The Nub

‘Big’ Doesn’t Ensure Dominance in Either Field

(Posted: 7/30/13)

Three teams – the Angels, click Blue Jays and Dodgers – spent a bundle over the past year to ensure their rebuilt teams would be big-time contenders this season. The Angels, usa we know, prescription added Josh Hamilton to an offense that already included Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.  The Jays plucked Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from  the Marlins and R.A. Dickey from the Mets. The Dodgers invested $230 million in the player-galaxy now shining in Chavez Ravine.

Non-aligned fans were amused when all three would-be powerhouses fizzled. The Angels and Jays are still sources of amusement, but the Dodgers have spoiled the fun. Their 27-6 surge over the past month has put them into position to make good on their promise of dominance.  Only the scuffling Diamondbacks look to be long-shot spoilers.

There’s similar amusement from left and right over Skipper Obama’s “Go-big” rallying cry containing a promise of a rebuilt economy. Just as the Angels and Jays thought they had the clout to overcome their main division opponents, the Skipper and his team believed they could blow away their opposition, Team GOP.  But you can’t make that game plan work unless your team comes together; either that, or key opponents, like hit-to-righters in Congress, fold.

Polls show the Skipper has lost fan support over his approach to the game – an unwillingness to stand up to team excesses that are producing a police state at home and dirty play abroad. And an inability to follow up words with positive action. The diminished confidence in his leadership discourages players as well as fans from staging the rally he seeks. Add to that the intractability of Team GOP – think Oakland in the AL West, or refusal-to-die Cleveland in the AL Central – and you get a feel for what the Skipper is up against.

A pressbox fan, WashPost’s E.J. Dionne, spells out the challenge: “Obama needs to make his case for the specific steps Washington can take to restore shared, robust prosperity. He will have to beat back the forces that would continue to shrink government through a sequester that is making the recovery slower than it should be. (And) this time, he cannot let himself be sidetracked.”

Dionne suggests that the Skipper’s place in the record book hinges on his leading this “Go-big” rally to a walkoff win.  Given his already shaky performance and current game conditions, there is a strong sense the effort is running out of outs.

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Statement Games:  The Rays edging the Red Sox, 2-1, to return to first in the AL East by a half-game; the Pirates beating the Cardinals, 9-2 to move to within a half-game of St.Louis in the NL Central. The Bucs and Cards have four more games – two today – in this big midweek series.  And let’s not forget the Indians, nipping the White Sox, 3-2, on a walkoff homer by Jason Giambi, to remain on the heels of the Tigers..

Big Hurts:  Only a rash of sudden injuries can stop the Dodgers from running away with the NL West: that’s hardly news.   A strained right forearm that could sideline closer Jason Grilli for a month is bad news for the Pirates as they try to overtake the Cardinals in the NL Central.  Persistent foot pain has shelved Albert Pujols indefinitely, all but making the Angels’ demise in the AL West definite.  The deal that sent reliever Scott Downs to the Braves confirms LAA’s capitulation.

My, My:  The positive difference in the 2013 edition of the Rays can be summed up in two words: Wil Myers.  We know about his being TampaBay’s key acquisition when they traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals.  But did we dream that Myers would be such an offensive force for his new team: a .328 BA, seven HRs, 26 RBIs in 33 games?  The Rays, by the way, are 27-8, since Myers was called up on June 18.

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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.)


Yanks and Banks: Too Big to be Out of the Money

(Posted: 7/26/13)

The consensus on the faltering Yankees: they’re too big to economize; not with a playoff berth at serious risk.  Hal Steinbrenner must swallow hard and let Brian Cashman deal for a pricey bat like Alfonso Soriano’s; that’s if he wants his team to elbow back, look at least, into the wild card picture.  Longtime fans expect no less, and will force a budget-busting infusion of free-agent talent next year if deprived of a home-team presence in the 2013 post-season.  That’s the thinking.

The Orioles have added Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez, a valued reliever the neighboring Tigers let get away.  Detroit, the bankrupt city, could more than ever use the happy distraction of its home team, with a new closer, going deep into the playoffs.  But more than that Detroiters need non-baseball relief from Washington, the kind Team USA regularly offers investment banks like Goldman Sachs.  That relief takes the form of implicit taxpayer-funded insurance, basis of the notorious “too big to fail” guarantee.

Bloomberg News estimates that Team USA guarantee is worth a total of about $83 billion a year to Goldman and other banks in the system..  One of Detroit’s biggest bills is $3.5 billion in pension commitments.  The too-big-to-fail subsidy helps Goldman’s CEO earn more in three hours than Detroit’s public sector retirees receive in a year (an average of $18, 275).  Fairness requires Washington to go to bat for a city-saving subsidy worth a fraction of what banks score.  The Times’s economic ace Paul Krugman pitches the case this way:

“Let’s have a serious discussion about our obligations, as a nation, to those of our fellow citizens who have the bad luck of finding themselves living and working in the wrong place at the wrong time — because…decline happens, and some regional economies will end up shrinking, perhaps drastically, no matter what we do.”

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In a Pinstriped Corner:  Dustin Pedroia’s new eight-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox works out to just under $14 million a season.  Pedroia gave the Sox a home-club discount. Robinson Cano has made clear he will not give the Yankees the same deference when they talk contract around season’s end.  Cano could easily demand $110 million for five years, knowing if the Yanks won’t pay it, the Dodgers will.

The ‘Mean Midseason’: The WashPost’s Tom Boswell on a recent sign of home-team frustration: “The Nationals had every right and some reason to fire (batting coach) Rick Eckstein. But they should never have done it in a mean midseason kick-the-family-dog moment that you would expect of the Yankees…When teams act this way, they send a short-term message of anger to their employees that may give a jolt of energy, if only from self-preservation: I don’t want to be next.  But it also sends a long-term message: We sacrifice our own when things go wrong.”

 Fallout: “The unfortunate byproduct of (Ryan) Braun’s exposure as a fraud is that it merely turns up the public skepticism another notch. It makes it that much harder for the truly innocent players to get anyone to believe them when they swear they’re doing it clean.”  – Larry Stone, Seattle Times

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


Bygones Time in Baseball and Politics?

(Posted: 7/23/13)

When the picture of Bartolo Colon popped up during Fox TV’s coverage of the All Star game, generic try we did a double-take: What the heck is he doing there? Colon was suspended last season for drug-related cheating. Yet baseball said all was forgiven. He’s had a great comeback season with the A’s; he paid for his sin.  More power to him.

That’s the way we felt. The players seem to feel that way, sales pharm too, even though cheaters like Colon have an unfair advantage when competing with clean teammates. What’s the proper attitude for fans to take on this muddle? The answer for most of us, we suspect: not to think about it. It’s baseball’s problem; we have enough of our own. So, if baseball and the players union are content to let things slide, we’ll slide with them.

A-Rod, Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, and perhaps Colon again, will be under a Biogenesis drug-related shadow while playing as the season builds to a climax. Lyin’ Ryan Braun won’t be playing.  It’s hard to take his rest-of-season suspension seriously, given that he’ll be welcomed back in 2014 and his team is going nowhere now. But fans of the still-competitive Yankees, Tigers. Rangers and A’s won’t complain about any delay in player punishment; most will be happy to have the Bio-linked suspects in their home-team lineups.  It may be a messed-up situation, but that’s the way it is.

We thought of the baseball situation the other night while watching a Chilean film, of all things, called “No.” It’s about the 1988 election in which Chilenos could vote yes or no on whether to keep their (soon-to-be-deposed) dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. For a decade-and-a-half he had ruled with an iron fist, ordering political murders of opponents by the thousands.  Yet, when a typical low-income voter was asked which way she would vote,  her answer was “Yes.” Why, given Pinochet’s blood-stained record? “That’s in the past,” she said.

The attitude persists on both our baseball and political fields. A University of Houston survey done on the aftermath of elected-official scandals found a batbag full of surprises: 81 percent of disgraced Congressional players, forexample, were voted back into office if they had the nerve to run again. The classic play was executed by a Louisianan, David Vitter; in 2007, he left office, confessing to a “serious” involvement with prostitutes. Three years later, the state’s voters elected him to the U.S. Senate, with 54 percent of women backing him with their ballots.

In New York City now, a former governor and a House member, both forced to resign – over scandals involving prostitutes, in the ex-skipper’s case, and sex-related e-mails in the other – are running for the two top municipal offices. And both are either leading, or vying for the lead, in the polls. However, the polls also suggest that women have not forgiven either would-be comptroller Eliot Spitzer or would-be mayor Anthony Weiner, in large part, because of theperceived betrayal of their wives. “That’s in the past” does not seem to be working for many fans in the NYC ballpark.

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New Order: The best expression of how longtime Yankee fans feel about this edition of the undermanned team came the other night from radio play-by-play man John Sterling.  After an injury and an ejection had depleted an already weakened lineup against the Red Sox, Sterling noted part of the revised lineup this way: “The Yanks now have an outfield of Brent Lillibridge in right, Ichiro in center, and Alberto Gonzalez in left. Yikes!”

Another Pre-Deadline Deal:  The Rangers know they’ll need help if they’re to overtake Oakland in the AL West. So they’re giving up five prospects, including one blue chipper, pitcher C.L. Edwards, for Matt Garza of the Cubs.

Respect:  The Yanks’ Andy Pettitte, giving the Red Sox their due: “It’s a tough lineup. Those guys are good over there. They can hit the ball.”

Disappointments:  The Diamondbacks are duking it out with the Dodgers for NL West lead, despite a disastrous (3-7, 5.29) season from erstwhile ace Ian Kennedy and down offensive years from Martin Prado and Jason Kubel.  The team’s secret thus far: the gritty gift of winning close games, 10 of 14 extra-innings, and 21 of 34 one-run contests.

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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  Previous Nubs may be found byscrolling below.)

The Screw-Up Season on Both Fields

(Posted: 7/16/9/13)

The additions of Ricky Nolasco to the Dodgers’ already rich roster, buy purchase and Matt Thornton to the Red Sox relief corps, remind us of why this is baseball’s screw-up season.The home-free trading permitted prior to the July 31 deadline skews whatevercompetitive balance exists at the halfway mark. Those who cheer the “excitement”the one-sided deals inject into the sport’s dailyness are sheep, led by the media’simpatience for a change of pace in their coverage.

That most fans shrug at the pastime’s annual misplay is insensitive, given thesudden new insecurity imposed on the many others who root for the Yankees, Rays, Orioles, A’s, Phillies Reds, Pirates, Giants, Rockies, D-backs, etc. Or on Clevelanders, skittish at the thought the Tigers will acquire the closer to close out the AL Central race. Indifference generally is mindless; we have a duty (damn it), a right to get riled up when game-changing errors are made by those in charge.

Team Obama has been following a traditional, insulting game plan in the world ballparks that, we believe, warrants an all-fields rhubarb. The other day, a Long Island lawyer challenged our razzing the O-team for remaining outside the baseline on whether to challenge the military coup in Egypt: “Isn’t it in our interest,” he wrote, “to insure that Egypt remains on friendly terms with Israel?” While conceding that point, we said, it was not the play we mainly resent: “It is the pro-democratic uniform we wear,” we said, “while upsetting how the game is played.”

The corporate media prefer to go along with the deceit, ignoring the now-familiar signals: our Yanqui-style O-team believes in democratic elections, only if the winner is willing to play ball. That would be almost tolerable, if, in the spirit of Ty Cobb, the Skipper says bluntly, “We don’t expect everyone to like it, but that’s our game; get used to it.” Isn’t candor better than refusing to own up to something the world has figured out.

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Unminced Words: Let’s be straightforward about this: the naysayers who wish tonight’s All-Star Game was nothing more than an entertaining exhibition are way off base. They’ve been consistently wrong on the subject since Bud Selig decreed that league home-field World Series advantage would be at stake. Selig made the game matter. We should be grateful any time we can watch professional teams play, as most of us play: to win, and to have it count.

 Reality Bites: It’s hard not to root for the Phillies, who, despite key injuries, have stayed in the NL East mix with a 48-48 record at the break. You don’t lose players like Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard, and then last week, Ben Revere, and not feel the hurt at multiple levels. Still, Charlie Manuel, anything but a pie-in-the-sky skipper, believes in his team. Phillie Inquirer columnist Bob Ford prefers unpopular realism. Here is his nutshell assessment: “Once the Phils lost Halladay and then Howard, their chances of contending went with them. It is too long between starts for Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and there are too many empty at-bats in the middle of the lineup.”

Paging Pagan: When the Giants gave Angel Pagan a four-year, $40 million contract last winter, the consensus was they overpaid for a fairly good player who had bounced around. In his absence since a May 28 injury, the Giants’ season has taken a bad bounce: they’ve gone 15-28 without Angelpatrolling center field. Despite a successful three-of-four weekend against the Padres, SF seems to be missing Pagan’s fire.

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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 Yankees, Team USA and Their Farm System Finesse

(Posted: 7/9/13)

The record book remembers – with some ambivalence – the peak 14 years of Yankees dominance, sales from 1949 to 1962. The team won an extraordinary 12 pennants and 10 World Series over that period. But most of the time, thumb money and a connection gave the Yanks what many considered an unfair edge. Friendly ties between the team’s ownership and the boss of the Kansas City A’s (as they were then called) led to a long lineup of one-sided deals that brought the Yanks Roger Maris, Clete Boyer, Bobby Shantz and Enos Slaughter, among others. KC came to be known as a Yankee farm.

Team USA owns a similar dubious record of using money and major league clout to treat democratic clubs in ballparks abroad as its farm system. When it disapproves of an elected skipper among the world franchises, our home team finds a way to get rid of him – usually through a coup – even when a law forbids such action.  It happened as recently as 2002 in Venezuela; the Yanquis were implicated in a short-lived overthrow of democratically elected Hugo Chavez.  President George Bush even welcomed Chavez’s right-wing successor a few days before Chavez was returned to power by popular demand (and majority army support). Then, in 2009, Team Obama, after initially booing the coup in Honduras that sent elected Skipper Manuel Zelaya to the showers for hitting too hard to left, switched sides to approve a right-handed regime.

Now, in Egypt, we see that, despite a law banning aid to a franchise brought to power by the military after the ouster of another elected skipper, Team Obama is preparing another safety squeeze. It will suspend, not cancel, the $1.3 billion in (primarily) military aid to Cairo.  As in Honduras, the O-team will signal pro-dem sympathy while allowing the violence-marred game in progress to play itself out before embracing the usurpers. Times-man Peter Baker provides the background to the strategy:

“While the violence distressed American leaders, the unspoken truth is that many of them are at least conflicted and in some cases not all that unhappy about the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The relative calm in Washington also reflects a longer-term shift in American relations in the Middle East. While Egypt was once seen as the singular strategic player in the region, today other countries play a larger role. The overriding American interest in Egypt is preserving its three-decade peace with Israel, which officials believe the military is committed to doing.”

Thus, democratically elected or not, Morsi was not managing Egypt like a good U.S. farm team. He had to go, just as we tried to do with Chavez and succeeded with Zelaya.

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Fertile Farms:  Based on Baseball America’s organizational standings as of early this winter, three contending teams, the Rockies, Yankees and Dodgers have farm system talent that could provide decisive reinforcements during the latter part of the season.  Houston and Seattle, seemingly out of the 2013 mix, also boasted top-five systems.

Numbers Game:  With half the season gone, here are some significant divisional numbers: 5, 3, 3/3, 3, 4.  All five teams can legitimately be considered in the AL East playoff race.  True, going into last night when they were idle, the Jays were 10 games out of first.  But they were trailing in the wild card by only five-and-a-half games.  The AL Central has Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City competing, the AL West Oakland, Texas and the LA Angels.  In the NL, the Phillies won’t go away from the leading Braves and the runner-up Nationals (whom they beat last night). The NL Central boasts the best three-team race with the all-potent Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. The NL West offers a close numerical match to its AL East counterpart with four teams – Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers and Giants scrambling to make the post-season.

Performance:  Going into tonight’s games, only one of all teams mentioned above is in the MLB’s top five in hitting, pitching and fielding: the Cardinals, who are third in hitting and pitching and fifth in fielding.  Only one other team has made the top five in two of the three categories: the Orioles, first in fielding, fourth in hitting.

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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  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The ‘Beating Them Up’ Game on Both Fields

(Posted: 7/1/13 P.M; e-mail update 7/2)

The last time the Mets won a world championship – 1986 – Skipper Davy Johnson felt secure enough about his team’s chances to say before the season began: “We’re not going to win; we’re going to dominate.”  The Mets did just that, buy winning 108 games and finishing 21 games ahead of the NL field.  Then, with an assist from Billy Buckner in World Series (his error denied the Red Sox a clinching win in the sixth game), the Mets won the second title in franchise history in the seventh game.

Johnson made it a point to have his team primed to win over – and not to let down against – weaker opponents.  All managers of good teams emphasize the importance of focus on beating the bad. This season, Oakland Skipper Bob Melvin has been particularly successful with that approach in the AL West.  His Athletics have gone 9-0 against the last-place Astros.

In the global league, Team USA has established dominance over all opponents in one aspect of the game – military force.  It has nevertheless seen its clout decline, first, because of resentment in the world ballpark over the bullying way it plays: “abus(ing) its power, singling out poor, weak countries — that’s what we specialize in – and beating them up.”  Those the words of the late Kenneth Waltz, scholarly observer of the international playing field at UC Berkeley and Columbia U. (A partial lineup of the beaten, by Yanqui regular- as well as pinch-hitters: Chile, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Iraq, Nicaragua).

Herald Trib scout William Pfaff reports this recent reason for the slump: Team USA has now “been made a laughing-stock by the home-spun ethical stance of…Edward Snowden, who simply didn’t believe that the United States should be intercepting the communications of all its friends as well as enemies, and lying through its teeth about what it was up to.”  The Yanqui super-snooping game plan, as seen from abroad, says Pfaff, is to consolidate its “(benevolent) power over everyone else in the world.”  Any wonder the plan is encountering resistance.

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Raise the Roger and Those Sox:  At the season’s halfway point, the Pirates and Red Sox are the MLB’s winningest teams – the Bucs with 51 wins in the NL, the Red Sox with 50 in the AL.  Both, we know, are surprising leaders.  The Pirates surged to the top of the NL Central by going 17-9 in June, finishing the month with nine straight victories.  The Red Sox went 16-11 in June; their steadiness was striking – no losing streak exceeded two games.

Stat CityThe Pirates have been getting key hits, but they are 24th of 30 in team hitting, and 22d in  fielding.  The lead both leagues, however, in pitching, the category that counts most. The Sox are second to Detroit in hitting, but 13th in fielding and 14th in pitching.  Lots of hits — key and otherwise – have been the difference for them.

Creativity:  John Smoltz caused a double-take by TBS broadcast teammates Ron Darling and Matt Winer during Sunday’s Arizona-Atlanta game when he identified the location of a D’backs pitch as the “honeyspot.” The what? “It’s the spot low and inside, just off the plate, to a righthanded hitter,” Smoltz said, “and close enough to be called a strike.” “Did you make that up?” he was asked.  “It’s a fishing term,” he said.  (“No double-entendre intended,” he could have added, but didn’t.)

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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  Previous Nubs may be found by

scrolling below.)