The Nub

Deadening Predictability: at Some Stadiums and in the Movies

(Posted: 7/31/12)

Bottom of eighth in the Red Sox-Yankees opener over the weekend. The Yanks are leading 6-3, but the Sox have the fire power to make things interesting – Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have already homered.  Rafael Soriano faces a tough challenge in the top of the ninth.  We’re looking forward to that confrontation, until…Curtis Granderson hits a two-out grand slam, ending any possible suspense.  As we hear John Sterling say “It is high, it is far, it is gone!” a thumb-able thought hits us: home runs have gotten out of hand.

The Yankees, helped by their short Stadium porch in right, lead the majors with 160 HRs in 101 games (the Blue Jays, in their big windless bandbox called Rogers Center, are second with 145). Watching their team go yard may be fun for home-town fans, but people who enjoy the unfolding of tight pitching-hitting matchups don’t need almost daily score-fests and stadiums designed to cheapen the long ball.

The frequency with which home runs dominate nightly game highlights has reached the point where friends describe such contests as “ho-hummers.”  Quirky though that attitude may seem, it underscores the lively debate between fans for and against what can be called HR-happiness.  Sterling defended the long-ball anticipation of Stadium fans Saturday night (after Mark Teixeira temporarily tied the score in the eighth):  “It means a game is never over; a team can always come back”.   Maybe not always, but often enough to undercut what used to be a “wow” moment in most contests.

 The problem of predictablity is in play on dark fields remote from baseball, with tragic consequences we see today  It can be found too often in motion pictures in which violence is as commonplace as cheap home runs.  Harvey Weinstein, producer of films like “Kill Bill” (Parts 1 and 2) says Hollywood cannot “shirk its responsibility” for events like the recent Colorado shooting rampage.  Veteran director Peter Bogdanovich agrees, making this pitch to the Hollywood Reporter about the constant repetition of violence in films: 

“There’s a general numbing of the audience,” he said. “There’s too much murder and killing.  You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge.   It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible.  Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles  what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, ‘We’re brutalizing the audience.  We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum’.” 

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Not So Fast:  The pressbox consensus – seen in at least two papers, the Globe and NY Times – was that the Red Sox did not have the right roster mix to make the playoffs.  Even with Carl Crawford talking about leaving for Tommy John surgery, that pessimism seemed premature.  More persuasive to these ears was Bobby Valentine saying on ESPN last night that his team had a “streak in it” that would be coming soon.                                                

Wild, Wild East:  How competitive is the AL East?  It’s the only division of the six with every team within five games of qualifying for a wild card.

Making Statements:  The Dodgers pulled into a virtual tie for first in the NL West, by sweeping the pacesetting Giants in SF.  Newly arrived Hanley Ramirez has provided an offensive spark for LA.  The Braves seem to have sealed the fate of the Phillies with their sweep in Atlanta.   The Phils, now 16-and-a-half games behind the Nats in the NL East and 12-and-a-half out of the wild card, are considered ready to sell before the non-waiver trade deadline Tuesday.  Suspects standing on the block: Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Juan Pierre.  Don’t look now, but the Braves and Nats have made a two-team race of their division.

Streakers:  Reds +10, Braves +5, Royals -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 Off-Field Games Where Gun Violence Attracts Fans

(Posted: 7/27/12)

Detour – Report from the Road:  Two days after the fatal killings in Colorado, the impact of the event was felt at a state championship softball game 300 miles to the east, treatment in Hastings, Nebraska.  Amid the cheering for the 10-and-under girls finalists, veteran observers said gun violence had indirectly affected pre-teen players of both sexes.  One linked a marked decline in the age-bracket’s performance level (good pitching, but only marginally acceptable hitting and woeful fielding displayed here) to young people’s favorite pastime: video games featuring weaponry and explosive rampages. “They’re more interested in zapping bad guys on a TV monitor,” he told us, “than competing on a ball field.”

 “If you think about the violent computer games and all those gun-packing movies,” said another, “the connection to Aurora is anything but far-fetched.”  Putting those personal views aside, the common-sense pitch that there’s a link between the country’s romance with guns and periodic gun-related carnage doesn’t reach the plate in firearms-loving Nebraska.

Skipper Obama and Mitt Romney have both read the stat sheets showing a strong gun fan-base throughout the heartland; that was clear in their condolence-centered responses to the Aurora massacre.  Both swung out in support of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and avoided taking a stance on the urgency of stopping the spread of guns.  Such election-year timidity was thrown into focus when the NY Times noted that the accused gunman found ordering $3,000 in firepower over the internet “pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon.”

Although the NRA disputes stats that say unrestricted gun-ownership is the reason we have 30,000 firearms deaths a year, clinical psychologist Edwin Fisher suggested an inarguable point on behalf of stricter regulation in a letter to the Times: “The easy availability of guns and ammunition may not directly cause rampage(s) but makes individual torment far more lethal than it need be.”

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P.S.  Bennington, with a come-from-behind rally, defeated Seward to win Nebraska’s girls 10-and-under softball championship.

From Predator to Prey: “We’re in the hunt,” said Mets manager Terry Collins, pitching for the purchase of reinforcements after the all-star break.  Within the week, on the team’s way to a 2-12 freefall, GM Sandy Alderson had this response: “We have to recognize the reality.”  A sign that Collins has not totally avoided blame for the tailspin: one of his favorites, veteran pitcher Miguel Batista, has been released with the arrival of Matt Harvey (who made an auspicious debut last night).  Fans who have given wallet-pinching Fred Wilpon a pass during the first half of the season, can be expected to do the same now vis-à-vis the Citi Field box office.

Showing They’re Serious: The Yankees, we know, have bolstered their already strong playoff prospects with the pre-non-waiver-trade-deadline acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro came as Alex Rodriguez went on the 14-day DL.  The Yanks host a Red Sox team tonight strengthened by the return of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, but nevertheless 10-and-a-half games out in the AL East cellar.  In LA, meanwhile, the Dodgers’ new ownership has encouraged their fans’ post-season hopes by dealing for the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez.  Miami, Mets-like, seems to have counted itself out of contention.

Ray of Light: The good news for Tampa Bay fans and the team is that offensive star Evan Longoria should be back in the Rays lineup within the week.  Longoria, out since May 1 with a pulled Achilles, will DH until he feels he’s ready defensively. Skipper John Maddon has his fingers crossed as Longoria plays a four-game weekend rehab stint with Triple-A Durham: “I’ve told him not to slide,” Maddon said.

Northern California Narrative:  Two compelling store lines in the Bay Area:  Oakland’s 16-3 July surge into playoff and AL West contention, and the Giants’ challenge to keep pace with the Dodgers despite Tim (4-11) Lincecum’s continuing struggle.

High-Level Critique: The odds against the Rangers re-signing Josh Hamilton after this season widened a bit the other day when owner Nolan Ryan said this in a radio interview about his star outfielder: “He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches.  He doesn’t seem to be locked in at all…He’s giving a way a lot of at-bats.”  Contract gamesmanship, maybe.  But it’s just possible the Rangers are prepared to let Hamilton go and save a bundle.

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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.)

One Hand Clapping – for Bud Selig and Skipper Barack

(Posted: 7/19//12)

 When Bud Selig says something silly, canada there such as teams have “no appetite” for expanded video replays (see previous Nub at, generic baseball’s commissioner is easy to razz.. But fair is fair: his approval of a second- wild-card has energized the second half of the season; he deserves cheers for pushing it through without a year-long delay. Furthermore, Selig is only now earning justified applause for defying most critics who wanted the All-Star Game left alone as a colorful but meaningless exhibition. He made it a more interesting event by decreeing that its outcome would count in one key respect – home-field WS advantage for the league whose team wins, as the NL did this year.

Selig’s most audacious brainstorm-become-reality is the World Baseball Classic, booed by nearly everybody six years ago. But every four years, it, too, offers games that count. a whole pre-season month of them during which players perform out of love for, and pride in their various countries. Despite its critics, the WBC is catching on as a major international event. Another win for the commissioner (as next year’s balanced schedule will likely turn out to be).

We political fans arrayed along the left-field line can only wish that Skipper Obama deserves as many high-fives as does Selig. But the record book of Barack’s three-and-a-half seasons is top-heavy with errors, as we see his team: prosecuting his predecessor’s wars and policies without regard to basic human rights or the rule of law. His one success – health care reform – was tarnished (in our eyes) by his sacrifice of the public option. His left-pleasing swings have, by and large, been rhetorical foul balls, their scoring potential stymied by Congressional players in right, with whom he has too often tried to play ball.

With that spotty managerial record growing, lefties despair of anything the skipper does or says he’ll do. So when he scratches a hit – even a half-hearted one – past the right-shaded infield, we can’t help but applaud, however faintly. The White Sox fan in the White House earned a smattering of our cheers when he spoke without hostility toward the former sandlot pitcher who is now president of Venezuela. Asked by a Spanish-language TV anchor in Miami whether Hugo Chavez posed a threat to Team USA, the skipper answered: “My sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

Anything that smacks, however remotely, of conciliation toward the Latin American left will trigger outrage on the North American right, which for a century has considered that region a Yanqui farm system. The Romney campaign pounced, saying the skipper was betraying his ignorance of hemispheric foreign policy. In fact, it might just be a sign of a softening of Team Obama’s anti-Chavez, anti-leftist-Latino stance. Far-fetched as that likelihood may be, it’s a source of hope for some of us seated glumly on the third-base side of the diamond with nowhere else in the ballpark to go.

Rafael’s Role: Ecuador’s Skipper Rafael Correa, like his regional teammates Chavez and Bolivia’s Endo Morales, is in position to stand up to Team Obama on the stance of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange is seeking political asylum from Ecuador to fend off an O-team effort to get him shipped, via Sweden, to the U.S. to face possible espionage charges.

What are the chances of Correa adding Assange to his roster? Mark Weisbrot, monitoring the diplomatic game for Common Dreams from his D.C. pressbox, is optimistic: How fortunate,” he says, “that Ecuador, unlike Sweden, has an independent government that doesn’t take directions from the United States. This is another example of how Latin America’s ’second independence,’ led by (oft-elected) left governments… has benefited not only the region but the world.”

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Yankee Time: July, we know, is when the season transitions from the sporadic into the serious stage. In winning 10 of 14, and moving 10 games ahead in the AL East, the Yankees have established their dominance in what may be the toughest division. The Nationals, 9-4 in July, can make a similar claim in the NL East, although the Braves are only four-and-a-half behind. The unlikely team with the best record percentage-wise for the month is AL West’s Oakland A’s. 9-3, and only a half-game off the wild card pace.

The Wild, Wild Card Chase: How has the addition of two wild card slots – one in each league – broadened playoff hopes this season? Only four of 30 teams seem to have eliminated themselves from post-season contention by falling more than 10 games behind in the wild card race. All four – the Cubs, Astros, Rockies and Padres – are in the NL. .

Longing for Longoria: When it happened late last spring, we nominated Evan Longoria’s pulled hamstring as the majors’ number one impact injury. Now that the Rays, 6-8 in July, have slipped 10-and-a-half games behind the Yankees, with no sign that Longoria will be back until sometime next month, that safe prediction looks safer still. Two teams to watch moving in the other injury-direction: the Red Sox, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back, and the Phillies, who can now field returnees Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley.

Streakers: Giants +5, Mets – 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.)

Baseball, Politics and the Un-Truth Game

(Posted: 7/16/12)
In the first game of last weekend’s Yankees-Red Sox double-header, usa tadalafil David Ortiz was called out at second after hitting what looked like an extra-baser. TV-watching fans could see that the umpire had missed the call…by a lot. Amid the usual pro-forma on-field arguments, stuff  round of groans in broadcast booths, and etc., a Red Sox employee threw a curve into the action: he showed a video re-play on the Fenway Park electronic scoreboard for all the paying fans to see.
Amid the ensuing uproar, CBS Radio’s color announcer Suzyn Waldman predicted that the commissioner’s office would officially slap the Red Sox for making umpires look bad. During the second game – played before a separate-admission crowd at night – Waldman reported with satisfaction that the reprimand had been sent:  “What the Red Sox did,” she said, “was wrong.”
Play-by-play man John Sterling did not disagree, but seemed uncomfortable with his teammate’s stance. We are more than ill at ease: we believe the policy of denying paying fans what press-boxers and TV-watchers can see is an exercise in self-betrayal. It shows how strongly baseball wants to shield many of us from the truth – that the game is skewed by resistance to the latest technology and deference to the “human element” on the field instead of in the stands.  
Most media people see the fan-be-damned game baseball is playing, but, Waldman-like, defend the indirect source of their paychecks, or just choose to disregard the truth. We see the same attitude in the political press box by those covering Team Obama: most reporters play the game of protecting whatever moves the O-team makes. There are some few exceptions – veteran media players who can be counted on to hit up the middle:Ron Brownstein of the National Journal, Al Hunt of Bloomberg, and the International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff, among a few others, are unafraid to relay the truth to their
To that roster we can add the name of AP regular Matt Lee, who went to bat the other day while covering a State Department press conference. He noted theself-serving inconsistency of the O-team’s use of a Human Rights Watch Report on Syrian atrocities, challenging spokesperson Victoria Nuland.  Salon’s Glenn Greenwald (himself a truth-teller) spotted this transcript of Lee’s performance: 
LEE: Do you see that report as credible and solid, and you’re putting – you’re endorsing it? I mean, you’re saying –

NULAND: We have no reason to believe that it is not credible. It’s based on eyewitness accounts, and they’re reporting from a broad cross-section of human rights figures inside Syria.

LEE: So the next time Human Rights Watch comes out with a report that’s critical of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, I’ll assume that you’re going to be saying the same thing, correct; that you think that the report is credible, it’s based on eyewitness accounts?


LEE: And you’re not going to say that it’s politically motivated and should be dismissed?

NULAND: Matt, as you have made clear again and again in this room, we are not always consistent.

Credit to Nuland (as well as to Lee) for acknowledging the use of the sacrifice when truth is at play in the O-team’s game.

The Game’s Other Side:  “In wartime the truth is so precious it needs a bodyguard of lies.” – Winston Churchill

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What About the Hungry Fans? “Bud Selig said teams have no appetite for expanded instant replay. Thank goodness.” –  Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe. (As we see it, “goodness” has nothing to do with it.)
Winners at the Break Who’ve Kept It Going This Weekend:  Braves +7, Reds +6, Oakland +4, Cubs +4
No-Things to Come?  A possible sign that the existence of a second wild card in each league will keep pre-July 31 deadline deals at a minimum:  The Giants’ Brian Sabean,one of nearly 20 GMs whose teams are still in contention, told the SF Chronicle that he wouldn’t do again now what he did a year ago – obtain an established star, Carlos Beltran, at the cost of a prize prospect, pitcher Zack Wheeler.  Most would-be playoff teams seem to feel they’ve got a shot using call-ups or standing pat.  Mainly, only salary-dump deals like Houston sending Carlos Lee to the Marlins appear to be in the offing.
Out of the Loop?  The first clue that the Nationals will not limit ace Stephen Strasburg to 160 pitches this season, as GM Mike Rizzo said they would, came from Strasburg himself: “I don’t know how many innings I’m going to throw this year…No one’s said anything to me.”                                            
Little Love for Valentine So Far: Part of a catalog of challenges facing Bobby V, as noted by ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes: “Valentine (has) told associates that he knows he is being bad-mouthed in the clubhouse and is at a loss to understand why.  Valentine went out to the mound in Chicago for a visit with his pitcher, and all the infielders joined him for the conference except star second baseman Dustin  Pedroia, who remained at his position.”

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

The Politics Behind Baseball’s Patriotic Celebration

(Posted 7/6/12)
In two-thirds of our major baseball cities fans have added reason to “honor
America” this July 4th week.  No, doctor it’s not for the usual reasons – our “freedom”, our “democracy,” our “God-blessed” land.  It’s not even because 20 of 30 teams are above or close  to .500 and are still in the pennant races.  Make that 21, because we all know the Phillies are capable of roaring back into contention.
We fans should honor, that is, thank America for a political system that has allowed public dollars to help finance the building or renovation of nearly all our ballparks. The setup has permitted our tax money to provide classy, up-to-date comfort in which to watch our teams enter the season’s exciting homestretch.
Wait a minute, haven’t we heard that the system wastes money and needs to be downsized? The fact that it does good things for lots of people including the (admittedly dubious) way it helps baseball fans and owners may  not have occurred to many of us.  Baseball Nation editor Jeff Sullivan prompted this base-line of thought when he wrote that lack of interest in politics has been one of the “primary regrets” of his life.
The lack of interest in the way the political game is played was best expressed nationally by the fan at a tea-party rally who warned that the hated system should “keep its hands off my Medicare.”  A Cornell University study found that nearly half the fans who gain from federal programs like Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, emergency disaster aid, etc.,don’t know that the system, a.k.a. government, is their provider. Fans who don’t need those programs – and don’t want to pay for them through taxes – say they are “entitlements”. The  scorecard shows, however, that they mostly represent a return on our investment in the system. 
So, there is good reason to regret the ignorance of many of us resulting from lack of interest in politics. We unthinkingly allow ourselves to be faked out by messages paid for by front-office types with money, messages that tell only the right-field side of the game’s story line. To mount a competing rally, we might use this week to sharpen our batting eye and learn this lesson:  that the political system’s persistent striving for fairness is a true cause for patriotic celebration.   
Speaking of Fairness: France’s new team this week introduced a lineup of billions of euros of tax hikes and new taxes imposed mainly on big businesses and the wealthy players.  The team’s budget minister noted that French voters had made a “democratic correction” in electing a Sot government.  That correction, he said, would now be reflected in the budget. 
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Standings Surprises: Pirates now two games ahead in NL Central, Dodgers back in first by game-and-a-half in NL West.  And then there is…
Youk and the Big C: What has Kevin Youklis given the White Sox since he joined them 10 games ago?  Answer: credibility.  He’s hit two decisive HRS in the last two games, leading Robin Ventura’s first-place team to a sweep of the Rangers, and a 5-2 record against the Yanks and Texas, two of baseball’s best. Youklis is batting .308 with 10 RBIs wearing new sox, who have won seven of 10 overall, and are two games ahead of the Indians in the AL Central..
Not Quite a Classic Showdown:  Injuries and offensive letdowns have tarnished the luster of the Yankees-Red Sox series starting tonight. Both teams struggled to score runs this week against weak-hitting opponents – the Yankees losing two of three to Tampa Bay, the Red Sox swept by Oakland.  The Sox will be spared having to face C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, both on the DL.  The Yanks will not see Dustin Pedroia, on the DL with a nagging thumb injury. 

Red Sox Fan on a Dreamy Summer Night:


“I’ve got a full tank of gas, credit cards in my wallet. I could

drive all the way to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island,
stay in some quaint inn on a craggy coast, walk low beaches
in search of sandpipers heading south from the Arctic.
How far north do roads go? But it grows late, shadows deepen,
and so far from home, I realize I don’t know the station

broadcasting tonight’s game. So it’s finally baseball
that curbs my sudden wanderlust. It’s the simple pleasure
of a good game coming up that makes me turn around
to re-enter the bubble of radio reception, to start
the long drive back to everything familiar and well-loved. “


From “How Baseball Saved My Marriage”, Kristen Lindquist,

   excerpted from “Transportation” (Megunti Cook Press, Camden, ME)


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