The Nub

The Goals: One for a World Series Trophy, the Other for Oil

(Posted 2/25/14)

“Another year, cure another run for it.”  Detroit’s Victor Martinez said it about his team’s annual World Series aspirations.  The Tigers, like the Cardinals in the NL, are aiming for their fourth straight playoff season.  None of the other 28 teams has matched them in recent post-season-achieving success.  A willingness to spend to fill immediate roster gaps and productive farm systems have been the framework of a persistent focus – that of remaining dominant in their divisions and all of baseball.

The consistency achieved by the Braves and Yankees over the past two decades will be difficult to match.  But relentlessness has come to characterize more and more teams, from the A’s to the Rays. Team USA has been unwavering in its determination to rebuild its farm system in South America, with its main focus on Venezuela and its black gold.  The record book for the past decade-and-a-half shows this: from the time new Skipper Hugo Chavez moved the oil-rich farm team to an independent  league, Team USA undercover players have repeatedly started bench-clearing ruckuses in hopes of reclaiming the franchise.

The dirty play is going on now, with anti-government protests cheered by Team Obama and condemned by Venezuela’s league-mates throughout the continent. Even the NY Times, considered in Caracas the Yanquis’ semi-official mouthpiece, suggested Saturday that the O-team’s strategy was misconceived: “regional and internal dynamics are increasingly drifting away from Washington…(there is a) declining influence of American diplomacy in the region .”  Perhaps aware of the trend, Skipper Obama has let coach John Kerry do the anti-Caracas jawing in his stead..

Kerry’s involvement is a reminder that we can add South America to the Middle East and, perhaps, the Asian Pacific and  Africa, as areas where respect for – and fear of – Team USA  is on the wane.

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Sounds Reasonable: The key provision of the new home plate collision rule: “Catchers can block the plate if they catch the ball before a runner arrives, but the catcher cannot block the path of runner trying to score. If catcher does block in such fashion, the runner will be called safe.”

The Newest Oriole: “(Nelson) Cruz…is the first free agent extended a qualifying offer ($14.1 million) to fare much worse in the end, as he landed a contract (8m) worth just 57 percent of that total…(His stats) do not portend well for a 33-year-old power hitter who is coming off a PED suspension.  He still should be much more productive than the left-field combo the Orioles trotted out last year — his .808 OPS from 2011-13 is more than 100 points better — and he’ll be playing in another home ballpark that’s favorable to power hitters.” – Joe Lemire, Sports Illustrated

Prognostication:  The playoff spot (in the AL East) is going through one or the other.” – Reliever Matt Thornton, who played briefly with the Red Sox and is now with the Yankees. (quoted by Ken Davidoff,  NY Post)  We know, he’s not talking about the Rays, Orioles, or the Blue Jays, who now have an added incentive to muscle into the scramble.

Rays of Optimism“Because of the unbalanced schedule, there’s a good chance all five teams in the AL East will finish over .500…We’re feeling good about our team; our scouts say they’ve never seen so much depth going into the season.”  – Rays GM Andrew Friedman

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(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)

The Perils on Both Fields of Parsimony

(Posted 2/22/14)

Mets fans can have funereal fun this late winter choosing the most amusing pitch from the following deliveries about their team:

“If we stay healthy, usa pills we can be in the hunt.” – Terry Collins

“We’ve made a lot of progress…We’re very happy where we are right now.” – Sandy Alderson

“We’re ready to see the fruits of (Sandy’s) labor now.” – Jeff Wilpon

The expanded payroll expected because of expired contracts didn’t happen: the Wilpons will be spending in the $85-90m range, about the same as last year. Why the frugality, given a fan base desperate for a return to major-market budgeting, is not clear. As it is, the Mets rank among the five lowest-payroll teams – the Astros, Marlins, Rockies and Twins are the four others.

On the political field, four states – Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota and Wyoming – have comparatively low private-sector payrolls because they’ve chosen to offer the lowest minimum wages to their working people. The federal minimum rate is $7.25 an hour. In Georgia and Wyoming, the rate is $5.15; in Minnesota it is $5.25, in Arkansas $6.25.

While the Mets’ reasons for minimal spending may be murky, states keeping their basic wage low fear that raising it will mean loss of jobs and, possibly, of businesses. The states in question, by and large, hit to right and believe in a conservative game plan: promoting work and reducing social welfare programs. The WashPost’s E.J. Dionne says raising the minimum wage – at the federal as well as state levels – would help the right-handers achieve their team goals, yet their political front office people resist:

“The only mystery is why(?)… Rank-and-file conservatives know better. A December Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 53 percent of self-described conservatives supported a minimum wage increase… Conservative politicians really need to ask themselves: If they refuse to raise the minimum wage and at the same time insist on cutting health care and wage-support programs, are they not consigning millions more of their fellow citizens to lives of poverty? Most Americans reject this view, and that includes most conservatives who believe in work, family and personal responsibility.”

The scorecard on Skipper Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum to $10.10 an hour – put together by the Congressional Budget Office team – shows that such a game plan would do more good than harm. It could reduce total employment for 500, 000 workers, but lift 900,000 families off the poverty rolls.

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Sandy Storm Clouds: The re-emergence in the media of boss’s son Jeff Wilpon is not good news for Mets GM Sandy Alderson. His four-year contract expires at the end of the season unless the team picks up an option to have him stay on. The nub of the young Wilpon’s recent comments is that, his father’s penny-pinching notwithstanding, the 2014 Mets damn well better live up to Alderson’s expectations. Never mind that they have to do it (for the moment) with a .205-hitting first baseman, Ike Davis, and a .202-hitting shortstop, Ruben Tejada. As to why the front office didn’t spring for an upgrade like free agent Stephen Drew, Wilpon could only shrug: “We tried,” he said.

Umbrage: Mariners Skipper Lloyd McClendon, responding to Yankees coach Kevin Long’s criticism of Robinson Cano’s lack of hustle when running to first base: “I can remember the days when I hit a pop up and I’m pissed off and you don’t run to first. Is that dogging it? I don’t think so. There’s a human element that comes with this game. You know you roll over and hit a ground ball to second base, your head drops and you are a little disappointed… In the big scheme of things, would I rather have a guy out there for 160 games, hitting .300 and driving in over 100? I will take that.” – quoted by Larry Stone, Seattle Times.

Watch Derek Run: An acknowledged (by MLB-TV) expert on baseball injuries, Will Carroll, of Fangraphs, made this logical-sounding prognosis on how far Derek Jeter’s recovered ankle would take him in the upcoming season: “Hitting and fielding, he’ll be fine, much like the Jeter of old. It’s in running he is likely to have problems. At his age (40 in June), broken ankles don’t bounce back completely.”

Advanced Atlanta Metrics: In a late pre-season rush, the Braves have invested a total of $280.7 million spread among five players who are locked in for an aggregate of 27 years. The breakdown: Freddy Freeman, $135m, eight years; Andrelton Simmons, $58m, seven; Craig Kimbrel, $42m, four; Julio Teheran, $32.4, six; Jason Heyward, $13.3,

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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.)

Here’s to Masters of the ‘Cutter’ and the ‘Long Game’

(Posted 2/14/14 for holiday weekend)

Even ever- confident Yankee fans agree with the consensus on their team’s chances this season:  As improved as both the batting order and the Tanaka-added starting rotation are, generic cheap the relief corps is a question-mark without the irreplaceable Mariano Rivera.   David Robertson can assume the closer’s role and do an acceptable job – goes the thinking – but he can’t be expected to match Mariano in saves.  The season may depend on how big the falloff turns out to be.

As Rivera decided that 43 was the proper age – and time – for him to retire, Dem team Congressman Henry Waxman thought it appropriate to leave the political field next fall when he turns 75.  Both men spent a professional lifetime with respective teams – Mariano 19 years as a Yankee, Waxman 40 as a member of the House from LA.  He will be missed by his elected teammates as much as Rivera by his fellow players.

Where  Rivera’s “cutter” carried him to greatness – 652 saves, an average of just under 40 per season, it was Waxman’s “long game” of bipartisan give-and-take for which he is recognized as his team’s legislative genius. Trader Henry’s lefty skills made possible a series of winning deals, described by The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson:

“(Waxman) was the primary force behind bills that made our air cleaner, made drinking water safer, put nutritional labeling on food, provided medical coverage to people with AIDS…gave rise to generic drugs, increased safety standards for food,  and enabled millions of poor children to have annual checkups. Two memorable sets of hearings he convened reduced the clout of Big Tobacco in American life  and pushed baseball to get serious about banning steroids…(Said) Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson (once after) an all-night negotiation, ‘Henry Waxman is tougher than a ‘boiled owl’.”

Both Waxman and Rivera will surely be long remembered.  Mariano has been retired for fewer than four months; conversationally, he’s still around.  At Sochi, Tuesday morning Bob Costas told NBC teammate Matt Lauer that, because of his eye problems, he was being relieved as Games anchorman.  The network is going to the bullpen, he said, “and you’re Mariano Rivera.”

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Rebounding Ex-MVPs? “The seasons of the Angels (Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols) and Phillies (Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins) come down to their former MVPs returning to something closer to impact player status. That’s (only remotely) true for the Yankees (Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki)… If you’re expecting any of these guys to play like MVPs again, forget it. Thanks to drug testing, those days of old players winning that award are over. Since testing began in 2003, only two players 31-or-older have won a league MVP: the chemically enhanced duo of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.” – SI’s Tom Verducci

Realism: Behind Derek Jeter’s decision to retire after this season is surely the message of his rehab workouts; they told him that playing had become a “job” and, in looking beyond 2014, he could, in the words of Verducci, “forget it.”  The decision also suggests the Yankees shouldn’t expect too much of the captain this season.  Could Stephen Drew soon be waiting in the wings?

Season-Saver?  The Dodgers, who might have been unbeatable with (Mashiro) Tanaka, instead have Dan Haren. They look mortal — though barely.  In the end, the pitching-desperate Yanks may have spent $155 million to save the season for every other NL contender. – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

Belief: At the start of his team’s spring training, Dodger Skipper Don Mattingly had no use for media suggestions that he gained “security” with his three-year contract.  He sought an expression of owner “confidence,” he said, not financial comfort: “I wanted a sign they believed I could do the job.”

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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.)

 

Team West Virginia Losing in Health/Safety League

 

(Posted 2/11/14)

 

In the off-season of 1969, advice Curt Flood set a precedent for ballplayers: he told the St.Louis Cardinals he didn’t want to go to Philadelphia, treatment where they were trading him.  He had nothing against Philadelphia; he was happy – for business as well as family reasons – in St.Louis, decease and preferred to stay.

 

It was the start, we know, of a movement that would free players from being sent where their owners wanted them to go.  They could say “no, thanks,” (if they had been around long enough) and not lose their livelihood, as Flood did.   Today, that professional independence means a politically sensitive player might refuse to go to Miami or Tampa Bay because of  Florida’s demonstrably dangerous law permitting people to carry concealed weapons into public places.  Arizona, too, might be objectionable for some players because of the state’s prejudicial attitude towards Latinos.

 

Lately, the least attractive state where one can be sent, whether ballplayer or business person, is West Virginia.  A chemical spill last month that left 300,000 people without drinking water is the most recent of a series of serious environment-related accidents.  Evidence indicates that all – including two fatal mining disasters – could have been avoided with proper regulation.

 

Said the NY Times Monday: “(The situation) has spiraled into a crisis of confidence in state and federal authorities…and threatens a political crisis in a state where lawmakers have long supported the coal and chemical industries.”

 

On NPR not long ago, prize-winning Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward spoke about the front-office role behind the emergency, explaining why West Virginia has resisted reform throughout its history.  He described the triple play in which the state’s elected officials, its private sector, and Team USA combine to defeat through delay any regulatory action that threatens chemical plant or mining jobs:

 

“Industry officials didn’t like (federal) recommendations. They insisted there’s enough regulation already and that agencies like the EPA and OSHA do enough…There seem(ed) to be this idea… that somehow these (federal) agencies…are kicking down the gates of manufacturing facilities and stomping out jobs, when in fact a lot of these facilities will go for years and years without ever seeing (federal) inspectors.

 

“West Virginia political leaders are very big on pounding the table and talking about the Obama administration’s war on coal, and how burdensome government regulation is… (Dem) Senator (James) Manchin, who used to be our governor, (learned) a few years ago after the 2010  Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster, which killed 29 workers… that the mine was just a mess. (He then) said, well, if that mine was such a mess, why didn’t  the federal Mine Safety (people), shut it down? (Yet)… if prior to that April 5, 2010 explosion, a regulatory agency had shut down a coal mine, my guess is that Senator Manchin would have been… complaining that the Obama administration was costing our state jobs.”

 

Ward talked of a culture of deregulation, involving big-ticket lawyers who profit from going to court to stop federal intervention; it includes the local office-holders as well as industry people and the victimized workers themselves.  He says that, until community leaders – politicians especially – “stop putting jobs ahead of public safety,” West Virginians will continue to be exposed to sub-standard health protection.

 

One Small Step: The state’s lone professional team is the West Virginia Power, a Class A Pirates farm based in Charleston.  If player agents started asking the Pirates to keep their clients out of West Virginia until it is no longer such a hazardous place, media mention might help edge along the needed reforms.

 

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On Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel…who has averaged 46 saves in three seasons as a closer while striking out just under 15 batters per nine innings.  He’s asking for $9 million next season; the Braves are offering $6.55m.  Arbitration is scheduled for next Monday.  “A win for Kimbrel would be important for the players’ union in that it would establish a new precedent for the salaries of young closers (even though, as far as young closers go, Kimbrel is one of a kind). It would amount to a shot to the Braves and teams (that consistently choose to go to arbitration).” – Ben Reiter, SN

 

Logic…suggests that Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, the four standout players still unsigned, will end up back with their 2013 clubs, the Rangers, Red Sox, Royals and Indians.  We know why: They won’t cost those former teams a draft pick, as they will if signed by someone else.  The one possible exception: Cruz, in whom the Mariners reportedly have serious interest.

 

From the Ralph Kiner Archive: Everybody (of a certain age) seems to have – that is, to repeat – a Ralph Kiner story.  Kiner, the Pirates’ HR king and longtime Mets broadcaster, died last week at 91.  He was a ladies man who dated Elizabeth Taylor, among other celeb starlets.  Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker tells of Kiner greeting Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis at a Mets game. “I dated your mother,” he said.  “Daddy!” she replied.

 

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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.)

 

Somewhere Fans Are Happy, But Not in National Ballpark

(Posted 2/8/14)

At the Dodger FanFest in LA last weekend, usa the team’s eternal broadcaster Vin Scully talked of the incomparable joy that abounded last season in response to a winning ballclub:  “The happiest fans I’ve ever seen” and the “happiest team I’ve seen in years.”  Scully said he was looking forward to even more unprecedented enthusiasm on the field and in the stands in 2014.

It became clear last year that, sales troche while spending lavishly, the new Dodger owners put together a formidable collection of players, a team capable of dominating their league, and all of Baseball.  The Dodgers thus stand as a sporting reflection of what many in the national ballpark have for years seen as an exceptional coast-to-coast home team.

What has made the U.S. exceptional – in the view of righthanders, in particular – is this,says Peter Beinart in the National Journal magazine: America’s three approaches that differ from the way Europeans play the game: “Our belief in organized religion; our belief that America has a special mission to spread freedom in the world; and our belief that we are a classless society where, through limited government and free enterprise, anyone can get ahead.”

Some of us have noted in the attitudes of younger members of our families what a Pew Survey has shown (as cited by Beinart): that, whereas only one in 20 Americans said they had no religious affiliation in 1972, one in five say it today; it’s one in three of those born late in the last century.  As to the idea of acceptance of Team USA playing an exceptional global role, young Americans want it to do less overseas than it has been, and in concert with allies rather than virtually alone.

Finally, young Americans swing out against the economic exceptionalism pitch.  Their rejection is supported by studies showing upward mobility to be rarer in the U.S. than in most of Europe.  The lack of that mobility has led to a class consciousness among the young seldom voiced until now.  The Pew study found that more Americans under 30 now favor som over capitalism.

Beinart sees hope that the shading-to-left young players will bring reforms – and changes in national attitude – as they constitute a larger share of the electorate – rising  from 29 percent of eligible voters in 2012 to a projected 36 percent in 2016 and 39 percent in 2020. (With their numbers) they are creating a constituency for politicians willing to both acknowledge America’s (shortcomings) and try to remedy (them).”

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Cruz’s Cross: On MLB-TV the other night, the panel found a culprit as to why Nelson Cruz has not been signed as a free agent.  No, it’s not because the signing team would lose a draft pick (unless the Rangers decided to re-sign him); it’s because of Melky Cabrera, panelists suggested.  Melky went from a drug-enhanced stud while playing for the Giants in 2012 (.346, 60 RBIs, 11 HRs in 113 games) to a mediocrity while playing clean with the Blue Jays last season (.279, 30 RBIs, 2 HRs in 88 games).  Investing in Cruz is thus seen as a risky expense unless the price and length of contract are buyer-friendly.

Fish Ready to Bite? Former Marlins manager Jack McKeon, on the team’s 2014 outlook: “I think the Marlins will be in a position to do what the Red Sox did – go from last in their division to first in one season.  (Owner) Jeffrey Loria knew what he was doing when he traded away his name players.  He got a lot of great prospects in return who are now ready to win.”

Amusement:  A Sports on Earth piece entitled “Five Teams That Could Surprise” listed the overwhelming NL East favorite Washington Nationals as one of the five.  The others: Angels, Giants, Blue Jays, Royals (two of whom, the Angels and Giants, would surprise no one if they contend).  Also: an ESPN interview with Mets Skipper Terry Collins, in which the veteran  manager implied that the likes of proven sub-mediocrities Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada could make the team’s starting lineup; at the same time, he claimed with a straight face that the Mets have a playoff shot this coming season.

Reunion: Two of the standouts of the World Baseball Classic champion Dominican team last March are teammates again: Fernando Rodney, with a new two-year contract, joins Robinson Cano on the revamped Mariners.  Rodney will be Seattle’s closer, unless the control problems he experienced late last season with the Rays, recur.  The Diamondbacks expect newly signed starter Bronson Arroyo to be his reliable innings-eater self.  Arroyo, who has pitched more than 30 times over the past 10 seasons, agreed to a two-season deal with an option for a third year.  Arizona has two reasons to be happy with the deal: Arroyo’s durability, and the fact they kept him away from the Dodgers, who also were interested in adding the former Red to their rotation.

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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.)

Changes in Clout Occurring in Two Fields

(Posted 2/4/14)

Changes in Clout Occurring on Two Fields

Last year at this time, sildenafil many observers considered the AL East the most competitive of the six MLB divisions.  All five teams – the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees – were seen as playoff possibilities.  This year, on the eve of spring training’s start the day after tomorrow, the consensus is there’s a new contender for most competitive division.  The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds give the NL Central three-team-playoff credibility.  That all three made the 2013 playoffs buttresses the widespread feeling they will outdo other equivalent division trios in generating excitement.

Let’s run down the list: In the AL East, the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees figure to outdistance the standstill Orioles and Jays by a greater margin than will the Cards, Bucs and Reds over the Brewers and Cubs in the NL Central.  The two other divisions with likely three-team playoff races – the AL West, with Oakland, Texas and the Angels, and NL West’s Dodgers, Giants and D-backs – are shakier, because Arizona, especially,  and the LAAs could turn out to be weak sisters.  We see the NL East, and AL Central as two-teamers – the Nationals and Braves, and Tigers and Indians, respectively (although we may be sorry for disrespecting KC).

There’s a shuffle occurring in world political standings, as well; it’s not yet as defined as in Baseball, but observers abroad see it as happening little by little.  Team Obama is leaving the field in the Middle East at a deliberate pace while maintaining a holding-action presence.  It’s rallying days seem to be over – a good thing, fans at home say when talking to pollsters.  But the team’s reserves are playing with an uncertainty connected both to bafflement on the regional ballfield and their reduced clout.

The UK Independent’s Robert Fisk sent this pressbox snapshot of the confusion:

“America’s Muslim Brotherhood friends in Egypt have just been formally classed as ‘terrorists’ by (the country’s Field Marshal and likely President) al-Sisi, who is supported by the country which is paying for Islamist ’terror’ in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.  And Saudi Arabia – the key to the whole fandango, though no one will say this – remains a close and ’moderate’ friend of America.  Say no more.”

The Herald Trib’s European birddog William Pfaff offers this advice to the Skipper on how to respond to the game gone out of control :

“All one can really say to Mr. Obama is that American military intervention in the region has been the largest cause of the present chaos. Therefore the isolationist instincts of the American people, displayed recently when the president rashly wanted to bomb Syria, were and remain sound ones.  Don’t make things worse.”

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Football Talk? Yes: Mariners fans have reason to dream that their team will draw inspiration from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks and surprise everybody this season. New Seattle Skipper Lloyd McClendon should confer with football counterpart Pete Carroll.  The Hawks’ coach could perhaps help him devise a baseball variation on the winning regimen of Competition Wednesday, Turnover Thursday and No Repeat Friday. Or, McClendon could talk to the Seahawks’ two-sport quarterback Russell Wilson, who, according to his agent, will show up at the Rangers’ spring training facility in Arizona.  Texas acquired Wilson from the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft in December.  He played two seasons of single-A ball as a second baseman in the Rockies’ system. Suspect he will limit his spring training activities to signing autographs.

DH as Difference-Maker: How much difference does the designated hitter make on roster use in the two leagues?  Stats compiled by the 10 playoff teams during the 2013 regular season indicate a noteworthy  amount, at least, in theory: four of the 10 teams went through the season using fewer than 10 starting pitchers.  Three of the four – the Tigers (6), Athletics (7) and Indians (9) – were DH teams.  That their starters were spared batting and running the bases suggests rotation members benefited from less wear and tear than their opposite numbers in the NL. The Reds were the one non-DH team to record a single-digit number of starters (8).

Questions:  How is it that the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson only discovered in late January that he would need elbow surgery (which will sideline him for six-to-eight weeks of the regular season)?  Surely he had been throwing to loosen up long before that.  Does Kyle Farnsworth, newly signed to a Mets minor league contract, have enough left to help them, possibly as a set-up man?  Farnsworth, who will be 38 in April, had a 5.76 ERA with the Rays last season, with a 19-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings.  He was released and signed with the Pirates toward the end of the season.

Scully Retiring?  On his annual Super Bowl Sunday Salute to Baseball, veteran disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz (WNYC-FM) said legendary Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully would retire after this season.  Schwartz knows Scully, but there’s no official word from the Dodgers’ voice, who is now 86.

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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.)

On Being Fair to Privileged Teams and People

(Posted 2/1/14)

Yankee fans, usa ed who resent our repeated calls for a leveling of Baseball’s economic playing field, sildenafil say we are being unfair to them and, especially, to the people who run the team: “They shouldn’t be punished for their willingness to spend to build a winning ballclub.”  The fans recognize their privileged status, but say it was something they were born into rather than the result of choosing to support a frontrunner.

There’s little sympathy from them for fans of struggling small-market teams: “Tampa Bay and Oakland show what can be done with lots of savvy and little money.”  A pitch to extend TV revenue-sharing to include proceeds from local as well as national television coverage provokes accusations of class warfare from owners as well as fortunate fans. Such an arrangement would leave the gap between “have” and “have not” teams only partially closed, but it would be a significant step toward desirable equality.

Of course, connecting those “d” and “e” words is guaranteed these days to elicit cries of “som.”  As a member of the corporate league, Baseball takes its cue from people like billionaire investor Tom Perkins.  NY Times lefthander Paul Krugman reported this week on a Perkins letter to the Wall Street Journal.  In it, Perkins compared public criticism of the “one percent” to Nazi attacks on Jews in the 1930s. Perkins went on to warn that the growing rally here against inequality could lead to the equivalent of extreme anti-Semitic policies in Germany dramatized by the high-spiking events of Kristallnacht.

In his State of the Union pitch the other night, Skipper Obama focused on the need to raise the minimum wage because “Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” Mixing his repertoire, he also assured one-percent corporate money-makers that he and most fans believe their success is justified, much as Yankee and Dodger fans feel about their teams.  So, it was an “inequality-lite” event: better than nothing, to be sure, and perhaps the start of a rally that will grow into a game-changing splurge.    But it will clearly be awhile before economic fairness takes hold in either the national ballpark or the major league playing fields.

Bench-Jockeying the Skipper’s Pitch:  Not a single word on Egypt, where Team Obama has shied away from the ball, helping to clear the basepaths for the probable return of a “democratically elected” military dictatorship.  And there was this dubious delivery concerning the non-Egyptian part of that world: “From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.”  Truth is the O-Team is supporting the tyrannical monarchy in Bahrein, which is jailing fans willing to fight for democracy.  The rationale: We have an important naval base there.  Hypocrisy, we’ve learned, is a sadly frequent feature of the Team Obama reporting game.

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Obliged to Excel: “We all get why the Dodgers are the team everyone from the Rockies to the Pacific want to beat. Hey, they even laugh with one another that “we’d better be good with a $220M payroll”… They could have tried to bid toe-to-toe with the Yankees on Masahiro Tanaka, but respectfully declined. They could easily go buy Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez as if they were a couple of Lamborghinis in Justin Bieber’s garage, but declined. All along, Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti have preached the developmental line, and in those cases, they declined to give up their first draft pick.”  – Peter Gammons, Daily Gammons 

Bucs Pondering a Burnett Return:The Pirates are trying to decide if investing around $15 million to get A.J. Burnett to return from another season makes sense.  Burnett led NL starters with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings last season.  He went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA.  Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette suggests that the Yankees set the salary bar for Burnett when they agreed to pay 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda $16 million for 2014.  Kuroda went 11-13 last season, with an ERA of 3:31.

Local Interest in A.J. The Orioles, who have done little to upgrade during the off-season (and have now lost sometime-ace Jason Hammel to the Cubs) are apparently hoping to get Burnett for a local discount.  A.J. lives not far from Baltimore and had considered retiring to spend more time with his family.  He’d obviously see much more of them as an Oriole than with any other team.  The Phillies rank as a not-too-distant second in nearby-ness.                                                                            

Happy Reminder:  As of Saturday, the three non-Baseball months are behind us.  Spring training begins next Thursday, when the Diamondbacks open camp in preparation for an early start in Australia against the Dodgers. They’ll play two games in late March, a week before the other teams begin their season.

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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.)