The Nub

Pinch-Hitters Can Signal Trouble on Either Field

(Posted: pre-weekend 6/29/12)

Baseball 101: Where the DH wields an extra lineup bat for AL teams, troche NL clubs must try to add punch with pinch-hitting. The AL’s 142-110 inter-league margin this year reminds us of the edge the differing roles give one league over the other. DH-ing is part of the flow of the game, pinch-hitting a punctuation often prompted by trouble.

Team Obama’s bench coach Hillary Clinton decided to let someone bat for her when a warning against military meddling was needed during the recent electoral tension in Egypt. Clinton had lost her clout early in the Arab Spring by swinging out in support of Skipper Hosni Mubarak, just before Egyptian fans forced him to permanent showers.

Hillary and the O-team are getting their way in Egypt, as regional observers foresaw – a figurehead elected leader while true power resides with the U.S.-financed military. Our role in denying Egyptians the democracy they rallied for is disregarded by most of the mainstream media. It’s a role Team Obama is playing throughout the region, protected at home by shrugs in the press box.

A rare exception appeared in a NY Times report from Bahrein early this week. Correspondent Kareem Fahim, perhaps pinch-hitting for the regular on the beat, summed up in two paragraphs the game that has unfolded there with the U.S. a key player:

“Thousands of Bahrainis rose up 16 months ago, demanding political liberties, social equality and an end to corruption. But the Sunni monarchy, seen by the United States and Saudi Arabia as a strategic ally, and as a bulwark against Iran, was never left to face the rage on its own.

“Thousands of Saudi troops helped put down the uprising and remain in Bahrain, making it a virtual protectorate. The United States, a sometimes critical but ultimately unshakeable friend, has called for political reform but strengthened its support for the government. Last month, the Obama administration resumed arms sales there.”

 A more generally accepted press box attitude toward U.S. strategy abroad can be found on the Times’ op-ed page of last Wednesday. Said columnist Thomas Friedman: “We should help any country whose government is working on (an) agenda ( we approve) and…withhold our support from any that is not..”

The scorecard showing Team Obama’s imperial foreign policy and hypocritical pro-democracy stance – in Bahrein, Yemen, Egypt, etc. – is clear, and perhaps defensible to self-involved Americans in a time of war. Indefensible, we submit, is the media game of playing along with policies that warrant questioning rather than cheers.

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Pinched Stats: The team with the most productive pinch-hitters? The struggling Cubs, with a composite BA of .304., 31-for-104. The team on top in use of pinch-hitters: the Brewers with 133 ABs (and 35 hits, for a .263 BA).

Returning Strength: Chances are the Red Sox, winners of 11 of their last 15, will have both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back in their lineup two weeks from tonight, July 13. Both are on track to complete their rehab work by then. Chase Utley, the first of three key Phillies to return from the DL (Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard the others) has looked in his first two games as if he’d never left (3-for-6).

Right You Are, Joe: “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.” The cliché never rang truer than when uttered the other night by Joe Girardi. He had just lose his ace C.C. Sabathia for two turns and ever-reliable starter Andy Pettitte for six weeks. The consensus of MLB-TV panelists (among others): The Yanks have enough offense to hide pitching deficiencies. Robinson Cano, by the way, has hit 10 HRs in June.

 A Veteran’s Un-Birthday: “Jeter’s getting old,” said former teammate Paul O’Neill (on YES) the day after Derek turned 38. “Look at him, relaxed on his afternoon off. When Joe Torre gave him a day off in his younger days, he would walk up and down the dugout, making trouble.”

Conundrum? Not Quite: Are the undermanned Mets, five games over .500 at the end of June, doing it with mirrors? Seems like it, but there are is a solid statistical explanation: they lead the majors with 167 two-out runs, and are second best with runners in scoring position and two outs. The Mets’ current opponents the Dodgers have hit hard times without the injured Matt Kemp. They’ve lost nine of 10, and fallen a game behind the surging Giants in the NL West.

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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.)

Does Politics Connect with Poor Baseball Performance?

(Posted: 6/25/12; e-mail update 6/26)

 The Milwaukee Brewers, joint favorites (with the Reds and Cardinals) to win the NL Central, find are floundering in fourth place and have been sub-.500 since late April. Many Brewer fans place the blame for their team’s plight on politics: specifically, sale the ruckus caused by the effort to recall state Skipper Scott Walker.  Two years ago, the Arizona

D-backs, hopeful of winning the NL West, had to cope with a rhubarb over a law permitting police to stop and check on the status of people who looked like immigrants.  The D-backs wound up finishing last.

The ferment in Arizona is still churning in the courts.  In Wisconsin, too, the turmoil triggered by Walker after he took office persists.  Wisconsin’s economic plight was not severe enough to warrant what Walker did, says National Journal’s Ron Brownstein.  It was among the lower half of states in spending, and had a tax burden that had fallen from fifth to 14th

Nevertheless, Walker opted to play hardball: Th(e) inheritance allowed Walker to pursue a package that equitably shared sacrifice. Instead, he refused to balance the cuts for union members (and the local school boards facing a sharp reduction in state aid) with higher tax contributions from the affluent or corporations. Then, he threw gasoline on the fire by deciding not to negotiate givebacks directly with the public-employee unions (which they had signaled they would accept), but to strip them of their rights to collectively bargain on those issues altogether.”

Brownstein says state skippers with budgetary problems similar to Walker’s resolved them without generating widespread rancor: “In Connecticut, Gov. Dan Malloy, also elected in 2010, closed a deficit as large as Wisconsin’s with $1 billion in spending reductions, $1.5 billion in tax increases, and $1.6 billion in union concessions. It wasn’t easy, but the plan ultimately drew support from public-employee unions (after initial resistance) and the chief executives of the major insurance companies that anchor the state’s business community…By demanding contributions from all segments of society, Malloy closed a daunting (Walker-like) deficit without remotely as much turmoil. It’s a contrast the next president should remember.”

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Cooked:  R.A. Dickey calls his knuckleball “fickle.”  As we saw it, R.A.’s fingertips succumbed to the pressure generated by the over-the-top hype of his matchup last night with C.C. Sabathia.  There was no way R.A., or C.C., could have lived up to the media-inflated anticipation.  The Yankees, however, more often than not, find a way to meet high expectations about how they will meet any challenge.  

Picking Up Steam…and a good sub: The Red Sox, 12-9 in June, have won four straight series – Marlins, Cubs, Marlins and Braves.  Prediction: Super-sub Brent Lillibridge won’t make fans forget Kevin Youklis, but he’ll quickly become one of their favorites.

Overshadowed?  Some fans are saying the most important regular-lineup Tiger is neither Miguel Cabrera nor Prince Fielder, but Austin Jackson.  Detroit (35-37), with its recently injured leadoff man back in action, has been five games over .500 with him in the lineup, seven under with him out.  (Thanks to ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers)

Comeback?  SF’s Tim Lincecum, after a 3-0 loss to Oakland Friday night, in which he pitched five scoreless innings after a first-inning“train wreck”: “It was the closest I got back to being myself.”  Lincecum, 2-8, with a 6.07 ERA, will pose a tough decision for the Giants at the end of the season when he becomes a free agent.

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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 Early Guessing of Outcomes in Both Fields

(Posted: 6/22/12; e-mail update 6/23)

The signs are clear: summer has begun, treat inter-league play is about to end, and nearly 40 percent of the MLB schedule is already complete.  It’s crystal ball time, otherwise, for many, the start of the silly season.

Exhibit A:  The other night on ESPN, John Kruk predicted the then-scuffling Red Sox would not make the playoffs this year.  Many press box-ers are counting the Phillies out of post-season play, as well.  Injuries have knocked the once-touted teams out of contention, say the predictors.  They shake off signs that key players on the DL – Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, etc. – will have returned by the second half of the season, plenty of time for the Sox and Phils to reach the upper tier of their division races.

The situation is similar as crunch-time approaches in the presidential contest.  Mitt Romney’s victory in the GOP primary playoff was a major public relations defeat, with most of his opponents saying he wouldn’t be able to compete in the big show.  The mocking-Mitt period is over and Romney supporters like The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol see him winning in November:

“If I had to put money down now, I’d bet that Mitt Romney will win an easy victory after a relatively predictable, issue-focused…campaign…Romney can lay out his governing agenda to restore our solvency, put us on a path to prosperity, attend to our security, and safeguard our liberty…  (He) can (make)…the case for limited government and the threat of bankruptcy and penury, (talk) about undoing Obamacare and what will replace it.  President Obama has failed to pass a big tax reform, failed to master the federal budget, failed to reform our out-of-control entitlements.  The next president, Mitt Romney, can explain that he will step forward to do all of these things.”  

On the other side of the field, coaches on Team Obama are confident the skipper can counter that right-handed approach, and win, but here there’s a pesky “if”.  Players like Dem pollster Peter Hart say the O-team has to stop playing defensive “small ball” in the face of the “we’ll-make-things-better” play of Team Romney advanced by fans like  Kristol.  The skipper must swing for the fences, warning less about how bad Romney would be for the middle class, instead letting everyone know “where (he) wants to lead the country.” That is the likely game plan now.

Chances are, however, that Reuters news team has it right when it dismisses still-early speculation: the outcome in an anticipated close race, it says, will hinge on “a series of unpredictable events.”  Sounds a lot like baseball, where unforseen injuries to a Verlander, a Kershaw, a Cain, etc. could make current expectations look silly.

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Key Invalids:  We noted soon after it happened that, from a team-competitive standpoint, the torn hamstring injury of the Rays’  Evan Longoria’s was potentially the most devastating of all: it denied Joe Maddon his single most feared offensive threat.  Nevertheless, the Rays have stayed around .500 (22-24) for the close to two months since the still-idle Longoria was sidelined.  Colorado’s loss this week of team leader Troy Tulowitzki (pulled groin requiring surgery) would rank with that of Longoria were it not for the tailspin that has knocked the Rockies 15 games behind in the NL West.  

Angelic Binge:  Going into the weekend, the June “bustin’- out- all- over” award must go to the Angels’ Mark Trumbo: 11 HRs in 22 games.

The Near-Perfect Ump: Mike Sweeney, a 16-year MLB player who retired in 2010, identified on MLB-TV the other night the umpire whom he considers the best in the majors: Tim Welke.  “His calls are perfect; well, he may miss one a season.” 

An Enigma Returns:  Ollie Perez, who imploded with the Mets after signing a three-year, $36 million contract in 2008, is back in bigs and doing well so far.  Called up by the Mariners late last week, he has pitched 2.1 scoreless innings of relief with three strikeouts and one walk.

Streakers:  Rangers +6, Red Sox +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.)

Baseball’s Bill James on How to Win the Political Game

(Posted: 6/18/12; e-mail update 6/19)

Fans may have noticed that Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter never knock the Yankees. (Well, buy hardly ever.) Their teams are in another financial league from the one-per-cent Yanks. But Joe and Buck often acknowledge what a great outfit the Steinbrenners have built, tadalafil recipe how much they admire pinstripe personnel, rx how well the players are coached and perform. Baseball’s legendary analyst Bill James believes Maddon and Showalter would shine on the political field. He doesn’t mention them by name, but in an interview with Huff-Post’s Sam Stein, James suggests that the Maddon/Showalter approach would serve an underfinanced political candidate well:

“If you’re outspent in a campaign, what you absolutely cannot do is start a pissing contest,” James says. “If you’re outspent and you start talking about your opponent(‘s failings), you’re in BIG trouble, because he’s got a lot more guns than you have. Talk about your opponent in the nicest terms that you CAN.” James implies that such talking nice broadens fan – and voter – support and encourages greater effort among members of the underdog home team. 

For a different reason, Bobby Valentine would also be a James-ian type of political candidate. Earlier in the month, we may remember Bobby V blew up about the umpiring in a Red Sox-Marlins series in Miami. “I want a ball called a ball, and a strike called a strike,” he said. “Figure out how. I don’t know how to do it. I know you can do it. It’s 2012.” James believes taking on that kind of off-the-political-field issue would attract regular voters as well as voting baseball fans to a presidential candidate. Find something on people’s minds that no politico talks about, James says. How about (we suggest) that obligation to sit through the “Star Spangled Banner” at the start of ballgames. Offer fans a chance to choose an alternate patriotic selection at their stadium – “America the Beautiful”, maybe, or “This Land is Your Land.” Similarly – sticking to ideas that would resonate with ball fans – a candidate could urge the long-overdue adoption of metrics – meters, kilos, instead of miles, pounds, etc. – so we can be on base with almost every country of the world. Meanwhile, we fans can try to get used to such cryptic metric references as OPS, VORP, and WAR (on base plus slugging, value over replacement player, wins over replacement), etc.

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Nats Swatted by a Call: Had Bobby Valentine been managing the Nationals Saturday, he would have had every reason to say “I want an out called an out; I want safe called safe. The technology is in place. Use it.” The Nats’ Tyler Moore slid home in the bottom of the eighth with what replays showed to be a tie-breaking run fourth run against the Yankees. The umpire called Moore out, however, setting up six more innings of play, with the Yankees winning in the 14th. Nationals manager Davy Johnson is no Valentine: he didn’t even question the call when it happened.

Attention, Please: It was a good, sweeping weekend for the Yankees but not for a YES broadcaster. Twice during the 14-inning game Saturday, Kenny Singleton repeated information that had just been imparted by one or the other of colleagues Michael Kay and Al Leiter. Singleton has a pleasing exuberance, so it’s a downer to hear his occasional inattentiveness. Leiter, after Joe Girardi signaled he wanted a clean ball used after a Nats’ warm-up while the game was tied: “I tried to get away with using a scuffed ball, late in my career, if I saw the umpire wasn’t paying attention after warm-ups. You can do a lot more with the rough surface.”

Streakers:  Yankees +9, Reds +6

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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.)

Yankees’ Jeter Playing Well, Not So the ‘Yanquis’

(Posted: 6/15/12; e-mail update 6/16)

Derek Jeter has made four errors in 215 chances so far this season.  That puts him close to baseball’s top defensive shortstops from a stat standpoint.  At 38 this month, discount here Derek may not have the range younger players at his position do.  What he has is the gift of “comprehension”, described in “The Art of Fielding” (Little, Brown and Company, 2011) as “moving not against the ball but with it.  Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy (Jose Reyes?)…The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending (it).” 

The record book shows that Team USA has never had any interest in comprehending – or responding to – the desires of the millions of minor leaguers, the little people of Latin America.  When Skipper Obama took charge in 2009, and high-fived Hugo Chavez at a meeting, hope for change took the field.  The test of the region-wide hope came in June of that year when righthanders in Honduras low-bridged populist President Manuel Zelaya, forcing him to the showers and out of the country.  The O-team at first called the coup an outrage, then, following a century-long pattern, its apparent comprehension turned into a stab. 

The skipper and his coach Hillary Clinton soon hailed the coup’s yanqui-abetted success as a “restoration of democracy” (a line we know it often uses, worldwide, when the opposite is true).  The game in Honduras today involves a militarist regime and an economic agenda aimed at undercutting unions and privatizing basic state functions, including public schools.  That, and high-level drug-related corruption.

Dana Frank, historian at the U of California, Santa Cruz, laid out the “why” of the O-team’s game plan in The Nation:

”The United States has long regarded Honduras, its most captive client state in Latin America, as strategically important…  The country is the regional hub for U.S. military operations in Central America…The policy train is being driven by Bush-era experts, still in power, working hand in glove with the Cuban-American right.”

 Frank quotes a former Honduran magistrate who opposed the coup, saying the double-crossing stab destroyed the country’s “incipient democracy…and revived the specter of military dictatorships that are now ready once again to pounce throughout Latin America.”

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Nobility:  The Nationals, now clearly the team to beat in the NL East, have resigned themselves to doing without ace Stephen Strasburg (8-1) after he pitches 160 innings.  Based on the six-inning-per-game average he’s established in 13 games so far, Strasburg has about 14 more starts before he is through for the season.  Nats GM Mike Rizzo says the decision is non-negotiable, which means the team’s ace won’t be available for the playoffs.  How noble can a GM be?  Protecting Strasburg’s young arm could deny Washington a World Series berth.

The Yankees are not scheduled to face Strasburg in their three-game series with the Nats starting tonight.  They will have to deal with Gio Gonzales in the opener, while Phil Hughes pitches for the streaking Bombers.

Mariner at the Helm: The MLB’s most sure-handed shortstop: Seattle’s Brendan Ryan, who has committed a single error in 249 chances.  Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy has made only two errors in 296 chances.  The double-play leader among SS’s: Boston’s Mike Aviles, with 53 in 543 innings. Toronto’s Yunel Escobar is second to Aviles; he helped turn 45 DPs in 537 innings.

 Jason at Bay: On MLB-TV the other night, Al Leiter was asked, if he were a Mets fan with influence, what he would do about struggling Jason Bay (2-for-25 since returning from DL).  “He would be gone,” Leiter said.

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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 Public and Players Union: Out of Love with Labor

(Posted: 6/11/12; e-mail update 6/12)

Baseball’s season of also-ran resentment is ready to begin.   It’s a little late this year because so many low-rated teams have done surprisingly well. But between now and the inter-league trading deadline  next month the bleating will be heard:  rich teams have the resources to deal for high-priced reinforcements – the Yankees and now the newly high-bankrolled Dodgers come to mind; meanwhile, usa site  those on a low budget – the Mets, Padres, Twins, A’s, etc. – must make do with what they have.  The national pastime operates in an unfair world.

What about the real world?  When we played for former NY Skipper Mario Cuomo’s team in the late ‘80s, resentment about the public service setup had to do with away-from-the-job benefits unions had gained for state employees; perks like three weeks vacation time (when the complainants had only two), sick days (when they had none), more than a half-dozen paid holidays, etc.  Salary levels, pensions and paid health care were not issues then, as they are today.  The skipper would suggest that the complainant re-direct his jawing; you’re unhappy, he’d say, with your (probably non-union) employer and feel entitled to what state workers are getting.

In those days, public salaries could not match those in the private sector.  The time-off perks meant there was less private-public inequality.  As tax- and budget-cutting swept the field from coast to coast, private-sector salaries shrunk along with jobs and the number of non-public unions. The trend led to today’s targeting of the middle-class perks of the public service unions and the few private ones left.  The connection between the all-out assault on labor and growing income inequality was disregarded by observers in the corporate press box. 

The New Republic’s Timothy Noah addresses the linkage in “The Great Divergence,” a book designed to try to rally a revival of pro-union sentiment.  Noah confesses that he was one of many liberals who “spent too much time beating up on unions” because of their “we’ve got ours” stance, their insider hiring game and frequent instances of corruption.  What people like him forgot, says Noah, is that the country experienced broad prosperity in the post-war years when 40 percent of American workers either belonged to a union or were covered by union contracts.  Now, he says, with union membership at 12 percent and sinking, one consequence is clear: “Draw one line on a graph charting the decline in union membership, then superimpose a second line charting the decline in middle-class income and you will find that the two lines are nearly identical.”

The players union, while a boon for talented athletes, many from working class families, has stayed away from supporting labor’s fight for survival.  The traditional “we’ve got ours” seems to be the mantra of newly minted millionaires and their executive coaches.  Some baseball fans may have noticed that the self-involved players union flourished while workers in the non-sporting marketplace had to learn to live without the sense of upward expectation that labor once gave us all.

Exemptions:  When Republicans attack public workers, they often take care to exempt cops and firefighters, because they are culturally sympathetic figures, and muddle the message that government workers are parasites who are destroying the economic conditions of ordinary Americans.”Greg Sargent, Washington Post

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Confirmation?  We may remember the just-completed inter-league series as the weekend the Yankees and Nationals confirmed their team-to-beat status, not only in their divisions, but in the AL and NL.  They were two of the five teams to sweep the three-game sets, the Yanks over the Mets, the Nats over the Red Sox, the Rays over the Marlins, the Pirates over the Royals, and the D-backs over Oakland.  The Nats have moved two games ahead in the NL East, the Yanks stayed a half-game behind the also-sweeping Rays in AL East. Overall, the 42 inter-league contests ended in a 22-20 edge for the AL.

Bourn Spree:  The most prolific hitter of the weekend: Atlanta’s Michael Bourn, eight-for-13.  Counting a previous game against the Marlins, Bourn was 11-for-17 Thursday through Sunday, lifting his average from .297 to .320.

Streakers:  D-backs + 5,  Marlins – 6,  Rockies – 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.)

The Man Who ‘Can’t be Fake’ and One Willing to Make it a Habit

(Posted: 6/8/12)

Interviewed while in NYC with the Cardinals last weekend, buy ailment Carlos Beltran said his dramatic strikeout in the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS does not haunt him the way it does Mets fans.  When Beltran took a third strike from (current teammate) Adam Wainwright, look fans saw their dream of the Mets making the World Series die.  Their team, sale we know, hasn’t been the same since.  Carlos, however, believes he could just as easily have hit a catchable fly ball or a ground-out.  So he will not pretend to a regret he doesn’t feel:  “I just can’t be fake,” he said.

We thought of the Beltran interview when we found among e-mailbag messages a brush-back response to our previous Nub; ours was an at-bat against what we consider Skipper Obama’s cagy and immoral use of drones in the Middle East.  Earl Roberts of Manhattan disagreed, and sent this pitch: “To be a king, especially on a first-class throne,” he wrote, “is not to be a civil rights lawyer or moralist.  Obama has obviously avoided confusing the jobs, so perhaps he will keep his skipper’s throne in November.

That “This is war” pitch is hard to try to hit; there’s so much emotional flutter involved.  Instead, we’ll go after a skipper curve that is inexcusable: the fake fist-bump he gives “transparency” while outdoing predecessor Team Bush in secrecy, deception and the waging of a separate war on whistle-blowers. Add to those strikes against him, the skipper’s evasiveness.  He relays complaints about his shadowy game to his find-me-a-rationale coach, Eric Holder.  His resistance to justify the way he plays seems linked to an attitude described (to biographer David Maraniss) by a former girlfriend: “It’s this cutting off thing he does,” she said. 

The skipper is willing today to cut off the cheering support from the left field stands to keep his questionable moves blurry.  In that way, he seemingly hopes to attract new, less demanding fans through what can be called either rough-country hardball, or plain ruthlessness. Whether the approach will help keep his “throne in November” is by no means certain.

Wisconsin Post-Mortem:  Scott Walker’s victory offers a lesson on how the right is winning in poor as well as better-off communities: “Republicans use powerful economic wedge issues to great impact. They go into rural counties and say, do you have pensions? ‘No.’ Well, you’re paying for theirs, referring to public sector workers. Do you have healthcare? ‘No.’ Well, you’re paying for theirs? Do you get wage increases? ‘No.’ Well, you’re paying for theirs.” – Mike McCabe, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (quoted in UK Guardian)

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Assuming Command:  Winning two of three from the Rays after a 6-3 road record, the Yankees look poised to take charge of the AL East.  Enhancing their momentum: the imminent return of setup man David Robertson from the DL.  It’s “June Swoon” time for overachieving teams like the Orioles, Mets, Astros, etc.  Others – not the Dodgers, rejuvenated from their sweep of the Phillies – may add themselves to the list after this weekend.

Twinsurge:  Wins in seven-of-nine games by the Twins have left the AL without a single team trailing by double digits in their division.  In the NL, the Padres, Cubs and Rockies are a respective 18, 13, and 12 games behind.  

Convincing:  SI’s Tom Verducci on why Cincy’s Joey Votto is the best hitter in baseball: I could throw a gazillion…numbers at you to help define the wizardry of Votto, but I like these three best:  (a) Votto has not popped up to the infield all season. In fact, he has popped out to the infield only three times in 2,138 plate appearances over the past four seasons.  (b) The average NL hitter bats .198 when he is behind in the count. Votto hits .300 when he is behind in the count.  (c)  Votto has pulled a ball foul into the stands only once in his entire major league career.  Once.”

 “Sure, I remember it,” he said. “It was my rookie year. It wasn’t that deep — and maybe 20, 30 feet foul.  I haven’t hit a long home run foul in my whole career.”

 No Argument:  On MLB-TV last night, Larry Bowa nominated the Mets’ R.A. Dickey for the NL Cy Young Award “as of today.” Panel-mate Mitch Williams agreed.

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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 Skipper’s Game: ‘Baseball Cards’ and ‘Deception’

(Posted: 6/4/12; e-mail update 6/5)

If there is any doubt about baseball’s influence on Skipper Obama, sale malady the published rundown last week of his “Principles and Will” should send such a suspicion to the showers. Reading the NY Times report on the skipper’s “Secret ‘Kill List’, mind ” (called “macabre ‘baseball cards’”) we could see how dugout attitudes shaped his war-on-terror game plan. Obama comes across like the manager accused of having his pitcher hit an opposing batter: “We don’t want to hurt anybody, but we’re going to protect our players.”

“Protection of innocent life (i)s always a critical consideration”: that’s how the report sums up the skipper’s “don’t want to hurt” order. He wanted “near certainty” that civilian deaths would be avoided in drone attacks on suspected al Quaida terrorists. At the same time, Obama allowed “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties to be the standard counting procedure; for example, all military-age males in a strike zone were to be counted as combatants.

The “players” the skipper is determined to protect include not just people in the national ballpark – aware that, along with the carnage, a “successful attack (at home) could derail his presidency” – but those abroad as well. As he sees it, his team’s reputation is at stake: Says adviser Thomas Donilon (quoted in the report): “His view is that he’s responsible for the (secure) position of the United States in the world.”

“Pragmatism over ideology” was the maxim pitched to the skipper by his national security team in 2008. “Pragmatism over morality” is how fans in left field see Team Obama playing the anti-terrorism game. It’s an all-out game that entails head-hunting and brush-backs of civil and human rights, in general, as part of its offensive arsenal. The International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff, a press box observer based in Paris, offers an official scorer’s summarizing perspective from Europe:

“In the White House…a lawyer-president personally selects persons to be assassinated, whoever and wherever they are, whatever the cause or absence of cause, indifferent to international law, the sovereignty of nations, due process, the Constitution of the United States, and common morality.”

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 Reality Check…after a third of the season. The most competitive division: NL East, with four potential playoff teams – Nats, Marlins, Braves, Phillies. Divisions with three potentials: AL East – Yankees, Red Sox, Rays; NL Central – Reds, Cardinals, Brewers; AL Central – Tigers, White Sox, Indians; NL West – Dodgers, Giants, D-backs. Lone division with only a two-team race: AL West – Rangers, Angels. Total: 18 of 30 teams have what we see as realistic chance to qualify for one of 16 playoff spots. One team could force its way into group of potentials: the Pirates

What About the Mets?  Chris Bahr of the Sporting News provides the answer, lumping the Orioles into the mix: “Reality has to set in sooner or later, with the overachieving New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles the most likely to fade—though not necessarily to the depths expected before the start of the season. New York will play just three games this month against a team (Chicago Cubs) with a losing record. And things are even tougher for the Baltimore, which will not face a team all month that currently is below .500.”

Tiger Trouble: It’s not just that Detroit has lost eight of 13 and seen Justin Verlander lose three straight for the first time in four years, it’s that the Tigers are clawless except for their slugging three-four tandem Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. “We have lots of dead spots,” said Jim Leyland about his lineup (quoted by Fox Sports’ Joe Buck). Regular leadoff man Austin Jackson (BA .331) has been out with an abdominal strain for two-and-a-half weeks. His replacement Quintin Berry and fill-in second baseman Danny Worth, one-two in the order, haven’t been table-setters. Worth is batting .184. “Getting the first two batters out,” said YES’s Michael Kay Sunday, “means Cabrera and Fielder can’t do too much damage.”

Phil Hughes’ complete-game gem capped an impressive 6-3 road trip for the Yanks against the A’s, Angels and Tigers. Even before Hughes’confidence-builder Sunday, Joe Girardi said the Yanks had no intention of sending him back to the bullpen.

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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.)

Will Spring Endure in Either Field?

(Posted: 6/1/12; e-mail update 6/2)

We pitched an addition to the book lineup of the NYU course “Baseball as a Road to God.” The twisting, buy testing road through the minor leagues seemed an appropriate base path to follow.  And what better first-hand account of that hard farmland hike than one of our favorite baseball books, “A False Spring” by Pat Jordan?  A former bright pitching prospect signed by the Milwaukee Braves, and Jordan spent four up-and-down years in the minors five decades ago.   He gave up a dream of reaching the majors when he found he couldn’t sustain occasional flashes of flame-throwing brilliance.

 When we recommended the still-relevant book, a flash of reality was lighting up the foreign affairs field in the Middle East:  the rally inYemen aimed at sending the U.S.-supported skipper to the showers ended with his bench coach, the vice-president, elected, unopposed, to replace him.  As one regional press box observer put it: “The revolution in Yemen was over.”  We know the Arab Spring never was allowed to blossom in Bahrein, the strategically important regional turf of Team USA’s navy.  In Tunisia, where spring came first, Islamists are restive as provisional leaders try to fashion a secular democratic state.  The Syrian turmoil is moving through endless extra innings; Libya, owing to factions, can’t get its team together.  Then there is the club with the biggest clout, Egypt; its fans will decide in the middle of the month whether a Muslim activist or a former member of the Mubarak militarist team takes charge.

The regional consensus, expressed by Lebanese academic Jamal Wakim, is that Team USA will have a hand in the outcome of Egypt’s electoral game, which will be played out in a post-season drafting of a constitution: The Americans don’t want one actor to take over power by himself; whether it’s the Muslim Brothers or the Military (-backed)…party. They just want to play this game of divide and rule…where they can play on contradictions in order to keep Egypt under American control.”  A simpler sentiment widely shared in the Egyptian bailiwick: If, somehow, the former Mubarak team member wins in mid-June, it will be a “forged” election.

That Team USA is playing the Mideast game to win, at whatever cost, can be accepted as a given here at home.  The hard part for some fans is the hypocritical lip-service we pay to letting “democracy” emerge from the Arab Spring.

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In “A False Spring,” Jordan tells of being spotted as a prospect in a Connecticut Little League.  From then through high school he worked single-mindedly to reach his big-league goal.  Jordan sums up the effort this way:  “I devoted (a) great chunk of my life to baseball…I believe that experience affected the design of my life to a degree nothing else ever will.  Yet it never seemed to end properly…bits and pieces finally forming some harmonious design.  It just stopped.”   

The Truth So Far: The spring sun that bathed the efforts of several underrated MLB teams has not stopped shining for a half-dozen of them: nothing false in April and May about the play of the Dodgers, Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians, Mets.

Streakers: White Sox + 8, Athletics – 8, Astros – 6, Padres – 6, Orioles – 5  

It Can’t Be This Bad:  “The Dodgers almost have to approach this as if (Matt) Kemp’s not coming back. I’m not saying he’s not, but it’s uncertain how long he’ll be out (with a second hamstring pull) or when he does return, if he’ll be the same player who was ripping it up in April.  He figures to be a more cautious player, which in itself would make him a different player.”  – Steve Dilbeck, LA 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.)