The Nub

The Nub

"If you don't think life imitates sports, you're not reading The Nub”
                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

“Politics and baseball.  Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

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.)



MLB Apathy and New Skipper Have Some of Us Reeling

If any MLB fans cared, they would be primed to boo the effort of the U.S. team preparing to compete next month in the fourth World Baseball Classic. But, fans, like most news consumers, take their cue from the Media. And the Media, taking its cue from the apathy towards the Classic expressed from top to bottom in U.S. Baseball’s hierarchy, considers the world competition an annoying disruption in the sport’s pre-season preparation.

The consequence: U.S, teams haven’t come close to winning the international test of proficiency in their national sport: the Americans finished a distant forth to two-time champion Japan in 2009’s 16-team playoff: In the most recent (2013) Classic, won by the Dominican Republic, Team USA finished out of the money for the second in three tries. Will this year be any different? It’s doubtful because our assemblage of major leagues can’t match the national pride of Dominicans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Japanese, South Koreans, and even teams brought together by the Netherlands.and Italy.

We noticed the contrast in the two sports – baseball and politics: where the response to one dismal performance was an MLB shrug, and to the other – well, the Media has embraced the term “reeling” to describe (its) reaction to our new voluble president. The reality is left-of-center news sources are continually dumbfounded – er, reeling – because that sells. To the Midwest-centered mainstream Media, Skipper Trump’s occasional flummoxing statements are simply his flexing his presidential muscles. Only when members of his own national team react to his comments will he have a problem.

For the moment such a setback hardly seems imminent, especially since the Skipper is competing only with the liberal Media and not the Dem team, which, if you haven’t noticed, seems to have left the field.

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The Japanese team reportedly has the most formidable WBC roster, but the U.S. squad includes more star players than in the past. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, SF’s Buster Posey, Baltimore’s Adam Jones, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, KC’s Eric Hosmer and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutcheon – all returnees from previous Classics, head the position-player list. Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, Oakland’s Sonny Gray and Cleveland’s Andrew Miller are part of a solid pitching staff that also includes Detroit’s Michael Fulmer, Houston’s Luke Gregerson and Toronto’s J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman.

Among notable absentees: players with the Dodgers, Red Sox, and both New York teams.


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


Desire for Dominance Playing Out on Both Fields

If Baseball worried about income inequality, we know which team would be most worrisome. The LA Dodgers have made the post-season four years in a row; that is, every year since wealthy new ownership was in charge from beginning to end of the team’s performance. The Dodgers may not match the Braves’ 14 straight (1991-2005) playoff record or that of the Yankees’ 13 consecutive successes – 1995 to 2007 – but we wouldn’t bet against them. The Cubs may turn out to match the Dodgers in resources and playoff successes, in which case Baseball would have two reasons to worry. Then there are the nearly always potent Red Sox. If MLB truly cared about equality, there would be much to keep it be concerned..

We know the fear about dominance in the political field has now concerns presidential power as well as money. If there’s a consolation for opponents of the Trump Team, it’s in the hope of a term terminated after four years. In the meantime, along with the kind of money that helped make the T-Party so effective, progressives need to find a leader. In a NY Times interview Sunday, Harry Belafonte, an ally of Martin Luther King, Jr., noted that the civil rights movement dissipated when its leaders a half-century ago moved into government, leaving the community behind. Today, meanwhile, he sees a “liberal community (that) has compromised itself out of existence, (a passive)black community, and a “strangely silent” Labor movement. Whether new leadership will emerge, he’s not so sure: “Takes a lot of courage and a lot of power to step into the space and lead a holy war.”

On a less negative note,, Belafonte does see value in what our new president represents: Instead of thinking of ourselves as part of a generous nation, he reminds us “we have a parallel history that is not so (admirable).”

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Available: Two not-excessively priced NL outfielders: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; Jay Bruce, Mets. ’17 Salaries: McCutchen, $14 mil, Bruce, $13 mil. ’16 BA’s, HRs: McCutchen, .256, 24; Bruce, .250, 33. Ages, both 30. Both are signed through 2018.

N.B. Pirates have announced McCutchen will be switched from center to right field this season to allow Starling Marte to shift from left field to center.


(Comments to

For a Baseball Fan on Super Bowl Weekend

No guarantee, but tomorrow, in advance of pro-football’s climactic event, Red Sox fan Jonathan Schwartz usually devotes much of his Sunday disc jockey show to taped accounts of interesting baseball moments. Noon WNYC, in the New York area, on line via The Jonathan Channel.


The Braves, Rockies and Twins, three of the five top teams in MLB’s farm system rankings (at two, three and five), are on the rise. The ratings say they can assure fans they will soon be playoff-competitive after long doormat-level dry spells in their divisions. As such, they’re much like supporters of currently bumbling Team Trump: “It will pass,” said a GOP legislator about the travel-ban flap a few days ago. That reality is bad news for progressives and for the news media whose readership and audiences have soared during the first two weeks of Trump-time.

The cabinet appointees will settle into their jobs, and some of us will grudgingly acknowledge that the absence of the familiar revolving-door Ivy League business people is not unwelcome. What is troubling, however: the likely departure over the next four years of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turns 83 next month, and of ”swing-seat” occupant Anthony Kennedy, who will be 80 in July. Then there are the 15 (nerve-wracking for Democrats) competitive Senate seats at stake in 2018. The Dem team needs to win nine of them to regain control of the Upper House. A tall order, even if Team Trump finds itself embattled.

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The Dodgers and Rangers are one and three on the MLB top-five list. The Dodgers have replaced the Red Sox in the number 1 spot. The Sox are now rated sixth. Phillies, Pirates, Brewers, Astros fill out the 10 highest rated teams. Mets and Yanks? 15th and 17th, in that order.

Something to cheer about: arrival of the year’s first baseball month. Welcome, February.


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

Pouring Out Pre-Season Cold Water

A few days before the 20002 World Champion LA Angels began a gradual downward curve, more than 100,000 east coast marchers took part in what was becoming a desperate losing game of their own: challenging a Team USA-spurred “run-up” to a war with Iraq. How solidly did the media join the run-up effort? Well, the march occurred on a Saturday; the NY Times grudgingly acknowledged it the following Thursday.

The Angels, then one of the MLB’s richest teams in a weak division, took six AL West titles over the next 12 years, but by the end of 2014, they had plenty of financial competition – from the Rangers and the AL West, and the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers in the MLB, as a whole. Despite a lineup that included Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, the Angels, with an unproductive farm system, sunk to third place in 2015 and next-to-last in their division last year.

The anti-war movement in late 2002 and early 2003 had to rally game-changing support without either the help of financial angels or the vocal backing of shallow-bench elected officials.. The most prominent speaker to address marchers in D.C. that January was Jesse Jackson. Under the circumstances, anti-war sentiment could make only minimal impact by the time the war began in early March of ’03.

That experience suggests how difficult will be the touted task of taking on Team Trump as did the T-Party in the first and successive years of Barack Obama’s Skipperdom. Journalist/author Jane Mayer cited this from a book by Harvard’s Theda Skocpol on the role of T-Party-aided money: “The Tea Party movement was a ‘mass rebellion… funded by corporate billionaires, like the Koch brothers, led by over-the-hill former GOP kingpins like Dick Armey, and ceaselessly promoted by millionaire media celebrities like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.”

Progressives today have neither access to big money, nor the expectation of help from a Dem team dependent for leadership on the likes of Chuck (Make Noise, Not Waves’) Schumer. To be remembered with trepidation, too: It was the “liberal media” that cheered Team Bush into the most grievous of recent “dumb wars.”

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Productive Vagabond: Brandon Moss, who has played for six teams over a 10-year period – the Red Sox, Pirates, Phillies, A’s, Indians and Cardinals – will be joining the seventh, the Royals, on a two-year deal this coming season. Moss, now 33, hit 28 HRs for the Cardinals in 2016. He is expected to DH most of the time with KC.

Back to Sleep: The All-Star game, revised to be a simple exhibition and no longer to decide which league wins home-team advantage in the World Series, won’t be played until mid-July. But already, press-box pundits are expressing regret for what has been lost. The other day, two members of an MLB Now panel talked of the opportunity the nothing-at-stake contest will afford for a late-innings nap. It should be noted that the players union was complicit with Commissioner Rob Manfred in the decision to free its members from any serious effort the previous arrangement may have required.


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


Barack and Baseball Have Left the Building

We remember that Team USA’s former Skipper declared himself a White Sox fan more than once in his first term eight years ago. We remember, too, that, as the team showed itself less competitive than fans hoped, supportive words from the White House all but disappeared.. Switching his stance at the fading of his final season, Skipper Barack found his voice, not in berating the Sox or in support of the Cubs, but on issues about which he had been satisfied executing a safety squeeze:: race and police violence, to name just a couple..

Progressive fans are grateful for the image of decency as well as wisdom the retired skipper conveyed at home and to the world (with particular gratitude centered on his survival). But they regret that he chose to add extra innings to what he once called “dumb wars”, and they (we) acknowledge the possible validity of the view that his reticences at home helped elect his successor..

Skipper Trump is unlikely to do likable things, such as embrace his hometown Yankees or Mets, or any ballteam. Nor can we expect compassion for those whose meager incomes rule out their attendance at most stadiums.. But, in truth, we have only vague ideas of how his game plan will play out. There is so much “carnage” to be addressed.. Still, he has touched on relations with Russia, NATO and the need to return factory work to our rust belt: priorities suggesting this long-shot reason for hope:. That, amid much bad sportsmanship, he could be remembered in four years as the Skipper who brought jobs and peace to the home team.

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Chirps of Relief in Oriole-Land: Why? Baltimore has finally re-signed 2016 HR champion Mark Trumbo, without whom, most observers agree, the Birds would have been dead ducks this season.

The Guru Speaks: Bill James, Baseball historian, founder of sabermetrics, and Red Sox senior advisor, provided a shot of optimism for Boston fans this coming season. Speaking of David Price’s problems pitching in nine playoff games for the Rays, Tigers, Blue Jays and the Sox – 2-8 over seven years, James said he doubted it would happen in 2017. Why? Price no longer has the burden of being team ace. Boston traded for White Sox ace Chris Sale in the post-season. James said he’d be surprised if Sale did not assume the pressure pitching role at playoff time.

Realism: While appearing on MLB Now, James had this advice for fans wondering if their teams would be part of the upper level competition this season. “If the question is ‘Are they in or out?,’ “ the answer is they’re out.”



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


A Focus on the Competitive Realities in Both Fields

To our recent stated belief that only a single NL East team, the Nationals, would be among the league’s four clubs with a genuine shot at its 2017 pennant – the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants were the others – came this howl from several NYC fans: “What about the Mets?” Our answer: the Mets, like the Cardinals and Pirates, are also-rans; their only hope the lead team in their division collapses, as the Nats did two seasons ago. Attentive fans know that few MLB teams have both the resource$ and focus to be truly pennant-level competitive.

Speaking of Focus…Alert spectators following the Political league have watched as only a single club – Team GOP – took charge of what once was a spirited competition. The surest sign of the demise of the once-dominant Dem team is its newly named public spokesperson: Chuck (“Where’s Charlie?”) Schumer. New Yorkers know that Senator Schumer has been a noisy non-combatant on any issues that carry risk – such as offending Wall Street, supporting Israel, questioning Team USA’s belligerence abroad. Indeed, a year after the Iraq war began, we asked Chuck’s Washington office for his statements on that conflict. “There are none,” we were told. As other pundits have noted, Schumer has re-emerged as a progressive. Indeed, Chuck’s frequent scripted statements attest to his unfamiliarity with the role.

We know the party made the mistake of backing another centrist – Hillary Clinton – in the election. As dubious as the choices of Hillary and Chuck for leadership positions, the problem has been less their non-progressive stance than the blindness of the shallow-bench Dem team itself.

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A Retrograde New Order: The decision of Joey Votto not to play in the World Baseball Classic with Team Canada led to a depressing discussion on MLB Now the other day. The panel’s consensus: the meager participation of American players, and the lack of enthusiasm for the Classic in the 30 U.S. team front offices, mean the WBC will not survive much longer. If so, former Commissioner Bud Selig’s two games-that-count innovations – the Classic and the newly meaningful All-Star match-up – will have been sacrificed out of an organizational wish to “keep things simple”…fans (like many of us) be damned!


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


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


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

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.


(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.


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