The Nub

The Power Game: Baseball, the Streets, Board Rooms

(Posted 9/30/14)

The Power Game: Baseball, prostate the Streets, discount case Board Rooms

Up to a year ago, find this was the season for non-NY fans to worry about the well-heeled Yankees dominating the playoffs. Now it’s the Dodgers who are the super-free spenders; it’s they who figure to be the NL’s strongest playoff entry. Last year, the Dodgers made it only as far as the league’s championship series, losing to the Cardinals in six games. This year, having raised the payroll bar to $240 million, the upgraded team has the talent to go for the Series title

Non-Dodger fans, like their non-Yankee counterparts of yore, feel justified in resenting LA’s dollars-fueled advantage. If payroll parity – or close to it – can be achieved in the NFL, NBA and NHL, most baseball fans would like to see their sport follow suit. It would be nice if it could happen – not once since 1990 did teams in the bottom third of MLB salary levels finish with a combined winning record. But it won’t, for a number of reasons: the players union would never agree to a salary cap; the owners, who would be the cap’s main beneficiaries (were it miraculously approved by the union) would not go along with a “socialization” of the process.s. Then there is a rarely acknowledged reason: some low-income owners are satisfied with the present system – TV revenues, luxury tax proceeds, etc. make their franchises profitable despite comparatively minimal investments.

Fans could do something about the situation, or at least try. They won’t, because they are, by definition, spectators: they’re role – to observe and, if need be, to kvetch. Not to do. Stat-keeping economists see in this Baseball model – its self-involved union, aversion to regulation, free-spending approach – an accurate reflection of America today: its prosperity for some, inequality for most others. They see, too, that, with beleaguered non-baseball unions on the brink of fading away, the Congressional team feels little pressure to get up to bat: to ask more of the super-wealthy, or even to nudge the national minimum wage to a livable level.

Is there any reason to hope for a game-change?   Well, attentive fans in the national ballpark on Earth Day saw a rally of 400,000 activists in The People’s Climate March. Officially an expression of concern about global warming, it was also a massive call for social justice. Some, including organizer Bill McKibben, saw more than that: a possible offensive weapon every successful team needs: “power.”

If you didn’t know the power possessed by Goldman Sachs, the public interest team at Pro-Publica produced an inside story last week of one aspect of it. It told of a whistle-blower named Carmen Segarra who secretly taped what she heard while working for the Fed two years ago. Michael Lewis gave the story’s background on Bloomberg View:

“In early 2012, Segarra was assigned to regulate Goldman Sachs, and so was installed inside Goldman… The job… differe(d) from what she had imagined: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that ‘once clients are wealthy enough, certain consumer laws don’t apply to them.’ After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement — to which the regulator replied, ‘You didn’t hear that.’

“This sort of thing occurred often enough — Fed regulators denying what had been said in meetings, Fed managers asking her to alter minutes of meetings after the fact — that Segarra decided she needed to record what actually had been said. So she … bought a tiny tape recorder, then began to record her meetings at Goldman Sachs, until she was fired…(Her tapes document) the breathtaking wussiness of the people at the Fed charged with regulating Goldman Sachs…(That being demonstrated,)…the only reason you know is that one woman, Carmen Segarra, has been brave enough to fight the system. She has paid a great price to inform us… her job… her career… So what are(we) going to do about it? At this moment the Fed is probably telling itself that, like the financial crisis, this, too, will blow over. It shouldn’t.”

Not Newsworthy? A shocking measure of Goldman’s (and the Fed’s) power is that the story, which ran on NPR, was not picked up by the NY Times or Wall Street Journal or most major news outlets. Politico ran it dismissively.

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Eyeball Power Test: Based entirely on personal eyeballing, five of the 10 playoff teams have power: Dodgers, Tigers, Angels, Nationals, Pirates. The Cardinals, Orioles, Giants, A’s and Royals all have offensive holes in their lineups, holes that should handicap them as post-season play proceeds.

Mr. Impact-Causer: The prize for making the most impactful deals of the 2014 goes – no-brainer – to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. He lured Ian Kinsler from Texas for Prince Fielder, who spent the season on the DL. Kinsler, meanwhile, played in 161 games, mostly at leadoff; yet batted in 92 runs, hit 17 HRs, and was an All-Star selection. Dombrowski also did the Nationals the favor of trading Doug Fister to them for utility man Steve Lombardozzi and two pitching prospects, all of whom had forgettable seasons. Fister, meanwhile, led the Nationals in wins – 16 – and turned in the NL’s fourth-best ERA, 2.41.

Two Big-Gamers: Oakland GM Billy Beane appeared to have been overly aggressive in mid-summer trades that netted him a trio of star pitchers but cost him Yoenis Cespedes and seemed to cripple his offense. Beane’s moves could be belatedly vindicated in the WC playoff tonight, however, when he sends prize acquisition Jon Lester against the Royals and James (“Big Game”) Shields.

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

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.