The Nub

Almost Back Together: Two Baseball-Loving Franchises

Jose Abreu, best find Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, there Arnoldis Chapman: just a few of the 19 (on opening day) Cuban-born players who brightened the 2014 Baseball season. Most are surely wondering how the revamping of U.S. relations with the homeland will affect their status as exiles. Almost all sacrificed close contact with their families, a keenly felt hardship. Rey Ordonez, who defected from Cuba in 1993 and played seven seasons with the Mets, did not hide his problems adjusting to life away from his family. A new Cuban travel policy made it possible for Ordonez to return to the island in 2013. But he had retired as a player by then; were Ordonez still active, he might not have been welcome.

Americans able to make elusive travel arrangements have always been welcome in Castro’s Cuba. A group that included baseball fans made three visits several decades after the Fidel-led revolution seized power from corrupt Fulgencio Batista in 1959. At a playground near our Havana hotel on one trip, we saw a stickball game that replicated those played in schoolyards back home. Except: the rules required walking, not running, around the bases after a hit. At a well-played league game in the equivalent of a triple-A U.S. ballpark in the central part of the island, we and other fans were admitted free. A sign on the outfield fence explained why: “SPORTS IS A RIGHT” it said.

The record book details Team USA’s desire to keep Cuba within its “sphere of influence” – that is, indirect control – after the revolution. The friction that caused brought on the still-in-place trade embargo, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Missile Crisis. That the conflict, between two baseball-loving franchises, appears to be easing after 55 years, should be cheered by fans and non-fans alike.

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The Feelings-Hurter: First, Phillies GM Ruben (tell-it-like-it-is) Amaro conceded that his team would be “rebuilding” this season; now, he says, flat out, that the team would be better off if a trade for Ryan Howard can be arranged. Howard’s big contract – he has $50 million coming to him through 2016 – makes that unlikely unless the Phils add lots of cash to the deal.

Tribal Quiescence: The Indians, who finished last in MLB attendance last season, are trailing far behind in post-season upgrading activity. Cleveland has added first baseman Brandon Moss from the A’s and free-agent pitcher Gavin Floyd, who went 2-2 in nine games with Atlanta in 2014. Two reasons for the inertia: money owed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Both are signed through 2016, Swisher due a total of $28 million, Bourn $24 mil. Both were injury-plagued busts last season: Swisher hit .208 and eight HRS in 97 games, Bourn .257 in 106. His vaunted running game was next to non-existent – 10 SBs in 16 attempts.

Batterymate Should Know: Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamachhia, on new Yankee pitcher Nathan Eovaldi: “At the end of the year he figured out how to throw a new pitch that is really going to help him. He throws hard and all of his pitches are hard, so this new pitch will help that out.” (quoted by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo)


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




The Pro-Peace Versus Anti-Terror Game

We’ve long felt that the accolades Bud Selig received as Baseball commissioner were overblown. Now, usa view the Yankees have prompted us to reconsider: Selig deserves credit for diminishing the sport’s economic inequality to the point that the Yanks are no longer thought of as the “Evil Empire.” Sure, ambulance the mega-rich Dodgers could become the MLB’s new dominant team, and Tampa Bay and Oakland may always have cash-flow problems. But Selig has left us – at least temporarily – with a team-by-team lineup featuring near-parity and peace.

By acting to normalize relations with Cuba, Skipper Obama has made a good start in a similar way toward teams in the international geopolitical league.. It’s a long shot, but we can hope he will follow up with friendly overtures – and possible prosperity as well as peace – to Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc. – clubs that don’t play the Yanqui – style of ball.

We know that Team Obama, like its predecessors, prefers to play the power game. The O-team takes pride in not yielding to adversaries. How it’s handling the hostage crisis posed by jihadists is revealing. Where the French ransom captives and celebrate their survival and release, America remains defiant. We “courageously” sacrifice the lives of our countrymen, unwilling to pay to prevent beheadings. Then we express outrage at the inhumanity of those who tried to bargain with us. A difficult stance for the world to appreciate; especially after publication of a scorecard detailing the torture that was our terrible response to anti-terrorism. – – –

San Diego Makeover: New Padres GM A.J. Preller has seized the off-season wheeler-dealer record in the last few days. Here are the prominent players he has added to his roster: outfielders Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Justin Upton (Braves), Will Myers (Rays); catcher Derek Norris (A’s), third baseman Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox). Preller gave up mostly prospects in the trades. The Yankees, meanwhile swapped Martin Prado and pitcher David Phelps to the Marlins for hard-throwing Nate Eovaldi and first baseman Garrett Jones. The Giants re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year contract.

Basement Survey: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland/Houston, Colorado/Arizona, Cincinnati: all possible division doormats accounted for, except in the NL East. Would you believe there it’s Atlanta, as dominant over much of the past two decades as the Yankees were in their peak periods?

Badmouth the Big Gamer? No Way: “(James)Shields had a 6.12 playoff ERA, fueled by two bad starts with the nation paying full attention — in the AL Wild Card game (five innings, four runs) and in Game 1 of the World Series (three innings, five runs)… (But)maybe the playoff record is just an arbitrary beginning and endpoint that happens to occur when we’re all paying close attention. If you’re hung up on those five starts, how about his three starts beginning Aug. 30? Facing the Indians, Yankees and Tigers, three teams involved in the pennant race, Shields gave up one run. One. Three starts, with the season on the line, working into the ninth inning twice, and giving up one run. That counts, too. If three starts with the season in the balance doesn’t do it for you, how about his last 16? From his start July 7 through the end of the regular season, his line looks like this: 16 starts, 110 innings pitched, 1.32 ERA. Maybe…I’m biased. But that looks like a ‘Big Game James’ to me.” – Brian Kenny, Sports on Earth


(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.)



‘Who We Are’: Whether Yankees Or Team USA

A scene at the close of Baseball’s Winter Meetings last Thursday:  Yankees GM Brian Cashman departing empty-handed, ailment looking, generic buy in the words of MLB-TV’s Brian Kenny, help like a “game, gritty underdog.”  Far from the usual way Pinstripe People are perceived.  The Yanks’ won-loss record at the meetings, 0-2; that’s zero and a big two.  They lost closer David Robertson to the White Sox and starter Brandon McCarthy to the Dodgers.  How could this happen?  How could the sport’s second richest team, with a $200 million-plus payroll, be outspent in competing for two key players.  “This is not who we are,” groan Yankee fans.  In this new era of expanding financial clout, that may no longer be the case.

Similar words were spoken by the nation’s Skipper and others in DC after disclosure of the Senate report on torture.  What we did, Obama said, was “contrary to who we are.” In Atlantic on-Line, author and CUNY Professor Peter Beinart, says the Skipper has taken a wild swing, and missed on the facts. Beinart provides details from the record book:

“In times of fear, war, and stress, Americans have always done things like this. In the 19th century, American slavery relied on torture. At the turn of the 20th, when America began assembling its empire overseas, the U.S. army waterboarded Filipinos during the Spanish-American War. As part of the Phoenix Program, an effort to gain intelligence during the Vietnam War, CIA-trained interrogators delivered electric shocks to the genitals of some Vietnamese communists, and raped, starved, and beat others. America has tortured throughout its history. And every time it has, some Americans have justified the brutality as necessary to protect the country from a savage enemy… After 9/11, while George W. Bush was announcing that God had deputized America to spread liberty around the world, his government was shredding the domestic and international restraints against torture built up over decades, and injecting food into inmates’ rectums. Those actions were not ‘contrary to who we are.’  They were a manifestation of who we are. And the more we acknowledge that, the better our chances of becoming something different in the years to come.”

A shameful Team USA tradition we prefer to overlook.                                        

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Head Count:  With the White Sox’s signings of Melky Cabrera, Chase Headley and Jed Lowrie, roughly two-thirds  of what are generally considered the 35 “name” free agents are off the board.  The still-available dozen or so include:: Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo,  Ryan Vogelsong, Edinson Volquez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nori Aoki, Michael Morse, Stephen Drew,  Ichiro Suzuki, Dan Uggla.

Lesson of the Matt Kemp Trade:  Every player can be traded, no matter who he is. Now that long-tenured (Derek) Jeter and (Paul) Konerko have retired, and Jimmy Rollins is on the cusp of being dealt — coincidentally — to the Dodgers, baseball’s longest-tenured players with one team are Chase Utley and David Ortiz, who debuted with, respectively, the Phillies and the Red Sox in 2003. After just 12 years, Utley (36) is likely not long for Philadelphia, and Ortiz, at 39, is likely not long for baseball.  Had Kemp played out his contract in Los Angeles, he would have been a Dodger for 14 years, but his trade represents a reminder that players who remain with one team for anywhere approaching that length of time are significant outliers. The business of baseball has changed.” – Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)


‘Do Something!’ Say Baseball and Political Fans

(Posted 12/9/14)

Until late last week, sales find the complaint heard among Yankee fans included the word “dithering.” Their team was too passive a part of the post-season upgrading process. The signing of coveted reliever Andrew Miller quieted the restiveness, as did the trade for the possible Derek Jeter successor, Didi Gregorius. Now, fans in Ohio, of both the Reds and the Indians, in Texas, of both the Rangers and Astros, and in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, among other cities, can feel similarly impatient. Four of seven top-of-the-market free agents have been signed – Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez by the Red Sox, Victor Martinez by the Tigers, and Nelson Cruz by the Mariners. Mega-ace pitchers Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields, as well as (among others) lesser-level starter Justin Masterson, and position players Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley, are still up for grabs. “Do something!,” say the fans.

The leading , and – for now – the Dem team’s only presidential prospect, is taking similar hits from the media. The prodding of Hillary Clinton is the inevitable brush-back to her aura of inevitability. The impatience centers on her refusal, despite her dominant stance, to go to bat on any burning issue that might elicit boos. The Politico’s Roger Simon addresses Clinton’s play-it-safe game and urges her to change it:

Americans want to hear what you intend to achieve and how you intend achieve it. They want to know where you will take the country and the world. They want from (their) Hillary what Hillary doesn’t want to give them: the ‘vision’ thing that she finds… embarrassing…(Instead) Hillary… will soon begin a ‘listening tour,’ the same shopworn stunt she used in 1999 when running for the U.S. Senate from New York…(Her listening) so far has moved her to silence.”

The scorebook Simon has assembled notes Clinton’s unwillingness to comment on the events in Ferguson, or the proposed Keystone pipeline. It also shows her polling numbers have hit their lowest point since she left Team Obama.

Pending emergence of a credible competitor, Hillary’s slide is calamitous news for the Dems, signaling, as it does, a potential 2016 walkoff win for Team GOP.

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Guessin’ Game: That the Yankees let David Robertson go to the White Sox is a signal Brian Cashman will go for broke in signing Chase Headley. That’s the guess here, anyway.

You May Not Have Heard This One: Most speculation at yesterday’s start of the Winter Meetings we’ve heard before – Jon Lester will sign with the Red Sox, Cubs or Dodgers, Chase Headley nearing deal with the Giants, etc LA Times birddog Bill Shaikin offers a new possibility – the Dodgers to deal for Jimmy Rollins, perhaps their “best hope” as fill-in shortstop in 2015.

Returnee: He’s not Lester, but the Cubs are happy to have re-signed 32-year-old righthander Jason Hammel, whom they dealt to Oakland last summer. Hammel went 8-5, .298, with the Cubs last season


(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.)




Strategic Choices: Swinging for the Fences or Playing It Safe

(Posted 12/6/14)

How to explain why Billy Beane traded his best player, best sale Josh Donaldson, sale sovaldi to Toronto for oft-injured Brett Lawrie and two prospects?   It’s a mystery because, even though he gave away a lot to rent Jon Lester and (presumably), Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last season, Beane had enough pitching and, with Donaldson, enough hitting, to be competitive again in 2015. Could it have been the humiliation of those failed 2014 deals that inspired the current shakeup? “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis may have hit upon the answer when he wrote this about Beane more than a decade ago:

“Neither his trad(es)…nor the other moves he made had the flavor of a careful lab experiment. It felt more as if the scientist, infuriated that the results of a careful lab experiment (had failed), waded into his lab and began busting test tubes.”

Our pinch-hitter Lewis made another decade-old clarifying point about the way Beane operates: “Billy worried that this year good enough might not be good enough. ‘We can in 90 games and have a nice little season. But sometimes you have to say ‘fuck it’ and swing for the fences’.”

The attitudinal contrast between Oakland’s skipper and ours, the White Sox’s most prominent fan, is striking. The first half of Skipper Obama’s second term has been as disastrous politically as Beane’s was in Baseball last season. Fans of the Skipper in the White House dugout thought they saw signs he would be swinging for the fences himself once the 2014 electoral playoffs were behind him. It seemed in his term’s late innings that he had nothing to lose by being more Beane-like, and going yard.

Obama’s response to both the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the choke-hold death of Eric Garner in New York City, showed he was still the familiar play-it-safe leader. Acknowledging in both cases the distrust between many police departments and black communities, he took a bunting stance. National Journal scorekeeper George Condon logged the Skipper’s initial tentative offerings at the plate this way: “He was cautious about the use of surplus military equipment by domestic police forces, promising (a study of the practice). He was cautious on police behavior, promising to work with Congress to pay for more body cameras to be worn by cops on the street. He was cautious about the Justice Department’s role, announcing that the outgoing attorney general will (address the challenge on a nationwide basis).   And he was cautious in falling back on that most familiar of Washington responses—a task force to further study the situation.”

The Skipper’s restrained pep-talk was a reminder of a similar one he made more than a year ago, pitching a need for “debate” on his national security policies, a debate that never took the field.

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Busy Bombers: The Yankees’ signing of Andrew Miller – $36 million for four years – smacks of the KC Royals’ influence: shorten the game to six innings with shutdown seven-eight-nine relievers. If they re-sign closer David Robertson – at least a 50-50 possibility – the Yanks will have Miller, Dellin Betances and Robertson to follow KC’s Word-Series –attaining formula. The almost simultaneous three-way deal which saw NYY send pitcher Shane Greene to Detroit and receive shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks – while Arizona gained pitcher Robbie Ray and a prospect from the Tigers – shores up their infield defense

Why the Big Bucks: SI’s Tom Verducci, on Nelson Cruz’s surprising (to some) four-year, $57 million deal with the Mariners: “The days are over when you can confidently project a minor league prospect to hit in the majors or a confidently expect an underachieving journeyman to fill an important spot in your lineup. It’s not that hitting has become so bad; it’s that pitching has become so good. We all know strikeouts keep going up — nine straight years now. And we all know how deeper, harder-throwing bullpens are shutting down offense late in games. But an overlooked aspect to this era of pitching dominance is that…bases on balls have decreased 16 percent just since 2009. The game has changed dramatically in a short period.”

The ‘Not-a-Disaster’ Deal: “In (Nick) Markakis, the Braves have signed a player who failed to outhit (Jason) Heyward in either of the last two seasons and is markedly inferior in the field. That’s a huge step backward even before you factor back in Markakis’ age. For a team that finished 29th in the majors in runs scored in 2014, which the Braves did, any step backwards on offense could be crippling. It may be unlikely that the 31-year-old Markakis will outproduce the 25-year-old Heyward in 2015, but Markakis will clearly have a negative impact on the team’s overall run differential relative to Heyward…As for the contract, $11 million per season is not big money in this market, and the contract only goes through Markakis’ age-34 season, so it’s not a disaster.” – Cliff Corocoran, SI

Double-Edged Weapon: “Billy (Beane) has a gift of making people like him. It’s a dangerous gift to have.” – Sandy Alderson (who hired Beane to be GM in Oakland)


(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 Numbers Game from Two 2014 Pastimes

(Posted 12/2/14)

 December: when the 2014 post-season evolves into the pre-2015 hot stove period. Before that switch, sales let’s recall key regular season performances overlooked once the playoffs started. The Dodgers led both leagues in runners-in-scoring position (RISP) hitting average, usa sale batting .286 as a team. The Cardinals’ Matt Holliday was individual leader, health with a .361 risp; ex-Pirate, new Blue Jay Russell Martin finished right behind, with a .360. Another Cardinal, catcher Yadier Molina, turned in the top caught-stealing mark; he threw out just under half of would-be base thieves, 47.7 percent. In the AL, Orioles reserve catcher Caleb Joseph rang up 40.4 percent of runners who tried stealing on him. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig led NL outfielders with 15 assists. That was second overall, however, to Yoenis Cespedes, who threw out 16 while playing left field for Oakland, then Boston. Who knew Cuban players were such strong-armed guys?

There are significant, but little-noticed stats on the political field as well. Just a little over a third of eligible voters went to the polls in November, 36 percent. Whites accounted for 75 percent of those who went to bat; only 12 percent of blacks went to the balloting plate, down from the mid-teen rate when Skipper Obama was running.   WashPost’s official scorer Chris Cillizza assembled the following additional numbers from Election Day exit polls: the Dems beat Team GOP in the women’s-vote race by four percentage points. They had a 13-point margin in the 2008 presidential race and won by 11 points in 2012. The latest single-digit stat is clearly not a good sign for the Dems. White voters gave Team GOP a 22-point margin over the Dems. That’s a big win, but it loses clout because it’s slightly down from what it was four years ago. Possibly more significant, however, is this stat: Latinos voted at a 34-percent rate for Team GOP, up two points from what it was four years ago.

The outlook for the Dems in state houses is even bleaker than that at the federal level. Vox’s Ezra Klein runs down the post-election numbers: “ Democrats control the state legislatures in only 11 states, while Republicans control 30 (the remainder have one chamber held by Democrats and another by Republicans). Similarly, Republicans hold 31 governorships to the Democrats’ 18. Democrats don’t have enough traction in the states for it to be a powerful engine of policy innovation. Their bench is weak.”


Shock-Time: The trade of Oakland’s Josh Donaldson to Toronto for Brett Lawrie and three prospects is a Billy Beane-engineered shocker, the off-season’s major mystery. It’s also a genuine heart-breaker for Donaldson, who expressed his disappointment feelingly: The guys in that clubhouse are my brothers, the coaches are my father figures.” (quoted by SF Chronicle’s Susan Slusser)

Upgrade: Why the Blue Jays now think they’re the class in the AL East: “Toronto’s No. 3-4-5 of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson is as good as any in the game. They combined to hit 98 home runs last season, and with Jose Reyes in the leadoff spot, the Blue Jays will put pitchers in high-leverage situations from the first inning on. This ultimately could mean wearing down starters early…and changing the dynamics of a game.” —’s Richard Justice

Upgrade 2: The Mariners can now claim to be competitive with the Angels at the top of the AL East: the signing of Nelson Cruz for four years and $57 million (close to twice X four his one-year 2014 salary with the Orioles) says Seattle is ready to be reckoned with.

Looking for Relief: Let’s call it a purse-off: the Yankees and Dodgers vying to add Andrew Miller to their relief corps. The Yanks, meanwhile, have lots of competition for their closer David Robertson; he, like Miller is likely to command a four-year deal from whomever.


(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.)