The Nub

The Press and ‘Playing the Game’ With Fairness

(Posted: 6/28/13 P.M; e-mail update 6/29)

Even opponents’ fans agree that White Sox play-by-play man Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is the most entertaining baseball broadcaster around. An unabashed home-team supporter, discount nurse the Hawk calls Chisox first baseman Paul Konerko “Paulie”, look delights in saying “He gone” when an opposing batter strikes out, and in cheering “You…can… put-it-on-the-board!” as one of his favorites hits a long fly.

Since broadcasters need the approval of home clubs to get, and hold on to, their jobs, most are loyal to the team and the people who pay them, albeit, with less Hawk-like enthusiasm. That attitude is also evident among press box observers covering the political field; in particular, the much booed play of Edward Snowden. When Snowden went to bat against Team USA and its extensive national security franchise, he gave press people a chance to line up, looking at both sides for the proper balance between privacy and security; it’s a “debate” Skipper Obama himself said was needed. The turns at the plate have not taken place because the press tradition of neutrality was sent to the showers. It happened gradually toward the end of the last century (“We want ‘attitude’ in our news stories, a major managing editor once told us). But the switch occurred in dramatic fashion a decade ago when the corporate media rallied behind the run-up to the Iraq war.

Now the press verdict on Snowden is almost as unanimous – and unquestioning – as it was at the time of “shock and awe.” A telling moment of judgment occurred on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday. Host David Gregory pointed out that guest Glenn Greenwald, of the UK Guardian, had “aided and abetted” Snowden in flashing the story on the world scoreboard. “To th(at) extent,” Gregory said, “why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” Let’s rewind to suggest what Gregory should have asked, so as not to tip his pitches to a public in need of fair debate: “Are you concerned that, given your role in this affair, the government will seek to prosecute you?”

A legitimate question that would have spared the host his protest after Greenwald’s challenging reply (Gregory: “I’m not embracing anything”). More importantly, a stance that might have signaled to his press teammates an approach to maintaining the integrity of how they play the game.

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Where We’re At: The Red Sox have been in first place – alone or tied – since the season began, and Thursday night’s victory over the surging Blue Jays suggests they have the talent to stay there for awhile longer, at least. Three happy surprises – John Lackey pitching like a true ace, Jose Iglesias emerging as an offensive force, and David Ortiz hitting “like it’s 2004” (thank you, NESN) – have been key reasons for the success. In the NL West, meanwhile, the streaking Dodgers (six straight) have moved to within two-and-a-half games of second place and just two games behind the Rockies and Giants. And we can’t forget another six-straight streaking team, the Pirates, now tied for first in the NL Central with the Cardinals.

Demotion: Red Sox Skipper John Farrell on why .192-hitting Will Middlebrooks was sent to Pawtucket this week: “This became about Will getting regular at-bats. He’s an important part of us…going forward, and (we need) for him to get back on track.” (quoted by the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber)

Attitude: We surely weren’t alone a month-and-a-half ago when we thought Joba Chamberlain would regret his seemingly trivial, testy exchange with the Yankees’ living icon, Mariano Rivera. “Don’t shush me,” Joba said, after Mariano tried to quiet him during an interview session. The incident ended with Mariano declaring the Yanks a “family,” and Joba insisting he had nothing to apologize for. Now, with Joba pitching shakily – he yielded two decisive runs to the Rangers Thursday night in what had been a 4-3 game – he’s getting no sympathy from people who normally cut him slack. Michael Kay, Paul O’Neill and John Flaherty, on YES, detailed how badly he’d been performing as a middle-reliever, and mentioned what we could hear, the fans’ boos. If the Yankees let Joba go, attitude is likely to be part of the reason.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Baseball, Politics and the ‘Who’s-to-Blame’ Game

(Posted: 6/24/13 P.M; e-mail update 6/25)

Can we hold baseball managers responsible when their teams underperform? Usually not. Terry Collins gets a pass while the Mets flounder: everybody knows a team with a largely triple-A lineup can’t win. Donnie Mattingly is a different story. He can be excused for overseeing the performance of an injury-depleted Dodger team. (How long the front-office honors the excuse is something for Donnie’s many fans to worry about.)

The toughest recent case of a manager held to account for a team’s flop was the saga of Bobby Valentine, discount find hired over the new GM’s wishes in Boston last season. Asked to preside over a dysfunctional team that would be dismembered halfway through the summer, Bobby was fired a year before his contract ended. Surely part of a shared-blame situation, he nevertheless had to take the fall for what happened.

Unlike in baseball, high-level team personnel involved in lethal games – warfare – are normally held responsible for the actions of players under their command. Justice in such cases, as rendered by a Commissioner-like office, the UN War Crimes Tribunal in Holland, has been consistent: commanders were deemed partners in their subordinates’ crimes. Consistent until now, that is.

Recent acquittals of several top Croat and Serb commanders charged with atrocities committed by their players in the Yugoslav wars of 1991-95 is causing a ruckus in Europe. Why? Because judges on the tribunal say Team Obama brought pressure, forcing the not-guilty decisions, which contradict the U.S. stance at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Marlise Simons, of the NY Times, broke the story in the International Herald Tribune. Her Trib colleague Willam Pfaff sees the significance of what happened this way:

“It reflects the long-standing American (and Israeli) concern that their officers or government figures might one day find themselves before the court on charges of breaking international law or as bearing responsibility for war crimes…Most democracies are seen as threatening to these American and Israeli stands…They are the states which (can) challenge these efforts to destroy the established norms of international conduct, as proclaimed by the Nuremberg Tribunal – which amounts to an effort to abolish one of the principal moral achievements of the second world war.”

A mysterious bi-play to the story, originated by Simons, is this: Why did it not appear in stateside editions of the NY Times?

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Notable: (1) Behind the Blue Jays streak, which saw them move in little more than a week from double-digit doormats to within five games of the AL East lead, is this: Every one of their division competitors had losing records while they were going 11-0. P.S. The division now boasts all five teams with winning records. Only two of five teams in the other AL divisions have winning marks.

(2) If the Pirates push on to the playoffs, they may well remember their remarkable 10-9 come-from-behind victory over the Angels Sunday as the decisive spur they needed. The Bucs are now just a game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

(3) With a three-game sweep of the MLB’s winningest team, in St.Louis, the Rangers reasserted impressively their right to still be taken seriously in the AL West. Texas is now back in first, a game ahead of Oakland.

 

Tribute: Joe Posnanski, of NBC Sports, says that when Yasiel Puig hit his first grand slam, Dodgers announcer Vin Scully fell silent: ‘I have learned over the years,’ Scully said, ‘that there comes a rare and precious moment when there is nothing better than silence.’ Posnanski describes Puig at a later moment:

 

“Puig steps in (last) Friday night against (the Padres’)Jason Marquis, who has been around…There is no buzz, no sense that anything amazing is about to happen. Marquis throws his first pitch, a sinking fastball that, as they say, doesn’t sink. Puig lifts his left leg, steps it down, a somewhat subtle move, one that does not introduce the vicious and powerful swing that follows. That swing is shocking in its swiftness, its fury, and its power — it seems to happen too fast for the mind to catch up, like the first punch in a fight. ‘The first pitch is swung on,’ Scully says. ’A long fly ball to deep right-center field. Would you believe he has hit a home run? On the first pitch?’ And again, as Puig rounds second and heads for third, for a couple of seconds, Scully falls silent. ’He is not to be believed,’ Scully says when he regains his voice, ‘because the game is not that easy’.”  

Puig is batting .425. with six HRS and 12 RBIs in 73 ABs.

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The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments aboutblog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey,

can be found at perfectpitcher.org)

 

Some ‘Bests’ in Baseball and the Presidential Game

(Posted: 6/21/13 P.M; e-mail update 6/22)

Is there any doubt about the active player who has earned a place on a list of baseball’s greatest hitters, sale a list that includes Babe Ruth, click Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, etc.? If you say there is, you gotta be kidding. It’s Miguel Cabrera for sure. His stats over 11 seasons make the case: an average of 35 HRs per, 122 RBIs and a BA of .320. Underappreciated by those who have not followed Miggy closely is his durability: the 150 games he played in 2010 were the fewest during his 10 full seasons – with the Florida Marlins and Tigers.

On the political field, Harvard historian Joseph Nye has put together a list of the best presidential players of the 20th century. He considers Dwight Eisenhower the Derek Jeter of a list that includes FDR, Harry Truman and, yes, George W.B. Bush. Eisenhower, like field general Derek, kept his team on a smooth, winning track; Nye hails Ike’s effective “transitional” role, resisting post-Korean War militarism. Roosevelt and Truman were game-changing, or “transformational,” skippers, Nye says, leading the franchise into successful world-power play. Bush 2 is credited with sensible caution in running the team at a time of wall-banging upheaval in the European league.

And what does Nye have to say about Barack Obama? His record of skipper-ly achievements up to now is thin, but he has time, Nye believes, to complete his stint creditably. The president has said he hopes to implement a game plan devoted to ending conventional wars and winding down the war on terror. If he comes close to executing that double play, Nye says the record book will look favorably on his role as a transitional skipper.

‘You Boys Must Be Crazy’: Nye, quoting Eisenhower when, in 1955, a decade after Hiroshima, the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested using nuclear weapons against China:

“My God, you boys must be crazy. We can’t use those awful things against Asians again within 10 years.” “How different the world would have been,” Nye says, “if Ike had made use of tactical nuclear weapons as a matter of regular offensive policy in military standoffs.”

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Bad Night at Home: A double loss for the Giants last night: Not only did they lose to the lowly Marlins for the eighth straight time at AT&TPark, they received word that Angel Pagan had re-aggravated his hamstring while playing in a rehab game.

 A Skipper’s Sympathy: A snapshot of why John Farrell has righted the Red Sox ship this season: After Andrew Bailey yielded a walkoff two-run homer to the Tigers’ Johnny Peralta last night, Farrell patted the closer on his head; a fatherly pat that said “I know what you’re going through.”

 No Pat… for Lyle Overby after the Yankee first baseman killed a potential rally by getting himself thrown out at third against the Rays last night. He made a bad gamble, leaving second on a briefly loose ball. Overby slumped in the dugout afterward, a picture of despair. “How could he do something like that?” YES’s Michael Kay asked Paul O’Neill. “He lost track,” said O’Neill, clearly uncomfortable having to criticize Mark Teixeira’s plucky fill-in. “It was a mistake.”

 Make Way for the Blue Jays: The soaring Blue Jays (eight straight wins) are one game away from making the AL East the only .500-or-above division. Toronto begins a three-game series with the Orioles tonight, then goes to TampaBay and Boston for seven as June comes to an end. Jose Reyes will likely return from rehab for that road trip, giving the Jays as close to formidable a lineup as they hoped to have before the season started. The next 10 games will confirm whether they’ve made it back into the mix or are still flitting around outside. After Boston’s loss last night, idle Toronto moved only seven games out in the division.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

‘Part of the Game’ in Play on Only One Field

(Posted: 6/17/13; e-mail update 6/18)

When the Dodgers fielded complaints from fans about the bench-clearing brawl that marred the team’s game with Arizona last week, discount ask they shrugged: “It’s part of the game,” said an official response.  Most of us would agree.  A press box suggestion that only  individual combatants be allowed to duke it out makes little sense.  Onlooking players who join in, the proposal added, would receive automatic suspensions.  Fans would thus be treated, as we see it, to a potentially hurtful one-on-one slugfest instead of a usually harmless melee.

Bruce Bochy has dealt with one aspect of “part-of-the-game,” ordering catcher Buster Posey to sweep-tag at a runner trying to score rather than risking injury by blocking the plate. Bochy considers Posey the regular the Giants can least afford to lose.  Otherwise, the bumptious tradition remains intact.

And what about the protest movements that have been part of our history since the late 1700s?  In the 1780s, a farmer named Daniel Shays helped lead a rebellion against rich-poor inequality.  In the 1800s, the need for election reform spurred uprisings in the northeast.  Anti-draft protests during the Civil War presaged by a century what historian Howard Zinn called “the greatest anti-war movement (over Vietnam) the nation ever experienced.”  At the same time in the 1960s, black people in the south, led by Martin Luther King, launched a civil rights rebellion that spread to a hundred northern cities.

Fans then did not realize it but the anti-war protest game reached walkoff early in the ‘70s.  The key play: when Team Nixon ended the military draft as Vietnam drew to a close in January 1973. Self-interested students on scores of school campuses were thus moved to the sidelines.  The loss of their linked energy was felt keenly after 9/11; it  deprived Iraq war opponents of the youthful dynamism that had proved so effective earlier.  The remnant Occupy Wall Street movement two years ago fielded young people, but they were playing with two strikes: no secure home base as the campuses had provided, and no way to overcome the opposition of the homeland security lineup in their various uniforms.

Historian Gordon Wood singled out a pre-9/11 moment that, in his view, showed protests were no longer part of the political game: December 10, 2000, when the Supreme Court stopped the presidential vote-count in Florida, in effect, handing the election to George W. Bush.  “The silence told me something significant had happened to a cherished tradition,” he said in an appearance at the Museum of the City of NY.

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Sympathy Card:  “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” managers say when their team is injury-depleted.  It’s hard not to feel sympathetic these days for Giants, missing Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Vogelsong.  Then there are the Dodgers, without Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford.  And, as mentioned last time, the Rockies, having to make do for four-to-six weeks without Troy Tulowitzki.  The Yankees seem to have lost Mark Teixeira, he with the reinjured wrist, for another spell.  Curtis Granderson continues to sit out, along with long-term absentees Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.  Overall, just a partial list of losses making a difference that could be remembered as decisive at season’s end.

Cheers for Two:  The Rockies, by the way, and the Padres, have earned our plaudits for being the two foremost teams playing beyond expectations at this point in the season.  The Rox are vying with the Giants to overtake the NL West-leading Diamondbacks.  The Padres have won six straight to move a game over .500 and are now just a half-game behind the hurting Giants.

Streakers:  Padres +6, Blue Jays +5, Rangers – 6

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments aboutblog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Cardinals,Team Obama, and the Effect of the Double Play

(Posted: 6/14/13, P.M; e-mail update 9/13)

Among the dozen or so sure-fire playoff-contending teams, medical one stands out for its defensive edge:  The Cardinals lead the elite group with a combination of 75 double plays and just 25 errors.  DPs, their “best friend”, have helped lift Card pitchers to the top of MLB staffs, and given Redbird hitters a surplus of chances to make the team’s offense second only to the Tigers.

An adeptness at double plays intimidates other teams, too, posing a constant threat to stop  a rally and deflate morale.  Team Obama, we know, is engaged in a political twin-killing these days involving two individual players – Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.  The O-team’s military players will record one big out when they send Manning to prison for a term that could run from a few years up to life.  He is accused, among other things, of leaking info that foiled a cover-up attempt by U.S. troops engaged in the casual killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan. If Snowden is caught, the guess here is that his out will make less of a splash than what happens to Manning.  Why?  Snowden’s leak of the existence of Team Obama’s massive invasion of privacy involved no embarrassing known loss of life.  At the same time, the polling scoreboard shows fans to be less upset about security head-hunting than they are about our military misplays in the Middle East.

Manning and Snowden have earned much public admiration for their moral stance: Manning hoping that his leaks would “lead to worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.” Snowden: “I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy; (it’s a) threat to democracy.”  Yet the corporate media have largely mimicked the government pitch that both young men are naïve and immature, have done serious damage, and deserve what they get.

“For society to function well,” said Timesman David Brooks this week, “there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures.”  He was talking about Snowden’s disregard for team play, but the critique could have referred to Manning as well.  Brooks added, however, that if situations are grave enough, “Sometimes leakers have to leak.”  Many of us would agree that, on such a basis, Manning and Snowden were justified.  Our sympathy will not spare them – in this era of endless war – from having to pay a heroic price for their stance. Meanwhile, morale in much of the national grandstand could take a hit.

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As-of-Now Awards:  Prize for the tightest division-wide race, as of mid-June, goes to the AL Central, only seven-and-a-half games separating the first-place Tigers from the fifth-place White Sox. Runner-up award belongs to the NL West, eight-and-a-half the difference between the D-backs and the Dodgers.  At the other extreme, the NL East – the last-place Marlins 19.5 games behind the division-leading Braves.

No-Surprise Duo:  The two surprise playoff-making teams of 2012, Oakland and Baltimore, are on track to do it unsurprisingly again.  The A’s lead the AL West by two games, the Orioles are in second place, just two-and-a-half behind the Red Sox.

On the Latest Bench-Clearing Ruckus in LA: “There needs to be a discussion about why baseball is the only sport that allows players to leave the bench to brawl.  The NBA issues immediate suspensions. Even hockey imposes strict penalties…Everyone (involved in on-field fighting) should be suspended for a week. That would stop the brawling like, right now.” – Bill Plaschke, LA Times

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Impact of Wanting to Be ‘Safe at Home’

(Posted: 6/10/13 P.M; e-mail update 6/11)

The Bosch Clinic Scandal Redux.  What We Know:  Baseball is saying new evidence could enable it to pursue players implicated in possible illegal drug-taking through the Miami facility. The word is that pursuit may end in 100-day suspensions for Alex Rodriguez, buy sale Ryan Braun, pharm Nelson Cruz and others.  As we’ve said before, cure it should come as no surprise if nothing happens except for lots of legal and PR backing-and-forthing. Why?  The Yankee fan quoted last time made a telling point:  “Fans are missing their heroes,” he wrote…”Known stars with whom they can identify.”

With attendance down at 18 of 30 ballparks, including the Stadium, Miller Park, Fenway Park, Citizens Bank, Wrigley Field and CitiField, Bud Selig and his people can ill afford to further diminish the number of stars taking the field.  “The Pastime Must Be Protected” could be the mantra, reinforcing the idea of baseball keeping its gains of the last two decades “safe at home.”  In a similar way, California Senator Diane Feinstein uttered this would-be justification for the shockingly intrusive security programs we learned about last week: It’s about “protecting America,” she said.

In both cases, here is the one-word description of how the public feels about the scandals: indifferent.  The need for protection of star players and of citizen safety neutralizes indignation over the excesses on both fields.  A personal record book from 10 years ago this month describes an encounter we had with a fellow Upper West Sider while doing political campaigning on Broadway.  We called out the need to reverse the “frightening trend” abroad in the country.  “What trend?” a man asked.  “The attack on civil liberties,” we said.  “Security is what counts,” said our questioner.  “Civil liberties.”  “Security” The exchange went on, until we acknowledged that both were important.  To repeat: That was 10 years ago.

Political Stat CityA National Journal poll, taken just before the latest disclosures, found that 85 percent of those surveyed believed it “likely” their phone messages, e-mails, etc. were being monitored without their approval.

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Eastern Opposites:  That four of five AL East teams are above .500 with the season a quarter over is no surprise.  That the NL East has only one over-.500 team – the Braves – is a stunner.  Atlanta, seven-and-a-half in front, and Detroit, five-and-a-half, are in command in their divisions.  Yet, it’s the Cardinals, playing at a close-to-.700 clip, who have the majors’ best record.

Stat CityTeam stats show there’s no mystery to the Cardinals’ dominance; they are second of 30 in the three hitting-pitching-fielding categories.  The surprise are the Yankees, just a game-and-a-half out of first.  They’re doing it with pitching, but are only ninth in that category and a pallid 22d in hitting.  The pace-setting Red Sox are 12th in pitching, but a solid third in hitting.  The Tigers are best in hitting, the Braves lead in pitching, the Orioles the top fielding team.

Streakers: KC +5, Indians – 7

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments aboutblog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Fan Support Fading at Ballparks and for Team Obama

(Posted: 6/7/13 P.M; e-mail update 6/8)

It’s been a good week for the Yankees, sildenafil look yet pockets of empty seats at the Stadium – noted in the previous Nub – persisted during the Indians series. Frank M., ask a Yankee fan on Long Island, e-mailed this thoughtful response to our speculation about the reason for the vacancies – the loss of the traditional Yankee “edge.” “Fans are missing their heroes,” he wrote. “The current Yankee team lacks known stars (Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera aside) with whom they can identify.”

There was more, as Frank took a controversial stance: “Fans who support a team by their attendance,” he said, “should not see their loyalty undermined by rules sending their money to rival teams…I suggest that the reduced attendance at the Stadium reflects the damage done in the name of enforced ‘parity.’ When you require mediocrity, you should not expect enthusiasm for the debased product.”

Since Frank – and many other fans of well-financed, big-city teams – seem to see themselves as part of an earned meritocracy, we thought Fed Reserve Skipper Ben Bernanke would make a good pinch-hitter, responding as to how such status ought to relate to parity/equality. He spoke the other day at the Princeton graduation:

“A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate — these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.”

Bernanke could have noted that, since luck-sharing is in short supply these days, proportional taxation – akin to baseball’s luxury tax – is the best way to insure fair-sharing, if not parity.

Why the Drop-Off of Fan Support for Team Obama:  “What is the grand battle in which liberals are now engaged? For the first time in a decade there isn’t one… (Nothing) feel(s) that urgent to liberals.” – Paul Waldman, The American Prospect

– – –

Major Market Attendance Drop (for season as of this week): Phillies, 6,656 per game; Cubs, 5,116; Red Sox, 4,554; Yankees, 2,576.

Insurgents: Skipper Charlie Manuel said when injury shelved Roy Halladay that his Phillies would contend seriously in the NL East, “no matter what others say.” As of Friday, powered by sudden slugger Domonic Brown -10 HRS in 13 games, the league leader with 18 – the Phils had moved into second place behind the Braves. They’ve won five straight and seven of 10 while rising above .500.

Straight Talk: On ESPN the other night, the Rangers’ Lance Berkman gave a straightforward analysis of why illegal-drug-taking continues to plague baseball: “A player knows he has a career that can earn him millions of dollars. It’s worth the risk to take the drugs. If he’s caught, he’s suspended 50 or 100 days. Chances are he’ll then be back on the payroll…” What Berkman did not say, and didn’t have to: If baseball – including the players union – is serious about stamping out the plague, there should be agreement on suspending a player for life with the first offense.

Tutorial: Curt Schilling on Baseball Tonight, explaining the difference between “control” and “command”: “’Control’ is when you can throw strikes; if you make it to the majors you can do that. ‘Command’ is when you can manipulate the location of the ball within the strike zone.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Missing: Loyal Fans Who Have Left Both Ballparks

(Posted: 6/3/13; P, best illness M; e-mail update 6//4)

Scattered pockets of empty seats at Yankee Stadium? With the Mets, cure Red Sox and Indians visiting the Bronx! What’s going on? The guess here – and we pitch it with surprise – is that many loyal Bomber fans want their team to be more than competitive; they expect it to have an edge. Since that’s not the case so far this season, some regular attendees are staying away.

We’ve suspected all along that this modest variant of the Pinstripers would be popular with fans who were alienated by the team’s traditional, whatever-it-takes-to-win way of competing. But that new breed seems to prefer a neutral form of rooting for the regular-guy Yankees, and to do it an easy way, from home.

A fair conclusion is that, overall, fans are interested but less invested in the team than they were in recent years. A similar attitude has taken hold among fans of Team Obama. They cheered the Skipper and his players when they played a combative game against Team GOP. They attended faithfully to the liberal media – MSNBC, in particular, and Moyers and Co. on PBS, and Pacifica Radio. That has changed, as we know, in the past few months. The O-team has switched to a defensive game, not unlike the smaller ball now played by the Yankees. The predictable result: a dramatic drop-off in fandom, especially at MSNBC. The channel fell from second to last in a four-team cable league that also included consistent leader Fox, as well as CNN, and HLN.

If MSNBC hopes the Skipper will soon resume playing an aggressive game, National Journal scout Michael Hirsch says, from what he’s seen and heard, it’s not going to happen. He quotes a former Team Obama coach as saying no “game-change” is in the offing:

“The president is seeking to reward loyal associates from his first term and has no plans to seriously alter the economic course he has chosen, even in the face of continuing grim data on jobs. That may be, in part, because Obama appears to realize that he’s unable to take a more progressive course against unwavering GOP opposition…What has emerged as a slightly left-of-center brand of Obamanomics: a nurturing if sometimes critical approach to Wall Street that has paid off with a roaring stock market recovery, an occasionally bold but still measured approach to health care and seeding new industries, yet scant help for the middle class through job training or mortgage assistance.”

Assuming from the Skipper’s “nearly certain” speech on drones (and several drone-caused deaths in Pakistan and Yemen since then), the present status-quo play will apply to foreign policy as well. A stance hardly designed to re-energize the fan base and get the liberal media back in the ballgame.

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Trends: It’s still only the first week of June, but the AL West is developing into a two-team race – Texas and Oakland, just two games apart. The one tentatively commanding lead in all six divisions belongs to the Braves, now six-and-a-half ahead of the Nationals in the NL East. In the NL Central, the Pirates have made clear they won’t let the Cardinals and Reds leave them out of the pace-setting mix.

Credit Where It’s Due: Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was generous on TBS Sunday in his praise for Jeff Luhnow, now Astros GM and former head of the Cards’ scouting department. Asked by John Smoltz and Ron Darling about the key to his team’s farm-system success, Mozeliak credited the pre-draft diligence of Luhnow and his people. Asked if there was any particular ability the Cardinals look for in prospects, Mozeliak answered with one word: “performance.”

P.S. If Luhnow’s Astros beat the Angels tonight, they’ll have completed a four-game sweep of the touted Halos, now 10-and-a-half games out of first in the AL West.

 Free Advice: John Kruk, doing color this season on ESPN’s Sunday night games, is trying too hard. He feels constrained to talk when he has nothing meaningful to say, is prone to occasional preaching and, belaboring the obvious, as on Sunday night when he stressed the importance of players taking advantage of videos of the opposition.

Badmouthing Target No More? “What (Alfonso Soriano is doing is) about as impressive as you can get. He’s going out there every day; he feels good, he keeps himself in phenomenal shape. He’s one of those special guys who come around.”  – Cubs manager Dale Sveum, on his much-maligned veteran left fielder (who is having far from a standout season).

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)