The Nub

The Nub

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                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

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                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

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 Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments

to are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

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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 are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Looking Over the ‘Overlooked’ in Both Fields

(Posted: 2/18/11; update 2/19)

Looking Over the ‘Overlooked’ in Both Fields

“Overlooked” was the theme of an MLB-TV group workout the other night in which regulars picked teams that should be taken more seriously going into the new season. The Twins topped the list; defending AL Central champions, they’ve been largely ignored because of uncertainty about how well first baseman Justin Morneau and closer Joe Nathan will rebound from their 2010 injuries. The Marlins and A’s, treatment two teams only Larry Bowa went out on a limb for – he predicted a month ago they would win their divisions – were two others chosen to be surprise contenders.

Among political teams, Connecticut’s new state Skipper Dannel Malloy has been overshadowed by neighboring governors, fellow Dem Andrew Cuomo in NY and Team GOP’s Chris Christie in NJ. Both C-men have taken their cuts to right while playing budgetary hardball. Their targets: programs for the poor like Medicaid, and for the masses, like public education. While taking swipes at social spending, they’ve also backed away from reducing the pain through even a modest hike in taxes. Malloy, meanwhile, has produced a different game plan – pitching for a raise of $2.9 billion in taxes on residents, businesses and labor unions in an effort to spare the most vulnerable of the state’s residents. “The alternative,” Malloy said in his budget message, “would require us to completely shred the safety net… Which is to say there is no alternative.”

Malloy aims to maintain spending at last year’s level and overcome a 20-percent deficit through making judicious cuts as well as demanding sacrifices from everyone including his union supporters. It’s a big-time challenge he’s set out for himself. If he meets it, his days of being overlooked will be over.

An Overreach? Impossible to overlook what is happening in other state capitols and throughout the country as the conservative team and the corporate media effectively swing inside-out to right field. Veteran lefty slugger Noam Chomsky, who has seen many bush-leaguers riding high over the years, is nevertheless awed by the effective game being played by the right. Here is how, taking a bemused cut with his verbal bat, Chomsky described the opposition game on “Democracy Now”:

“There’s been a wave of propaganda over the last couple of months, which is pretty impressive to watch, trying to deflect attention away from those who actually created the economic crisis, like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase…to (those allegedly) responsible…teachers, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, their huge pensions, their incredible healthcare benefits… and their unions, who are the real villains, the ones who are robbing the taxpayer by making sure that policemen may not starve when they retire. And this is pretty amazing.”

The extreme-right stance of so many elected members of Team GOP could ignite, with Skipper Obama’s help, a massive national pro-social democracy rally of the type Wisconsinites staged in Madison this past week. As The UK Guardian’s Michael Tomasky put it: “What ends up happening in Madison will set a template for other states and determine how hard other Republican governors press their (argument)”. If they press it too hard, signs of the reaction spreading are sure to get stronger. An exciting few days, or weeks, may be in store.
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Wither the Mets: Everyone who follows the already-out-of-contention Mets knows that the only hopeful aspect connected with the team is a possible change of ownership. Everyone, that is, except the boss’s son Jeff Wilpon who has a gift for dashing hopes and fan interest. Instead of keeping quiet and letting fans dream – however unrealistically – of a post-Wilpon era, Jeff had to say the other day that sale of a majority share of the Mets was “off the table.” Three words perfectly designed to discourage the team’s once-loyal followers and accelerate their departure.

What We Know about the AL East: The Red Sox are the team to beat; the Yankees will give the Sox a run for division dominance; the Rays have a good enough rotation to remain contenders; the Jays are improved enough to cause trouble; the Orioles have a better roster than last year and Buck Showalter back for all of this year. On NESN the other night, Peter Gammons said that potentially win-producing five-team lineup means one sure thing: “No way” does the wild card come from the AL East.

The Pujols Problem as seen by SI’s Tom Verducci: “If the St. Louis Cardinals are not prepared to pay Albert Pujols more than the Phillies pay Ryan Howard — that’s $25 million per year – then… he is as good as gone….’The problem the Cardinals have,’ said one baseball executive,’is the math doesn’t work. They probably can’t get to 120 [million dollar payroll] in that market, so they only have so much to give Albert and still have a competitive team around him’.”

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

For Baseball Fans, Sunday Far From Super

If you’re a politically lefty baseball fan, sale diagnosis you have more than the usual reasons (excess of hype, advice sterile playing conditions) to want to look away from the Super Bowl.  For all its fat-cat backdrop, generic the match-up, pitting the Packers against the Steelers, exemplifies economic equality non-existant in our national pastime.

 Consider that, if the Packers win, the NFL champion will represent a town of 100,000; Green Bay is the smallest city in either major league sport, yet its team has as much a chance of winning each year as do richer franchises from New York, Chicago, Dallas, etc.  The grid league’s policy of spreading the wealth, such a non-starter with baseball owners, has made pro football the country’s most popular spectator sport.    

 HBO humorist Bill Maher did a further comparison on his “Real Time” show:

It’s no surprise that some 100 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl…that’s…85 million more than watched the last game of the World Series, and in that is an economic lesson for America.  Because football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich almost always win and the poor usually have no chance.  The World Series is like ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’. You have to be a rich bitch just to play. The Super Bowl is like (cheap)Tequila.  Anyone can get in.

That the political variation of the we’re-in-this-together policy hasn’t caught on with most Americans attests to the power of the corporate media; a media quick to amplify the mantra that any redistribution of wealth, no matter how miniscule, amounts to som. The media and players in right field identify taxes – investment in public services and programs – as a badly disguised sotic spreading of the wealth. 

Maher links the NFL approach to the way the progressive Dem team plays the game: “The NFL share(s) the wealth, through salary caps and revenue sharing – TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put all of it in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways. Because they don’t want anyone to fall too far behind.  That’s why the team that wins the Super Bowl picks last in the next draft.  Or what the Republicans would call ‘punishing success.’  Baseball, on the other hand, is exactly like the Republicans…their economic theory is every man for himself.  The small market Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl more than anybody – but the Pittsburgh Pirates… payroll $40 million, (while) the Yankees’ is $206 million? They have about as much chance at getting in the playoffs as a poor black teenager from Newark has of becoming the CEO of Halliburton.”

A Timely Hit:  The NY Times’ comment on NY state Skipper Andrew Cuomo’s anti-progressive budget “Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to consider any new taxes, or even extend a surcharge on the state’s highest earners, means that his budget — his first — is harsher than it needs to be with the heaviest burden borne by some of the most vulnerable citizens.       

Pitch from a Savvy Veteran: “This is not a soccer match.  The crowds are part of the picture, but they will not decide the outcome.  Mubarak has been with us for 30 years; he will not disappear overnight.”  – Longtime Egyptian journalist on Al Jazeera                                            

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Good Bet:  Smart money says that, in response to Andy Pettitte’s retirement, the Yanks will make a major move, trading for a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter.  Two names most buzzed about: Joe Blanton and Fausto Carmona, of the Phils and Indians.  We know the matter is urgent: The Bombers can’t depend on any of their current crop after C.C. Sabathia performing Pettitte-like to keep them in the hunt.  This 10-month-old statement from Pettitte, quoted in the latest Sports Illustrated, tells how hard it is for him to hang up his spikes: “I think the tough part is you’re never not going to enjoy what we do … Like, I don’t think we’re ever not going to love jogging out to the mound, you know what I’m saying?”

Catch-Time:  On MLB-TV, Todd Zeile, who caught for the Cardinals before being converted to a third baseman, said this about the adjustment required:  “You’re expected to a call a good game, play good defense as a catcher.  You’re not expected to do much hitting.  At third base, you feel the pressure to be an important part of the offense.” Mike Piazza, on what he worked hardest on behind the plate: “As a catcher, you can’t turn a ball into a strike; but you can turn a strike into a ball.  I made sure to set myself up to stop the ball from carrying out of the strike zone.”                                             

Baseball and (More) Football Talk:  SI’s Tom Verducci suggests that Larry Walker and Todd Helton were helped to become hitting machines by “premium conditions” at Coors Field.  He says similar conditions inside Domes have helped the Colts’ Peyton Manning and Saints’ Drew Brees rack up impressive stats.  The downside for both of them: They don’t do well in cold weather.  Manning’s record in below-freezing playoff games: 0-2; Brees has the same mark in below-50-degree post-season contests.  The Patriots’ Tom Brady has the best record both in below-50-degrees and below-freezing playoff games, 11-3 and 7-2.

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

The Nub will be away on a pre-spring training road trip, returning two weeks from today.

Fred and Eddie: Out of Control in Two Fields

You’re Fred Wilpon. You own the National League’s richest franchise, canada the Mets, lately one of baseball’s poorest-run teams. You let it happen. You don’t know baseball, but you do know money. Or maybe not. You’re about to lose total control of the team because of what looks like a big-bucks bobble.

You have a fellow bumbler in your home county, NY state’s richest, Nassau. The county’s Skipper Edward (Eddie) Mangano has done such a poor job with his gilt-edged franchise that he, too, is losing control of it. But the sports pages give you top billing in the sloppy-play department.

When Bernie Madoff got caught stealing, you knew it wouldn’t hurt for people to think the Mets’ owner had taken a hit. Among other things, it gave you an excuse to cut the team’s 2010 payroll. In fact, you had scored as a Madoff investor. But if losers in Bernie’s game show in court that you should have known not to play ball with Madoff,, you and the Mets could lose close to a billion dollars. That means you must find a partner to help pay the bills.

Skipper Eddie has an oversight board as a partner for the moment. He was a tea-party player who upended Team Dems’ Tom Suozzi in November 2009. On his opening day that January, Mangano cleared his ballpark of an unpopular energy tax. Pressbox observer Steve (Washington Monthly) Benen describes what Eddie promised next:
“Mangano would slash taxes, cut spending, and create a nice little utopia. Voters loved the sound of it. A year later, (he) had slashed taxes as promised, but struggled to limit public services that the community had grown to appreciate. (Last) week, the consequences of Tea Party economics became clear — Nassau County, facing a full-fledged fiscal crisis, saw its finances taken over by the state.”
Mangano can get out from under state control if he revises his budget realistically before the 15th of the month. Wilpon’s only recourse, pending the lawsuit’s outcome: get used to having a partner looking over his shoulder. Fred’s team is in a variation of the Knicks’ futile “Waiting for Lebron (James)” stance last year. The Mets are counting on the extra multi-millions they’ll have to spend in 2012 when the salaries of, among others, Carlos Beltran, Ollie Perez and Luis Castillo, come off the books. We know that’s another way of saying this: “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”

The Bottom Line on Egypt’s Immediate Future:   With Team USA providing close to a billion dollars in military aid to Cairo, “We are calling the shots.” (Democracy Now)

Talk About Precautions: The Yankees-wary Red Sox included a clause in Carl Crawford’s contract with this stipulation: Should the Sox trade him, Crawford’s new team must first agree NOT to send him to the Bombers.

Wells (almost) Worth It:  MLB-TV’s Mitch Williams on the Jays’ Vernon Wells’ switch to the Angels: “After playing in the AL East and knowing his team didn’t have a chance, he’ll be rejuvenated. Will he be worth $23 million a year? No. But he’ll hit and field like the near-All Star he is, and be great in the clubhouse.”

Won’t Be Long Now:   On the first day of the month, baseball is back in the air: we can look forward to the opening of spring training in a little over a week and half: seven teams – the Cardinals, D-backs, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates and Tigers – will see pitchers and catchers report on Sunday, the 13th. By the 18th, when the Marlins open camp, every team will have battery mates in action. Who cares about the snow?

Yanks Taking Cue from Deficit-Conscious Congressional Team

A post-season shocker: For the first time in years, the Yankees have become budget-minded! The Steinbrenners clearly want to reduce the payroll from the $215 million spent last season. Their attitude and that of most other clubs mirror our deficit-conscious political team in Washington. Without the Yanks’ spendthrift habits to discuss, pills pressbox observers are fixated on the money spent in exceptional deals like the ones for Carl Crawford, Vernon Wells and Jayson Werth by the Red Sox, Angels and Nationals. There is much talk, too, about the many millions saved by the Rays and Blue Jays in ridding themselves of their high-salaried players.

The cost-containment trend has made players more security-minded than is commonly the case Of 419 players tracked in the post-season by, only five – the Twins’ Clay Condrey, the Phillies’ Greg Dobbs and Jamie Moyer, the A’s’ Gabe Gross, and the Mariners’ Casey Kotchman – rejected off-roster assignments by their teams, opting instead for freedom to hit the open market. So far all remain unsigned.

Team GOP, we know, wants to return health care to a wide-open market and send Obama-care back to the Dem clubhouse from whence it came. Anticipating the skipper’s appeal last Tuesday night, the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein said the GOP’s effort, if successful, would have a liberating effect that might not be well received:

“With (last) week’s vote to repeal President Obama’s health care reform, House Republicans struck a blow for freedom.

“They struck a blow for the freedom of hospitals to avoid financial penalties, no matter how many Medicare patients develop infections under their care. They struck a blow for the freedom of hospitals to avoid consequences, no matter how many Medicare patients are re­admitted soon after treatment. And they struck a blow for the freedom of health care providers to receive unending annual increases in their Medicare reimbursements, even if they fail to improve their productivity by even a fraction of what’s occurring in other industries.


“Take that, Big Government.”

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More on Money: The nearly unanimous pressbox boos for the Angels’ deal for Wells is the puzzlement of the week. Sure, the LAAs are tying up a lot of money for the next few years, but the immediate payoff is what fans care about, and it should be large. In Wells, Tori Hunter and Bobby Abreu, the Angels have three big sticks and two ballhawks. Put Peter Bourjos in center (if he starts to hit) and you have one of, if not the best defensive outfield in baseball. What’s a few dollars if it’s not coming out of the pundits’ pockets? Add the returning Kendry Morales to the Angels’ offensive mix and you certainly have a title contender in the AL West.

Still More: The Cardinals are either going to give Albert Pujols an NL-record salary or lose him after this season. If it’s the former (as is likely), the team will be thin financially and in blue-chip prospects. The Cards didn’t place a single player among last season’s 28 Triple- and Double A All Stars listed by Baseball America. The St.Louis farm system is rated close to the bottom of the 30 monitored annually. GM John Mozeliak is finding his predecessor Walt Jocketty a hard act to follow. From 1995 through 2007, Jocketty’s teams won seven Central Division and two NL championships and one World Series title. During Mozeliak’s three seasons, the Cardinals made the playoffs once – in 2009 – only to be swept by the Dodgers in the first round. Jocketty, meanwhile, has quickly built the Reds into an NL Central power. After Cincinnati reached the playoffs last season, Jocketty was named baseball’s Executive of the Year a third time.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments

to are welcome,

Baseball and the High Court: Final Score Is Not Game’s End

The man whose sacrifice freed baseball players from a form of servitude would have been 73 this week.   Curt Flood’s name should rank with that of Jackie Robinson.  As a pioneering black major leaguer, Jackie faced prejudice, even hatred, in the fight for racial justice.  Flood fought a long, less dramatic battle for economic justice, and, when it was won, could not benefit from the victory.

Flood took his case, challenging the Cardinals’ right to trade him to another team and city, to the Supreme Court in 1972.  The Court turned Flood away, upholding baseball’s power to treat players like private property.  Much like their reaction to the High Court’s Citizens United ruling a year ago, some of the media attacked the ’72 decision as a victory for corporate rights over human rights.  The outcry, also voiced in Congress, eventually forced baseball to negotiate player-liberating reforms that led to the free-agent system.

Are similar reforms possible now in reaction to Citizens United?  With Team GOP in control of Congress, it’s a long shot.  But strong public support for legislation that would require corporations to show how they spend money on elections could rally enough bipartisan backing for such a “people’s” initiative.  Still another remote, but not unreal, possibility: passage of a law setting up a public financing system that would give clout to small donors.  The system in NYC is a model of what could happen nationwide.  The city matches small donations at a 6-1 ratio, making grass-roots fundraising competitive in importance to the seeking of corporate money.

If nothing else, greater disclosure and public financing could become potent populist   issues in the 2012 election. 

Aftermath:  Back to Flood, who sat out the 1970 season (for which he would have earned almost $100,000) and the one in ’71 while his case moved slowly to the Supreme Court.  Without a paying job, he was nearly destitute when the legal game ended.  Flood wound up scrimping, drinking, suffering a series of marital breakups and experiencing always a sense of ostracism from the game he loved.  He couldn’t get employment with a team or even with the players union, which had financed the case.

And when, at 59, Flood died of cancer – 14 years ago last Sunday – not a single active player attended his funeral.  Union reps David Cone and Tom Glavine issued a prepared statement instead, acknowledging the loss.  Brad Snyder, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, paid proper tribute to Flood.  Snyder sidelined his legal career to tell Curt’s story in a moving 2006 book called “A Well-Paid Slave.”  This is how the book ends:

“(Jackie) Robinson and Flood took professional athletes on an incredible journey – from racial desegregation to well-paid slavery to being free and extremely well paid.  Robinson started the revolution by putting on a uniform.  Flood finished it by taking his off.”

  Warmth for the Rays and A’s:  The Rays may have slipped as AL East title threats with the departures of Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, etc., but they still rank high in one way in Boston, NY and elsewhere.  Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez may both be over the hill, but the excitement they bring gives the Rays at least as much fan appeal as they had with their former stars.  And, since it’s always fun for NYY fans to see old friend Hideki Matsui, the A’s should be more welcome than usual at the Stadium this year.

A Minnesota Chill Ahead?  The Twins as a rule are more efficient than colorful.  This season their effectiveness will depend in large part on the contributions of two returning convalescents: Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan.  The Twins were content to keep two other key performers this post-season, re-signing Carl Pavano and Nathan.  But they lost relievers Jesse Crain to the White Sox and Matt Guerrier to the Dodgers, so they could wind up skating on thin Minnesota ice. 

The Mets, we know, have their Morneau-medical-equivalent in Jason Bay.  Justin and Jason, both Canadians from British Columbia, are returning after suffering concussions. Morneau had an infield-impact incident, Bay collided with an outfield wall.  Both profess to be healthy again.  Comparing their play will be an interesting statistical sidelight this season.