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 perfectpitcher.org.”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

Error-Potential in the Pre-judging Game

(Posted: 4/29/11; update 4/30)

The pressbox verdict is in: Bud Selig scored with his benching of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, best sovaldi the commissioner’s taking control of the LA team “in the best interest of baseball” was

the “right thing to do.” McCourt, ask enmeshed in a costly divorce battle with wife Jamie, deserved his sidelining, said the media scorekeepers; the owner received almost as little space as he did sympathy. 

McCourt says he’s abided by baseball’s guidelines, implying bewilderment at what’s happening. He’s also suggested that Selig is showing “prejudice”, hitting him hard while giving friend Fred Wilpon, owner of the red-ink-engulfed Mets, a pass. McCourt may have a point, especially since Selig also took a supportive stance when the Texas Rangers were in trouble last spring, helping to arrange a sale to a group headed by friends Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg. Selig does appear to have differing and flexible standards. In the words of Fox Sports-man Mark Kriegel: “The strictest scrutiny has to apply to all teams, all the time.”

Nevertheless, McCourt is guilty by consensus for hurting the image of his storied team. Never mind that the Dodgers have made the playoffs four times since he bought the team seven years ago, have a highly regarded farm system, an upper-tier payroll and are doing well this season. The owner himself has not played an MLB-acceptable game.

President Obama, our national commissioner as well as skipper, has a McCourt-like problem with a minor league player causing major embarrassment. Obama hasn’t left it to the media to convict Pvt. Bradley Manning of doing harm to country’s war-on-terror effort. He has denounced Manning for his alleged WikiLeaks connection for “breaking the law.” Here is what he said about Manning last week in San Francisco: “We’re a nation of laws.  We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.”

Salon’s slugging lawyer-columnist Glenn Greenwald hit back at the skipper’s incautious swing:

“How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt?…As a self-proclaimed Constitutional Law professor, he ought to have an instinctive aversion when speaking as a public official to assuming someone’s guilt who has been convicted of nothing. It’s little wonder that he’s so comfortable with Manning’s punitive detention since he already perceives Manning as a convicted criminal.”

The White House’s tepid reply to such criticism: The skipper was “making a general statement,” not one meant to be “specific.”

McCourt’s follow-up reply to his benching: retaining a formidable NY law firm to prepare a court challenge to Selig for interference in his business.

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It’s Early, But…A month into the season, Larry Bowa’s prejudgements (on MLB-TV) are fairly prescient. Bowa said the Rockies would win the NL West, where they are leading and looking strong, that the Marlins would win the NL East, where they’re almost neck-and-neck with the Phillies, and that the A’s would take the AL West, where they’ve confirmed a pitching depth that should keep them in the mix all the way to the playoffs. 

April Extremes: While the Rockies had taken a four-and-a-half game division lead as of early yesterday, the Padres slipped eight games behind in the NL West, a negatively impressive number (along with seven shutouts) at this stage of the season. The bunched divisions are the AL East and NL Central, where first-and-last division teams – the Yankees/Orioles and Cardinals/Astros are either fewer than, or exactly five games of each other.

Catch This: The Yanks have their Phil Hughes problem, the Red Sox worry is more generic: they’re afraid the J-and-J boys Jared Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek aren’t the answer to their catching need. Salty may shape up; if he doesn’t, Peter Gammons put it this way on WEEI the other night: “Th(e) whole medical staff declaring Russell Martin unsignable will raise its head the way it did with Jason Bay two years ago.”

Come to Think of it: Buck Showalter spoke for fans of smaller-market teams when he took this verbal shot at the Red Sox and, by implication, all big-spending teams: “I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll. You got Carl Crawford because you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their butt.’’ Asked this week if he thought his comment, published in a magazine during spring training, was a dead issue, Showalter would not duck away. “I can address it again,” he said, to a reporter who brought up the flap. The “whipping their butt” part got lost the first time around. It became relevant when the O’s took two out of three in their just-completed series with the Sox.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Technology in Action: Good and Bad Plays on Two Fields

(Posted: 4/25/11; update 4/26)

Last Friday night, here the Mets’ Ike Davis hit a ball to straightaway center that caromed off a wall at a red line separating what was in play from a home run. An umpire signaled Davis to stop with a double. After four umpires convened, discount the decision was made to look at a video replay. It showed Davis had hit a game-changing home run. 

While baseball is moving, recipe however slowly, to use technology to make the game fairer, the technology used on the political field has changed lethal war games for the worse: the style of play going from reasonably fair human combat to often-random remote-control slaughter of innocent spectators. The offensive weapon most responsible for the change is the U.S.-developed drone, an unmanned armed flying vehicle appropriately named Predator.

Team Obama has begun sending drones over the field in Libya despite the anti-U.S. outrage caused by a series of fatal errors during CIA-skippered Predator attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The scorebook’s shameful stat: hundreds of civilian bystanders of all ages killed, causing local fans to shift support to the targeted Al Quaida and Taliban. 

As the Obama team was gearing up for the drone game, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer anticipated the strategy’s pitfalls, now documented in daily headlines: 

“It’s easy to understand the appeal of a ’push-button’ approach to fighting Al Qaeda, but the embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the C.I.A. program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war.”

The UN, as well as our victimized allies, has complained about the lack of accountability for the carnage the drone campaign is causing in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now, inevitably, in Libya.

While Team Obama clings to its controversial stance, baseball is readying another small-ball tech advance for next season: It will clarify through replay whether a shoestring catch was made, or the ball was trapped instead. And there is little doubt that, not long after 2012, crucial, close plays on the bases will be reviewed via video.

– – –

Streaky Stretch: At the end of the season’s third weekend, half of the 30 MLB teams had streaks of at least three games – seven winning, eight losing. The Angels, D-backs, Giants and Padres were at the bottom of the pile, having lost four straight; the Phils and Red Sox, consensus favorites to reach the World Series, were at the top, each with five straight wins.

Bobby Sporting Specs: On ESPN Sunday night, the never-reticent Bobby Valentine was in a high speculative mode: Of Mariano Rivera’s back-to-back blown saves, he said “this may be it”, the end of Mo’s long preeminence as a closer. On whether Albert Pujols would re-sign with the Cardinals at the end of the season: “No. In their Midwest market, the Cardinals can’t afford to pay the money Albert will command.”

 Stat City: KC’s Alex Gordon leads the majors in outfield assists with five. Houston’s Carlos Lee has four. The Orioles’ Matt Wieters has thrown out four of nine would-be base-stealers – the best pct; the Reds’ Ramon Hernandez has caught six of 15, second best. Three of the 30 teams with nowhere to go but up – the Padres, last in club batting (.212), the Astros, last in fielding (23 errors in 22 games), and the D-backs, last in pitching (5.16 ERA).

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Dodgers, Team USA and the Deficit Game

(Posted: 4/22/11; update 4/12/11) 

The “D”-words this week – deficit and Dodgers – link two of our favorite pastimes. Commissioner Bud Selig is pushing Frank McCourt away from running his LA ballclub, sales pills in great part because of his deficit spending, generic which has put the team in a deep financial hole. Skipper Obama, though not personally at fault, finds himself in a McCourt-like hole. Unlike the Dodger owner, however, the skipper will have the final word on how to solve Team USA’s financial problems.

 Where Selig worries that Dodger fans would be forced to pay more if cash-desperate McCourt stayed in charge of the team, Obama wants his fans, and non-fans alike – especially the super-rich – to pay more to help defray the national deficit; pay through the politically dreaded “t”- word, taxes. Team GOP, which will have an important say in the deficit-reduction outcome, is pitching for spending cuts and no tax hikes for rich, poor or those in the middle.

The GOPers are taking their no-tax stance despite these stats: the federal rate paid by the super-rich dropped to 17 percent last year; it was 26 percent in the early 90’s and 50 percent in the mid-eighties. A compromise on the tax issue by the skipper would be – in the intra-pastime words of the Daily Beast’s Eric Alterman – “playing small ball on a field of dreams imagined almost entirely on (Republican) drawing boards.”

GM Ned Colletti is still at his Dodgers’ drawing board, where he hopes Selig will leave him during the takeover. All Colletti could say for sure when asked to comment was “It’s a sad day for baseball.” Mets fans, enduring a sad season, one of a series, would surely love to see Selig take the Wilpons out of the broke and broken NYM’s team picture. A big reason we know it is unlikely to happen: Fred Wilpon and the commish are tight.

– – –

Tough Talk: Former Met and Yankee David Cone threw high verbal hard one at A.J. Burnett on YES earlier this week: “He lacks toughness late in the game,” Cone said as Burnett had pitched himself into a potentially decisive jam in Toronto. “You have to be tough at a time like this; instead, A.J. is like a deer in the headlights.”

Dire Diagnosis: On MLB-TV, (panel regular and former Phillies closer) Mitch Williams was asked if he thought the Mets were going to turn things around. “No,” he said, “they don’t have the players. They took on all those big salaries – they gave up on $18 million (Ollie Perez and Luis Castillo) this season alone – and there’s little left to work with. When a player like R.L. Dickey says ‘We have to stop saying we’re better than this; this may be who we are’, it tells you a lot about a team.”

Stat City: Only one of 30 teams has so far made the top 10 list in batting, fielding and pitching: unsurprisingly, it’s the Phillies – sixth in hitting, ninth in fielding and seventh in pitching. The Cardinals are batting leaders, the Red Sox atop the fielding list, and the Oakland A’s first in pitching.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Fans Wonder: Is the Skipper Truly Changing His Stance?

(Posted: 4/18/11;update 4/19)      

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen could have been speaking for his team’s most prominent fan when he said the other day “We have a lot of people…panicking.  Everyone.  Unbelievable.”  Skipper Obama, discount pharm the fan, canada ailment has had lots of Democrats, not just liberals, panicking about his station-to-station approach to competing with Team GOP.  What happened to the dynamic offense he displayed a few seasons ago? 

 The skipper’s fans noted with regret that he had taken to managing from the dugout, avoiding whenever possible the dirt churned up by face-to-face combat.

The fans saw a change last week that may only have been temporary, but neverheless prompted people on the left to say “At last.”  Obama’s public resolve to defend medicare and medicaid and to pitch hard for a fairer tax lineup won cheers from many in the pressbox as well as those in the left field grandstand.Wash Post-man E.J. Dionne amplified left-of-center cheers this way:

“There was a bigness about Obama’s speech that was a relief after his recent sojourn as a sideline judge. ‘We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves,’ he said. ‘We have to think about the country that made those liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.’ Obama is back on the field, and this is where he needs to stay.”   

 The skipper’s stance during late innings of the contest over details of the deficit-conscious budget may well tell whether he’s on the field to stay.  European-based scorer William Pfaff, writing in the International Herald Trib, says program cuts and overall austerity should be avoidable:

“There is another possibility for ending national indebtedness which is rendered impossible by the power of cowardice.  That possibility is to end the country’s two trillion-dollar wars against ’terror,’ and its futile effort to maintain what is seen as a crucial strategic domination of global affairs, an increasingly expensive, steadily deteriorating, and seriously unreasonable undertaking.”

                                                                        –     –     –

Road Reality:  Weekend play left the White Sox a game under .500 (7-8) and reeling from a four-game losing streak.  Skipper Guillen declined to dwell on a third straight defeat to the LA Angels.  He worried instead about an 11-game road trip that would take his Sox to Tampa, New York and Detroit.  The players will have a lot of time on their hands, he said, especially when they’re waiting around for night games:  “It can get boring.”  That from the majors’ least boring manager.

 Bobby’s Valentine to Brian: On ESPN Sunday night, Bobby Valentine tossed a bouquet at Yankees GM Brian Cashman for his dealings during a winter when many observers accused him of being virtually inactive (The Steinbrenners had Rafael Soriano signed over Cashman’s objection).  Valentine noted that the GM’s unglamorous pickups of Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have paid big dividends so far.  He also identified scouting director Billy Epplier as the man who served as Cashman’s guide in choosing as well as he did.

 Torre Takes One:  It is seldom that anyone in baseball takes a shot at Joe Torre.  But  Cashman did just that the other day while talking about relief pitchers managers tend to overwork.  Cashman had criticized the Mets for “abusing” Pedro Feliciano, whom the Yanks had signed over the winter and was found to have season-ending arm trouble.  He conceded the Yankees had done some abusing, too, of reliever Scott Proctor.  As quoted by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Cashman fingered Torre for overworking Proctor: “(I) failed in trying to stop it.  I went every which way, to the player, to(Torre), to the pitching coach, to the agent.  I remember telling Proctor, ‘You haven’t made money yet, you’re hurting your career while you’re helping us.’  He told me, ‘I’m never going to tell him no.  If he needs me I’m going to be there for him.’ ’’  Proctor pitched just under 200 innings in a little over a season-and-a-half for the Yanks in 2006-07.  The Yanks traded him to the Dodgers in ‘07.  He later went to the Braves, for whom he is pitching now in Triple-A.

 It’s Still Early But…:  Mets fans know that in recent lean years, the publicized aim of the team was to be competitive, at least, in September.  This impoverished year what the Mets can realistically hope for must be scaled back.  One possible slogan: “Meaningful games in May.” 

                                              – o –

(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Yanqui Game in Latin America and the Mideast, Too

(Posted: 4/15/11; update 4/16)      

Venezuela, discount ampoule which has had problems with Team Obama and our corporate media, mind wants to reach the American people through baseball.  Skipper Hugo Chavez is a former sandlot pitcher who loves baseball, a recent documentary film pointed out.  It might have added that, unlike Cuban players who risk jail by defecting to the U.S., their Venezuelan counterparts are free to come here to play and prosper.

And excel:  An all-Venezuelan lineup with Felix Hernandez pitching, Victor Martinez catching, an infield of Miguel Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Pablo Sandoval, and an outfield of Carlos Gonzales, Franklin Gutierrez and Magglio Ordonez would be truly formidable. 

The consistent message from Caracas is that the shared love of baseball provides a bond of people-to-people friendship which can, and should, overcome negative publicity about Venezuela.  Those media brush-backs, stemming from Team Obama’s stance, can be explained, says the UK Guardian, in simple terms:  Oil-rich Team Chavez, which pulls to left, is gaining too much regional clout that poses a challenge to traditional Yanqui power there.  It’s nothing personal, says the Guardian; the record book shows that Team USA has always sought to send any Latin American skipper to the showers who doesn’t play its game.  It almost got rid of Chavez in 2002, was implicated in a separatist effort to undercut Bolivia’s populist Evo Morales in 2008, and is suspected in Ecuador of trying to drive leftist Skipper Rafael Correa from the field.  (All three skippers have sent the Obama team’s official scouts back where they came from.)   

Obama has kept faith with a long-used U.S. team game plan followed now on other foreign fields as well as in Latin America.  The Herald Trib’s William Pfaff, writing from Europe, describes the all-purpose game plan we’re trying to execute in the Middle East:

“(It’s) a(n) effort to manage the region through chosen political clients and favorites, in the self-deluding belief that this is ‘democratization’ – the identical policy that has already given the region wars in or around Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the threat of war with Iran, and now the Libyan intervention.  One must do better.”

An effort “to manage the region through chosen political clients”:  Is there reason to hope Team Obama will bring that game to an end, if not in the Middle East, at least in Latin America?  The answer for the moment is as obvious as it is regrettable.

                                                   –     –     –

The Debuting Dozen:  Time to check in on how the 12 managers starting their first full season with new teams are doing.  Here they are in alphabetical order:  Terry Collins, Mets; John Farrell, Blue Jays; Kirk Gibson, D-backs; Fredi Gonzalez, Braves; Clint Hurdle, Pirates; Don Mattingly, Dodgers, Mike Quade, Cubs; Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins; Ron Roenicke, Brewers; Buck Showalter, Orioles, Eric Wedge, Mariners; Ned Yost, Royals.  Going into the weekend, the 12 were bunched within, at most, four-and-a-half games of each other.  Yost had led the Royals to the best record, 8-4; Rodriguez’s Marlins and Roenicke’s Brewers were 7-5.  Showalter’s Orioles were 6-5, Quade’s Cubs and Farrell’s Jays 6-6.  The other six’s clubs were below .500, Collins’ Mets and Wedge’s Mariners the biggest disappointments at 4-9.  The able performances of Farrell, Roenicke and Mattingly are noteworthy because, until this season, they had never managed in the majors before.  They both look as though they belong.

Hurtin’ Time in Texas:  The Rangers took a double-hit when Josh Hamilton broke his arm at homeplate last Tuesday: they lost their best player on the field (for an estimated six-to-eight weeks) but attracted unwelcome attention to that same player’s attitude problem.  Hamilton’s initial blaming of third-base coach Dave Anderson for the “stupid” decision to send him home suggested strongly that he is no asset in the clubhouse.  His belated apology to Anderson doesn’t change that appraisal.

The Waiting-in-Vain Game:  For the last four years, the Mets have played a series of demoralizing waiting games – for the return from injury of would-be season saviors: Moises Alou, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and lately, Jason Bay, felled by concussion last July 25.  The suddenly fragile Bay was healthy during most of spring training until March 29, when he suffered a rib injury.  That evolved into an oblique strain shortly before he was scheduled to return the first week of the season.  Now the talk is Bay won’t be back until the end of the month.  By that time Mets fans will have long since given up savior illusions concerning Bay and, especially, Johan Santana, not due back until the summer.

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests.  Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Why Wealthy Ballplayers Won’t Hit to Left

(4/11/11; update 4/12)

Marvin Miller, prostate first head of the players union, best tells (David Rothenberg on WBAI) of seeking support for unionizing from team members a half-century ago.  He arranged a tour of the then-20 spring-training sites in Florida and on the Pacific Coast.  His first stop was Palm Springs, where the Cal Angels trained.  The day before his visit, the LA Times quoted the Angels’ player-rep in a front-page headline:  “We Don’t Want a Labor Boss.”

The Angels, Giants, Indians and Cubs, all West Coast-based, voted against organizing with near-unanimity.  The 16 clubs in Florida, outside the LA Times orbit, all gave Miller the support he needed to start the Major League Players Association.  Miller notes that he had to overcome “anti-union propaganda” throughout the country to win over most team members.  He says the players, many only high school-educated and possessing little job experience outside baseball, had little sympathy for the challenges working people face in dealing with employers.

We know since that time the union has made millionaires of major leaguers.  In that affluent company, they’ve become averse to paying taxes, and they still show little concern for the exploitation of employees in too many non-baseball workplaces.  The major league union has never supported any other labor protest.  Only one white union member – Jonny Gomes, then of the Tampa Bay Rays – publicly endorsed the pro-labor of the two presidential candidates for president in 2008.        

Skipper Obama’s lack of appeal to white voters outside baseball was much remarked upon after the ’08 contest.  Now, a new Pew Research Center poll finds that only 38 percent of college-educated white men surveyed approve of the skipper’s leadership.  The figure is 34 percent for both non-college-educated white men and women.  College-educated women give the  skipper a 56 percent approval score, the single group of whites to rally around him.   

                                                   –     –     –

What We Suspect After the First 10 Days:  The team the skipper roots for – the White Sox – is the class of the always competitive AL Central.  Rangers-Angels-A’s will be an entertaining scramble in the AL West.  The Phillies, two games ahead in the NL East, will stay in first to season’s end.

Calling Mr. Clean-Up:  “Do you think A-Rod can pinch-hit?” asked John Sterling on WCBS Radio Sunday night.  The Yanks, down 1-0 in the seventh, were still alive against the Red Sox.  But without their flu-sidelined clean-up hitter, the lineup had lost its menace.  Of course, Josh Beckett – two hits, 10 strikeouts in eight innings – had a lot to do with it.  A-Rod, on a couch in the clubhouse, was left in peace.  Which is the way Sox fans surely felt after their team’s second victory in nine games.

Global Perspectives: The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy and Nick Cafardo commenting  pithily about the Red Sox pitching woes (before Beckett’s gem), but their words apply to most MLB teams so far.  Shaughnessy said the damage inflicted on the staff suggested that the Sox hire a “whiplash spet”.  Cafardo likened calling on three-fifths of the Sox rotation (Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka) to dipping into the “proverbial box of chocolates.” 

Stat City:  Only one pitcher has made the  top five in league wins, ERA and strikeouts: the Angels’ Jared Weaver, 3, 0.87 and 27.  Only one regular starter still has a 0.00 ERA:  the Brewers’ Chris Narveson, with 13 unblemished innings.  

Stat City (2):  On TBS Sunday, Ernie Johnson showed a striking Roy Halladay-Tim Hudson career stats comparison:  Halladay 170-86, 3.31 (14 seasons), Hudson, 167-87, 3.41 (13 seasons).  The only substantial edge, on K’s-BB’s – to Halladay: 1717-486; Hudson 1548-707.

                                                – o –

(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Impact of Political Cost-Cutting on Baseball

(Posted: 4/8/11; update 4/9)         

 A new baseball-centered book, click “The Extra 2 Percent”, view is a reminder of why so many of us root afar for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Competing at a fraction of what the Red Sox and  Yanks spend in the AL East, the Rays have won two division titles and made it to the World Series in the past three years.

They performed that miracle by doing – in owner Stuart Steinberg’s words – “everything 2 percent better than the competition: scouting, player development, lineup moves, (even) promotions, everything.”  Steinberg developed his skills as a Wall Street player.  Chances are, although he hasn’t said so publicly – he’s not a fan of the cost-cutting game Team GOP is playing in Washington.

Major League teams needing new ballparks to be financially competitive also need  public money to get their dream realized.  At the very least, local governments pay for the roads and additional local transport that make the new park accessible. (In NYC, the city electeds gave the Yankees precious parkland, displaced small busineses to make room for the Mets’ new ballpark and subsidized both private projects.  All that, plus providing infrastructure improvements.)  In that regard the Rays are out of luck: Tampa/St.Petersburg is a conservative-run anti-tax bailiwick.  There is little revenue for anything, much less for helping to build a new ballpark.

 Overlooked in the rally by the right for spending cuts and “doing more with less” is the hits small businesses – as well as bigger ones like the Rays – take when government services are no longer on deck.  Most of us may be able to cope with fewer sanitation pickups and police patrols, but mom-and-pop stores need more, not less help from the electeds responsible for assisting their effort to survive.

 That, of course, applies even more so to low-income people. The cruelest cut currently proposed by Team GOP – an affront to the principle of shared sacrifice – would decimate Medicaid, public health care for the vulnerable.  An executive of the National Council on Aging told a Congressional panel what the cuts would mean:

“Th(is) proposal takes us from neglecting the least among us to targeting them—threatening the lives, dignity, and future of poor, vulnerable seniors, children, and people with disabilities.  These poor Americans did not create our deficit. In fact, it costs Medicaid much less than private insurance to cover people with similar health status. But these Americans in greatest need are being targeted because they don’t have the voice or political power to fight back.”

That lack of power – and lack of will on the part of the Democratic team – may mean that Medicaid will not be spared deep cuts. Indeed, economist Robert Kuttner says the radical GOP plan “would kill Medicare and Medicaid, as we know them.” Unlike the vulnerable,   Rays owner Steinberg is in position to fight back.  He can move the team to a more hospitable city.  That’s something, reports say, he is prepared to do

                                                       –     –     –

Sunless Season So Far:  Barely a week into the season the Rays have played themselves into a deep hole, dug in part by an injury to their best player, Evan Longoria.  He went on the DL last Sunday with a strained oblique that will sideline him for an estimated three weeks.  Then, yesterday, Manny Ramirez announced his retirement rather than face a drug-related investigation and possible penalties.  Oh, and Johnny Damon, the other veteran signed to help compensate for the departure of Carl Crawford, has been hampered by Tropicana Field turf; it’s been hard on his legs.  Alas for their fans, the Rays will have to give more than 2 percent extra to become a factor this year in the AL East race.  

 Rivalry Update:  Over the winter (said the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy yesterday), Sox fans had a lot of fun at the expense of the Yankees.  Citizens of Sox Nation mocked Brian Cashman and repeatedly painted the Pinstripes as old and pitching-poor.  Now the Yankees are in town with a chance to take a seven-game lead over the Sox just nine games into the season.”  ” Make that “an eight-game lead 11 games into the season.” And to do that the Yanks will have to win the last two games of the three-game series. The Sox pounded Phil Hughes yesterday en route to a wild 9-6 victory that ended their six-game losing streak.  Sox 7-8-9 relievers Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were lights out.  While Hughes flopped badly, Bartolo Colon gave the Yanks something positive to take away from the game: he pitched four-and-a-third innings, yielding only two hits and striking out five.

 Flash:  John (Flash) Flaherty has emerged as a YES color man who is both informative and relaxed.  The other night, he reported on something innocuous Yankees GM Brian Cashman had said in an interview.  Colleague Michael Kay reacted with surprise and suggested Flaherty had been indiscrete in quoting Cashman as he did.  “What do you expect me to say,” said Flaherty.  “That’s what he said.”  The faintest whiff of tension made the exchange more than mundane.  Then, on Thursday, Gordon’s tone caught Kay’s attention.  “You sound contentious today,” he said to Flash.  “Day game after a night rainout,” Flaherty explained.                                                                                     – o –

(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Obama-Jeter Connection Four Years Later

(Posted: 4/4/11; update 4/5)       

 On this, usa see the fourth anniversary of The Nub, best we honor the still-green tradition of replaying our rookie at-bat of April 5, 2007.  Skipper Obama was an unproven prospect then, seeking to distinguish himself in the spring-training period of his team’s presidential primary contest.  Jeter was 32, and not far past his prime.  Here is the cross-field comparison that occurred to us as we swung away in the leadoff spot five years ago today:  

“If Barack Obama regains his early campaign momentum, one reason is likely to be the Derek Jeter factor.  That Barack and Jeter share similar multi-cultural backgrounds will surely seep into the broader voter consciousness as the baseball season unfolds.  The racial comparison will likely lead many even casual observers of the sport to connect Jeter’s attributes with those of Obama.  Jeter has earned the admiration of fans throughout the country and world for his skills and conduct.  Obama can benefit from a transfer of that admiration if he handles himself in the political field with the same unruffled assurance that Jeter exhibits when he steps to the plate or corrals a difficult ground ball.”    

Four years later, both the Yankee captain and the national skipper are facing reality: Jeter that of advancing age, Obama that of the crucial role of money in the American game.  Jeter will be 37 in June; nothing he can do about it.  The skipper’s critics say he has done too much about the money challenge, putting Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and, now, Jeffrey Immelt on his team.  He has thus, say the boo-birds, won over Wall Street while losing many of his financially beleaguered fans.

 Jeter will likely have departed the diamond when Obama hopes he’ll be leaving office five years from now. The skipper should succeed in winning a second term, not because he is the battler Dems hoped he would be.  It is more because he acknowledged and played well the money game that dominates our political arena today.  Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz describes the game in the latest issue of Vanity Fair:

 “Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth…The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending.  The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office.  By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.”     

Rightly or wrongly, the skipper may well be remembered for keeping his team in the game rather than leading it in a positive direction.

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First-Weekend Impressions:  The defending champion Giants can’t hope to repeat with Aubrey Huff demonstrating his out of position in right field.  The Phillies confirmed what many suspected: they can’t miss making it to the playoffs, and perhaps all the way, if their top four starters say healthy.  Most telling message: The Reds to the Brewers; the sweep lets Milwaukee know Cincy will be tough to topple in the NL Central.  The Rays may well reel for the next three weeks without Evan Longoria.  ESPN’s new version of Sunday Night Baseball has too much off-field clutter.  Bring back Jon Miller and pair him with Orel Hersheiser.  Bobby Valentine has a tendency to wear thin.

Summing Up: “That’s the seventh home run the Red Sox have given up (in less than two-and-a-third games),” said TBS’s Dennis Eckersley after Ian Kinsler went deep in the third inning Sunday.  “Things aren’t going so well.”  ( By game’s end, the Sox had given up 11 HRs in 24 innings.)  Eck on Jonathan Papelbon, who yielded a run, allowing two doubles, a hit batsman and an intentional walk before striking out three in the eighth:  “Papelbon is pitching like he did last season.  It’s exciting, but hard to watch.”

Salty in the Sox Wound: When baseball people assess the Sox (says the Globe’s Nick Cafardo) “ they always question why the Sox have so much faith in (Jarrod) Saltalamacchia.  And at this point the team has to be all in with him because it has no real alternative. The Sox would hate to have to turn to the 39-year-old Varitek full-time if things didn’t work out.”  Salty went 0-for-10 on a weekend his battery-mates were bombed.

Tut, Tut, Terry:  Ron Darling second-guessed Mets manager Terry Collins the other night on his decision to have Chris Young open the series tonight against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  Said Darling (on YES):  “I would have had him pitch in warm weather here in Florida (where the Mets were playing the Marlins), given his shoulder problems.  He’s going to have to get used to the cold, but I would put it off if I could.”

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 (The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Morality Game and the Home-Field Disadvantage

(Posted: 4/1/11; update 4/12)

The team prize for most upbeat pre-season goes to the Colorado Rockies. Aside from fifth-starter Aaron Cook’s broken finger, view the talented Rockies emerged from spring games healthy and aggressively optimistic. GM Dan O’Dowd hailed the team’s “wide-open style of baseball” played “with little or no fear.” The Denver Post talked of the Rockies’ impressive “zeal”, generic something that surely impressed MLB-TV’s Larry Bowa, as well. He picked them to win the NL West, while SI’s Tom Verducci predicted they would earn the wild card.

We know that critics have accused Team Obama of entering the game in Libya with too much zeal (while others have called him too cautious). One thing is clear: the skipper of Team USA, whether his name be Clinton, Bush or Obama, can win support for military contests on foreign fields by invoking moral reasons for doing so. That is true whatever the cost of going to bat abroad. Scorekeeper Michael Tomasky wrote about it for the UK Guardian:

“We almost never ask ‘can we pay for it?’ when we’re talking about matters military. We debate whether it’s the right or wrong thing to do in moral and historical terms. We never talk money.

“This is the precise opposite of our domestic politics, is it not? We never talk about whether it’s right or wrong to let people sleep in the street… But we always talk about what it would cost to get them off the streets. Or to have cleaner air, or healthier children, or whatever it is. How did the military become completely insulated from cost-benefit analysis? “

A comment by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made in the ‘90s provides a partial reason for the insulation : “What’s the point of having this superb military,” she said, “if we can’t use it?” The trillions in military investment cry for a payoff – putting weapons and personnel to use. Once the decision is made, further investment is required to “give our troops what they need.” Add to that the defense-industry jobs that military action solidifies in states throughout the country, and we’re close to a complete explanation for the disparity between military and civilian budgets.

Post-Script to Previous Nub on Loss of Liberal Clout: Republicans truly fear their base, and they treat them with respect and kid gloves (to a fault, actually) and do their best to placate them. Democrats fear their base in the sense that they fear that they (Dems) will be tagged as extreme if they don’t make aggressive public moves to demonstrate that they aren’t really like their base.” (Tomasky)

 Thank You, Coach Gates, for the Comparison: Defense Sec Robert Gates on the team of Libyan rebels: “It’s like a pick-up game.”

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‘S’-Rod: Kenny Singleton and Michael Kay on (YES) called out Alex Rodriguez for not hustling on a high-off-the-wall double he hit in the sixth inning of the opener with Detroit Thursday. Singleton noted that A-Rod looked into the dugout while loping down to first – his way of HR “styling” – and only made it to second when, full-tilt, he could have gotten to third. With the score tied, 3-3, Kay pointed out that, had A-Rod reached third, the Tigers would have been forced to draw in the infield, giving Robinson Cano a better chance to drive in the tie-breaking run. As it was, Justin Verlander struck out both Cano and Nick Swisher to save A-Rod from looking worse than he did.

Smoothies: On ESPN, Orel Hersheiser and Bobby Valentine (with Dan Shulman) zeroed in on a possible turning point in the Giants-Dodgers game Thursday night. It came in the top of the eighth with LA ahead, 1-0, a man on first and none out. Hong-Chih Kuo, newly on in relief of Clayton Kershaw, had thrown six straight outside the strike zone. He fired a seventh, but Andres Torres swung, fouling off what would have been ball three. Hersheiser said the 2-and-1 count rather than a 3-and-0, gave Kuo a chance to get a “feel” for the strike zone. He quickly disposed of Torres, Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff, setting up what would be a 2-1 LA win. Valentine said Orel was “exactly right.” Bobby deferred to his color partner all night, the reticence precluding verbal clutter in the three-person booth.

It’s Early, But: One game into the season, Larry Bowa can pat himself on the back for one of his observations. He called Joba Chamberlain a key component of would-be Yankees’ success this year. In his first test, Joba pitched a neat, three-up, three-down seventh to get the win as the Yanks beat the Tigers Thursday. Bowa thought Joba would be sharp, and he was.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Lost Clout Felt on the Left in Both Fields

(Posted: 3/28/11; update 3/29)     

On the brink of the new season, best the Mets’ concern about the health of Carlos Beltran has made it easy to overlook a potential long-term problem: Jason Bay’s persistent loss of power.  Bay, see who hit only six HRs in 95 games last year, has had none in 18 spring games. The left fielder was given a four-year $66 million contract in hopes he would duplicate his four over-30-homer seasons between 2005 and 2008 with the Pirates and Red Sox.  The Mets and their fans must face the real possibility that Bay’s long-ball days are over.

Lefty hitters are looking at a similar reality in the political game.  Through the years they’ve lost their clout, the power to force opponents to play them deep, treat them with respect.  Liberal fans couldn’t see what was happening clearly.  They knew that their team, at the top of its game before Vietnam, had lost ground trying to do too much.  They thought it would be forgiven for overspending because it went to bat consistently for the bleacherites. But strong, high-priced pitching helped the opposition develop a momentum that attracted the support of fans in the upper decks as well as the corporate boxes.         

 Lefties thought that would change when Team Obama took the field.  Instead, the skipper is showing he knows the score – the poll numbers-generated message, which confirmed this truth: the noise coming from the left no longer makes a difference.  

 Responding to the scoreboard, Skip Barack has quick-pitched to strike out the public option, cut corners to keep the Bush tax cuts, slowed his delivery on Iraq and Afganistan troop withdrawals, served a hanging change-up to the Latin-American right, and balked on commitments to close Guantanamo, end torture, support whistle-blowing and civil liberties, in general.  Approaching mid-game, he has blown away all but the desperate hopes of lefty diehards.    

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Jason Not Totally at Bay: Tinkering with his stance, Jason Bay has hinted at his own desperation. His adjustments have resulted in improved hit production, if not home runs.  He’s batting .333; he it .259 in 96 games last season.

 A Job for Joba?:  On MLB-TV, the other night, Larry Bowa expressed concern about the staying power of Phil Hughes and the back of the Yankees’ rotation.  Bowa noted that overwork probably caused a drop-off in Hughes’ effectiveness at the end of last season. The same thing, he said, could happen to him, Ivan Nova and even Freddy Garcia this year.  Joba Chamberlain, he suggested, could be the key to the success of the entire NYY rotation. “If he can get comfortable pitching the sixth or seventh inning (before Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera), the starters will be fine.”  

 Familiar Faces:  Half the fun this season will be watching how familiar players do with new teams.  Of particular interest here will be the performances of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez on the Rays (we mentioned Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur last time).  The Tigers, opening with the Yanks at the Stadium Thursday, will have two former pinstripers worthy of attention in this, their second year in Detroit: center fielder Austin Jackson and former reliever, now fifth starter, Phil Coke.  Ian Kennedy, also dealt by the NYYs before last season, but to the the D-backs, will be Arizona’s opening-day pitcher this week and worthy of attention throughout the year.  The D-backs have two former Mets on the staff, J.J. Putz and Aaron Heilman.  The team with most ex-Mets: The White Sox, with Ramon Castro, Philip Humber and Lastings Millidge. 

 The Un-Living: Zack Greinke was confident that, despite a cracked rib, he would be back pitching for the Brewers in time for opening day.  The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy reminds us that, with a similar injury last season, Jacoby Ellsbury played a total of 18 games.  We predicted it would be late April, at the earliest, that Greinke would go off the DL.  Now we think that might be too optimistic.  In the same column, Shaughnessy recalls what Orioles manager Earl Weaver used to say when asked about an injured player: “He’s not on my team; I only deal with the living.”

 Trouble Brew-ing?  With Greinke out and fellow starter Shaun Marcum toting an iffy shoulder, the  Brewers finish second to the Cardinals in our unwelcome pre-season, high-expectation “Teams-at-Risk” standings. The White Sox are third.  Rick Sutcliffe said on ESPN that Ozzie Guillen would be wise to wait until July – the medical opinion – before letting surgery-convalescent Jake Peavy back in his rotation.  Peavy wants to rush his return, an option that’s hard for Ozzie to resist.

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)