The Nub

A Lefthander’s Speculation Game About Leadership

(Posted:  9/28/12)

Longtime St.Louis Cardinals fan Bill Parcells – yes, sales cure the football legend – said something about leadership that might come into play when baseball managers are evaluated at the end of the season.  As quoted the other day in the NY Times, buy Parcells told Phil Simms, the quarterback who led his Giants to the 1987 Super Bowl title, that Phil had become too friendly with his teammates. Leadership is about “respect,” not comradeship, Simms said Parcells told him.

 Managers who may not be asked back for 2013, along with newly fired Manny Acta of Cleveland: Colorado’s Jim Tracy, Kansas City’s Ned Yost, Seattle’s Eric Wedge are among those who seem vulnerable (Bobby Valentine, we know, is vulnerable).  Why? because, among other things, they may well have lost the respect of their players.  Mike Scioscia’s superiors apparently thought he was too friendly with Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher.  They fired Hatcher when the team wasn’t hitting, and Scioscia’s job looked to be in jeopardy until the Angels’ late-season surge.

Managerial overfriendliness is one cause of loss of respect.  When a leader delegates in a way that distances him from problems, as Scioscia may have done with regard to team offense, it can undermine his command. Two recent stories about Skipper Obama – one in the Times, the other in Vanity Fair – suggest that he tends to tune out less-than-pressing problems, leaving them for loyal coaches to handle.  Coach Tom Donilon, for example, has the mission (per the Times) “to manage problems and keep them from blowing up so Mr. Obama can focus on Mitt Romney, rather than Benjamin Netanyahu.”  Michael Lewis, in VF, quotes the skipper as saying “I’m trying to pare down decisions…You have to filter stuff.”  All of which suggests why much of Bush-era foreign policy continues as repetitiously as “‘round the horn” after an infield out.

Lewis also notes the skipper’s competitiveness in everything from basketball to shuffleboard.  He neither likes to lose, nor does he take kindly to players or teams who get in his way.  Thus, lefthanders who pitch support for Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Venezuela, Bolivia, Arab insurgents, leaving Afghanistan, etc., do so in vain.  While “filtering” and delegating on most of those matters, Obama’s apparent reflex is to be tough and unyielding.

Barack has earned, if not respect, a marginal safe call from the left as Election Day approaches.  Despite what they see as flawed leadership, he is their strong default choice to return as the nation’s skipper.  And that’s not just speculation.

From NYU/Stanford Report on Impact of Drone Attacks in Pakistan: The people in the areas targeted by Obama’s drone campaign are being systematically terrorized…   It is a campaign of… highly effective terror – regardless of what noble progressive sentiments one wishes to believe reside in the heart of the leader ordering it.” – (Glenn Greenwald, UK Guardian, summarizing core of report)

On State of U.S. Foreign Policy:  After 9/11, under George W. Bush, the U.S. adopted policies of preemptive war and disregard for national sovereignties, which continue today under President Obama, in its programmed assassinations…and assassination teams, its kidnappings, renditions and torture, all in defiance of international law and with indifference towards the national sovereignties of the countries involved, including allies.”  – William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune                              

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The State of Homestretch Baseball:   We know from this time last season that anything can happen, but a sensible betting man would lay money on the Braves and Cardinals joining the Nationals, Reds and Giants in the NL playoffs, and the Yankees joining the Tigers and Rangers either as division or wild card qualifiers.  Beyond that, nothing is sure (nor, come to think of it, is the Tigers’ potential AL Central title).

The Hustlers:  Joe Maddon’s Rays are hitless wonders and last in AL fielding, but Tampa Bay has the pitching and is now just two games out in the wild card race.  Oh, yes, and Maddon has his players hustling.  He quoted legendary pool-shark Minnesota Fats the other night about the need to “run the table” to the end of the season.  In so doing, he cited an old Hollywood movie that many of his young players had likely never heard of: “You’ve seen ‘The Hustler’, Jackie Gleason, Paul Newman and the boys,” he said. “We’ve got to go with the Fat Man right now.”  The Rays have run eight straight on the “table” so far.

So It Goes: The White Sox failed to capitalize on back-to-back none-out bases-loaded situations against the Rays last night.   Robin Ventura’s hope of winning the division from the Tigers is slipping away – the Sox trail by two games after an untimely letdown over the past 10 days.  But Ventura has kept his characteristic cool. His typically quiet response, after tough losses, like last night’s: “We didn’t do the little things.  You know, that’s the way it goes.” 

Remembrance:  Mets fans remember former GM Omar Minaya for the big-ticket signings that never quite worked out –  Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, Ollie Perez, Jason Bay, etc. – while the farm system languished.  But in January 2010, in one of his last deals, Minaya signed a 35-year-year-old journeyman knuckleballer to a minor league contract.  He was R.A. Dickey, the Mets first 20-game winner in more than two decades.  Take a belated bow, Omar.                                           

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

Like Pitchers, Team Obama and Baseball Seek Control

(Posted:  9/25/12)

A look at the standings tells us (1) the Rangers will have a shot next month at making their third World Series in a row; (2) the Dodgers, generic despite their star-studded late-season additions, shop will fall short of reaching the playoffs.  As seen from Bud Selig’s office, stats notwithstanding, that’s two intervention-linked wins.

Selig, we know, bailed out the Rangers in 2007, when owner Tom Hicks couldn’t meet the team’s payroll.  The commissioner then cleared the way for a well-heeled group headed by Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg to take over the team.  He pulled off a similar trick in LA over the past several months, replacing financially embattled Frank McCourt with a team that included Magic Johnson and veteran baseball exec Stan Kasten.

Sweeping away the problems that Hicks and McCourt represented – and with the passing of George Steinbrenner, once described as his “worst nightmare” – Selig has stabilized his control over MLB owners and their teams.

Team Obama is seeking to emulate what Selig has accomplished on an international scale.  The O-team needs stability to pursue American interests in energy-rich and strategically important parts of the world.  Where Selig identifies the harmonizing of club interests as his goal, Team Obama says “democracy” is what it seeks in places like the Middle East and Latin America.  The O-team persists in that claim despite its being discredited in places like Gaza and Venezuela, and recently in Bahrain and Yemen.  In both of the latter countries, the U.S supports tyrannical leadership against democratic insurgency.  Why? For our interests, and for what we see as “the people’s own good.”

A Pentagon-initiated report on how our policies alienate Muslims made a point eight years ago that is still pertinent (note the new Egyptian leader’s saying the U.S. must change its stance on the Palestinian issue):

They see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.” (cited by Ray McGovern on Common Dreams)

At a recent gathering, we asked a Washington insider with current Middle Eastern experience how we can justify our policy in Bahrein.  “You can’t give in to the (insurgent) Shiites (who outnumber the Sunnis),” he said.  That would open the door to Iran and put our important naval base there in jeopardy.” Unanswered was where that leaves the “democracy” we promote there.

Such hypocrisy – as headlines in key bailiwicks show – is still fooling no one with whom we want to play ball.

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Don’t Quote Us, Please:  Looking at the last week-and-a-half schedules of teams still competing for a wild card or their division, it’s possible to state the seemingly obvious: The Yanks – playing Twins, Toronto and Red Sox – should be a lock for first or second in the AL East.  The Orioles, facing Toronto, the Red Sox and Rays, look marginally safe for, at worse, a WC.  The late-flying Angels could ruin the Baltimore winter, but Oakland looks to be the most vulnerable of all the would-be WCers.  After losing a tough one last night to the Rangers, the A’s must face six more games with Texas as well as three with Seattle.  The Angels, meanwhile, have six left with the Mariners sandwiched around three with the Rangers.  The Tigers may well have the road to the AL Central; they’ll play six more with Kansas City and three with the Twins.  The White Sox face a tougher road – five more with Cleveland wrapped around four with the Rays. Since neither the Sox nor the Tigers are in the WC race, the loser goes home.

In the Other League…The Cardinals are a safe-looking bet for the second NL wild card (Atlanta has the other).  They play two more with the Astros and three each with the Nationals and Reds, both of whom have clinched their division.  The Brewers are a fading  threat to the Cardinals after losing yesterday while the Cards won.  Milwaukee  will play the Reds, Astros and finish against the Padres.  The Dodgers – matched with the Padres, Rockies and Giants – need a miracle to catch St.Louis.

By the Way: While all three NL division winners are known – the Nationals, Reds and Giants, the AL has only one, the not-yet-clinched Rangers.

The Greinke Void:  On MLB-TV Sunday night, the panelists talked of the possibly crucial mistake the Brewers made in dealing Zack Greinke when they did – before the surge that has them so close to a wild card berth.  “If they don’t make it,” said Eric Byrnes, “Brewer fans will have a right to second-guess the Greinke move through the winter.” That will be especially true if Zack helps his new team the Angels slip into the playoffs.

Flush Note: The excitement of the multi-team wild card playoff race shouldn’t let us overlook the royal flush that lies ahead: two win-or-go-home WC games two days after the regular season ends; unless, as John Smoltz predicts, there’s at least one climatic WC tie before the one-game playoff in each league.  

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

Are Unacknowledged Errors No Longer Part of Either Game?

(Posted: 9/21/12)

Turns out former Red Sox Nation Skipper Mitt Romney did a Bobby Valentine at that Florida fund-raiser. Where Bobby V badmouthed Kevin Youklis, sovaldi Mitt did the same to 47 percent of us. For Bobby, Youk was a victim of his injuries; for Mitt, the 47 percent were victimized by government handouts. The verbal misplays may cost Valentine his job, Romney the one he’s playing for.

Valentine had no choice but to stand by the words of an interview. Romney, while not backing away from his blunder, could have complained about the “unauthorized” use of a video taken at an event closed to the media. That he didn’t gripe suggests a recognition today’s electronic gadgetry makes no one safe from some sort of camera, no matter how “closed” the setting. Political insiders may disagree, but fans benefit when public players, unaware they are being recorded, say what’s on their mind, as Romney did.

 Most of us know that, under controlled conditions, politicos deliver edited versions of what’s happening on their turf. Unhappily, baseball refuses to recognize that dubious umpiring decisions “edit” the truth of what’s happening on the field. The editing is allowed to take place despite video replays disclosing that truth.

 We reprise this much-repeated pitch because – according to the NY Times – the man who developed instant replay regrets the loss of what the paper calls “the Beauty of Imperfection.” Columnist William Rhoden strongly supports the view of former sports producer Tony Verna: “Mistakes are part of the games we love,” Rhoden says. “The home run is the result of a pitcher’s mistake. The passed ball, the blown save…all human mistakes that are part of the game.”

What Romney learned, as baseball must, is that mistakes that go unacknowledged (and, if possible, unrectified) will no longer be tolerated as part of the game by the public, the fans. Technology has changed both games for good.

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Blame Game: At the beginning of August, fans in Pittsburgh had reason to believe positive change had come to their Pirates, 16 games over .500, and seemingly playoffs-bound. Manager Clint Hurdle, who had led the Rockies to a 21-1 finish (and ultimately to the World Series) 2007, likened his Bucs to those Rox. But the Pirates have gone 14-31 since then, and 4-14 this month. The Pittsburgh media are blaming neither Hurdle nor GM Neal Huntington, but the man who holds the purse strings, Board Chairman Bob Nutting. Mets fans know who’s to blame for their woeful team, 4-13 this month, having scored three runs or fewer in 16 straight games. It’s neither Terry Collins nor Sandy Alderson. The obvious fall guy (who has lately remained in the shadows): owner Fred Wilpon. If we can presume to channel their collective message, it is this: Sell, Fred, sell.

Simplification: Eliminating teams that are four or more games behind (with roughly a dozen still to go), here is our lineup of those still in the wild card races: Orioles and Athletics for two spots in the AL (with the Yankees possibly replacing the O’s); Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers for one spot in the NL, with the Braves safely ahead.

Hedge: A Yankees sweep of the Athletics this weekend coupled with an Angels (four-and-a-half behind) three-game upset of the White Sox could doom the A’s while allowing the Tigers to overtake the Sox in AL Central division race. A long shot, to be sure, but a shot, nevertheless.

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

Fans Everywhere Playing the Anti-Security Game

(Posted:  9/18/12)

At a Manhattan fund-raiser last week for Jim Graves, buy thumb Dem opponent of Michelle Bachmann in a Minnesota Congressional district, buy we mentioned to him a friendship with the publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  “He’s an avid Twins fan,” we said, thinking a sign of shared baseball enthusiasm might help the candidate at endorsement time.

“He has to be balanced,” Graves said, a reflection of his centrist business-man stance.  When asked during a q and a where he stood on Israel, he was careful, aware that his district may not be as strongly supportive of the Jewish state as are voters on the Upper West Side.  “I stand by Israel’s need for security,” he said, “and a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.”

Everybody in the room seemed to approve.  Security, a dividend of peace and its desired teammate prosperity, is a popular goal everywhere.  Or is it?  In baseball, we know, fans have come to deplore the long-term contracts that have made several star players secure. Yankee and Twins fans note the frequency with which Alex Rodriguez and Joe Mauer are on the DL.  And don’t mention the name of Carl Crawford in Boston.  Even Troy Tulowitzki has become annoyingly injury-prone to Rockies fans since Colorado re-upped him for 10 years.  Mets fans have reason to regret the later phases of Johan Santana’s seven-year contract, and four years was four too many for Jason Bay.

Security-resentment has spread nationally with economic hard times.  With unions all but outrighted from the private sector, job protection, which organized labor could once insure, has left the field.  Individual job security depends on employers, who can cut members from their team at will.  That trend cleared the field for public workers to become a target for people’s anger: why should security – including pensions and paid health care – be built into their (union) jobs and not those held by most Americans?  The hit-to-right crowd has even targeted social security as something that must be “reformed,” that is, cut back. 

Some stats: As late as 1973, more than a fourth of the nation’s work force was unionized.  Today the percentage is down to around a 10th, with public service work accounting for most of the jobs. High school graduates have taken the hardest hits; the Economic Policy Institute says they comprised almost 40 percent of large union rosters in ’78; it’s 14 percent today, that’s 14 percent of the now-shrunken rosters. Those numbers alone suggest the extent of middle-class shrinkage, since most union jobs, and the security they provided, helped sustain the class base. We know where most of the non-college players in the work force have gone – to the minors, private-sector service jobs that pay little above a living wage and are benefits-free.  The system, controlled by righthanders, has tossed them a security shutout.

In an irony of the electoral game, Skipper Obama could be doubled up by the security issue. He faces resentments of both ex-middle class whites who lost their union jobs, and of fans in general who despair of the security Team Labor fights for. And grumble when others have it and they don’t.  If there were an all-star team of pro-Labor state skippers, two Dem governors would head the thin roster: Dan Malloy of Connecticut and Pat Quinn, of Illinois.  Both walked the picket lines with striking workers in their states, Malloy outside a health care facility, Quinn (who has stayed out of the Chicago teachers strike) with a team that puts together Caterpillar farm machines.

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A Lot Can Still Happen, But…It’s late enough in the season to play the premature playoffs-anticipation game.  Here is how the matchups would work out if the post-season began today:  wild cards – Baltimore at Oakland (AL), St.Louis at Atlanta (NL); winners play in division series at Texas and Washington.  White Sox-Yankees (ALDS), Giants-Reds (NLDS).  

The Wild Market After Yesterday’s Games:  The Orioles, Pirates and Phillies improved their WC status, the Rays and Tigers faded.  Tampa Bay, now five games behind in the runner-up standings, was the biggest casualty.

Comfort Zone:  The other day, while doing color of a Yankees game (on YES), David Cone pitched some over-the-top praise for reserve catcher Chris Stewart.  Cone said Stewart was the preferred catcher of most Yankee pitchers because of his game-calling and defensive ability. “Russell Martin is beginning to hit and his bat is needed,” Cone allowed. But the starters, especially, “are more comfortable with Stewart behind the plate.”

Of Feathered Friends:  White Sox fans are surely familiar with this:  Pop-flies that drop in beyond the infield, long called “Texas leaguers” or “dying quails”, have a different name at Sox games.  Home-team play-by-play man Hawk Harrelson calls them “duck snorts,” at least, when they’re hit by the opposition.  The Tigers hit three in one inning yesterday on their way to a 3-0 lead.  Hawk was in a squawking mode until the Sox rallied to win, 5-4.                                                      

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

Damaging Developments in Both Playoff Stretch Drives

(Posted: 9/14/12)

“It’s not the kind of experience you like to have.” Buck Showalter was talking about the loss of front-end starter Jason Hammel Tuesday, just two games after veteran outfield star Nick Markakis went down with a regular-season-ending thumb injury. The “experience” of key player losses, diagnosis so damaging to playoff hopes, advice is shared by several teams still in the mix. 

The Rays, right behind the O’s in the AL East, have been doing – until tonight – without ace David Price, suffering from shoulder soreness. Angels ace Jered Weaver was out with an aching lower back until a successful return last night. The Dodgers have had to place rotation regular Chad Billingsley on the DL for the season with an elbow injury. Mark Teixeira’s strained calf should heal within a few days, but he’s been missed for most of this important week. Brandon McCarthy, recovering from a line-drive-inflicted head injury last week, has thinned out the list of Oakland’s reliable starters. And let’s not forget how the Cardinals are hurting without Rafael Furcal and Lance Berkman, both gone for the season. Those are just some of the sidelined regulars on teams involved in the playoffs scramble.

On the political field, there have been damaging setbacks to both sides in the presidential playoff, owing to strategic errors and bad luck rather than physical injury. The shocking event in Libya is not helping either of them, But WashPost-man E.J. Dionne pitches the two decisive issues at home, one of which (the Fed intervention notwithstanding) could cause Skipper Obama to lose his job: “The economic reports between now and Election Day seem unlikely to show a sudden spike upward in the country’s financial fortunes. Romney (wi)ll ha(ve) time to convince enough voters that they’d be better off if they changed presidents.”

Where the economy could cut down a winning Obama rally, Dionne says the politics of class could at the very least neutralize Romney’s game plan: “Romney Republicans really do look like the party of very rich people. Persuading Americans that wealthy people have to do even better for the rest of the country to do well is the hardest sell Mitt Romney has to make.”

Not a comforting experience for either side, or for their fans.

On the Consulate Killings in Libya: It is hard not to notice…the vastly different reactions whenever innocent Americans are killed, as opposed to when Americans are doing the killing of innocents. All the rage and denunciations of these murders in Benghazi are fully justified, but one wishes that even a fraction of that rage would be expressed when the US kills innocent men, women and children in the Muslim world, as it frequently does. Typically, though, those deaths are ignored, or at best justified…(as in ‘war is hell’)…It is understandable that the senseless killing of an ambassador is bigger news than the senseless killing of an unknown, obscure Yemeni or Pakistani child. But it’s anything but understandable to regard the former as more tragic than the latter.”  – Glenn Greenwald, UK Guardian

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Wild Card Overnight Shuffle: Pay attention now: By edging the Dodgers, the Cardinals moved two games ahead of the LADs. A Phillies loss allowed the Brewers to slip a half-game ahead of the Phils. The Brewers trail the Pirates, a game behind the Dodgers, by another half-game. In the AL. the Rays fell a half-game behind the Angels after losing to the Orioles. The LAAs are now three-and-a-half behind Oakland, whom they beat last night (and three behind the Yankees/Orioles). If all that back-and-forthing is too much to follow, we can feel confident (for now) in the solidity of one of the four ultimate wild card teams: Atlanta.

A Shout Out from Schilling: David Phelps was a disappointment in his last two starts; Yankee fans had reason Wednesday to ask “Why is he being thrown against the Red Sox when so much is at stake?” Curt Schilling, doing color for ESPN, was asking the same thing: “I thought he was a relief pitcher filling in as well as he could, but without really knowing what starting was about.” Schilling said that changed Wednesday night: “I see that he’s varying his approach to the hitters. He definitely knows what he’s doing.” Phelps gave the Sox a single run in just under six innings, earning the victory that kept the Yanks in first place.

Wanted: a New Center Fielder: (Jacoby) Ellsbury has three homers in 62 (now 63) games this year. He is hitting .268…the Sox are not going to contend next year with him in center field. The Sox must trade Ellsbury this winter. Scott Boras thinks Ellsbury is a $20 million-per-year player. Maybe last year. But Ellsbury has missed 1½ of the last three seasons and is going the wrong way. He’s not even Carl Crawford this season. Trade the dude.” – Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe

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

The Class System and Its Effect on Both Pastimes

(Posted: 9/10/12; e-mail update, mind by request, prostate 9/11/12)

 Class warfare?  Warren Buffett says it’s over: the war has been won by the wealthy.  In baseball, the assignment of an additional wild card in each league gives at least the illusion of more parity.

If you’re a Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers or Tigers fan, you have a fresh chance to defend against the pitch of the unaligned among us: the familiar call for more financial parity in baseball. More and more teams, you can point out, like the Minnesota Twins, have started spending like big-market clubs. The bigger the better is the consensus.

We naysayers, however, agree with lefty politicians who say the overriding trend in the national ballpark toward income inequality is having a toxic effect, not only in baseball, but in all fields of American life.  In the national pastime, for example, there’s no doubt that, as long as late-season deals favoring teams like this year’s Dodgers  are permitted, baseball will cater to a privileged class: the Yankees, at the head of  that class, will make the playoffs every year, while the Pirates will not have seen the post-season since 1992 (until now, perhaps).    

It happens that this year’s presidential playoff pits a team playing on behalf of the privileged against one seeking greater parity. That’s the Romney-Obama matchup, unfolding with each team playing middle-class-targeted hardball.  National Journal’s Ron Brownstein describes the action:

 “(President Obama’s) message may…be( ) summarized most succinctly  in a new ad…’The middle class is carrying a heavy load,’ the ad begins before unleashing its kicker. ‘But Mitt Romney doesn’t see it’…The GOP rebuttal …is to argue that Obama (doesn’t see how misguided is his bias for) the poor and the undeserving over the middle class.”

Both candidates are playing an expanded-roster game: Mitt explicitly adding the poor to the Obama middle class lineup, Barack implicitly placing Mitt’s rich teammates on the Romney squad.  Both sides want to broaden the definition of the middle class on their differing terms. They hope the play, designed to corral swing voters, will lead them to a decisive score in November.   The outcome may depend on which competitor offers targeted fans a credible taxation game plan they consider worth cheering.

On the other field, the Athletics, like the Pirates, have been losers long enough to be labeled poor and undeserving by some baseball fans and execs.  Now, playoff contenders, though 29th and 26th on the MLB’s spending list, the A’s and Bucs, we believe, have earned the support of open-minded fans. With Atlanta seemingly sure of one NL wild card, the Pirates will have to scramble ahead of the Cardinals and Dodgers to clinch the other. Oakland must cling to the top spot it currently holds against a formidable sextet of other teams in the AL’s WC field: the Yankees, White Sox, Tigers, Orioles, Rays and Angels.

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Realism:  The hill the Dodgers (already five-and-half games behind) have to climb to overtake the Giants in the NL West becomes steeper when comparing the LA and SF schedules for the season’s final three weeks.  Where the Giants will be playing the Rockies, D-backs and Padres, all sub-.500 teams, the Dodgers will  deal with the contending Cardinals, Nationals and Reds, with only eight games within their division before a wind-up series at home against SF.  No wonder Dodger fans have narrowed their focus to the wild card and a coming weekend series in LA against their main roadblock, the Cardinals.  In the AL, their schedule (including six games on the west coast and three final games at Tampa Bay) doesn’t help the Orioles, but a possibly fatal blow to their playoff hopes has already happened: the sidelining for the remainder of the regular season (at least) of Nick Markakis deprives Buck Showalter of a main offensive cog and an effective leadoff man.

Modest Proposal:  On ESPN Sunday night, Terry Francona went to bat for a curbing of the “out-of-hand” expanded rosters permitted in September.  He said the call-ups should be allowed to “reward” prospects, but only 25 players would be eligible each game, managers arranging their limited rosters with umpires beforehand.  Francona says the availability of so many players makes managerial defensive strategy a chaotic challenge.    

Tossing Out the Record Book:  A baseball equivalent of the collegiate Army-Navy football game will begin at Fenway Park tomorrow night.  The season’s team records mean nothing when the two service academies tangle.  So it will be when the first-place Yankees meet the last-place Red Sox.  A surprise series win by the Sox could –  as it did with seemingly doomed coaches of surprise gridiron winners – offer Bobby Valentine a remote chance at salvaging his job.   

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Update requests to the e-mail address will be responded to immediately.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Bobby, Mitt, Barack and Robin as the Games Get Intense

(Posted: 9/7/12)

 As Skipper Obama and his would-be successor enter the intense phase of their presidential playoff, we think of the “V-boys”, tadalafil intense Bobby Valentine and laid back Robin Ventura. The pair are Sox-connected and stretch-linked to the candidates – Bobby V to Mitt Romney, unhealthy Red Sox Nation’s former skipper, and Robin V to Obama, whose home city is Chicago, and favorite team the White Sox.

The connections come to mind for recent historical reasons: both Bobby and Robin were newly named skippers this season, dealing with different expectations. Valentine, handed a star-studded roster, was seen as playoff-bound; Ventura, an unknown managerial quantity, was asked just to keep his modestly talented team competitive. Thus, in role switches, Valentine had the baseball equivalent of Obama’s political burden – with victory anticipated, he could, at best, be perceived as pushing the right buttons to meet expectations. That left both Bobby and Barack in similar no-win situations, Robin and Romney, meanwhile, share the advantage of being seen as overcoming adversity, Ventura on the ballfield, Mitt on the political diamond. Neither, thus, can lose.

Distractions, we know, undid Valentine – on-field resentments, dissension, injuries, leading predictably to impatience both in the press box and in the Nation. Of course, poorer-than-expected pitching didn’t help. Obama, like Ventura, has remained on top of his team, but damaging fan distraction comes into play here – the voters not keeping their eyes on the ball. With Romney as leader, Team GOP’ has set its stance to shred safety-net alignments and to pitch the idea that we people should be playing an individual, not a team game.. Many fans ignore that stance, lulled in part by right-wing messaging that support for the needy is “looting the government.” A study by Princeton Prof. Martin Gilens suggests a more basic reason for voter inattention: The people know they are “powerless to shape government policy” when their preferences compete with those of the wealthy. 

The press box consensus in Boston is that Valentine will not be back for a second managerial term. Unless Team Obama mounts a rally dramatic enough to rally a fan re-focus on what’s at stake in the game’s final innings, the Skipper may not return next season, either.

Either/Or? The rallying words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

– – –

Could Be Worse: After a short, sobering week in which they lost four of five to the Jays, Rays and Orioles, the Yankees can see a brighter horizon. Why? With A-Rod back at cleanup looking strong, their bats seem to have revived. Furthermore, Mark Teixeira should return tonight. The pitching remains soft, but Andy Pettitte is poised to rejoin the rotation by the time the homestretch becomes the crunch-stretch.

Robin’s Edgy Nest: Besides their one-game lead now, Ventura’s White Sox have a scheduling edge over the Tigers going into the season’s final 23 games. The Sox will play 14 of the last 23 at home, while the Tigers will play only 10 in Comerica Park. More importantly, Ventura’s team will play more than half its games – 12 – against clubs with losing records, while Detroit has only 10 in that category. The Tigers come to U.S. Cellular for four games next week, the last time the two teams will meet unless they both make the playoffs.

The Fun of a Wider Focus: At Toronto Wednesday night, Orioles announcer Gary Thorne talked about the fringe benefit Baltimore fans are receiving this season after a decade-and-a-half of drought: While their team is in the thick of a playoff fight, the fans have a menu of meaningful games to check each day: “How are the Tigers, White Sox, Angels and A’s doing?” The Orioles are competing with all of them – as well as with the Yankees and Rays – for one of the AL two wild cards. The intense personal interest because of the O’s, Thorne noted, is a new experience for many of the fans. The team’s last playoff appearance was in 1997. The Pirates have been playoff outsiders since 1992. One Bucs fan, SI’s Paul Daugherty, wrote about the hold baseball has even on supporters like him, who’ve had nothing to cheer about:

“It’s amazing, the power of sports. It’s also irrational. What else in our lives compels us to act this way? Why else would a 54-year-old father of two grown children be sitting in a hot car late on a weeknight? Not to tune in the Republican Convention, brother. It’s nothing, and everything. The Pirates will fall short again. It’s what the Pirates do. At least they’re not the Cubs. But I thank them, in this lovely summer of 2012, for reminding me that it’s OK to yell and scream and seize in restaurants. I thank them for restoring a pleasant corner of summer. It’s not a crime to attach hope and love to something as silly as a ballgame. It’s part of what makes us feel alive..”

Shout Out:  On MLB-TV not long ago, John Smoltz, doing color on a Braves game, tossed an impressive accolade at utility man Reed Johnson. With one out in a close game and a need to advance an Atlanta runner from second, Smoltz said he had no doubt Johnson would succeed in getting the job done: “You can always count on him in a situation like this.” P.S. Johnson vindicated Smoltz’s prediction, neatly hitting the ball to the right side.

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