The Nub

The ‘Do Something’ Play in Both Pastimes

(Posted 6/27/14)

Phil Plantier had a close call last weekend when the San Diego Padres surprisingly fired GM Josh Byrnes.  Plantier, buy troche in his fourth year as San Diego Padres hitting coach, generic doctor was the likeliest target as team owners decided to “do something” about the club’s woeful play.  Owners, like the Angels’ Bud Moreno and the Mets’ Fred Wilpon (who delegates often to son Jeff) know the model for getting the attention of key subordinates: fire their close, personal coaching staff choice.  Moreno ordered the departure of Skipper Mike Scioscia’s friend and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher early in the 2012 season.  It was Wilpon (presumably Jeff) who had Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens fired a month ago. Hudgens is a friend of both manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson.  In both cases, the people with on-field responsibility for the teams’ performance – including Angels GM Jerry Dipoto – were put on notice: they could be next.

The “do something” imperative is felt even more often in politics than in baseball.  But, as in the sport, decision-makers in political front offices are reluctant to target those truly responsible for making their team look bad.  Ever since the sub-prime mortgage debacle of 2008, attentive fans have booed Team Obama’s reluctance to do more than just brush-back banks implicated in the scandal.  Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged his squad was afraid of economic walk-off losses if it hit big banks too hard.  Finally, however, Holder responded to the pressure to do something: with much fanfare, his Justice Department team charged Credit Suisse (of Switzerland) with helping Americans avoid taxes and cited BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, for dealing with blacklisted countries.

The non-profit newsroom Pro Publica noted that the two brush-back targets were foreign teams and that – much as happens in Baseball firings – Team Obama was letting key players in the U.S. banking league get away from jail time, while warning it is ready to be “tough.”  Pro Publica’s Jesse Eisinger points out that, up to now, Team Justice “seem(s) to pass on (shady play) that might merit attention if the company involved were American.”  He adds: “The real problem is not that the Justice Department singles out  foreign companies; it’s that the way it metes out corporate justice is so toothless.”

By the way, we all owe a great debt to Pro Publica, an independent, hit-up-the-middle source of news.

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Closing Time: Derek Jeter had a shaky series at shortstop in Toronto during the middle the week, especially Tuesday night, when he made two misplays on the handling of a single ground ball/rundown situation. SI’s Cliff Corcoran assesses how Jeter’s turning-40 – and final -season has been playing out:

On its face, Derek Jeter’s performance thus far has supported his decision to retire at the end of the year. Leaving out his cup of coffee in 1995 and his injury-plagued 2013, this has been the worst season of the now-40-year-old Jeter’s career…But as Jeter muddles through his 20th and final season, he is actually having one of the greatest age-40 seasons by a shortstop in major league history…That Jeter has already played 64 games at shortstop this year…puts him on a…list of just five men who played 60 or more games at shortstop in their age-40 seasons or later. The others…are Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Luke Appling and Barry Larkin, and the not-yet-eligible but sure to be hotly debated Omar Vizquel. If Jeter can get to 86 games at the position this year, he’ll be on an even shorter list, one that eliminates Larkin and consists of just six player seasons: Three by Wagner, two by Appling, and Vizquel’s age-40 season in 2007. If he gets to 94 games, he’ll eliminate one of those seasons by Wagner, as well.

What’s more, Jeter is currently out-hitting the age-40 seasons of both Vizquel and Wagner.  Of course, in the context of dead-ball 1914, Wagner’s .252/.317/.317 performance in his age-40 season was actually superior to Jeter’s current line… However, Jeter is legitimately out-producing Vizquel’s age-40 season, when, as the Giants’ starting shortstop, Vizquel hit a mere .246/.305/.316…(So) it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Jeter to finish this year having been more valuable than Vizquel was that year. If that’s the case, Jeter could be in the middle of the fifth-greatest age-40 season by a shortstop in major league history.

Stat City: Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia: Which should be the AL’s All Star Game second baseman? Neither, say a consensus of MLB-TV panelists.  Houston’s Jose Altuve was their choice.  And these comparative, selected offensive stats tend to bear them out:  Altuve – BA .334, hits, 107 in 77 games; on-base pct .376;  stolen bases, 30 of 33.  Cano – .324;  94 in 75; 384; five of seven.  Pedroia – .265; 83 in 77; .338; two of six.  Cano and Pedroia have four HRs each, compared to two for Altuve.  Cano, who often hits third, leads in RBIs, 45, compared to Pedroia’s 27 and Altuve’s 25. Defensively,  Pedroia has made only one error in 363 chances, Altuve two in 365, Cano three in 307.

Streakers: Tigers +7, Angels +6. Rangers – 8.  Tigers now four-and-a-half ahead of KC in AL Central;. Dodgers only two games behind the Giants in NL West


  (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.)


How the World Cup ‘Surprise’ Connects to Baseball

(Posted 6/24/14)l

If asked which team deserves the label “most surprising” as the season’s halfway mark approaches, click two clubs come to mind: the Marlins, sales cure close on the heels of the Nationals and Braves in NL East, and a team showing its heels to the rest of its division. Milwaukee, expected to be an also-ran in the NL Central, took command there in early April. Skipper Ron Roenicke’s men were supposed to fade as the weather warmed and the Cardinals moved into gear. But here the Brewers are, still in the lead by four-and-a-half games, with no sign of falling flat.

Stats tell the story of why little Costa Rica, from Central America’s political hotbed (about more below), is the surprise team of soccer’s World Cup. Ranked near the bottom of the 32 competing teams, Costa Rica (population under 5 million) was assigned to a division that also included Italy, England and Uruguay. Those are three of only eight teams that have won the tournament over its 84-year history. The Costa Ricans upset Uruguay two weeks ago, and Italy last Saturday. They now advance to the “knockout” round of 16, leading to the championship final early next month.

Costa Rica has been proud of its political neutrality through the years. In the eighties, however, it swung briefly to the right, allowing Team USA, Skippered by Ronald Reagan, to train anti-Nicaraguan volunteers – “contras” – as part of the effort to overthrow the neighboring leftist government of Daniel Ortega. Costa Rica’s Skipper Oscar Arias belatedly acted to end that CIA-arranged purposeful pass in 1988.

The little World Cup team that Could takes on 0-2 England today at noon; a Costa Rican victory or a draw will clinch first place in its division before knockout time. (If a minor miracle occurs Thursday when Team USA plays Germany, the Costa Ricans, could, via major miracle, meet Team USA in the knockout round.)

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Luck, Mostly Bad: Speaking (again) of surprises, it will be a surprise if the Blue Jays, hit by the hand injury to Brett Lawrie and nagging concern about injury-prone Jose Bautista, maintain their AL East lead into the All-Star break. The Cardinals must get along without shoulder-strained Michael Wacha until early next month and fellow pitcher Jaime Garcia, out indefinitely. The bad luck for St.Louis reinforces the likelihood that the Brewers will remain atop the AL Central at least until mid-July. The most devastating loss of a regular has compromised Baltimore’s playoff hopes. Catcher Matt Wieters, out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is irreplaceable. The above negativity is pitched despite morale-boosting performances last night by the Jays and O’s.

Idolatry: The near-reverence on Old Timers Day Sunday with which Yankee broadcasters and former players invoked the name of George Steinbrenner tainted the event for some of us who remember what a loud, bullying, non-classy team owner he was. He is a respectful “Mr. Steinbrenner” to most of the employees he paid well. Ron Guidry was a welcome exception. The one-time ace talked of taking a nap under a training-table sheet in Boston before pitching the playoff game in 1978. “I was staying out of sight,” he said, “while the ‘old man’ was looking for me.”

A Why? Rule: Last Saturday in Oakland, Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli struck out, leaving two men on base in the eighth inning with the A’s ahead by one-run…Except, Napoli claimed he had fouled the ball into the ground before catcher Stephen Vogt gloved it. The home-plate umpire agreed with Napoli, setting up an ensuing wild pitch that tied the game. A’s Skipper Bob Melvin was ejected when he approached the umpire, Quinn Wolcott. Melvin was out of order because an ill-conceived rule states trap/catch plays are only reviewable if they occur in the outfield. So it didn’t matter that video replays showed the world Napoli and Wolcott were wrong. All of which raises a familiar question: why should a close, controversial play at any stage of – or on-field location in – the game be denied review? P.S. Oakland won in the 10th, 2-1.

Back to the Future: It was MLB-TV’s Eric Byrnes who noted the other night that Coors Field, known as a hitter’s paradise – and pitcher’s nightmare – when it opened in 1995 has reverted to what it was before 2002. That was the year the team began storing game baseballs in a room-size humidor to make them less dry-air lively. In the Rockies’ last 13 home games, 12-and-a-half runs were the average total, far more than at the other 29 ballparks.

 Streakers: White Sox – 5; Rangers – 5; Rockies – 7


(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.)


‘Frontier Justice’ Unstoppable in the National Ballpark

(Posted  6/21/14)

A month ago we noted that the Pirates’ Charlie (‘Brush-Back’) Morton had hit eight batsmen in eight games – after leading the 2013 season in that department with 16 HBPs in 20 games. Morton, leading again, drugstore now has hit 16 batsmen in 17 contests.  Anyone catching games on TV with even modest frequency knows that the more targeted grudge game of winging opposing batsmen is alive and well. A dramatic example unfolded in Arizona Tuesday night.  Rookie reliever Evan Marshall was instructed to hit the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, reviled by D’backs Skipper Kirk Gibson for his performance during his PED. spectacle.

Neither Gibson nor Marshall would admit to the deliberate drilling, but the pair bumped knuckles in the dugout after the pitcher was ejected. “Marshall had no choice but to follow his manager’s orders,” said MLB-TV’s Mark DeRosa.  “He knew if he didn’t, he’d be back in Triple-A.  The knuckle-bump confirmed what happened was no accident.”  D’backs GM Kevin Towers has publicly said he expected his players (and presumably his manager) to “protect” each other.   That’s the standard line skippers use for allowing the drilling war to go on, season-after-season.  The stance of Baseball people is that nothing more – besides warnings and ejections – can be done to stop the dangerous practice.

If the attitude sounds familiar, it’s because we encounter it often in the gun-violence game.  Take the case or Elliott Rodger, the 23-year-old Californian who went on a shooting spree a month ago.  After stabbing three men to death in his apartment, he shot and wounded 13 and killed three.  The commentary afterward centered on mental illness and poor police work instead of – in the words or The Nation columnist Richard Kim – Rodger’s “unfettered access to the guns and ammunition needed to commit this atrocity.”  Grudging credit must be given the NRA for using its lobbying – that is, financial – clout to stop passage of rational gun policies.

The immediate blame?  Well, Kim notes that the “The push  for gun-law reform in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre has not only vanished at the federal level, it’s been reversed in many states.”    Until defeatist fans in the national ballpark rally their legislators, the game will remain lost.  As of now, both fans and Congressional players are displaying the same what-can-you-do? stance about gun violence they maintain about ballfield “frontier justice”.  We therefore shouldn’t be surprised by this headline (noted by Kim) in the satirical scorecard, The Onion:


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Assessing the Sudden Scramble: On  MLB Now this week, panelists were talking about Baseball’s “regression-to-the-mean” time, when teams playing over their heads start coming back to earth.  The Giants, Tigers and Braves were  mentioned, albeit, tentatively.  There was unanimous agreement that the Dodgers were asserting themselves as the NL West team to beat, an example of ascension to the mean. The consensus on the surging KC Royals: they’re for real, and the Tigers may have an authentic challenger in the AL Central.  Little was said about the emerging likelihood the AL East will be an old-fashioned Yankees-Red Sox scramble.  Acknowledged by all: mid-season deals could be decisive in a few of the divisions.

Petey Praise:  It isn’t often that Dustin Pedroia publicly tips his hat to the opposition. But he did so Thursday night in Oakland after the A’s beat the Sox, 4-2.  “They’ve got a great team,” were his seldom-heard words.

Making It Simple:  Paul O’Neill, on YES, quoting a pitching coach on his former team, the Reds: “A hot hitter is more dangerous than a good hitter.  If a good hitter is hot, walk him.”

Friendly Fire:  You know a team is struggling (all right, “bad”) when its play-by-play announcer takes shots at obvious shortcomings.  The other day, in a telecast, Gary Cohn noted why a Padres shortstop bobbled a ball hit by Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  “He rushed because he thought Ruben could run,” Cohn said to partner Ron Darling.  “He can’t.”

Late Friday Scores: Oakland 4, Boston 3; Arizona 4, Giants 1; Padres 6, Dodgers 5; Brewers 13, Rockies 10; Angels 7, Rangers 3

Streakers: Phillies +5, Giants – 6

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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.)


Ike,Bibi at Opposite Ends of Aggression Game

(Posted 6/12/14)

Ike Davis has cooled off since he hit .326 with a .408 on-base percentage in May.  But the Pirates are still happy they landed him from the Mets in late April.  And many Mets fans regret the team gave up on a proven power hitter and one of only seven Jewish players on current MLB rosters. The other six: Ryan Braun of the Brewers, check the Red Sox’s Craig Breslow, ambulance the Astros’ Scott Feldman, the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler, and two players on the DL – the Twins’Sam Fuld. and KC’s Danny Valencia. The Mets are 28th in team hitting, and fourth from the MLB’s bottom in HRs. Davis showed in 2012 that he was a legitimate HR threat, going long 32 times for the Mets. Ike’s father, former major leaguer Ron Davis, complained early this year that the Mets put too much pressure on his son when he struggled at the plate last season. Mets fans have particular reason to complain now: after displaying what many considered over-aggressiveness in dealing Ike, the Mets’ have played a weak, ineffectual game in reinforcing their hitting-challenged team.

There’s always aggressiveness somewhere on the political field.  Many fans of Team Israel are complaining about the bold tactics of Skipper Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu toward Palestinians.  The boos of  left-leaning spectators were pitched in print the other day by the Tel Aviv-based newspaper Haaretz:

“It is unacceptable, in the 21st century, for a state that purports to be a permanent member of the free world to keep another nation deprived of its rights. It is unthinkable, simply unthinkable, for millions of Palestinians to continue to live in these conditions. It is unthinkable for a democratic state to continue to oppress them in this way. It is unthinkable that the world stands by and allows it to happen. ..  This is the truth, even if it’s bitter. America and Europe have kowtowed to Israel enough. Unfortunately, to no effect.  From now on, the world must speak a different language and perhaps it will be understood. After all, Israel has proved, more than once, that the language of power and punishment is its main language.”  ( Gideon Levy)*

Despite polls showing most Americans oppose Netanyahu’s aggressive stance on settlement-expansion on Palestinian turf – and his disregard for U.S. opposition – Team Obama continues, however grudgingly, to play ball.  Why?  The remarkable clout of the pro-Israel lobby in Congress.

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P.S.  One MLB team is managed by a former Jewish player: the Tigers, whose currently embattled first-year skipper is Brad Ausmus.

Wednesday Happenings: Among Ausmus’s many worries: Justin Verlander’s tailspin.  Verlander fell to 6-6, losing to the White Sox last night, yielding seven earned runs in 5.2 innings.  KC, with its fourth straight win, moved to within two games of the Tigers.  First-place Detroit is now only three-and-a-half games ahead of last-place Minnesota in the AL Central.  Ex-Yankee Phil Hughes is pitching like Mashiro Tanaka for the Twins.   Hughes led his team to a second straight over Toronto while Tanaka pitched another gem, this time against the Mariners.  In the NL meanwhile, the NL East gained a new leader – the Nationals have pulled a game ahead of the Braves.

 The Throw:  Veteran writer Joe Sheehan was in the stands in Anaheim Tuesday night when Oakland left fielder Yoenis Cespedes memorably cut down the potential winning run at home plate. Here is part of his description (of a play that preceded an eventual LAA win):

 The last that baseball had been spotted, it was on the ground somewhere between a frustrated Cespedes and a lot of very happy people wearing red. Now, maybe a second later, probably not three, it was chasing down Howie Kendrick like a drone. I hadn’t seen Cespedes collect or release the baseball, but I was watching the end result of those efforts, and as I did, my jaw released towards the sticky concrete of section 125.  The drone baseball overtook Kendrick and settled into the glove of Derek Norris, who seemed to be as surprised as anyone by the presence of a baseball in his world. Norris had little to do but to tag Kendrick, and he did so with such aplomb — ‘no, seriously, where did this come from?’ — that he nearly ran afoul of the new rules governing plate blocking.  A video review acquitted Norris and kept the go-ahead run off the board.” – Gammons Daily

What Comparative Team Stats Suggest: If team hitting/pitching/fielding rankings provide solid clues as to which teams look to be playoff-bound, and which not, here is the current outlook: the widely favored Cardinals are the only team in the top five of two of the three categories: pitching and fielding.  The one team in the bottom five of all three categories: the surprising White Sox, whose vulnerabilities may prevent them from staying as competitive as they now are.

Late Wednesday Scores: Oakland 7, Angels 1; Yankees 4, Mariners 2;  Nationals 6, Giants 2; Rockies 8, Braves 2

Game-Pace Picker-Upper?  A distinguished panel headed by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, including journalists George Will and David Brooks and others, discussed Why Baseball is the National Pastime, in Washington, not long ago.  The panelists agreed the pace of the game needed speeding up.  One simple suggestion from Will: “Eliminate batting gloves.”

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*Quoted in NY Times-published International Herald Tribune, not in Times’ U.S. editions.

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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 Win-Now Stance Hurtful Worldwide

(Posted 6/10/14)

Tigers, Giants, discount generic Blue Jays, Brewers, Braves: five of six division leaders, all with $100 million-plus payrolls or (as in the case of the Braves) a few million below that level. We know a sixth leader, the Oakland A’s in the AL West, is a dramatic financial exception; its $77 million payroll is fourth lowest in the MLB. Then there are the big-ticket Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, etc. still very much in contention for the top division spots. It’s a tribute to Baseball’s minimally curbed free enterprise system, a system likely to endure because of an upper-class insistence on freedom to spend for whatever’s needed to win now.

That attitude is affecting the game in which Team USA hopes to prevent climate change. In the 1990s, a scientific consensus set 36-and-a-half degrees fahrenheit (2-degrees centigrade) as the upper level of warming the world could safely endure. To avoid immediate discomfort, however, our team has delayed cutting greenhouse-gas emissions that speed the upward change. We’re now on a track, says Ezra Klein of Vox, toward a 73-degree level of warming. “That’s a nightmare for the planet…The world isn’t going to sharply cut emissions this year. It isn’t going to sharply cut them next year. And every year we wait the adjustment gets more violent — and more impossible.”

Behind our foot-dragging, says Klein, is political game-playing – based on free enterprise -much like that in baseball: The structure of the problem doesn’t mesh well with (our) strengths…Major policy changes tend to happen in American politics when the pain of inaction dwarfs the pain of action at that moment. Health-care reform, for instance, was meant to address the pain the uninsured were facing. The bank bailouts and the stimulus were aimed at a financial meltdown happening that second…Tax cuts are so popular because having more money now is way more appealing than having less money now…

“If climate change were an issue like health-care reform or the budget deficit I wouldn’t be a pessimist. ..But climate change has a ‘game over’ quality to it…Once the West Antarctica glaciers slip into the ocean they’re gone…Once the oceans rise and the permafrost melts we have no way to turn back the clock. As tremendous as our mastery of nature often appears, we are outmatched on the geologic scale.”

Team USA’s Climate Change Stance: Self-destruction may be on the horizon; but, heck, it isn’t happening too noticably now.

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More Than Just a Slump? SI’s Cliff Corcoran thinks Justin Verlander’s most recent loss – to Toronto last Thursday – was more than just an off-day. Here’s his take: “There are reasons to believe that these most recent struggles indicate that the 31-year-old’s days of dominance are behind him. In giving up six runs in seven innings in Detroit’s 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Verlander allowed five or more runs for the fourth time in his last five starts. The last time that happened was all the way in July and August of 2008, the only sub-par season of his otherwise outstanding career.”

Pacific Idyll: As mid-June approaches, West Coast fans have seldom had it so good, make that double for those who live in the Bay Area: the Giants and A’s own the best records in their leagues – SF, with 42-22, the best in baseball. The Angels have made clear they will duke it out with Oakland for division supremacy. And everybody expects the Dodgers to dog the Giants into October.

As for the Mariners…“I like my team. I like the way they go about their business. They are very gritty. They prepare very well. I’m very pleased with that. We’ve got our warts. We’ve got our challenges. But we do okay.” – Skipper Lloyd McClendon, whose Seattle team has just won eight of nine against the Tigers, Yankees, Braves, and Rays, all but one on the road.

Pinstripe Double Play: Cardinals color man Al Hrabosky wasn’t the first to do it, but with the Red Sox falling 10 games off the AL East pace, he was reminded the other day of the Sox’s key absentee, Jacoby Ellsbury: “The Yankees knew they were getting two for the price of one when they signed Ellsbury; as important as adding him to their lineup was subtracting him from Boston’s.”

Out-of-Control Oriole: The warm, fuzzy feeling we had experienced watching Manny Machado hit and field disappeared over the weekend. His unrepentant bat-swinging that forced Oakland catcher Derek Norris from a game, and his bat-throwing at third baseman Josh Donaldson: that bad behavior transformed him a fun-to-see young player to a less-than-admirable, troubled young man. Machado’s apologies of yesterday change nothing, in our eyes. Let’s hope Buck Showalter succeeds in straightening him out.


 (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.)


Oakland Connection: Baseball Now, Politics Then

(Posted 6/7/14)

Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado, Brett Lawrie: an impressive list of AL players vying to start at third base in next month’s All Star game. The fans’ heavy ballot-box favorite so far: none of the above. The popular choice, Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. A late-blooming 28-year-old, Donaldson leads the stat – or “metric” – that identifies to what extent a player contributes in hitting and fielding to his team’s success. That success is far from an overnight phenomenon. Drafted in 2007 by the Cubs, Donaldson was traded to Oakland a year later, a throw-in part of a deal that sent pitcher Rich Harden to Chicago. He broke in briefly with the A’s in 2010, but then spent two years in Triple-A, staying upbeat and focused when he could have sloughed off and sulked. 

Donaldson’s work on both hitting and defense earned him promotion in 2012. He hit nine HRs as a part-time player and learned to play third base, having started out as a catcher. The key to his success? “Not being scared to put in the man-hours (of practice),” he told Times-man Tyler Kepner.

Donaldson took Toronto’s patient and powerful Jose Bautista as his hitting role-model. Had he been looking on the political field, he could have chosen the man who was a model mayor of Oakland the year he entered pro ball. Jerry Brown went back into the political bushes several times after having served two terms as California’s Skipper. He took on the challenge in Oakland in 1999 and stayed for eight years before moving on to become attorney general of the state he had once governed. 

If ever a political player has put in “man-hours” that have led to Donaldson-like success, it is Brown. Where the star third baseman was determined to play in the big leagues, Brown wanted to serve on the political circuit at whatever level he could be useful. The experience at big- and minor-league governmental levels gave him the savvy needed to work a miracle when, in 2010, Californians elected him to be state skipper again. By then, the state had become what The Economist called “ungovernable”; it faced a $25 billion deficit that meant cuts in vital programs and widespread employee layoffs. Brown knew that the key to a miraculous turnaround was persuading voters to approve a major tax increase. They went along, and by this year California had a $4.2 billion budget surplus.

Presidential Possibility? Brown will be 78 in 2016, “too old” to run for president is the conventional view. But, according to The Nation’s John Nichols: “(People) close to Brown say he does not see age as an impediment to continued public service…(and) political associates and observers (believe) that, whatever he says in public, he’s positioning himself for the presidency.”

Far-fetched, perhaps, but Nichols warns that “any calculus that dismisses (Brown, does so to a man) “whose ability to defy expectations is unrivaled in modern American politics.”

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A’s-Inspired Awe: Seldom have Yankee announcers (on YES) enthused over a visiting team as John Flaherty and Al Leiter did this week with the Oakland A’s in town. Leiter talked about the A’s’ MLB-leading runs scored for/against differential, “and Bob Melvin uses 25 men,” he said, “to get the job done.” Said Flaherty “I know the stats show they’re the team that takes most pitches, but when they see a good pitch, their bats fly.” Play-by-play man Michael Kay noted in the third game of the series that A’s batters were forcing Yankee ace Mashiro Tanaka’s pitch-count to rise, “which means he won’t last the usual seven innings and Oakland will have a chance to do late damage.” Tanaka went six, and the Yanks won that game, 2-1, but Oakland took two of the three-game series.

MoneyBall Revised: Leiter and Flaherty spoke of GM Billy Beane’s practice of finding “baseball players” to fill out his roster – versatile, inexpensive non-stars who are willing to play a supporting role, and to be ever ready to step into the game. Said Leiter: “They know they are going to get to play and so they look forward to getting to the ballpark. The whole team is in on what they’re about.”

Tampa-Toronto Extremes: Once the consensus favorite to win the AL East, injury-riddled Tampa Bay has fallen 14 games behind first-place Toronto. Heretofore ever-upbeat Joe Maddon has begun to sound plaintive: “We just have to score more runs (and) hide a few of our blemishes. There has to be some Clearasil out there somewhere for us.” At the other end of the standings, Blue Jays Skipper John Gibbons, fresh from a three-game sweep of the Tigers in Detroit, came to this belated surmise: “Maybe we’re a good team. We’re sure playing like it.” The Jays won their sixth straight, defeating the Cardinals at home last night.

Late Scores: Dodgers 7, Rockies 2; Giants 4, Mets 2; Braves 5, D-backs 2; Nationals 6, Padres 0; Angels 8, White Sox 4

Streakers: Toronto +6, Colorado – 8


(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.)

Racism Among Ball Fans and Team USA

(Posted 6/3/14)

Baseball fans didn’t pay much attention when, on April 15, the sport celebrated the 40th anniversary of the homer – his 715th – that made Hank Aaron MLB’s all-time HR leader. Their averted gaze was not surprising; not after Aaron chose the moment to decry the racism that dogged him then (1974) and continues to do so now, four decades later.  Here’s a sample of the “thousands” of death threats and other hate mail that Aaron shared with USA Today, dating from his flirtation with Babe Ruth’s record:

“You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move.”

Aaron went on to hit a total 755 HRs, a record that, in turn, was broken by Barry Bonds (762).  Hank remembers the period as pressure-filled and less-than-joyful.  He felt isolated in what seemed a sport “meant for the lily-white.”  Aaron has kept the racist mail received over the years.  Asked why, he said: 

“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record.  If you (don’t agree), you are fooling yourself… “We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at… President Obama (he) is left with his foot stuck in the mud from… the way he’s treated…We still have a long ways to go… Back then they had hoods.  Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

Ta Nehisi Coates, in “The Case for Reparations,” his powerful argument published in the current Atlantic, identifies starch-shirted employees of the federal government and local housing agencies as clean-up hitters in the legal racist game to deny African-Americans the same home-ownership advantages whites received as recently as a half-century ago. The biased policy forced those denied to deal with profiteering speculators who guided them into sub-standard all-black neighborhoods.  The ghettoization led, in turn, to sub-standard schools and the deficient education that has handicapped African-Americans throughout our history.

Some of us have seen the exploitation of blacks in our own changing neighborhoods: several struggling African-American families installed in two-family homes as part of a play designed to encourage white flight and greater opportunities for speculators.  In response, most of us looked away, and moved out. Aaron referred to Braves execs ignoring him after he broke Ruth’s record: They were uncomfortable with the white reaction to their black player “(doing) something great…I was thrown to the wolves.”

Coates cites that prevalent stance in summing up his case: “An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.”  He adds that, if the reparations case leads to nothing more than a greater awareness by whites of their insensitivity toward the continuing plight of African-Americans, it would be a positive result.  But… “More important(ly)… the payment of reparations would represent America’s (coming of age) out of the childhood myth of its innocence.”

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What We Know (or think we do, with the season a third complete): the NL Central has  moved behind the AL East as a runner-up competitive division.  The surprise emergence of the Brewers as an authentic contender gives the NLC four possible division winners.  Despite the prolonged tailspin of the Rays, the ALE remains, in our estimation, a five-team race.  Our fearless numerical estimate of the four other divisions: NLE, NLW and ALW, two contending teams, ALC one. (No questions, please.)

Surprise #2:  With Mark Buehrle leading the rotation, and a slugging lineup, the Blue Jays have dismissed any suspicion that they are the ALE’s weak sister. Indeed, by the time they go head-to-head with the Yankees at the Stadium in two weeks, Toronto may have earned consideration as the division favorite.

Standings Spread: Only two of the six are single-digit divisions: we’re talking about the number of games separating first and last teams.  The two: NL East, in which the leading Braves are six–and-a-half ahead of the last-place Phillies, and AL Central, in which the Tigers lead last-place KC by six games.

Late Monday Scores: Dodgers 5, White Sox 2; Pirates 10, Padres 3


 (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.)