The Nub

Record Book: Rookies Rarely Do Well Early as Skippers

On the eve of the last non-Baseball month of the off-season, it’s striking to look in vain for a single first-time MLB manager. The closest we can come are Torey Lovullo, who replaced John Farrell while Farrell was recovering from cancer surgery last fall, and Brian Snitker, who will put in first spring-training skipperdom with the Braves. Lovullo, named to manage Arizona, has the lesser experience of the two; Snitker succeeded Fredi Gonzalez last May, and so had ample time to earn his spurs. His leading Atlanta to a strong 2016 finish earned him the permanent shot he’ll have this year.

First-timer Dave Roberts came close last season to guiding the Dodgers to the World Series. But he fell several games short of matching the success of the only skipper since 1969 expansion to win a championship his first time around. That was Bob Brenly, who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to the title in 2001, upsetting the Yankees in the Series. Brenly’s D-backs recaptured the NL pennant in 2002, but suffered the almost inevitable managerial fate of being fired in mid-season 2004.

Brenly did better than many skippers, relieved after or during their first MLB assignment. The record book shows that it takes several trial-and-error experiences before managers make it to – or near – the top. It’s not much different on the political field, as fans have seen in the case of National Skipper Barack Obama.

Elect a rookie to fill the most powerful post in the world and you get rookie mistakes, with American soldiers paying in blood to educate their commander-in-chief.” That’s part of the Obama record book put together by official scorer and Boston U. emeritus Philip Bacevich. His essay, “An Education in Statecraft” is one of several published in a special edition of The Nation severely critical of the rookie’s two-term record. “The callow Obama arrived in the Oval Office largely unschooled,” Bacevich notes in his review of the Skipper’s home-field performance.

“For advice and counsel, of course, he, like (his two predecessors) recruited a coterie of impressively credentialed ‘wise men’ (and women)…Yet resumes do not connote actual wisdom; when it comes to decisions, presidents are on their own.” Bacevich concludes his lengthy official-scoring analysis this way: “Historians…may well see as Obama’s chief failing that, though he recognized the Washington playbook had become outmoded, he was unable to persuade others…to embrace an alternative. However obliquely, that failure contributed to the rise of Donald Trump, who recognizes no playbook whatsoever.”

Extra-Inning Scoreboard: Coach John Kerry’s late-inning criticism of Israel this week exemplifies Team Obama’s skill at talking a good game. The Skipper has consistently groused about his ally’s settlements and aggressive military policies while maintaining pro-Israeli arms support despite that team’s perceived misdeeds.

Furthermore, in belated response to criticisms of his usual “talk game”, Obama may have overreacted in a hardball way to the evidence-free cyberhacking charge against Russia.

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What We Think We Know: With Cleveland’s two-year, $40 million acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion finally completed, the AL boasts only two of 15 teams as likely pennant finalists: the Indians and Red Sox. The NL pennant finals figure to involve a pair of just four clubs: the Cubs, Dodgers, /Giants, Nationals. In other words, only one-fifth of the 30 MLB teams can be considered authentic World Series threats. And few of us will be surprised if the Cubs and Indians emerge for a Series rematch.

Encarnacion’s signing leaves two prime free agents still available: Mark Trumbo, who led the majors in HRs with 47, while playing for the Orioles, and Jose Bautista, who despite an injury-marred “walk” season, was offered a $17 million qualifying offer to return to the Blue Jays

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

Festivity-Resistant Protesters and Skeptics – a Scorecard

That some baseball fans are thinking of Carlos Delgado this off-season should be no surprise. They remember the former Blue Jay, Marlin and Met first baseman who conducted a one-player protest against the Iraq war in 2003; he did it by refusing to stand during the pre-game performance of the National Anthem. Delgado was Puerto Rican and could have gone along with the game’s militant musical tradition. (The Mets eventually persuaded him to make his point by staying off the field during the Anthem).

We can thank (or blame?) a product of the National Football League for the reminder. Forty-Niner quarterback Colin Kaepernick, born bi-racial, adopted by white parents, felt the need this season to call attention to America’s treatment of people of color. Where Delgado chose to remain seated, Kaepernick kneels during the Anthem. We know the choice MLB players have been making since the Delgado days: play the patriotic, support-the-military game without a whimper. Why risk alienating the people who pay your generous salaries?

The Players Union, on the other hand, has enough clout to generate activism among its members; it can organize major league involvement in issues like a raise in minimum wages nationally and campaigns to keep blue collar jobs from being exported abroad. Fan-exerted pressure could perhaps make it happen if enough avid spectators cared. Speaking of caring, the Lords of Baseball should care enough about fan-feeling to invite their suggestions on how to make the sport more spectator-friendly. Earlier start-time of playoff games would be at least one popular East Coast idea.

By the same token, attentive followers of Team USA’s political policies must recognize the need to challenge the government and media’s simmering cold warrior stance toward Russia. Attentive spectators remember it was Vladimir Putin who spared Skipper Obama the error of setting a “red line” to curb Syria’s President Assad, then hesitating to cross it; also, that NATO pledged to keep its distance from Russia’s doorstep, then staged war games near its borders, and that our State Department colluded with far-right factions in Kiev to move western Ukraine away from the Russian and into the European Union’s sphere of influence.

In the words of co-authors John Maxwell Hamilton (LSU) and Kevin Kosar (Woodrow Wilson Center) in a recent (NY Times-covered) report on “Government Information and Propaganda” ”Democracy is distorted when the government uses our tax dollars to shape our opinions about…how it is performing.” That caveat is surely worth considering when the CIA and FBI are our news sources, their accusations of cyber-hacking from abroad based on “assessments” rather than fact.

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Reason for Doubt: MLB-TV reported yesterday that Edwin Encarnacion had agreed to a four-year, $80 million deal with two additional option years. The arrangement was surprising because Encarnacion, despite his about-to-be 34 age, has greater apparent value. Enter, Encarnacion’s agent, who reportedly said that until the deal was finalized, Edwin had other suitors, like the Rangers.

Skeptics: Measuring outfield defense stats has recently become a scrutinized metrics focus. Looked at closely by the Hardball Times’ Jesse Spector recently, the system, based on a fielder’s reaction to a ball hit in his direction , and the route he takes to make a play, was found to be flawed. It rewards the performances of fielders like Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar, who play deep, and penalizes ones like Baltimore’s Adam Jones, known for playing shallow. Kiermaier summed up the skepticism many players feel about the system: “How is Adam Jones not in the top five center fielders in baseball. I watch him play 19 times a year, and I think he’s a stud. It just doesn’t make me a firm believer in all the research.”

More Than a Cloud: Why has Brewer outfielder Ryan Braun not drawn interest on the trade market? As a slugging right-hand hitter and more-than acceptable fielder, he should be a hot off-season item. On MLB-TV the other day, the lack of interest was attributed to the “cloud” he’s under and his “past.” Carefully avoided is the remembrance (per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan) of Braun’s accusing the man who collected the urine sample that showed him PED positive; he said in 2012 he was framed because the man was anti-Semitic. Braun did apologize for the outburst around the time he was suspended for part of the 2013 season. But his willingness to publicly denounce an innocent working man perhaps explains the unwillingness to add Ryan to a non-Brewer roster.  

Among No-Doubt Signings: Justin Turner, re-signed by the Dodgers for four years; Ivan Nova, re-signed by the Pirates to a three-year deal. Clay Buchholz, traded to Phillies by Red Sox, one year left on contract; Jimmy Rollins, signed by Giants to a minor-league contract.

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

 

Scrooge-Like Facts in a Season of Cheer

Consider how cold a pre-winter it is for fans of the Miami Marlins, Arizona D-backs, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, LA Angels, Oakland A’s. Those are just some of the nearly dozen teams which, according to media consensus, are neither rebuilding nor “going for it” with Tigers-like returning personnel. That is, these teams, stuck in the middle, are neither generating hope for the not-distant future, nor far-fetched optimism that something good can happen this season.

The eerie hot-stove silence in many of those home cities – while the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Astros, etc. are making headlines – matches similar quietude on the political field. Except for the CIA’s surmise-strong, fact-free Russia-bashing, the U.S. media have been obediently restrained in criticizing Saudi Arabia, Team Obama and Israel. The Saudis, the world knows, have been bombarding Yemen while trying in vain to unseat Syrian Skipper Assad. The U.S, meanwhile, has been supporting anti-Assad rebel forces in their losing fight and being careful not to offend its Saudi allies.. Then there is U.S. patience – along with complaints – about Israel’s building settlements on Palestinian land.

Protecting Saudi Arabia is not just a U.S. game. Watching the BBC not long ago, we noted its report of the catastrophic death and damage inflicted on the Yemenis made no mention of who did the main attacking – the Saudis. And when British diplomat Boris Johnson accused the Saudis by name, he was upbraided by Skipper Theresa May’s spokeswoman. The obvious reason: Saudi Arabia has been a lucrative market for UK – as well as US – arms exports.

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The Persistent Inequality Game: These Baseball inequality consequences, gleaned from MLB Now: nine of the 15 wealthiest teams made the playoffs last season; one of the 15 less funded group – the Indians – managed to make that privileged circle.

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

 

Why Some Work in Both Fields Is Not Getting Done

“This energizes it”…”This gives it sizzle” were two of many high-level MLB statements (by Commissioner Bud Selig and Giants exec Larry Baer) after Baseball made the All-Star Game a “game that counts” in 2002. Until then, when that summer’s game ended in a 1-1 tie, it was a pure exhibition. The players and managers loved it that way – part of a three-day vacation requiring minimal effort. A lark, with nothing at stake. Giving the Series-qualifying team from the league that won the game home field changed everything. Fans loved this version, and why wouldn’t they? No more losing interest as the game dragged on toward midnight. However it ended didn’t matter.

How could this revisionism have happened? We can’t alone blame the players and managers, now able to relax, nor some of the team owners on the losing side. The finger should clearly be pointed at the media people. “I never liked it,” said Al Leiter, on MLB-TV. Most of his fellow panelists agreed. Just too much extra work was the unspoken explanation for the negativity.

And if there’s any doubt about a similar problem affecting the political media, we should check in with Jon Stewart, who, with his team on “The Daily Show” spotted the adversity of too many news-gathering players to putting in the work required. That work is mainly fact-checking. As a producer tells it in a newly published book about the show, too many politicians were lying and getting away with while being interviewed on networks like CNN. The pols would lie and, too often, the reporter would respond, “Well, we’ll have to leave it there.” So, “The Daily Show” began making it a practice of holding both the politician and the network (print organizations could have been included) responsible.

Stewart’s line when he heard the “have to leave it there” phrase was: “Don’t leave it there. There is a terrible place to leave it.”

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MLB’s Winter Meetings Dealing Whirlwind

Sorry, Cleveland fans, the Red Sox have established themselves as the team in the AL as the 2017 season approaches. Acquiring Chris Sale from the White Sox can have that kind of heady effect on a franchise. The Sox gave up a potential prize of their own in infielder Yoan Moncada, but Sale gives Boston a top-notch trio of starters in Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price, plus four other mid-notchers.

The Dodgers are still waiting to pounce from the dealing bushes, but they’ve added late-blooming Rich Hill to their rotation, paying an impressive investment of $48 million over three years

And speaking of paying high for a privilege, the Giants invested $62 million over four years for sought-after closer Mark Melancon.

The Cubs have a new closer of their own, the Yankees have an old one back: the Cubs traded outfielder Jorge Soler to KC for the almost legendary Wade Davis, the Yanks reclaimed Aroldis Chapman with an $86 million five-year contract. The Nationals got into the dealing act by acquiring right fielder Adam Eaton from the White Sox for three well-regarded pitching prospects. The Rockies, meanwhile, picked up former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who may be asked to play several positions,for four-years, $70 million, and a future high-level prospect. Center fielder Dexter Fowler, who played six-plus years with the Rockies before moving on to the Astros and Cubs, signed a five-year, $17 million-per contract with the Cardinals

We won’t be surprised if Houston’s giving Carlos Beltran a one-year deal turns out to bet the most productive position-player signing of the off-season. Beltran is returning to the team, where, in 1994 (age 27), he made perhaps the most memorable playoff performance ever: 20 hits, eight HRs, 14 RBIs, over just 12 games against the Braves and Cardinals. Sure. He’s 40 now. But we know he can still hit, and from either side of the plate. Matt Holliday, Beltran’s replacement with the Yankees, we suspect,will turn out to be of lesser value.

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