The Nub

Two Teams on Different Fields Going in Opposite Directions

(Posted: 5/25/12 – pre-Memorial Weekend)

A plaintive question from an NYU professor: “Why don’t you write about the Mets anymore? he e-mailed.  “They’re too poignant, sildenafil unhealthy ” was our answer.  They’ve turned out to be barely respectable; they even reached five games over .500 early this month.  But, given their lack of dollars and therefore depth (where would they be if David Wright went down?), either on the bench or in the bushes, they are fated to fade to the bottom of the NL East pack.  Contending teams get prior claim to our attention.

 Team Romney, like the Mets, seemed to sacrifice serious contention in the contest for  national skipper when engulfed in the bloodletting GOP playoff.  Mitt didn’t lack money, only an airtight defense.  But Romney is rising while the Mets fight a likely losing battle to stay where they are.

Many Mets fans are finding solace in the struggles of the wealthy Yankees.  As they were  last year and in 2010,  those fans substitute anti-Yankee for pro-Mets sentiment. Team Romney’s rise results from a similar hitch: many swinger fans have developed a stronger bias against Obama than a positive feeling for Mitt.  That has to do with the hazards of incumbency when times are hard, as well as with race, and the pervasiveness of anti-skipper messages paid for by right-wing PACS.

Those messages can win over the inattentive through their frequency.  A Team Romney rally extolling  the boons of private equity firms like Bain Capital and of a free market unhampered by government is a current example.  It was abetted this week by Times righty David Brooks. He pitched the idea that firms like Bain “forced a renaissance that revived American capitalism” while “sheltered government-dominated sectors of the economy – especially education, health care and the welfare state (presumably including Social Security, Medicare and other safety net strands) operate (as they always have).” 

Polls indicate that pitch, promoting a dynamic basepath to private profit against the stolid general benefits long provided by government, is having an effect.  The observation of Michael Harrington, author of “The Other America,” comes to mind: “You tell working class Americans,” he said (in paraphrase), “that the deck is stacked in favor of the capitalists, they won’t say how do we change the system, but how do we get to be one.”   

That’s the offense Team Obama has to overcome, burdened by the skipper’s record of complicity with the very game he’s attacking.  TruthDig lefty Robert Scheer cites the record book:  Although Obama is to be applauded for questioning Romney’s legacy, his motives seem to be…opportunistic…After all, Obama has had three years to regulate the unbridled power of private equity funds and he has done nothing in that regard.”                           

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Penny Wisdom?  An irony that may have occurred to some Mets fans:  The team could have reduced payroll by $15 million instead of $50 and had the dollars, presumably, to re-sign Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Chris Capuano.  The addition of those three, while not assuring a playoff spot, would likely have made the team competitive enough to come close through ticket sales to cover the extra $35 million outlay.  

Streakers: Reds + 6, Cubs – 9

Pre-Holiday Picture:  The Reds, perhaps fired-up by their recently promoted flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, have replaced the Cardinals atop the NL Central.  That they dominated the Yankees and Braves, back-to-back, suggests the Reds are authentic challengers for the division crown.  Cincinnati is 26th of 30 in team hitting and 14th in fielding.  It’s the Reds’ pitching (fifth) that has generated their surge.

Continental Drift:  Two of six divisions have no sub-.500 team: the AL and NL East.

Malaise:  The Twins’ Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will make a combined $36 million this season (Mauer $23, as part of an eight-year $184 deal, Morneau $13.3 million – six years, $80 million) .  Those are controversial numbers, given the plight of their last-place team, as  Minneapolis Star-Trib columnist Jim Souhan makes clear:

In the prime of their careers, the longtime friends have become symbols of athletic fragility and franchise decline.  Where once Mauer looked like a Hall of Fame catcher and Morneau the model for a Target Field statue, they now concern themselves with such mundane goals as ‘staying on the field.’ Their reduced production has nastily dovetailed with rising salaries and the opening of a new ballpark, turning what just a couple of years ago ranked as one of baseball’s sweetest stories into a cautionary tale concerning long-term contracts.”

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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.)

The Political Wrangle Over Renovating Wrigley

(Posted: 5/21/12; e-mail update 5/22)

 It was author Roger (“Boys of Summer”) Kahn who told of, sale as a boy, reporting to his grandfather that Babe Ruth had hit a dramatic home run.  “Is that good or bad for the Jews?” his grandfather asked.  Chicago’s NL team boss Tom Ricketts doesn’t have to ask whether his father Joe’s involvement in presidential politics is good or bad for the Cubs. Tom and sister Laura, also a Cub official, want to see the political wrangle caused by their father to go away.   

Joe Ricketts picked a bad time to be the potential financer of a head-hunting anti-Obama ad campaign. The low-bridging effort would use paid media to link the White Sox fan in the White House with the incendiary racial statements of the skipper’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Why would the timing be so bad?  Aren’t partisan attacks part of every presidential contest?  In this case, the revelation of Joe’s possible willingness to pay $10 million for the ad campaign comes as sonTom is asking the city of Chicago to use tax money to help renovate Wrigley Field.  In any case, the answer should be no; even more so, says ChiTrib columnist David Haugh, under the circumstances:

“How many people living in a state suffering from chronic unemployment can relate to an owner asking for public funding when his family has enough capital to commit $10 million to take on the president?”  

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, once a key Team Obama player, will surely not let Tom Ricketts’ repudiation of father Joe’s hit-to-right political game influence his decision on the Wrigley subsidy.  But whether that subsidy will be sidelined is by no means certain.  Baseball teams have been remarkably successful in extorting public money for new stadiums or improvements – usually by threatening to move of they don’t get what they want.  The strategy has scored tens of billions for MLB teams over the past two decades.  The Miami Marlins are the latest beneficiary, getting $475 million from the city and county to build their retractable-roofed ballpark.

To his credit, Tom Ricketts has not talked of shifting the Cubs to New Orleans or Charlotte or Portland, Oregon, if he isn’t helped in upgrading the rickety shrine Wrigley represents to the baseball world.  That should count for something.

As for the race-tinged attack on Obama to which this father was linked, there’s nothing that can stop it from appearing under new auspices.  The Citizens United ruling has cleared the way for some other billionaire to pick up the tab.  Esquire’s Charles Pierce sums up the situation this way: “There is practically nothing anyone can say about this president in public as long as he’s rich enough not to give a damn.”
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Dodger-Time: It’s way past time to take the Dodgers seriously (but they’re so far away).  Consider, however, that they have:  won five of seven since stud Matt Kemp went on the DL, just swept the once-high-flying Cardinals, moved seven games ahead of the Giants atop the NL West, and are a remarkable 19-4 at home this season.  

The Cardinals, with a long injured list of their own, have meanwhile lost four straight and seen their margin over the Reds in the NL Central shrink to a half-game.  

Inter-League Sweepers:  White Sox (over Cubs), Mariners (over Rockies)

Streakers (at least five decisions): Rangers +5, Cubs – 6

Attention, Please:  Has anyone else noticed the sloppiness slipping into baseball broadcasting when three people are doing the game in the booth?   One member of the team tends to tune out of what’s being discussed, then repeats exactly the same information.  It’s happened more than once on ESPN broadcasts.  A recent non-ESPN example during a Reds-Yankees game:  John Flaherty, doing color with David Cone and play-by-play man Michael Kay on YES, was talking about Cincinnati reliever Arnoldis Chapman.  He said the Reds had groomed Chapman to be a starter during spring training until newly signed closer Ryan Madson suffered a season-ending injury.  Once Flaherty finished, we heard the identical story from the normally sharp Cone.  Either he couldn’t hear what was said, or he wasn’t listening.  Whatever the explanation, we sensed silent sounds of embarrassment emanating from the booth. 

The problem exists, albeit less pervasively with two-man broadcasting teams.  On NESN the other day, color man Jerry Remy repeated almost word-for-word what Don Orsillo had just said about a Red Sox roster change.  Maybe Vin Scully has the right idea: go it alone and avoid having to worry about an inattentive partner.

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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.)

Fans Love the Slugging Game in Both Fields

(Posted: 5/18/12; e-mail update 5/19)

NY Times righthander David Brooks pitched the idea of “fundamentals” in a political column this week.  He said Team Obama was hurting in the fundamentals department – the electoral game basics dealing with the economy and attitudes toward government.  Most fans are unhappy with the O-team’s stance on both those categories of play.

The first baseball fundamental we learned – one that Brooks disregards politically – is “keeping your eye on the ball.” It applies to both hitting and fielding.  If practiced with discipline, buy for sale focusing hard enables a player to “see the ball well” and helps his team win.  Brooks says the skipper’s personal appeal has more than compensated for his lack of fundamentals.  That clearly overlooks fan support for the ball on which he’s kept his eye: the image of a slugging leader.  To the boos of lefties, generic Obama has flaunted his power stroke, ordering: the killing of bin Laden as well as the assassination of suspected terrorists, the increase in drone attacks that take innocent lives, the rendition of detainees denied due process, the shutting down of democratic teams abroad that obstruct his club’s interests.  He comes across as one tough, crowd-pleasing skipper.   

 Comments Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi: “Obama is doing things… extralegal(ly)…that would have liberals marching in the streets if they’d been done by (George W.) Bush.”

WashPost’s Ezra Klein sees the skipper scoring up the middle with a different set of fundamentals: “The primary (ones) are these: Obama is the incumbent. The economy is growing at a moderate pace. There’s no serious third-party challenge. We’re not losing massive numbers of soldiers in a foreign war.  And when you look at those fundamentals, the reality is this: Incumbent presidents very, very rarely lose under those conditions…Since 1948, only three incumbent presidents have lost reelection campaigns…(among them) Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush (who) both ran in very bad economies.”  

The skipper’s effective execution of both types of fundamentals is, to use Taibbi’s apt words about the Bush/Obama continuity, “kind of a bummer, when you think about it.”                                             

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Stat City:  The top team when combining the MLB’s hitting, pitching and fielding categories: the Rangers, by far.  Texas is first in hitting, third in pitching and fifth in fielding.  That’s a total numerical rating of nine, with three (first in all categories) the top mark.  The Dodgers are a distant second, with a rating of 18; they’re second in pitching, eighth in hitting and fielding.   The Yankees are an impressive third in fielding, fifth in hitting, but 23d in pitching, the Red Sox  first in fielding, third in hitting, but 28th in pitching.  The Mets are 25th in pitching, 22d in fielding, but a surprising sixth in hitting.

Inside Story:  Why the Reds traded Josh Hamilton to the Rangers (for Edinson Volquez) in 2007.  There were two things, writes Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Daugherty:  Thing One was that Hamilton was not popular among his teammates, who resented the coddling he got and the media attention he received, especially on the road.  Hamilton’s comeback from a four-year absence due to drug problems was well documented. The extent to which it brought him favorable treatment was less well known…Far more important was the conclusion reached by the team’s medical staff that Hamilton’s durability would always be an issue.  And that his potential for relapse would make him unreliable.”  

Durability remains an issue as Hamilton approaches free agency.  If he can stay healthy the rest of the season, we know the Rangers will have a difficult time matching the offers he’ll receive from a few of the wealthier teams.
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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.)

All-But-Certain Outcomes Looming in Both Fields?

(Posted:  5/14/12; e-mail update 5/15)

Even this early in the season, sale ampoule the wild card standings tell a lot about where the 2012 pennant races are going.  Three of the top five teams in both the NL and AL are from the Eastern Division.  Combine that with a look at the regular standings and this reality emerges: the Rangers can’t miss making the playoffs, ed one way or the other.  Each of the Eastern Divisions will have at least two teams, click possibly three, in the post-season.  A lot can happen, of course, but it will likely be tough for half of the 30 teams to maintain fan interest beyond early summer.

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, for one, believes a similar situation exists on the political field in the presidential race.  Here is how he puts it:

“We’re getting stories now about how this election is closer than you’d think, how Obama is in for a “ tight race” or a “fierce fight” with Romney, and how the Republican challenger is “closing in” to a “statistical dead heat.” They’re going to say this, and they may even have numbers to back it up, like (last) week’s Gallup poll showing Obama with just a two-point lead.  But I think it’s a mirage.

“The people who work for the wire services and the news networks are physically incapable of writing sentences like, ’This election is…over.’ They are required, if not by law then by neurological reflex, to describe every presidential campaign as ‘fierce’ and ‘drawn-out’ and ‘hotly-contested.’ But this campaign, relatively speaking, will not be fierce or hotly contested.  Instead it’ll be disappointing, embarrassing, and over very quickly.”

Taibbi may be right about the corporate media, but his electoral view does not sync with that of the majority of political press box observers.
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The Bottom Line…on Andy Pettitte’s return performance: the Yankees – as Nick Swisher put it – “got (their) boy back.”  Pettitte’s yielding of seven hits in six innings would be a winning effort behind the Yank offense more often than not.  For the moment, Joe Girardi doesn’t have to look for a fifth starter.

 The Biggest Hurt:  The Dodgers will miss the newly injured Matt Kemp for a week or so; the Red Sox, minus their injured center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, have done no better than 11-14 since his departure with a damaged shoulder.  But we suspect the team with the biggest DL challenge is Tampa Bay, which has no way of compensating for the loss of Evan Longoria, their best hitter by far.  The Rays have managed to play .500 ball (6-6) since Longoria hurt his hamstring May lst.  But if the star third baseman is out until late June, as projected, Tampa Bay figures to have much ground to make up to return to the top of the AL East.

Fortified:  The Nationals have played .500 ball (3-3) since Jayson Werth went down a week ago with a broken wrist. Bryce Harper is filling in more than adequately for Werth.  A remarkable aspect of the Nats’ breakout this season is worth repeating: they have scored nearly half their victories – 10 of 21 – by one run.

Cruz-ial Call.  Terry Francona, on ESPN, with bases loaded, Nelson Cruz at bat in third inning of Angels-Rangers game Sunday night:  When Jered Weaver fell behind 2-and-0, Francona said to viewers “You’re going to see a healthy swing.”  On the next pitch, Cruz hit a game-changing grand slam.

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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 Money Game: Dodgers and Team Obama

(Posted: 5/11/12; e-mail update 5/12)

Snap Quiz: Why are the LA Dodgers a model for Team Obama?

No, sildenafil it’s not just because the Dodgers are surprise leaders in the NL West, sildenafil or are one of the most racially mixed teams in the majors (with a roster that is 20-percent African-American). It’s because the team, diagnosis with new ownership, has the money to buy the help Don Mattingly may need to sustain its playoff run. The White Sox fan in the White House suddenly faces an opponent as surprisingly formidable as the Dodgers have turned out to be. Once Team GOP’s bloodletting primary ended, Mitt Romney’s poll numbers rose dramatically; he’s now in a virtual tie for the swinger vote with Skipper Obama.

The National Journal’s Jeff Kraushmaar included some key stats in a report that is a wake-up call for the skipper’s fans:

“This presidential election is coming down to two immutable facts… President Obama will be running for a second term under a stagnant economy, and his two most significant legislative accomplishments—health care reform and a job-goosing stimulus—remain deeply unpopular. It doesn’t take a professional pundit to recognize that’s a very tough ticket for reelection. Three most recent national polls…underscore how tough a reelection campaign Obama faces and why it’s fair to call him an underdog at this point. He’s stuck at 47 percent against Mitt Romney in all three surveys, with the small slice of undecided voters tilting against the president. His job approval ranges from 45 to 48 percent Those numbers are hardly devastating, but given today’s polarized electorate, they’re not encouraging either.”

Romney and his Citizens United-approved PACs will more than match Team Obama’s campaign media offense. And the corporate pressbox partisans – Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, etc. – will reinforce the paid brush-backing of the skipper. Obama has every right to feel, along with Chisox skipper Robin Ventura, that winning their respective races won’t be easy.

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What We Know (or think we do): The Dodgers and Rangers, five games ahead in their respective divisions, are dominant with almost 20 percent of the season gone. The Marlins’ surge, makes clear that the NL East will offer the most arresting regular-season donnybrook: four of five teams have the talent to go all the way. The Mets, who have played exceptionally until now, don’t have the qualified reinforcements to compete over the long term.

Courtesy: A prime Dodger asset, masterful broadcaster Vin Scully, calling ex-Met Angel Pagan by his seldom correctly pronounced first name: “Ahn-hel.”

Streakers  (five or more decisions): Mets +5, D-backs -5.

The Two Joshes: “The Josh Hamilton who hit four home runs Tuesday night is a player the Texas Rangers would love to sign long term…(But, he is also) the recovering addict who twice suffered embarrassing public relapses that, coupled with a deep injury history, muddy any prognosis of long-term viability… Whereas questions about how they would age accompanied Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder’s forays into the open market last offseason, Hamilton’s case is more complicated, his past hovering over his present. And it’s what makes the time between now and when he signs his next contract so fascinating.“ – Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports

On MLB-TV the other night, Hamilton told SI’s Tom Verducci he would play next season “where God wants me to be.” He said he felt a strong bond with the Rangers, but “we’ll take (thoughts about his next contract) a day at a time.” When Verducci kept pursuing his plan for the future, Hamilton said “You’ve asked that same question three 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.)

Could Staying Cool Be Crucial in National Political Playoff

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

On BBC America the other night, patient a press box observer in our home ballpark noted that Mitt Romney was “pivoting” on a number of issues – immigration, drugstore health care, etc.  We thought of Ian Kinsler on second, taking a throw from Michael Young at third, and firing the ball to first, in time to catch a Blue Jay runner.  Kinsler had to shift his feet – pivot behind the bag – to complete what was a double play. 

Romney and his Team GOP will likely play the pivogame throughout the long playoff series against Skipper Obama and his team.  He will bounce from one position to another and bank on fan inattentiveness.  Romney’s stance suggests a belief that his supporters and many swingers care most about Mitt’s offense – the effectiveness of his team’s tough anti-government scoring ability.

Team Obama has played a disappointingly station-to-station game over the past three-plus years; with few exceptions, it has followed the game plan of his predecessor as skipper.  If Obama continues to play the safe, go-along game, it will be because his team believes offense-minded Romney is more likely than he to become error-prone under pressure. 

California’s Skipper Jerry Brown, who went to bat three times in national division series – 1976, ’80 and ’92 – agrees with that game plan.  Brown  told CBS’s Bob Schieffer he thought that, rather than policy differences, the key to playoff victory this year would be a team leader keeping his composure.  Brown has little doubt which side can claim the advantage in that regard:

“I’ve never seen a– a cooler, more reasoned, intelligent candidate, leader than Obama. This man under pressure shows a lot of grace and a lot of thoughtfulness, and that’s going to serve him well because I’ve been in these races. And under pressure, you know, somebody can blow or make a mistake or say something stupid and that often is the race. So I’d say Obama has the– has the strength to make it all the way.”  

A feel-good pitch before the games begin in earnest.

 Re the Assassination of Osama bin Laden: “Morality is irrelevant when it comes to running a state. ..A leader should be willing to perform evil acts when it becomes necessary to maintain the security of the state.”  – Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (paraphrased in Writer’s Almanac)

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Don’t Cry (Too Hard) for the Yankees:  Emergency backup to lost closer Mariano Rivera is David Robertson – ERA 0.00 in 11 innings, 18 strikeouts, three walks.  John Smoltz said (presciently) on MLB-TV last week Robertson was ready to succeed Rivera.  Rafael Soriano can easily replace Robertson as set-up man.

Streakers (at least 5+-) Tampa Bay +5, Seattle – 6

Where Bryce Harper is Now:  Harper is…between possibilities. Within weeks he could be establishing himself in the major leagues permanently, or he could be back in Class AAA, where the Nats’ “developmental plan” projected him for much of this year.  In fairly short order, he could be on the way to true stardom in one to three years with comparisons to household names that stuck in the big time at 19 and emerged full-blown at 20 or 21 as elite players.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

It’s Not Yet Over for Omar: “My body doesn’t feel the aches and pains, like ‘Oh, damn, I have to get up and go to the ballpark.’ I feel excited about (it).  Maybe not every day, because there are some days you’re going to be sore.  But I still feel I want to be there.  I want to compete.” – 45-year-old Omar Vizquel of the Blue Jays

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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.)