The Nub

How the Economic Slump Ended on the Ball Field

(Posted: 4/30/12; e-mail 5/1/12)

During the Tigers-Yankees game Friday night, buy help former Yank Paul O’Neill, tadalafil doing color on YES, talked about a tactic of his last manager Joe Torre: “Joe would have a hitter who was struggling,” he said, “bat in the number two hole. Joe knew he’d get something to hit because the pitcher didn’t want to face the number three hitter with a man on base.” The strategy worked as a slump-snapper, O’Neill said.

Torre was on the bench last week, celebrating the man who helped him and his fellow ballplayers snap their long economic slump. It began to come to an end in 1966, when the players hired Marvin Miller to run their union. Miller, now 95, was honored at NYU (he declined to travel to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, where the event was originally to be held) to mark the 40th anniversary of a successful 1972 players strike.

 By then Miller had helped double the players’ minimum wage – from $6.000 to $12,000 and the average salary from $19,000 to $34,000. Now (in ’72), the players, overruling Miller and general counsel Richard Moss, voted to strike for increased pensions and salary arbitration, which they won. Today, the minimum is just under a half-million, the average salary more than $3 million.

Miller, with much of his old passion, decried opposition to the minimum wage in many parts of the U.S. He said, despite the owners’ warnings of economic doom, major league baseball prospered, almost doubling in size after the minimum was regularly raised. He said fears expressed by business interests that jobs would be lost if states raised the federal minimum wage from $7.65 an hour have never been corroborated statistically. Only nine of 50 states have enacted higher than the federal minimum: Washington $9.04, Oregon $8.80, Vermont $8.46, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada $8.25; California, Massachusetts $8.00; Alaska $7.65. Conspicuous by its absence: the vaunted Empire State, New York. 

P.S. The Players Union almost blew the chance to hire Miller. He turned the job down when they proposed Richard Nixon to be his general counsel. 

Relevant History Lesson: May Day (as we know it) started here (in 1886 and) became an international day in support of American workers who were being subjected to brutal violence and judicial punishment. Today, the struggle continues to celebrate May Day not as a ‘law day’, as defined by political leaders, but as a day whose meaning is decided by the people, a day rooted in organizing and working for a better future for the whole of society.” – Noam Chomsky, Zuccotti Park Press

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April Illusionists? Dodgers, 16-6, Orioles, 14-8; Jose Altuve, Astros, .373 in 21 games; ex-Met Chris Capuano, Dodgers, 3-0, 2.76 ERA.

Travel Advisor: The Rays’ Joe Maddon, on packing for a three-day road trip – “I’m hoping everybody just brings their little carry-on luggage. One pair of jeans, three shirts, some socks, and those who wear underwear bring underwear. And your toiletries. … As we move forward into this century, I think minimalism is going to become a more popular concept.” – quoted by ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers

Where Has the Bucs’ Offense Gone? – “We’re not on any milk cartons yet.” – Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle

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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.)

Pinch-Hitting for Politics: Religion and Baseball

(Posted: 4/27/12; e-mail update 4/28)

“Why don’t you write about baseball and religion instead of politics?”  Thus an e-mailed message from a reader this past week, influenced, tadalafil treatment perhaps, sick by the title of an NYU course “Baseball as a Road to God.”  Taught by the school’s President John Sexton – a onetime Dodger, now a Yankee fan – the course received front-page attention in the NY Times.  Sexton sees baseball as a source of the “specialness” of our lives, through its gift of causing us to “live more slowly,” and “watch more keenly.”

For many of us, baseball is indeed a form of worship, of revering – and watching – icons  like Detek Jeter or Dustin Pedroia at their altar, otherwise known as home plate. (We do it slowly, because we know from Chipper Jones that when you see the game unfolding slowly, you’re at your best.)  We respect the sport’s rituals, honor its traditions, study its texts, relive its miraculous moments: Mookie Wilson’s hit that eluded Billy Buckner in the ’86 World Series and Aaron Boone’s 11th-inning home run in the seventh game of the 2003 ALCS epitomize the sport’s specialness. 

Most of all, baseball lets us be part of a community, a fellowship filled with benign fanatics. We remember that when NYC had a competitive NL team, the city was divided between fanatical Mets and Yankees fans; decades earlier, it was the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees.  With that three-team backdrop, Philip Roth contributed to the scripture of the game.  He wrote in his novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” about how one can get by in baseball, as in life.  His fictional teen-age character said he wasn’t a particularly good ballplayer, but “I knew how to conduct myself as a center fielder.”  A recollection of  Brooklyn Dodger legend Pete Reiser is part of the same positional text:  “The sweetest memory is of the kid, standing in the green grass of center field, with the winning runs on base, saying ‘hit it to me, hit it to me!   (Quoted by baseball historian Donald Honig)

The game, the green grass, the sweetness of memory: blessings we can credit to the secular religion of baseball.   

Political Pinch-Hitting:  What are we to make of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s suggestion that Iran may be exporting state-sponsored terrorism into South America?  Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, record book in hand, offers this answer: 

“The U.S., not Iran…has a long and demonstrated history of ’expanding its circle of influence in’ — and exporting Terrorism to — Latin America, including American support for Nicaraguan contras, El Salvadoran death squads, Brazilian military dictatorial rule, a Chilean authoritarian coup aimed at democratically elected leaders, Colombian human rights abusers, and so much else (including support of a right-wing coup in Honduras). Of course, the notion that the U.S. has the exclusive right to dominate North and South America is almost as old as the country itself, but still: for the U.S. to accuse anyone else of exporting Terrorism to Latin America is really a remarkable feat of propaganda.”

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Ranger-Man: Supplemental stats that reinforce the impressiveness of Yu Darvish’s shutout performance against the Yanks Tuesday night: 82 of 119 pitches thrown for strikes; speed differential – mid-‘90s to 69 mph.  Kenny Singleton, doing color for the Yanks on YES, was moved to say about the Rangers’ new ace “Yu the Man!”

Burdened: “(Albert)  Pujols sa(ys) he has a permanent chip on his shoulder, but he called the $240 million contract  ’an extra chip.’  So far, (after 19  homerless games) in terms of power, he has worn that extra chip like an anchor.” – Jeff Miller, Orange County Register

The Integrity Factor: “Michael Weiner, the stubbornly logical executive director of the Players Association, said last week that the steroid guys should be in the Hall, despite taking advantage of the rules.  I don’t disagree but I can’t vote for them as long as the ballot I’m given by the Hall says that I am to consider the character, sportsmanship and integrity of players.  Steroids were an assault on the integrity of the game, and players knew they were playing fast and loose when they used them.” – Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

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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.)

Economic Reality: Baseball a ‘Privileged’ Sport

(Posted: 4/23/12; e-mail update 4/24)

Baseball as a reflection of the real world: Six decades ago, stuff Joe D, and Willie and The Thumper were paying an 87-percent tax rate on the $100,000 or more they were making as baseball’s high earners. Today, the sport’s scores of multi-millionaires are paying 35 percent on their earnings, almost two-thirds less than DiMaggio, Mays and Ted Williams.

David Levine, a federal tax policy expert and big-league investor, went over the record book with the Wash Post’s Ezra Klein: “John F. Kennedy brought the top tax rate down to 70 percent. Ronald Reagan brought it to 50 percent, and then to 28 percent. I was making seven figures, They lowered my marginal tax rate to 28 percent. And the median American, he was paying a 15 percent marginal tax plus his payroll taxes plus the employer’s share of his payroll taxes, which comes out of his income. So he was paying, all in all, about 27.9 percent. And I was paying 28 percent.” Levine noted that George Bush the First and Bill Clinton raised the rate to 39.6 percent before Bush the Second cut it back to the current 35 percent level. Klein described him as “offended” by the statistical inequities throughout the rundown.

The trickle-down impact of Team USA’s anti-tax offense – giving it the lowest rate in the league of major industrial nations – has led, we know, to cuts in a broad range of popular programs. Among pastimes affected: baseball. People who monitor the effects on young ballplayers from low-income, largely African-American families confirm the problem. “One reason blacks are not coming into baseball in large numbers anymore,” a knowledgable Nubbite e-mailed, “is that few college baseball programs offer full scholarships to athletes in that sport. Since even half-cost of a college education is prohibitively expensive, baseball on campus has become a privileged sport.” The writer noted a similar problem at the high school level: many gifted players can’t afford to play in competitive “travel” leagues because of the need to take summer jobs.

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Break Up the Nats? The Washington Nationals have demonstrated they are more than competitive this season. SI’s Tom Verducci sums up why:

 “The Nationals don’t have their leading power bat from last year (Mike Morse) nor their power-hitting phenom (Bryce Harper) and it matters not one bit because Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler — all between 23 and 28 years old — have come together at the right time, a time when there simply isn’t enough offense around the league to match up against their pure stuff. The Nationals look like a legitimate contender in the NL East.”

Thoughts While Watching Saturday Carnage at Fenway: “Freddy Garcia may not be around with the Yanks much longer.” “How about that? Felix Doubront is a solid Sox starter.” “Fans who have had no sympathy for Bobby Valentine must feel sorry for him now.”

Injurious Situations: The Sox, playing without closer Andrew Bailey, MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury, and potential sparkplug Carl Crawford (not to mention Daisuke Matsuzaka), have reason to be struggling. But their plight is no worse than that of the tailspinning D-backs, who have lost their outfield stars Justin Upton and Chris Young, as well as number 2 starter Daniel Hudson. Honorable mention: the Phillies, waiting for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to heal, and now also without the services of Cliff Lee.

A Central Oddity: As of this last week of April, five of six NL Central teams are below .500. The exception: the defending World Champion Cardinals, 11-5.

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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.)

Obama and the Legacies of Jackie Robinson

Posted: 4/20/12; e-mail update 4/21)

Seldom Acknowledged: What we owe Jackie Robinson 65 years after he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers – a recognition that African-Americans with mainstream advantages could match whites in occupational potential. It went beyond his athletic achievement.  When Jackie spoke, generic treatment white audiences heard someone speaking as they did, a far cry from the way blacks were presented in condescending Hollywood movies.

Jackie, a member of Team GOP after his playing days, prepared the field for the baseball-fan national skipper elected in 2008.  Jackie’s sideline involvement helped generate the interest of blacks in politics.  Although a slow process, it culminated in a 95 percent black vote for the skipper in 2008.    

That upbeat story in reverse is playing out on the ballfield.  American blacks comprise only eight percent of major league players, less than a third of the percentage recorded  four decades ago.  A similar decline is notable among African-American fans, who these days make up only nine percent of MLB attendance.  Behind those stats:  the Michael Jordan factor, along with lack of baseball space and school teams in urban black areas.  Young athletic blacks wanted to emulate Michael, sport’s mega-idol, who achieved stardom in pro basketball (before dabbling in double-A baseball).

The scouting of foreign-born players, most from Latin America, has impinged on black recruitment.  MLB teams beat the bushes in places where good non-sports jobs are few and baseball played all-year-round.  Nearly 30 percent of major leaguers come from abroad.   And, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightingale, there were 30 more Dominicans on MLB rosters than the total of all American blacks. Furthermore, 25 percent of the blacks are on three of the 30 teams, the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers.

Baseball is still more than 60 percent white, but that percentage shrinks with the steady increase of Latinos, mainly, but of Asian players as well.  A demographic game-change is also occurring on the political field.  Only 43 percent of whites voted for the skipper in 2008, compared to two-thirds of Latino voters and 95 percent of African-Americans.  The fear among Team Obama members is that both groups will have less incentive to vote for the skipper a second time around (considering that the true jobless rate among blacks  approaches 25 percent); the percentages may remain the same, but the number who vote in each group much – and perhaps decisively – reduced.

A corresponding fear is that the few whites, reluctant to admit to themselves their anti-black bias who voted for the skipper in ’08, won’t do it again; they will find in the soft economy an excuse to vote against the black president.

E-Mailbag:  Author Murray Polner, of Great Neck, remembers the late Al Campanis, who scouted Jackie Robinson for Branch Rickey.  Campanis was forced out of baseball in disgrace because of what he said in a national TV interview:  that many people felt blacks didn’t have the “necessities” to fill top baseball jobs.  It was a verbal slip for which he paid a painful price.  Polner writes about it, at

Patricia Sitkin wrote from Linden, CA to defend Ozzie Guillen’s favorable remarks about Fidel Castro: “I wish Havana had two newspapers and no political prisoners, but I admire the excellent education system there and the remarkable elimination of grinding poverty; Cuban kids are the best nurtured I have seen in Latin America…Must I pay a fine or lose a job for saying so?” Ozzie said Tuesday night that he spoke “from the bottom of (his) heart” about Fidel and was just as sincere when he said he regretted saying what he did.

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Good Ones Doing Well:  Early in the season, good things are happening to players widely considered good guys. Case in point: Jamie Moyer, now the oldest pitcher – at 49.4 years – to win a major league game.  Then there’s soon-to-be-38 Derek Jeter, batting 373, with four home runs.  And how about Carlos Beltran, at .333, with five homers?  Or David Wright, hitting .500 so far?   Best of all, maybe, is the comeback from concussion of Justin Morneau, who this week hit three HRs at Yankee Stadium, giving him four for the season. 

Bad Decision on Bartolo?  The Yankees may wish they had held on to Bartolo Colon.  The 38-year-old veteran has won three of our starts for Oakland, walking only two in 27-and-a-third innings.  Wednesday night, on his way to blanking the Angels, Colon threw a probable record of 38-straight strikes.  Stats on that category only go back to ’88; Tim Wakefield’s 30-straight strikes, thrown with the Sox, was the previous (incomplete) record.

Promising Time:  The Giants say they’ve assured Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey – through their agents – that they will soon be offered long-term big bucks commensurate to the deals made with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.  Whether the offers will be attractive enough is a big question, especially with regard to Lincecum, who could be a free agent after the 2014 season.

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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 Painkilling Need in Politics and Baseball

(Posted: 4/17/12; e-mail 4/18)

Some baseball fans will recognize this play unfolding in their heads at brooding overnight moments: the urge to figure out a lineup of a favorite team, rx one that will both maximize the offense and free the mind from pre-dawn fretfulness. It is a fan-friendly antidote, best a painkiller in use the way legal-but-potentially harmful drugs are used by ballplayers. 

A seven-reporter NY Times team targeted an anti-inflammatory drug called Toradol in a front-page piece published Saturday. Despite worries of medical experts about the drug’s long-term effects, Toradol has become the “go-to-elixir” of pro ballplayers. Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, who took Toradol injections last season to help heal an injured foot, was the only one of several players willing to speak about the drug. “It’s (not) a panacea,” he said, “but it helps you get where you have to go.”

Lefty political fans – and some switch-hitters, too – know where Team USA has to go to get the country back into a winning economic game: a more realistic tax policy. They also so know chances of that happening are aggravatingly slim. Economics ace Ezra Klein explains, via, why that’s so:

 “Tiresome debates obscure the near-consensus in Washington on taxes: Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on anyone, and Democrats don’t want to raise taxes on almost anyone. The argument between the two parties rages over that sliver of territory between “anyone” and “almost anyone.”… There are currently at least two irresponsible tax pledges governing Washington. The first is Grover Norquist’s now- infamous pledge that keeps Republicans from ever raising taxes on anyone, for any reason, at any time. But Democrats have their own pledge: President Barack Obama’s promise never to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. That’s 98 percent of the country. “

An example of why the political game requires painkiller. The basic ailment: party politics, which seeks, first, to win a team edge, only secondarily to serve injured fans in a helpful way.

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 What We Know…two weeks into the season: The absence of injured legitimate closers means the Red Sox and Giants will have to find something extra to vindicate their top-tier status as the season progresses. Andrew Bailey should be back with the Sox sometime this summer, but SF’s Brian Wilson is done until next year. The teams are mirror images of each other: Boston has plenty of hitting (even without Jacoby Ellsbury for awhile) but their starting pitching is semi-shaky; the Giants, we know, have strong pitching but their offense is anemic. The three most solid teams so far: Rangers, Tigers and Yankees. Honorable mention: the surprising (9-1) Dodgers.

Coastal Conflict: The talk in California: the Dodgers, with the infusion of new-owner money, will soon become “Yankees West”. LA Times-man Bill Shaikin says there are conflicting signs about whether that will happen: The creative tension between (Magic) Johnson and incoming Dodgers president Stan Kasten should be fascinating to watch. Johnson said he would have courted Albert Pujols if his group could have bought the Dodgers sooner; Kasten is a player development guy who has reminded friends he was no longer president of the Washington Nationals when that team handed $126 million to Jayson Werth.”

Advice to Hitters…from someone who ought to know: “You can’t take two close pitches in a row (and expect to get back-to-back calls). Umpires are not going to let you get away with that.” – John Smoltz, on TBS coverage of Rays – Red Sox

No Advice Needed: Roberto Ortiz’s line over the weekend as Red Sox bats exploded against the Rays: 9-for-13, .692; eight RBIs, one HR.

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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.)

Ozzie and the Provocative Overlap of Politics and Baseball

(Posted: 4/13/12; e-mail update 4/14)

We love Ozzie Guillen because he has a habit of straying – with baseball – on to the political field.  By telling Time Magazine he “respects” Fidel Castro, usa nurse Ozzie outraged Cuban-Americans, sale whose families were part of the island’s one percent when he and his revolution took over in 1959.  Many of the privileged fled to Miami, where the Guillen-led Marlins have just started playing in a brand new public-subsidized ballpark.

The uproar – getting Ozzie a five-game suspension –  gives us a chance to look at the record book of Team USA’s contest with Cuba under Skipper Castro.  Fidel’s overthrow of Fulgencio Batista was cautiously cheered by our team until it became clear the new jefe did not want to play under yanqui rules.  Castro’s lefty reforms triggered the exodus, and the dream of the exiled families that one day they would return to their homeland.

Team USA has supported that dream, both in a war-like way, and through an economic embargo designed to set up a double play: imposing hardship and stirring up unrest on the island.  Fidel’s turn to Team USSR for material and military aid fueled our brush-back game for 30 years, until the fall of Communism in 1989.  Although Moscow’s influence is gone and Cuba no longer an offensive threat, our bench-jockeying persists.  Why?  The political clout of the people who want Ozzie sent to the showers in disgrace.

We know Guillen had to mend his Florida fences because of that clout and the risk fans would stay away from Marlins games.  But Ozzie, his apologies notwithstanding, is not alone in admiring Fidel. The onetime sandlot pitcher long ago entered the Cooperstown of world game-changers.  He earned that place for his role as liberator, but also for giving his people basic needs: free health care and education, affordable housing, all the baseball they could possibly want. And although he denied them political freedom, Fidel gave them, above all, independence from the mega- power team in the big ballpark across the strait.

Personal Note:  Two members of the Nub team visited Cuba a total of four times while Fidel was still in charge.  What we saw was a population 99/9 percent poor by our standards.  Nobody’s happy with the lack of either plentiful food or consumer goods.  And many young people were openly impatient for change that would brighten their futures.  But an older taxi driver seemed to speak for the mainstream 99.9.  “Before Fidel,” he said, “most of us were peasants without anything.  Now it is much better.” 

Thank you, Ozzie, from bringing the subject out on to the field.   

P.S.  The Nation’s Dave Zirin notes the rather glaring irony that the politicians, sports commentators and Cuban exiles want to show their love of freedom by taking Guillen’s job for the crime of exercising free speech.”  Particularly apoplectic on that score was Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, who called for Ozzie to be suspended for a month because of his “unthinkable…beyond the pale” remarks.

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Sorry, Brandon Phillips:  There’s a debate…about whether (Robinson) Cano, (Dustin) Pedroia, or (Ian) Kinsler is the best second baseman in the game right now, but Cano is the only one with the ability to test the market prior to 2015.  Kinsler’s extension — with the option included it could be worth up to $80 million over six years — has set the bar.  Cano’s next contract is all but guaranteed to clear it.  A rough starting point would be something around $100 million over seven years.  Such a deal would take Cano through his age-37 season (Kinsler’s option is for his age-36 season) and saddle the Yankees with yet another burdensome contract in its later years.  Still, given the lack of availability of… alternatives and the Yankees’ ever-present win-now mandate, New York won’t have a choice.”  – Cliff Corcoran, SI

No Thanks:  Terry Francona, on why he won’t take part in the Fenway Park centennial celebration next Friday: “Somebody went out of their way to make me look pretty bad.  It’s a shame.  I’m sure they’ll have a great event and I was part of a lot of that stuff there, but I just can’t go back there and start hugging people and stuff without feeling a little bit hypocritical…They’re probably better off going forth and leaving me out of it.’’

The above quoted by The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, who reminds us it was a story citing unnamed club sources that undermined Francona.  The story suggested that Terry’s use of pain medication could have contributed to the 2011 collapse.

Guillen Guess-Game:  By suspending Guillen for five days, and publicly supporting him…the Marlins bought themselves time to lobby for forgiveness. The key is what happens in (owner Jeffrey) Loria’s meetings with Cuban-American leaders as well as on the streets outside Marlins Park…before next Tuesday’s game against the Cubs, which is set to be Guillen’s return.” – Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Requests for e-mail updates and comments to are welcome.  Only e-mailed comments can be fielded by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Next Big Thing: Healthy Players and People?

(Posted: 4/9/12; e-mail update 4/10)

What’s baseball’s next big thing?  It should be expanded video replays to eliminate egregious umpiring errors like the one at first base late in the Cardinals-Marlins opener.  A stunned Lance Berkman was halfway to the dugout when told he hadn’t completed a third out.  An ESPN replay confirmed how bad the call was.

The calls for that obvious camera-clarifying step are no longer new, generic and the idea having been hashed over for years.  It will happen, drugstore but not in Bud Selig’s working lifetime.  No, there the more imminent new idea will not result from a slow-to-jell organizational decision; it will emerge as teams search on their own for a competitive edge, in the “MoneyBall” tradition.   GMs Jeff Luhnow and Andrew Friedman of the Astros and Rays have an identical idea that, given their small-market spur to exploit an edge early, could come to fruition soon.

Their idea in a nutshell: injury prevention.  A comprehensive effort dwarfing what’s being done now to monitor the health of players with the latest medical technology.  The day-to-day emphasis would be on ways to minimize physical risk through such things as muscle recovery and energy maintenance.  Investment in the latest equipment and highly trained personnel would be expensive but, given the mega-millions it takes to sign star players, economical by comparison.  Friedman told NY Times-man Tyler Kepner how big a boon an effective injury prevention program would be: it could keep key players off the DL season after season and be a “massive differentiator” among teams in coming years.  In other words, he was saying such programs are inevitable in the long run.

Expert observers – a few on the right as well as many on the left – are saying some form of affordable health care for all is inevitable if the Supreme Court does a 5-4 hit on the still-new law skippered by the skipper.  One of them, UCLA Constitutional law professor Adam Winkler, told Talking Points Memo “Conservatives may find that they weren’t careful about what they wished for in opposing ‘Obamacare,  The economic, social and political pressure for health care reform aren’t going to just disappear. There’s a reason every major industrialized country has national health care. If (we lose) the Affordable Care Act, we are likely to see a government takeover of health care in the next decade.”

A curve-ballingTeam GOP attorney general who argued against the law before the High Court, threw in with Winkler.  The AG, Louisiana’s Buddy Caldwell, opposes the law’s individual mandate because it props up the insurance companies. “Insurance companies are the absolute worst people to handle this kind of business,” Caldwell said. “If you have a hurricane come up the east coast, the first one that’s going to leave when they gotta pay too many claims is an insurance company.”  Caldwell went so far as to say a government-backed single-payer system would be a “whole lot better” than mandated private insurance.  That feeling appears to be growing among fans in the national ballpark.

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Early Tale of Two Top-Tier Teams: “The Sox have started this season with what looks like a grossly subpar pitching staff.  They have the third-highest payroll in baseball and they have no closer, a raft of suspect middle men, and two of their front three starters spit the bit in Detroit.” – Dan Shaughnessy, Globe

“The absence of the pressure once created by George Steinbrenner could be what separates this team from…club(s in the ‘90s) considered (some) of the best in baseball history.” – Mark Feinsand, Daily News

What We Know (or Think We Do):  Even though the Mets and Orioles swept their first three games, it’s a safe bet they are among the eight teams who will surely be out of the running before long.  The eight (in alphabetical order): A’s, Astros, Cubs, Mariners, Mets, Orioles, Padres, Twins.  The Twins could surprise and move up into a separate group of unlike-lies:  Blue Jays, Pirates, Royals.  That’s 11; let’s round it off at an even dozen by adding the White Sox.  So there are 18 teams – it says here – with a legitimate shot at one of 10 playoff spots.  It’s equally safe to say the Phillies, Tigers, and Yankees will make the cut.  We’ll be keeping a close watch, especially on the 15 other teams unmentioned above.

One Pitcher’s Percentage Game:  “There’s days when you feel really dominant and there’s days when you’re just trying to survive… I’d say, probably if you have 33 starts in a year, you probably have 10 where you feel really good and things really fall into place –  Mets’ R.L. Dickey to Newsday’s John Jeansonne

Terry’s Inside Stuff:  Terry Francona (on ESPN), on whether a tiring AL starting pitcher will be replaced next inning:  “If there’s one pitcher warming up, chances are the starter will be relieved.  If there are two throwing in the ballpen, the starter will be back to see how far he can go.”

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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.)

Keeping Score on Obama and Jeter

(Posted: 4/6/12; e-mail update 4/7)

 “How am I doing?” For political players like former NYC Skipper Ed Koch that was a favorite question, generic thumb asked when they felt things were going well. On this, the week of The Nub’s fifth anniversary, we’ll punch up the annual replay of our leadoff effort, then check to see how our two featured performers have done since that day in April 2007. Here is what we wrote as the ’08 Democratic presidential primary contest was in its very early innings:

“If Barack Obama regains his early campaign momentum, one reason is likely to be the Derek Jeter factor. That Barack and Jeter share similar multi-cultural backgrounds will surely seep into the broader voter consciousness as the baseball season unfolds. The racial comparison will likely lead many even casual observers of the sport to connect Jeter’s attributes with those of Obama. Jeter has earned the admiration of fans throughout the country and world for his skills and conduct. Obama can benefit from a transfer of that admiration if he handles himself in the political field with the same unruffled assurance that Jeter exhibits when he steps to the plate or corrals a difficult ground ball.” (April 5, 2007)

The record book shows Obama indeed got his stroke back in ’07 and was threatening Hillary Clinton’s league leadership as the year ended. We know that in ’08, an upset win in the first playoff in Iowa gave him the momentum to roll to victory, first, in the primary, then in the electoral world series. The promises he made – to energize the economy, wind up the wars, reform the health care system, bring transparency to government – gave him the highest approval rating of any president-elect going into his first season as national skipper. From our perspective, the composite equivalent BA’s for the two pre-skipper years were in the upper .300s.

Jeter, meanwhile, had one typical Derek and one slightly sub-par year, hitting .322, with 12 homers and 73 RBIs in ’07 and .300, 11, 69 in ’08. The trend was dramatically up for Obama, and marginally down for Jeter, soon to turn 35. The presidential grapefruit league behind him, the rookie skipper has had three-plus rough years on the job. His problems began with the selection of financial coaches Tim Geithner and Robert Rubin, who continued the “too-big-to-fail” banking policy put into play by Team Bush. The sluggish economy has been an ongoing headache, as have our various anti-al-Quaida adventures abroad. The skipper’s health-care reform bill became law, but not before the O-team yielded to pressure to drop the consumer-friendly public option proposal. Similar compromising in an effort to make bi-partisanship work has alienated many Team Obama fans.

The scorebook of Team Obama misplays kept by progressives includes an excessive use of drone warfare, a fraudulently pro-democratic foreign policy – epitomized by our reactionary games in Honduras, Egypt, Bahrein, Yemen and wherever “our way of life” is threatened. It also includes a reneging commitment to support whistleblowers, resulting in hits against, among others, WikiLeaks team members Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. Noteworthy, too: the pervasive attack on international law, civil liberties and due process in the name of homeland security and combating terrorism.

Lefthanders know a radical right-hitting alternative to the skipper is unthinkable. Clearly overmatched in his first three seasons, the president’s BA (by our count) slipped well below .300. But he made a decent, dignified effort to lead the country with fairness, playing the repellent game as well as he knew how. As for Jeter, he had a banner year in 2009, batting .334, with 18 homers. He struggled, along with Obama in 2010, hitting only .270, with 10 HRs. We know about his post-injury rebound season last year, when he hit a respectable .297, with 61 RBIs in just 131 games. All that, while turning 37.

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Bittersweet: For Mets fans, there were twin specters hanging over Marlins Park Wednesday night: ghostly effigies of Bernie Madoff and Fred Wilpon could be detected as former favorites Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes each contributed two hits in the NL opening game. In the 1-0 debut win over the Braves, defensively challenged Daniel Murphy demonstrated anew that he is an offensive force. He thus will remain an add-and-subtract run-compiling regular at second base.

Favoritism: Terry Francona (on ESPN) re Dustin Pedroia: “I’ve played with or managed many great ballplayers. Pedroia is at the top of the list…When he enters a room, the lightbulbs get brighter.”

Hangin’ (Electronically) with Tony La Russa: Visiting the SNY broadcast booth this week, the newly retired Cardinals manager was asked what he thought of the spate of long-term contrasts being offered the Joey Vottos and Matt Cains. “I don’t like it,” he said, “they’re messing with a player’s survival instinct.” He said he’d had tenured players who were not putting out, but he never had to deal with them: “I’d have (pitching coach) Dave Duncan talk to them; he was a quiet assassin.” Ron Darling, who played in Oakland under La Russa at the end of his career, recalled a conversation with Duncan: “Remember that guy Darling who pitched for the Mets,” Duncan asked. When Ron nodded, Duncan said: “He’s gone.” Darling knew then he had to change his approach, if he wanted to stay around. La Russa on successor Mike Matheny: “He’s an oak.”

Remembering Robin: Equally admired rookie manager, Robin Ventura, Ozzie Guillen’s successor with the White Sox, received this tribute from the ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers: “Ventura hated leaving the Sox after 1998, but led with his heart when he signed on to play with the Mets. That’s why he quickly became a leader of a team that included Mike Piazza, John Olerud, Rickey Henderson, and Al Leiter, why he was so elated when he delivered a game-winning blast against the Braves in the 1999 NLCS — a signature moment of a 16-year career.”

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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.)