. Cherington’s most second-guessable move was dealing away Marco Scutaro without a first-class shortstop replacement.  Missing, too, is someone substantive to take the place of J.D. Drew in right field.  Given the question marks, the 37-year-old GM’s biggest asset may be manager Bobby Valentine (reportedly not his choice) who will be visibly first in line if Red Sox Nation gets riled.

What Schneiderman and Cherington MayHave Going for Them: Deep benches in potential personnel.  Schneiderman should have a limitless roster of federal birddogs to help him get after the banks, but it’s not clear how numerically aggressive Team Obama will be in the follow-up to the deal.  A former legislative teammate of Schneiderman’s put the nub of the challenge this way:  “The real import here is the ability to continue to prosecute. That all will come clear over time, whether that amounts to anything.”  Sox fans believe Cherington is not finished dealing and will presumably have the go-ahead from above to spend whatever it takes to make the team whole.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox were named in an MLB-TV segment as one of two highly rate teams (the Giants were the other) with the most “holes” going into the season.

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Good Soldier Bobby:  Comments of Bobby Valentine on the salary-dump trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies:  “We can take the money and improve our team in other ways…I don’t want to speculate on (challenge of replacing Scutaro), but I’m confident it will be fine.”

Double Downer:  A.J. Burnett’s decline and almost-certain discard by the Yankees is a sad reminder of the moment we knew he was no longer a reliable starter.  It happened during a game last spring in which David Cone was doing color on YES.  “A.J. lacks toughness in the late innings,” Cone said, just before Burnett unraveled.  As sad as the pitcher’s ensuing season-long shakiness, however, was the muzzle applied to Cone by his bosses.  He stopped making insightful, telling-it-like-it-is comments, and obediently played the broadcast game.

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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.)