The Nub

The Pressure of High Expectations on Players in Both Pastimes

(Posted: 2/17/12; e-mail update 2/18)

 Two men – one political, discount the other in baseball – have dauntingly high expectations to meet in their respective fields. NY AG Eric Schneiderman has played himself into the pressurized position, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington inherited his.  Either way, they know that what happens in their respective bailiwicks will be scrutinized day by day, move by move, this coming season.

Schneiderman, 57, was a brave holdout (with his California counterpart)when Team Obama pushed to have him add NY to the roster of states joining a foreclosure-settlement deal, one that gave big banks the equivalent of a free pass.  For their part in the housing-bubble-and-bust scandal, a lineup of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Bank will pay a total of $26 billion – equipment-bag money – to provide relief for nearly two million homeowners they sent sprawling.  Schneiderman finally signed on to the deal only after it no longer protected the banks from further legal action.  Now, as co-skipper of a federal investigating team, he will have to see that such action hits the banks and puts monetary runs on the board for his fans.

Cherington’s challenge is to field a team that prevents opponents from scoring runs. He spent his rookie hot stove season as GM making only minimal changes to the Sox. As seen from NY, improvement, if any, has been barely perceptible.  Cherington may well have neutralized the loss of Jonathan Papelbon with trades that brought Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon to the team’s relief corps. But the starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz and Daniel Bard still needs reinforcement. Cherington’s most second-guessable move was dealing away Marco Scutaro without a first-class shortstop replacement.  Missing, too, is someone substantive to take the place of J.D. Drew in right field.  Given the question marks, the 37-year-old GM’s biggest asset may be manager Bobby Valentine (reportedly not his choice) who will be visibly first in line if Red Sox Nation gets riled.

What Schneiderman and Cherington MayHave Going for Them: Deep benches in potential personnel.  Schneiderman should have a limitless roster of federal birddogs to help him get after the banks, but it’s not clear how numerically aggressive Team Obama will be in the follow-up to the deal.  A former legislative teammate of Schneiderman’s put the nub of the challenge this way:  “The real import here is the ability to continue to prosecute. That all will come clear over time, whether that amounts to anything.”  Sox fans believe Cherington is not finished dealing and will presumably have the go-ahead from above to spend whatever it takes to make the team whole.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox were named in an MLB-TV segment as one of two highly rate teams (the Giants were the other) with the most “holes” going into the season.

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Good Soldier Bobby:  Comments of Bobby Valentine on the salary-dump trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies:  “We can take the money and improve our team in other ways…I don’t want to speculate on (challenge of replacing Scutaro), but I’m confident it will be fine.”

Double Downer:  A.J. Burnett’s decline and almost-certain discard by the Yankees is a sad reminder of the moment we knew he was no longer a reliable starter.  It happened during a game last spring in which David Cone was doing color on YES.  “A.J. lacks toughness in the late innings,” Cone said, just before Burnett unraveled.  As sad as the pitcher’s ensuing season-long shakiness, however, was the muzzle applied to Cone by his bosses.  He stopped making insightful, telling-it-like-it-is comments, and obediently played the broadcast game.

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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.