The Nub

Baseball Fans and the ‘Collapsing Middle Class’

The political league’s hard lefty hitter Bernie Sanders complained the other day about lack of fan concern as to “why the middle class is collapsing.” If we would talk about that “half of the time…as opposed to…baseball, sales check ” he said, click “we would revolutionize what’s going on in America.”

Bernie doesn’t realize there’s little talk about Baseball in Milwaukee, Oakland, Cleveland, Seattle, San Diego, or even Boston. This is the high point, less for fans in general, than for the media people. It’s the midsummer separation period when beat writers revel in tracking pre-deadline deals of playoff contenders: wealthy teams solidifying their competitive standing, the budget-conscious clubs making do with rosters that got them this far.

It’s the time when Baseball abandons the idea of an even playing field, exchanging it for the excitement well-healed teams, as well as the press people, love. We’ve long shouted how much we dislike this upsetting of the comparatively fair fight that unfolded in both leagues since early April. Sanders advanced the fairness idea that he says should be playing out in part of the Middle East, In so doing, he has to hitt against a bi-partisan shift:

“(Am I) a Zionist?…Do I think Israel has a right to exist, yeah, I do. Do I believe that the United States should be playing an even-handed role in terms of its dealings with the Palestinian community in Israel? Absolutely I do…I think that you have volatile regions in the world… and the United States has got to work with other countries around the world to fight for Israel’s security and existence at the same time as we fight for a Palestinian state where the people in that country can enjoy a decent standard of living, which is certainly not the case right now. My long-term hope is that instead of pouring so much military aid into Israel, into Egypt, we can provide more economic aid to help improve the standard of living of the people in that area.” (From interview with Ezra Klein on Vox)

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Key Pre-7/31 Deals: Dustin Ackley (Mariners to Yankees); Bronson Arroyo (Braves to Dodgers); Jonathon Broxton (Brewers to Cardinals); Yoenis Cespedes (Tigers to Mets); Steve Cishek (Marlins to Cardinals); Tyler Clippard (Athletics to Mets); Ryan Cook (Athletics to Red Sox); Johnny Cueto (Reds to Royals); Mike Fiers (Brewers to Astros); Conor Gillaspie (White Sox to Angels); Carlos Gomez (Brewers to Astros); Cole Hamels (Phillies to Rangers); J.A. Happ (Mariners to Pirates); Dan Haren (Marlins to Cubs); Tommy Hunter (Orioles to Cubs); Kevin Jepsen (Rays to Twins); Kelly Johnson (Braves to Mets) Mat Latos (Marlins to Dodgers); Mike Leake (Reds to Giants); (Indians to Angels); Brandon Moss (Indians to Cardinals); David Murphy (Indians to Angels); Gerardo Parra (Brewers to Orioles); Jonathon Papelbon (Phillies to Nationals; David Price (Tigers to Blue Jays); Ben Revere (Phillies to Blue Jays); Jose Reyes (Blue Jays to Rockies); Josh Rutledge (Angels to Red Sox); Joakim Soria (Tigers to Pirates); Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies to Blue Jays); Juan Uribe (Braves to Mets)Shane Victorino (Red Sox to Angels); Alex Wood (Braves to Dodgers); Ben Zobrist (Athletics to Royals)

Noticable: The outpouring of negative media comments about Jose Reyes’ diminished value – after his trade from Toronto to Colorado. One explanation: his asking out of the last game of the 2011 season – his last as a Met – after getting a hit in the first inning. He did it to protect his batting title lead, and turned off home-team fans as well as many around the country.

Consensus: Despite the Blue Jays’ addition of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, , the offense-blessed team doesn’t have deep enough pitching to ensure making the AL playoffs: that’s how an MLB-TV panel, including former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd and ex-players Dan Plesac and Brian Roberts, see it. Roberts’ old team the Orioles are their choice for a wild-card spot, at least.


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)


The Things We Accept – in BAaseball and Politics

Some things pass us by, discount rx and become a “given” without challenge. That happens in Baseball, often with regard to ticket prices, about which, lately, we seldom hear complaints. For awhile, the NYC press gave the Yanks and Mets a hard time about their new stadiums, including the elevated cost of seats. We’ve remarked that the bench jockeying hurled at the sport from the media has fallen silent over the past few years. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to NY Post sports/broadcast columnist Phil Mushnick.

Earlier this week, Mushnick told of a father who had bought 16 tickets to a 1:10p “family Sunday” Mets-Nats game at CitiField. The outing was scheduled a week from tomorrow, August 2. But last week, the Mets notified the man the start had been reset for 8:10 p.m. Why? A request from ESPN, which owned the rights to change the schedule.  “By now,” notes Mushnick, “this MLB Sunday bait-and-switch as per ESPN’s money orders has become a repetitive story… Buying a ticket to anything has become an exercise in self-imperilment; standard, minimal good faith has been replaced by Commissioner-certified, grab-with-both-hands greed.”

Mushnick describes the prevalent media indifference to such practices as an “Is what it is” attitude. When profits provide the rationale, who among us takes voluble exception? We understand business expenses must be met, salaries paid. We’ve learned to respect the power of money. Many of us can date that respect to 2008, when it was shown to Wall Street, home base of the sub-prime mortgage scandal. The big-bank bailout team: the very one expected to protect Main Street and not the banks, Team USA, run by Skippers Bush, and then Obama.

The mystifying deference paid huge-salaried bank execs, including those implicated in the scandal – none of whom faced prosecution – reinforced the feeling of a new order around the national ballpark: the idea that nothing can stop money. Fast-food workers, students struggling to pay college loans, laid-off employees, know the feeling acutely. But all of Main Street has taken a hit. Reason for hope (however faint): progressive presidential candidates urging fans to roll back the current game plan are touching a responsive nerve. While waiting for a nationwide rally to unfold, Main Street needs a sandlot baseball-like “misery rule.”

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Back Bay Finger-Pointing:  Given the struggles of (Red Sox GM Ben) Cherington, it’s worth recalling the remarks of his former boss, Theo Epstein, on the day that he became president of baseball operations with the Cubs – at the same time that Cherington was being introduced with the Sox. ‘There are no definitive answers in this game, no shortcuts,’ Epstein said in October 2011. ’When you think you’ve got it all figured out, you can get humbled very quickly.’

“The Sox are being humbled. The question is whether the lesson in humility is coming with the framework for sustainable future success…That, even more than the results of the here-and-now, is how Cherington’s bosses must evaluate him. If he’s bringing the team closer to its long-term aspiration of ‘the next great Red Sox team,’ then, despite the miserable performances of recent years, he’s the right man for the job. If not, then the Sox’ focus should be on their front office rather than their roster. “ – Alex Speier, Boston Globe

Concede-Lane Lagging: Let’s say, conservatively, that, close to two months from the end of the regular season, teams double-digit games behind in the wild card races can, in all fairness be counted out. That’s still the reality for only four of the 30 MLB teams, all in the NL: Philadelphia, Miami and Colorado. The Brewers and Reds are flirting with that bad-news catergory, as are the Red Sox and A’s in the AL. Still among long-shot good- news teams, we find the Rangers, Indians, Braves, D-backs, Padres, White Sox and Mariners. So, by this generous count, roughly 80 percent of the teams are still in the mix. The Brewers and A’s have already made pre-deadline trades of Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates and Scott Kazmir to the Astros. And the Angels acquired Conor Gillaspie from the White Sox. We can expect other lower-rung teams – like the Braves dealing Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to the Mets – to follow suit in the next few days. But we shouldn’t be surprised if there are a good number of pre-deadline holdouts.

Streaker: Astros + 5


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)


The Power Game: It Works, But Not Forever

ParityMath: Attentive fans know that, generic online of the 10 playoff-bound teams, at least one will make the cut because of deals arranged before the non-waiver trade deadline. Superior resources – mainly money along with a productive farm system – will nudge another well-led and assembled team out of the post-season. We don’t know yet who will likely edge their way in and who will be bumped. We do think it unfair, however, exposing a major flaw in MLB’s touted “parity.”

We can’t blame the mega-rich Dodgers for meddling with the playoffs lineup: their success as one of the golden 10 has been a given. They are now reportedly on the brink of adding Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels to their rotation with the aim of going for the World Series title. We can – and do – blame the media for celebrating the churn that occurs each July, giving them the buildup to deals for daily material. The parity-achievement story line will be conveniently forgotten as the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Tigers, Cubs, et al, add star power to their rosters while poorer-relation teams like the Rays and A’s must compete with players who have carried them this far.

There’s no question that the $270 million-payroll Dodgers are the new Yankees, the team (along for the moment with the Cardinals) that has unstoppable regular-season pitching and hitting power. The Bomber dynasty lasted through much of the last century and was still visible in 2009. True parity-lovers can, therefore, console themselves that nothing indeed lasts forever: LA will, Yankee-like, revert in a decade or so, to a more modest role – as home base for Dodger Blues.

Yankee fans are enjoying the team’s surge to its current four-game division lead. Though the Yanks are no longer dominant in the American League, their followers are grateful to see them competitive again. That’s not the way some spectators in the national ballpark feel about Team USA, which is playing these days on a more even global field. The boos have been particularly loud since Skipper Obama’s coaches worked out a deal curbing Iran’s offensive arsenal. Peter Beinart, scouting for The Atlantic, links the partisan noise to lack of awareness of the power shifts occurring, Baseball-like, in the world political league:

“When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal (with Tehran) and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea.”

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Lock and Key: Despite their shaky rotation, the Yankees are blessed for the moment with a winning asset few other teams possess: health. Two keys to their recent success bat one and two, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Garner, both hitting in the .300s and stealing bases at a double-digit rate. Complementing that strength on the pitching side: lockup artists: setup man Dellin Betances and closer Andrew Miller.

Death and the Deadline: After studying the Tigers and Mariners in successive series at Yankee Stadium, we came away with identical impressions: Both teams looked dead. The Mariners, now nine games under .500, should soon be pre-deadline sellers. The Tigers, nine-and-a-half out of first in the AL Central but playing at a .500 pace, are unlikely to give in. In deference to their veteran owner, 86-year-old Mike Ilitch, we expect them to yield to the temptation to make a desperate buy.

Streakers: Angels +5, Padres +5, Red Sox – 5


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Sizing Up Some All-Stars and a Would-Be Skipper

“He has LA swag, buy ” Cincy’s Todd Frazier said of Dodger rookie Joc Pederson before they competed as finalists in Monday night’s Home Run Derby. Via TV, generic seek we were sizing up the 23-year-old Pederson for the first time. A no-frills young man, he seemed quietly self-assured, not at all overwhelmed by the big stage and the challenge of taking on the home-field favorite. There was no swagger, nothing to alienate an objective observer. When Pederson beamed as Albert Pujols hugged Joc’s older brother who had accompanied him to Cincinnati, he surely made many fans, us included. Champ Pederson, who has Down Syndrome, was clearly devoted to his kid brother, and vice-versa.

It’s been 13 years since the mid-season break centerpiece, the All-Star Game, became a game that counted – the winner earning home-field advantage for whichever World Series team represents its league. While many in the media still prefer the exhibition-game format, most fans love it that the game matters. How could they not? Answer: the naysayers are indifferent enough to go along with the media consensus.

The attitude plays out on the political field as well. The media’s role in preferring an exhibition to a true contest is particularly egregious in the Dem team presidential playoff event. The NY Times, among other major outlets, has played a glaringly one-sided game in its support of centrist Hillary Clinton; so much so that the paper felt constrained to pitch a near-apology to Clinton opponent Bernie Sanders the other day. A reporter for The Upshot series, Nat Cohn, interviewed the Vermont senator, admitting in so many words it was payback: “I had written an article concluding he had slim chances of winning the nomination.”

Sanders, a longtime lefty, used his time at the plate to suggest that Cohn had made the equivalent of an official scorer’s mistake. “I’m not a liberal, never have been” he said on his first swing. “I look at things from a class perspective.” In Cohn’s words, Sanders “believes he can mobilize a working-class coalition spanning (left-right) divides.” Sanders draws hope from the success he’s had in Vermont. Working-class voters there, many of whom disagree with his stance on such issues as gay marriage, have supported him through the years as he rose from a local elected to member of Congress, and then to the Senate. Sanders is booed by some on the left because, in deference to what he calls “law-abiding” Vermont families, he opposes strict gun control measures. That he will be 74 in September is also a negative; many would-be fans consider him vulnerable to stage-of-life health setbacks.

In contrast to most vote-seeking players, Sanders has no illusions about the persuasiveness of his call for a massive citizen effort to upend the unfair state of the economy. “Everything I’m telling you may end up being wrong,” he said to Cohn. “(But) at the end of the day…you will see, maybe, you are wrong.”

Dem All-Stars Scouting Report: Capsule takeaways from debut derby of five presidential candidates at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last night. They spoke in alphabetical order. Lincoln Chafee – Introduced himself as former GOP Senator who clashed with his party’s radicals before becoming a Democrat. Hillary Clinton: Told how struggling mother inspired her to become political activist. Martin O’Malley: Said he would make renewal of Glass-Steagall a high presidential priority. Bernie Sanders: Sole participant to refer to plight of African-Americans. Jim Webb: Pitched surprisingly for a revitalized union movement, and indirectly targeted Hillary by alluding to debacles of Iraq and Libya.                                                      

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Baseball/Patriotism/Militarism: As part of what a military Air Force officer called “one of (America’s) most patriotic events,” the All Star game was preceded by a Thunderbird fighter fly-over. Shots of the formatiom elicited “wows” from Fox’s broadcasting team. Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America,” we know, has become a patriotic seventh-inning staple at MLB ballparks. Coincidentally, All-Star day this year fell on the anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, who composed what he felt was a needed antidote to “God Bless America.”

More on the Antidote: This, from The Writer’s Almanac published the day of the sport’s patriotic event: “(Guthrie) wrote his most famous song, ‘This Land is Your Land,’ in New York City while living in a building for transients…He was tired of hearing Kate Smith sing Irving Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’ on the radio. He’d seen enough during his travels to know that for many Americans, there was nothing blessed about their lives.”

I Like Jersey Best: Two New Jersey boys, Mike Trout (Millville) and Todd Frazier (Toms River) shared a private jet to their home state after the All Star festivities. They like where they work – Anaheim and Cincinnati – but clearly have great affection for where the come from.


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)


Southern Comfort for Discomforted Red Sox

The good news-starved Red Sox can be cheered by an encouraging report from their Class A team in the South Atlantic league. Their $38 million bonus baby Youan Moncada has started to live up to the potential he displayed in his native Cuba. A month after the then-19-year-old’s mid-May arrival with the Greenville Drive in South Carolina, tadalafil these were two of his stats: BA .200, treatment 18 errors in 20 games. Since then, during the league’s second half, Moncada is hitting just under .400, with six extra-base hits and 11 steals in as many attempts; all that in just 14 games.

Moncada’s manager Darren Fenster calls Moncada’s speed “game-changing” and his improving defensive skills “significant.” A report from the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier noted “glimpses of immense promise and the possibility of what may be coming.” Moncada’s surge has helped put Greenville in first place in combined halves of the league’s 14-team setup. The Yankees’ Class A team, the Charleston RiverDogs is mired one place from the bottom in its half of the league. It does have an admired relief pitching prospect in Caleb Frare, a lefthanded 11th-round draftee picked from a Montana high school.

In keeping with Baseball’s politics-averse stance, the RiverDogs ownership declined to call off a game the night in mid-June after the fatal shooting at the city’s historic black church. Charleston itself was widely acclaimed for pressing successfully through its lawmakers to have the Confederate flag removed from the grounds of the SC statehouse in Columbia. The success of Charleston’s anti-racism response to the shooting raised a companion question in the aftermath of the tragedy: why was racism alone targeted and not also the dangerous, virtually unregulated ownership of guns?

A day after the fatal shooting of nine persons inside the church, President Obama publicly expressed regret that “politics” in Washington “foreclose(d)” any mass effort at gun control. Confirming the barrier the country faces in curbing gun violence, The Economist magazine published a photo showing the response of South Carolina’s two Republican leaders after a call for gun control in the state legislature. Here is an accompanying caption: ” It shows the standing ovation that followed (the) call… during which Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott remained seated, hands in their laps: For them it was easier to suffer a moment’s embarrassment than face accusations from local Republicans that they are ‘gun grabbers’, unwilling to defend what conservatives believe is a near-absolute right to bear arms in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.”

As for the somewhat surprising solidarity of Charleston residents in opposition to official display of the Confederate flag, the BBC, among other media outlets, gave this explanation: “Business wants the flag issue to go away; it’s bad for tourism.” And, we can add, not good for the sale of firearms.

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Half-Season Overview: If, in deference to the Padres (10 games out), Rockies, Marlins, Indians and White Sox (11), we set 12 games behind as the long-shot limit a team can hope to make the playoffs. Here is what we see in mid-July: all teams in four of the six divisions remain in contention. Obvious favorites to finish first: Nationals and Royals. Serious surgers to the top: Angels, who have displaced the surprising Astros in the AL West.  The half-season shocker: the Tigers nine games behind the in the AL Central.

What are we to make of the Tigers? They’re first among the 30 teams in hitting, and tied with the Rockies for first in (RISP) hitting with runners in scoring position. Detroit is also a respectable ninth in fielding. But, here’s the key: the Tigers are 27th in pitching. And, obviously, the absence for the next month of the injured Miguel Cabrera isn’t going to help.

Sure, It’s Premature, But…Here are the playoff –qualifying teams as of the All-Star break: AL – Yankees, Royals, Angels, and Astros and Twins. NL – Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates and Cubs. The guess here is that at least eight of the 10 will make the post-season.

Streakers: Astros – 6, Braves – 5, Phillies – 5


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)


The Celebration Game and Errors of Inattention

Why were the Brewers and the Rockies, sale drugstore last in their divisions, sales so inactive during the off-season? Many fans suspect it was an overly cautious (for financial reasons) approach that numbed them to the urgency of their roster needs. At the other extreme were the overly active Oakland A’s – a.k.a., pills Billy Beane – who decided a drastic hot-stove shakeup would work wonders, no matter which premium players he sent away (like All-Star Josh Donaldson). The result so far: another last-place division team. We won’t talk about the .500-level Mets, about whom we’ve already said a lot, with fingers pointed at cash-strapped ownership.

These baseball deficiencies jibe in a way with historical errors connected to last weekend’s Independence Day celebration. Swarthmore Prof Dominic Tierney notes in his new book on Team USA’s post-1945 inability to win wars, that, “in terms of victory in a major war, the United States is one for five. The Gulf War in 1991 is the only success story. The dark age is a time of protracted fighting, featuring the three longest wars in American history (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam).”  

As to why our wartime BA has fallen to a paltry.200, Tierney answers: “From 1846 to 1945, the United States had a minuscule peacetime army but won almost every major campaign. After World War II, Washington constructed the most expensive military machine that ever existed and endured seven decades of martial frustration… America’s newfound strength created a constant temptation to use force, and projected U.S. forces into distant conflicts. But (post-‘45 was) an unfortunate moment…The nature of global warfare changed in ways that made military campaigns ugly at best and unwinnable at worst.”

There’s been comparable evidence in the changing nature of Baseball – with more than a few teams slow to incorporate analytics into their approach to the game. On the other field, fans could only sigh as Team USA responded sluggishly to changes needed to compete successfully in the game it was playing. “Inattentiveness” is another way of describing a slow popular response. It’s a word that has characterized both the military now and the American people through too much of their history. In a Fourth of July talk he gave last week, Fordham Prof Richard Viladesau paraphrased the “frightening prophesy” of Benjamin Franklin at the time our Constitution was completed: “It will work for a short time, but eventually people will accept despotism. Democracy is hard work, and people can become lazy.” There was a similar sentiment abroad expressed by the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In “The Brothers Karamazov,” he has an oracular character say (again, as paraphrased byViladesau) : “People don’t want to be free. They want an easy life, with someone to give answers. Freedom takes courage and energy.”

Viladisau expresses the hope that fans will prove the prophesies wrong. An eventual possibility requiring a miraculous come-from-behind rally for it to happen.

“Bemused Contempt”: Phrase used in letter to NY Times, objecting to the Gray Lady’s dismissive treatment of Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary contest it has all but conceded to Hillary Clinton.

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Rejuvenation: At season’s end, AL East fans may remember last Wednesday, July 8, as the day the Yankees took charge of that previously leaderless division. Why? It was the day “two All-Stars” (Michael Kay’s comment on YES) rejoined the team after substantive stints on the DL. The players in question: center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and closer Andrew Miller. Before injuring his left knee May 19, Ellsbury was batting .324, with 14 stolen bases. Miller, who strained his left forearm June 11, is 17-for-17 in save opportunities. P.S. After last night’s win in Boston, the Yanks are three-for-three since the elite reinforcements arrived.

Cloud Over Houston: John Smoltz (on MLB-TV), on why the Astros may not be able to maintain their winning pace through the summer: “Their young pitchers, unprepared for a full major league season, could well wear down.” As of last night, the Astros, with four straight losses while the Angels won their eighth in 10 games, had their AL West lead cut to a half-game.

Fact-Facing in San Diego: The Padres, with high hopes at the start of the season, must now face reality early in the second half. Ten games under .500, the team – trailing the D-backs as well as the Giants and Dodgers – is just about where it was a year ago. GM A.J. Preller, supported by the front office, hopes to both sell and buy before the end-of-month deadline. The aim: to come up with a mix that propels the Padres back into relevance, meaning the playoff picture. The math for such a rally is dispiriting: stat-people say the team will have to play at a .650 pace to make the post-season.

Streakers: Kansas City +6, San Diego – 6


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)