The Nub

Red Sox/Dodgers, Citizens United: Two Dubious Game-Changers

(Posted: 8/31/12; e-mail update 9/1)

 The record book shows that in 1976 the Oakland A’s tried a salary dump similar to the recent Red Sox shocker, seeking to send three star players, including future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, unhealthy to Red Sox and Yankees.  Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stopped the deals as not being in baseball’s “best interest.”  The effect on the sport of the Dodgers’ sudden player windfall should be an issue today.  Why it isn’t, we believe, connects to political changes in the national bailiwick over the last three-plus decades.  

While Bowie Kuhn was ruling against the A’s in ”76, the Supreme Court decided in a landmark case, Buckley v. Valeo, that the use of money to try to influence  the result of elections was legitimate, a form of free speech.  The impact in politics was felt as soon as the 1978 midterm election when stats show the upward spiral of lobbyists’ campaign dollars left the yard.  The use of money to get things done, to get one’s way, gradually went from legitimate to unquestioned.  

 That became strikingly true in baseball as owners expected the commissioners they chose to endorse whatever player deals were made by members of the club. The policy became more pronounced in the ’90s when former owner Bud Selig took  charge.  We know from watching the off-field money game today – bank deals and bailouts, tax breaks for the wealthy, etc.- how dominant the dollar has become in every corner of the national grandstand.  

The scorecard shows the 2010 high court victory of Citizens United as the ultimate triumph of money in American political life.  It has already scored on the political field in California, the unlimited and effectively anonymous use of CU-approved money  a game-changer for tobacco companies there.  A $41 million-supported anti-tax rally helped the pro-smoking team overcome what had been a popular ballot pitch to impose an extra dollar-a-pack levy on the sale of cigarettes. That’s one example of what is happening in local races and issues around the country. 

In the national presidential playoff, Team GOP has CU money reinforcing its offensive hit-to-right arsenal.  Such a late Big Tobacco-like barrage can bring Mitt Romney home the way Dodger dollars – and the deals they made possible – could carry the now-blue/green team to the World Series.                                     

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Starting Slowly:  The beefed-up Dodgers have only managed to win two of seven games since their expensive infusion, taking only one of four from the last-place Rockies. Meanwhile, the Giants finished a four-game split with the Braves, then swept three from the Astros, leaving LA four-and-a-half behind in the NL West.  

Difference-Maker: What does Evan Longoria mean to Tampa Bay?  Well, the Rays were 25-10 before he went on the DL in May.  They struggled to maintain a .500 pace during his absence.  Since his return on August 7, the Rays have gone 15-8.                                                                                         

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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.)

Why The Media Like to Play Along With Powerful Teams

(Posted: 8/28/12)

Their minor league days over, their big-time careers begun, news hawks know their game: hardball.  Uniform dirty, spikes high, their aim is to clear the field of fraudulent play.  No quarter given as they seek to score – especially against favorites – on the side of truth.  A great tradition, but hard to live up to.  A current example, if trivial in retrospect:  the play made by Team ESPN’s Skip Bayless.   Bayless took a gutsy stance, swinging out against Derek Jeter, whose record on and off the field has, we know, earned him national acclaim.  He thus could have been cheered if he connected in what was a hard but wild swing – suggesting that Derek is a banned-drug user. 

But fans quickly saw there was nothing truly hard behind Bayless’s effort; his swing was just showy.  Watching Jeter’s career year as a 38-year-old, Bayless “wonder(ed)” if he was doing what Melky Cabrera did, using drugs to give him a performing edge.  “I would have to be sight- and hearing-impaired,” he said, “not to at least wonder.”  Fair enough.  It was speaking out in the amplified TV arena about his baseless suspicion that was unfair.

Bayless could have bunted his point across, safety-squeezing the lack of evidence, through the way he talked about Jeter; his tone could have told his listeners where he stood.  They might have asked why he was taking such a verbal stance, what were the personal or professional reasons provoking it? The media, in a time when original, digging reporting is rare, resorts, we know, to pitching opinion in place of fact, opinion that can be influenced by the front office. If ESPN wanted attention, Bayless, purposefully or not, provided it.  Pleasing the people upstairs by inside-outing instead of hitting up the middle is a tempting game, whether on the political or the ball field. 

Where Jeter had Bayless alone stirring up dust around him, the captain of Team WikiLeaks Julian Assange has taken hits from almost all the news hawk franchises.  It’s a puzzlement because Assange has lived up – in heroic fashion – to the news hawk goal: taking on, not a single player, but a world power, and doing it with damning evidence.

The UK Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald sees a now-familiar media stance – in step with powerful outfits rather than challenging them: Is it not remarkable that one of the very few individuals over the past decade to risk his welfare, liberty and even life to meaningfully challenge the secrecy regime on which the American national security state (and those of its obedient allies) depends just so happens to have become… the most personally despised figure among the American and British media class?

“(Long before WikiLeaks’) release of the ‘collateral murder’ video, the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and the diplomatic cables – the Pentagon prepared a secret report  which… plotted ways to destroy (WL’s)  credibility and reputation.  But in a stroke of amazing luck, Pentagon operatives never needed to do any of that, because the establishment media…eagerly took the lead in targeting (Assange).  Many people like to posit the US national security state and western media outlets as adversarial forces, but here…they have so harmoniously joined in common cause… It is vital to note…that this media contempt long pre-dates…the controversy surrounding the sex assault allegations (against Assange) in Sweden, and certainly long pre-dates his seeking of asylum from Ecuador.” 

Greenwald says presuming Assange’s guilt in the sex assault case, when he’s not been convicted of anything, would be “reprehensible”.  Almost as dirty a play, we suggest, as any attempt to give credence to the trash talk about Jeter. 

                                                     –     –     –

Unpacking:  It was almost as if the Blue Jays were listening to Suzyn Waldman before their game with the Yankees last night.  Before introducing the Jays’ lineup on the radio broadcast of the game, Waldman said Toronto was “running out the string, frankly.”  The Jays stunned everyone by not packing it in this time, rallying to beat the Yanks in 11 innings.

The Deal and Its Possibilities:  The Red Sox- to-Dodgers salary dump:could allow one manager, Bobby Valentine, to keep his job for another season.  He has a two-year contract the Sox can now honor, saying Bobby should get a second-year shot with a clean slate. The other skipper, Don Mattingly, may now be vulnerable. If he doesn’t make the playoffs with a roster that includes All-Star additions Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, etc, the new owners could look for a replacement at season’s end. 

R ‘N’ R:  The Reds and Rangers are the strongest division favorites as September approaches. Cincinnati looks to be the more secure because offensive leader Joey Votto is due to return to the lineup at week’s end. The Reds, expected to struggle when Votto went down with a knee injury July 16, have gone 28-13 so far in his absence.

Arithmetic: Coming out of August’s last weekend, the two top teams in only one of the six divisions had a combined total of 150 wins.  That would be the Nationals and Braves in the NL East, with 77 and 73.  Those numbers suggest a league wild card is likely to come from that division. The AL East, with the Yankees (74) and the Rays (70) and Orioles (69, now 70), could provide both of that league’s wild cards.  

Wild Card Trade-Off:  On MLB-TV the other night, Sean Casey reminded fans of the catch contained in the addition of a second wild card team:  Instead of getting to play a best-of-five series in the first round, one of the WC teams (in each league) “will be out, watching from home – wham! – after one game.” 

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

The Role of Middle Managers in Running the Game

(Posted: 8/24/12)

Which are the surprise teams as the season rounds into the homestretch?  The Orioles certainly, the Pirates perhaps, and maybe even the mildly surprising White Sox qualify.  That’s a fair rundown as seen from the eastern half of the bailiwick.  But the team that could rank as the biggest surprise is on the west coast:  the Oakland A’s.  Although newly bereft of suspended Bartolo Colon, the A’s are just six games behind the Rangers in the AL West, and tied for the wild card. 

Oakland’s overreach is more than a compellingly upbeat story because it involves the return of Moneyball’s Billy Beane to the circle of so-far successful GMs.  Billy and the A’s have been out of the money for almost a decade – since shortly after Michael Lewis’s book told the world how Beane went about “winning (at) an unfair game.”  Other teams quickly copied, among other things, the A’s emphasis on OBP – on-base percentage – in their scouting and denied Billy the edge he had held.  Less noticed was the change (effected by now-Mets GM Sandy Alderson) in how the team was run: the manager would take his orders from above; henceforth he would be the “middle manager” in a chain of command that started with Billy Beane.

That’s the rule on most, if not all teams now – Walt Jocketty runs the Reds, not Dusty Baker; Mike Rizzo, not Davy Johnson, directs the Nationals, Brian Sabean, not Bruce Bochy, the Giants, etc.  Skippers Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and John Maddon may be partial exceptions, their many years of success earning them a bit more autonomy than newer managers.

On the political field,  the reverse is often true – real power resides at the middle level.  Robert Caro pointed out in “Master of the Senate” that the upper chamber’s majority leader needed the cooperation of committee chairs to get anything done.  He could not wield power alone.

Paris-based William Pfaff, the Herald Trib’s birddog, reminds us that Skipper Obama is in a similar rundown, not only with regard to Congress, but especially as it involves his team’s middle managers.  Pfaff has no doubt that Team Romney will play the same deferential game should Mitt become the nation’s new skipper:

“Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan seem close to the hawkish ideology that gave the United States its present military deployments in Asia… But they seem to have no clear intellectual position at all, which is to say that they might easily become the instruments of others with aggressive ideologies of their own…(Romney) and his colleagues would certainly back to the hilt the spirit of militarism now in possession of the Pentagon, with the endorsement of the Obama Democrats…”

Pfaff goes on to quote author Andrew Bacevich on military affairs: “Washington has become an intellectual dead zone.”

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Back Bay Quiver:  If any life-sign is detectable in the dead zone around Fenway Park, Red Sox Nation can thank GM Ben Cherington.  He reportedly fought to make low-key Dale Sveum the new manager instead of wave-making Bobby Valentine.  Events having vindicated that stance (plus his choice of late-season pickups like Clay Mortensen and Scott Podsednik), Cherington has earned expanded operational authority. Something Larry Lucchino would do well to recognize.

Bobby’s Mixed Bag:  Former Red Sox (and Mets) pitching coach Dave Wallace on Bobby Valentine (quoted by ESPN’s Gordon Edes): “Bobby is a borderline genius. A brilliant guy.  But his people skills?  It’s just a shame.”

Arms Surge: The Rays are now only two-and-a-half games behind the Yankees, the Giants three games ahead of the Dodgers.  A reminder that a team needs three things to finish playoff-strong this time of year: pitching, pitching, and, oh yes, pitching.

 Pack-Up Time?  Two teams whose stats suggest they started “packing it in” this month – the Mets (7-15) and Blue Jays (5-16) – can play key roles in the wild card races if they continue their laid-back play the rest of the season.  The Mets have six games remaining with the Braves and four with the Pirates, the results of which could be helpful to those NL WC contenders.  The Jays have nine each with the Orioles and Yankees and six with the Rays.   The Astros, 4-16, have three significant games with the Giants ahead, which could help SF in their tight NL West race.  But they will be equal opportunity opponents – six games each – of the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals in their division.                                                  

                                                       – o-

(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.)

Some Fans on Both Fields Suffering Summer of Frustration

(Posted: 8/20/12; e-mail update 8/21)

 Can you Imagine what it’s like these days to be a Mets fan? Or a follower of the Astros, Rockies, Royals, Mariners, Twins, Padres? Or of the Brewers and Marlins, about whom much was expected? And, imagine,especially, how fans of the Phillies are feeling – their team deemed a sure thing for the playoffs? They’ve all experienced a summer of frustration, and, worse, emptiness. But perhaps the most angry feeling of betrayal can be found in Red Sox Nation. The Boston Herald’s John Tomase has put that feeling in writing (to which fans stuck in a similar stance can relate): 

“The Red Sox don’t want to be here, and we don’t want to watch them. F is for forfeit, and a string of them at the end of the schedule would work on multiple levels, like as the letter grade, or maybe the sound of the season deflating like a limp hot air balloon. The sooner we pull the plug on 2012, the sooner we can turn our attention to 2013. Let the real work begin overhauling the roster, cleaning out the clubhouse, finding a new manager.”

Fans of Team USA know about frustration. Some may think they need a new manager. Most know the skipper is prisoner of a mind-set, a political stance locked into place by years of repetition. The instructors have had the clout to solidify their message – through the media, lobbyists, money, even the courts, and, of course, susceptible players. A Times official scorer, Eduardo Porter, lays out what has happened over the last few decades as a result of the stance, and the change needed to get the team back on track: 

“The United States…has the highest poverty and infant mortality among developed nations. We provide among the least generous unemployment benefits in the industrial world. (Once) one of the most educated countries in the world, the U.S. is slipping behind. The reason is not difficult to figure out: rich though we are, we can’t afford the policies needed to (rally). The politicians in Washington all know we face a long-term fiscal crisis…Every economist knows (the crisis) require(s) raising taxes on the middle class…(Yet) raising more taxes from American families remains stubbornly off the table.”

Porter quotes a veteran of Team Reagan predicting that the futility of tax aversion will hit home “in a few more years” after players on the right “try to deal with the problem solely through spending.” That’s like asking baseball fans who have been suffering for years for more patience. It’s a game plan doomed to deepen frustration.   

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Opposite Directions: The playoff hopes of the LA Angels are not yet doomed, but they need a dramatic turnaround to remain a post-season possibility. The Angels have lost 15 of their last 22 games, and just suffered a four-game sweep at home by the surging Rays. Tampa Bay is 16-5 over the same period, and first in the AL Wild Card race while the Angels have fallen to fifth.

Provocative Bulldog: On ESPN Sunday night, Orel Hersheiser caused some head-scratching when he bemoaned the “precautionary” trend in baseball whereby productive players like Stephen Strasburg are removed from rosters during the season to protect their future health. “If they complain that they’re hurting – if they say ‘I’m not right’,” said the man known as Bulldog in his pitching days – “ then you pull them; otherwise let them play.” Do you agree with that? Terry Francona was asked. “I do and I don’t,” he said, with the puzzlement that some of us shared. The thinking here: What’s wrong with a team protecting its investment?

Streakers: Mariners +5, Indians – 5, Twins – 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to (as well as requests for e-mail updates) are
welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Why Protests in Either Pastime Have Gone to the Showers

(Posted: 8/14/12)

 With Team OWS – Occupy Wall Street – having apparently left the political field, baseball offers the summer’s only evident protest activity.  Early in the month, Angels skipper Mike Scioscia challenged the umpires’ refusal to call a White Sox hitter (Paul Konerko) out for blocking his catcher’s throw by running to first outside the baseline.  The umpires agreed that Konerko had strayed, but judged that he would have been safe anyway.  Scioscia said, in effect, that umpires can’t concede a rule has been broken, then disregard what happened…particularly when the decision affects the outcome of a game (which it did in this case). Under the circumstances, Scioscia wondered how he could possibly lose the protest he filed with the commissioner’s office.

Joe Girardi made a similar fuss in Detroit last week when umpire Tim Welke signaled that a crucial Tigers fly ball had gone foul, then changed to the call to fair, allowing a tie-breaking run to score from first.  Everybody – including those watching on TV – saw the mistake and could tell by Welke’s expression that he knew he had blown the call. Girardi said (while being ejected) that he was filing a protest.  He must have known he had as much a chance of winning the appeal (which became moot when Yanks rallied to win) as did Scioscia, who by then learned his protest had been rejected.

Managers, players and fans have learned through frustrating experience that, when the game’s regulators, the umpires, stand together in upholding a call (no matter how obviously mistaken), a protest is unavailing.  The record book shows the last time a protest succeeded was more than a quarter-century ago, in 1986.

 Baseball has, thus, set a precedent for what’s happening on the financial services diamond and in the private industry field: Team USA’s regulators – the Justice Department and SEC, most prominently – are letting key players get away with criminal rule-breaking.  Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who is the supervising umpire of securities regulation, questioned at a recent hearing “how a company can commit serious violations…and yet no individuals seem to be involved and no individual responsibility assessed?”

The answer is a familiar one: just as with baseball umpires, Team USA regulators want to avoid controversy and extended publicity; they want to follow the preferred strategy for permitting the issue to go away – a settlement –  with them and their team the apparent winner.  In return, penalized companies are spared loss of face.  Large (but easily affordable) fines, yet no admittance of guilt, or even wrongdoing, are the norm.  Another, even more lamentable norm, is noted by The Daily Beast’s Peter Schweizer: “(Last) Thursday’s announcement that there will be no prosecutions (against Goldman Sachs) should hardly come as a surprise. In 2008, Goldman Sachs employees were among Barack Obama’s top camaign contributors, giving a combined $1,013,091. Eric Holder’s former law firm, Covington & Burling, also counts Goldman Sachs as one of its clients.” 

So cronyism is part of what’s going wrong with regulation, the problem existing as likely as well as with umpiring. Behind the scenes in both cases there is a touch of panic. “In the heat of…crisis,” says Times ace Gretchen Morgenson, “the government grant(s) generous guarantees to (corporate offenders) far too cheaply.” 

And it is non-protesters in the national grandstand – that is, all of us – who take the hit.

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Few Protests Are Likely…when we suggest that the Yanks and Rangers are the closest sure things in division races.  The Yankees have the Rays and Orioles within hailing trailing distance, but they and the Red Sox can be expected to undercut each other as they try to overtake the Yanks.  The Rangers had reason to be worried about the Angels early in July.  But, as of the end of play Sunday, the LAAs had gone 12-18 since the All-Star break, despite having Jered Weaver and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation.

Wearing the Mantle:  Rookie Mike Trout energized the Angels during their early summer surge.  Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports remembers: “It was in that time, when the Angels were playing in Cleveland, that Indians manager Manny Acta turned to one of his coaches and said, ‘That must be the way the Mick used to look, to be the fastest guy on the field and the strongest one’.”

The NL Story:  The Reds, rebounding from their week-long losing streak, look to have the balance necessary to outlast the Pirates and Cardinals in the NL Central.  The Nationals have only the pesky Braves to fend off for top spot in the NL East.  It will be a surprise if they don’t succeed.

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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.)

Blame-Game Time in Baseball and the Presidential Contest

(Posted: 8/10/12)

Hopeful teams that stumbled know the name of the game at this stage of the season: it’s spelled b-l-a-m-e. The blame game began in Colorado when Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd was, in effect, demoted. It played out less dramatically earlier in Philadelphia because of improbable player injuries, and then in late July in Milwaukee, when the Brewers conceded the season by trading Zack Greinke to the Angels. Reverberations from the shell shock in Cleveland are surely imminent. But the game’s big bang is being heard in south Florida, where Marlins fans believed their made-over team a legitimate contender to go all the way. The fall guy so far has not been skipper Ozzie Guillen, but his boss, owner Jeffrey Loria; he’s the owner who later fired first-year manager Joe Girardi for telling him to shut up during a Marlins game in 2006. South Florida Sentinel columnist David Hyde gave Loria even a harder hit earlier this week:

“Everyone can draw a list of why the Marlins season went splat. (But) every list should start (with) Loria… These Marlins received a new stadium, redefined their full franchise with a healthy budget, told everyone they were contenders…(But) everyone this team counted on had sub-par years…The toxic-clean-up starts with who steers the future. And it’s clear who shouldn’t….Hanley (Ramirez) was awful, (Heath) Bell was worse. But the meddling owner had the worst year of anyone.”

Whom should be blamed for the spectacle that is our presidential campaign game? Paris-based Herald-Trib-man William Pfaff thinks it’s all of us who participate, players and fans, whatever our political stance. Here’s why:

“On the left the most dramatic forecast of catastrophe to be heard is some version of fascism… generated by the plutocratic forces already at work in the country, the new militarism produced by professionalization of the military and the “war on terror,” and the disregard and erosion of constitutional legality begun under the G.W. Bush government and continued in the Obama administration. This scenario’s plausibility is strengthened by…precedent().

“On the right, the nightmare scenario that accompanies the prospect of reelection of Barack Obama is, in its most modest Republican Tea-Party version, ‘European-style government,’ with all of the ‘sot’ horrors that implies, beginning with universal medical care and finishing with ‘death panels.’ Obamaism means to these voters a version of current Obama government with existing policies extended to the tenth power — which in the minds of many Republican voters (and commentators) spells Communism….

“ The national debate is a disgrace. My… depressed opinion of the outcome is the one current polls suggest: a stalemate much like the one the nation now suffers.”

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Sticking Around: As expected by many, the Indians and Blue Jays have faded in their divisions. Two other problematic AL teams have refused to disappear at mid-summer: the Orioles and Oakland A’s. Baltimore has both the best one-run and extra-inning record in either league, 22-6, and 12-2. Oakland has cooled off after going 18-3 in most of July, but, having just taken two of three from the Angels, the A’s are a half-game ahead of the Tigers in the wild card race, and determined runners-up to the Rangers in the AL West. Oakland begins a key three-game series with the White Sox tonight in Chicago.

Nobody’s Perfect: Tim Welke, described by veteran ex-player Mike Sweeney as MLB’s best umpire (“He never misses a call; well, maybe once in a career”) missed a big one in Detroit yesterday. With the score Yanks 2, Tigers 2, and a tie-breaking run at first, Welke, at third, signaled an Andy Dirks baseline fly to left foul, then changed the call to fair. By the time Raul Ibanez ran down the ball, the Tigers had a third run…and Joe Girardi was apoplectic. Welke clearly knew he had made a mistake, but the play stood, and a theatrically indignant Girardi was ejected. He announced the Yankees were playing under protest, a move that became moot when his team came from behind to win, 4-3.

Undercover Man: The Tigers made an under-the-radar acquisition late last month that may do for them this season what trading for Doug Fister did for the 2011 playoff team. Omar Infante, the infielder Detroit acquired from the Marlins (along with pitcher Anibal Sanchez) has added speed to Jim Leyland’s lineup along with solid defense and timely hitting. He went six-for-16 in the four-game series against the Yankees.

Streakers:  Nationals + 6, Reds – 5, Astros – 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.)

‘Groundhog Day’ Occurring Daily as Fans Search for News

(Posted: 8/7/12)

Frustration in Boston these days is spelled “g-r-o-u-n-d-h-o-g   d-a-y” – the result of repeated Red Sox blown-lead defeats within the past week.  But the idea of a same daily pattern introduced in the 1993 movie can be applied to Yankees’ HR-dotted victories at home or Washington Nats wins anywhere (and we can’t forget about the consistently dominant Reds).  The Oakland A’s, stuff the White Sox and the Pirates are three positively unpredictable exceptions to the rule.  But the groundhog aura hangs over other games around the world – important ones in the political and economic fields, buy as well as in baseball.

Consider: the news from Syria – inning after inning of a bloody civil war game reported with blame meted out to the host team (and to Russia and China), sale but no prospect of the contest being called.  Then, there’s the almost daily disclosure of some dubious play on the financial diamond for which no one is ejected, and the repetitive hopes and doubts surrounding the future of the euro.  Drearily familiar, too, are the tit-for-tat accounts of offensive scoring on both sides of the presidential contest.  It may be we’re dealing not so much with groundhog day as with a seventh-inning summer stretch in which breaking news (players on vacation?) is taking a break.

A recent example of how vapid the game has become from USA Today:  “Mitt Romney is planning a bus tour ahead of the Republican national convention.  A Romney campaign aide confirmed the bus trip to USA Today.  The aide, who is not authorized to discuss the trip publicly, asked for anonymity because details have not yet been announced.”

In place of the prosaic non-newsy pitches, we offer, in the spirit of the laid-back season, this poetic delivery:

watching TV… I explain
the beautiful art of baseball.
Bottom of the eleventh:
the Cubs came back
with three in the ninth to tie
and now the impossible
happens—a rookie,
just up from the minors,
pinch-hits and wins the game.
I am trying to tell
the significance of this.
You snuggle under my arm
and listen,
looking first at me,
then at the television.
But you are still young
and don’t understand
though you know enough of love
to look at me
and tell me that you do.

From “The Impossible” by Richard Jones, contained in The Blessing. © Copper Canyon Press, 2000

                                                   –     –    –

What We Know…entering the last third of the season:  Two of the six divisions – the NL East and AL Central – have become two-team races – the Nats and Braves, and White Sox and Tigers.  The NL Central, NL West and AL West are three-team scrambles.  The AL East is a one-teamer, the Yankees, but contains three teams, the Orioles, Rays, and even the Red Sox, very much in wild card contention.

Reye-sian Regrets:  Jose Reyes has raised his BA close to 30 points (to .288) over his current 24-game hitting streak for the Marlins.  While we admire Jose’s dynamic talents, we can’t forget his asking out of the Mets lineup after one at-bat on the last day of last season.  He protected his batting championship but lost the respect of many of his fans.  The Marlins’ only realistic goal as they start a three-game series at CitiField is to overtake the scuffling Mets in the NL East. 

More Evidence of a Need:  When a ball ricocheted off a Cubs batter’s foot, rolling to first base in LA Sunday, and an out, not a foul was called, TV color man Bob Brenly exploded:  “Four sets of eyeballs and no (umpire) saw it,” he said.  “Don’t tell me we don’t need video replay in baseball.”

Streakers:  Tigers +5, Indians – 10, Cubs – 6.

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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 ‘Going for Broke’ Season in Both Pastimes

(Posted: 8/3/12)

 The deal-driving non-waiver deadline having done its work, let’s check the lineup card of “win now” teams and their name additions:  the Dodgers (Shane Victorino, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League), Giants (Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro),  Angels (Zack Greinke), Rangers (Ryan Dempster) Braves (Paul Maholm); Reds (Jonathon Broxton), White Sox (Francisco Liriano, Kevin Youklis, Brett Myers), Tiger (Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante), Pirates (Travis Snider, Wandy Rodriguez), Yankees (Ichiro Suzuki).

The prize for display of playoff-making determination goes to the Dodgers, whose new ownership disbursed the dollars and prospects to shake up the  power balance in the NL West.  The whatever-it-takes stance must worry the Giants, whose acquisition of Pence helps soften the impact of the upheaval.  A separate prize goes to contending teams that stood pat in the face of similar challenges: those include, in particular, the Rays, the Athletics, the Nats and the Orioles.  Fans will be watching to see if their self-imposed discipline pays off.

 A similar match-up exists in the political pennant race, where one side, shading strongly to the right, is taking a win-at-any-cost approach, while the opposition remains relatively laid back.  WashPost-man E.J. Dionne, standing to the left, says it’s a contest he finds worrisome:

“For conservatives, this is a go-for-broke election. They and a Republican Party now under their control hope to eke out a narrow victory in November on the basis of a quite radical program that includes more tax cuts for the rich, deep reductions in domestic spending, big increases in military spending and a sharp rollback in government regulation. In the process, the right hopes to redefine middle-of-the-road policies as ‘left wing,’ thereby altering the balance in the American political debate.

“What should alarm both liberals and moderates is that this is the rare election in which such a strategy has a chance of succeeding. Conservatives have their opening not because the country has moved far to the right but courtesy of economic discontent, partisan polarization and the right’s success in defining Obama as standing well to the left of where he actually does.”

The right is scoring, in part, because, Dodgers-like, the money it spends is paying off: not on today’s stat sheet, but in the stirring up of fan interest and the excitement of a possible future near-dead-heat.

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The Start of the Monitoring Season –  monitoring the wild card races, that is.  Five teams – A’s, Angels, Orioles, Rays, Tigers – are within a game-and-a-half of the WC lead in the AL.  In the NL, the Pirates and Braves are in a virtual WC tie, with the Cardinals and Dodgers within distant (just under five games) striking distance.

Yankees of the Pacific?  The press box consensus puts the Dodgers on a financial par with the Yankees.  That assumes a huge TV contract for the LADs at some point next year.  They’re poised to do well enough in advance of that windfall at this late stage of the season. 

Say It Ain’t So, Youk:  Most play-by-play broadcasters are sympathetic to slumping home-team players; the preferred phrase is “struggling”.  It was therefore a surprise when White Sox voice Hawk Harrelson minced no words on the air the other day in Minnesota about Kevin Youklis: “He has been playing bad defense,” said Harrelson, “throughout this (six-game road) trip.”

Indictment:  “(Red Sox President Larry) Lucchino has created a ‘team’ in which the general manager didn’t want the manager and promised his players he wouldn’t hire someone like him.  Lucchino then went out and hired such a manager, but did Bobby Valentine no favors either, saddling him with a coaching staff filled with people unfamiliar to him or loyal to his predecessor…In one fell swoop Lucchino had undermined both Valentine and young GM Ben Cherington, thus solidifying his own authority after losing much of it to Cherington’s predecessor, Theo Epstein.”  – Ron Borges, Boston Herald         

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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.)