The Nub

A Political Pitch to Former Collegians Now in MLB

(Posted 7/26/14)

The stats vary from year to year, canada cure but at least 10 percent of players drafted out of college make it to the majors during their baseball careers.  The percentage fluctuates as new former collegiate players are annually added to rosters; that addition usually happens in greater numbers than   subtractions from the group through demotion or retirement.  Still, buy even if only a minimal 10 percent of the 750 players on the 30 MLB teams are former college draftees, ed 75 are dues-paying members of the Baseball union, the Major League Players Association (MLPA). 

We bring up this background as part of an intermittent, admittedly long-shot-effort to persuade the MLPA to use its clout in support of issues with which its players are familiar. Red Sox Nation Senator Elizabeth Warren brought up one in Detroit the other day: “We believe,” she told a rally of progressives, “that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt.”  It’s the debt that accumulates from borrowing to pay for a college education; the average per graduating student is roughly $25,000.  That’s a burden former ballplaying students know about, even if they benefited from sports-related scholarships. More importantly, the average debt level, rising each year, discourages students from struggling families to attend college.

The players union could make a collective pitch in support of a Senate bill that would save students about $2,000 on their debt.  Introduced last month by Warren, the savings would come through subsidies provided by taxes on the one percent. Team GOP Senate members collaborated to keep the bill off the field.   Warren says she’ll keep trying to get it out of the on-deck circle.   Last Sunday, the Yankees hosted a salute to the military that included a paratroop landing on Stadium turf and camouflage-style numerals on pinstripe uniforms.  The union could make a bigger splash with a simple press release that might include names like Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State) and David Price (Vanderbilt), among others. It is just possible the players might influence baseball-loving, hit-to-right Senators, to change their stance and join the Warren-led rally.

                                              –      –       –                                       

What We Know:  In only one of six divisions do we dare to pick a winner while it’s still only July:  No team in the AL Central figures to catch the Tigers (especially with addition of Joakim Soria).  If there is a “Prove-You’re-For-Real” series under way this weekend, it is in Seattle.  The Mariners, a shaky factor in the AL wild card race, can demonstrate they’re not so shaky, after all, by preventing an Orioles sweep. The O’s are two-for-two, having won , 2-1, last night  The Blue Jays have time to prove that they are playoff-competitive, but asserting themselves this weekend at Yankee Stadium would help confirm their credibility. The Jays lost their 17th in row at the Stadium last night, 6-4.   The Yankees, based on their history (and financial flexibility), have less to prove. Whichever team wins the Red Sox-Rays series will make what we consider a persuasive case that it is still alive in the five-club AL East scramble. The Rays won last night, 6-4.

In the Other League:  The Dodgers-Giants series in SF will only minimally affect the NL West race.  Those teams will finish one/two (one way or the other). SF is a half-game ahead, after losing to the LADs, 8-1, last night.  The possible heartbreak to watch for: the number two finisher failing to make the wild card.  The Brewers lost to the Mets last night, but their three NL Central competitors, the  Cardinals, Pirates and Reds lost, too; so Milwaukee remains a credible three games ahead in that division.

Not ‘Holy’ Anymore: We complained, not long ago, about customer-unfriendly aspects of Yankee Stadium, which surely prevail at some other ballparks.  Jim (“Ball Four”) Bouton amplifies one of our major gripes in the Boston Globe: “They’re pounding you with advertising from the moment you walk in the stadium. You can’t even think anymore. When I went to ballparks like the Polo Grounds, it was like a holy place.  Quiet.  You could hear the crack of the bat at batting practice.”  (Quoted by the Globe’s Stan Grossfeld)

                                                             -o-

  (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.)

 

The Bias Game: Its Influence on Both Fields

(Posted 7/22/14)

Mid-Season Musings:  A week after the All-Star game we wonder about Derek Jeter and Adam Wainwright: why admire one, buy view and feel affection for the other?   Both are terrific ballplayers and good guys. Jeter has performed with excellence and behaved impeccably for two decades.  Wainwright, tadalafil around for half the time, purchase is known for his consistency and dominance.  He’s also known now as the All-Star interviewee who said he “grooved” a pitch when Jeter led off for the AL.  Jeter called the annual spectacle “unique,” praised his fellow players and everybody involved in putting the event together.

Reflecting on that, we understand why we like Adam and respect Derek: Wainwright tells us, in effect, who he is – a straight-talking country boy, signed out of a Georgia high school.  Derek, New Jersey-born, and raised in the small city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, learned to protect his privacy when going to bat verbally.  He’s honed that discipline throughout his career. Without consciously comparing them, we remember preferring to hear Jeter’s teammate Andy Pettitte to the Captain.  Pettitte, like Wainwright, told us who he was – a baseball player second, a family man first.  To like him was a bias, maybe, but a benign one.

When thinking about bias – the malevolent kind – on the political field, the corporate media’s constant low-bridging of Vladimir Putin leads the finger-pointing league.  A year ago, Putin saved Team Obama from foolhardiness with regard to Syria, helped arrange talks with Iran, all the while preparing to stage what would be a successful Winter Olympics.  Our response: playing a devious – but transparent – role in pulling Ukraine toward the West away from neighboring Russia, and making Putin the heavy when that game triggered a pro-Russian military rally the East.  Now, Putin is seen as surely to blame for downing the Malaysian jetliner – Skipper Obama’s charge, amplified by the media.  Vlad is no Pettitte or Wainwright; he’s just as devious and underhanded as, say, Ryan Braun or Team Obama..  But there should be at least a minimal effort to balance the calls on both sides of that particular plate.      

Fascinated for years, by the NY Times’ overt biases for Israel and against Venezuela, we had occasion to take up the subject with a former top Times editor.  We didn’t ask about Israel; the paper diligently reflects government policy driven by domestic politics, a policy supported by a large portion of Times readership. (We would prefer that the bias be expressed editorially rather than in news stories, but gave that a purposeful pass.)  About Venezuela, we asked if the paper’s negativity – again reflecting government policy – connects to a corporate interest in that nation’s oil? The editor said no: “We hate dictators; it’s as simple as that.”  Even if they are democratically elected? (we replied).  “Yes,” he said, acknowledging the inconsistency with a what-can-you-do shrug.

                                                              –        –        –

Dealmakers?  With the waiver-free trade deadline a week-and-a-bit away, particular series results can signal last-minute deals.  The Rays-Cardinals matchup beginning tonight – although only two games – may well decide whether David  Price will be staying in Tampa Bay or going, perhaps, to St.Louis for a passel of touted Redbird farmhands.  The Reds, minus injured Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips (for at least five weeks more), will know just how desperate they are to deal, after the current three-gamer in Milwaukee. The Brewers won the opener last night, 5-2.

Shortening Up:  Jim (“Ball Four”) Bouton, who extended his decade-plus MLB career as a knuckleballer, has a good suggestion – we think – for shortening games: “Get into the batter’s box for Chrissakes and stay there,” he says. “If you want to step out, fine, but the pitcher can pitch the ball.  If the batter chooses not to step in, that’s his problem.” – quoted by Stan Grossfeld, Boston Globe

Streakers: Red Sox +5, Rays +5, Cubs – 5, Rockies – 6

                                                             -o-

 (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.)

 

 

Cringe-Time Over Trade-Deadline Misplays Worldwide

(Posted 7/19/14)

 Attentive fans know that Baseball’s “do something” period peaks between now and the liberal July 31 trade deadline.  Although not alone, best ed Mets fans, in particular, treat have learned to cringe at the prospect.  Remembered still is newly installed Jeff Wilpon’s and (GM Jim Duquette’s) fantasy a decade ago of overtaking the Braves through two pre-deadline deals.   They let prize prospect Scott Kazmir go for Tampa Bay’s Victor Zambrano, and traded Ty Wigginton and other prospects for the Pirates’ Kris Benson.  Result: the team went into an immediate tailspin, finishing fourth.  Those deals didn’t quite match the debacle in December 1971.  When, after their ’69 world championship season, the Mets finished a flaccid third and fourth in ’70 and ‘71, GM Bob Scheffing was probably pressured by owner M.Donald Grant, and surely by the local media, to do something.  So he traded 25-year-old Nolan Ryan to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi and three throw-ins.

Every team has a disastrous deal story: the Dodgers let Pedro Martinez go to Montreal (who passed him on to the Red Sox; the Tigers sent John Smoltz to the Braves for a short-term fix. The fallout from such hardball mistakes fades after a few seasons.  Not so on the political field, where Team USA’s drive to “do something” since the end of the cold war has been calamitous. The International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff provides a history lesson on the consequences of our recent post-deadline misplays:

“Consider the results of the American effort under George W. Bush and Barack Obama to bring democracy to the Middle East and to Afghanistan today — or indeed to Ukraine and Georgia.  Iraq is a wrecked nation and soon may be a partitioned state. Afghanistan has paid an enormous price for its liberation from a Taliban government in 2001. Syria is in civil war, Saudi Arabia deeply unstable, and Islam itself has been thrown to the brink of a sectarian war that could permanently wound a great civilization. Ukraine experiences regional and sectarian conflict, and Russia has been deflected from the pacific course of international cooperation on which Mikhail Gorbachev set it.  To finish, consider what this proud effort has done to the United States, its civil liberties, and to its own democracy.”

Separately, Pfaff calls the current Israeli-Hamas conflict “a counterpart in miniature of the whole American-led western punitive incursion into the Arab world since 2001,” resulting from expansionist ferment in the Jewish homeland awarded to Israel by the UN in 1948.  U.S. intervention to stop the bloodshed, says Pfaff., is” paradoxically, is the only thing (it) can do that might…save Israel…from itself.” One of the rare cases where “doing something” seems to be an imperative.

                                                         –       –       –

This Is a Test:  The Dodgers reportedly want Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. Given the LAD’s money and well-stocked farm system, nothing should stop a deal from going through…Unless the Phils still think they have a playoff shot.  That thinking is the key part of the test.

How is Robinson Cano doing with his new far-from-NY team, the Mariners?  MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby brings us up to date: “At the age of 31, (Cano) he has assumed that guidance role on a Mariners team on which he is the only everyday player older than 27…He is leading the Mariners in runs scored (49), batting average (.334), on-base percentage (.393) and OPS (.855). He is second in both RBIs (57) and slugging percentage (.462) to third baseman Kyle Seager, a first-time All-Star who has driven in 63 runs and slugged at a .493 rate.”  Robby’s HR numbers are lagging – only seven, when 25 per season has been what’s expected of him.  “I take what they give me,” he shrugs.

Overdone: We’ve been admirers of David Jeter since he joined the Yankees almost two decades ago.  The tributes to Derek during the All-Star spectacle, however, were, in our view, over the top.  So much so that we found ourselves feeling sorry for him for the repeated hat-tipping and responsive waves he was obliged to do.  “I’m just a ballplayer who performed well and kept my dignity,” is a message we like to think was on his mind.  “Although I appreciate it, this fuss is excessive.”  A personal repetition: best part of the extravaganza – the game counts.

Next Stop CitiField? Who can blame East Coast fans watching the Pacific Coast/ International League All Star game (on MLB-TV) Wednesday night, if they thought PCL DH Allan Dykstra was a chip off Lenny Dykstra’s family tree?  Lenny, a legendary folk hero in New York and Philadelphia, helped lead the Mets to their last world championship in 1986, and the Phillies to their 1993 NL title.  He’s made and lost a fortune and served time since then, but he’s remembered fondly in both cities as the irrepressible “Nails.” Allan Dykstra, a 27-year-old Mets farmhand, can’t claim to be kin to Lenny, but he can hit somewhat like him – 21 HRs and 82 RBIs at Binghamton last season.  Representing Las Vegas (triple-A) this season, Dykstra’s power numbers are 12 and 59 in 82 games, with a .282 BA.  He won the HR Derby at the big game in Durham, NC this week. Now, if he could only field (at first base) as well as he hits.

                                                       -o-

 (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.)

 

Can Soccer Make It Here, or Fade, as Baseball Did in Europe?

(Posted 7/14/14)

Can Soccer Make It Here, discount prostate or Fade as Baseball Did in Europe?

The World Cup-generated buzz about soccer becoming a new major U.S. sport alongside baseball, buy football and basketball is certainly premature. The sport known as “football” abroad needs another 20 years, say respected observers, to gain wide popularity here  A decade after World War II, Baseball thought its time had come in Europe; fans there were ready to embrace the American pastime and, with a nudge from the media, make it one day almost as popular as soccer.  More than a half-century has passed since then; except for boomlets in Holland and Italy, baseball has fanned on the continent.

Milwaukee Braves owner Lou Perini volunteered then to be the sport’s goodwill ambassador; he arrived in France after being well-received by the Italians, who saw the game played by GIs during the war.  Perini sweetened his pitch to the French by hosting an elaborate luncheon in Paris for members of the national sports media.  The group’s spokesman thanked him afterwards before breaking the bad news: baseball would never make it with the French.  “We want our sports to be like war,” he said.  “The players positioned across the competitive battlefield, maneuvering to infiltrate opposition territory. The flow of attack and counter-attack continually shifting.”

Then came a breakdown in detail of why our sport couldn’t make the cut: “We note that in baseball,” said the spokesman, “there are brief spurts of action amid long periods of dullness. Our fans couldn’t accept that, being used to a different sporting rhythm.” Perini packed his bags.      Were he still around today, he could get even: soccer, unlike baseball in Europe (he could say), can grow as a participant sport in this starved-for-public-support country; the minimal money needed to organize young people’s teams makes it irresistible. But to become a spectator sport promoted by the media, we know for sure that sponsors will demand bottom-line changes: regular time-outs to allow for commercials, as well as bathroom visits (both part of our viewing habits). Then there will be the needed on-field adjustments: like free substitutions and doubling the width of the goal-space to encourage more three-point-like, long-distance scores.  No more 1-0, 2-1 contests: double-digit results the new norm. Transformed, thus, into an American-style game, a more frenetic brand of soccer could gain a modest niche on national TV.

Let’s hope, however, that logic prevails: some sports, perfect in design, with time-tested appeal, should be left as they are.  Soccer is one of those.

                                                     –     –      –                      

What We Know…at The All-Star Break:  The 12 teams that are double-digit games off the pace in their divisions can (arbitrarily, it’s true) be considered out of the playoff races. The Phillies and White Sox – 10 and 10.5 behind – given an outside shot at the start of the season, can validly still be granted a chance by diehard fans.  W-L records indicate the NL East is a four-team race.  It says here only the Nationals and Braves are viable. The NL West is an ironclad two-teamer, the Dodgers and Giants.  We’ll be generous and say that, besides front-running Detroit, KC and the Indians make the AL Central a three-teamer.  The AL East remains the only legitimate five-team scramble.  But the prize for the tightest division goes to the NL Central, with the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates within three-and-a-half games of each other.

If the Playoffs Began Today…this would be the lineup:  AL top three – Orioles, Tigers, Oakland; WCs, Angels, Mariners.  NL top three – Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers.  WCs, Braves, Giants.

                                                      -o-

  (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.)

When Spenders With Clout Play the Common Man Game

(Posted 7/11//14)

NY-area fans remember a year ago when the Yankees opted to play with a reduced payroll designed to keep the team under the 2014 luxury-tax level. Many believed the move was also meant to show the team’s willingness to compete on a more even economic playing field: “We can win without vastly outspending our opponents” was seen as an attractive lure to new, generic try equality-loving fans. An intriguing challenge, ailment it could not be met with playoff-making success minus the usual bevy of big-time reinforcements.

Now with this year’s additions of (the newly absent) Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, etc., we know the experiment has ended. The Yanks, in a two-team, $200 million-plus league with the Dodgers, are poised to make their money talk as it usually has. And they are ready to fight any majority-supported efforts to penalize them for their privileged position. Such strategy-switches are common in the game capitalist teams have played through the years. New Yorker press-box observer James Surowiecki found this in the record book:

“A century ago, industrial magnates played a central role in the Progressive movement, working with unions, supporting workmen’s compensation laws and laws against child labor, and often pushing for more government regulation. This wasn’t altruism…the reforms were intended to co-opt public pressure and avert more radical measures.” The University of Michigan’s Mark Mizruchi, picking up the story in the post-WW2 era, writes that “corporate leaders…”forg(ed a)post-war consensus politics, accepting strong unions, bigger government and the rise of the welfare state…They believed that in order to maintain their privileges, they had to insure that ordinary Americans were having their needs met.”

Just as Baseball can be said to cater to, and count more on support from corporate-box holders than from ordinary fans, so corporate America, buoyed by foreign sales, cares less now – in Surowiecki’s words – for “the well-being of the American middle class (whose support) doesn’t matter as much to companies’ bottom lines.”

Is there a game-changer we can hope for? Only the long-shot possibility that Team USA’s commercial clout worldwide will decline; that growing competition from regional clubs abroad will cause our corporate teams to redevelop a dependency on consumer-fans in the national ballpark.

– – –

The Casualty List: Of three major injuries confirmed yesterday – to Masahiro Tanaka, Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips – the potentially most game-changing is to Tanaka. The partial ligament tear in his right elbow will sideline him for six weeks, in the best-case scenario. The Yanks, with a depleted rotation, will have to hang on in the AL East race over that period, hoping that worse news on Tanaka is not in store. The Cardinals have a surer challenge: to show they can keep the pace in the NL Central for the eight or more weeks that their “indispensable” catcher Molina is out with a tear in his right thumb. The Reds will lose Phillips, also with a thumb injury, for six weeks. His absence will make it just that much harder for Cincinnati to stay in that division’s playoff scramble. The Yanks look to be the most desperate of the three to deal for big-time reinforcement.

What Price for Price? The WashPost’s Barry Svrluga ticks off the following former name prospects who were obtained in midseason deals over the past two years: Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, from the LA Angels for Zack Greinke; Tampa Bay right fielder Wil Myers, from KC for James Shields and Wade Davis; Cubs highly rated minor league shortstop Addison Russell, from Oakland early this month, for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Given the cost of those previous deals, what’s the possibility of a big deal for a pitcher in the next couple of weeks? Svrluga suggests this answers: Whether David Price stays in Tampa for the rest of the summer or ends up on a contender depends in large part on whether there’s another Wil Myers – or better — out there in return.”

Gang-Up Time in Boston: Anonymous members of the Red Sox are badmouthing A.J. Pierzynski since he was cut from the roster earlier in the week. He was a negative influence, not a team player, were among the barbs. The rap has followed A.J. from Minnesota to the Giants, White Sox, Rangers and now Boston. He’s clearly a demanding, no-nonsense competitor who can rub teammates the wrong way. But we remember Joe Girardi’s comment when some of the anti-Pierzynski shots were repeated to him (on YES): “I’d take A.J.anytime,” he said.

A Voice We Miss: Orel Hershiser reminded those of us on the East Coast this week how much we lost when he left ESPN to become part of the LA Dodgers broadcast team. During the Dodgers-Tigers game Wednesday afternoon, Hershiser paid tribute to Ian Kinsler, a teammate when Orel was a coach with the Texas Rangers. Kinsler was leading off first when Hershiser noted that “he looks like he’s going to run, even if he’s not. He’s a complete player; he knows that, by distracting the opposing pitcher, he’s likely to get the hitter a few more fastballs.” Charley Steiner and Omar Garciaparra share the booth with Orel. They do good work themselves on games that Vin Scully isn’t calling for lucky local LA area fans.

-o-

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

Rebuilding Plans Face Pitfalls in Both Pastimes

(Posted 7/3/14)

Attentive fans know what’s happened to the Tampa Bay Rays the first half of this season: injuries to key players and few farm-system prospects deserving of promotion.  The Rays’ success since 2008  – four playoff teams, tadalafil including one that made the World Series – has disrupted their winning formula: signing high draft picks with high potential, sales physician using some as trading chips to fill key holes, see holding on to can’t-miss players like Evan Longoria and David Price.  It’s worked until their draft-selection turn moved lower, and the too-pricey Price has become an apparent pre-free-agent trade necessity.

But, wait a minute: all clubs – especially low-budget ones like Oakland and Houston – have similar team-assembling strategies.  Sometimes they work, as with A’s, and Rays, up to now.  More often, whatever the payroll level, something goes wrong.  The difference between a smooth-sounding plan and its coming together is enormous, in baseball and politics. Team Obama is trying to sell a survival plan for Iraq, with John Kerry doing the pitching.  Paris-based birddog William Pfaff  says Kerry’s delivery is fooling no one:

“(The) Secretary of  State… thinks Iraq can be saved with a new prime minister to take the place of (Skipper) Maliki. The new one would make friends with the alienated and hostile Sunni citizens that make up some 40 percent of the country’s population, who in the past dictatorially ruled it, and were forced out of power…by the…Shia majority.  They can be convinced to forget all that, Mr. Kerry presumes.   One must tell (him) that it’s too late. (He’s the man who told us that he was going to fix up a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by this month.) Lots of other people in Washington have told the press about their equally unrealizable schemes for saving Iraq today: a new leadership, national reconciliation, appointment of Shia, Druze and (Kurdish) officials, a new parliament, a new and well-trained army, a national campaign drafted by the best American public relations agencies…”

From the vantage point of his loge seat observing similar strategies by European teams, Pfaff finds one consolation: “Americans are not the only people who formulate their foreign policy on what… fantasists think.”

                                                      –      –      –

Early Dismissals:  SI’s Tom Verducci has included the Rays among 12 teams he believes no longer have a shot at the playoffs.  No need to list the dozen; the standings do the job.  We haven’t given up on the Rays, however, nor on the also-listed Red Sox.  Unlike the five other divisions, the AL East is still totally up for grabs..

Streakers:  Tampa Bay +5, Yankees – 5, Braves +7, Nationals +5

Selig Sans Puffery: We noted in a recent Nub the objectionable near-reverence accorded the late George Steinbrenner by current and former Yankee employees, on-field and off.  The same Steinbrenner who was a bully, a loudmouth and convicted criminal to boot.  Now, Charles Pierce, a regular contributor to Esquire and staff writer for Grantland, has put Bud Selig’s record as commissioner into perspective.  Here is his wrap-up paragraph: Th(is is) Selig’s legacy — success and labor peace and nothing that ever would…discomfit the folks in the luxury boxes. Those people were his primary constituencies anyway. The rest of the game’s fans will be told to cheer Bud Selig into retirement for all he’s done for The Game. He has been a successful steward of the game’s economy.  Why anyone outside of a boardroom would raise their voices for that is beyond me…” 

                                                      -o-

  (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.)