The Nub

The Marlins, and a Possible Anti-Gun Message

(Posted: 3/26/12; e-mail update 3/27)

Politically attentive fans know how difficult it is to keep baseball and politics on separate playing fields.  When Arizona passed its brush-back anti-immigrant law two years ago, sales the D-backs took a hit from the sport’s national fan base because the team’s front office didn’t swing out in protest. When Wisconsin then elected Scott Walker governor and rejected incumbent Senator Russ Feingold, buy unhealthy some of us lost interest in the Brewers, connected as they were to the switch-hitting Dairy State.

The Miami Marlins are the likely guilt-by-association target this year.  Jose Reyes nowithstanding, it will be hard to cheer for a team from the gun-friendly Stand Your Ground state.  The law by that name, making it easy to carry loaded guns in public, was passed in 2005.  Although cases of justified homicide were three times the norm since then, raising little alarm, the one involving Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman last month was different.  It triggered anger in some bailiwicks toward anything to do with Florida. (The Tampa Bay Rays are a special case; they can’t get people to go see them.)

The Marlins’ provocative skipper Ozzie Guillen hasn’t spoken yet about Stand Your Ground.  When he does, the hope here is that he takes a shot at the real villain, Team NRA, the powerful, well-financed gun lobby.  “Guns Save Lives” is a lobbying message many Floridians, including Marlins fans, and especially legislators, have bought.

Prodded by the unflinching Guillen, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria could prohibit the carrying of firearms into his new ballpark. Although a far-fetched possibility, it would be a gutsy political thing to do.  Not only might it turn out to be popular with Loria’s fan base, the move would endear the Marlins to gun-control supporters around the country.

The White Sox fan who is the nation’s skipper has refrained from speaking out against pro-concealed-gun laws in more than 20 states.  But his remark “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” may do more to reverse the gun-friendly trend than anything firearms-control people have accomplished until now.  Barring legally concealed weapons from entering all vulnerable ballparks – not just in Miami – could be another major step in a sane direction.

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Hopeful in Miami:  The Marlins’ hopes of making the playoffs have been bolstered by injuries plaguing the Phillies.  Chase Utley is out indefinitely with a bad knee, and Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles isn’t expected to be healed until May.  Miami’s regulars, meanwhile, have stayed reasonably healthy throughout the spring. Two of the team’s starting outfielders, Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison, hurt their ankles, but are expected back in time for the season opener, or soon thereafter. 

Hurtfulness:  A shoulder problem plaguing Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter and is significant enough to put him on the shelf for weeks or months.  His absence can hurt the defending champions, but not as much as the loss for the season of closers Ryan Madson to the Reds and Joakim Soria to the Royals.  Both have been sidelined by elbow injuries. The Reds, with Madson, had been a favorite in the NL Central; KC, with Soria, was considered a strong entry in the AL Central.      

Snap Quiz: Who was the toughest NL player to strike out last season?  Answer: Jeff Keppinger, who played with the Astros and Giants in 2011 (and is a onetime Met).  Now with the Rays, he is batting .351 so far this spring, and though basically an infielder, will be a part-time first baseman for Joe Maddon.  The record book shows (according to the Bradenton, FL Herald) that Keppinger is the fourth hardest player to fan in the last 40 years, and, thanks in part to his getting the bat on ball, has a career BA of .477 with bases loaded.

‘I Believe His Numbers Will Get Better This Season’: How many times have we heard something approximating that statement so far this spring?  Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said it recently about Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson, based on what he’d seen in Grapefruit League games.  But well before spring training, the press box consensus was that Jason Bay and Adam Dunn would have bounce-back years with the Mets and White Sox.  Bay has had pathetic spring, searching in vain for his once-consistent power stroke.  He was batting .233 after the weekend (in which he had to leave a Sunday game after being bruised by a pitch).  Dunn has done better – .276 and four HRs in 13 games.  Both Bay and Dunn are considered good guys, types who generate gratuitous encouragement from the press box.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

About Richard Starkey

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