The Nub

Fields of Dreams: Balance, Fairness, Parity, Equality

Posted: 3/30/13)

On the eve of THE season, sales site let’s look at the likely division leaders: In the NL, malady Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Reds, Braves-Nationals; AL, Angels-Rangers, Tigers-Detroit, and…all five teams – Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees – in the East.  Such pre-season parity has surely never happened before   If the probable close competition plays out, the AL East will not only provide a riveting playoff-seeking spectacle, it could break the division’s collective attendance records.  Fans love a fair fight.

The scorecard of a recent Pew survey of news fans suggests that print media teams are losing support because of a perceived lack of fairness. Roster cutbacks in newsrooms have led to “less complete” coverage of gamesmanship in the public arena.  Half the readers surveyed have noticed the uncovered bases, and feel they are not getting all sides of stories; that is, the balance and depth that convey a sense of fairness are missing.

Broad fan support for economic fairness led to passage 100 years ago of the 16th Amendment establishing an income tax.  Team GOP and its Dem opponents, fans on the left, center, and right, and 42 of 48 states rallied for tax-us ratification. Why?    Both sides saw the need to pitch for more pocketbook equality, one team in the hope of narrowing the rich/non-rich gap, the other hopeful of quieting the growing national outrage.

The outrage persists today.  One clue as to why the news media haven’t amplified the boos can be found in this Pew scorecard stat: public relations players outnumber journalists by close to 4 to 1.  The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore sees related imbalancing trends at work:

“Since the 1970s, almost all (tax) talk has been about cuts, which ought to be surprising, because more than 90 percent of Americans receive social or economic security benefits from the federal government.  Americans, though, find it easier to see what they pay than what they getnot because they aren’t paying attention but because the case for taxation is seldom made.  Damning taxes is a piece of cake.  It’s defending them that’s hard.  ‘Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,’ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said nearly a century ago.  No one’s said it better since.  And that, right there, is the problem.”

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World Series Preview?  Scanning MLB.Com’s list of projected opening day lineups, our votes for the most impressive go to the Tigers in the AL, the Nationals in the NL.  The Tigers will go with Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Omar Infante and Justin Verlander.  The Nationals lineup is equally deep with Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg.   Biggest Achilles heel in the two-team field: the Tigers’ lack of a true closer.

Subtext:  No AL Central team figures to beat the Tigers.  But the battle for second place between the Indians, Royals and White Sox should insure that division fans don’t become bored.

Reality Time:  Paraphrasing veteran outfielder Ryan Sweeney, before being cut by the Red Sox, on the possibility rookies who hit well pre-season will be overmatched when they make the major leaguer roster:  “They’ve been hitting against number 87; now they have to face the real thing.” (quoted in the Boston Herald)

Lobbying:  Who could possibly replace Tim McCarver, retiring as Fox broadcaster after this season?  Former pitchers Ron Darling and John Smoltz are two obvious candidates.  Either would be an excellent choice, as, we believe, would Diamondbacks color man Bob Brenly, an ex-catcher like McCarver (whom the Cubs broadcast team let get away).

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



The American Game as Played in Both Ballparks

(Posted: 3/26/13)

Playing Catch-Up Baseball after two weeks on the inactive list: The World Baseball Classic was “largely a success, tadalafil levitra ” said a glum Bob Costas, doing play-by-play of the tournament’s championship game in rainy San Francisco. The game itself – won by the Dominican team over Puerto Rico – encapsulated why the third renewal of the WBC proved to be a disappointment. Touted teams like defending champion Japan, troche as well as Venezuela, and the USA – especially the USA – were eliminated before the final. As it had in the two previous tournaments, Team USA lacked fire. The problem as we see it is no secret: American players, aware that their MLB teams would prefer they not risk injury in the Classic (as happened to Mark Teixeira and Hanley Ramirez), must resist competing with the abandon of their more zealous international opponents. Their careful, contained U.S. game is geared to the people who provide the paychecks. It’s the American way.

The same is true on the political field. If you’ve ever wondered why members of the Dem team in the Congressional division compete so lamely against an extremist, corporate-controlled Team GOP, Ralph Nader provided an answer in The Nation. He wrote about it after talking to many of the players themselves: “The Democrats are so beholden to their own big-money contributors that they can’t fight on issues that they know have overwhelming public support…Instead of confronting Republican (opponents) with the vicious Ryan budget and their (pro-privileged) voting record, the Democrats display open defeatism.” The money game, as played in a different ballpark.

The Game as Seen from Europe: “The question now raised on both right and left in the United States is whether the Republic itself can survive its suffocation by political money that blocks any legislative…action not bought and pre-paid by self-serving interests on one side or the other ?” – William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune

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Golden Boys of Spring: Two 22-year-old minor leaguers – one with the Dodgers, the other the Red Sox – have had eye-opening pre-seasons. Yasiel Puig, a Cuban to whom the Dodgers gave a seven-year, $42 million contract and has only have played 23 games of A-ball, is one; Jackie Bradley, Jr., who started the 2012 season in Class A, is the other. Puig has torn up the Cactus League, as of Monday batting .527, 29 for 55, with three HRs, 11 RBIs and an on-base/slugging pct.(OPS) . of 1.363. Up to yesterday, Bradley has batted .423, 22 for 52, with an OPS over 1.000. Both are outfielders and both have a shot at beating the odds and making opening-day rosters.

Theo Epstein, on the Temptation to Sign Free Agents: “Forbidden fruit. We just didn’t have the patience to make it across the gap (in Boston) without giving into temptation. … Free agency is where you get your worst return on investment. It’s really that simple. The draft and the international market, that’s where you get your best return, dollar for dollar. And free agency is the worst return on investment. We knew that but we did it anyway. It was a negative lesson.” – quoted by Joe Posnanski, NBC Sports

A Loss on Lohse: The wrongs and rights of super-agent Scott Boros: He was wrong about the big-money contract he thought he would get for Kyle Lohse. After averaging $12 million per for the past two years with the Cardinals, Lohse had to settle for $11 mil per for three years with the Brewers. Boros is right, however, about the new free-agent compensation system diminishing the attractiveness of players like Lohse. Under the new system, teams that sign a player who declines the offer of a one-year $13 million deal from their current club, forfeit a first-round draft pick. The Brewers will lose the number 17 pick overall because of the Lohse signing.

Historic? “If we’re lucky, the Dominican Republic made history (last)Tuesday night… After a brief celebration that followed the last out: the Dominicans walked across the infield and met the Puerto Ricans by the first-base line — near the Puerto Rico dugout — and gave them handshakes and hugs. What an even more beautiful baseball world it would be if every Major League Baseball postseason series, if not regular-season series, ended with such a show of respect and sportsmanship. What a legacy for the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans if the postgame handshake becomes a baseball tradition, and generations could forever mark the 2013 WBC final as the moment when class took root in the game.” – Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated

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

Baseball’s Mythic Appeal, Business and Politics Aside

(Posted: 3/11/13)

It was in his “Baseball” series of several years ago that documentarian Ken Burns distinguished between the organized sport that dominated his show, and the “real” baseball played rollickingly in the streets, generic playgrounds and sandlots by non-professionals of all ages. We thought of the distinction while watching games in the World Baseball Classic. The players, representing countries around the world, are professional, but national pride rather than money is what really motivates them.

There is real sandlot baseball, with its relaxed intensity, and its mythic cousin, embodying ideals associated with the sport: brotherhood, patriotism, friendly competition, heroic tradition, the linking of generations, etc. Who wouldn’t find those values appealing? And the best part: they’ve never been more in play than now, during the WBC.

Bud Selig, who arranged the competitive celebration of the game played globally, deserves cheers for bringing the WBC into existence. As custodian of its myths, however, he has yet to learn that letting the sport’s political and business-based realities intrude on its purer version is a damaging mistake. It happened embarrassingly last week, when Venezuelan players in the WBC asked that flags at their games be flown at half-staff to honor fallen leader Hugo Chavez. Instead of approving what would have been a perfect symbol of baseball’s fraternal ideal, Selig said no; his reason, according to pressbox reports: Team Obama did not consider the bombastic Chavez a friend.

Writing in The Nation, David Zirin tells why baseball blew off Chavez for business as well as political reasons: “(MLB’s baseball) academies…left a wreckage of young lives behind, a status quo Chávez sought to challenge. He told MLB that they would have to institute employee and player benefits and job protections. He wanted education and job training, subsidized by MLB, to be a part of the academies. He also insisted that teams pay out 10 percent of players’ signing bonuses to the government. Chávez effectively wanted to tax MLB for the human capital they blithely take from the country.”

MLB responded to the new rules by closing 16 of 21 academies, preferring instead, Zirin notes, to “sign Venezuelan children and whisk them off to the Dominican Republic to be trained, miles and an ocean apart from their families.” Baseball thus betrays its true identity – a business first that is politically sensitive and can be brutal. The record book shows it to be a reflection of the long, exploitative, right-handed game our White House teams have played throughout Latin America. We can thank Bud Selig’s blunder for the reminder. Despite its dark record on the political-corporate field, the game’s myths endure.

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The Dubious Prediction Game: We know two of the four teams that will play in the single-elimination WTC championship round beginning next Sunday in San Francisco. Japan and The Netherlands have already qualified after surviving two preliminary rounds in the Far East. The Dutch team had to defeat Cuba twice to become part of the title match-ups in SF. On paper, the Dominican Republic and U.S. teams should emerge from the semi-final series in Miami this week that also includes Italy and Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans, however, having played winter ball in the Caribbean, could prove to be more than a match for U.S. players still rounding into shape. Although we don’t like prediction-making, we think the play so far suggests a Japan-Netherlands-Dominican-U.S. (or PR) grouping in SF. And, we won’t be out on too shaky a limb to call a Japan-Dominican title game most likely.

Needing Nick: The Orioles don’t want to magnify the importance of the still-to-be disclosed results of an MRI Nick Markakis had done on his sore neck Monday. Losing their solid rightfielder for any length of time would, well…Buck Showalter doesn’t want to think – or talk -about it. He got along without an injured Markakis at crunch-time last season. But that was just for a few weeks. A serious neck injury could mean much more non-Markakis playing time.

 Marginal Mariner: Seattle Times birddog Larry Stone sees former big-ticket Mets/Red Sox/Pirates player Jason Bay as a 24th or 25th man on the Mariners roster. That is, he’s on the make-the-team bubble, as of now. Conclusion: Jason has yet to retrieve the stroke that made him a standout in Pittsburgh and Boston (then a washout in New York).

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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.)

Sequestering: A Baseball as Much as a Political Pastime

(Posted: 3/9/13)

How uneventful has baseball’s extended hot stove season been?  The most interesting story is about inaction – the unwillingness of teams to sign an available, generic malady highly rated pitcher.  The potential ace in question: Kyle Lohse, whose salary demands have isolated him from other coveted, now-signed free agents   Money, thus, has made him the star of what, in effect, is the sport’s sequester game.

The game, we know, involves baseball super-agent Scott Boras as much as it does Lohse.   Many believe Boros set the asking price for Lohse too high, since the team that signs him would lose a first-round draft pick and pay what amounts to a value-added tax on the transaction.  Lohse averaged $12 million a season over his last two years with the Cardinals.  At 34, he – and Boros – likely considered this his last best chance at attracting a generous ($15 mil per?), long-term contract.  The sequester suggests the pair will have to settle for fewer years than they wanted and little more than Lohse made in St.Louis.

The Dem and GOP teams waved home the political sequester when, like the recalcitrant ball clubs, they refused to agree to each other’s demands on a cost-cutting game plan.  The deadlock has drawn boos from fans on left and right sides of the national grandstand. Along the left-field line, the groans concern, among others, cuts to Head Start, Special Education, emergency unemployment pay, and the WIC – women’s infants and children – program.  In the right field stands, fans don’t like seeing border security cut back, but they’re mainly worried about a 13 percent whack in defense spending.  A partial lineup of programs spared the sequester squeeze play – to applause mainly from the left – includes Social Security, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Pell Grants, and (for the most part) Medicare.

Most of the automatic cuts – those singled out, “sequestered” in advance – won’t go into effect until next month.  By then, Lohse should be back on the mound for some team, quite possibly the resistant-for-the-time-being Rangers.

Re: the Hidden Chavez:  The late Venezuelan Skipper Hugo Chavez was kept out of sight in a Caracas hospital for the last weeks of his life. He was subject to a different form of sequester over his decade-and-a-half of leadership:  Our Yanqui teams and corporate media had little or nothing positive to say about his top domestic priority: to improve the lives of the poor.  Chavez’s cardinal sin in gringo eyes:  He told us who we were – a team that cares more about power than people.

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Yankee Kicker: Mark Teixeira no sooner said he wasn’t worth a $22.5 million salary at this stage of his career than he confirmed the truth of the statement.  Teixiera, now 33, put himself on the shelf until May with a wrist strain suffered while swinging a bat.  When someone suggested Travis Hafner might fill in for him, GM Brian Cashman said no way: “He is a field-goal kicker…he hasn’t picked up a glove in seven years…He is an amazing hitter, but he has a history of injuries and we are not going to…try to put a glove on him and get him hurt. He is our DH.”

Wide Open:  With Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and A-Rod out for a month or much more – and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin gone –  the Yanks, we know, will have half a no-name lineup into May.  The playing field in the AL East is, thus, close to level as it has been in living memory.  The respected observers at Baseball Prospectus still pick the Yankees to win, and the widely favored Blue Jays to finish with a losing record in fourth place!?  No other division can match such a tight, five-team tangle.

For Non-Late-Nighters: The Brewers’ Yovardo Gallardo and the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez led Mexico to a 5-2 upset win over Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last night. Gallardo outpitched R.A. Dickey at the outset, and Gonzalez hit a long, two-run homer off  R.A. in the third to give Mexico a 5-1 lead that a string of relievers protected. The U.S.(0-1) plays surprising Italy (2-0) today, in danger of going home early.

Nothing’s Perfect:  Our continuing affection for the World Baseball Classic, notwithstanding, the games contain a built-in problem: the frequent pitching changes required by rules designed to prevent injuries from overuse.  Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne, listenable as ever, had to endure a 51-minute rain delay during the Dominican-Venezuela game Thursday night (which the DRs won, 9-3). When the teams had scored nine runs by the fifth inning, with three or four pitching interruptions, Thorne uttered what sounded like a sigh: “…And there’s still a long way to go.”  Total game time: close to five hours.              

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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.)

Cuba Seen Edging Team USA in Long Political Matchup

(Posted: 3/5/13)

 Cuba is on the electronic scoreboard – in baseball and politics, cheap too – because it has one of the top-rated teams in the World Classic (WBC), sildenafil and can claim one of three super-sophomores in the coming major league season.  Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes ranks with the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper in the glamour trio, based on his 2012 numbers – BA .292, HRs 23, RBIs 82 in 129 games.  Cuba eased its travel rules for residents a few weeks ago, but “strategically” important people like Cespedes, who had to defect, would not have qualified to depart the island legally.

We remember Billy Beane’s surprise signing of Cespedes to a four-year $36 million deal a little over a year ago.  What did the A’s GM know that everybody else seemingly didn’t?  He knew that in the 26-year-old Cespedes he was getting a five-tool outfielder who played with fire and discipline.  Cespedes played with the Cuban team in the 2009 WBC, two years before slipping away to take up residency in the Dominican Republic.  Many of his former national teammates helped defeat Brazil, 5-2. in Cuba’s first 2013 tournament game over the weekend.  The Cubans routed China, 12-0, yesterday.

Fidel Castro used to complain about American “capitalism” tempting players like Cespedes to leave Cuba.  Fidel, now 86, has mellowed along with some of his former adversaries on the other side of the Straits of Florida.  The record book of what has been a long, hostile matchup between the two countries makes sad reading.  The International Herald Tribune’s William Pfaff links what has happened to what is unfolding in Iran-U.S. relations:

“The great half-century struggle between the U.S. (pop.315 mil) and Cuba (11.5 mil), a struggle once feared as likely to cause a nuclear war…is over, or soon will be over – Cuba the winner on points as a result of…(enduring) decades of embargos and sanctions…To summarize what turned an apparently blossoming friendship with the United States to bitter enmity: Castro nationalized foreign holdings, sending American business into uproar; was befriended by the Soviet Union, so announced that he was a Communist; frightened Cubans fled; the Eisenhower administration decided that Castro had to be overthrown, and the CIA prepared a ham-handed invasion that predictably failed, humiliating the United States.

“The Cuban missile crisis that followed in October 1962 was…considered an effort to protect Cuba from invasion, and an American effort to protect the U.S. from a Soviet nuclear attack. Both sides misread the other’s intentions…In October 1963, shortly before his assassination, President John Kennedy told a French interviewer (Jean Daniel of the weekly Nouvel Observateur), ‘I believe that there is no country in the world…  where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the (Dictator Fulgencio)Batista regime…(T)o some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins.’  We have paid, and the Cubans paid much more heavily than Americans, ever since — to no purpose.  Now,  Americans seem ready to make the Iranians pay the price of our obsessions.  We will pay too, as we always have before.”

Lesson Unlearned? The connection between our paying lately in Iraq and Afghanistan and the alleged menaces identified through the popular game of threat-hysteria.

P.S.  The…case for a worldwide state of war against a…thing called Al Quaeda looks increasingly threadbare.  A war against a name is a war in name only.” – Steve Coll, New Yorker

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Accolade:  Oakland Skipper Bob Melvin on Cespedes’s “focus”: “He had to deal with being hurt most of the last two months of the season, playing through pain because we were in the race.  He’s very driven…You could see it from the minute he got here.”

A Cuban Stat:  Headed by Cespedes and the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, there are 18 Cuban-born players on major league rosters.

Juicy Bits from the AL Grapevine say change may be in store for two fireballers – one a legend, the other a rookie. In Texas,  CEO Nolan Ryan is reported close to leaving the Rangers after owners shifted some of his operational power to newly promoted president Jon Daniels.  At Lakeland, FL, Tigers Skipper Jim Leyland, unhappy with the wildness of  22-year-old would-be closer Bruce Rondon, is said to want the front office to re-sign Jose Valverde, who lost the closer’s job last season.  For now, GM Dave Dombrowski is resisting the request, just as Rangers owners say they’re determined to persuade Ryan to give up on his possible plan to leave.

Also-Ran Land“Many Red Sox fans…have made their peace with the upcoming season. The days of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz combining for 250 RBI are gone, and there is no Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling to shiver the timbers of opposing batters.  Years of passionately following baseball have turned Red Sox fans into sharp-eyed scouts, and, as such, they know there are question marks aplenty with this year’s team.” – Steve Buckley, Boston Herald

Other Super-Soph Stats:  Mike Trout – BA 326, HRs 30, RBIs 83 in 139 games. Bryce Harper – .270, 22, 59 in 139 games.

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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


Making Both Worlds Safe Through Stability

– Boston Globe

(Posted: 3/2/13)

Whaddaya know, Joe: The flurry of Miami-based foul calls against several drugs-implicated players has faded like fly balls drifting wide of the outfield fence. The newspaper that broke the story rightly ducked away from sharing its info with fed and baseball birddogs. The players have either pleaded innocent or stayed mute back in the clubhouse. End of story, ask except for evidence-free chatter emanating from the press box.

Baseball thus emerges without any further uncontainable damage or fan-base defections. Stability has been maintained. That goal, see we know, is common to all wide-ranging clubs operating in the big leagues worldwide. We thought of it when we saw former Team USA insider Richard Haass on BBC America the other day. Haass, now skipper of the quasi-official Council on Foreign Relations, called Team USA a “model” for nations around the world. They count on us, he said, to help keep both the international economy and political leadership inside traditional baselines.

Haass hinted that it was in the game of leadership that our military clout comes into play. What he didn’t say, but could have, is that, instead of making the world “safe for democracy,” Skipper Obama’s team is seeking to impose stability wherever its interests are under challenge, including here at home. The O-team’s successful legal defense of its right to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails is one example. Then there’s the response to this hot potato: Why hasn’t the Air Force hit harder at personnel accused of sexual assaults? That high, hard one was fought off this way:

“The military justice system is not only to judge innocence or guilt, but is also designed to help a commander ensure good order…” (An Air Force defense counsel quoted in the NY Times)

“Good order”, as defined by our scorebook: Keeping a lid on media noise that might lead to public outcry. That effort is certainly in play as Team Obama seeks to send whistleblowing Pfc. Bradley Manning to jail for anywhere from 20 years to life. He is being prosecuted for flipping damaging confidential info to WiKi Leaks and thus giving aid to the enemy. Fans of whistleblowers consider Manning a hero for acting to upset “good order.” In his defense, he said “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” Says the O-team (in so many words): “That man is clearly dangerous.”

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Which Rich, Revamped Team Will Jell? WashPost columnist Tom Boswell sees only one of three recent wallet-built teams – the Angels, Blue Jays and Dodgers – making it to the World Series this season. Potentially disruptive players are the disqualifying factors in his view. The likely exception: Of the slapped-together teams, only the Jays, the current Series favorite, have much chance to jell this year. With classy Jose Bautista and R.A, Dickey to set an example for maturity, Toronto may have a clubhouse that can even withstand the addition of the prima donna (Jose) Reyes and PED-cheater (Melky) Cabrera.”

A Slow-to-Jell Sign? Dodger Skipper Don Mattingly, on irritation to surgically treated elbow sidelining Carl Crawford: “This is a little bit more of a setback than I (thought it was). He can’t throw or hit… I think it definitely challenges opening day.”

Stating a Preference: It’s boring watching American League games…There’s much more strategy (in the National League). I don’t know anyone who likes the American League games better. Maybe some fans do. But if you’re not an actual DH, you probably prefer the National League.” – Zack Greinke, former LA Angel, now a Dodger

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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.)