The Nub

Big Money Changing the Embedded Order on Both Fields

(Posted: 11/23/12)

Imagine how Blue Jays fans feel these days: a dream that seemed inconceivable – their team bolstered overnight into a credible World Series contender – now a reality.  That Jays ownership and GM Alex Anthopoulos would jump at a chance to obtain three pricey top-tier performers in an 11-player trade with the Miami Marlins was, usa ailment owing to the huge cost involved, Fantasy League stuff.

With the trade – that added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to its roster – plus the signing of Melky Cabrera –  Toronto became the latest addition to a growing number of top-dollar teams: the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Tigers among the most prominent.  The deal’s one sure signal:  Big bucks pose a greater challenge to the MoneyBall game (making do with less through player development) than ever before.

Mention of money and its role in California has less to do with the Dodgers at this point in the political season.  While handing Team Obama nearly 60 percent of their vote, Golden State residents gave Democrats super majorities in both legislative clubhouses, which means Team GOP- enacted limits on tax collections will be lifted after 34 years. Equally important, reports TruthDig’s Robert Scheer: 

“Voters raised corporate taxes on businesses based out of state and raised income taxes on the wealthiest residents. What’s more, the measure, which passed 53.9% to 46.1% statewide, received strong support in some of the counties where those tax increases will sting.  In San Mateo, the home of Silicon Valley, the measure passed 63.2% to 36.8%. In Marin, where annual income ranks in the top 20 of all U.S. counties, the margin was even higher, 68.2% to 31.8%.  So it isn’t just brown and black or poorer voters, who are barely present in those two counties, who explain the shift in the political outlook of Californians as much as it is a notion of what a modern society requires for its economic success and social stability.”

The Percentage Game:  As the Wall Street Journal acknowledged that the team it supports “took a beating at the polls,” many press box observers credited Occupy Wall Street for setting up the 2012 national scoring opportunity two summers ago.  Team OWS’s focus on control by the rich of the “99 percent” resonated in the presidential playoff when Mitt Romney dismissed 47 percent of the people as low-income non-fans of his.

Stat City Inequality League: $3,837, annual income slippage of typical middle class family from 2000 to 2010; 17.42 percent, slice of national income acquired by richest 1 percent in 2010.  “If we want a robust safety net…we will eventually need taxes on the middle class similar to what you see in (Europe).  If that tax burden is deemed unacceptable, then (we) will have to rethink the social safety net.” – N. Gregory Mankiw, Harvard economics prof.  (quoted by Times-man Eduardo Porter, who also cited the stats.)

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Tough Guy Gibby:  The Jays new – and former – manager John Gibbons is the skipper who several years ago challenged the bumptious Shea Hillenbrand, and (according to Keith Olbermann) “decked him.” Hillenbrand’s teammates at the time applauded.

Gloom Over Miami:  “This betrayal is going to echo and cost the Marlins paying customers. There is only one thing about this entire organization that anyone trusts today.  It is Giancarlo Stanton’s bat.  That’s it.”  – Dan Le Batard, Miami Herald

Roaring Twenties:  “Of the 180 votes for the top three spots on the 60 MVP ballots, 161 of them, or 89 percent, went to players in their age 29 season or younger: Mike Trout, 20, Buster Posey, 25, Andrew McCutchen, 25, Craig Kimbrel, 25, David Price, 27, Ryan Braun, 28, Miguel Cabrera, 29, Robinson Cano, 29, Yadier Molina, 29, and Jim Johnson, 29.  Nobody in his 30s got a first-place vote.” – Tom Verducci, SI

Dickey’s Strong Hand:  The Mets know the two-year-$20 million contract they’re offering R.A. Dickey contains a built-in “local discount.”  After all, they paid Ollie Perez $36 million for three years (2008-10) in which he went 13-16, with an aggregate ERA just under 6.  Dickey, fresh from winning the NL’s Cy Young award, can surely command something approaching that Ollie money.  Perez, by the way, is signed with the Mariners for 2013, at $1.5 million.

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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 Spinning Game: How It’s Played and Shunned

(Posted:  11/16/12)

R.A. Dickey has replaced his gyrating knuckleball with a new pitch, generic store one that spins two ways at the same time.  He says he wants to stay with the Mets, usa physician but is ready to move on if the team can’t find the money to keep him. Unlike most spins, R.A.’s makes sense.  In a season of attendance scarcity, Dickey was the single Met who – in George Steinbrenner’s plush phrase – “puts fannies in the seats.”

Political player Tavis Smiley burst out of obscurity in the media game as Dickey did in baseball.   A utility man on LA Mayor Tom Bradley’s team in the late ‘80’s, Smiley later rose through the political minors to become a public TV and radio personality. His signature pitch: a well-delivered high, hard one, often on behalf of racial justice.  As a guest on Bill Maher’s HBO show a year or so ago (where he caught our attention), Smiley stirred up dust by objecting to the anti-Muslim tone of Maher’s dugout chatter.  On Pacifica’s “Democracy Now” the other morning, Smiley threw another instructive curve.  Asked by host Amy Goodman about the election coverage, he said he avoided watching returns on either MSNBC or Fox News: “I don’t want to be spun in either direction.”

We don’t know Dickey’s politics, but he has surely worked out a stance for himself.  Chances are, like Smiley, R.A. won’t let himself be nudged one way or the other. His thoughtful comments – not to mention the book he wrote about his life and career – are an added reason for fan admiration.  To that point, Daily News-man Filip Bondy cautions GM Sandy Alderson against continuing to suggest that R.A. could be traded: It’s amazing how low the bar has been set for the Mets.  When Alderson says now he won’t be pursuing any big-name free agents, interviewers just nod their heads as though this is common practice in New York… Alderson (should stop playing coy. He) better not trade (future free agent)Dickey.  People have a way of noticing when you deal a Cy Young (winner)…. Met fans may be numb, but they’re not dumb.”   

FUNGOES ON THE OTHER FIELD

Stat City (per political scorecard): 

 White voters:  Romney 59 percent, Obama 39 percent

College- educated white voters: Romney 58*, Obama 42

College-educated white women: Romney 52, Obama 46

Working class whites: Romney 64, Obama 36*

Non-white voters:  Obama 80, Romney 20*

African-Americans:  Obama 93, Romney 7*

Asian-Americans:  Obama 73, Romney 27

Hispanic Americans: Obama 71, Romney 29*

Other minorities: Obama 58, Romney 42*

                                       – Ron Brownstein, National Journal

*approx. pct.

 

Signs of a Trend?  As of the almost-final count,”There will be 38 Democrats 15 Republicans representing California in Congress come January.  Of those 38 Democrats, 18 are women, nine are Latinos, five are Asian Americans, three are African Americans, four are Jews and at least one is gay.  Just 12 are white men.  Of the 15 Republicans, on the other hand, all are white men — not a woman, let alone a member of a racial minority or a Jew, among them.” – Harold Meyerson, LA Times

Scouting Report (from abroad) of General David Petreus: “A highly successful political general, if a strangely imprudent one, he is hardly that ‘American Hero’ (and potential Republican president) that press and politicians have been celebrating.” – William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune                                          

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Not Wasting Time:  The Giants are on deck to step up and sign Marco Scutaro for two more years: that’s the word from SF.  They’ve already signed Jeremy Affeldt for three.  Angel Pagan, another target, is looking around.  Pagan is considered in the Bay Area at least on a par with also-available Shane Victorino.  That alone constitutes a heavenly rise in stature for Angel.

Argumentative Encore:  We said in late summer that the Red Sox salary dump to the Dodgers was “not in the best interest of baseball,” and, as such, should be blocked by Commissioner Bud Selig – who says he’s weighing whether to approve the Marlins’ dump of Jose Reyes, et al, to the Blue Jays – should act at last. He could invoke a “fan-protection” rationale, and stick to the policy each time an owner like Jeffrey Loria seeks to exchange expensive stars for low-salaried prospects.  As for suggestions that the deal would propel the Jays to AL East favorites, they are both premature and preposterous.  

As We Were Saying:  “If Toronto is competitive next season it will largely be because of the performances of the players it already had on Tuesday morning: Jose Bautista, Rickey Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, Edwin Encarnacion…etc…If that core comes together, the potential upgrade of Buehrle and a healthy Johnson in the rotation, as well as a potential up-tick in performance from Reyes at shortstop, could have a big impact, but those three players will by no means make the difference on their own.  That is to say that the Blue Jays may have pulled off a gigantic trade, but it doesn’t mean they’ve made a gigantic improvement to their 2013 outlook. The only gigantic change the Jays have made is to their financial bottom line.” – Cliff Corcoran, SI

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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.)

Playoff Fatigue Afflicting Fans on Both Fields

(Posted:  11//13/12)

An intriguing consensus reached by MLB-TV panelists the other night: baseball’s extended playoffs have diminished interest in the World Series. The Tigers-Giants match-ups attracted the smallest Series audience in more than a decade. People are just “tired” of the games when they should be most avid.  No one booed the additional wild card play-in games: “Whenever managers or players complain, sick it’s usually good for the fans, sales malady ” said Tom Verducci, generic talking about the win-or-go-home arrangement. The idea he advanced: reducing the two LCS series to three-of-five instead of four of seven.  We think that would be a step-off in the right direction.  Any formula would be welcome that slows the trend toward the ludicrous playoff policies of the NBA and NHL.  More than half the teams in those leagues qualify for a post-season that goes on interminably.

Endlessness, we know, is in play on the electoral ballfield, as well.  Barack Obama’s coaches say the skipper began competing in earnest in July of 2011.  Team GOP’s hopefuls were already vying publicly then to win the chance to take on the president.  By the beginning of 2012, all of the players were feeling the strain. And so were the voters: more than half (57 percent) of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center last January said the campaign had already gone on too long.    

In addition to the familiar reasons for shortening the political playoff system – the proliferation and cost of TV spots. campaign phone calls. etc. – a Dartmouth College student, Lorelei Yang, provided this perspective of young voters on the policymic website: (a) the president should not be subjected to such a lengthy campaign distraction when he faces so many more important challenges; (b) the many months a candidate must commit to campaigning effectively precludes a plain citizen – with job and financial responsibilities – from taking part in the competition.  Agreement of both parties to restrict campaigns and primaries to a defined period of something less than a year would be a worthwhile start. 

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Re: Texas Apparently Passing on Top Free Agent Josh Hamilton – The Rangers still need his bat, so if they (make) an offer he is sure to reject, it should serve as a cautionary tale for all the clubs (interested) in Hamilton. That includes the Mariners, Brewers and maybe even the Phillies.” Michael Silverman, Boston Herald

Duking It Out with Dollars:  Nearly everyone agrees on the most compelling hot-stove matchup: it’s between baseball’s new big spender and the old one – the Dodgers versus the Yankees.  Both teams have made free agents Hiroki Kuroda and Torii Hunter high-priority targets.  The dollar-driven competition should logically end with the Yanks re-signing Kuroda and the Dodgers getting Hunter (who likes playing on the West Coast).  If LA manages to double-dip, their early status as the “new Yankees” will be confirmed.

Sounds Reasonable:  Mini-list of most dysfunctional teams (per ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers): 1 – Marlins; 2 – Red Sox.  The Cubs and Mets are logically tied for the number 3 spot.  Watching the race between Theo Epstein and Sandy Alderson to right their franchises will provide a remotely interesting diversion for suffering fans in Chicago and New York.  Our money is on Theo.  He doesn’t have to deal with the Wilpons.

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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.)

Competing Like an Ace in the Clutch

(Posted: 9/11/12)

There’s a hypocritical hitch in his swing abroad, decease and he’s timid when taking the mound at home, buy tadalafil but Skipper Obama has a way of competing in the clutch like Justin Verlander. The country needed a suddenly combative leader to stop the strong hit-to-right offense led by Mitt Romney. The way the political game would henceforth be played – more than an immediate win or loss – was at stake. 

 Before the skipper faced last Tuesday’s challenge, the WashPost’s Greg Sargent laid out a short batting order of pivotal questions fans would decide on through their vote for the left-leaning Obama or righthander Mitt Romney:

 “1) What is the true nature of our collective responsibility towards one another?

2) What is the true legacy of the great progressive reforms of the 20th century? Should their core mission — and the safety net they have created — be preserved and expanded upon to meet the needs of those who are still being left behind…? Or does that mission need to be readjusted to deal with dramatically different economic circumstances in the 21st century?

3) What is the best way to guarantee shared prosperity and economic security at a time of rapid economic change? Should we take collective action, via democratically elected leaders, to try to guarantee a good life for as many people as possible, and to defend those who are suffering economic harm at the hands of the free market? Or are we currently at risk of overreaching in that direction, doing people more harm than good?”

The final vote-count, we know, showed that most fans agreed with the skipper’s positive progressive stance on the questions. His next challenge: to produce collectively responsible change in how the national game is played. The troubling result of the vote count: that Team Romney scored as much numerical support as it did.

Retro-Perspective: “The 2008 Obama coalition wasn’t a fluke; it was the country we are becoming.” – Paul Krugman

The Emulating Bobby Valentine Awards…for talking oneself out of a job: To Team GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri, and Richard Mourdack of Indiana. The record book reminds us that Akin, in August, said in cases of “legitimate rape,” women’s bodies could ward off pregnancy. Mourdock, in October, said that if a woman was raped and became pregnant, that was “something that God intended to happen.” Incumbent Dem Claire McCaskill defeated Akin, Congressman Joe Donnelly (D) beat Mourdock, tea-party conqueror of Richard Lugar.

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Marketable: Two Yankees and two Giants are among 11 highly regarded outfielders on the free agent market. The list, aligned by SI’s Tom Verducci, is headed by the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton. Yankee Nick Swisher is second in attractiveness according to Verducci. The other Yankee, Ichiro Suzuki, is 11th. Giants Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are fifth and eighth. The others: (3) the Angels’Torii Hunter; (4) Atlanta’s Michael Bourn; (6) the Rays’ B.J. Upton; (7) Dodgers’ Shane Victorino; (9) Cody Ross of the Red Sox; (10) the Reds’ Ryan Ludwick. The bargain may be Cabrera because of questions about the level of his non-drug-enhanced skills.

 Restless: After two years of adjusting to a new professional partrner, the honeymoon is over for Mets GM Sandy Alderson, his publicized wit notwithstanding. He and deputies J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta must recognize why their team’s fan base keeps eroding: it has been given scant reason to believe that a long, low-budget, talent-scarce period will not continue. 

Two of Alderson’s “name” signings, of relievers D.J. Carrasco and Jon Rauch, backfired, as did the deal that sent Angel Pagan to SF for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. Matt Harvey, the one young starter of demonstrated promise, was a high draft pick, signed before Alderson replaced Omar Minaya. Sandy’s one apparent coup:- obtaining SF pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran two seasons ago – is still unproven. prove. Alderson has a little more financial flexibility now that the Mets have parted with Jason Bay. But if the team is not substantially reinforced, and plays in 2013 as it did in Alderson’s first two seasons – second-half collapses leading to fourth-place division finishes – the GM faces a non-amicable separation from remaining fans, if not ownership.

Guess-timates: Davey Johnson looked in October like a man overwhelmed by playoff tension and the decisions required at a game’s hectic climax. The Nationals have rehired him, but only for another year. Johnson said he wanted it to be his last. The guess here is it would have been his finale, whether he wanted it or not. Another guess: Unless Terry Collins performs a full-season miracle, the Mets will thank him for his three-year service and bring on Wally Backman, waiting in Triple-A..

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

Baseball Omens Give Barack a Sporting Chance

(Posted: 11/6/12)

For left-leaning baseball fans, generic nurse the hopeful omens in today’s presidential playoff are these: the White Sox – Barack Obama’s team – finished the 2012 season with a winning record and an almost-division title; Mitt Romney’s Red Sox suffered a Sandy-like battering, and, despite a pricey lineup, finished last in their division.

Given the contradictory poll results and pundit predictions, these omens may be as reliable a guide to the outcome as any of the others. A Mr. Reliable, the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, gives the skipper a slight, last-minute edge while noting complexities in crucial states that could affect the final score:

“Many analysts (including me) expected the Sunbelt states to be more favorable for Obama because their population growth has been fueled by the constituencies at the core of his ’coalition of the ascendant,’ particularly minorities and college-educated whites. By contrast, the Rustbelt states are dominated by older and blue-collar whites who are the most resistant to Obama in national polling.

Yet while Obama remains highly competitive in most Sunbelt battlegrounds, he enters the final weekend in a slightly stronger position in the Rustbelt states, according to the latest surveys. The Sunbelt, with its traditional skepticism about government, has proved more receptive to Romney’s drive to portray Obama as a bloated big-spending liberal.”

That leaves Obama supporters the way White Sox, Tampa Bay and even Dodger fans felt in the last pre-playoff period, “nervously hopeful.” We know those hopes were dashed; still, at least the baseball omens for skipper success are encouraging.

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Laurels for Lawrie: Early this past season, Toronto coach Brian Butterfield (now with the Red Sox) told Yankees TV color man John (Flash) Flaherty that the Jays’ 22-year-old third baseman Brett Lawrie was something special defensively. Respected sportswriter-author Joe Posnanski confirms on his blog that Butterfield knew his man: Brett Lawrie had by the numbers an ASTONISHING defensive year at third base. He saved 20 runs this year. Other defensive numbers also picked up his excellence. At one point, his defensive numbers were so staggeringly good he was listed among the league leaders in Wins Above Replacement. I didn’t see Lawrie that much this year, but some people I know in Toronto say he really was amazing night after night.” Lawrie’s offensive stats: .273, 48 RBIs, 11 HRs, in 125 games.

Why GMs Love the Off-Season: “This was…your turn at-bat, where you got to get your team in shape for the upcoming season. During the season, you react to events as they unfold in terms of injuries and roster, but the off-season (i)s always the exciting time when you’re a GM.”  – Former Orioles GM Andy MacPhail (to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo).

The Fall Away from Baseball: We know hot-stove speculations and deals spare us from experiencing a winter of total discontent. Still, November, the first of three non-baseball months, is a trying period of transition. Nevertheless, November has its fans, to which this poetic tribute attests:

“Everybody’s gone away.
They think there’s nothing left to see.
The garish colors’ flashy show is over.
Now those of us who stay
hunker down in sweet silence,
blessed emptiness…

…under gray skies,
chill air, all of us waiting
in the somber dank and rain,
waiting here in quiet, chill
November,
waiting for the snow.”

From “The Fall Almost Nobody Sees” by David Budbill, included in Happy Life, Copper Canyon Press, 2011. – Writer’s Almanac

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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 addressedby the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The DL’s Effect on Pennant Races and Politics

(Posted: 11/3//12)

Much has been made – and why not? – of the role of Buster Posey in the Giants’ success.  That SF won it all in 2010 and 2012, canada illness but missed winning the year an injured Posey had to sit out two-thirds of the season attests to his indispensability.  Buster’s importance has been fairly likened to that of longtime Yankees leader Derek Jeter, look whose recent stint on the DL coincided with his team’s post-season collapse against the Tigers.

Hurricane Sandy left a streak of disabled cities in its disastrous wake after roiling the eastern seaboard.  As all metro-areas await the return of their full lineup of services, they limp along with a Posey- or Jeter-like spark missing.  In New York, a scattered shutdown of subways and of all schools, parks, and even the NYC Marathon, hobbled the city’s energetic core. 

 The rout Sandy unleashed has made possible a familiar PR boon for state skippers faced with devastation throughout their bailiwicks.  The key deliveries of their publicized pleading-for-help pitch contain three “c’s”: concern, compassion, corps of engineers. Skipper Obama, head of the federal corps, can possibly use effective work of his team’s utility players to attract added fan support.  Whether the add-ons will help keep the skipper on the job we won’t know until late Tuesday, or later.  

In that context, National Journal observer Major Garrett sends this cautionary signal:

“The great smearing tendency of modern day political analysis is to assume everything is political and therefore, considering our deep divisions, everything is partisan. That this is mostly true doesn’t make it universally true.  Yes, there is a presidential campaign heading into a fateful (climax).  Sandy has intensified focus on Obama’s temperament and demeanor in a crisis. That was happening before (the storm) and it will happen after it.” 
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The Giants’ Challenges…as they try to do it again in 2013: The Giants have holes to fill at second base, where (Marco) Scutaro and his predecessors, Ryan Theriot and Freddy Sanchez, will all be free agents, and in the outfield pastures, where (Angel) Pagan is also headed for free agency and Gregor Blanco, fielding heroics aside, simply doesn’t hit enough to remain a starter, even in centerfield.  San Francisco could do a lot worse than to re-sign Pagan and Scutaro, though…the Giants have to be careful about investing too heavily or for too long in Pagan, who is 31 and was a late-bloomer (which often suggests an early decline).” – Cliff Corcoran, Sports Illustrated

 Literary Player:  It’s the birth(week) of novelist and short-story writer Stephen Crane (‘The Red Badge of Courage”), born in Newark, New Jersey (1871). As a young man, he considered becoming a professional baseball player. He played catcher on his prep school team. At the time, baseball catchers wore almost no protective gear, and the catcher’s mitt was basically a gardening glove with a little extra padding. Stephen Crane became famous within his prep school league for being able to catch anything, even barehanded. One of his teammates said, ‘He played baseball with fiendish glee’.” – Writer’s Almanac (11/1)

 Literary Tip: Prolific hitter John Grisham, whose many books include a work of baseball fiction “Calico Joe”, was asked in last Sunday’s Times what he considered the best baseball novel.  His answer: “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1953) by Mark Harris.

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