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

Baseball-Like Bind Balking US in Libya

THE NUB

“If you don’t think life imitates sports, canada you’re not reading The Nub”

– Bill Moyers 

“Politics and baseball. Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on perfectpitcher.org.”

– Boston Globe

(Posted: 3/25/18; update 3/26)

The other day, sales the Cardinals and Nationals engaged in a brush-back war in which there were three stung casualties. When one of them, Nats’ shortstop Ian Desmond, was hit by Cards’ pitcher Miguel Batista, the skirmishing threatened to become serious. “They hit us, we hit them,” was the message from Jim Riggelman and Tony La Russa, after calm returned and no one was hurt. “That’s the way the game has always been played” they said, in effect, “and there doesn’t seem much can be done about it.” Neither manager, nor anybody connected with the sport, is happy with the tit-for-tatting, but no one has devised a satisfactory way of stopping it.

A crucial question surrounding the real brush-back war in Libya is similar: Does Team USA have any alternative to playing the (intervention) game? Some pressbox scorers say unless the team is prepared to intervene anywhere there is injustice – against friends as well as adversaries – we should not be involved. Our stance looks like one of political self-interest otherwise. The Politico’s Michael Kinsley suggests an additional reason to be wary: “Inevitably, there will be…’collateral damage’,” he says. The estimated death toll in Libya, attributed primarily to Team USA, is already in the hundreds and rising.

Yale Prof. Stephen Carter, writing in the Daily Beast, offers another compelling caveat concerning our role in the war, detailing its cost and the disproportionate size of our burden:

“Although the media keep reporting the Libyan war as though the U.S. is some sort of junior partner, the truth is the other way around. It is an American war, with a bit of support from other players. Here the data are instructive. Remember the opening salvo of the war, those 124 cruise missiles launched against the Libyan air-defense systems? According to the headlines, they were fired by American and British warships. Indeed they were. The Americans fired 122. The British fired two…Although the Defense Department insists that…the allies will begin to take the lead, flying most of the sorties, it is not clear whether they have the money…The Libyan war is likely to cost well in excess of $1 billion a week. Nobody else can afford it. Thus, the longer the war drags on, the more likely it is to become an all-American show.”

Avoidance would be the obvious sensible alternative were it not for the lesson learned during the Rwanda massacre in the 1990’s. Katha Pollitt recalled that lesson this week in The Nation: President Clinton said his biggest regret was failing to prevent the (Rwandan) genocide. Military action against Qaddafi may be a bad idea—another Iraq-like ‘cakewalk’—but people of good will can still see it as preferable to standing by as Qaddafi butchers the rebels, as he promised to do.”

Beyond blocking a bloodbath, say skeptical observers, what is Team USA’s ultimate goal (if any) in Libya? Are we playing toward an (unacknowleged) endgame in which Qaddafi will be sent to the showers or allowed to keep pitching? Is there a valid alternative to Qaddafi? Such unanswered questions make this telling point about the Libyan playing field: Whatever the outcome, the action there leaves Skipper Obama with scant hope of looking like a winner to many fans in his home ballpark.

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Springtime for Melky: We’ve mentioned before how the addition of ex-Yankee Melky Cabrera and ex-Met Jeff Francoeur will make the Kansas City A’s a value-added attraction in the NY area. Melky has been a pleasant surprise to A’s manager Ned Yost this spring, batting .479 (as of Friday). He signed for $1.25 million, less than half of his previous salary, for a chance to play every day. Says Yost: “(Melky) was serious about bouncing back. Money was secondary compared to prove to baseball that he’s the player he once was and what everybody thinks he can be. My thinking (was): This guy can help us. (Sure enough), he’s looking petty darn good.”  

Jays Finding Joy in Jo-Jo: The chirping in the Blue Jays nest concerns lefty Jo-Jo Reyes, a throw-in last summer in the trade of shortstops Alex Gonzalez and Yunel Escobar. Reyes has emerged as the likely replacement in the rotation for the forearm-injured Brandon Morrow. Reyes blanked the Yankees for six innings in his last start; (he tired in the seventh, being lifted after walking two who eventually scored).

Buck Shot: Buck Showalter may think – as he said in a published interview – that Theo Epstein is overrated as a GM because he has a $200 million player budget with which to deal for the likes of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. But Brian Cashman has nothing negative to say about his fellow GM: “I’ve learned a lot from the way the Red Sox have gone about their business and I’ve tried to incorporate those things here, too…to our benefit.” Epstein says Showalter is right about the advantage a GM with big bucks to spend has over competitors. But he points out it’s the Red Sox farm system that makes possible deals like the one for Gonzalez.

‘Sickness’: The off-field Mets story – about huge financial losses – is getting more prominent play than the team’s exhibition play in Florida. That’s okay with most Mets players, as Jason Bay told the Globe’s Nick Cafardo: In a sick kind of way it’s easier for us…It takes a lot of the focus from here…I think until it makes its way into the clubhouse — and it really hasn’t yet — it hasn’t been an issue for us.”

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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.)

Ignorance Abounds in Baseball and Politics

(Posted: 3/21/11; update 3/22)

The Major League Players Association has been spared the anti-union assault under way in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states. But three of its members – Curtis Granderson, find Omar Vizquel, and Derrek Lee – have reminded fans of a key organizational flaw: a disregard for its history. 

 All three admitted knowing nothing about Curt Flood, the man whose sacrifice set in motion the free-agent system and, with it, the dramatic rise in player salaries. Scores of other members made the same admission but asked not to be named. That the union, which financed Flood’s early ‘70s legal battle to end player servitude to team owners, gave him little support afterward is a matter of family record (disputed by MLPA founding exec Marvin Miller). But the failure to honor Flood, who died in 1997, through informing members of his quality-of-life heroism on their behalf, is sad.

 Sadder still is the ignorance on the field of foreign affairs where Team USA’s players in Congress are showing their inexperience. The International Herald Tribune’s William Pfaff has scored their resultant shaky play:

 “(They) have spent their lives inside the United States, preoccupied with American affairs and society and popular culture, possessing little or no interest in what goes on elsewhere…They are not isolationists, as the vast majority of Americans were between the two world wars. They are isolated, not isolationists. Since the end of military conscription, they lack even that rudimentary acquaintance with the world abroad that most young Americans in the postwar years acquired…

 “The vast majority of young Americans today know nothing of war other than what they see in the movies and computer games, which is corrupt knowledge. Foreigners…and mercenaries do much of America’s fighting, which may be considered a dishonoring aspect of our chosen national career as the global
superpower. It is, anyway, a career now nearing its end, to the benefit of all.

A sobering perspective from a respected scorekeeper in Paris.

– – –

Montero Losing Ground? Remember: Joe Girardi indicated a couple of weeks ago that Jesus Montero would be backup catcher to Russell Martin. Now the Yankee manager is not so sure. Here is Girardi’s latest comment on the number-2 catcher sweepstakes (as quoted by the NY Post’s Joel Sherman): “The competition (with Austin Romine) continues, and we have not made a decision yet.” Montero’s problem: his defense, which at least one scout says will eventually force his switch to first base/DH.

Negativity” Twins: Mets GM Sandy Alderson, on SNY yesterday, addressed the differences in the statuses of Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez that led to their being cut (despite hefty salaries of $6 million and $12 million, respectively). Perez, he said, was let go purely because of “performance.” Castillo, he implied, performed well enough to be kept were it not for the “negativity” surrounding his presence on the team. That negativity, which would also have bedeviled Perez had he performed, was distracting the media, he said, from “positive” spring developments. Alderson acknowledged that fan discontent was a “collateral” reason for the cuts.

Cloudy Spring for Ex-Rays: The Cubs are paying Carlos Pena $10 million to play first base this season. How has his spring been going? A report in the Chicago Trib says Pena “now is teetering on the brink of baseball existence.” As for fellow Cub and former Rays teammate Matt Garza, stats tell his spring story: 0-3, 9.88 ERA, has not pitched past four innings. 

 A Lastings Comeback: A former Mets prize prospect who played himself out of NY, then bounced to the Nationals and the Pirates is close to winning a reserve outfield spot with the White Sox. Lastings Millidge is a non-roster invitee but has displayed power and a good eye this spring. So he is considered the front-runner to make the fourth and last open bench-player slot on the team. Another former Met, pitcher Philip Humber, seems to have clinched a berth as a Chisox reliever. Humber was one of four players traded to the Twins for Johan Santana in 2008.

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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.)

Baseball’s Role in the ‘Moral Rot’ of Politics

(Posted: 3/18/11; update 3/19)

What should baseball learn from the new 64-31 score against the war in Afghanistan? It should see that, buy as a Wash Post/ABC poll shows, fans have had their fill of militarism and should not be required to participate in ballpark “honorings” of our troops.

Silence on the subject from the commissioner’s office means the seventh-inning super-patriotic displays will likely again be part of the game-attending experience. Ball fans are supposed to cheer the service men and women and their (often-provocative) presence in 175 countries around the world. The solicited cheers recall the popular support extracted originally for the invasions of Iraq as well as Afghanistan. Now, strong support for the older of those endless wars has dwindled – the poll says – to 17 percent.

The national security state thus has a tough challenge in selling what we’re doing abroad. It needs baseball’s help, an assist that Glenn Greenwald calls worse than misguided: “A nation shouldn’t be fighting a war — especially in another country — if such a small fraction of its citizens believe it’s truly necessary. (It follows that nothing) justifies sending fellow citizens off to die — let alone killing people in the country we’ve invaded.”

One reason, stats aside, there’s such small fan reaction to the continuing conflicts: over 99 percent of us don’t feel the pain. Less than one percent of the population – 100,000 volunteers – is doing the fighting. More importantly, while the deficit debate goes into extra innings, hardly anyone mentions the $150 billion spent each year to finance the wars. That outlay has been declared separate, distinct and not relevant to the discussion. The DC Post’s opinion writer Matt Miller aptly calls the situation: “evidence of the moral rot from which our enemies say America suffers.”

However peripherally, baseball risks being perceived as part of that rot.

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Luis’ Likely Successor: After talking to GM Sandy Alderson on YES Friday, Mets broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt predicted who would replace the just-released Luis Castillo as the team’s second baseman: Brad Emaus, the Rule 5 pick from the Blue Jays. Alderson said the Mets need offense at second base as well as acceptable defense. Burkhardt felt Emaus comes closest to filling that bill. Justin Turner does, too, but he has minor league options, which almost certainly means he’ll be sent to Buffalo. Castillo would have made the team – it says here – had he not been associated with one of Omar Minaya’s several overly generous contracts ($25 million for four years). It meant, we know, that Luis was a target of fan resentment when he couldn’t produce at a level commensurate with his pay.Emaus batted .298 and hit 10 HRs in 87 games in Triple-A last season.

 Grist from a Hawk and a Stone: With almost two weeks still to go, these are the dog days of spring training: meaningless games and mostly redundant information from broadcasters. The White Sox team of Ken (Hawk) Harrelson and Steve (Stoney) Stone on WGN-TV is an exception. The other day, during a White Sox-Giants game, Harrelson recalled a conversation with Ted Williams on batting with a three-and-0 count. “He said he always was allowed to hit away but only did so five or six times in his entire career.”(“Many players don’t like to hit three-and-0,” said Stone. “Afraid of being embarrassed.”) How did Ted prepare for any at-bat? “He needed to know three things, he said – the pitcher, the wind, and the home-plate umpire.” 

 Ex-pitcher Stone, on where a pitcher has the biggest advantage over the batter: Los Angeles (or Anaheim) at 5:45 p.m. (Pacific time)

Cards’ Future Closer? Adam Wainwright (on MLB-TV) talking about the possibility he’ll return from Tommy John surgery next year as a relief pitcher: “I wouldn’t mind that, but I don’t want to be a set-up man to (Ryan) Franklin.”

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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.)

Greinke and Team Obama Hurt in ‘Stupid’ Games

(Posted: 3/14/11; update 3/15)     

Anybody who has ever injured a rib knows how painful and persistent the hurt can be.   Zack Greinke says the rib he cracked will heal in time for him to pitch soon after Milwaukee’s opening day.  But, sovaldi chances are – it says here – Greinke will not be pain-free until late April, best at the earliest.  His boss, Brewers GM Doug Melvin says Greinke conceded the way he incurred the injury – during a pick-up basketball game – was “stupid.”  The basketball-playing skipper of Team Obama acknowledges neither stupidity nor pain when talking about the self-inflicted injury to his – and the country’s – reputation growing out of the WikiLeaks wrapup.    

But the skipper can’t help but have winced when hit by Amnesty International. It  called his team’s treatment of accused WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning “unnecessarily harsh and punitive”. That was some weeks ago.  Now Amnesty is urging Americans to participate in a public outcry about Manning’s nine-month confinement in a military jail.  The skipper said Friday he was assured that Manning’s treatment, including forcing him to sleep naked, was for his own good and safety.  A now-notorious Obama team member, siding with Amnesty, disagreed.  Speaking at MIT, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley invoked the  “s”- word: he said the Pentagon’s decision to treat Manning in punitive fashion was “stupid” as well as “counter-productive.”

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald calls Crowley’s criticism of his own team “remarkable (and) commendable.” The lefty line-driver has a different stance on the skipper’s comments on the Manning case:

“ (Obama) asked the Pentagon and they said everything was great — what more is there to know?  Everyone knows that on questions of whether the military is abusing detainees, the authoritative source is . . . the military.  You just ask them if they’re doing anything improper, and once they tell you that they’re not, that’s the end of the matter.  I have no doubt that George Bush asked the DoD whether everything was being run professionally at Guantanamo and they assured him that they were.” 

The skipper is taking a harder hit now concerning his team’s draconian response to WikiLeaks and one of its whistle-blowers: The Nation is quoting from a 2009 Obama statement on the subject of transparency:

“I’m a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information.  I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens…can hold their government…accountable.”

Team Obama obviously decided that, not the government, but Crowley should be held accountable.  How else to explain his abrupt resignation over the weekend?                                              

                                                     –     –     –

The last basketball-injury case involving a prominent player?  It happened in January 2004.  Aaron Boone, a few months away from his dramatic home run that put the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, disabled himself for the season playing hoops.  He forfeited a $5.9 million contract and prompted the Yanks to deal for another third baseman, the Rangers’ Alex Rodriguez..

Inventory Sale?  Pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, infielder Marco Scutaro and outfielder Mike Cameron are four of several Red Sox players believed to be on the market, reports ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes.  Ridding his team of any of those four would provide GM Theo Epstein with a welcome reduction in the Sox’s 2011 payroll, which must be approaching $200 million.

A Fill-In for Phil?  Halfway through spring training, the Yankees have switched worries: A.J. Burnett seems renewed, but Phil Hughes has been consistently inconsistent.  Brian Cashman is surely intensifying his search for an insurance starter via trade.

Santana’s Season to Spare:  Johan Santana is shaking off reports that his slow healing from surgery suggests that, not only will he be unready to pitch in June, but the Mets will be lucky if he pitches at all this season.  A few years ago, that would be a devastating Adam Wainwright-type setback.  But the Mets are not would-be contenders like the Cardinals.  A season-long rest might not be a bad thing for Santana, who will be counted on heavily in 2012. 

Truth-Teller:  Adrian Gonzalez (quoted on WEEI.com) on why fatigue should not prevent him from playing for the Sox almost every day: “I’m a first baseman.  How much energy do you really put out there? I don’t steal bases.  I don’t run fast.  I play first base.”

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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.)

Union-Breaking a Popular but Risky Play in Both Fields

Posted: 3/11/12; update 3/13)

The last time baseball owners tried to break the players union – in 1994 – the move led to a cancelled World Series and the steroid crisis (personified by HR-hitting Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) that swept the sport in ensuing years.  Fan backlash fed the disarray.

 State Skipper Scott Walker is risking a similar reaction with his union-breaking game in Wisconsin.  His switch-hitting – transforming a legitimate budgetary swing into a hit at collective-bargaining – was an audacious play that so far has caused a fan and media uproar.

 The Dem team bears responsibility for the rhubarb, canada discount as well, prescription as scorer Ezra Klein reported in the Wash Post:

 Democrats were able to slow the process down (by having key legislators leave the state) and convince both voters in Wisconsin and the national media that there was something beyond business as usual happening in Madison. National and state polls show they were successful in that effort.  Walker and the Senate Republicans ignored the Democrats’ attempts at compromise and ignored the public turning against them and decided to pass the legislation anyway.

“That was their prerogative, and now it’s up to the voters to decide whether to recall the eight Senate Republicans who are eligible for judgment this year, and to defeat Walker and the other Republicans in a year or two.”

Implicit in Klein’s suggestion: time is on Team GOP’s side.  Heated responses are cooled by the raw demands of daily living.  Wisconsin will test the truth of that conventional wisdom.  

                                                       –     –     –

A Different Wisconsin Ferment:  Zack Greinke has put a crimp into the Brewers’ hopes for a fast start.  A foolish basketball injury – a cracked rib – means Milwaukee’s newly acquired ace will miss his first few turns.  A less serious development, but hurtful nevertheless: the Tigers’ fireball reliever Joel Zumaya will be out with an elbow injury at season’s start as well.  Nothing (so far) compares, however, with the damage Adam Wainwright’s season-ending elbow injury has done to the Cardinals’ chances.

 An Ex-Yankee’s Red Sox Challenge: Even after being unscored-upon in seven spring innings, ex-Yankee Alfred Aceves was a long shot to make the Red Sox roster.  Then he gave up three clinching runs to the Rays in the ninth inning on Thursday and it became almost a sure thing the veteran righty will start the regular season in Pawtucket.  The Sox have Jonathon Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler among the five sure members of their relief corps.  All are righthanders, so lefties have an inside track on the remaining two slots

Attention Potential Mets Investors:  Bobby Bonilla, now 47, returns to the Mets this July 1; not to the team roster, but to its payroll.  He’ll be receiving annual $1.19 million in deferred payments for 25 years; that’s close to $30 million, stemming from a deferred deal on a 2000 contract for $5.9 million.  And, by the way, the Mets have been paying pitcher Bret Saberhagen, who, like Bonilla, played for the team in the ‘90s, $250,000 a year in deferred compensation since 2004.  Those payments will also run 25 years.  Just a small sample of why the Mets’ finances are in disarray.

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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.)

Skipper Obama’s Shameful Off-Field Game

(Posted: 3/7/11; update 3/8)

 We wrote last time of the fan embarrassment caused by the scandalous mismanagement of the Mets.  The situation is at the point where the team’s continued ownership by the Wilpons seems almost unsustainable.  A much more seriously embarrassing – no, help shameful – game is being played in a remote corner of the political field overseen by Skipper Obama.

It concerns Army Private Bradley Manning, implicated in the WikiLeaks disclosures that have discomforted Team USA and, obviously, its skipper. Manning has been held for nine months, all but one hour a day in solitary confinement and forced to remain naked much of rhe time as part of a far-fetched “suicide watch.”   Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who has been tracking the foul game from the start, is calling the U.S. team to account:

“Is there anyone who doubts that these measures — and especially this prolonged forced nudity — are punitive and designed to further erode his mental health, physical health and will?The treatment of Manning is now so repulsive that it even lies beyond what at least some of the most devoted Obama admirers are willing to defend…The (treatment) is being carried out by the military of which Barack Obama is the Commander-in-Chief.  Yes…our Nobel Peace Prize winner is well aware of what’s being done and obviously has been for quite some time.  It is his administration which is obsessed with destroying and deterring any remnants of whistle-blowing and breaches of the secrecy regime behind which the National Security State() function(s).”

The box score shows the presumption of innocence has no place in the National Security bailiwick.  Manning stands accused, but, neither tried nor convicted, he has been locked off-field under torture-like conditions for nearly a year.   

                                                           –     –     – 

Phenom-Time: The Yankees’ early-season phenom Manuelo Banuelos will only turn 20 next Sunday; he’s supposed to report to Double-A Trenton soon thereafter.  But the lefthander has impressed Joe Girardi enough up to now to prompt the manager to say Banuelo should feel a “glimmer of hope” about making the big team.  But Girardi also said on YES that “young pitchers need their innings” and it’s therefore likely Banuelos will start at Trenton with a chance of being called up later in the season.   

Speedsters:  The Globe’s Nick Cafardo asked scouts about the identities of baseball’s world-class runners.  Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner headed a list that also included Carlos Gomez of the Brewers, the Astros’ Michael Bourn and Julio Borbon of the Rangers.  In a special category is Ichiro: “He’s still very fast,” a scout said, “but not in the class of the guys we’re talking about.  He used to be.  But he’s 37 years old.’’

Hopeless in Seattle? You know a team has little hope going into a season when the MLB-TV people devote much of their preview-time to reviewing its proud history.  The Mariners are a case in point:  Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and even John Olerud were names invoked in discussing Seattle.  Current Mariners (King) Felix Hernandez and Ichiro received appropriate mention as well, but the MLB team had to work hard to find much positive to say about the 2011 M’s.

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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.)

What’s Happened to Mets ‘Magic’ and ‘Market Democracy’?

(Posted: 3/4/11; update 3/5/11)

 Two once-popular media pitches that have disappeared: “Market Democracy” and “The Magic is Back.” Neither Washington nor Wall Street wants to remind fans of the undemocratic way the housing scandal played out: many who caused the scandal scoring big bucks, generic stuff many innocent homeowners left stranded. Terms familiar to corporate-box holders like “oligarchy and “plutocracy” are being heard in the national ballpark today (along with “som”, sovaldi the warning chanted by defenders of the one-sided game). 

 The “magic” once claimed by the Mets has dissipated, leaving the team mired in pathos. Just as the market players cut ethical corners, concealing the truth of their safety sub-prime mortgage squeeze, so did the Mets owners hide the money-related reasons the once-proud franchise had become an embarrassment. Bob Klapisch of the North Jersey Record kept a scorecard on the deceit:

“The Mets already were lying last winter when they said they were financially insulated from (Bernie) Madoff’s arrest – the ($25 million) personal bailout from (Baseball Commissioner Bud) Selig suggested otherwise. Same goes for the assurances of an uncompromised off-season game plan. Another un-truth. The Mets spent only $8 million, their leanest outflow in 14 years.

As for the…pledge that Madoff’s crimes took the Wilpons by surprise, consider (that)….the Wilpons were the ones who brought their friends into the scheme, with the proviso that no new client would be allowed to speak to Madoff… The… instructions sounded like this: If you want to make money, just hand it over, don’t ask questions… According to the (NY) Times, only clients with limited understanding of investments were accepted by Madoff. Those considered too savvy or too curious were rejected. Does that mean the Wilpons were complicit in this Ponzi scheme? If they’re not guilty, they’re at least dirty.”

Klapisch summarizes his account with this suggestion – that the Wilpons follow the magic and “disappear”.

Unlike the embattled Wilpons, financial team owners who presided over shady risk-taking in the sub-prime scandal are getting a free pass from the criminal justice system. The Times’ Joe Nocera contrasts the dogged pursuit of executives involved in a similar savings-and-loan scandal of the ‘80s – resulting in more than 1,000 felony convictions in major cases – with the way the game is played now: “The federal government threw enormous resources at those (‘80’s) investigations…Over 1,000 FBI agents were involved… Today…with the FBI understandably focused on terrorism, there isn’t a lot of manpower left to dig into…the financial crisis.”

– – –

The Slow Lane: It may not be the last word on the Mets’ $36 million mystery-man Olly Perez, but it could ultimately be decisive: “alarming” was the word Keith Hernandez used after Perez could only reach the mid-80s on the radar gun in his second spring appearance. Perez didn’t walk any in two innings but he couldn’t generate expected velocity. “You can’t pitch like that in the major leagues and last,” said Hernandez, who was doing color on the YES telecast of the Mets’ game against the Cardinals. 

 Masterful Mid-Infielders: Marshalling advanced stats that most of us have to take on faith, Baseball America’s Joe Sheehan identifies the majors’ surprisingly best middle-infield combo: Oakland’s Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis. Sheehan says Pennington, a rookie last year, saved 10 runs at shortstop with his glove, while the veteran Ellis saved just under 10 at second base. Too bad we don’t get to see much of them in the East. 

 Knowing what everybody knows (and may recall sheepishly in October)…Let’s say there’s a 50-50 chance the Phillies and Red Sox will meet in the World Series. The odds are better than even that one of the two will make it. Remembering the sensible Curt Schilling rule that the team getting most starts from its original rotation has the winning edge, the Phils should advance to the final round.. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and Kyle Kendrick have proved more durable through the years than Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka. An obvious caveat: the Phillies found a way to miss the Series last fall.

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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.)

Where A-Rod Fits in Resentment Against Team Labor

(Posted: Feb.28/Update 3/1)

 Alex Rodriguez, discount medical poster-boy for fan hostility to players’ salary levels and their union, canada was in the news over the weekend.The NYC media learned that A-Rod – he with a $275 million 10-year contract – pays virtually no real estate tax on his $6 million Manhattan penthouse.  Rodriguez is benefiting from a city tax abatement program to encourage construction of affordable housing.   Although the deal has nothing to do with A-Rod, the disclosure can’t help but add fuel to the national furor over the privileged position unions play in the American economic game. 

Eight years ago, the players union blocked a trade that would have sent A-Rod from the Rangers to the Red Sox because he had agreed to a slightly downward adjustment in his salary.  The move seemed overly protective and an outrageous example of overstepping to Red Sox fans, especially.  It reminded many fans around the country why unions had earned their resentment.  More than overstepping, corruption in the labor movement was rife, former rank-and-filers profiting illegally from the leadership roles to which they’d been elected.  Then there were widespread pension-padding practices whereby members worked extra overtime hours their final years, the resulting elevated annual earnings the basis for their retirement pay. The perception of featherbedding was also widespread, the sense that union contracts require more members than necessary to do certain jobs. Seniority rules, protecting longtime employees at the expense of well-regarded new employees was – is – another problem.  And in many parts of the country, unions were – are – known to engage in racism and nepotism, hiring preferences given to white relatives of longtime members. 

All this contributed to Team Labor’s loss of fan as well as governmental support.  At that stage of the game, some time after World War II, corporate franchises began playing hardball in an effort to drive the organized labor team from the field.  How successful the corporate-and-media game has been can be gauged in this down economy by hearing even liberal commentators talk of labor’s need to agree to a trimming of their “generous” benefits.  Those are the same benefits that were the norm when many of our parents and grandparents joined the work force.  They were benefits, including job security, living wages, etc. that made possible stable home ownership, college educations and a post-war period of prosperity throughout the country.

The current contest of interests could serve to rally and renew labor’s clout in the American workplace or further accelerate its decline.  Team Labor is certainly the underdog, but the final outcome is still unclear.  What is clear, says Wash Post-man E.J. Dionne is the potent righty-hitting game plan:”Private-sector workers are taking it on the chin, and conservatives now see a chance to cripple organized labor altogether by killing off public-sector unions, the most vibrant part of the movement. The underlying argument is actually insidious: If workers in the private sector have it bad, shouldn’t workers in the public sector have it bad, too?”

One thing traditional labor contracts provided that the players union does not: job security.  Ask respected veterans David Eckstein, Kevin Millwood, and Bengie Molina, to name an infielder, pitcher and catcher among the nearly 50 still-unsigned free agents, most of whom thought they had earned an mlb contract from someone to play another season.   

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Surprise Catch: Joe Girardi took some of the suspense out of the Yankees’ backup-catcher competition Sunday on YES.  Talking to Michael Kay and Kenny Singleton, he all but gave the second-string catcher’s slot to touted rookie Jesus Montero, a non-roster invitee.  “He’s improved defensively and can learn a lot from the bench,” Girardi said.  Where does that leave Francisco Cervelli? “He has an incentive to have an outstanding spring,” said Kay, to persuade the manager to change his mind.

West Coast Woe:  Mets fans may be underwhelmed by their cash-strapped team’s post-season additions.  But they have company in LA, where the Dodgers were hindered in quality recruiting by their owners’ money-eating divorce battle.  LA Times columnist T.J. Simers tells of the talent-shortfall without mincing words:

“There are so many uplifting stories to tell, like Dioner Navarro’s courageous effort to hit better than .200. He got so close last season at .194.  Here’s hoping they put Tony Gwynn Jr.’s locker near Navarro’s — Gwynn an inspiration for Navarro since he hit .204.  It’s not that hard to gush about the new guys.  How about Marcus Thames?…Maybe he’s not known for his defense, but…(he) has a career .248 batting average.  That’s almost .250.  Our new relief pitcher Matt Guerrier (is someone) whom the Dodgers are really counting on. Someone maybe youngsters might admire. He’s pitched seven years, has five saves and 16 blown saves, but he keeps on trying.  Now you know why Ned Colletti signed him to a three-year deal.”

West Coast Consensus: The Dodger will finish third in their division.  The Mets, we know, will be lucky to finish fourth in theirs.   

Slow-Weaving Webb:  Two ex-players who should know – Mitch Williams and Dan Plesac – watched on a TV monitor the other day as Brandon Webb did some long tossing at the Rangers training camp in Arizona.  How is the former D-backs ace  return from shoulder surgery going?  Both ex-pitchers said (on MLB-TV) that Webb’s stiff-armed delivery signaled he is at least many weeks away from showing if he can possibly replace Cliff Lee in the Rangers’ rotation.   

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Should Working Fans Rally Around Team Labor?

(Posted: 2/25; update 2/26)

Snap Quiz: What do Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Wisconsin Skipper Scott Walker have in common? Answer: Unhappiness with labor unions. La Russa complains publicly that the players union is pushing Albert Pujols to maximize his new-contract demands to “raise the bar” of salaries generally. Walker thinks his state’s public employee unions have priced themselves out of business. In effect, usa healing he wants to drive Team Labor out of the game in Wisconsin.

 It is hard to blame those who agree with Walker that public employees get too much more in pay and benefits than non-union working people with similar jobs. When your state-worker neighbor, discount pharm with a similar background and tax bracket, clinic is living better than you – more paid days off, superior health care plan, pension and job security – it can’t help but make you resentful. The resenters should recognize, however, that their real gripe is with the inadequacy of their own situation – two weeks vacation a year, no paid overtime, etc. When, awhile ago, roughly a third of American jobs were unionized and jobs in general were plentiful, the disparity was not an issue. Now in a bad economy, non-union workers are playing under minor-league conditions. And, good as they are, Team Labor’s contract provisions are no match for those covering union workers in Europe, on teams the corporate media pitch as “sotic.”

 Back to La Russa, and his resentment of the union doing its job, using superstars like Pujols to spur upward mobility in the pay scale of all players. That was the way the non-baseball-playing public scored in the quality-of-life league on the heels of newly gained union benefits. The Wash Post’s Ezra Klein kept a detailed scorecard: The weekend is one of those benefits, and so too are the pensions and health-care packages that many employers offer. A lot of the safety rules that many workers take for granted were the product of union agitation and pressure.  Plenty of industries have had to increase their wages because unions took root in certain companies and the threat of their spread forced the non-unionized companies to give their employees gains similar to those made by the unionized workers. Unions are also the most powerful lobby fighting against things like tax cuts for the rich and for things like universal health care.”

 Adds NY Times lefty slugger Paul Krugman: “You don’t have to love unions…to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s…due… to the decline of …unions.”

The oft-noted irony in the latest push toward rule by the deep-pockets clubs: Conservative skippers are using the Wall Street-created budget crisis as an excuse to crush their overmatched by still-formidable union adversaries. 

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Royal Flush: One team placed five of the top 19 prospects on the list compiled Baseball America: the Kansas City Royals. Only two teams – the Braves and the Rays – have more than one player among the top 19, each placing two. The Yanks’ catching hopeful Jesus Montero earned third place on the list, behind the Nats’ Bryce Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout, both outfielders. First baseman Eric Hosner, third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder/catcher Wil Myers – all Royals prospects – were eight, nine and 10 on the list. 

 The Loner: In his first group interview as a Milwaukee Brewer, Zack Greinke acknowledged to experiencing social anxiety and occasional depression. He told media people, including Journal-Sentinel columnist Tom Hunt he’d rather that people left him alone: “I don’t like talking bad about fans, but they annoy me a lot of times, like the autograph guys out here. The ones who annoy me the most is when we get to the hotels. Sometimes I feel like I can’t go outside because there are fans downstairs.”

Dynamic Duos: After MLB-TV teammate John Smoltz interviewed Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youklis, described as two Red Sox indispensables, Billy Ripken, Mitch Williams and Dan Plesac picked whom they considered key duos in the NL: Ripken chose Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun of the Brewers; Williams selected the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales, Plesac picked Ryan Howard and Chase Utley of the Phils. “What about Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday?” said someone. “Yes,” came the reply: “We could go on all night.”

Those 89ers: Larry Bowa, on why managers give first-string catchers minimal playing time during spring training: “You never know when number 89, trying to make a name for himself on the other team, is going to come barreling into home and send your key defensive player to the DL.”

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The Wishful Baseball and Political ‘Ifs’

(Posted: 2/21; update 2/22)

The Wishful Baseball and Political ’Ifs’

 It’s a familiar theme to Mets fans:  “If we can stay in it until…”  Two seasons ago, discount unhealthy the team publicly hoped to stay competitive until summer, best when Carlos Delgado would return from the disabled list; last season, the hopeful waiting had to do with injured Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes.  It’s started already this unpropitious year:  “If we can stay in it,” said manager Terrry Collins the other day, “look who we’re getting in June (Johan Santana).” The waiting for saviors to propel the Mets to victory didn’t work in ‘’09 and ’10.  We know for certain it will not work this year.

 Nor is it working on another field: the Democratic team in Congress seems to be saying “If we can hang in there with Team GOP, causing minimal offense, until 2012, we can regain our numerical clout with a better economy and Skipper Obama at the head of our ticket.”  The Dems, with a Senate majority, should be able to turn back the aggressive play of their loaded lower House rivals.  Instead, there’s a constant danger of their responding with a punch-and-judy game.  That’s  especially true in the current budget deadlock. 

Watching from the press box, the Wash Post’s E.J. Dionne says the feisty GOP conservatives have effectively bullied their moderate Dem opponents: “By saying they will never, ever, ever raise taxes, conservatives intimidate moderates into making concession after concession…You would think that moderates could at least hold out for a 50-50 split.  But no, they’ll do anything to (be conciliatory).”

How crucial is the role of taxes in our present budgetary bind?  Dionne points out that, if we allowed all the tax cuts scheduled to expire in 2012 to go to the showers, the $4 trillion in revenue gained would clear the “d – (for deficit) word” from the competitive field.  That’s a case the Dems have been reluctant to make, and their fans know the hope that they will do it, should they win big next year, may be akin to the Mets waiting for Santana to save their season.

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Spring Clouds: For an upbeat time, spring training this year has a spate of downbeat stories: Joba Chamberlain, reporting to the Yankees camp overweight is one.  Joba’s weakness for food and drink in excess was first noted when he became involved in a 2009 off-season DWI incident near his Nebraska home.  His bright star began to blur at that point.  A DWI episode has marred the start of Miguel Cabrera’s season; it’s seen as a possible sign he’s still fighting an alcohol problem that could derail a potential Hall of Fame career.     

Restraint: The Twins’ Joe Nathan is cautious about his recovery from elbow surgery.  He sounded tentative about his condition in speaking to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo:   “ It’s been a long process and I still have a long road ahead of me…We’ll see how I bounce back (after pitching in games).”

 What We Know (and they know in Chicago, too): From the Chi Trib’s Phil Rodgers: “The Mets… are dying on the vine while majority owner Fred Wilpon is being sued for as much as $1 billion.”

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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.)