The Nub

The Midsummer State of Baseball and Politics: Almost Cheerless

A fan-unfriendly move by Baseball provides mid-summer grounds for malaise on the sporting field, with a dour political landscape waiting in the wings. Instead of an All-Star game that counts, the competition tonight in Miami will be a meaningless exhibition. MLB gave up a year ago making the game a battle to decide which league would get home-field advantage at World Series time. Fans are thus left with a ho-hum matchup to watch tonight. On MLB-TV yesterday, anchorman Brian Kenny described the don’t-count tradition of the game “sloppy.”.

Of greater dismaying consequence is the bungled way Team USA has played the international political game. The Trump-ian squad ignored the two main calls at the G-20 gathering in Germany. Those were: for serious worldwide environmental protection, and an equally serious effort to end warfare throughout the global ballpark. While still facing an unpredictable international player, Skipper Donald’s smoothing over relations with Vladimir Putin could be a positive peace-seeking gestiure., Unpopular as it may be with most Americans, the move,, if nothing else, could soften the tension that has dogged the two nations since the end of the cold war.

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More Reason for Dismay: It’s a good bet that titles in three of the MLB’s six divisions are already locked: AL West (Astros), NL East (Nationals), and NL West (Dodgers). Nothing is sure in the other three, although, pending key pre-deadline deals, favorites look to be as follows: AL East: Red Sox/Yankees, AL Central: Indians, NL Central: Brewers/Cubs.

P.S. In the All-Star event’s lone crowd-pleasing competition, the Yankees’ Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby last night, dethroning last year’s winner, Giancarlo Stanton.

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(More of The Nub, produced by Dick Starkey, can be found by clicking below)

The Shaky Lesson that Warfare Teaches Baseball

Chances are owners of the Brewers, D’Backs, Rockies or Twins, four so-far surprising, yet modestly financed teams, will be cautious about the possibility of staying playoff-competitive the rest of the season.: “We know we can’t match the wealthier teams in back-logging high-price talent,” they’ll llikely say, “ but we can choose prospects carefully enough to get the job done.”

Hopeful talk, but undercut by this statistical dampener: since addition of the second wild card a half-dozen seasons ago, only six of the 60 low-budget teams involved – Oakland (three times) Kansas City (twice), Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston and Tampa Bay – made the playoffs’ final eight. If the explosive MLB season, described as warfare using bats instead of lethal weapons, has taught us anything, it’s the aptness of a lesson embedded in that comparison.

A non-baseball fan, Oxford military historian Cathal Nolan, drove home the lesson from a reverse perspective. He debunked the effectiveness of what is a popular baseball as well as warfare strategy t in a recent book (“The Allure of Battle”) reviewed in the NY Times late last month. Nolan calls belief in the success of blow-them-away, scorched-earth engagements of the enemy a “pernicious myth.” Why? Because annals show slow-and-steady – hanging tough into extra innings – almost always win in a walk-off against super-equipped but restless opponents. Team USA learned that in Vietnam as it is relearning now in Afghanistan.

In the national ballpark, fans of small-market teams can – and do – hope for patient, war-like success each season. But disappointment lies in store: Unlike in warfare, Baseball’s “hang-tough-ers” only have to battle one six-month season at a time. Rested when next season starts, they are almost always the teams with bankrolls that take charge when spring turns to summer.

That is, about now.

Six-Division Update:                                                           –     –     –

Let’s identify teams that, before summer, are already involved in the take-charge process. There are two, identifiable by their leading their divisions by double-digits: the Astros, 12-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place Angels in the AL West, and the Nationals, 11 games up on the Mets in the NL East.

Three divisions are involved in much more interesting, tightly bunched races: NL Central, with only four games separating the first-place Brewers and last-place Pirates; the most truly competitive of all races, that of the AL Central, in which just five-and-a-half games separate the leading Yankees and remarkably resurgent Blue Jays, once thought to have eliminated themselves in April. The close now, but least likely of the three to remain so is the AL Central, in which the Twins stand at the top, six games ahead of Kansas City. Cleveland, considered most likely to run away with the division, is only a game behind the Twins. .

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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.)

 

Boos for the Predictably Scornful Press

Shortly after Mattt Harvey broke in with the Mets (2012), we were surprised to hear Ron Darling in the team’s press box say he’d trade his long, superior pitching career for the bright future Harvey had ahead of him. We thought the statement encouraging for Harvey but ill-considered for Darling, who certainly knew the injury pitfalls for phenom starters as their careers unfolded.

We were less surprised late last week when Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters he did not expect Harvey “to be what he used to be” before thoracic arm trouble sidelined him for more than a season.. We saw it as a message to the media, including Darling, even more than to Mets fans, that it should be more restrained in embracing the popular line on would-be local golden boys.

The connection between a predictable line and Donald Trump is certainly visible on our presidential playing field. Skipper Trump has made one wild domestic policy pitch after another, setting up heavy hitters while turning his back on the middle class and the poor. Looking farther afield, he has given the press an almost daily chance to scoff at his swerving statements on China, Syria, and, in particular, on ties with Russia.

Attentive fans know that Team USA has matched Russian misbehavior toward heroes perceived as adversaries here at home – Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and abroad our Australian ally’s whistle-blower Julian Assange. We also know our record is especially shameful on battlefields abroad, with our black sites, torture, etc. And we remember how Snowden taught us about our ability to engage in effective cyber-attacks against teammates on the home field and identifiable opponents around the world.

All this unforgotten devious play should suggest to the media and those of us in the home dugout that whatever friendly pitches the Skipper may have made, with Vladimir Putin are to be cheered, not scorned. Peaceful relations with the Russians should certainly be preferable to cold-war-like tension, in the manner of former Skipper Obama, who promised an end to our war-making adventures, then reneged on that pledge.

If President Trump’s missteps earn him impeachment, the irony will be his punishment results from a rare and credible U.S. leadership role – that of peacemaker..

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Prediction-Time – Late Spring Playoff-Possibilities:

AL East: Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox; AL Central: Indians, Tigers; AL West: Astros, Rangers

NL East: Nationals; NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals; NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks

Playoff Likelies: AL – Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Astros ; NL – Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers

Significant Stat: (Cited on YES, by Michael Kay) Probable BA of hitter taking first-pitch strike: .220; first-pitch ball .260.

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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.)

 

 

Our Misbehavin’ Home Field Media

Our Misbehavin’ Home-Field Media

While Baseball’s performance level in minority hirings has been slipping, its public relations skills are clearly improving. Good work, Commissioner Rob Manfred. Few fans had a chance to learn that the MLB’s latest annual diversity report card was full of low grades. Manfred’s team seemed to insure that the report received little media exposure. One under publicized and little realized fact:: the sport has three big league managers of color now – Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, the Nationals’ Dusty Baker and Rick Renteria of the White Sox – compared to the 10 minority skippers it could boast as recently as 2009.

Overall, MLB dropped more than eight points in racial hiring for on-and-off field jobs since last year and four-and-a-half points in gender hiring at the office level. Scorekeeper Richard Lapchick’s final grade was 76, down six-and-a-half points from 2016. If asked, we would have given Manfred and his team a tougher grade; the decision to return the All-Star game to exhibition from serious competition.deserves a still-lower grade..

Of course, the most egregious misplay belonged to the sporting media, which, by and large, chose to ignore the bad news about Baseball employment. The political media play a similar game while covering Team USA’s relations with counterparts abroad. The Yanqui press corps sends its vaunted objectivity to the showers then; how? by giving a pass to countries that play ball with Uncle Sam and pummeling those who refuse to play along. Venezuela has long been a prime example of a negative media target. The NY Times has consistently attacked Caracas since the days of Hugo Chavez a decade-and-a-half ago.

At the same time, the mainstream media have dutifully followed Team USA’s lead in looking the other way with regard to Honduras, where we have a military base. In 2009, Team Obama, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton playing a prominent role, reneged on supporting liberal president Manuel Zelaya, target of a right-wing coup. After Zelaya was deposed, Honduras became a drug-infested hell-hole. Hardly a word from the Yanqui media after the coup then or now, despite an overdue State Department warning early this year of Honduras’ “high crime and violence rates.”

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Yankee (not Yanqui) haters in this country deserve sympathy for strong early signs the Pinstripers are a playoff team, not the also-rans most observers considered them to be. Yes, it’s early, but the team’s impressive mix of veterans and newcomers – buttressed by good pitching – looks like it will stay the playoff-bound course as the rest of the season unfolds. It seems equally safe to describe the playoff-possibility of .the once-touted 2017 Mets with a single NY word: fuhgedaboudit!

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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.)

 

The Tanking Game Taking a Toll on Both Fields

On YES the other day, Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay didn’t mince words: “The Padres are tanking,.” he said. San Diego, which tied for last in the NL in 2016, has one of the three lowest payrolls in the MLB this season (along with the Brewers and Rays). The Pods are going with three Rule-5 ($50,000) players on their roster. Opting for a minimal-budget approach that includes players who couldn’t make 40-man rosters elsewhere suggests a willingness to finish low enough to qualify for top-level talent selections next season. In other words: t-a-n-k-i-n-g .now, with eye on the future.

 

The political variation of tanking is on display as Team Dem talks of Resistance to hit-to-right efforts to hold on to Congressional seats. The talk can’t match the money Team GOP is spending to defend its control of the electoral field. An example: Republicans heavily outspent the Dem team in the Kansas special election last week; the GOP also worked harder on the personal level – dispatching Senator Ted Cruz to campaign in the district and having Trump and VP Mike Pence record supportive phone calls for winning candidate Ron Estes.

 

Bernie Sanders and/or Elizabeth Warren could certainly have helped lift the Dem vote, if the party had its organizing act together. And Bernie’s apparent reluctance to provide his successful campaign fund-raising list to the team effort is a disappointment. That’s especially true since the Dems, unlike the GOP, have few, if any politically active billionaires free to enrich their team’s coffers anonymously. .

 

As, spurred by Citizens United, the money-ball continues to bounce toward right field; beyond media hype, progressives have little to cheer about beyond the fading hope that the post-inauguration women’s march marked the beginning of true left-leaning resistance. NY Times columnist Ginia Bellafante noted an aspect of the oversell of such hope in Sunday’s NY Times: ”The age of activism that…Trump’s presidency unleashed has given us as…(a) symbol …of defiance the pink knit hat that women around the world have embraced as a means of communicating their distaste for (his) regressive views.”

 

Just a guess: greenbacks rather than pink hats will make the difference in Georgia’s special House vote being decided today.

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The starters and young and old position players are propelling the eight-straight-win Yankees, but NY Times observer Tyler Kepner calls two barely noticed mid-relievers – Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard – keys to the team’s early success. Entering last tonight’s game with the White Sox, Warren had retired all 20 of the hitters he faced; together the pair had yielded only six hits in 41 at-bats.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, made this reply when asked if he had any player-related insights to offer to the NY Post’s Joel Sherman: “Young, good; old, bad.”

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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.)

Gane-Changers Roiling Both Fields

From the typical fan’s casual distance, this year’s version of the old ballgame has a familiar look; except,, perhaps, for no-pitch purposeful walks. But the attentive among us are aware of once noticed gradual changes that now have become permanent. The shift is a prime example. Its success has devalued ground-ball hitters and put ball-in-the-air batters in greater demand than ever. Another infield-out changing alteration: since runners must avoid barreling into fielders at second, double plays on ground balls have become almost automatic. Finally, there’s the arm-saving consensus that starting pitchers should seldom go more than six innings:

There’s been as well a barely appreciated but seismic shift on the political field: Michael Bennet, Team Dem’s Senator from Colorado described it this way the other night on MSNBC: Legisators from Dem and GOP teams , Bennet said, are afraid to agree jointly on any potentially game-changing issue. Why? The voters in both parties have become vehement in opposition to anything adversary office-holders say, no matter how meaningful.

The careful political comments, pro and con, on the bombing of the air base in Syria is an example of avoidance of bi-partisanship. None of the comments we’ve heard suggests that Team USA send humanitarian aid rather than missiles into that war-torn country. The idea of a humanitarian rather than a violent response to hardship is a reminder of how regularly Baseball chooses to honor our fighting men and women while all but ignoring medical care-givers.l

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Weather Watch: April is the cruellist spring-like baseball month for Atlanta and Toronto (1-5), but not for Arizona (6-2), Minnesota (5-1) and Baltimore (4-1)

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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.)

The Distraction Game: How Rookie Team Trump Is Making It Work

Here’s to Phillies rookie Brock Stassi, who made this year’s team without ever coming close to the big leagues before. And he made it at age 27 after long years of trying. And here’s to him for not taking his achievement for granted: “It’s not done,” he said.” I don’t just want to get here. I want to stay here.”

Stassi embodies high prospect – and team – hopes as the new season gets under way. How great it would be if one of the outsider teams – like the Phils – could make it to the playoffs. His experience in the minors suggests Stassi has the savvy, as well as the tools, to help Skipper Peter Mackanin’s team pull a long-shot surprise.

The country is learning that, on the political field, Team USA is suffering from a rookie-like shortage of savvy. As the NY Times’ Robert Draper noted in Sunday’s magazine: “The business of governing ha(s) little to do with any trade (President Trump) had previously practiced.” And except for the Skipper’s top bench coach – and VP – Mike Pence, his main dugout staffers are as innocent of how the government game is played as is he.

Well, maybe not.entirely: Team Trump has learned how to execute distractions when under pressure and to take advantage of the Skipper’s legal privileges. Thus, the crucial question of whether he and his teammates colluded with Russia’s cyber-warriors to defeat Hillary Clinton remains under an unanswered cloud, as does the refusal to make public the president’s tax returns.

The TT’s avoidance plays are described as “inappropriate”, “not unlawful” “legal flexible tools” rather than seeking to evade a “monolithic statute.” Press box observers are also barred from pursuing reports of “incidental” cyber-contacts because Washington has spared them the taint of illegality. Fans in the national ballpark have a right to wonder if the game, presumably linked to Constitutional gaps, will continue without a hitch through 2020.

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Teams Supposed to Win Opening Day Games, but Didn’t: The Cubs, losers in the ninth to the Cardinals, 4-3; the Giants, also losers in the ninth to the Diamondbacks, also by 4-3; The Yankees, losers to the Rays, 7-3; Royals, losers to Twins, 7-1; Angels, losers to A’s, 4-2.

Most impressive win: Indians overcoming Rangers lead, with help from Edwin Encarnacion (HR) and winning reliever Andrew Miller. Final: Cleveland, 8-5.

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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.)

 

Mega-Money, Trump’s Team and Unfocused Fans

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(Posted :3/28/17)

Check out the eight teams with the highest 2017 payrolls and you’ll have a good idea of most playoff teams as the MLB season begins this weekend: Dodgers, Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers, Giants, Nationals. The Yanks and Tigers don’t make the Nubbian cut. The comparatively low-budget Indians belong in the group. That leaves one other likely playoff team: either the Blue Jays or Astros, by our reckoning.

The point is obvious: money makes for winners. New Yorker’s Jane Mayer underlined it in the 3/27 issue of the magazine. Since Team Citizens United’s impact reached the field seven years ago, its clout has shifted power – in Mayer’s words – “from two main political parties toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.” The heavy hitters unleashed their financial barrage late in the 2016 election season. The Hillary-Dem team, we remember, seemed to have control of the presidential race well into October. Then the big money made its presence felt throughout the media – a game-changing presence felt both inside Team Trump and in disaffected corners of the national grandstand.

As the Mega team hit to right, its would-be skipper talked a showy all-fields game while confounding reports of international cyber-meddling helped keep him in fan-focus. Barely noticed by the media, meanwhile, were recruits filling the Trump Team clubhouse: players and coaches installed by the big-money long-ballers. In her article, Mayer identifies shadowy billionaire Robert Mercer, in particular, as the scout who paid most to surround Trump with favored members of the Mega team. Thus, as the Mayer piece notes, the richest among us influence the direction the country and its Skipper are headed.

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Snubbing the Cubs: MLB-TV insiders Dan O’Dowd and Tom Verducci predicted the other night where the Dodgers are headed: this season – to the World Series. Why have they a better chance than the Cubs? Because, they agree,, of two top pitchers – Clayton Kershaw and highly rated newcomer Julio Urias. Behind them: the best group of position players and secondary pitchers money can buy. Second best, say we, the squad assembled by the Red Sox.

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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.)

Fighting to Get Back in Baseball Focus

Have other fans noticed how hard it is amid the constant blustering of the country’s new skipper to focus on baseball? We confess to have experienced an immobilizing Trumpian funk while exposed to the president’s scary vision of Team USA’s future. It has so dominated the media we believe few other attentive news-watchers could embrace the usual spring training distractions.

 

An e-message from friend Jim Wallenstein of Wellesley, Mass makes a sporting focus easier.

It reminds us, without mentioning the skipper, that Baseball’s approach to promoting the sport has long fit comfortably with pre-Trump policies: in particular, those providing tax cuts for the rich and profit-making at the expense of the masses. Nor, says Wallenstein, is Baseball alone:

 

“Contemporary professional sporting events are a mass of common people paying handsomely for the privilege of observing the actions of a few very rich ones, a phenomenon which mimics the current social order and reflects the inequality that marks it instead of offering a diversion from it.”

 

As for finding diversion from the noise on the political field, fuggedaboudit. A headline in the NY Times Saturday had the best advice: “Depressed by Politics” it asked, adding “Stop obsessively checking the latest news and you’ll be happier.” Watching liberal MSNBC has become a particular trial for some of us progressives. The station’s reporters dutifully pounce on every wild pitch from the skipper to fill their all-news obligation. Once in a while team members say something sensible like this game “has got to stop.” Or “Outside of Washington and New York, nobody cares about what the Russians may or may not be doing.” Our favorite savvy statement: describing our script-hugging Team Dem leader Chuck Schumer as a “clown.”

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WBC Woe: East coast fans of the World Baseball Classic – we among them – have a right to feel betrayed by playing times, including pre-and post-midnight starts, that discourage us from watching the games live. A suggested step toward modestly rectifying the situation in 2021: add or subtract two hours from the starting times of all games scheduled to be played at widely unwatchable hours.

Thank you for the stimulus, Jim Wallenstein. His message in full, as carried by Huffington Post, can be accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58ade90de4b0ea6ee3d034a9

 

 

 

 

Changing Stances and How We Feel About Them

On the cusp of a new season, it’s time we made a clean breast of some (far from all) things we dislike about the changing trends in Baseball: the over-emphasis on analytics encouraging a disregard for traditional W-L, RBI. BA measurements of player value; replacing “contests” – e.g., All-Star games – with no-stake “spectacles”; all tinkering with arrangements – e.g., luxury taxes and the like – that soften penalties wealthy teams must pay for their financial advantages.

To be continued, as the season progresses.

On the other side of the plate, here are a couple of things we progressives like about Team Trump’s approach to the political game: its benign stance toward the Russians, despite the widespread national anti-Putin paranoia; more generally, we appreciate the Skipper’s apparent disinterest in triggering a new cold war anywhere. More predictably, we applaud his pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare programs.

Some negative calls ahead as we examine Trump’s policy lineup up close in ensuing weeks and months.

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Brett Lawrie: just cut by the White Sox, is latest of a few of prominent free agents still unsigned. Among others:: Pedro Alvarez, Marlon Byrd, Doug Fister, Tim Lincecum, Angel Pagan

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

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