The Nub

Oakland Connection: Baseball Now, Politics Then

(Posted 6/7/14)

Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado, Brett Lawrie: an impressive list of AL players vying to start at third base in next month’s All Star game. The fans’ heavy ballot-box favorite so far: none of the above. The popular choice, Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. A late-blooming 28-year-old, Donaldson leads the stat – or “metric” – that identifies to what extent a player contributes in hitting and fielding to his team’s success. That success is far from an overnight phenomenon. Drafted in 2007 by the Cubs, Donaldson was traded to Oakland a year later, a throw-in part of a deal that sent pitcher Rich Harden to Chicago. He broke in briefly with the A’s in 2010, but then spent two years in Triple-A, staying upbeat and focused when he could have sloughed off and sulked. 

Donaldson’s work on both hitting and defense earned him promotion in 2012. He hit nine HRs as a part-time player and learned to play third base, having started out as a catcher. The key to his success? “Not being scared to put in the man-hours (of practice),” he told Times-man Tyler Kepner.

Donaldson took Toronto’s patient and powerful Jose Bautista as his hitting role-model. Had he been looking on the political field, he could have chosen the man who was a model mayor of Oakland the year he entered pro ball. Jerry Brown went back into the political bushes several times after having served two terms as California’s Skipper. He took on the challenge in Oakland in 1999 and stayed for eight years before moving on to become attorney general of the state he had once governed. 

If ever a political player has put in “man-hours” that have led to Donaldson-like success, it is Brown. Where the star third baseman was determined to play in the big leagues, Brown wanted to serve on the political circuit at whatever level he could be useful. The experience at big- and minor-league governmental levels gave him the savvy needed to work a miracle when, in 2010, Californians elected him to be state skipper again. By then, the state had become what The Economist called “ungovernable”; it faced a $25 billion deficit that meant cuts in vital programs and widespread employee layoffs. Brown knew that the key to a miraculous turnaround was persuading voters to approve a major tax increase. They went along, and by this year California had a $4.2 billion budget surplus.

Presidential Possibility? Brown will be 78 in 2016, “too old” to run for president is the conventional view. But, according to The Nation’s John Nichols: “(People) close to Brown say he does not see age as an impediment to continued public service…(and) political associates and observers (believe) that, whatever he says in public, he’s positioning himself for the presidency.”

Far-fetched, perhaps, but Nichols warns that “any calculus that dismisses (Brown, does so to a man) “whose ability to defy expectations is unrivaled in modern American politics.”

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A’s-Inspired Awe: Seldom have Yankee announcers (on YES) enthused over a visiting team as John Flaherty and Al Leiter did this week with the Oakland A’s in town. Leiter talked about the A’s’ MLB-leading runs scored for/against differential, “and Bob Melvin uses 25 men,” he said, “to get the job done.” Said Flaherty “I know the stats show they’re the team that takes most pitches, but when they see a good pitch, their bats fly.” Play-by-play man Michael Kay noted in the third game of the series that A’s batters were forcing Yankee ace Mashiro Tanaka’s pitch-count to rise, “which means he won’t last the usual seven innings and Oakland will have a chance to do late damage.” Tanaka went six, and the Yanks won that game, 2-1, but Oakland took two of the three-game series.

MoneyBall Revised: Leiter and Flaherty spoke of GM Billy Beane’s practice of finding “baseball players” to fill out his roster – versatile, inexpensive non-stars who are willing to play a supporting role, and to be ever ready to step into the game. Said Leiter: “They know they are going to get to play and so they look forward to getting to the ballpark. The whole team is in on what they’re about.”

Tampa-Toronto Extremes: Once the consensus favorite to win the AL East, injury-riddled Tampa Bay has fallen 14 games behind first-place Toronto. Heretofore ever-upbeat Joe Maddon has begun to sound plaintive: “We just have to score more runs (and) hide a few of our blemishes. There has to be some Clearasil out there somewhere for us.” At the other end of the standings, Blue Jays Skipper John Gibbons, fresh from a three-game sweep of the Tigers in Detroit, came to this belated surmise: “Maybe we’re a good team. We’re sure playing like it.” The Jays won their sixth straight, defeating the Cardinals at home last night.

Late Scores: Dodgers 7, Rockies 2; Giants 4, Mets 2; Braves 5, D-backs 2; Nationals 6, Padres 0; Angels 8, White Sox 4

Streakers: Toronto +6, Colorado – 8

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

About Richard Starkey

Dick Starkey handled media for former NY Governor Mario Cuomo, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and many other office-holders and candidates. He was sports editor of the Paris-based Herald Tribune. Perfect Pitch partner Robert Sullivan was the first to adapt focus groups to politics and has been called by Cuomo and others one of the "best" pollsters in the country.