The Nub

Pondering Impact of Extended Winning Streaks on Both Fields

(Posted 3/29/14)

 What are the chances of the head-start Dodgers staying ahead in the NL West until the end of the regular season?  A long shot, treat maybe, with 160 games to go.  But not many of us would bet against their becoming the first team since the 1984 Tigers to run the table in their division.  If it happens, it will be good for Dodger fans, but a downer for followers of the D-backs, Giants, Padres and Rockies.  Furthermore, the record book shows teams that go all the way into the fall usually keep winning through the World Series: the ’27 Yankees, ’55 Brooklyn Dodgers and ’84 Tigers are examples; only the ’23 NY Giants failed to follow through on their front-running status, losing to the Yanks, four games to two.

So, when observing a similar game from the political grandstand – that of Congressional team players staying on through season after season – how should we feel about their long streak of victories?  John Dingell of Michigan has had 30 straight House terms over a 59-year period; Vermont’s Pat Leahy leads the Senate in straight wins – six – over a 39-year period.  Both are hit-to-left members of the Dem team.  We lefties should love having them stick around, but, as with baseball managers who overstay their skipper-dom, there comes a time to wish them well – as the Nats and Reds did with Davy Johnson, and Dusty Baker –  and send them to the showers.

New approaches are needed in Dingell’s southeast Michigan district, not just because he will be 88 when he retires at the end of the year; the same is true in Vermont, where Leahy – 74 on Monday – has been in office since 1975.  Change is needed because long-time members of the Congressional team become so secure in the support they’ve attracted from year to year – in money as well as voters – they lose their early combativeness.  Their laid-back stance extends mostly to minor league issues.  But their accumulated power can prompt them to take a safe, purposeful pass on major matters as well; decisions  crucial to the conduct of our society.  Gun control is such an issue.  Neither Dingell nor Leahy has fidgeted over the years about straddling any push for meaningful curbs on gun violence, including a ban on assault weapons.  They have a lot of company at the senior level in the ducking-away from challenges.  NY’s (Where’s) Charlie Schumer leads the look-the-other-way league.

Congressional term limits may be a non-starter, but frequent Congressional turnovers should be sought, whatever the party, wherever long-time incumbents have clearly slipped into a comfort zone.    

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Comfortable Cushion:  The Tigers, set to pay Miguel Cabrera $292 million over the next 10 years, must be confident that their 30-year-old super-star will not slip into a comfort zone as he moves toward the “down” stage of his career.  Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if a win-now team like the Dodgers offers Detroit a trading offer it can’t refuse to obtain Max Scherzer during this, his walk year.

Stat Shock: Obsessed with pitch counts, innings limits and organization-wide game plans, teams have spent three decades trying to protect pitchers’ arms – and they have failed so miserably, they’ve actually made things worse. Research indicates that 25 percent of today’s major-league pitchers have undergone at least one Tommy John surgery. Once considered a last-ditch solution, it’s become as common as the sniffles.”  – Bruce Jenkins, SF Chronicle

Translation: When asked to swallow names of teams bursting with 2016 potential (see Wednesday’s Gammons Daily, just one of several sources), we suggest having a grain of salt handy.  Salt-able nominees: Cubs, Marlins, Mets, Twins, White Sox.  A nice way of saying said teams, non-contenders now, don’t figure to be much better next season.   

Heartwarming Exaggeration?  “’Oh, he’s going to be good,’ says right fielder Shane Victorino, who has played alongside Grady Sizemore all spring and can’t suppress a grin when talking about him. ‘I only know Grady one way, and that was a guy who was one of the best center fielders in the game. I look at him that way and what he’s doing now, he hasn’t skipped a beat.’ Sizemore, 31, has played in 104 games since 2010 because of assorted injuries that curtailed the end of his time with the Cleveland Indians. He has had seven surgeries, including microfracture surgery on his right knee, and missed the 2012 and ’13 seasons while rehabbing.  He’s making a strong case to make the Red Sox’s 25-man roster, batting .310 this spring in nine games and showing flashes of his prime. –  Scott Boeck, USA Today


(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.)

Nationals, Hillary Set to Dominate? One of Them Maybe

(Posted 3/25/14)

On MLB-TV the other night, discount Dan Plesac and the NY Post’s Joel Sherman conceded first place in the NL East to the Nationals: “By 15 games, pilule ” was their consensus number. Season-ending injuries to Atlanta starters Kris Medlin and Brandon Beachy figured in the analysis. The Braves were – perhaps still are, to some – the only team in the division considered close to matching the Nats’ competitive level. Davey Johnson presumably could have been retained as Nationals Skipper had the touted 2013 team not failed to make the playoffs, finishing 10 games behind the Braves. The 71-year-old Johnson has given way to former D-backs coach Matt Williams, 23 years younger than his predecessor.

If the Nats are expected to win their race by healthy double-digits, a fair estimate of the equivalent margin for Hillary Clinton in hers is at least as wide. After all, at the moment, Hillary is the only Team Dem player in the 2016 presidential field. The record book documents her long years of experience as First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State. That Hil meets the usual seasoning requirement for players who would be skippers is a big plus for her. Yet, it also presents her team with a problem. Her domination of the field denies farm-system prospects – Maryland Skipper Martin O’Malley and Red Sox Nation Senator Elizabeth Warren, to name two – the chance to gain experience playing against big-time competition. Furthermore, it leaves the team with a hit-to-right leader who has consistently favored use of force over negotiation when conflicts emerge abroad. The scorecard shows she voted in support of invading Iraq in 2002 – something Obama opposed – and, as Secretary of State, took a hard line on Libya and Iran. Then there’s this: Silent on the plight of the “99 percent”, she recently assured Goldman Sachs execs (according to birddogs) that “Beating up on the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy – it needs to stop.”

Spurred by all that, progressive Dems are pressuring the party to find a political variation of Matt Williams – if not O’Malley or Warren, some fresh face who will remind fans that Clinton, like Davy Johnson, flubbed her chance to win while a frontrunner six years ago. Now, the over-the-Hil aspect of her game, featuring a familiar, play-it-safe approach to economic and defense issues, must be addressed by her teammates. They can’t, and likely won’t, let her run for Skipper uncontested.

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Lob from Left Field: One must ask, why should President Putin make further demands? Thus far, he is winning all the way. The Crimea vote was a triumph. So was his speech in Moscow: all cheers and tears of joy. He brushes off western sanctions. Once again he has made Barack Obama seem out of touch, protesting violation of international law when the world knows the U.S. is the country that ignores it most.” – William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune

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Breakup Imminent? It looks as though it could happen between Max Scherzer and the Tigers. The release issued in Detroit Sunday sounded like a serious rupture has occurred: “The Detroit Tigers have made a substantial, long-term contract extension offer to Max Scherzer that would have placed him among the highest paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected. As we have reiterated, it has been the organization’s intent to extend Max’s contract and keep him in a Tigers uniform well beyond the 2014 season. While this offer would have accomplished that, the ballclub’s focus remains on the start of the upcoming season, and competing for a World Championship. Moving forward there will be no further in-season negotiation and the organization will refrain from commenting on this matter.”

Motor City Scramble: The desire to find the cash to re-sign Scherzer likely played a part in Detroit’s trading starter Doug Fister to the Nationals in December for infielder Steve Lombardozzi and two lesser players. Now Lombardozzi has been dealt to the Orioles for veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez, as the Tigers scramble to find a replacement for Jose Iglesias. Gonzalez, 37, had signed a minor league contract with Baltimore. The deal makes the surprising Fister swap look more dubious than it did in December.

Cries of Texas: The Snakebit Prize as the regular season looms goes to the Rangers. Within a few hours, they lost their touted 21-year-old second baseman Jurickson Profar and their regular catcher Geovany Soto, each for eight to 12 weeks. Profar suffered a shoulder injury over the weekend; Soto tore a meniscus in his right knee. Shortstop Elvis Andrus has been bothered much of the spring by a sore elbow. The team hopes at least he will be ready when play begins next week.

Dismay Described: “He’s really frustrated — in his words, he’s devastated.”– Padres Skipper Bud Black, on Josh Johnson’s state of mind after right forearm soreness sidelined him for as much as a month.

Vin-tage Australian: Vin Scully, Down Under with the Dodgers, giving an Aussie version of his familiar intro: “Down here, we would greet you by saying ‘g’day, mate!’ And it is a good day, or a good night, either way.” – (quoted by Dakota Gardner, for


(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.)

Efforts to Even Playing Fields are Never Easy

(Posted 3/22/14)

It’s been two-and-a-half years, generic sick since Baseball’s owners and players signed a new labor contract designed to increase competitive balance.  How?  By pressuring big-market teams, either to cut down on spending  or pay big-time cash penalties.  Has it worked out?   The deal has done some good; it’s curbed outlays on draft picks and international signings, formalized escalation of luxury taxes and eventual elimination of revenue-sharing for the upper half of MLB’s financial lineup of teams.

When the wealthy Yankees  elected to join the austerity game last season, finishing out of the playoffs, it looked until the end of the season like elite clubs might play ball under the new terms.  The final playoff four, however – the Red Sox, Tigers, Cardinals and Dodgers – comprised three of the five biggest spending teams (the Cardinals the exception) –  thereby dimming any competitive-balance celebration.   In retrospect, the new deal was marginally helpful to small-market teams, giving them a better shot at improving their competitivc level.  What it didn’t do was eliminate income inequality, not with the Yanks returning to their extravagant ways, and the Dodgers firmly ensconced as the NL’s spending gorilla.

A rally for greater income equality was what Team Obama said the Skipper would lead, beginning with his State of the Union message.  Somewhere between that warm-up and the leader taking the mound, however, the pitch changed.  The Skipper and his team adopted the Baseball approach of cutting the anti-inequality fastball and delivering instead a pep talk about brightening possibilities.  On both sides there was an implicit admission that marginal help to teams and people, notwithstanding, no way could – or would – be found to stop the clout of the heavy financial hitters..

 It was Thomas (“What’s the Matter With Kansas?”) Frank who was among, if not the first to write about the Skipper’s “switcheroo” – from inequality to opportunity – in Salon:  “He shied away from the extremely disturbing fact that when you work these days only your boss prospers, and brought us back to the infinitely less disturbing fact that sometimes poor people do get ahead despite it all…(But) true equality of opportunity is not possible without achieving, well, greater equality, period. If we’re really serious about opportunity—if we’re going to ensure that every poor kid has a chance in life that is the equal of every rich kid—it’s going to require a gigantic investment in public schools, in housing, in food stamps, in infrastructure, in public projects of every description. It will necessarily mean taking on the broader problem of the One Percent along the way.” 

But the Skipper has spent the last five-and-a-half years staying in the dugout when organized money takes the field.  Like Baseball, he has all but conceded that he cannot prevent society’s Yanks and Dodgers from dominating the national ballpark. The Skipper has a dwindling chance to renew a rally for greater equality as this election year moves into its late innings.  The final score aside, he needs a persuasive effort to show he can be an effective leader over the next two-plus years.    

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League Leaders:  Dodgers 3, D-backs 1, in season opener in Australia. 

Telling the Bosses Like It Is:  The Mets can’t expect good pitching to carry the team unless they provide offensive support as they did when hitters like Darryl Strawberry, Rusty Staub, Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, etc. dotted the lineup.  MLB-TV’s Ron Darling said that this week, strongly suggesting the team for which he works as color man was not preparing to compete realistically.

Three Urgent Needs on the cusp of the new season:  Tigers – a solid shortstop to replace badly injured Jose Iglesias;  Mariners – a fifth-place hitter other  than Corey Hart to provide protection for Robinson Cano;  D-backs –  a front-line starter to fill hole left by sidelined ace Patrick Corbin.

Excellence: Rays Skipper Joe Maddon on AL Rookie of (last) Year Wil Myers – “He’s a different cat, in all the good ways.  He’s very loose.  He’s a lot of fun…He wakes up in the morning and he pees excellence.  That’s who he is.” (quoted from radio interview by Dayn Perry, CBS Eye on Baseball)

On the Spot: Guess which manager the SI team of Cliff Corcoran Jay Jaffe says is under greatest pressure this coming season?  Answer: the Rangers’ Ron Washington.  The rationale (per Corcoran):  The Rangers failed to make the Division Series in either of the last two years and have seen their win totals decline three years in a row. Washington, who will turn 62 in April, is entering his eighth season on the job. The Rangers gave him an extension last month that erased his lame-duck status this season, but it’s telling that that extension was for just one year (2015), whereas his last two extensions were for two years each. With Texas having added a great deal of salary by trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo, the front office can claim it did its part to help the team win.”


 (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.)



Splashing Cold Water on Teams in Both Fields

(Posted 3/18/14)

Snap Quiz:   Since the Yankees won back-to-back World Series in 1999 and 2000, canada how often has the feat been duplicated this young century?  Answer: not once.  How often since 2000 has a team played in consecutive Series?  Answer: once, troche the Rangers in 2010 and 2011.  Those stats are worth airing as an antidote to the not unreasonable optimism surrounding the 2014 outlook of the defending champion Red Sox and their 2013 Series opponent, the Cardinals. A cursory, cautionary look at the teams now:  The Sox had a welcome new manager in John Farrell and a healthy, catalytic leadoff man in Jacoby Ellsbury to generate positive momentum last season.  Farrell, the pitching-savvy skipper, will be on hand to try to guide his mostly intact staff into replicating the 2013 success.  Ellsbury will be playing with the Yankees.  Injury-prone Shane Victorino, a key offensive threat, is now 33.  Boston Herald’s John Tomase predicts that, “at least one” among Victorino, Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski will get hurt. The Cardinals have lost Carlos Beltran, his 24 HRs, 84 RBIs and .491 slugging pct. Jaime Garcia, who figured to be the lone lefthander in the starting rotation, has been sidelined indefinitely with shoulder pain.  And the team will field a significantly shuffled defensive alignment (see below).

The obvious point: things happen from season to season that bring unwanted change.  To paraphrase Charlie (The Cook Report) Cook, whose game is politics, “In some years, or seasons, the wind is blowing in favor of one (team). In other years, it appears to blow in the opposite direction.”  Cook is talking about partisan match-ups from electoral year to year.  This year, Team GOP has the wind at its back, owing, mainly, to its success in badmouthing Obamacare.  While you can’t always tell how the wind will be blowing from season to season, Cook says you can usually gauge the electoral outlook on a cyclical basis.  The six-year Senate cycle means comparing what happened in 2008 to what’s likely to happen now. And that, says Cook, is significantly bad news for the Dem team:

“(2008) was a year when President Bush’s poll numbers were depleted by the Iraq War and his handling of Hurricane Katrina, and further depressed by the financial crisis and the country’s subsequent tumble into a deep recession. The GOP suffered a net loss of eight seats that year. The Democratic success back then explains why the party has 21 seats up this year, including six in heavily Republican states, compared with only 15 GOP seats, only one of which is in a Democratic state.”

The math, showing current Dem control at 55-45 (including Independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Angus King of Maine), is demoralizing to fans in left, and even center field. Team GOP needs to win back only six of those lost eight seats to switch control in its favor.

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Looking  Good ‘On Paper’:  SI’s Cliff Corcoran notes that the Cardinals will have an opening day infield of Matt Adams, at first, Kolten Wong at second, and Matt Carpenter at third, playing together at new positions in the same lineup for the first time in a regular season game. And that doesn’t include newcomer Jhonny Peralta at shortstop.  Will bear watching.

Reasons for Hope: The news from Oakland yesterday that top-end starter Jarrod Parker faces Tommy John surgery for a second time, and will be lost to the A’s for the season, prompted research by Corcoran that yielded the names of two recent double-surgery pitchers who bounced back:  Both (Brian Wilson of the Dodgers and the Rangers’ Joakim Soria) made promising returns late last year and stand to play key roles in their respective teams’ bullpens in the coming season. Wilson re-signed with the Dodgers as a set-up man for $10 million after allowing just one run in 19 2/3 innings between the regular and postseasons last year. Soria struck out 28 men in 23 2/3 innings in his return last year and could wind up as the Rangers’ closer, a role he is competing for in camp with first-time Tommy John recipient Neftali Feliz.” 

Latest Take on Tanaka:  One run, three hits, six strikeouts in four-and-a-third innings: Masahiro Tanaka’s line Sunday against a mostly regular Atlanta Braves lineup.  Yanks catcher Brian McCann liked the swinging strikes Tanaka was getting: “When you have swing-and-miss stuff,” he said, “and you can attack the zone with four pitches, it’s special.  There aren’t many guys who can get their pitches to move like that.” – quoted by Peter Kerasotis, NY Times

We DO Mind: Author Cynthia Ozick, on her Times Book Review assignment to assess the 40s, 50s and 60s novels and stories of Bernard Malamud – “The reviewer has not read and is not likely ever to read ‘The Natural,’ a baseball novel said to incorporate a mythical theme.  Myth may be myth, but baseball is still baseball, so never mind.”


 (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 ‘Sphere’ Game in Baseball, and in a Political Battle Zone

(Posted 3/15/14)

How should we feel about the standoff between Oakland and the Giants over the A’s owner’s campaign to move the team 40 miles south to San Jose? The Giants, discount generic with territorial rights, generic say a team in San Jose would siphon off their fan base, so the answer is no. Bud Selig hopes to find a way to get SF owners Larry Baer and Peter Magowan to relent. The common sense solution, as we see it, is for the A’s to seek to replace the antiquated Oakland Coliseum with a new facility nearby (which is now under consideration). A move south would not only trespass on the Giants’ turf; it would deprive many A’s fans of a team nearby they’ve supported for more than half-a-century.

An American history theme surfaces in this standoff: it is the Giants’ right to control the game in its “sphere of influence.” Team USA declared the entire “new world” to be in its political sphere with the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. It applied the game plan throughout the last century in Latin America. That meant we could intervene in Latino affairs, militarily if necessary, if the game wasn’t unfolding in our interest. We yanquis still consider key countries like Venezuela in play. The record book of our meddling is relevant to what’s going on in Ukraine today. That country’s freely elected skipper was overthrown in Kiev by a righthanded coup. Since the rally, cheered by the European Union and our Skipper, was not in Team Russia’s interest, Skipper Putin swung out militarily, making a border area (Crimea) a potential battle zone. Team Obama and its corporate media camp-followers called Putin’s at-bat “aggression”, ignoring that he acted predictably to protect his sphere next door. Here are two views of the game, as seen from Europe – first by the UK Guardian’s Simon Jenkins, scanning from a distance (as are most of us), then by the International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff, taking a closer look:

Russia’s occupation of Crimea may or may not reflect Putin’s paranoia at the west’s muscle-flexing along its border. Kiev’s fight for independence may or may not reflect a justified fear of Russian revanchism. I do not know. I know only that neither country threatens us, and neither ’belongs to us’. Some people just cannot bear to be left out of a fight.” – (Jenkins)

“NATO has put observation aircraft into Romania and Poland, whose utility is unclear, other than as a signal to President Putin. The signal is meant to be that of America’s determination. From the quality of the controversy going on in the U.S. press and public opinion, it is also an unintended signal of something more serious – of ideology, confusion and something like hysteria in high places.” – (Pfaff)

“Sure (we add), Putin is a ruthless player who will win Crimea’s rigged sovereignty-surrendering referendum tomorrow. But, unlike our Skipper, he stands his ground on the field. Team Obama either looks the other way when democracy is spiked, as in Egypt, or joins the shifty anti-democrats, as in Ukraine. One thing would be clear if our media played fair: Putin is no match for America’s Skipper in the game of hypocrisy.”

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Box Office Stats: Oakland finished 23d in MLB attendance last season, drawing 1,809m fans. The A’s and the Rays (1,510m) were the only playoff teams among the eight that finished with attendance under two million. The others: White Sox (1,768), Mariners (1,761), Royals (1,750), Astros (1,651), Marlins (1,586) Indians (1,572). That’s right: the wild card Rays were last in attendance among the 30 teams.

On Mariano Rivera’s Successor: “I think [David Robertson] is going to be highly successful, no doubt in my mind. But the last hurdle is not how he will handle that success, but failure. That is the vital test, bouncing back after blowing two or three in a row.” – Rays manager John Maddon (quoted by NY Post-man Joel Sherman)

Storm Clouds Ahead? “The view among many players is that the owners are getting rich. (Yet) 10 teams had lower payrolls last season than they did five years ago, and revenue is projected to reach $9 billion this year.” – Bob Nightingale, USA Today, on one of issues to be addressed in union-owner contract negotiations after 2016 season.

Brave’s Challenge: “In baseball, our pity should not be for teams. As long as there’s been baseball, ‘you can’t have too much pitching.’ And teams that don’t plan for it should blame themselves. Our sympathy belongs with the exceptional pitcher, such as the gritty (Kris) Medlen, who evoked some of the artistry of Greg Maddux over his 43 starts (with the Braves) the past two seasons. Not many have come back from two elbow ligament transplants, but it has been done. If that’s what Medlen needs, the NL East, and all of baseball, might want to disavow its usual allegiances and root for him.”


 (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.)

Feeling Bad and Good About Both Games in California

(Posted 3/11/14)

Let’s agree it’s hard for many of us to feel bad for a team as dominant as the Dodgers. But let’s try, sale if for no other reason than it is class warfare-like to ostracize a team for its wealth. Yes, usa store the Dodgers have a balanced roster replete with talent, a farm system full of ready replacements and a front office already poised to go to market to meet any emergency. All of that, and a cool-hand Skipper in Don Mattingly. But there is something about them, believe it or not, that merits sympathy: a quarter of a century has passed since they played in a World Series; that was in 1988, when they took four of five from Oakland to win the title. Think of it: 21 of the 30 teams have competed in the Series since that time – the Mets, Marlins, Astros, Rockies, Padres among them – while the Dodgers were home, watching TV. Not quite a Curse of the Bambino, but a jinx that could shadow them this season.

It wasn’t a jinx that pursued Oakland’s former Mayor Jerry Brown throughout his career, rather a perception that he was a source of amusement. He never kicked the “Governor Moonbeam” label attached to him when he served two terms as state Skipper from 1975 to 1983. Brown remained on the political field after leaving the state house, making a bid for president (his third), running against Bill Clinton in the 1992 Democratic primary. He spent eight years – 1999-2007 – as Oakland’s Skipper, then, in late 2007, returned to Sacramento after winning election as Attorney General.

The haw-haws of a dwindling number of critics ended soon after Brown was elected state Skipper a second time in 2010. He brought an end to the deficit game that had been playing in the Capital for a decade. By last year, after hitting up the middle instead of his previous stance, pulling to left, Brown helped turn a $25 billion budget deficit into an almost $5 billion surplus. Visiting NY Times scout Tim Egan put this account in his scorecard:

“The California turnaround prove(s) some things, and disprove(s) others…First, raising taxes does not kill job creation, but it does annoy job creators. At Brown’s urging, voters in 2012 approved, by a healthy margin, a plan to raise taxes on the high end… At the same time, job growth has been robust… Second, one-party Democratic rule does not have to mean freewheeling spending. Brown is tightfisted; always has been. Democrats own this state. And if, through Brown, they can raise taxes and curb public-employee excess — as Brown is attempting to do — they present a serious rethinking of the D brand.”

P.S. Brown, who said he thought Skipper Obama could out-talk Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential debates, now “hesitantly” offers this advice for the president (at Egan’s request): “I would say focus on subjects that are ripe for decision and minimize the speechifying. Speaking a lot doesn’t produce a lot.”

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Trader Jack Jabbed: “If (Michael) Pineda comes back and is even a capable starter for the Yankees, that trade (for Jesus Montero) will be another bad one for (Mariners GM) Jack Zduriencik. It won’t be Doug Fister bad (to Tigers, for reliever Charlie Furbush, among others), but still bad. – Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

Springtime Dreamin’ “I like this team as a wild card dreamer,” – Peter Gammons (on his blog), on the San Diego Padres. The Padres could surely finish last in the tough NL West. But, has anyone noticed: at this stage of the pre-season, no team has been picked to finish last? On MLB-TV’s “30 Teams in Thirty Days” feature, there have been a series of fourth-place predictions, but not a single suggestion that any team will finish in its division cellar. Yet, it’s clear the Astros, Marlins, even the Mets, will be hard put to avoid finishing fifth in the AL West and NL East, and that the Cubs and Brewers, and White Sox and Twins are in jeopardy in the both Central divisions.

Qualified Food for Thought:  “Why not accept a $14.1 million qualifying offer for one year?” a Red Sox player said when speaking of (still-unsigned Stephen) Drew. “Is that a bad deal? That’s a lot of money. Stephen would be here playing with us by now if he’d done that.” – Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe

Out on a Firm Limb: Ryan Braun says “Say what you want about me.” O.K., Ryan: We’ll be gentle – “You are devoid of class.”


(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.)


Time Out for a Road Trip to the Green Mountain State

(Posted 3/08/14)

Longtime Red Sox fans know that, sales pharm in A.J. Pierzynski, discount online the team has added a catcher in the fiery tradition of their great Hall of Famer Carlton (Pudge) Fisk. Both combative players made themselves unpopular with opposing teams and their own bosses.. Pierzynski is always fun to watch…from a fan-ly distance. So it will be this season. But Fisk is on our mind because of an anniversary: his native Vermont became the country’s 14th state 223 years ago this week. Pudge is one of only 36 major leaguers over the last 120 years who were born in the land of Green Mountains. And he’s the only one to achieve stardom as a player. Vermonter Birdie Tebbetts, who, like Fisk, was a top defensive catcher, became celebrated as a manager.

Fisk spent 11 years in Boston, leaving over money squabbles with the front office. He then played 13 in Chicago; asked why he made the move, “It’s time I changed my Sox,” he said. Pudge got along no better with the White Sox brass. When voted into the Hall, he said his Cooperstown plaque should show him as a member of the team from Red Sox Nation.

Vermont has only one active major leaguer today, Oakland’s part-time first baseman Daric Barton. Politically, the fifth smallest state boasts three formidable lefties on the Dem teams in Congress: Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders (an independent who votes with the Dems) in the Senate, and Peter Welch in the House. All three have strong progressive records on nearly every issue except gun control, on which they are switch-hitters.

Let’s keep the heroin epidemic plaguing Vermont outside the baselines today. Instead, we’ll focus on political stats from the state’s record book, provided by Writer’s Almanac:

“Since 1856, Vermont voted Republican in every single presidential election except one (in 1964, it voted for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater). But beginning in 1992, Vermont has voted Democrat in every presidential election. It was the only state in America that George W. Bush did not visit during his two terms as president. It became the first state to allow and recognize civil unions between same-sex partners in 2000, and was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage legislatively (Massachusetts was the very first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, but it was through a court ruling).”

The state’s lone professional ball team is the Vermont Lake Monsters, of the Class A New York-Penn League. Formerly a Nationals’ farm team, it’s now part of the Oakland A’s system, playing home games in Burlington. Shortstop B.J. Boyd made the league’s 2013 all-star team, as selected by Baseball America. Twenty alumni of the team, including standout pitchers Jordan Zimmerman of the Nats and Tommy Milone of Oakland, played in the majors last season.

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Lob from Left Field:When Secretary of State John Kerry denounces Russia’s intervention in Crimea by declaring “It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of gun dictate what you are trying to achieve…”, you might expect that the next line in a serious newspaper would note Kerry’s breathtaking hypocrisy…. But not if you were reading the New York Times… or…virtually any mainstream U.S. newspaper or watching a broadcast outlet.” – Author John Parry, Common Dreams

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Composure: Peter Gammons collected this list of “no-anxiety” players after talking to scouts, managers and coaches: This spring, the name always mentioned is (Red Sox newcomer) Xander Bogaerts, in the succession of Evan Longoria, Chase Utley, Joe Mauer… Cliff Lee is the best pitching example. The Rays would add Wil Myers to Longoria.” – Gammons Daily

Discomfort: I can’t tell you how relieved I am when (White Sox ace Chris Sale) throws me a change-up. I can’t see his fast ball.”  – Miguel Cabrera (quoted by MLB-TV’s Mitch Williams)

“On this date (March 7) in 1857 it was wisely decided that a baseball game would be made up of nine innings instead of 21 ’aces’ or runs.

“The National Association of Baseball Players decided this. They were a group of men in New York and Brooklyn baseball clubs playing under what was known as the ‘Knickerbocker Rules,’ and they had just gotten together formally for the first time in January.

“They had agreed that baseball was ‘manly and healthful’ and should be promoted that way to young men as, they told the paper, an ’alternative to billiards … and other unmentionable night amusements.’ And they had done away with the practice of hitting the runner with a thrown ball to get him out, which caused fistfights.

“But they knew that spectators were coming to baseball games, and under the Knickerbocker Rules a game could be over very quickly. So they changed the rules so as not to disappoint the sport’s new fans, which might pay money to see them. “ – (Thank you again, Writer’s Almanac)

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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 Off-Field Game: Heavy Lifting for Marginal Players

(Posted 3/4/14)

Sixty-five years ago this spring, sale a New York Giants left fielder, capsule Danny Gardella, conceded defeat in his court battle challenging Baseball’s right to control its players, a control that had, in his words ,“the odor of slavery.” Gardella had played three mostly productive seasons with the Giants; when he was offered only $4,500 after his most productive year, 1945. He quit to take a $10,000 offer from the Mexican League and to sue Baseball for “monopolizing” his career at home.

Following a one-at-bat stint with the Cardinals in 1950, Gardella was sent to the minors and never played major league ball again. He found work in a warehouse and as a hospital orderly after leaving the game. A player who has completed three years in the bigs these days, we know, can count on a union pension and other benefits generous enough to sustain him for much of the rest of his life.

Non-Baseball union members around the national ballpark – especially those in public sector jobs – are experiencing financial setbacks akin to those suffered by Gardella. And, like him, the Labor movement itself seems close to conceding defeat. A “budget repair” law Wisconsin Skipper Scott Walker pitched successfully to his team’s righty-dominant legislative lineup routed unions in his state and threatens to do the same elsewhere. The 2011 law bars public sector unions from bargaining over pensions, health coverage and other benefits; it thus gives members little reason to pay dues, which, in turn, puts a serious hit on job-action war chests.

Neighboring Michigan, Indiana and Ohio have already followed Wisconsin’s lead, acting to weaken unions and cut benefits. Team GOP states around the country will surely be tempted to do the same. And Times-man Steven Greenhouse cites key Wisconsin lessons that suggest why Labor teams will lack reinforcements and be hard put to stop the trend: “Public sector workers say (the law) has reduced their living standards and sapped morale…(A union local president says) workers are worn down, having lost the legislative battle in 2011 and then the attempt to oust Walker in (a) 2012 recall vote. ‘Not only that, many workers have been forced to take second jobs, she said. ‘A lot of people are tired. They’re tired of politics’.”

The record book shows union corruption, hiring bias and featherbedding practices, to be prominent parts of the private- and public-sector scorecard tracking Labor’s near-terminal decline. It also shows that, until late last century, union contracts and jobs helped lift the country’s working class into the middle class. The rally against the movement, justified for cost-cutting reasons, achieves a dubious double play: it intensifies class warfare and cuts down the quality of the lives of the warehouse workers and hospital orderlies scattered throughout the national ballpark.

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Port St.Lucie Groundhog Day: “I entered Mets camp for what was their first spring game, but with a sense already of been there, done that. After all, there was the Flaw Firm of Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda in the starting lineup beginning, what is it, Year 4 of ’they need to show us what they’ve got’ portion of the program?” – Joel Sherman, NY Post

Won’t Happen Overnight: YES’s Howard Kay on Mashiro Tanaka’s likely biggest challenge – “He has to adjust, not just to pitch once every five days, but to coast-to-coast air travel, different food and eating habits, personal stuff.”

Concession Talk? Dan Plesac (MLB-TV), on what NL West teams must do to keep the Dodgers from running away: “They have to avoid long losing streaks; the Dodgers don’t figure to have any. On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine LA going on the kind of run that catapulted them to the top last season. If all goes well, a non-Dodger team in the division could manage to win one of the two wild-card spots.”

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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.)


‘Petty’ and ‘Predictable’: Reactions to Cano and Putin

(Posted 3/1/14)

“Petty” is one way of describing (as did Peter Gammons) how the Yankees look for citing Robinson Cano’s occasional loafing along the first-base line.  “Predictable” is another.  We’ve noted often how teams publicly devalue players who’ve left or been traded.  It’s another way of saying “You fans may have thought we made a mistake, buy but you didn’t know this.”  The play has become so familiar, buy few fans are fooled.

It’s not the same on the political field, shop where fans are comparatively inattentive.  Were they as savvy as ball fans, they would have spotted right away what Russian expert and former Princeton Prof Stephen Cohen noted during the Sochi Olympics.  He saw the rallying of the US media behind Team Obama’s chin music aimed at Vladimir Putin.  In an article in The Nation, Cohen detailed the “degradation” of mainstream press standards – failure to provide corroborating facts or context in the coverage, or distinguishing between reporting and analysis. He singled out the NY Times for publishing three anti-Putin articles and a lead editorial on the Games’ opening day. What lay ahead, the Times warned in a headline was “Terrorism and Tension. Not Sports and Joy.”

“Virtually every U.S, report,” said Cohen, insisted that a record $51 billion ‘squandered’ by Putin proved the (project was) ‘corrupt.’  But, as (the) Business New Europe (publication) pointed out, as much as $44 billion may have been spent to ‘to develop the infrastructure of the entire region’.” And what of Skipper Obama’s stance on Sochi?  Cohen notes, that “In August, Putin virtually saved Obama’s presidency by persuading Syrian President Assad to eliminate his chemical weapons.  Putin then helped to facilitate Obama’s heralded opening to Iran.”  Yet the Skipper opted to stay away from the Games, says Cohen, instead of going “to stand with Russia’s leader against international terrorists.”

Concerning the crisis in the Ukraine, Cohen made this point on Pacifica’s ‘Democracy Now’ about Putin’s underpublicized role:  Let’s ask ourselves this: Who precipitated this crisis? The American media says it was Putin and the very bad, though democratically elected, president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.  But it was the European Union, backed by Washington,  that said in November to (Yanukovych),  ‘You must choose between Europe and Russia.’    Remember—it wasn’t reported here—at that moment, what did the much-despised Putin say? He said, ‘Why? Why does Ukraine have to choose? We are prepared to help Ukraine avoid economic collapse, along with you, the West. Let’s make it a…package (deal)…’  And it was rejected in Washington and in Brussels.  That precipitated the protests in the streets…(behind which) a new Cold War divide between West and East may now be unfolding.”

A “new fraternal alignment” of Ukraine and the European Union – rather than a membership arrangement – is seen by the International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff as a way of resolving the crisis,  with Putin possibly playing ball..  We’ll know before long how Russia’s Skipper wants the ball to bounce..  The signs of a pro-Putin walkoff in the Crimea are making fans in the West –  and our Skipper – nervous.

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Brave Talk in Bay City: “We’re fine with not matching  the(Dodgers) dollar for dollar because when it comes down to it, it’s an art, not a science, and it comes down to judgments. Drafting Cain, Lincecum, Posey, Bumgarner, et cetera . . . Those were judgment calls, not money calls.” – Giants President Larry Baer (quoted by SF Chronicle’s Henry Schulman)

Catching the Ball: MLB-TV’s Ron Darling, recalling Jim Leyland’s tribute to the Kansas City Royals late last season: “I asked him if he thought any AL Central team had a chance of catching this Tigers? He said the Royals: ‘They catch the ball.  They make the hard plays and have my guys grumbling about the hits they would have had if the other team hadn’t been so good defensively’.” KC figures to be even more miserly in the field this season, having added second baseman Omar Infante and outfielder Norichika Aoki, among others.

Who Is Eric Sogard?  He’s a 27-year Oakland A’s infielder who’s played one full season with the team, batting .266 in 130 games and two HRs.  Few of us, outside the Bay Area, were aware of him until he defeated Buster Posey in one of a series of MLB-TV-sponsored votes asking fans to choose the “Face of Baseball.”  A’s fans rallied behind Sogard, prompting even West Coast fans to ask “Who is he?”  Sogard became a finalist in the competition, losing by a narrow margin to David Wright.  Now you – and we – know.


(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.)