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   "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

(Posted: 1/25/11)

 

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.

                                   - o -

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

to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 







(
Posted:1/22/11)

 

Fans on Both Fields Hoping for a ‘Flip-Flop’

 

“Success is winning…All of us do better when we win.”   

 

Words of our feisty VP, Joe Biden, the man from Delaware?  Close (geographically): It was NJ-born Stan Kasten who had a weakness for winning; we know him as former president of the Atlanta Braves and, lately, of the Washington Nationals. Kasten had a long streak of successful seasons with the Braves, but his Nats finished last in five of six seasons in the NL East.  He thinks that lower-tier status is about to change for the Nationals, the Marlins, and even the Mets.  It won’t happen this season.  But Kasten said on MLB-TV the other night that 2012 could be a “flip-flop” season when age catches up to the Phillies and Braves, and the Nats, Marlins, and yes, the Mets, take the upper places in the division.

 

The suggestion may sound more hopeful than realistic, but the record book shows (one World Series title and 14 straight division wins in Atlanta) Kasten has earned the right to be taken seriously.  If nothing else, his words provide many baseball fans in the east with reason to believe their teams won’t remain also-rans much longer.  Lefty political fans should be so lucky.  Rallying cries to reverse the right-shift of the elective money-ball game have been strident and unpersuasive.  A softer pitch by The Nation’s William Greider offers quiet encouragement:

 

“I heard a grassroots leader on the radio explain that basically the Tea Party people ‘want government that works for them.’  Don’t we all?  In the next few years, both parties will try to define this sentiment.  If they adhere to the corporate agenda, they are bound to get into trouble, and the ranks of insurgent citizens will grow.”       

 

The power of the news and entertainment media to distract, discourage and sedate may expose Greider’s contingent game plan as wishful thinking.  For the moment, it is hard to imagine Americans focused enough to react to what they see as injustice; focused, for example, as are the Tunisians today.

                                      

Changing (Political) Times:  We must not balance our budget on the backs of the poor.”  - NY Governor Mario Cuomo, 1983

 

“(Democrats)… argued that vital health-care and education spending (on which the poor are largely dependent) would be lost if the $4 billion-plus in annual revenues produced by the ‘millionaire's tax’ is allowed to expire at the end of the year…(NY Governor Andrew) Cuomo told the lawmakers he's determined to pass a rare on-time budget (with no tax hikes), and won't let a fight over the tax prevent it.”

                                                                                                                                                                - NY Post, January 20, 2011      

                                        -     -     -

Larry Bowa’s Batbag of Insights:  “Manny Ramirez would be worth picking up as a DH; he can still hit, but he’s lost his power.”  “The pitcher that has matured the most is Matt Cain.  He now is as tough as they come.”  “I’m picking the Oakland A’s to win their division.  They have so much pitching, and their offense has gotten better.”  “I look far down south to find the team I like in the National League East: The Marlins.  They’ve got a good young team.  When that kid (Mike) Stanton hits the ball, it makes a different sound.”  (As unpacked on MLB-TV) 

 

The Other Side of Mariano: Asked earlier in the week to choose the “most intimidating” active player, three baseball newsmen came up with three different names: Roy Halladay, Andrew Pujols and Mariano Rivera.  Peter Gammons, who chose Rivera, told of Mo facing Shea Hillenbrand in Boston on a night after Hillenbrand had hit a decisive home run off him. “Mariano threw two pitches that whizzed behind Hillenbrand’s back.  He’s not as easygoing as he looks.”

 

Big Deal One Year Later:  How happy is Jim Leyland a year later with the deal that brought the Tigers Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson?  Well, Jackson has established himself as one of the league’s best centerfielders and leadoff men.  And Leyland mentions reliever Coke in the same breath with ace Justin Verlander and other top starter Max Scherzer. “We have a good team,” he says, “(but the key will be if) it’s the healthiest…(We must) keep Verlander, Scherzer and Coke…healthy."  A sure sign the ex-Yank has an important part to play in Leyland’s plans.  

                                             - o -

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

to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)







(Posted: 1/18/11)

 

Playing Ball and Politics: It Takes More Than Ego

 

“You’ve got to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive,” goes the old song, “e-lim-i-nate the negative…”  With pitchers and catchers less than a month away, that upbeat approach is certainly appropriate.  The thought occurred in connection with baseball’s Jermaine Dye and then, unlikely as it may seem, with the U.S. Congressional team.  The word “ego”, often used to explain why veteran Congressional players resist retirement, was used on MLB-TV to suggest it was a self-involved stance that prevented Dye from accepting a contract and playing ball last year.  

 

As seen from objective eyes in the press box, neither charge makes it to first base.  Habit and power-related perks may prompt our House reps to overstay their time on the field, But their egos are surely eroded by the grind their job entails.  Ezra Klein clarified the true picture in the Washington Post:

 

“Serving in Congress is actually a sort of crummy life: You live in a small apartment, you spend most of your time missing your family, you're constantly in airports, and when you do get home you barely have time to see your kids because you're running to meet with constituents. It's a grind. And -- this is where (we) overestimate politicians -- you're not that important. No one cares about the speech you just gave or the amendments you just proposed. The media generally doesn't pay attention unless you become part of a controversy, or say something dumb.  You have to do what your leadership tells you. You get yelled at a lot.  Most of the people who stick with the job stick with it because they believe they're doing some good in the world.”

 

Jermaine Dye likely thought he could do some team good and had proved it for a decade-and-a-half with the Braves, Athletics, Royals and, especially, with the White Sox (with whom – from ‘05 to ‘09 - he led AL outfielders in HRs and was runner-up in RBIs).  When the Sox let him go during the ’09 post-season, he figured to be a coveted member of the 2010 free-agent class.  But after a year in which Dye earned $11.5 million, he was only offered a bench-level slot with the Cubs for $3 million.  Since he considered the offer disrespectful and didn’t need the money, Dye made his decision to skip the seven-month grind.  Now, soon to be 37, he hopes to return, with a diminished, clearly ego-free, demand: he’ll only sign a major-league contract.  Chances are a team that needs an extra bat will bring him aboard before the season starts.  

Lob Lofted from Left (Political) Field:  We have not focused at all on how the militarized rhetoric on the right is tightly connected to our national failure to enact the gun regulations that might have saved lives in Arizona.  Suggestions that (Obama’s) presidency is illegitimate are essential to the core rationale for resisting any restrictions on firearms. The conversation of American conservatism is being shaped by the assumptions of the gun lobby to a much greater degree than mainstream conservatives should wish.” – E.J. Dionne, Washington Post

                                       -     -     -

 A’s Getting Serious:  With the addition of a strong setup man in Brian Fuentes, the Oakland A’s have all but assured that the AL West will be a three-team race, not just a battle between the Rangers and Angels.  The A’s have a formidable rotation headed by Trevor Cahill, 18-8 in ’10,  Gio Gonzalez, 15-9, and Dallas (no-hit) Braden, 11-14.  Fuentes joins another late-inning man, the newly signed (former Ray) Grant Balfour, in the bullpen.  Andrew Bailey, one of the majors’ best, is the closer.  Oakland still needs more offensive punch, but deals for three oufielders, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui (formerly of KC, the Nationals and Angels) will give the team a power-charge.                              

An AL East Surprise?  The division with the strongest potential for a two-team race - the AL East – has two teams other than the Red Sox and Yankees worth watching.  A superior group of starters could keep Tampa Bay in the competition, and a glance at the 28 players named 2010 Triple- and Double-A All Stars (as listed by Baseball America) indicates a fourth team could surprise.  The Blue Jays placed four farmhands on the list, meaning touted young reinforcements may be ready to help the team (that just signed reliever Jon Rauch) before the season is far gone.  No other team had more than two total on the two rosters.   

                                          - o -

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

to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 






(Posted: 1/15/11)

 

Angels, Yanks and Jerry Brown Play Budget-Conscious Game

 

The California Angels and the Yankees are the two most prominent teams that haven’t been themselves this post-season.  Each has done little –Rafael Soriano to the Yanks notwithstanding - of the hot-stove dealing that has been their usual game. Owner Arte Moreno’s team has been “un-Angel”-like because he says he’s trying to maintain his ballpark’s general admission price of $19, lowest in the majors.  The “un-Yankee”-like pinstripers want to tighten their budgetary discipline.  Whatever the reason, the restraint is good news for fans in general, if not for supporters of both teams.

 

There’s even better news on the political field if you watch from the left field grandstand.  California governor Jerry Brown wants to give the people a chance to vote for a tax hike to lessen the severity of necessary cuts in public services.  It’s a way of avoiding the “taxes-are-off-the-table” game of most elected officials.  In this case, members of Brown’s legislative state team are expected to agree to put the hot potato on the ballot.  Meanwhile, in similarly hard-hit Illinois, legislators have done the unthinkable – voted a 67-percent rise in the personal income tax (and a 37-percent business-tax increase) to help keep the state fiscally in play.  Dem Skipper Pat Quinn will happily sign the hikes into law.

 

The contrast in supposedly progressive NY is striking: the state’s new Skipper Andrew Cuomo is pitching hard for tax breaks for property owners and for the wealthy; a cap would prevent any rise in the rate imposed on owners, and a temporary tax on high-income people would be allowed to expire, the state’s urgent need for revenue notwithstanding.  Team NY, which has prided itself on leadership, is now an also-ran in the 50-state gutsy-comeback competition.

 

The Yankees, by allowing the hyperactive Red Sox to make them title underdogs in the AL East, will surely attract something rare in their franchise history: sympathetic outside-NY support.  Fielding virtually the team that lost to Texas in the ALDS sets up a challenging – and broadened fan-involved – season.  Of course, chances of the Yanks standing pat, post-Soriano, are far from a sure thing.  For the moment, they can congratulate themselves on adding a formidable set-up man to Mariano Rivera in 2011 and 2012, and a closer in 2013, if Mo decides to retire.  

 

The Type-A Tradeoff:  Soriano makes the Yanks’ loss of Kerry Wood more than bearable.  The deal’s one negative is Rafael’’s status as one of three Type A free agents who rejected an arbitration offer (his from the Rays).  That means the Yanks must yield its first amateur draft pick to Tampa Bay.  Budget-conscious teams are becoming more and more reluctant to give up such highly regarded and (usually) low-salaried prospects.  Nevertheless, Soriano’s fellow Rays reliefer Grant Balfour, who is in the same category, has finally been signed - by the A’s.  Carl Pavano, third of the group, is expected to be re-signed soon by the Twins.

                                

Others in Slow Signing Lane:  The grapevine consensus is that Johnny Damon will sign with the Rays, he giving them a discount because they play near his Florida home.  There’s no such agreement on where veteran sluggers Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez will wind up.  Jim Thome, unsigned until late this week, is going back to the Twins.

 

A month from today, pitchers and catchers report at the Yankees camp in Tampa/St.Petersburg and the Red Sox camp at Fort Myers.  The Mets will welcome their battery-mates to Port St.Lucie two days later, on February 17.  Yes, it won’t be long now.

 

The Other Outdoor Sport:  Recalling the Nub rule about NFL football: It is legitimate for baseball fans to focus on pro games when they are played in December and January in open-air, frost-belt stadiums, the match-ups preferably involving cold-weather teams.  The divisional playoff games today and tomorrow make for attractive viewing within the rule: six of eight are frost-belt teams, three of four home fields are frost-belt sites.  The Packers-Falcons game will be played tonight in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.  It would be miss-able, except that a Green Bay win is so important: it would insure elimination of sterile, studio-like conditions next week.  The dome alternative, if all goes well: we can count on watching from our living rooms a week from tomorrow as both conference title games unfold in the frost belt. 

 

One other thing: Owing to its excess of hype and usual antiseptic venue, the Super Bowl - it says here - is eminently worth ignoring.                                
                                        
- o -

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

to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 










(Posted: 1/11/11)

 

For Mets and Team Obama: ‘It Is What It Is’

 

Mets fans and those of several other teams will surely be spared falsely optimistic slogans this year: Remember “The Magic is Back”, “Your Season Has Come” and last year’s “We Believe in Comebacks”?  The slogan this year should be “Patience.”  Similarly, political progressives, once avid fans of Team Obama, know enough now not to expect any swing to the left by the skipper.  “It Is What It Is,” could be the O-team’s sign.

 

Casting a cool look over both fields, we can see, however grudgingly, some merit to what each team is doing.  We imagine new Mets GM Sandy Alderson telling Jeff Wilpon “I’d rather do nothing than pick players off the scrap heap.  We don’t have the money or the depth to compete this season.  No use trying to fool anybody about it.”  Credit for honesty is one dividend of the approach; a surprise performance by the un-puffed team could be another.  In any event, making this a spin-free season might sway fans who stay away to return as believers next year.

 

Most lefty Team Obama fans who have been booing the skipper for hitting to the right are reconciled to cheering for him next year.  If they didn’t realize how lacking in clout they were, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald provides a primer on the dynamics of their unrequited support:


Telling politicians that you will do everything possible to work for their re-election no matter how much they scorn you, ignore your political priorities, and trample on your political values is a guaranteed ticket to irrelevance and impotence.  Any self-interested, rational politician… will ignore those who behave this way every time and instead care only about those whose support is conditional.  And they're well-advised to do exactly that. 


“It is probably the case that a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Democratic base contributed to the Democrats' defeat in the 2010 midterm election.  But what Obama cares about is getting re-elected in 2012, and he knows full well that…(early in) that  year…most of the progressives who are now continuously complaining about him will be at the front of the line waving their Obama banners.”

                                

Amid the familiar rundown of the O-team’s game plan: the troubling sense that what’s happening on the Congressional diamond is secondary to the skipper – like the Mets’ season this year compared to 2012.

                                   

The Anger Market:  On the most troubling development in the national bailiwick - the shooting in Arizona - lefty Paul Krugman had this delivery: Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance.  Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.”


From the Brady Center Against Gun Violence
(as reported in Salon): 10 states regulate assault weapons.  In California, for example, (Jared) Loughner could not have legally purchased a gun with a high-capacity magazine.  Arizona, though, has among the weakest gun laws in the nation.  Even if folks had seen Loughner with the gun walking up to the congresswoman, it was perfectly legal until he started firing"

                             -     -     -  

About Time?  ESPN’s Buster Olney says he’s heard the Mets may well be ready to dump both Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez before the season starts; that is, sacrifice more than $18 million in paid-for services to rid the team of what have been two festering sores.

 

More from Bowa: Larry Bowa, quoted here last time, has been an asset playing a fill-in role with MLB-TV.  He predicted the other night that outfielder Dexter Fowler would have a breakout year with the Rockies.  Bowa also joined regulars Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams in picking Colorado to win the NL West. He said the Giants probably won’t repeat their 2010 success, in part, because they’ll be at a defensive disadvantage with Miguel Tejada at short and Pat Burrell in left.

 

Nobody Asked Us, But…we offer this free advice as MLB viewers:  Reynolds is being given too much face-time; he flirts with an “I-know-it-all” attitude that can grate. Mitch Williams risks being similarly obtrusive.  Occasional visitors like savvy ex-pros Bowa and Ron Gant don’t get sufficient time to take verbal swings.

                                  - o -

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

to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 




(Posted: 1/8/11)


The Audacity of Truth-Telling About Your Own Team

 

Although Americans have a right to speak out, people in politics and baseball risk punishment for saying what they think…if it’s about teammates.  Ask central Florida’s Bronx-born Congressman (until this week) Alan Grayson, or former Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa.  Grayson, one of the last of the slugging liberals in public life, lamented what he called his (Democratic) party’s “strategy of appeasement” leading up to the midterm election.  He received lukewarm campaign support from his parent club, many of whose members said publicly they thought he was off-base – one even said Grayson’s remarks made him “cringe” - in the way he attacked both his own team and opponents.

 

A replay of a classic Grayson inside pitch:  “We as a party have spent the last six months-- the greatest minds of our party dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote for health care reform…Olympia Snowe has no…power…(She) represents a state with one half of one percent of America's population…America cares about health care…not…about process.”

 

Bowa lost his job with the Dodgers not long after taking team center fielder Matt Kemp to task - publicly - for lackadaisical play.  He told the Globe’s Nick Cafardo why he did what he did:


“If you can’t tell a player that he should be running out ground balls and how to play the game the right way, then why are you coaching?  You can get someone off the street to be their friend.  Sometimes you pay a price for being honest.


“He’s a five-tool player, but he’d bring you five tools on Monday and sometimes one tool on Tuesday. This kid can do anything he wants in this game. He’s got tremendous ability.  He’s not a bad kid.  It just looked like he had other things on his mind…Some people call (what I did) ‘old school.’  I just call it playing baseball the right way.  I’ve put on the uniform and played the hardest I could for as long as I could.  That’s all I ever asked of anyone else.’’


New manager Don Mattingly replaced Bowa with former KC manager Trey Hillman.  Bowa still hasn’t found a baseball job for this season.  Grayson, who lost big in the GOP landslide, hopes to back on the field in 2012.  It would be reassuring if Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs were cut loose from Team Obama in D.C. because of their bench-jockeying of Dem liberals.  But we know that, unlike the publicly demoted Grayson, both Rahm and Gibbs are still close to the skipper.

 

Pressbox Takes a Double-Hit: In NY’s journalistic ballpark, two of the area’s three remaining birddog reporters have, like Grayson and Bowa, moved on.  The Village Voice sent veteran columnist Wayne Barrett packing for what it said was financial reasons.  Barrett’s equally admirable Voice teammate Tom Robbins quit in solidarity with Wayne.  The third member of the invaluable triumvirate, Jim Dwyer, is on leave from the NY Times.  For the moment - pending wrap-up Voice work by Robbins and start-up deliveries by Barrett for his new team The Nation Institute - we’re destitute of the kind of digging reportage that trio provided.

 

                                       -     -     -

Bowa Being Bowa:  Larry Bowa on MLB-TV the other night (ingratiating himself with the Rangers front office): “In that ballpark, they didn’t need another hitter (Adrian Beltre).  I would’ve gotten the team a stud pitcher…Moving Michael Young from third base; that’s not showing him the respect he deserves.”

 

On the Nationals signing Adam LaRoche:  “I love (former first baseman) Adam Dunn.  But, especially when you have a young infield, you need someone who can catch the ball wherever it is thrown.  The young guys hate to make errors, so if the first baseman doesn’t give them confidence, they aim the ball instead of just letting loose.”

 

Could Guillen Be a-Goner? The stage whispers in Chicago say White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen must “win or go home.”  Ozzie’s contract ends this season unless an option for 2012 kicks in.  But that will only happen if this year’s team wins the AL Central.  It’s a challenge Guillen may not be able to meet for two reasons: the Twins and Tigers.  The whispers further note that Ozzie is tight with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria; he presumably could have the manager’s job in Florida if the Marlins were to miss the playoffs  with the White Sox. 

 

Cubs Getting a Rotation Upgrade:  On paper they don’t look as strong as the Reds or Cardinals, but the Cubs are getting there:  They’re sending five minor leaguers to the Rays for Matt Garza, who will join Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Demptser and probably Randy Wells as the Cubbies’ top four starters.  The NL Central might have a three-team playoff race after all.  

                                       - o -

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

to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. 

Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 








(Posted: 1/4/11)

 

Can Skipper Cuomo Be NY’s Buck Showalter?

 

The political mantra to “Do more with less” has clearly been adopted by some baseball teams: the minimally active Mets and a few other clubs - the Mariners and Twins come to mind (as, to a lesser extent, do the Yanks). The Mets’ almost-silent post-season forces fans to accept on faith that the nearly intact fourth-place team of 2010 will return to contention this year.  A real leap.

 

Faith will be needed in the political grandstand, as well.  Most state skippers around the country, including Team NY’s Andrew Cuomo, will have to settle for a promise to “do their best with lots less.”  Before becoming NY skipper 28 years ago, Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, told his assembled team “We’re not here for glory, but to help people.”  A struggling economy prevented him from being more than marginally successful in preventing cuts to social services, like Medicaid, that penalized the poor.  Skipper Andrew can hardly hope to match his father in that regard; not at a time when revenue is down requiring spending cuts and the need for compensating tax increases has been sent to the showers.

 

Indeed, pending an emergency swing at the state’s fiscal dropoff, the new governor’s only specific policy stance so far (other than the salary freeze for state workers and top-team pay cuts) is to cap property taxes to help the struggling middle class.  He surely knows that will leave less for society’s  scuffling players.  So the challenge will be all the greater to keep his pledge to “rebuild government” and get people - the poor in particular - to believe in it again.  If, despite the financial hole, Skipper Andrew can rally team NYS and its dejected fans, as Buck Showalter did with the Orioles, he will be a shoo-in for state manager of the year.

                                      -     -     -

What We Know in the post-season so far:  The Red Sox and Brewers have vaulted from non-playoff status in 2010 to serious contenders this season.  The Sox are favored by many to win it all; the Brewers must duke it out with the Reds and, possibly, the Cardinals.  The Phillies have solidified their dominance in the NL East and beyond with the addition of Cliff Lee.  The Nationals are poised to leap-frog the Mets, who are doing a variation of the Knicks’ vain “waiting for Lebron” number of last season.  The Yankees have held their dealing fire until now; it will be a major non-explosion if they do nothing big the rest of the winter.  ESPN’s Wallace Matthews says the team’s dealing activity depends on the play-or-not decision to be made (possibly this week) by Andy Pettitte.  He quotes a Yanks exec to that effect:

 

"Starter, reliever, a bat, it depends on what's out there.  But we gotta know what Andy is gonna do first.''

 

Humorist Dave Barry’s review of the year in the Miami Herald: “2010 was (not) all bad.  There were bright spots.  The Yankees did not even get into the World Series.”

                                      - o -

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

 








(Posted 1/1/11)

 

Skipper Urged to Execute a Steal from Fantasy Baseball

 

How do lefty fans rate Skipper Obama’s first full year in office?  At a street corner confab on the subject the other day, one said “I wish he had been as direct in support of progressive issues as he was in his rooting for the White Sox.”  Unlike the pale-Sox who faded at the end of the season, the skipper finished strong.   Nontheless, he was an also-ran when compared by knowledgable fans to the handful of recent effective presidents.  Lyndon Johnson was one, Bill Clinton another (but just barely – liberals still have reservations about him).  Ronald Reagan is the most recent all-star skipper, hailed by many Dems, including Obama himself.

 

What made former Cubs announcer “Dutch” Reagan the all-star that Obama so far is not?  Neal Gabler fielded that one in The American Prospect and threw a strike from the left side of the field:

 

“Obama may have misunderstood how the presidency has evolved since the days of Ronald Reagan so that Obama's very conception of the office is outmoded. Obama still thinks that the way to achieve his goals is to come up with the right policy and to build political support for it with logical argument.  He doesn't understand the extent to which one of the primary functions of the presidency is emotive: to provide a sense of psychological comfort to the nation that, once accomplished, might well lead to legislative achievements -- may, in fact, be the best route to those achievements -- but can also be an end in itself.  People want a president who makes them feel good…

 

“Reagan was able to find a metaphor that reshaped the entire institution of the presidency to the point where his successors could ignore his conception at their peril.  For him, the presidency was no bully pulpit, living room, salon, or fraternity.  Nor was it the college lectern that Obama seems to think it is from which he can calmly and rationally explain his policies.  It was a darkened theater in which Reagan could project a movie about the country's desires and dreams -- an American fantasy.”

 

Fantasy baseball league participants know how good putting together a dream team makes them feel.  Imagine, the skipper could say, how great it would - will - be to have a Team America that is will-balanced, prosperous and strong; a team that looks much like the revamped Red Sox.  It just might work.  

                              -     -     -

Many Away Games for Team USA:  Bad as baseball may be with its seventh-inning patriotic blather, the “honoring America” routine can’t match the NFL’s militaristic fervor.  The Giants-Packers game Sunday included a hailing on nationwide TV of “our armed forces in 175 countries.”  Only 17 more to go (according to the UN) before Team USA has the world covered.

 

Looking a Half-Year Ahead:  Joe Sheehan, who earned his creds with Baseball Prospectus, runs down a list of big-name players who may well be dealt next July, before the inter-league trade deadline.  His list in SI includes players likely to belong to teams that will be out of the running by early- or mid-summer.  Mets Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran head the list.  But an eye-opening name is Chris Carpenter, which suggests that in some quarters the Cardinals are expected to be non-contenders this year.

 

Two Reasons KC Will be More Fun to Watch in 2011:  Melky Cabrera and Jeff Franceour comprising two-thirds of the team’s outfield.

 

December 26

A baseball bat.
A deck of cards.
A science kit.
A racing car.
A catcher's mitt.
that's my list
of everything
that Santa Claus
forgot to bring.

           - Kenn Nesbitt, from “The Aliens Have Landed in Our School”  (Meadowbrook Press)

 

Let’s wish January, the post-season’s last non-baseball month, God’s speed.

                            -  o -

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December 2010 Archive

 





(Posted: 12/21/10)

 

A Tale of Two Alleged ‘Evil Empires’

 

Thirty-six years ago this month George Steinbrenner lit the free-agent tinder that made the hot-stove season blaze.  He outbid Padres owner Ray Kroc for the services of Oakland’s Jim “Catfish” Hunter.  His agreement to pay Hunter $3.35 million over five years sparked the salary spiral that renews itself every off-season.  Steinbrenner soon added Reggie Jackson to the Yanks, paying him even more.  Before long, fellow owners were complaining that upstart George had overheated the free-agent market and needed to cool down his spending habit.  “Moderation,” they pleaded.  We know Steinbrenner’s response – long before his Yanks were called the “Evil Empire”; it contained this message: moderation is not the American game.  Not in baseball, and certainly not in politics.

 

The tax bill passed last week illustrates the extreme way the political game is played today.  Promoted as a “compromise” because it provided additional jobless benefits, the bill was a major victory for resolute players on the right.  They went to bat for the wealthy and fouled off repeated lefty pitches to get them to broaden their stance.  Rolling Stone southpaw Matt Taibbi expressed the frustration of fans along the third-base line:

 

“This tax deal…is the result of a relatively small group of already-filthy rich people successfully lobbying an even smaller group of morally spineless politicians to shift an ever-bigger share of society’s burdens to the lower and (what’s left of the) middle classes.”    

 

“Moderate your rhetoric,” the righthanders reply.  “We are not the political ‘Evil Empire.’ The majority of Americans are on our side; polls show the percentage of spread-the-wealth fans shrinking as 2012 approaches.” Under the circumstances, the Democrats should be realistic, says Team GOP, whether they’re in a moderating mode or not.  Many lefty commentators agree.  Here is the UK Guardian’s Michael Tomasky about the country’s conciliating skipper: “I can't really blame the president for not being liberal enough…I do, however, blame him for being in denial about the nature of his opposition. They want to destroy him.  He still seems to think he can seduce them.”

 

If Obama does change signals and tries to force the GOP into a more moderate stance, he’ll need help from teammate Harry Reid.  McClatchy papers report that the Senate skipper has been flummoxd by more than 100 opposition “filibusters” this session, nearly all of which effectively blocked Dem-supported legislation.  Yet none actually took place; Team GOP only had to threaten to filibuster to have its way with Reid.  McClatchy further reports that last week’s nine-hour effort by Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders was the first real filibuster since 1992.       

                           -     -     -

Solidifiers:  The body-building term “bulking up” comes to mind when thinking of the Red Sox this post-season.  The addition of weighty Bobby Jenks and compact Dan Wheeler to Boston’s relief corps after Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford joined the offense reinforces the Sox’s status as AL gorilla going into 2011.  Both pitchers are highly credentialed journeymen, Jenks excelling as White Sox closer for much of the decade, ex-Met Wheeler a reliable middle-inning man with the Astros and Rays.  

 

Travel Talk:  The Sox’s departing third baseman Adrian Beltre looks to be a sure bet to land in Anaheim with the Angels (just as sure as the wager that Cliff Lee would wind up with the Yankees).  Both Carl Pavano and Vladimir Guerrero are holding out for three-year contracts, which neither of their latest teams, the Twins and Rangers, seems disposed to give them.                                 

 

Add Zack Greinke to the Brewers to our list of favorite post-season deals; the others: Victor Martinez to the Tigers, Jayson Werth to the Nationals, and Kerry Wood to the Cubs.  What we liked: None of the four wound up with either of the persistently dominating Red Sox, Yankees or Phillies.

                         

Mystery Man:  Orlando Hudson has bounced to a fourth team in four years; he’s signed with the Padres after playing a more-than-respectable second base for the Twins (for whom he scored 80 runs in 129 games).  Hudson put in a solid year with the Dodgers before the Twins, and was with the D-backs before the LAD’s.  He has just turned 33 and is considered a good teammate as well as a better-than-average infielder.  It could be he tends to price himself out of the market (it happened when he was with Arizona).  The Padres are paying him $11.5 million for two years, which means he should stop bouncing for awhile.

                                - o -

 

(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey,

can be found at perfectpitcher.org) 

 

The Nub is taking an end-of-the-year road trip to Red Sox Nation to sample the post-season euphoria of Sox fans.

Back in time for 2011.  Happy Holiday.

 






(Posted: 12/18/10)

 

‘The Jewish Kid’ and the President Who Knew Baseball

 

Richard Nixon, the comeback player of the year in the 1968 presidential race, is back with us, thanks to newly released tapes of comments he made as skipper.  Nixon frequently attended Mets games during his post-presidential years as a New Yorker.  “I don’t know a lot about politics,” he said during that period, “but I do know a lot about baseball.”

 

Nixon surely knew that the super-baseball star of the sixties was Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers.  From 1961 until his retirement in 1966, Koufax won 111 games, averaging close to 300 strikeouts a season.  Koufax was Jewish. “Aggressive” and “able” were two of the words Nixon used to describe Jews on the tapes.  Koufax fit that description:

 

…Leo Durocher—
the great manager of the Giants—
was asked about the best pitcher
he ever saw.

Without hesitation, he replied,
"The Jewish Kid," meaning
Sandy Koufax: a leftie
with a fastball like a falcon
snatching a dove from the sky;

a curve so wicked, sluggers
cringed to barely glimpse
it screaming at their heads,
before it dropped away,
at the last, perilous instant.
 

- From “The Jewish Kid”, by Robert Cooperman

 

Arthritis forced Koufax to retire when he was 30.  The Watergate scandal - resulting from a break-in he ordered at Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972 - forced Nixon to resign as skipper in 1974.  As seen from today, he was not a bad president: he pursued the Vietnam war too long before bringing it to a close in ’73.  But he re-established relations with China after more than a quarter of a century, and he proposed a comprehensive health insurance plan to provide protection for the millions who could not afford coverage.  Watergate and a competing plan proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy sent health care reform to the showers in the mid-‘70s…where it may return if five of the nine High Court umpires thumb ObamaCare from the game.  

                         -     -     -

Love Conquers Loot:  Cliff Lee never hid his affection for the Phillies.  When the Phils traded him to the Mariners after the 2009 season, he said he was “shocked” and sorry to leave. “They do a lot of things right,” he said then (in an interview replayed on MLB-TV).  Family comfort in Philly was clearly another factor.  John Smoltz (also on MLB) says of course liking your teammates and respecting the organization influence a player’s deciding where he wants to go: “You gotta go to work, you want to have fun.”

                            

First it was Joe Mauer who took less than he had to last year to re-sign with his home-town Twins.  Now it is Lee, who has signed for less than his market value to return to his preferred season-long home. Kerry Wood is another one; he chose less money than the White Sox offered to sign with his old team, the Cubs. Could it be a trend?  We’ll see, when Albert Pujols’ contract with the Cardinals ends after next season.   

 

It’s official: Sports Illustrated identifies two “badly run” top (financial) tier teams.  The Mets, unsurprisingly, are one.  The Cubs are keeping them company.  The Mets have a longer streak of bad management than the Cubs, who made the playoffs in 2003, ’07 and ’08, and competed with the Cardinals for NL Central dominance for much of the decade.  The Mets, attentive fans know, were run erratically by GM Steve Phillips in the pre-Jeff Wilpon era, even when they went to the World Series in 2000.                                     - o -

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(Posted: 12/14/10; updated)

 

How Expansionism Made an Impact in Baseball and Warfare

 

In a few days, baseball historians will celebrate the birthday of Branch Rickey, who broke the sport’s color line, and once ran the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was born 128 years ago next Monday.  In addition to the signing of Jackie Robinson, Rickey is remembered for being the first to see the value of an extensive farm system.  The Mets are one of several teams who could use someone like him today.  Rickey made it his mission to collect “players with youth, speed and strength of arm” and provide minor league teams on which they could develop.  He set up his system for the St.Louis Cardinals in 1919 and the rest of the baseball world hurry to try to catch up. 

 

Rickey’s farm empire soon included hundreds of players – the Cardinals owned all the teams in two leagues and had affiliates elsewhere.  Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis - the baseball “Czar” - put an end to the expansionism, limiting the Cards (and other clubs) to one team in each minor league.  Limits, we know, are seldom popular with Americans in any field.  The question many fans of the political game are asking today is when will Team USA’s military expansionism be stopped?  Where Rickey controlled a dozen or more teams at one time, the U.S. today has close to 750 bases in 120 countries, not counting many under our indirect control but formally run by local governments.  Said Chalmers Johnson in “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Empire” – If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.”

 

Inevitably, this broad-based imperial force becomes involved in armed conflicts in the Muslim world - and elsewhere - that Team USA seems to know nothing about.  The McClatchy news team disclosed this week that our military “provided Saudi Arabia with satellite imagery to help direct air strikes against Shiite rebels…Collaborated with Algerian forces in 2006 and 2007 to capture militants allegedly bound for Iraq… Killed a militant Islamist leader in a 2008 air strike in Somalia.”

 

James Traub provides this further example in Foreign Policy magazine: Cables printed by the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar...disclose that in 2008 Lebanon asked to have American spy planes conduct surveillance of Hezbollah at a time when the Shiite group threatened to overrun the state.  But the Lebanese people would have been shocked to hear of (the) operation… and the revelation has already produced an outcry.”

 

For Islamic insurgents, those secretive games, which continue today, confirm their belief that Team USA is at war with nationalist movements everywhere in the Muslim world.  Experts agree the incidents help rally support for Al Quaida and anti-U.S, sentiment throughout Islam.

                                -     -     -

Buyers’ Market:  Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain, Octavio Dotel, Kyle Farnsworth, Pedro Feliciano, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Trevor Hoffman, Bobby Jenks, Hideki Okajima, Arthur Rhodes, Rafael Soriano, Kerry Wood: Those are only some of the free-agent relievers still unsigned for next season.  The market is soft because so many familiar names are available.  Soriano will get the most lucrative deal, and Wood shouldn’t do badly, either…especially if he re-signs with the Yankees.

 

Given that array of available talent, Mets fans can ask why their team elected to sign D.J. Carrasco, a 33-year-old right-hander who has been with four teams in six seasons and recorded a career ERA of only 4.31?   The (likely) answer: His annual salary up to now has never reached the $1 million mark.

 

A Perhaps Premature Look Ahead:  As of now, we can anticipate two-team playoff races in four of the six divisions: AL East, Red Sox and Yankees; AL West, Rangers and Angels; NL Central, Reds and Cardinals; NL West, Giants and Dodgers.  The three-team exceptions: AL Central, where the Twins, White Sox and Tigers figure again to be fighting it out, and the NL East, where the Phillies - Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt notwithstanding - may well face a challenge from both the Braves and Marlins.

 

Stat Lesson:  Why is “innings” the most important pitching number?  David Cone suggested the obvious on YES some time ago - it’s a number that (if high) identifies work horses, pitchers whom managers can rely on to rest a tired staff.   On MLB-TV the other night, Joe Magrane amplified the point: “The innings total tells you whether the manager has confidence in a pitcher – doesn’t yank him at the first sign of trouble.” 

 

                                - o -

 

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(Posted: 12/11/10)

 

Carl Crawford, Julian Assange and the Dark Side

 

We’ve talked before about the dark side of the jubilation when a wealthy MLB franchise adds a super-star to an already star-studded lineup: dismay on the part of fans of lower-income clubs in the division who know their teams can no longer  be competitive.  That dismay inevitably turns into apathy by the time the season is half-over.  The Red Sox’s signing of Carl Crawford on top of the trade for Adrian Gonzalez underscores the relevance of that reality.  How can the comparatively undermanned Rays, Blue Jays, or Orioles hope to keep fan interest alive with the majors’ two mega-powers (the Yanks’ signing of Cliff Lee is now a foregone conclusion) playing in the same division?  

 

The inevitable apathy brought on by baseball’s insensitivity to so many of its fans exists in the political field, as well.  The emergence of Wiki-Leak-ed documents reinforced the awareness among some observers of our political-inattentiveness problem.  Embarrassingly, it was Russia’s major newspaper Pravda that made the connection:


“What WikiLeaks has done is make people understand why so many Americans are politically apathetic … After all, the evils committed by those in power can be suffocating, and the sense of powerlessness that erupts can be paralyzing, especially when … government evildoers almost always get away with their crimes. …”


Daniel Ellsberg’s Website, which quoted the Pravda observation, went to bat afterward calling for apathy’s end:


The American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.  Odd, isn’t it, that it takes…Pravda… to drive home the point that the Obama administration is on the wrong side of history.  Most of our own media are demanding that WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange be hunted down — with some of the more bloodthirsty politicians calling for his murder.  The corporate-and-government dominated media are apprehensive over the challenge that WikiLeaks presents.”


Worth remembering: Assange, who should be cheered as journalistic hero (he and his colleagues perform the newspeople tasks of doing articles on what they have learned) founded WikiLeaks to offer transparency about what was happening in Team USA’s two misguided wars.  The message of much of the predominant reaction to that service is this: “You have no right, because WE DON’T WANT TO KNOW.”

                                        -     -     -

The New Superiority? Gonzalez and Crawford join Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as players heading into their prime years. Likewise Jacoby Ellsbury, who at 27 is hoping to put behind him a season lost to injuries. The Yankees have young veterans in Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner.


“But the Yankees seem to be getting old fast. Alex Rodriguez, 35, has a hip condition that may not get any better.  Derek Jeter will be 37 in June.  And the 41-year-old Mariano Rivera, though still at the top of his game, is at the stage of his career where his skills could slip in a hurry.”
  - Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe


Heard at the GM’s Meeting
(via MLB-TV): Buck Showalter on the deal that brought D-backs third baseman Mark Reynolds, the majors’ strikeout leader, to the Orioles for two relievers – “We believe he had the worst season he’ll ever have, and he would’ve led our club in four (positive) categories, including HRs (32) and RBIs (85)…We did our research: he fields well, and he doesn’t clog the bases.”   


Kenny Williams
(White Sox GM):  “I don’t want anybody else but Ozzie (Guillen) to manage our club while I’m around…(But) we want people who want to be here.  When we heard talk of Ozzie willing to go to Miami (to manage the Marlins), we went down that road.”


Tony La Russa
:  “I’m sure Albert (Pujols) will be staying with us long-term.  Whatever the money, they’ll get the contract done…Already after his rookie year in 2001, I said he was the best ballplayer I had ever seen.”


Most amusing press release of the week (The Mets, on the lawsuit seeking money from the Wilpons in connection with the Madoff investment scandal): Regardless of the outcome of these discussions, we want to emphasize that the New York Mets will have all the necessary financial and operational resources to fully compete and win. That is our commitment to our fans and to New York.”

                                         - o -

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

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(Posted: 12/7/10)

 

WikiLeaks, the Mets and Team Obama

 

What does WikiLeaks say about Bernie Madoff’s impact on the Mets?  The team’s front-office silence this hot-stove season prompts that hypothetical question.  Fans have never gotten a straight story about Fred Wilpon’s bad (or was it good?) investment with Madoff: the decline in the Mets’ payroll this year allegedly had nothing to do with Bernie’s scam.  But there was no other explanation for the unwillingness to do the needed spending to compete with the Phillies and Braves.

 

One can imagine a leaked communication in which Wilpon instructed son Jeff to “Stonewall about why we’re not spending as much as usual.  Let them think it’s because I’m pissed - which I am - about the $18 million going to pay Ollie Perez and Luis Castillo.”  Wilpon surely knew the cover story would be a tough sell, but the issue was too trivial to warrant a serious challenge.  At the other extreme was Team Obama’s blatant attempt to cover up its support of a right-wing coup in Honduras last June that everyone, including the skipper’s ambassador, knew was illegal.   

 

A WikiLeak-ed U.S. Embassy cable at the time said “There is no doubt that (the removal of President Manuel Zelaya) constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch…There is equally no doubt Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.”  Other leaked information clarified why the O-Team pretended the situation was too murky to intervene: the U.S. feared Zelaya’s plans for reform would push Honduras to the left, making it a less reliable ally.

 

Team Bush had been implicated in coup-attempts in Venezuela in 2002 and Bolivia in 2008 and the O-Team in Ecuador this year.  The skipper’s stance so far is the same as his predecessor’s, favoring business/elite over populist leadership.  That makes it another in a series of bad calls by a man who had given hope to progressives here and in Latin America.   WikiLeaks has made clear why the hope now is all but gone.

                           -     -     -           

Sizzling Stove: Everyone agrees that Jayson Werth’s seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals will inflate the market value of many free agents this post-season.  But what about the impact on the Nationals?  It is significant, and not all positive, as the Wash Post’s Adam Kilgore points out:

 

“The specter of Werth's contract will hang over the Nationals for the better part of the next decade, and not only as they hope Werth stays productive to the tune of $18 million a year as he nears his 40th birthday.  Before Ryan Zimmerman hits free agency after  2013, the Nationals will need to try to sign him to a long-term contract extension.  Zimmerman has proven to be even more valuable than Werth the past couple years, and then there's the fact that he's a homegrown fan favorite who tends to always do the right thing -- Washington's Jeter.  If Werth got $126 million, just imagine what Zimmerman could command.

“And then comes 2017, when Stephen Strasburg hits free agency…”

 The Red Sox are reportedly giving Adrian Gonzalez close to Mark Teixeira-type money ($180 million for eight years) in a seven-year deal.  Although the Sox gave up three good prospects, they held on to Jacoby Ellsbury, which means, from a fans’s standpoint, they did well. (SD fans, not so well.) The Gonzalez and Werth signings leave Adrian Beltre , Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee as the three most attractive unsigned free agents.  Where will they wind up? How’s this for a guess? Lee to the Yankees (natch), Crawford to the Angels, and Beltre to somewhere (where he may have to settle for less than the offer he spurned from Oakland).

 

No guessing about the Mets: Since the team has little money to spend this off-season, it may be the only club in the majors with an already predictable 2011 starting lineup.  Here is a likely way manager Terry Collins could bat his position players: Jose Reyes, ss, Angel Pagan, cf, Carlos Beltran, rf, David Wright, 3b. Jason Bay, lf, Ike Davis, 1b, Josh Thole, c, Luis Castillo, 2b.  As Collins has said, the sustained health of these starters is key to the team’s (problematic) competitiveness next season.  The 2011 Yankees lineup, on the other hand, will almost certainly have a new face or two.  One interesting question: Will Joe Girardi keep Derek Jeter at leadoff, or batting second, or even down in the order?                                                

                             

The Reds' refreshingly candid Joey Votto on the influence on him of Troy Tulowitzki’s seven-year deal with the Rockies: “When Tulowitzki signed that…contract… I was blown away.  I can’t imagine seeing myself (several) years from now saying: ’I want to be here.’ It’s an overwhelming thing to ask a young person like myself and say: ’Here’s a lot of money be happy with this (for a long period).’  Deal with it.”

 

                          - o -

 

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'



(Posted: 12/4/10)

 

The Distracted Focus on Both Baseball and Politics

 

Some of us remember the first time we went to the ballpark expecting to watch pre-game batting practice only to get an unwelcome surprise: a giant electronic scoreboard imposing its videos, flashing lights, rock music, etc., all seemingly designed to distract attention from the activity on the field.  We know how dramatically the distractions have multiplied since then: the theme parks… Angel Stadium in Anaheim, the Mall-parks in NYC and elsewhere, replete with high-end emporia, upscale boutiques and fancy restaurants.  The baseball-watching experience becomes secondary in such a busy-ness setting.

 

Interest in politics has taken a hit because of distractions more miniaturized but much more powerful.  Social networking, with its Facebook, Twitter, etc., and their fraternal hand-held gadgets, is a small-ball game played in a cybernetic mega-diamond.  F-Team Skipper Mark Zuckerberg has laid down seven playing guidelines.  He expects his club to connect with the team’s many fans by reaching out in a way that is seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple, minimal and short.

 

That style of play clashed with the disciplined approach celebrated by social strategist Marshal McLuhan. He said a savvy outlook became possible for players as well as fans with the long-ago arrival of the printing press.  Attentiveness to politics – and substance, in general – existed thanks to print until the mass-market coming of television in the middle of the last century.  Author Neal Gabler recalled on his LA Times scorecard how the new ballgame unfolded:

 

“Writing scarcely 20 years after McLuhan, in 1985, Neil Postman, in his path-breaking book ’Amusing Ourselves to Death,’ saw the handwriting — or rather the images — on the wall.  He lamented the demise of print under the onslaught of the visual, thanks largely to television.  Like McLuhan, Postman felt that print culture helped create thought that was rational, ordered and engaging, and he blamed TV for making us mindless.  Print not only welcomed ideas, it was essential to them. Television not only repelled ideas, it was inimical to them.

 

“One wonders what Postman — who died the same year Facebook's precursor went online — would have thought of Zuckerberg's Revolution.  Facebook is still typographically dependent.  Its messages are basically printed notes.  But contradicting Postman, these bits of print are no more hospitable to real ideas than the television culture Postman reviled.”

 

Social networking is obviously not the only reason our politics has become so skewed – money and the corporate media are a big part of the game.  But since members of our younger generations are playing the Facebook-type game so avidly, the prospect of a return to rationality must be considered remote.

                              -     -     -

The Gratitude Game: Last year, the Yankees thanked two of their World Series stars Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon by letting them slip away to the Angels and Tigers, respectively. This year, it’s the Giants, who couldn’t have succeeded the Yanks as champions without the heroics of Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria.  SF has let Uribe go to the Dodgers (on a three-year deal) and made clear to Renteria there’s no room for him now.  The Giants so far have replaced the two with (almost) 37-year-old Miguel Tejada, a message, perhaps, that they think shut-down pitching lessens the need for tight defense.

 

Puzzlement:  The Yankees decided not to tender Dustin Moseley, 4-4 last season and 12-11 in his five-year career with the Angels and Yanks.  At the same time, they re-signed Sergio Mitre, 0-3 and 13-29 over seven seasons with the Cubs, Marlins and Yanks.  Both are righthanders, Mitre is 30, Moseley 29.  Mitre comes cheap (just under a million), Moseley would get a few mil more than Sergio via arbitration, but still…Even more baffling: the Mets letting Hisanori Takahashi - 10-6, and eight-for-eight in saves – go…to the Angels, who’ve signed him for two seasons at a little over $2.5 million per.  We know the Mets are counting their pennies, but that seems counterproductively frugal.

 

Backstop Banter: On MLB-TV the other night, the subject was the most attractive free-agent catcher in a year when many are available.  Joe Magrane said he would choose Miguel Olivo, who played with the Rockies.  Mitch Williams picked A.J. Piercynszki, who could have been leaving the White Sox, but didn't.  “I like Benjy Molina,” said Matt Vasgersian, of the oldest Molina brother who played with both the Giants and Rangers last season.

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November 2010 Archive


(Posted: 11/30/10)

 

Coming Soon? We’re Number Two!

 

The awards to Canadian Joey Votto and Venezuelan Felix Hernandez – NL MVP and AL Cy Young honors - meant half of the four top 2012 individual prizes went to non-U.S.-born players. (Dominican Albert Pujols and Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera were runners-up.)  The trend toward dominance in “our” sport by foreign competitors became noticeable when twice-champion Japan made an also-ran of Team USA in the World Baseball Classics.  The Japanese defeated Cuba in the 2006 final and South Korea in 2009.

 

What’s going on?  A half-century ago, legendary Boston Celtic Bob Cousy predicted that, within a few years NBA starting fives, would be all black.  Why? Because in his (dated) words: “Negro boys are hungry.”  The hunger for sports-connected money has attracted young Latino players to pro baseball in the north; together with Asians, Australians, Canadians, etc., they comprise close to a third of all major leaguers.  The primacy of U.S.-born players remains, but their place is under increasing challenge.

 

The situation on the ball field mirrors that in global finance.  National Journal scorekeeper Ronald Brownstein reviews what happened to bring about the power shift:

“For decades after World War II, the global order revolved around American influence… But neither it nor any other competitor will likely match that influence in the coming decades. ‘Although our 'gravitational pull' is still strong, it is not so strong that others orbit around us,’ political scientists Steven Weber and Bruce Jentleson write in their dazzling recent book, The End of Arrogance… ‘Most [world leaders] no longer believe that the alternative to a U.S. world order is chaos.’

“George W. Bush responded to this shifting alignment by more forcefully insisting on American primacy… He offered a vision of American power unconstrained by international institutions or consensus that undoubtedly made a mark.  But it also left the U.S. isolated, and it demonstrated in Iraq not the length but the limits of our ability to unilaterally reshape the world.  Obama has presented an alternative vision of the U.S...still the leader, but one that leads by guiding others to operate in harmony. That approach has produced some clear successes, such as a ‘reset’ relationship with Russia and a tenuous but still functioning international consensus on how to stabilize Afghanistan and contain Iran.  But it's also painfully clear that not even this approach can entirely bend the world to American designs.”

P.S.  A frustrating rally-killer as Team USA tries to protect its lead in the global game: divisive political plays at home.  Partisanship with a deep toe-hold casts crippling doubt on Skipper Obama’s ability to win support for what he wants his and other teams to do.  Add to that the consensus pressbox verdict on what the latest WikiLeaks signals have done: “Diminish (worldwide) trust in Washington.”

                                 -     -     -

A Clint-Can Thesis: Predictions are easy to make and risk-free – who will remember if they don’t prove correct? – so let’s just call this a hunch:  Clint Hurdle will have the Pirates playing near-.500 ball, or better.  He has two young blue blue-chippers to build around: center fielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Pedro Alvarez.  Hurdle proved in 2007 he could work magic with a young team, leading the raw Colorado Rockies to an impossible dream – the World Series.  


Progress Report: 
From Boston comes word on the Mets’ Daniel Murphy, relayed by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo: “The second base experiment with Murphy is a work-in-progress but ‘heading in the right direction,’’ according to a scout who spent a lot of time watching Murphy in the Dominican the past two weeks. ‘He’s a good enough athlete where he can pull it off,’’ said the scout, ‘but it will take time just to learn all the nuances of the position. I can see their thinking. He can hit. A sound player. This would be a nice conversion [from 1B/OF] for them at a position they need help at’.’’

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(Posted: 11/27/10)

 

Advice to Skippers in Both Fields: Never Be Nice

 

Snap quiz:  What two things do former Dodgers and Giants Skipper Leo Durocher and financier George Soros have in common?  Answer:(1) Baseball - Soros (along with partners) tried to buy the Washington Nationals in 2005.

 (2) More importantly, the two share a disdain for players who don’t go all-out to win.  It was Durocher who made it into Bartlett’s Quotations by saying “Nice guys finish last.” Leo was talking about opposing manager Mel Ott and his (1940s) Giants.    Soros had another skipper in mind when he recently expressed impatience about what he implied was timid leadership.

 

“I am used to fighting losing battles,” Soros said to a roomful of wealthy Democratic donors last week, “but I don’t like losing without a fight.”  He hinted that if Skipper Obama doesn’t challenge his hit-to-right opponents more aggressively, the donors should consider other options on the political playing field.  “If this president can’t do what we need,” Soros was quoted as saying, “it is time to start looking somewhere else.”  

 

Soros’s pitch was only one of a series of high, hard ones thrown at the skipper in the past several weeks from lefties like Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, Bob Kuttner, Michael Tomasky, Paul Krugman, etc.  Potential erosion of media support is one thing, erosion of serious cash another: It can get a leader’s attention.  We’ll see.

 

“Give me some scratching, diving, hungry ballplayers who come to kill you…That’s the kind of guy(s) I want playing for me.” – Leo Durocher in “Nice Guys Finish Last” (Simon and Schuster)

                           -     -     -

The New Skipper.  First impressions of Terry Collins (as interviewed on MLB-TV):  Deer-in-headlights eyes, jumpy responder (understandable under circumstances); he is no smooth Jerry Manuel.  But he spared us a “We-have-a-winning-team now” spin-attempt.  He said Mets could win if the regulars stayed healthy.  A big “if.”, and therefore a fair assessment.  Not a bad start.

 

Former pitchers Dan Plesac and Mitch Williams agreed after the interview that neither Collins (nor any manager) could keep a team together and playing good baseball.  “You need a team leader, a position player, not a pitcher, to do the policing job.”  Plesac said he thought David Wright would be the logical one to step up for the Mets.  Williams, who played under Collins at Houston, said he hoped Collins had “learned something about communicating with the players,” since skippering the Astros a decade-and-a-half ago.  “He didn’t know how to do it then.  He better know now if he’s going to last.”

 

Restless Nation: News that Victor Martinez has jumped to the Tigers (for a $50 million four-year deal) may be a welcome sign to Jason Varitek that he’ll be back playing in Boston in 2011, but it has made Sox fans unhappy.  Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy speaks for them:


Why are the Sox acting like they are a small-market team? They sell out every game. They have the second-highest-priced tickets in baseball. Their payroll is exceeded only by the Yankees’.  And now they won’t pay the going rate for their starting catcher?  How often do the Yankees lose a player they want to keep?”

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(Posted: 11/23/10)

 

Jeter and Bloomberg Differ on Term Limits

 

Who can blame Derek Jeter for opposing term limits?  He wants to decide how many more seasons he’ll continue to play; he doesn’t want the Yankees to set a cutoff point that forces him into early retirement. 

 

Derek will not get his way, as did Mike Bloomberg in the political field.  We remember that Mayor Mike managed to circumvent the will of his bosses – the voters – by using his financial clout on 29 City Council members; they helped him brush aside the two-term limit to which he (and they) were committed. 

 

The moral: money can make good things happen for whoever can put it to use.  The Yankees will get a couple of reasonably good more years out of Jeter and pay him, perhaps, for four.  It won’t be a bad deal for either side.

 

After the voters this month said a third time that a two-term limit was what they wanted, Bloomberg gave in: Two terms are right, he said, adding that his power pitch to get a third term was needed because of the city’s shaky economic shape.  Put another way, he and his financial savvy were indispensable.  Only with lots of dollars behind your delivery can you sell a play like that.

 

Dollars and an easily spun media: The Nation’s tough lefty Alexander Cockburn pitched this high, hard one on that double play and its effect on Team USA “The corporate press is unanimous…President Obama must ‘move to the center.’  Onto the butcher block must go entitlements – Medicare, Social Security.  The sky darkens with vultures eager to pick the people’s bones.”

 

The limits question now:  Can Team Obama shelve its self-imposed punch-and-judy offense and swing hard to outscore the hitting-to-right opposition?

                                  -     -     -

Tough Time for Terry: The guess here is that the Mets now have a serviceable interim manager - Terry Collins is unlikely to lead the team into the promised playoffs-land.  By the time Sandy Alderson et al rebuild the Mets into a contender, Collins will have suffered the fate of unfairly unappreciated Jerry Manuel.  The Mets have few studs and little money to spend on strong reinforcements.  A new-era trend to watch: the percentage of Latinos signed now that Omar Minaya is gone.

 

P.S.  Only five of 17 Mets managers since 1962 (including a few brief-tenured interims) finished with winning records: Gil Hodges, Davey Johnson, Bud Harrelson, Bobby Valentine and Willie Randolph.  Hodges and Johnson skippered the Mets’ only world championship teams – 1969 and 1986.

 

Here’s to the ‘Man’: In the week Stan Musial (whom Brooklyn Dodger fans dubbed “Stan the Man”) turned 90, let us repeat this tribute that another baseball immortal, Ty Cobb, paid long ago to the recently named recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom:

 

“No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer.  Stan Musial, however, is the closest thing to being perfect in the game…I’ve seen greater hitters and greater runners and greater fielders, but he puts them all together like no one else…He’s my kind of ball player.”  - Life Magazine, March 17, 1952

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(11/20/10)

 

Dual Strategic Dilemma: Go With Pragmatic Change or Tradition?

 

What are we to make of the likelihood – given the support of Bud Selig and most GMs – that baseball will add two wild card teams to the playoffs?  We have opposing views: Bad - it cheapens the achievement of making the post-season. Good - it’s a sign the sport is loosening traditional ties and becoming pragmatic.

 

A former sandlot pitcher in Venezuela – Hugo Chavez – hopes the Yanqui  team will follow baseball’s lead and look more realistically at what is happening in much of Latin America.  The countries that are hitting to left with Chavez – like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Nicaragua, etc. – are playing a catch-up game;  they’re doing it with democratically elected skippers after decades of military/elitist rule.  In most of the last century, Team USA saw Latino southpaw swings as a security risk and a signal to take the field in defense of its bailiwick in the north.

 

Today, two decades after the Soviet Union went to the showers, there is no reason, Chavez and fellow leftist leaders say, for Team Obama to continue to play hardball.  Socialism is not a threat to U.S. security as Communism was perceived to be.  The Us-against-Them tradition that persists today, they say, seems based on a resolve to protect remaining U.S. corporate interests in the region. The stance is abetted by an anti-socialist yanqui media that sees populism south of the border as a threat to Americans’ “way of life.” 

 

The constant anti-left pitches delivered by our corporate press are now almost a source of amusement in Latin America.  Said Ecuadorian Skipper Rafael Correa not long ago: “If they (the U.S. media) say something good about me, I’ll know I’m in trouble.”  Correa and progressives on both continents trust it is lack of peripheral vision at the policy plate rather than focused hostility that prompts the O-Team to go on playing the traditional game. Whether that is only wishful thinking we’ll learn in the second half of the skipper’s four-year season.

                         -     -     -

Playoffs-Plus - The Bad and Good:  The AL-NL imbalance will attract added criticism when more than a third of the AL’s 14 teams qualify for the post-season compared to just over 30 percent of the 16 in the other league.  The probable March start to the season forced by the new format could at last lead to a regular schedule of warm(er)-site early games and (it is hoped) an end to blizzard-caused postponements in northern climes. 

 

What?  “Melvin said he believes the Mets already have the talent to be a playoff contender, needing simply to rebuild their confidence and stay healthy.” – David Walstein, NY Times.  If that ingratiatingly unrealistic assessment doesn’t prompt Sandy Alderson, et al, to disqualify Bob Melvin from managerial consideration, they ought to retire from the evaluation game.

 

Familiar Sound:  “(Mike Quade)…inherits the worst situation in terms of the Cubs' roster and payroll flexibility since Don Baylor took over for Jim Riggleman 11 seasons ago. – Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune                     

 

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(Posted: 11/16/10)

 

Strategic Decisions Being Readied in Both Fields

 

The debate on MLB-TV the other night – Would teams with roughly the same player and dollar assets be better advised to seek to sign gold-glover Carl Crawford or slugger Jayson Werth as free agents?

 

The related debate developing in the Democratic Party: Would it be better to revert to Howard Dean’s swing-for-the-fences 50-state electoral strategy, or stick to Rahm Emanuel’s more targeted small-ball approach to scoring with the voters?

 

Dean’s go-for-broke offense won big (31 House and six Senate seats) for the Dem team in 2006, Emanuel’s hit-in-the-holes game – played within a modified 50-state approach – managed to add eight House and seven Senate seats in 2008.  We know what happened to the Rahm-game this year – the likely 63-seat loss. That economy-fed disaster has led to the current discussion about which of the approaches to follow in 2012.    

 

Dean’s stance has been that competing in 50 states gives the Dem team a chance to scratch out, if not victories, close calls in red states.  Even a string of losses, he says, serves to establish the party as a player, a fact that could pay off in the long run.  Emanuel believes in taking what you can get now where you have a shot, and not expending resources in looking beyond the immediate game.  That opportunistic approach produced a victory for Senators Michael Bennet in Colorado and Patty Murray in Washington, two of the few genuine swing states left after the November 2 rout.

 

Of the two strategies, the 50-state offense needs upset victories to remain viable, wins that, in turn, depend on Dem candidates benefiting from the back-and-forth shift in voter sentiment we’ve witnessed twice in four years.  Skipper Obama clearly must help generate a third such shift - buttressed by a probable mix of both approaches - if he is to win re-election in 2012.

 

‘If’ Time:  Player shifts in the other national pastime could determine where Crawford and Werth (and other free agents) sign for next year and beyond.  If the Red Sox trade Jacoby Ellsbury (for Adrian Gonzalez?), they would likely look to replace his speed, defense and moderate power with Crawford.  If the HR-challenged Mets succeed in sending Carlos Beltran elsewhere, they could well decide to make a strong bid for Werth and his opposite-field sock.  The White Sox could be determined bidders for Werth, as well, if Paul Konerko leaves, as rumored, for the Diamondbacks.  Adding to the muddle: the consensus destination of Crawford is Anaheim and the (LA) Angels.  The obvious walkoff verdict: Well-heeled teams will pay at above-market rates to sign free agents that best fill their holes.  And the Yankees are 29-1 favorites to latch on to Cliff Lee.  

 

Uh, Oh: It’s unfair to Terry Collins for the Mets to announce that Jeff Wilpon supports his candidacy for the manager’s job.  The last thing the team’s fans want is for the boss’s son to have an influence on the personnel moves made by new GM Sandy Alderson.  Wilpon’s track record - beginning with Art Howe - suggests the Mets should have learned the lesson that Jeff must be distanced from decision-making stories, as much as possible.  Now, if Collins gets the job, he’ll have the label of a Wilpon-man to live down.

 

Familiar Faces: Former Met J.J. Putz is among the attractive free-agent relief pitchers.  He appeared in 60 games for the White Sox last season as a setup man/part-time closer.  His stats: 7-5, 2.83, 65 Ks and 15 walks in 54 innings.  Putz will be 34 next season, a few months before another prime righty setup/closer free agent, Kerry Wood.  He will probably come cheaper than Wood, whose total stats with the Indians and Yankees were less impressive than J.J.’s.  Wood went 3-4, 3.13, 49, 29 in 46 innings (47 games).

 

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(Posted: 11/13/10)

 

NY’s Skipper-Elect Under Pressure in His Own Dugout

 

Willie Randolph and Jerry Manual are both out of work.  Willie may now regret his publicized suspicions that bench coach Manual undercut him in 2008 before succeeding Randolph as manager.  He sees that Manual was undercut himself - by a poor front office that didn’t provide the players he needed to be competitive.

Manual, a Latino, was closer to the Spanish-speaking players than Willie. He saw himself as a stand-in for Willie, communicating for the good of the team.  Whether Jerry had a hidden agenda we can only guess; it is irrelevant now.

 

NY’s Skipper-elect Andrew Cuomo and his veteran Dem teammate Congressman Jerry Nadler are causing political clubhouse static similar to what occurred with the 2008 Mets. Nadler went to bat for the lefty Working Families Party, using robotic phone calls to urge voters to use the WFP, not the Democratic ballot line. The roughly 138,000 WFP votes were cast for Cuomo on Election Day. But the idea was to demonstrate the party’s vote-getting clout, and - in Nadler’s words - “send a message” to Andrew.  The WFP has endorsed the skipper-elect’s playbook to freeze public employee salaries, cap property taxes and reduce state spending.  But implicit in the message is “Don’t go too far in cutting programs beneficial to working people; you may need our support, and votes, next time at the plate.”

 

Many on the Dem team are outraged, as Willie Randolph was, by what they consider a betrayal by dugout insiders.  As one Manhattan District Leader put it: “For the voters reading (praise for WFP’s progressive policies) from respected Democratic elected and party officials, the message is clear: Democrats do not fight for the issues and values that matter.  Democrats do not care about good jobs, clean environment, better schools and public transportation.  How many disparaging (messages) from Democratic officials do you think Democratic voters can read before they begin to believe them?”

 

Cuomo has kept away from the rhubarb this early in the post-election game. His state is not the only one with a WFP challenge.  Six others – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Delaware, South Carolina and Oregon – have WFP teams edging on to the Dem playing field.

                              -     -    -

One Way of Looking at It: “If you watched the ALCS even casually it wasn't hard to see that Derek Jeter looked closer to 46 than 36 compared to Elvis Andrus as a shortstop.  That's not a knock on Jeter but simply praise for Andrus' eye-popping range and athleticism.” – John Harper, Daily News


Reads like a knock to us, John. 

 

Indeed, the endless speculation about how much Jeter will, and should, receive in his next contract erodes his superstar standing and hurts the Yankees’ reputation for “class”, as well.  The media have interest in making a cliffhanger out of what the Yanks offer and how their longtime superstar responds.  But any prolonging of the negotiation will serve to amplify negatives about Derek’s diminished skills, undeserved golden glove, etc. and the Yankees’ stated unwillingness to overpay their living legend of a shortstop.  Getting the deal done pronto is the way to control any further damage.  



Light at Last: If Jeff Wilpon hired Sandy Alderson, J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta for the Mets’ front office because – in Peter Gammons’ words – “he was tired of being pictured as the man manipulating chaos behind the curtain”, good for him.  That was the case, and the curtain was transparent.  This is the first hopeful sign the boss’s son has given Mets fans since Omar’s signing of Johan Santana nearly three years ago.

 

Cactus Report:  The college slugger the Seattle Mariners drafted last year right behind Steven Strasburg - infielder Dustin Ackley - has warmed up the Arizona Fall League.  Ackley is batting .444, with four HRs and 17 RBIs in 16 games for the Peoria Javelinas.  Minnesota’s fleet farmhand Ben Revere is batting .330 and has stolen 11 bases in 23 games for another Peoria team, the Saguaros

 

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(Posted: 11/9/10)

 

Latinos Making Presence Felt in Both Pastimes

 

Worth remembering: the World Series began two weeks ago with Latinos constituting eight of 16 position players in Rangers and Giants starting lineups.  Each team had four – the Rangers, Elvis Andrus, Vladimir Guerrero, Nelson Cruz and Benjy Molina, the Giants, Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez, Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria.  (Sanchez was the only U.S.-born member of the group.) 

 

Those regulars plus key pitchers on both teams – Feliz,  Ogando and Rapada of the Rangers, Jonathan Sanchez, Casilla, Lopez, Mota, Ramirez and Romo, of the Giants – underscore the booming importance of Latinos in the making of winning MLB teams. Latinos are also playing a decisive role on the electoral field, mainly  in support of Democratic candidates.  Latino voters, along with other minorities, helped provide the difference in the few cliffhanger Senate races where D-team players prevailed last Tuesday.  National Journal scorekeeper Ronald Brownstein reviewed the details:

“In California and Colorado, strong showings among minorities and college-educated women allowed Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Michael Bennet to prevail despite a surge toward their Republican opponents among other white voters, especially blue-collar white men and women, who are hurting economically and disillusioned with Obama.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s surprisingly substantial victory in Nevada also showed how, in places with the right demography, the new Democratic coalition can still prevail. Republican Sharron Angle captured the white vote by a resounding 53 percent to 41 percent. But Reid overcame that advantage with a big turnout among African-Americans and especially Latinos, who were mobilized by an exhaustive campaign from the powerful Culinary Workers Union that represents employees along the Las Vegas strip.  Angle inadvertently assisted the mobilizing with a race-baiting ad attacking illegal immigrants.  In the end, Hispanics voted for Reid by 2-to-1 and cast just under 1-in-6 Nevada ballots, more than even Reid’s team anticipated…Sen. Patty Murray…in Washington (also has) this coalition to thank.”

On the opposite side of the field, Latinos in Nevada crossed party lines to help elect Republican Brian Sandoval, one of their own, governor.  They were also instrumental in electing many more members of Team GOP than Dems in diverse contests in the East.

                      -     -     -

Mind Game:  The Yankees sent this psychological message to other teams with the call to Cliff Lee’s rep at the start of the free-agent signing period: “We’re ready to spend whatever it takes to get Lee.  Don’t involve us and yourselves in a bidding war.  Neither of us will win that war, but you know we will win the battle for Lee in the end.”

 

More on the 2010 Champions: “There wasn't another team in the playoffs that wouldn't have wanted (Barry Zito) on its postseason roster.  That's how strong the Giants' pitching staff is.  (Matt) Cain is the only member of the starting rotation (Tim Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Zito) who isn't under control for at least three more years, and he signed an extension last spring that takes him through 2012.” – Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

 

Among the surprising non-tendering decisions this off-season: the Diamondbacks’ snubbing of first baseman Adam LaRoche.  He hit 25 HRs and had 100 RBIs this season. His $6 million per salary is far from exorbitant. The D-backs also declined to pick up options of two ex-Mets, Aaron Heilman and Mike Hampton. Arizona hopes to bring Hampton back under current team-acceptable terms.  He didn’t yield a run in 10 September appearances after being recalled from Triple-A Reno.  It was Hampton, some remember, who pitched the NLCS clinching game the last time – in 2000 – the Mets made the World Series.  Before the game, reporters asked if he was ready to face the Cardinals: “Give me the ball,” he said.

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(Posted: 11/6/10)

 

The Politics of Regretting the Early End of Baseball

 

One reason to regret that the Rangers didn’t extend the Series at least to a sixth game: it would have provided a distraction from the election returns and their dreary significance.  As it is, we can revel in the success of what were five exciting games, ending in a silver slipper for the Cinderella Giants.

 

The Series introduced in a sustained way – to those of us in the East, anyway – emerging young stars like Buster Posey, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and the already emerged likes of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.  And what fun to see 34-year-old Edgar Renteria assume the role played by Hideki Matsui in last year’s classic:  Heroes from Colombia (Renteria) and Japan validating the adjective “World” in the Series.

 

We considered the staging of the Series near-perfect; the single smudge the pathetic display of superfluous patriotism.  Requiring fans, players, TV audience, etc. to “honor America” in the middle of the seventh after participating earlier in the national anthem is an embarrassment: it signals insecurity rather than pride.

 

The insistence on our national preeminence is particularly problematic at election time, when much less than half of our eligible voters make the effort to take their turn at the polls.  Michael Kinsley, who consistently hits to left-center, swung away on that point in The Politico:


“The theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters and approximately 100 percent of all U.S. politicians, although there is less and less evidence to support it. A recent Yahoo poll (and I resist the obvious joke here) found that 75 percent of Americans believe that the United States is “the greatest country in the world.” Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is — and how wise? Having spent a month to a couple of years and many millions of dollars…to snooker voters, politicians  will (now) declare that they put their faith in ‘the fundamental wisdom of the American people.’

“Not me. Democracy requires me to respect the results of the elections.  It doesn’t require me to agree with them or to admire the process by which voters made up their minds.  In my view, anyone who voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and now… support(ed) some tea party madwoman for senator has a bit of explaining to do.”

                                   -     -     -

Baseball Commish Bud Selig will have a lot of explaining to do if he oversees the addition of two wild card teams to the current eight-team playoff arrangement.  Basketball and hockey have debased the interest-value of their playoffs through a numerical overload of qualifiers.  It’s hard enough, even for baseball addicts, to focus on the four match-ups at the start of each post-season.   Don’t let the owners go for the easy buck, Bud, and spoil the more-than-acceptable system in place.

 

So Far, So Good:  It’s disorienting to find ourselves saying something positive about the Mets.  But the hiring of former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi to assist new GM Sandy Alderson is an encouraging development.  Ricciardi played a major role in putting together Toronto’s impressive core of young pitchers through trades and farm-system development.  If given both the authority and freedom to exercise his recruiting skills, Ricciardi can make the Wilpons’ investment in him pay off handsomely.

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(Posted: 11/2/10)

 

“Mistakes” Mar a Baseball Game and Dem Election Effort 

 

We all make mistakes,” said Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga.  His calm response to the bad call that deprived him of a no-hitter last June won him the first “Prize for Sanity” at Jon Stewart’s march for political moderation Saturday.  The statement may well sum up the lesson of today’s election returns.  Mistakes committed by voters who go with Team GOP, we know, will have resulted in part from Team Obama’s bobbled defense of its record.   

 

Galarraga accepted the prize on a video taken at his home in Venezuela. He refrained from making a pitch on behalf of his country and its president.  It wouldn’t have been in keeping with the way the moderation game was played.  Fans know that Stewart treats politics like a humorous game, to the left of moderate, but not on Saturday.  He and Comedy-Channel teammate Stephen Colbert kept their deliveries at the massive rally non-partisan. They did, however, throw high, hard ones at a group target: broadcast news.  The pair reserved their brush-back heaters for cable-TV and network news channels, as well as National Public Radio.  All, they said, duck away from important issues, preferring to peddle provocative pap.

 

Although not an election game-changer, the pair’s on-target fastballs froze into relief the dual corporate influence on today’s midterm contests: limitless campaign cash to conservative candidates, the paid-for radical-right video messages amplified by a complaisant corporate mainstream media.  In the words of a Stewart “reporter” at the rally, the skewed playing field is the scene of a “little game called America.”

                       

The Making of a non-Ballpark Wave:  “It’s one of the characteristics of a wave -- you have a lot of people voting for anybody who is not associated with the ‘in’s’ even sometimes knowing that they are voting for a flawed candidate.  The assumption is we’re sending a message, and if the only way to send a message is to vote for a flawed candidate, I will go ahead and do it.” – Gary Jacobson, U. of California (San Diego) congressional election specialist, quoted in National Journal.

                                   -     -     -

Right Idea:  With two out, men on second and third in the seventh inning of a 0-0 game last night, Tim McCarver said Rangers manager Ron Washington should walk Edgar Renteria and take his chances with Aaron Rowand.  Washington let Cliff Lee pitch to Renteria, who hit the three-run homer that eventually made the Giants world champions.

 

Accolade:  McCarver, a former catcher (of course) on SF’s Buster Posey: “I’ve never seen a catcher with an arm like his.  His throws to second base have no loop.”

 

The Diplomat:  New Mets GM Sandy Alderson did mostly straight-talking at his intro news conference.  He did exaggerate the quality of the team’s farm system, saying it was middle-of-the-pack level.  Baseball America and other monitoring entities place the Mets’ in the bottom third of the 30 systems evaluated.  More important was Jeff Wilpon’s acknowledgment that investing in hoped-for star power at the expense of systemic depth was the wrong approach.  Bottom line: something we already knew - the 2011 team cannot be a playoff contender given existing financial constraints.   

 

Literary Note:  Author Philip Roth, whose fictional alter-ego was not particularly good as a high school player, but “knew how to conduct (himself) as a center fielder” (“Portnoy’s Complaint”), is a Mickey Mantle fan.  The NY Times Book Review reported Sunday that “Roth once watched Sandy Koufax strike out Mantle multiple times in a World Series game – ‘What a day for literature!’ he later recalled…(Roth) also gave Mantle a cameo of sorts in ‘Goodbye Columbus.’  ‘Are we going to have Mickey Mantle for dinner?’ Brenda Patimkin asks in one scene.  ‘When the Yankees win, we set an extra place for Mickey Mantle’.”

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October 2010 Archive


(Posted: 10/30/10)

 

Couple of Key Players Under Pressure at Crunch-Time

 

Tale of two embattled lefties: Cliff Lee and Russ Feingold.  Both key players in separate fields, both carrying the hopes of their teams in contests with much at stake.  Super-star Lee’s plunge to earth in the Series opener against the Giants  shook up the once-confident (now 0-2) Rangers,  the sudden fall coinciding with the last innings of the long descent of Wisconsin’s Senator Feingold against GOP challenger Ron Johnson.

 

Feingold, an unapologetic three-term liberal, is a Dems’ weathervane candidate, the always-focused Lee his equivalent with the Rangers.  Cliff will get a chance to stabilize his team Monday (assuming there’s a fifth game). By the same day, Election eve, Feingold will have had to cut down Johnson’s estimated six-point polling lead.  Pressbox observers believe that, if Feingold pulls out a victory Tuesday, it will augur well broadly, and his team will likely keep its edge in the Senate.  Should he lose, they agree, the results in purple Wisconsin could signal a big score nationally for Team GOP. 

 

Feingold is hoping to counter multi-millionaire Johnson’s better-financed campaign with a massive get-out-the-vote effort.  That’s not a good sign for the Dem team: everyone in politics knows money in hand usually outscores grass-roots-based hope.  The outlook for Lee’s team is brighter.  The Rangers know their ace will be available to pitch late-inning relief should there be a seventh game three days after his Monday start.  They know further that, from now on, Lee will have an added incentive to excel: he’ll be auditioning for the many teams eager to sign him later this fall as a free agent.

                            -     -     -

“If a major league hitter knows a fastball is coming,” said Tim McCarver Thursday night, “it’s like batting practice.”  That’s what happened in the Giants’ eighth inning of game 2.  After a Buster Posey two-out single, Rangers relievers Derek Holland and Art Lowe combined to walk in two runs.  A few pitches later, Edgar Renteria sat on a Lowe heater and singled to drive in two runs.  Michael Kirkman replaced Lowe and served fastballs that pinch-hitter Aaron Rowand hit for a triple and Andres Torres for a double.  The relievers’ implosion in professional baseball’s ultimate showcase was clearly an embarrassment to the sport as well as to the Rangers.

 

The politically correct side to root for in the Series?  It’s not as easy as it seems. Dave Zirin tells us why this week in The Nation:

 

“Seems pretty cut and dry for the political sports fan: you line up with
either San Fran or Bush Country, right? But even though it would be
great to see Dubya cry if the Rangers lose, people should resist easy
political labels for either team. The field manager for the Rangers is
Ron Washington, who could become the second African-American manager in
baseball history to lead a team to championship glory. Washington must
be as surprised as anyone to be in the World Series, let alone
employed. To the credit of the Rangers organization, they kept
Washington at the helm even after the 57-year-old manager failed a drug
test during the 2009 season and then admitted this Spring that his
drug of choice was cocaine…

 

“Also, for those sneering at the red-state owners box in Texas, remember
that the Giants ownership team is hardly the Grateful Dead.  In addition
to being the consigliere for the Microsoft Mafia, Bill Neukom's team
has gobbled $80 million in public financing for park upgrades and
untold millions in tax exemptions…Nope, there are no easy labels in this
series: just two teams looking to make their mark on baseball history
and two fan bases desperately waiting to exhale. I can't wait.”

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(Posted: 10/28/10)

 

Waiting for a Baseball-Like Miracle on the Electoral Field

 

The odds-on 2010 World Series – Yankees versus Phillies.  Few fans, at least here in the East, would have dreamed that neither would qualify for the biggest of baseball shows.  We said in a blog at the outset of the post-season that only three of the eight playoff teams had a shot at the Series – the Rangers were our outside possibility.       

 

The Yankees, the richest, most talent-laden team in the AL, and the Phillies, one of the two wealthiest, and by far the most formidable team in the NL, were a match seemingly labeled “inevitable”.  The expectations are familiar heading into the political big show this Tuesday: Team GOP is odds-on to regain control of the House, and given a chance to pull an upset in the Senate contest, as the Rangers did in the playoffs.

 

The Giants, this year’s “miracle” team so far, are the model the Dems would like to emulate.  SF trailed the Padres virtually all season but kept grinding as SD sputtered in the stretch.  Team GOP is not sputtering, but, however belatedly, Skipper Obama is rallying Dem fans, or trying to.  New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, one of those fans, likens the Skipper’s and the Dems’ situation to that when Franklin Roosevelt faced the Great Depression three years after the stock market crash of October 24, 1929.  Hertzberg calls the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008 a “rough equivalent” of the ’29 crash.  He says the difference between FDR’s three-year lead-in to his economic challenge and Obama’s third-of-a year warm-up to his has been crucial in putting a Dem defeat on deck:


Obama is no more to blame for the Great Recession than F.D.R. was for the Great Depression.  But the longest and deepest mass suffering has occurred with Obama in the White House and Democrats holding a majority in (if not always in control of) our two national legislatures.  That—more than tea parties, more than Fox News, more than the scores of millions of anonymous corporate dollars poured into negative campaign advertising courtesy of five Justices of the Supreme Court—is why, next Tuesday, the Republican Party is overwhelmingly likely to retake the House of Representatives outright and, at the very least, to augment its share of seats in the Senate enough to make its veto power absolute…


“President Obama and the Democrats kept the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression. But the presence of pain is more keenly felt than the absence of agony.”


If Democrats have a single reason to cling to hope, it is this: polls show that up to a third of potential voters are undecided.  Should those fence-sitters break for the Dems, the skipper and his team could get their long-shot miracle.
                                
-     -     -

Humanizers: The Giants performed this minor miracle in the World Series opener last night: they showed that Cliff Lee was human.  Lee, who was yanked after yielding five runs in four-and-two-thirds inning, couldn’t believe what happened himself.  He was shown shaking his head in the dugout moments before the Giants broke the game open.


If East Coasters are taking the Rangers-Giants Series hard, imagine how fans are feeling in Southern California, where the Angels and Dodgers have been dominant for so many years?  LA Times columnist Bill Dwyre rubs it in to local fans, albeit, empathetically:

 

“Hey, L.A. baseball fans. We didn't see this one coming, did we?...The San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers are in the World Series.  It was supposed to be the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies again.  We could have lived with that.  We could just ignore the whole thing and chalk it up to another East Coast conspiracy.

”We could scoff at the Yankees for buying more postseason glory and further ruining whatever pretense there once was of competitive balance in the major leagues.  And we could nod grudging respect toward the Phillies and…theorize that had (ex-LAD) Jayson Werth not been hit on the wrist…the Dodgers would have kept him…and this Phillies' run might never have happened.

“We  wonder what kind of TV ratings the Giants-Rangers series will bring, especially since the entire L.A. market is likely to hit the off button on the remote.  It's Lakers season now, so we can rationalize our indifference.  (But) if we are honest, we would admit this is painful.”

                               

Primer: What are Mets fans to think of the choice of Sandy Alderson to be next GM?  They should wait until he appoints a manager before thinking anything.  If he defers to the Wilpons and names Wally Backman, he’s not the strong off-field leader the fans and the team need.  Nothing against Backman; he’d probably make a good skipper.  But appointing him would send a message: the bumblers still have interfering rights, which they intend to exercise.

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(Posted: 10/26/10)


The Stats We Are Spared by Baseball and Team USA

 

We in the national grandstand learned the other day about suppressed stats that could challenge our acceptance of the status quo on the military battlefield.  The situation on the baseball field, although nothing like a life-and-death matter, cries out for similar exposure.

 

A missed umpiring call on a bunt that went foul set up the decisive Phillies rally in game 5 of their series with the Giants.  A day later, a missed call of a hit batsman (Nick Swisher), led to a run that enabled the Yankees to tie the Rangers in game 6 of their series.

 

Just as the military has resisted even acknowledging the existence of civilian- death numbers in Iraq, so baseball will not tell us the percentage of umpiring bad calls on close plays each season.  Surely, they have such stats; video replays are televised routinely of all close calls.  It’s time we hear how bad – or good – the umpiring truly is, verified by the technology baseball refuses to use on a regular basis.  Based on what we’ve seen in the last two post-seasons, it would be surprising for umpiring to get more than “B” grade on controversial calls – 80 percent of them found to be correct, 20 percent depressingly wrong.  With full disclosure of the stats, fans would likely conclude that baseball’s continued resistance to a broadened use of replays in umpiring is unacceptable.

 

It was WikiLeaks that divulged the existence of the stats in Iraq documenting what is euphemistically known as “collateral damage.”  Here is the basic way the UK’s  Daily Telegraph told the story, quoting the London-based team that has been monitoring civilian deaths:

 

“The latest batch of military documents released by WikiLeaks…shows that the U.S. military kept detailed records of Iraqi fatalities—even though the military denied their existence—and that many were never included in the tally. The logs show 109,032 deaths between January 2004 and last December, including 66,000 civilians…These, together with new information on combatant deaths contained in the logs, will bring the recorded death toll since March 2003 to over 150,000, roughly 80 percent of whom were civilians.


Then there is this from yesterday’s UK Guardian: A report of "fresh evidence that US soldiers handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad has emerged in army logs published by WikiLeaks."


Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote an unplanned companion piece in advance of the WikiLeaks revelations, putting the stance of Team USA’s opponents into perspective:

 

“The United States is a country with a massive military and nuclear stockpile, that invaded and has occupied two Muslim countries for almost a full decade, that regularly bombs and drones several others, that currently is threatening to attack one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, that imposed a sanctions regime that killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim children, that slaughters innocent people on a virtually daily basis, that (for decades) has interfered in and controlled countries around the world…that has spent decades arming and protecting every Israeli war with its Muslim neighbors and enabling a four-decade-long brutal occupation, and that erected a worldwide regime of torture, abduction and lawless detention, much of which still endures. Those are just facts.  (Yet)…we all agree to sit around and point over there -- hey, can you believe those primitive Muslims and how violent and extremist they are.”

                                   -     -     -

Deprivation: When the Rangers and Giants meet in SF tomorrow, it will be only the fourth time in the last 19 match-ups (in the two decades since 1991) that an East Coast team will not be involved in the World Series.  The Giants played in one of the two non-EC series in this decade – losing to the Angels in 2002.  The Cardinals played, and beat, the Tigers in 2006.  The Yankees have been in seven Series since ’91, the Braves in five, the Phillies three, the Red Sox  two.

 

Fearless Prediction: The big loser this year will be neither the Rangers, Giants (nor Yanks, Phillies).  It will be Fox-TV.  Ratings will certainly be far down in the populace East, where even rabid viewers will feel free to tune out when games drag on toward midnight.

                                

Sidelined Stars: If you didn’t notice a remarkable aspect of Skipper Bruce Bochy’s leadership of the Giants, it was this:  At crunch-time this season, Bochy had no compunction about sitting big names like Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria, Pablo Sandoval, etc. and using the likes of Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and Mike Fontenot instead.  Although injuries factored into his lineup decisions, Bochy

 made clear he was using the players in whom he had most confidence, based on performance, not salaries.  Of course, he couldn’t have done it without GM Brian Sabean’s support.                                 

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(Posted: 10/22/10, 6p, updated 12:01, 10/23/10)

 

The ‘More with Less’ Pitch Popular on Both Fields

 

The promise to “do more with less” is a political pitch designed to score with voters when times are hard.  When team owners try it out with the baseball public, fans are understandably leery.  As with public services, few teams improve when the payroll goes down.   Nolan Ryan, front-office skipper of the Texas Rangers, is the equivalent of a politician who keeps his promises.  He cut his team’s payroll from the $68 to $55 million between seasons, placing it just above the low-income Athletics, Padres and Pirates on the MLB’s financial batting order. 

 

While the Rangers made do with much less (even after dealing for Cliff Lee at mid-season), their fellow playoff finalists, the Yankees, Phillies and Giants, added substantially to their payrolls.  The Phillies took on $28 million more, the Giants $15 mil and the top-ranked Yankees, $5 million, to put them $44 million ahead of the second-place Red Sox.

 

Hard times in the country and an effective rally by conservatives have made the demand that government do more with less popular in the national political ballpark.  That the rally advances the interests of the wealthy while stranding most Americans is lost on voters, as is the concept it represents, that of economic inequality.  Washington Post scorekeeper Steven Pearlstein has monitored the setback the country is suffering:


“Income inequality has eroded any sense that we are all in this together (as well as) the political consensus necessary for effective government.  There can be no better proof of that proposition than the current election cycle in which the last of the moderates are being driven from the political process and the most likely prospect is for years of… political gridlock…(Inequality) is the unspoken issue that underlies all the others. Without a sense of shared prosperity, there can be no prosperity.”


Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich amplified the message in a subsequent turn at bat: 


An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that's raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work.  We're losing our democracy to a different system.  It's called plutocracy.”    

                                 -     -     -

Something Missing: When the Yankees’ tying run in the fifth inning last night was tainted by (yet another) missed umpiring call – on a pitch that hit Nick Swisher called a wild pitch – there was a sense that the Yanks needed all the breaks they could get to beat the Rangers.  They didn’t have their usual aura of dominance – Phil Hughes couldn’t provide it, and the absence of Mark Teixeira left the lineup diminished.  Meanwhile, the Rangers confirmed that they are a team with sock and a sound rotation even without the great Cliff Lee.    


“That’s the most important bunt in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies,” said Tim McCarver on Fox (with perhaps pardonable hyperbole) Thursday night.  He was talking about Roy Halladay’s bunt with two on in the third inning that went foul but was called fair.  It triggered a wild sequence that included an aborted pickoff at third base when Pablo Sandoval missed the bag with his foot and Halladay not running to first.  Sandoval threw Halladay out, but the missed double-play led to two Phillies runs, Shane Victorino having followed with a liner that Aubrey Huff couldn’t handle at first for a crucial error.  Those two runs were the difference in the Phils’ 4-2 victory.


The Phillies are expecting their late-season “magic” (Jimmy Rollins’s term) to propel them to wins in games 6 and 7, with help from Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.  The scrappy Giants hope that Jonathan Sanchez and, if needed in a game 7, Matt Cain, can neutralize Phillies pitching and quiet Phillies bats.   

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(Posted: 10/21/10)

 

The Hypocrisy Game in Both Ballparks

 

Many anti-Yankees fans in the NY area agree there is a limit to how begrudging they can be of the pinstripers’ enviable success.  That limit was reached Tuesday night when the Rangers rolled to the victory that gave them a (short-lived) 3-1 lead in the pennant playoff series.  The possibility of a World Series devoid of a NY team couldn’t help but bring new fans into the Yankee fold, no matter how transitory the support.  The conversion, a welcome form of chauvinism to some Yankee fans, is disdained as rank hypocrisy by others.  “Hate us one minute, then root for us the next: that doesn’t jibe.” 

 

 Whatever its baseball-related intensity level, the hypocritical game is played on a sustained basis in the political field, especially in games involving foreign teams, like Iran:

“Iran's intelligence minister confirmed on Wednesday that two U.S. citizens detained for more than a year will face trial, news reports said…Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Tuesday that she had heard Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would be tried on November 6 but she still hoped they would be released.”

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald paired this comment with the ensuing news report: “It's high time we teach those Iranians about democracy and freedom.  All civilized people know that this is how a Free and Democratic Nation treats foreign detainees.":

“The Obama administration has decided to continue to imprison without trials nearly 50 detainees at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in Cuba because a high-level task force has concluded that they are too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release, an administration official said on Thursday.”

Given the expanded worldwide “secret war” operations, recently announced by the skipper’s front office, we’re fortunate the Iranians aren’t playing Team USA’s type of war game.

                              -     -     -

Baseball’s misfortune - from a financial standpoint - is that a Rangers-Phillies/Giants World Series would not have nearly the drawing power as would a Yankees-Phillies/Giants match-up.   Either way, the absence of John Smoltz in the Fox broadcast booth will be a loss for viewing fans.  Smoltz and his TBS teammates Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling have done a terrific job during the AL playoffs.  It seemed redundant to have both ex-pitchers handling color to Johnson’s play-by-play.  But it worked, once they got used to playing off each other.  Darling, now a veteran in the booth, let comparative newcomer Smoltz establish himself as insightful in a fresh, spontaneous way.  On Tuesday night, for example, after explaining why an “in-the-dirt” pitch made sense to an impatient hitter, Smoltz watched the pitch repeated, and said simply “Why not?”

 

Who would have thought the Giants, led last night by rookie Buster Posey, would push the Phillies to within a game of elimination, and be closer to the World Series than their counterpart underdog, the Rangers?  A Rangers-Giants Series?  Their fans are saying “Why not?”                                         

                        



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(Posted: 10/19/10)

 

Little Fun in Games Played Now on Either Field

 

Autumnal thoughts about the passage of joy from both pastimes:

 

Even after the Rangers’ rebound in game 2 and onesided win in game 3 behind Cliff Lee, the Yankees’ come-from-behind win in the ALCS opener seemed to confirm their status as the superior team in their league (at least).  While delighting pinstripe fans, the Yanks’ constant dominance discourages dreamers of a more equal competitive playing field. (“Of all the games played this season,” said Red Sox fan Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC, “that was the most disappointing.”) For the time being, the Rangers are proving to be more than competitive, but everyone knows it won't be easy for them to bring joy to many by taking two more from the eruptible Bombers.

 

“Who is this Carl Paladino?,” asks the e-mail of a European friend. “Is he a crackpot?” The short answer: he deserves minimal attention, having disqualified himself through word and deed as a serious candidate for NY state skipper.  The same is true of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and other long-shot candidates around the country making headlines with their wild rhetorical pitches. “There aren't many more lines of taste and decorum left to be crossed,” notes the UK Guardian’s Michael Tomasky. “ It's taking a lot of the fun out of politics. Yes, politics was once fun.  Dirty, corrupt, et cetera, but also fun in its way.  Now…hatred is (spewed) every day. Depressing, really.”

 

It is a given that joylessness prevails in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates plod through a long series of losing seasons.  But what about the North Side of Chicago, where big things were expected of the big-market Cubs?  Fans there could smile, but only late in the season, after Mike Quade replaced Lou Piniella.

 

And what is the “enthusiasm gap” plaguing Team Obama and the Democrats but dismay over the inability to mount a Yankees-like comeback against the cash-flush party of no?  The related, almost-constant gridlock in Congress elicits a verbal shrug from too many fans on the left: “When the right takes contol, they’ll be blamed for what’s not happening.”  That’s more than discouragement; it’s a cover for despair.

 

Finally, the fun dissipated in Flushing by the mismanaged Mets.  For once-loyal fans, stolen summers that can’t be reclaimed.  With more ahead.

                             

Lob from Left Field on economic-inequality fallout:  Divorce rates are a…reliable indicator of financial distress, as marriage counselors report that a high proportion of couples they see are experiencing significant financial problems…Another footprint of financial distress is long commute times, because families who are short on cash often try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper — in many cases, farther from work…  The middle-class squeeze has also reduced voters’ willingness to support even basic public services.  Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges (and) an unreliable rail system.” – Cornell U. Prof. Robert Frank (in NY Times)                                                                                                          

                                -     -     -

Reliable, and Placidly So:  When Placido Polanco knocked in Roy Oswalt with the third Phillies run en route to the 6-1 victory Sunday night, Fox broadcaster Joe Buck paid tribute:  “When you need that kind of a hit, you can’t have a better man at the plate than Polanco.  You know he’ll get his bat on the ball.”  With a lineup of Victorino, Utley, Polanco, Howard, Werth, Rollins, Ibanez and Ruiz, the Phils almost match the Yanks with their hole-free batting order.  As widely predicted, the Giants, with their good pitching, just don’t measure up offensively to the defending NL champions. 

In SI, Tom Verducci notes that the Giants have played 13 straight games without scoring more than four runs.  He avoids saying that SF third baseman Mike Fontenot is choking under the playoff pressure – rather, he is playing “with a painfully noticeable lack of confidence.”  Bruce Bochy has indicated, according to Verducci, that Pablo Sandoval will replace Fontenot, and Aaron Rowand will go to center field in place of Andres Torres, who has struck out in eight of 11 ABs.   

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(Posted: 10/16/10)

 

In the Money: Cliff Lee and Team GOP

 

Cliff Lee doesn’t say so, but he’s probably a tax-averse Republican.  Most major leaguers are.  Lee has this in common with Team GOP election candidates: big money has either arrived, or is on its way.  Observers agree that Lee can demand, and receive, at least as much as C.C. Sabathia: $24 million a year for the better part of the next decade. (He probably can’t match A-Rod’s $33 million per, however.)

 

For the GOP, the final campaign money figure won’t be in for awhile, if ever, But, counting the unlimited amounts contributed by outside groups like the Chamber of Commerce, an estimated hundreds of millions of newly allowed dollars are promoting Repub contests across the country.  Except for comparatively minimal help from labor unions, the Dems have no similar access to big bucks.

 

Thus, in the political fund-raising game, it is no contest.  The UK Guardian’s D.C.-based Michael Tomasky speaks for not enough of us when he says:

 

“Most voters don't care.  But I care, and you ought to as well, unless you think it's a good idea that a few mega-rich corporate titans can give a few million bucks to a group that has to disclose almost nothing and run ads attacking candidate X that say nothing about their real agenda for the country.”

 

It’s a pitch that can’t be thrown too often: The impact of money on the election outcome is a threat, not only to the Democrats, but – in Skipper Obama’s words – “to democracy.”  How big a threat we’ll know soon after Election Day.

 

Baseball people know Lee could single-handedly turn some teams into a championship threat.  The Yankees can win without him, but, as he pitched the other night, many of us visualized pinstripes on his Rangers uniform.  Does anyone believe the Yanks can’t have Lee in the off-season if they want him?  Although there will likely be a bidding war for his services, we know there’s only one team - a consistent winner - that won’t be outbid.

 

The ever-expanding role of money, we see, is changing both pastimes, upsetting the traditional traces of equilibrium.  A corollary threat in politics is the reported emergence this year of the largest number ever of self-funded candidates, nearly all Republican.  Could that mean future electoral contests will be mainly games for the rich?  If so, would the change be part of a prolonged slump or permanent condition?  Crucial questions as playoff time approaches.

                              -     -     -

“Oh, my” said one of the TBS announcers when Kerry Wood picked Ian Kinsler  off first with none out in the bottom of the eighth inning last night.  The Yankees offense had just forced a bullpen implosion to score five runs and take a 6-5 lead.  The pickoff with none out ended the Rangers hopes in the first game of the ALDS.  Texas fans can only hope their team’s shell shock will not carry over.  The Yanks, we know, have a way of making sure it does. 


Minority View? Going into last night's game, MLB-TV’s Billy Ripken cast an emphatic vote the other night for the Rangers to beat the Yankees for the AL pennant.  He based his argument on Texas’s success against Mariano Rivera this season.  Mariano is 0-2 for the year against Ron Washington’s team.  “Mariano doesn’t bother them like he does other teams,” said Ripken.  “They’re confident he can be had.”(P.S. Mariano got the save last night.)

 

Why Mets Fans Should (Continue to) Worry:  Jeff Wilpon’s hiring track record is flawed by repeated rookie mistakes.  He allows personal rapport, rather than hardnosed assessment, to influence his decisions.  Jeff took on Art Howe as manager in 2002 because the un-dynamic Howe interviewed well.  Then he gave new buddy Omar Minaya, architect of the 2007 team collapse, a three-year  contract extension despite evidence that  GM Omar had outlived his usefulness. We won’t talk about his appointment of other-crony Howard Johnson to be  batting coach in 2008.  The record does not instill confidence as Jeff meets and assesses a series of GM applicants.


Follow-up:
  Here is Newsday’s David Lennon reporting on Sandy Alderson’s interview for the GM job:  “The big question…is how the older and more established Alderson would fit in the organization’s current decision-making hierarchy… As someone accustomed to running his own show to a certain degree, Alderson would have to adjust to being only one voice in a front office headed by principal owner Fred Wilpon , chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and president Saul Katz… Alderson wants to be a general manager again, and Bud Selig no doubt would like to help out his friend, Fred Wilpon, in stabilizing the Mets.  But the Wilpons do not seem flexible in how they run their franchise.”

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(Posted: 10/14/10)

 

Political Omen Favors Giants in Match-up with Phillies

 

Ever since the media’s linkage of the surprise victory of the “Miracle Mets” of 1969 and that of progressive John Lindsay as NYC mayor, baseball and liberal elective politics connect this time of year. At least, that’s the lefty conceit. The NL pennant race has come down to two non-NY teams.  But both the Giants and Phillies are from Democratic states, so the linking tradition lives on. 

 

SF and the Phils both have terrific pitching but slumping hitters.  The contests for senate and governor in both home states have featured a lot of hard hitting.  If the pre-election stats so far contain a baseball omen, it is that the Giants, linked to liberal Dem candidates, have better pennant prospects than the favored Phils in the NLCS.  

 

Why should that be?  In blue-state Pennsylvania, the left-of-center Dems, like the Phillies on their field, had an edge going into the political playoffs.  But, exploiting an error-prone economy, Team GOP’s Pat Toomey and Tom Corbett are ahead of Joe Sestak and Dan Onorato in the battle for open senate and gubernatorial seats, respectively.  Toomey is up by seven points, Corbett 10 in consensus polling scorecards.

 

In blue-state California, the favored Dems are showing the underdog Giants how to win.  A double victory could come despite the economy on the political field and economic inequality - fewer big-bucks players - on the diamond.  Incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer leads Carly Fiorina by five points and former Governor Jerry Brown has a six-point consensus margin over Meg Whitman with three weeks of play left.

 

The Phils and Giants finished their separate division series each with woeful team BA’s of .212.  The averages of Jimmy Rollins (.091) and Placido Polanco (.111) should cause Charlie Manuel particular concern.  Bruce Bochy has Jose Uribe at .071, and Freddy Sanchez and Andres Torres at .111 to worry about.

 

Cliffhanger:  Cliff Lee is scheduled to pitch Sunday.  Trouble is, his Rangers won’t be playing Sunday.  The ALCS, pitting Texas against the Yankees, opens Friday night in Arlington, with games Saturday there, then three at the Stadium starting Monday.  Ron Washington has to decide whether to use Lee Saturday, on three days rest, or Monday, on five.  Saturday is the more likely; it would insure Lee’s availability for another start.  There’s little doubt he would want to pitch sooner rather than later.

 

Lee’s teammate Ian Kinsler describes the pitcher’s competitiveness, even in a game of chess: “He whups me pretty good, and he’s not scared to let me know.  I mean, first move, he’s dominating me.  That’s just how he rolls.”

 

Farm News: The Yankees and Pirates shared the highest number of blue-chip prospects in Baseball America’s Top 20 list for the International League.  Each had three; catcher Jesus Montero, pitcher Ivan Nova and infielder Eduardo Nunez were the designated Yank farmhands from Scranton-Wilkes-Barre.  The three Pirates prospects on the list were third baseman Pedro Alvarez, pitcher Brad Lincoln and outfielder Jose Tabata from Indianapolis.  The Indians, Rays, Reds, Orioles and White Sox, each had two players on the list.  The Mets had none.  The player at the top of the list: catcher Carlos Santana of the Columbus Clippers, who played later in the season (until injured) with the Indians.   

 

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(Posted: 10/12/10)

 

Yankees and Team GOP: More Than Just a Money Game

 

The hard-hitting Chicago lefty Saul Alinsky used to say that, on the political field, “organized people” can beat “organized money.”  The Yankees are proving, with productive players as well as money, such a strategy doesn’t work in baseball. The Twins, with a new ballpark generating more revenue, became a big-market team this season.  They were able to trade for big-time relievers Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes at mid-summer.  Even with the season-ending concussion of Justin Morneau, the Twins’ personnel raised expectations going into the playoffs.  Their feeble showing against the Yanks has triggered uncharacteristic grumbling among Minnesota’s fans and media.

 

Were he still alive, Alinsky, the legendary community organizer, could serve as a valuable bench coach for Skipper Obama.  Long before this point in the midterm electoral contest, he would have had the skipper challenging Team GOP’s proposed double-switch – cutting the safety net for low-income people while at the same time cutting taxes on the wealthy that help pay for the net.  As early as 1971, Alinsky was warning progressives “If we don’t communicate with the…(working class), if we don’t encourage them to (join) us, they will move to the right.”

 

Team Obama is trying belatedly to reach those blue-collar players.  But the economy, the much-publicized “enthusiasm gap” and organized – mainly, corporate – money make the challenge as tough as that facing playoff teams positioned to face the Yankees.  An Associated Press scorecard shows how big a money lead Team GOP has taken, thanks to the unlimited outside dollars corporate supporters can now throw into the game:

 

“The (Dem) party, led by the Democratic National Committee, has outraised the Republican Party and is mounting advertising and get-out-the vote campaigns in key battlegrounds.  But Republicans have countered (via the High Court’s Citizens United ruling) with a vast array of allied groups operating outside the national party that are raising money without the legal limits imposed on the parties and the candidates.  Those groups are outspending their Democratic-leaning counterparts by about 6-1.

As of now, clearly, the smart money is on organized money. The Dems need a huge populist rally to change the predicted outcome.

                               -     -     -

Optical Illusion:  No matter what the numbers show, we’re in a three-team playoff for the World Series.  The Yankees and Phillies have been on a collision course from the outset.  The Rangers or Rays may somehow careen into the picture, nudging the Yanks out.  No way, barring an upset in the natural order, will the Giants sidetrack the Phils in a best-of-seven drag-race.


TBS Tidbits:
John Smoltz (Twins-Yankees):  “When a team falls behind, everybody can get tight.  It’s happened to the Twins.  They’re waiting for someone to break through and light a spark.”


Buck Martinez’s (Rays-Rangers) description of a pitch that moves off the plate but is called a strike: a “strike-to-ball breaking ball.”  Martinez on whether Evan Longoria’s 10-day layoff at the end of the season would hurt his timing at bat:  “Definitely.  It will take time for him to get used to hitting breaking balls again.  Fast balls won’t be a problem.”


It has to be said: TBS short-changed fans by failing to add an ex-ballplayer to the Reds-Phillies broadcasting team of Brian Anderson and Joe Simpson.  Anderson and Simpson were fine, but their offerings could have been tastier seasoned with insights from someone like ex-pitcher/White Sox color-man Steve Stone, or even Keith Hernandez.  


Intriguing caption (for Mets fans) to shot of Cincinnati’s Walt Jocketty during Reds-Phillies game: “General Manager/VP Operations”.  If the Mets gave their new GM similar dual authority, it would reassure fans that the Wilpons were distanced from key decisions regarding the team’s future.  Jeff Wilpon, we know, is the current VP for ops.  

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(Posted: 10/9/10)

 

Roy Halladay, George Bush and the Missing Game Plans

 

Roy Halladay’s no-hitter this week coincided with the anniversary of George Bush’s launching of our war in Afghanistan nine years ago.  The two events became linked in another way (at least by some of us) with the use of the phrase “game plan.”  Bush’s plan - aimed at sending Osama bin Laden to the showers - included “careful targeting” of aerial attacks in the hope of avoiding “war with the Afghani people.”   The plan envisaged a long war that we would permit to end only when we had achieved “victory…for the cause of freedom.”

 

There appeared to be no game plan beyond using “every necessary weapon of war” to win.  The extra innings under way in Afghanistan and Pakistan attest to the ineffectiveness of those weapons in a rugged, third-world setting.  Osama has gotten away and the Taliban remain, stronger than ever. More tellingly, the dragged-out war testifies to a flawed strategy that has led the thousands of civilian deaths – many caused by drone attacks.  So much for the concept of “careful targeting.”  In the words of a retired major general – John Batiste – “We rushed to war without designating…a main effort “ – that is, a specific, achievable goal, a realistic game plan.

 

The Baseball Connection: The early pre-Roy-Halladay Phillies finished 12 games behind the Mets in 2006, the year the NYM’s season ended in the seventh game of the NLCS.  The Phillies, less wealthy than the Mets, focused on stocking their farm system; they developed blue-chip prospects, many of whom they were able to deal for the likes of Cliff Lee, Brad Lidge, and, of course, Halladay and Roy Oswalt.  The Mets, meanwhile, gave player-development a low priority, depending mainly on the signing of name free agents – the prospects-for-Johan-Santana-trade was a rare exception.  Former Met and current SNY broadcaster Ron Darling gave NY Times-man Stuart Miller his analysis of the Mets’ mismanagement:


“What they need is a game plan….They need to teach smart baseball and good defense so when (minor leaguers) get to the big leagues, (they) know what is expected….Right now the Mets (have a choice): try to build a perennial winner in a few years (with their prospects), or…try to piecemeal it together, trying to find the elixir in the free-agent market.”


In pairing Darling with John Smoltz as color men in the Yankees-Twins series, TBS has put together a dazzling package.  The two ex-pitchers were tentative at first, getting to know each other’s moves.  But soon, helped by excellent play-by-play man Ernie Johnson, the pair pitched in perfect synch. Darling let Smoltz say more, but contributed as much.  Both agreed that Andy Pettitte’s performance Thursday night was his best ever, given the suspense about his health and the importance of the game to his team. On umpiring calls, Smoltz told Johnson he would want to see replays of controversial plays whenever decisive runs were involved, but only then.  Darling said he thought an “eye-in-the-sky” system – an ex-umpire at a replay monitor in the press box – would be preferable; a ruling would be made on any close and challenged call.  Johnson went along with Darling’s view. 


Smoltz on pitching to Lance Berkman: “You don’t want to see him lay the bat down after hitting a ball.  That means it’s going a long way.”


TBS’s other pairings have been well chosen, too.  Here is Buck Martinez (doing Rangers-Rays color) on free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero: “If the ball’s coming at him, it’s in play.”  Martinez’s play-by-play partner Don Orsillo prefaced a Rangers home run on a pitcher’s count with a prescient comment: “(James) Shields is in harm’s way.”


The savvy Bob Brenly, doing Atlanta-Giants color with Dick Stockton, on the Braves: “Bobby Cox has gotten good pitching, but he’s had problems with the team’s defense.” The Braves made two errors in the 1-0 loss to the Giants Thursday night. The single run scored when third baseman Omar Infante couldn’t handle a ground ball; it skipped by him, letting Buster Posey score from second.         


When the Reds fell apart last night, making four key errors in the Phillies’ come-from-behind victory, Brian Anderson and Joe Simpson did their usual solid, unobtrusive job.  They were similarly effective in describing the Halladay no-hitter.  TBS has made a clean broadcasting sweep of the four playoff series.  

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(Posted: 10/07/10)

 

It’s Playoff Time in Baseball, Crunch-Time in Politics

 

Scary lineups:

 

Playoff all-stars: Jimmy Rollins, ss; Carl Crawford, lf;  Joey Votto, 1B;  Josh Hamilton, cf; Alex Rodriguez, 3b; Joe Mauer, c; Robinson Cano, 2b; Vladimir Guerrero, dh; Delmon Young, rf, C.C. Sabathia, p (starter); Mariano Rivera, p (closer).

 

Team GOP free agents:  Scientists who deny man-made climate change; Economists who support tax-cuts for the rich; Strategists who justify wars of choice; Lawyers willing to defend torture; Journalists who slant the political news in deference to the people who pay them.

 

An obvious distinction: the baseball lineup is “would-be” scary: the squad won’t be playing together.  The diverse GOP outfit (put together with the guidance of Paul Krugman) is working as a loosely knit team to win on the electoral field three-and-a-half weeks from now.

 

Two views from the left field pressbox on how that political contest will turn out:

 

Perspective 1:The midtems are boring—boring because everyone knows, in broad strokes, what’s going to happen. The media love to imagine that some brilliant, last-minute White House strategy can save the Democrats, but in moments like this—when the public loathes Washington and Washington is controlled by one party—consultants’ tricks don’t matter. The latest pipe dream is that voters will punish the GOP for having nominated extremist weirdos like Christine O’Donnell.  Really?

 

 “In 1994, the good people of Idaho elected Congress(wo)man Helen Chenoweth, who warned that black helicopters, sent by the federal government, were menacing her state’s ranchers.  In Galveston, Texas, voters elected a formerly homeless man.  When voters are determined to punish anyone associated with political power, hailing from the political, and even social, fringe, isn’t a liability; it’s an asset.”  - Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast

 

Perspective 2: “More evidence th(at)…the Republican wave has crested, and a new dynamic in election 2010 has taken hold.   New Rasmussen and Washington Post polls each show a 7 point swing towards the Democrats in the national Congressional Generic in the past few weeks…This movement tracks similar movement seen in other polls released over the past few days, indicating that the Democrats have made substantial improvement in their position over the past month…

 

There is a clear understanding now in the political class that things have changed, but the big hedge is still on.  In the lead Washington Post story on their new poll, the 7 point Democratic gain was ’modest,’ and the 6 point Republican lead ‘significant.’…That…  shows how fundamentally invested much of DC's political class is in the September version of this story which had Democrats losing the House…and big Republican gains were already ‘baked in the cake’." - Simon Rosenberg, NDN (progressive think tank)

 

The outcome - one way or the other - will likely depend on how effective pro-GOP corporate dollars (the brunt of the estimated $5 billion to be spent in the series of contests) - will ultimately be.

                              -     -     -

Talk About Scary: How formidable are the Phillies?  Roy Halladay threw his no-hitter yesterday against the NL’s best hitting team; a walk provided the Reds with their only base-runner.  The Phils look like the team that led the majors in wins (97).    


Cliff Note: Cliff Lee proved he belonged on our hypothetical all-star team with his dominance over the Rays yesterday afternoon.  Buck Martinez on TBS said the way the Rangers handled Tampa Bay ace David Price had to drain the Rays psychologically. They know if the series goes more than three games, they’ll be facing Lee again.

 

Getting To Be a Habit: The Yankees had 48 come-from-behind victories this season.  The 49th last night over the Twins may have been the most important.  It sent a message: “We’ve dominated you for the last few seasons and don’t think we’re going to stop now.”


A Thought About the Mets Mess:  If he would take it, Bobby Valentine would not be a bad choice for GM – yes, GM; he wouldn’t brook interference from Jeff Wilpon.  The Mets could then name Wally Backman manager and save some of the money Fred Wilpon lost to Bernie Madoff. 

 

Another Thought:  Jerry Manuel was a solid Mets manager, just not a transformative one, a la Buck Showalter.  Manuel got no help from the front office.  He pleaded through the media, last year and this, for aggressive deal-making that would provide reinforcements for his motley roster.  He was told to carry on with what he had and somehow make it all come out right.  Manuel could have been the right man had he not taken over at the wrong time.

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(Posted: 10/5/10)

 

Obama Hits Wall Street While Mets Whack Omar and Manuel

 

The investment fund player who the other day said Skipper Obama “came at me with a baseball bat” had nothing on Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, whacked by the Mets this weekend through the media instead of man-to-man.

 

The skipper told multi-millionaire blue-chipper Anthony Scaramucci that he and fellow Wall Street players had “beat up on” Main Street people.  Scaramucci had tried to defend the many on Wall Street who were being blamed for the actions of a “few bad apples”.  Obama’s response was certainly unsympathetic, but he did it face-to-face on the TV program “Investing in America.”

 

The Mets leaked the decision to let their manager go and consign their GM to the Limbo list.  Sports Illustrated ran the story late Friday.  Art Howe and Willie Randolph, Manuel’s predecessors, lost their jobs in similar tawdry fashion.

The Mets can now change the subject from how bad their team was to whom they expect to turn the franchise around.  It will be an off-season stressing the promise of change – through hirings and name-player signings.  But a needed miraculous comeback next season is unlikely, no matter what the changes.

 

Obama can talk tough, but he can’t bring substantive change, either, to the financial field..  The recently passed legislation by his teammates, the Dem-dominated Congress didn’t do the job, as scorer Joe Nocera noted from the NY Times pressbox:

 

“The big banks aren’t being broken up, the way they were in the 1930s.  Bankers aren’t being hauled off to jail.  No serious effort has been made to rein in executive compensation – or even to claw back millions of dollars in bonuses that were based on what turned out to be illusory profits.  Most of the financial practices and products that brought us to the brink remain legal under the new Dodd-Frank legislation.”

 

Too-big-to-fail is among the financial plays that have not been thumbed from the game.  On the other hand, there will be more umpiring of efforts to clear the field for too-big-to-fail. Still, the pressbox consensus is this: Ttaxpayers have every reason to resent the “reforms” that permit Wall Street to hold on to its privileges.

                         -     -     -

Searching for Cinderella: A non-fan friend wondered aloud yesterday if the playoffs had a “Cinderella team?”  We said there were three of eight – “everyone but the Phillies in the National League.”  In winning the NL Central over the Cardinals and Cubs, the Reds qualified as an “almost Cinderella” during the regular season.  The Phillies may therefore have their hands full in advancing to the NLCS, but advance they should.

 

The Reds are the only one of the playoff teams to finish first in their league in two of three main categories – hitting and fielding.  The Giants led the NL in pitching.  In the AL, the Rangers and Twins led in hitting and fielding, respectively, the Rays in pitching.  If it is true that pitching counts in a short series especially, the Giants and Rays will be worth particular attention.

 

The Yankees, playing at cruise-control through September, apparently achieved the best possible match-up: meeting the Twins just in time to miss the return of Justin Morneau.  Except Morneau won’t be coming back later in the playoffs, after all.  The Twins only want him back at spring-training time.  More immediately, although Minnesota has home-park advantage in the best-of-five ALDS, the Yanks have shown they’re not intimidated by Target Field: they took two of three from the Twins there, and four of six overall.

                            - o -         

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(Posted: 10/2/10)

 

Why Ballclubs and Team Obama Should Play Hard to the End

 

Baseball fans recognize the empty feeling when their team falls out of contention.  Some experience it early in the season, watching players who have lost their competitive spark.  For most fans, the experience becomes familiar now as the many also-ran teams hold rookie tryouts rather than play hard with their best lineups.  Checking box scores for all-star performers takes patience, name players with hiccups having been shut down.  What are essentially Triple-A games played in virtually vacant ballparks convey a sad end-of-regular-season image.   In competing for attention with football, baseball shouldn’t have fans saying “Couldn’t they at least try?”     

 

Team Obama has taken repeated hits for lack of intensity as the electoral season moves into its final month.  One of the hitters - Greg Sargent, writing in the Washington Post – suggests why the O-team should have been more responsive to lefty critics and less cautious in its game plan:

 

“They (the critics) are not merely griping because the White House failed to be as left wing as they would have liked on the public option or the big banks.  They are making the case that fighting harder for liberal priorities -- even if that battle is hopeless in some cases -- is better politics for Democrats overall, because it might leave Dems with an energized base heading into the midterms.

“From this group's point of view, it entirely misses the point when Obama supporters respond by saying: ‘Shut up, Obama got all he could, all you're doing is demoralizing Dems with your nonstop criticism.’

“Their argument is that laying down markers on core liberal priorities has a way of expanding  the field of what's politically possible.  And even if expanding that field was never realistic, they argue, Obama would be in a better position anyway if he'd fought more visibly for those core priorities, because rank and file Dems would know what it is they should go out and vote for on Election Day. These critics are rejecting the ingrained Beltway notion that you should never fight for something when you might lose.”  

                              -     -     -

Uphill Fight Falls Short: “Adrian Gonzalez is batting .416 with runners in scoring position,” said Dick Enberg (on MLB-TV) during the crucial Cubs-Padres game Thursday.  “That’s far and away the best average in the majors.”  Gonzalez came to bat in the sixth inning of a 0-0 game with men on first and second and none out.  It would be the Padres’ best - and only - opportunity to keep the team’s playoff hopes realistically alive.  Gonzalez grounded into a double play, setting the stage for the Cubs’ 1-0 victory, their third in four games in San Diego.

 

Cubs interim manager Mike Quade was not considered a serious candidate to succeed Lou Piniella on a permanent basis when he replaced Lou in mid-August.    Ryne Sandberg, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Bobby Valentine – those were the names of real candidates.  But the Cubs have played .647 ball (22-12) under Quade and he has become a serious contender to run the team in 2011.  It hasn’t hurt him that the players are among his boosters.  Said Ryan Dempster the other night:

 

"I hope he's managing us next year because he deserves it.  He has done everything they've asked, and everyone in here really likes him."

 

Asked what he thought of the endorsement, Quade showed he knew about diplomacy as well as managing: "I try and stay away from that," he said. "As long as my relationship with them is good, and I think it is, then I…stick to …what I have to do."

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September 2010 Archive


(Posted: 9/30/10)

 

Needed on Both Fields: A Gloom-Chasing Miracle

 

A month ago, a part-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers invited us to join him at Citi Field this week to see his team play the Mets.  We declined with thanks, confessing to insufficient interest.  When rain coincided with the start of the series, we thought of how doubly gloomy it would be to watch the out-of-it Mets and Brews under lowering skies. 

 

Worse yet, of course, is the thought of what lies ahead for the NYMs: a mediocre roster, unproductive farm system, dysfunctional front office and shorter-than-usual money supply.  It adds up - even with drastic off-season personnel changes - to a series of rebuilding years. 

 

The appropriateness of the gloom is felt by many players and fans on the left side of the political field.  Among them: the UK Guardian’s Washington-based ace Michael Tomasky, who delivered this sobering outlook on one of the rainy days.

 

“It may well be that the Reagan and Dubya years were just warm-up acts, and that the conservative movement has yet to behold its triumph. The amount of money corporate titans can now pump into politics, the level of activism, the utter inability of the media to call lies lies, the weakness of the Democrats…we may be in for a 40-year descent, until there is no Social Security and there are no environmental regulations and so on and so on, and it'll take a couple of generations for Americans to see the grim effects of that kind of country and decide that pension security and regulation weren't such horrible ideas after all, and America will have to spend 20 years, from about 2050 to 2070, rebuilding an apparatus of state that was built a century before but dismantled.”

 

Tomasky’s stint was a long-view follow-up to the message pitched by National Journal control artist Ronald Brownstein in the previous Nub.  Brownstein laid down the middle the immediate plans of Team GOP’s extremist Senate candidates: to swing out against not only what Team Obama has done, but also to challenge “the legacies of Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt.”

 

The latest in a series of warnings to Democrats to put on their rally caps and get likeminded voters to do the same in advance of electoral playoff day, November 2.  Will it take a miracle for such a rally to occur?

                                -     -     -

Speculation Time: Our best guesstimate of playoff pairings in advance of the season’s final weekend: AL – Rangers at Rays, Yanks at Twins.  NL – Reds at Phils, Braves at Giants.  For us, the absence of Red Sox and Dodgers takes some of the zest out of the mix. And, speaking of gloom, how sad that midnight struck for the Cinderella Padres in the last week of the regular season.

 

Although the cusp-of-wild-card Braves have swept the Marlins, the Padres aren’t out of the playoff picture yet.  But SD Times-Union columnist Nick Canepa says local fans are avoiding disappointment by staying home: “This is a team that should be loved, and I wonder why it hasn’t been, why the franchise will draw only 200,000 more fans this year (around 2.1 million) than it did in 2009…In 42 seasons of Padres existence, this has been their most amazing ballclub, a $41-million wonder, a baseball equivalent of loaves and fishes and the Red Sea parting.


“But, for whatever reasons — the economy hitting at the Mendoza Line may be part of it…San Diegans have treated The Little Team That Could more like The Little Team That Might But We Don’t Think It Can So Let’s Wait And See If It Can.”


Ever Say Die:
If baseball had an annual deadhead prize, this year’s would go to the Mets by a mile.  Until Tuesday night, when they rallied in the ninth to win,4-3, the Mets had been a remarkable 0-67 when trailing after eight innings.

 

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(Posted: 9/28/10)

 

Political Symbolism Adding Buzz to Baseball’s Post-Season

 

Politicizing the playoffs.

 

In recent election years, the Democratic team found positive omens in the identity of the World Series winners. In 2006, the Cardinals, from then-bluish-purple Missouri, signaled the Dems regaining control of Congress. In 2008, the Phillies, from blue Pennsylvania, presaged Obama's presidential victory. 

 

Percentage-wise, the early and middle innings of the 2010 contest have produced few positive signs for the D-team.  The red-state Rangers, Rays and (purplish)Reds match the blue Phillies, Yankees and Twins as playoff sure things.  The Braves, from red-state Georgia, look to be a good bet for NL wild card, neutralizing the likely blue-California NL West winner, the Giants or Padres.

 

The one recent source of hope for the Dems has been the fading of the red-state Colorado Rockies from the playoff mix.  Colorado is symbolically significant because of its Team GOP's Senate candidate Ken Buck. A dynamic former prosecutor, Buck poses a strong threat to Dem incumbent Michael Bennet.  The National Journal's Ronald Browstein says Buck has been the top-of-rotation pitcher of a rousing GOP message.  It's a message the call-as-he-sees-it Brownstein says the Dems must take seriously or risk a more far-reaching defeat than even their pessimists fear:

 

Buck encapsulate(s) the energy, confidence, and revolutionary zeal crackling through the huge class of GOP Senate challengers now approaching the Capitol from all points on the map.  In red, blue, and purple states alike, Republicans this year have nominated deeply conservative candidates such as Buck who vow to unravel much of what President Obama and the Democratic Congress have constructed over the past two years -- and then march on to challenge the legacies of Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt.  Polls today suggest that many of them will get the chance to try.


Unless Democrats can recover lost ground, it appears likely that the 2010 elections will produce the biggest crop of freshman Republican senators since the 11 who arrived in 1994, and possibly even the 16 who were part of Ronald Reagan's landslide in 1980. Across a wide range of issues, the potential GOP Senate class of 2010 leans right even when compared with those earlier groups -- some contenders hold positions on the far frontier of modern American politics. Next year could bring to Washington the most consistently, and even militantly, conservative class of new senators in at least the past half-century.


The D-team can, thus, thank a member of the Colorado red-state roster for sounding the GOP rallying cry that is also a wake-up call for the Dems . And they can hope the Rockies don't wake up in time to join red-state teams competing for the role of World Series champion...and omen.

                          -     -     -

What We Know in the last week of the season:  The Marlins, Cubs and D-backs are enviable also-rans, playing very meaningful games in this final week of the regular season.  Each can do fatal damage in the NL West and wild card races.  The Marlins, playing in Atlanta without injured studs Josh Johnson and Harley Ramirez, could compromise the Braves’ wild card hopes by contriving to win two of three games.  Last night, with a Triple-A lineup, they came up short, losing in 11 innings, 2-1.  The Cubs can complicate the Padres’ two-lane itinerary to either playoff destination by taking two of four in San Diego. They took the opener from the Pods last night, 1-0. The D-backs can flummox the Giants, by taking two of three in San Francisco, starting tonight.  In the best of possible baseball worlds, the Padres and Giants will be close enough this weekend to make their wind-up series decisive while the Braves are in a similar situation against the Phils at home.

 

Reading Between the Lines: Man Making Pitch to be Mets GM:  While he could be a candidate for the Mets GM job if the Wilpon family reassigns Omar Minaya, (former D-backs GM Josh) Byrnes said, ‘My background is in pro and amateur scouting, which is the foundation of any organization, and that’s where I would have interest.’ Byrnes’s advice was sought by a few teams at the trade deadline, and he was able to provide input.” – Nick Cafardo in Boston Globe

 

Signing the 40-year-old Byrnes as GM would be good news on one level – signaling overdue emphasis on developing a productive farm system, but bad news on another: Byrnes does not have the stature to demand, and receive, autonomy from Jeff Wilpon.  To be effective, the new GM must be free to run the show without Wilpon’s kibitzing.

 

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(9/25-26/10)

 

Some Baseball Advice for NY’s Would-Be Skipper

 

Andrew Cuomo, son of a former professional ball player, could learn from one of the game’s great combatants.  Cuomo, we know, has a Carl Paladino problem.  Paladino, Team GOP’s candidate for NY skipper, throws verbal bean balls: a sure-fire way to bring a roar from the crowd.  The press loves Paladino for his entertainment value.  Cuomo can’t match Paladino as an entertainer, nor should he try.  His goal should be to develop a lighter, less tightly wound approach.  He can do that by emulating the one MLB skipper with an open rhetorical stance: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. 

 

Ozzie is a master at redirecting media attention when it strays from him and his team.  Unlike his fellow skippers, he avoids clichés and says what’s on his mind.  A Guillen sampler: You know what's tough; when I'm driving here and I think, 'God, I have to be myself today  and I don't feel like it, ... I have to show up… put a smile on my face and…joke around when I'm dying inside.’ That's not easy.” /I don't want to talk about how I feel about my team because I might say something…my team don't want to hear.”/“I never, ever said we were going to win this thing easy.”

 

Cuomo could note that Guillen wastes little time bantering about opponents; he airs his feelings and focuses on his own and his team’s performances.   The media know Ozzie can occasionally say something embarrassing.  That’s an added reason why he keeps them and the fans laughing (while causing Agita to owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Kenny Williams.).

 

Andrew can’t be expected to do what his power-hitting father did, swatting away criticism with humor.  But he can relax, discard his anger and be more of a happy warrior.  He has a lot to be happy about: his record as AG attests to his successful playing of hardball as a savvy, resilient political major leaguer.  His Buffalo-based opponent, by contrast, is a rookie, fresh from the minors. Cuomo knows most rookies fade as the season progresses, a process he can assist by engaging Paladino playfully. “Tell that Triple-A jerk to start throwing strikes.”

                              -     -     -

Guessing Who Gets the Wild Card: Charlie Manuel may well turn out to be the NL’s wild-card decider.  His Phillies play the Braves in a season-windup series next weekend.  By then the Phils should have clinched their playoff berth.  If Manuel decides to rest his Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels big three and other regulars, the Braves will have a big edge in the WL race.  They play three with the last-place Nationals away and three at home with the hurting Marlins before the Phils come for the Atlanta close-out.

The Padres and Giants, meanwhile, will be finishing with each other in SF and the suddenly crumbling Rockies wrapping up with the Cardinals in St.Louis.

 

As of now, the NL playoff lineup looks to be Phils, Reds, Giants and Braves (with the Padres an outside possibility), while the Yanks, Twins, Rangers and Rays are the all-but-certain AL foursome.

 

Skipper of the Year?  SI’s Joe Posnanski has a nomination: “I think Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball.  I think that not based on what we see but what we can’t see.  I base this not on what I think a manager should do but on success.  I base this not on individual moves but on the basis that the Twins are there on top one more time.

“Someone close to the Twins…insists that the Twins win DESPITE Gardy, not BECAUSE of Gardy.  And you know what? It could be true.  But you know what else? They sure do keep on winning despite him.  So if nothing else, Gardy is the best I’ve ever seen at minimizing the damage he can cause and keeping his own deficiencies from ruining the story. It’s a lesson all of us could probably learn.
                              
- o -

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(Posted: 9/23/10)

 

Teed-Off Parties Making Presence Felt in Both Pastimes

 

A baseball T-party. 

 

It’s been happening the last few nights at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies fans waving towels to urge on the playoff-bound home team.

 

In NYC, we’ve had the equivalent of a baseball-provoking tea party.  Resentment toward the Mets has flared in the form of empty seats at Citi Field.  Meanwhile, the vehemence of noisy negative feeling toward those running the team matches that expressed at political tea parties.  One example (from a Nubbite): “To call the Wilpons ‘clueless’ is to insult people who are legitimately harmless.”

 

The success of the Yankees, of course, has raised the intensity of the Metsian tea-thing.  Envious Mets fans have always rooted against the cross-town rivals.  But a second year of seeing their team mired in their own Queens quicksand while the Yanks speed toward a second straight World Series has triggered the nationally familiar outrage.

 

“What can you expect,” say the anti-Yankee complainers, “they have the money to make good things happen.”  National tea party fans and players are focused on money, too – the size of Team Obama’s treasury, which they want to see cut back.  Mainly, though, they resent the O-team’s power to set America’s agenda.  Author and political scientist Frances Fox Piven is wary of the tea party agenda:

 

“It is a media concoction, an expression of white nationalism, a cry of resentment, and so on.  But it also reflects a well-funded campaign by the right that singles out (anti-poverty, union and environmental) groups…to disable not only the left… but the Democratic Party.


One respected pressbox observer - the Times’ free-agent polling expert Nate Silver - sees the upstart tea-party style of play as potentially effective during the electoral season: “The tea party…may help (the GOP)  facilitate large electoral gains...in November in spite of a party brand which is badly damaged.  Although it may have done harm to Republicans in a few specific races, like Delaware, this may be outweighed by the good it has done them elsewhere in the country.”   Two signs of tea-party effectiveness, according to Silver: Sharon Angle and Ron Johnson running neck-and-neck races with Dem incumbents Harry Reid and Russ Feingold in Nevada and Wisconsin.  Angle is a regular on the tea-party team, Johnson a player who got into the game because of the party.

                                          -     -     -

It will be surprising if the Yanks do not make the Series, and equally so if their opponent is not the Phillies, clearly the class of the NL.  Mets fans, meanwhile, have the departures of Jerry Manuel and (likely) Omar Minaya to look forward to.  That will leave underqualified Jeff Wilpon (aka “The Mets”) to choose a new manager.  The last one he chose (seconded by Jim Duquette) was Art Howe, the first in a long series of bad decisions. (Minaya was prime chooser of unfortunate Willie Randolph.)


Former owner Peter O’Malley says Frank McCourt should sell the Dodgers for the good of the franchise.  That’s an urgent matter, but no more so than the need for new ownership in Queens if the Mets are to retrieve the support of their fan base.


Hide the Scoreboard: The bane of teams still in the pennant race this late in the season is scoreboard-watching. Padres manager Bud Black told Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker what can be done to deal with the problem: Make sure you're farther east than the team against whom you are ‘racing.’  That way, your score goes up first.  And since peeking at the scoreboard is unavoidable in most places, do so.  Just keep it to yourself.  ‘If you're in the cage, you take a swing, look at the board, then swing, look at the board,’ said Black…’Guys don't talk about it.’…

“Right around the sixth inning Tuesday night, the board flashed an ‘F’  beside the Giants 1, Cubs 0 score.  By then the Padres were too absorbed in their own (winning game against LA) to care.”                                                                                                                                                                                               - o -

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(Posted: 9/21/10)

 

Baseball and Politics Get Religion

 

Baseball and the Jewish Day of Atonement: could any two subjects be more dissimilar?  The Atonement game plan last Saturday included traditional pitches for art, science, music and intellectual striving – but, strangely, not for baseball.  That omission didn’t stop about a dozen Jewish players in the MLB - including Ryan Braun, Kevin Youklis, Brad Ausmas, Ian Kinsler, Scott Feldman, Jason Marquis, Gabe Kapler, John Grabow, Ike Davis, and Danny Valencia - from playing the game well enough to earn a good living. 

 

The Atonement message to them - and to those of us who aren’t living badly:  play hard but don’t spike others to reach third base and beyond.  The political relevance needs no belaboring: the anti-government team on the right side of the diamond is pitching to get the deficit reduced and taxes cut.  That strategy means fewer public services and social programs for people who have to struggle more than most of us.  It amounts to what the Atonement message calls “exploitation” of the other.        

 

Cornell U. Prof. Robert Frank takes a simple pragmatic swing against the exploitation embedded in our unlevel economic playing field.  His remedy - progressive tax reform now: “Tax systems that transfer income from rich to poor...reflect the costs and benefits of different rungs on the social ladder.  They help make stable, diverse societies possible.”  Times southpaw Paul Krugman puts a sting in his delivery: “If you want to find real political rage…you’ll find it…among the very privileged,  people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.”

Lob from Left Field about an effort to counter extremist rage in our society:

 

I think Jon Stewart is one of the most incisive and effective commentators in the country, and he reaches an audience that would otherwise be politically disengaged.  I don't have any objection if he really wants to hold a rally (Oct.30) in favor of rhetorical moderation, and it's also fine if, as seems to be the case, he's eager to target rhetorical excesses on both the left and right in order to demonstrate his non-ideological centrism.  But the example he chose to prove that the left is guilty, too -- the proposition that Bush is a ’war criminal’ -- is an extremely poor one given that the General in charge of formally investigating detainee abuse (Maj.Gen. Antonio Taguba) has declared this to be the case….(Thus,) the claim has ample basis, and it's deeply irresponsible to try to declare this discussion off-limits, or lump it in with a whole slew of baseless right-wing accusatory rhetoric, in order to establish one's centrist bona fides.”  - Glenn Greenwald, Salon

                              -     -     -

What We Know after the weekend: Fresh from extending their wild card lead by a game-and-a-half - to two-and-a-half games – over the embattled Padres, the Braves look poised to win the NL wild card if the can split their last six games with the Phillies.  Following the current series at Citizens Bank Park, Atlanta has three away with the Nationals, then three at home with the Marlins before closing out the season hosting the same Phils on October 1, 2 and 3. 

 

The Giants have a tougher sked – three away with the Cubs, who are 17-7 under new manager Mike Quade, then three with the Rockies in Denver, before finishing at home against the Diamondbacks and Padres.  Having lost three of four to the Cardinals, the Pods now must play four games with the same Cubs at home after a perilous three-day stop in LA against the Dodgers.  The Reds will follow the Cubs into San Diego, meaning the Padres will be lucky if they still have a shot during a season-ending three games with the Giants in SF.   The Rockies have three in Arizona with the D-backs, then they’ll meet the Giants and Dodgers for six last games at home.  The season for them will likely to come down to their four final games.  Where?  Alas for the Rockies, in St.Louis, against the Cardinals.  

 

Lots of nail-biting baseball ahead.  Too bad for those of us in the East that most of the key games will be played in Western and Mountain time zones.

                             - o -

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(Posted: 9/17-18/10)

 

Does Anyone in Either Field Play by the Rules?

 

A candidate for NY state skipper who “does not play by the usual rules.”  So?   A Yankees captain who play-acts to deceive umpires about being hit by a pitch. Wait a minute.

 

Carl Paladino, Team GOP’s wild swinger, is playing a familiar political game – doing what it takes to win, even if it means outrageous bench-jockeying and unsportsmanlike behavior, in general.  But Derek Jeter swiveling out of character, which he did against the Rays Wednesday night, was a different story.  Remember, he pretended a pitch that struck the knob of his bat hit him in the wrist.  Watching Jeter pirouette in apparent pain and then seeing a replay show clearly what happened was somehow jarring.  “Gamesmanship,” YES broadcaster Kenny Singleton called it.  Many of us, perhaps naively, didn’t think Derek played the game that way.  He has always been an authentic stand-up guy, the antithesis of an actor.

 

Paladino warns that his spikes-high attempt to cut Andrew Cuomo down “won’t be clean.”  He knows the press likes the Gas House Gang game and welcomes any sign that a front-running team is flummoxed, aced with a challenge.  The Buffalo multi-millionaire will get broad state and national coverage with his provocative approach.  His verbal aim for the fences could make for a lively campaign and, at the same time, make the AG a better candidate.  Paladino has already targeted Andrew’s air of entitlement, his dependence on staff to insulate him from the people.  We shouldn’t be surprised if, thanks to his opponent, Cuomo adopts a new, regular-guy stance as the contest moves through its early innings.         

 

Chances are television, which benefits “hot” performers for a short while, could in time make Paladino a victim of over-exposure.  By the middle innings, the video replays may well confirm signs of his unreadiness for high political office.  In the other field, we know Jeter’s willingness to let his integrity be tainted for the team would have been unnecessary had baseball done the inevitable: initiate a full-scale use of the technology to help umpires get calls right.

                                 -     -     -    

Lob from Left Field: “In case anyone thought Obama was starting to ‘’get’ that America wants a president who will stand up to the economic royalists and do the right thing, White House insiders indicated Wednesday night that he has decided against appointing Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Instead, Obama is expected to appoint the hero of reformers to an advisory post where she will report to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner…(reportedly) a behind-the-scenes opponent of her appointment.” – John Nichols, The Nation

                                         -     -     -

And Then There Were…You may have noticed that Central Division races in both leagues all but ended Wednesday night: that’s when the Reds and Twins both moved eight games ahead of the Cardinals and Twins, respectively, with 16 and 17 games left.  Then there’s the NL East, where the Phillies took a commanding three-game lead over the Braves, commanding because the Phils have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels at the top of their rotation.  As of mid-Friday, the Braves were tied for the wild card lead with the Giants, one of three teams - the Padres and Rockies are others - involved in the most competitive division race, the NL West.  The AL East, we know, is in a class by itself – both the Rays and Yanks assured of no worse than a wild-card berth and therefore as concerned with putting together the best possible playoff roster as of winning the division.

 

The Mets, buried in the NL East and under all kinds of criticism for mismanagement, received an additional jab the other night from SNY’s Bobby Ojeda.  The Mets front office, Ojeda said, did Carlos Beltran and the team a “disservice” by rushing Beltran back into action after he only played in rehab games at the Class A level.  “They should have had him play in Triple-A.  There’s too big a difference between Class A and the big leagues, the ball moves differently…”  Ojeda said bridging that gap slowed Beltran’s return to form, “which he is only rounding into now.”      

                                      - o -

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v







(Posted: 9/16/10)

 

What We Shouldn’t Believe in Both Pastimes

 

The lies we tell ourselves: “The best part about baseball is that, theoretically, a game can go on forever.”  “We were perfectly justified in attacking Afghanistan soon after 9/11.”

 

Rabid fans or not, we know ballgames can go on too long.  There’s just so much energy we can devote to watching inning after inning of little happening.  And over in the political ballpark, anyone who remembers our massive response to Osama’s presence in Afghanistan knows it alienated much of the populace there, costing countless innocent lives.  And it failed in its main mission: to get the man behind anti-U.S. terrorism.

 

The New Yorker’s Roger Angell summed up the problem of overlong games when he wrote about a 20-inning affair he covered some years ago:  “All around me in our section I could see the same look of resignation and boredom and pleasure that now showed on my own face, I knew — the look of longtime fans who understand that one can never leave a very long close game, no matter how much inconvenience and exasperation it imposes on us.  The difficulty of baseball is imperious.”

 

It is a sobering fact that our Mideast wars, dating from nine years ago, have become sources of “resignation and boredom” here at home. The late historian Howard Zinn anticipated the malaise that would result from the war game in Afghanistan.  This is what he wrote (in The Progressive) in December 2001 soon after Team USA’s first hit:


“V
oices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a ‘just war.’  One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is ‘the first truly just war since World War II.’   Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.


“I have puzzled over this. How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves?  This war amounts to a gross violation of human rights, and it will produce the exact opposite of what is wanted: It will not end terrorism; it will proliferate terrorism.”


The description of what lay ahead sounds depressingly familiar nine years later.

                             -     -     -

The Long View:  When Joe Girardi shrugged in the 10th inning, some of the fun went out of the Yanks-Rays fight for first Monday night.  Chad Gaudin had issued a two-out walk to load the bases in the 0-0 game.  He seemed shaky and in need of help from someone more reliable, say Marian Rivera or even David Robertson.  Instead, Girardi responded to a questioning signal with a gesture that spoke volumes: it said “Let’s see if Gaudin has what it takes to make the playoff roster.”  When Joe called on Sergio Mitre to pitch the 11th (and ultimately yield the winning home run), his September strategy was clear – make this a tryout-camp period for marginal players who might, or might not, be useful in the post-season.  Whether the Yanks win the division or settle for the wild card is of secondary importance. (“Losing the battle but winning the war,” David Eiland calls it.) That obviously diminishes the attractiveness of once-“crucial” games.

 

As of now, the AL wild-card team will draw the Twins in the first playoff round, the AL Division winner with the best W-L record (i.e., the Yanks or Rays) will meet the Rangers.  The prospect of facing Cliff Lee perhaps twice in a best-of-five series could make playing Texas the more daunting challenge.

                      

Rare Time for Torre:  How does consistent playoff manager Joe Torre feel with his team the Dodgers out of the pennant race?  He “hate(s) to say it,” but “it’s relaxing.” Torre added this, in a conversation with Giants writers in SF: We're in a position now that other clubs have been…against us.  We're trying to impact the pennant race by playing havoc with the teams that are in it.  That's our job."  Ten of the LAD’s last 16 games are with the three NL West contenders.  They’ll play one final game with the Giants tonight (Thurs.), three with the Padres next week, and six with the Rockies – three this weekend and three the last week of the season.  Joe will have lots of havoc-causing possibilities.
             
    - o -

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(Posted: 9/14/10)

 

The Bane of Overkill in Baseball and Politics

 

Thoughts triggered by a call-up rookie stealing home the other day to give the Rockies a big win over the Reds:  

 

First, there’s the oft-cited disparity of money – a team like the Yankees able to afford a $200 million payroll, while small-market teams feel they must make do spending a quarter of that amount.  Then, at the end of the season, there’s a player disparity – some teams willing to strip their farm teams on September 1 while others take a more conservative approach.  Baseball is hurting itself, just as our political system is, by allowing for overkill on the part of one group at the expense of another.

 

In politics, a Supreme Court ruling in 1976 started to skew that playing field.  The decision in Buckley v. Valeo that the use of money in elections was free speech gave wealthy players a big edge over the middlin’ ones.  Then, this year, we remember that the High Court in the Citizens United case gave the big biz machine the right to wield as much financial clout as it wants in electoral campaigns.  That further shifted power to the already advantaged on the right side of the political diamond.  Skipper Obama and the Dem team in Congress talked of a legislative rally to blunt the impact of the decision.

 

In promising to lead it, the skipper threw a warning pitch. “Special interests and their lobbyists”, he said, would have “more power (than they already had) in Washington while undermining the influence of average Americans.” That top-heavy power prevails.  There’s been no sustained action to neutralize it since the presidential pitch last January.  The uneven level of the political playing field remains as the Election Day playoffs approach.

 

SI’s Tom Verducci details the unevenness caused by baseball’s late-season roster-expansion policy, which he wants modified, if not eliminated:

 

“Beginning Sept. 1, teams can call up as many players as they wish from their 40-man roster. What all year was 25-vs.-25 becomes 33-vs.-29 or 35-vs.-32 or . . . you get the point.  It's illogical…Multiple catchers, pinch-runners, left-handed relievers, etc. change how the game is played and managed…Baseball needs to end this folly of teams playing with different sized rosters at the most important part of the year.”

                                -     -     -

What We Know after the weekend:  Three teams - and only three - have a lock on making the playoffs: the Yanks, Rays and Rangers.  Let’s consider the five other MLB post-season spots up for grabs because it (1) enhances broad interest, and (2) recalls the Phillies, trailing the Mets by seven games in the last two-and-a-half weeks of 2007.  With three weeks left now, we’ll make seven games as of Monday the outside number in which a team is still in division contention. On that basis, the Braves, Phillies, Reds, Cardinals, Padres, Giants and Rockies are in the NL hunt.  The other AL teams that have a shot under Nub rules: the Twins and White Sox.  The NL wild card race is closed to all but the seven division contenders; the AL wild card race, owing to the leads established by Yanks and Rays, is closed.  Period.

   
A Realistic Mets-Rescue Scenario?  The hiring of a GM with stature, smarts, and, most of all, the gumption to quit when Jeff Wilpon meddles (as he did once Omar Minaya began to misfire).   A Kevin Towers-type would be a good choice because, unlike Omar, he would presumably focus as much on the farm system as the main club.  That focus could insure whoever the new manager is would have player-ready backup when needed.  The new GM’s ‘must’ attribute can’t be over-emphasized: it’s the willingness to walk away from the clueless Wilpons.

                          - o -

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(Posted: 9/11/10)

 

How Baseball and Most of Us Feel About Our Wars

 

Raise your hand if, after hearing the reason, you reproach Luis Castillo for skipping the Mets’ visit to Walter Reed Army hospital the other day.  Castillo said he was squeamish about seeing soldiers who had lost their limbs “fight(ing) for us.”  What he could have added: the fact that the vets had suffered their severe injuries in a questionable cause made it even harder to visit them.

 

No major league baseball players have done what pro football’s Pat Tillman did – sign up to serve (and give his life) in Afghanistan.  MLB owners make a big thing of “God Bless America”/Support Our Troops ceremonies.  But, in general, baseball has reflected the attitudes of those of us who follow the Mideast wars from our safe distance:   We wish that bloodletting - and the men and women with broken bodies - would go away. Castillo’s less-than-stellar play for big bucks is dismaying, but for his squeamishness in this case, we don’t blame him a bit.

 

Coincidentally, this related message arrived from Mets legend Ron Swoboda in New Orleans: “(Here’s) a theory on sticking our military noses in faraway places...most recently in the Middle East.  ‘The visiting team always loses’."

                            

Post-Labor Day Lob from Left Field (3): We’ve been watching organized Labor lose here at home for more than a half-a-century.  Insufficiently noticed is what it has cost us in economic security and quality of life.  In France this week, Labor displayed its enduring clout, mobilizing millions to march as part of a day-long strike to protest against proposed cuts in social security.  Behind the strike - which paralyzed public transportation - was a principle, now virtually unknown here, of worker solidarity.  Nationale solidarite is a first principle of the French Code of Social Security.  It used to be an American union value - the sense that each should look out for the interests of all - when Labor was strong after World War II; strong enough to win contracts that, in Barack Obama’s words “spread the wealth around.”  And that strength gave us, as E.J. Dionne remembered in the Washington Post, A broad middle class with spending power to keep the economy moving,  creat(ing) a virtuous cycle of low joblessness and high wages...We miss labor's influence more than (we realize)." 

                             -     -     -

Shaky Investment: Fans hoping the Padres will make the playoffs for underdog-admiring reasons, need a reality-check.  It comes in the form of the Pods’ homestretch schedule.  The NL West leaders had 23 games remaining, as of their  meeting last night with the Giants.  Four of the six teams they’ll be playing - the Rockies, Cardinals and Reds as well as SF - are fighting for playoff berths, too.  After three more key Petco Park games with the second-place Giants, San Diego will play seven possibly decisive away games.  The opponents: the Rockies for the first three, and the Cardinals for a four-game series. Following those depleting tests, the Padres will return to California to play three with the Dodgers in LA.  Then, they’ll contest seven home-season-ending games with the Reds and Cubs.  Finally, if they’ve managed to play better-than-.500 ball up to that point, the team will finish with what well may be a do-or-die three-game series against the Giants at SF.  The Padres will need prayers as well as good pitching to pull off their miracle.

 

Unlike the Padres, the Reds, the NL’s other Cinderella team, have a favorable schedule on paper to help them to the finish line.  Five of the six teams Cincy will play in its last 21 games have sub-500 records.  Among the five, however, are the Houston Astros, who have been the NL’s winningest team since the All-Star break.  The Reds have six games left with the Astros, as well as the three in SD with the Padres.  Another Reds-advantage: the rival Cardinals have eight of their last 23 games with the Padres and Rockies and a makeup game away with the pesky Marlins to complicate their come-from-behind effort in the NL Central.

 

Question That Answers Itself: It is tempting,” says Chicago Trib’s Phil Rogers, “to see if Joe Girardi really wants to leave the Yankees to come home to the Midwest.  He has proven himself as a solid big-league manager and is in almost every way a safer bet than (Ryne)Sandberg.  But will he really leave the Yankees?”

                                - o -

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(Posted: 9/9/10)

 

Rangel, Derek and Retiring With ‘Dignity’

 

The careers of Charlie Rangel and Derek Jeter have reached differing but related crossroads.  Their playing time in Congress and with the Yankees is coming to an end.  How they are facing the dramatic professional change in their lives – in Jeter’s case, how he will face it – provides a field day for spectators of the two pastimes.

 

Rangel is 80, long past retirement age, except for political players who have swung with power in their day.  They’ll cling to vestiges of that power even if ethical lapses prompt teammates and, yes, his skipper to suggest it’s time to leave the game.  Rangel will let his long-time Harlem-district fans decide whether to keep him in the Congressional lineup and hope he performs in his field as well as White Sox super-veteran Omar Vizquel does in his.  Because none of Charlie’s primary opponents - with the possible exception of Times-endorsed Joyce Johnson - shows enough strength so far to overcome the status his longevity has conferred, Rangel will likely be swinging away for two more years.

 

Jeter, now an “old” shortstop of 36, has status going for himself, as well – the status of a living, playing baseball immortal.  He may no longer hit with the power he once had, or field with his range of a few years ago.  But the power of his presence in pinstripes accumulated during a consistently competitive decade and a half means he will be allowed to decide how long to stay where he is.  And at what mutually agreeable price.  The guess here is that an intervening injury in the next few years will make it possible for Derek to assume a lesser role; and to do it with the “dignity” Rangel is denying himself. 


State Senator Eric Schneiderman seems to be the front-runner in the contest to become NY AG.  But Assemblyman Richard Brodsky has earned the affection - and maybe even the votes - of many baseball fans.  It was Brodsky, virtually alone among pols, who challenged the hundreds of millions in public subsidies for the new Yankee Stadium.  And Brodsky said bluntly in a candidates debate what we all have known: “The Mets stink.”


Post-Labor Day Lob from Left Field (2): “
When unions represented over 33 percent of all private workers in the 1940s (instead of 7 percent now), they drove wage increases for everyone -- non-union firms had to compete for good workers.  Now, unions struggle just to defend their members' wages and benefits… Unions face constant attacks from corporations and conservatives. The most recent campaign -- designed as always to divide workers from one another -- assails the pay and particularly the pensions of public employees. Why should they have pensions, when many workers have lost theirs and get, at best, a retirement savings plan at work? In fact, in a civilized society, we would ask the reverse question. How do we create pensions -- beyond Social Security -- for workers across the economy…?- Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

                          -     -     -

Lucky Westerners: Oh, to live on the West Coast, watching from up-close the three-team division race involving the Padres, Giants and Rockies.  The Giants have the pitching, the Rockies the come-from-behind tradition, the Padres the impetus that being an underdog miracle team gives them.  All three, we know, are competing in a separate five-team race with the Phillies and Braves for the league wild card.  Is this fun, or what?


More on Derek:
As indicated here the other day, we see the most telling sign of Jeter’s apparent decline in the way he looks at the plate – a little less sure and comfortable than in previous years.  His occasional lunging at pitches out of the strike zone is particularly un-Jeter-like.  Derek is hitting .262 (five for his last 36), more than 50 points below his career BA and more than 70 points under what he batted last year.   He has grounded into more double plays - 20 - than any other Yankee or any other regular MLB shortstop.  On the other hand, Derek has made among the fewest errors - six - of regular MLB shortstops.

 

Coach Minaya:  Reports that the Mets have Omar Minaya flying coach in this lame-duck phase of the team’s season suggest that the GM may at last be on the way out.  Wholesale changes will surely be made, but we know nothing substantive will change until Fred Wilpon either sells the club or finds other work for the key exec out of his depth, son Jeff.  

 

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(Posted: 9/7/10)

 

‘Big Stick’ Offense Is No Longer Working

 

A hundred years ago this week, “big stick” became a Team USA rallying cry, thanks to a scrappy Dustin Pedroia-like assistant skipper named Teddy Roosevelt.  The idea then behind the strategy of going for the long ball in tight situations was this: our war-clubs would warn European teams away from trying to bring minor-league Latin American clubs into their farm systems.  The stance has remained a staple of the U.S. team’s performance through the seasons.  It worked through much of the last century as the Yanquis moved to insure that teams like Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, etc. stayed affiliated with them.

 

The string of big-stick military successes ended farther afield – in Vietnam - as the hit-and-run game proved effective against us.  That was years after baseball’s “murderer’s row” era gave way to the pitching/running “small ball” game dominated by the likes of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Davy Lopes, Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson.  Today, Al-Quaida and the Taliban are forcing Team USA to play military small ball.  The big stick can still be useful as a backdrop to peace talks – something Israeli Skipper Benjamin Netanyahu is suggesting as he meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.  But in day-to-day game action, it is guerrilla-like squeeze plays and stolen bases that win most often.

 

Baseball stats make the case clearly on that field.  Toronto is first in home runs and slugging, but 23d of 30 in overall offensive efficiency.  Well over 40 percent of the big-stick Blue Jays hits have gone for extra bases.  AL Central-leading Minnesota, which finished first in batting efficiency, did it making do with singles; more than 70 percent of all their hits have been for one base.  The Jays have managed to play better-than-.500 ball in a tough division.  Their top HR-hitting counterpart in the NL, the D-backs, are last in their division and have the league’s next-to-worst W-L record.

 

Teddy Roosevelt’s call for Team USA to “speak softly” but maintain “a pitch of the highest” military preparedness has been honored to excess for some fans in left field.  Activists organized by United for Peace and Justice are planning a march on Washington October 2 to dramatize demands to put away the big stick: stop war-making and cut military spending.  The UFPJ team can be reached at www.unitedforpeace.org

                          

Post-Labor Day Lob from Left Field: “I look forward to a Labor Day where every worker has a job, every worker has a pension, every worker has paid vacations, and every worker has the health care to enjoy life.   My opponents call that France. I call it America, an America (we can be proud of).” – Rep. Alan Grayson, D, FL.

                           -     -     -

What We Know after the Labor Day weekend:  The NL West is now a three-team race; it looks as though the Padres will be hard put to stave off the Giants, and both may be overrun by the Rockies.  The Reds may be letting the Cardinals – now six games behind - back into NL Central contention.  The Braves and Phillies both must turn it on in the NL East or risk having one of them go home as   the wild card falls to a West team.  The White Sox have made clear they’re ready to stay mano-a-mano with the Twins in the AL Central.  The Rangers and Rays look playoff-safe despite tailspins, but they have begun causing their fans Agita.

 

The Showalter Factor: Although Buck Showalter's late-season leadership has given a shot in the arm to Baltimore (as well as all of baseball), he likely represents bad news to managers of underachieving teams.  The chances of skippers like Jerry Manuel, Ken Macha and Cito Gaston being re-signed for 2011 have to be considered slim; after all, owners are surely thinking their present managers couldn't do for the Mets, Brewers and Blue Jays, respectively, what Showalter did for the Orioles - overseeing the winning 20 of 34 games since early last month.  Let’s find someone else, preferably with Buck-like credentials.

 

Caveat: A part-owner of the Brewers told us over the weekend he doubted that Macha would be let go, despite the team's disappointing season. "The front office doesn't blame Macha for how the players he was given performed," said the official, not himself a decision-maker.    

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(Posted: 9/2/10)

 

Here’s to the Losers in both Pastimes

 

The start of baseball’s September stretch: what could be better?  A dozen teams still in playoff contention   Crucial series galore on tap.  Of course, 18 teams are on the sidelines, the role of possible spoilers all that’s left.  The Mets played their last meaningful game on August 1 (when the downtrodden D-backs beat them, 14-1).  The Tigers became de-clawed at about the same time.

 

The Democratic donkeys have been hurting all summer. But their stats are worse now in the electoral late innings.  The most recent Gallup Poll of fan preferences in the Congressional league shows Team GOP with a 51-41 (pct.) lead over the Dems.  The record book says that’s the largest such club-vs-club margin in Gallup’s scoring history.


Those figures could change after Skipper Obama’s Iraq pitch is factored in to the polling. But for the moment recriminations are rife in the political field as well as in baseball.   Salon’s lefty fireballer Glenn Greenwald, in a head-hunting mode, low-bridged both the opposition and his own party with this nasty pitch:


“There are few more bitter ironies than watching the Republican Party -- controlled at its core by the very business interests responsible for the country's vast and growing inequality; responsible for massive transfers of wealth to the richest; and which presided over and enabled the economic collapse -- now become the beneficiaries of middle-class and lower-middle-class economic insecurity.  But the Democratic Party's failure/refusal/inability to be anything other than the Party of Tim Geithner -- continuing America's endless, draining Wars while plotting to cut Social Security, one of the few remaining guarantors of a humane standard of living -- renders them unable to offer answers to angry, anxious, resentful Americans. 


“As has happened countless times in countless places, those answers are now being provided instead by a group of self-serving, hateful extremist leaders eager to exploit that anger for their own twisted financial and political ends.  And it seems to be working…(thanks to a) potent mix of economic oppression and the aggressive fanning of racial and ethnic resentments.”

Greenwald’s lineup-card of anti-Dem complaints suggests the obvious - why the left has not rallied around Team Obama to reverse the pro-GOP polling trend.


Taking a gentler approach, Globe clutch hitter Dan Shaughnessy choked up on the rhetorical bat handle as he swung out in frustration with the 2010 Red Sox:: ”It’s disappointing because postseason baseball has been an autumn staple here since 2003.  The Sox have qualified for the tournament in six of the last seven seasons. They have spoiled us.  But the lost weekend in St. Petersburg crystallized what has been obvious to the rest of the baseball world since the injuries started piling up in July.


“The Yankees and Rays are on 99-win paces. They are in a great race and have no reason to let up.  Boston’s quixotic quest to get into the race has been a figment of our imaginations….The 2010 season is over.  You can have some fun booing new White Sox designated hitter Manny Ramirez this weekend… but we can finally stop torturing ourselves about the summer of heat and hurt when the Red Sox never really had a chance.”

                             -     -     -

Snap Quiz: What is the tell-tale, talent-gauging stat that identifies a playoff-caliber team?  A – Minimal length of losing streak(s).  On that basis, the Yankees, the lone team in either league to have avoided losing more than three in a row, are the clearest sure bet to make the post-season. 


The Cardinals, 4-13, since mid-August (including a third-straight loss Wednesday to the Astros) , and the Padres, losers of six straight before Wednesday, are clouding the field of NL contenders in a negative way.  The complaint in St.Louis is similar to the one voiced about the Mets – insufficient farm-system reinforcements at crunch-time.  The concern in San Diego is that the CW about the Padres was right – they were playing over their head and due to come back to earth.  It could be happening just as the homestretch starts.


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August 2010 Archive


(Posted: 8/31/10)

 

 An Opening for Cuba and a Reds Closer

    

Of all contending teams hoping to add a difference-maker when rosters expand tomorrow, the Cincinnati Reds have most reason to be optimistic.  They will add Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman, who spent the season at Triple-A Louisville, learning to control his 105-mph fastball.

 

There's hopeful Cuba-related news in the political field, too. Team USA is preparing to ease travel restrictions to Cuba, spurring talk of a baseball free-trade agreement.  It would permit players like Chapman to come to the U.S. with Havana's blessing and permit them to return home, no longer considered exiles.

 

Cuba's illegal emigres love the material advantages of life in the states - especially if they are well-paid ballplayers - but, understandably, they miss their families, their cultural roots. Chapman, like all the exiles, is averse to talking Cuban-American politics; his closer-like stats speak the baseball language he prefers: 125 strikeouts in 95 innings (52 walks), 9-6 W-L, 3.57 ERA.  Oh, yes, and a BA of .400 (four for 10).

 

It is understandable, too, that our view of Cuba has been shaped by the years of bad publicity heaped on Team Castro. But, particularly in light of the health care debate underway here, the comments of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder are worth recalling.  Kidder visited Cuba with now-UN health specialist, Dr.Paul Farmer, "the (American) who would cure the world," for his book about Farmer "Mountains Beyond Mountains":

 

"Cuba had pulled off something difficult...first-rate public health, equally distributed, in spite of severely limited resources.  I just wondered what price in political freedom its people paid for the achievement.  But I understood that Farmer would frame the question differently, and ask what price most people would be willing to pay for freedom from illness and premature death."   

 

It’s a question that pertains to the plight of poor people – whether benched in places like Cuba, Venezuela, or in many parts of the U.S. - and therefore, we know, seldom allowed to come to bat in our media bailiwick.

                    -     -     -

What We Know after the weekend: 
A Braves/Phils, Yanks/Rays division/wild card tandem looks increasingly likely.  The Braves scored their 40th come-from-behind and 23d ninth-inning victory in beating the Marlins, 7-6, Sunday.  That kind of resiliency reinforces the sureness of their making the playoffs.  The Phillies swept the Padres to bounce back from being swept by the Astros.  And the defending champs have the two Roys -  Halladay and Oswalt – to lead them to the post-season kingdom.  In losing their fourth straight for the first time, the Padres may at last be showing the vulnerability expected of them by skeptics.  The Rockies could overtake the runner-up Giants with a sweep of their current three-game series.  The Pads are hoping neither team sweeps, giving them space to regroup.

 

“It’s a big game for…” is an overused cliché.  But when ESPN’s Joe Morgan said it Sunday night about the importance of the Red Sox-Rays game to the Sox, the cliché connected.  The Sox went six-and-a-half back in both the division and wild card, and what is that phrase in “September Song,” about the “days dwindl(ing) down”?  The coming of Manny Ramirez may give the White Sox a shot at overtaking the Twins.  It’s a long one, though, dependent on Manny getting hot.  While the Rangers play three with KC, Oakland knows it must do no worse than split four with the Yankees if the distant second-place A’s are to cling to AL West contention.  The Reds, in a strong position vis-à-vis the stumbling Cardinals, hope Chapman will step up and add to their edge.       

 

The New Manny Watch:  Chicago Trib’s Phil Rogers has advice for fans and goes behind the White Sox decision to add Manny Ramirez (scheduled to play with his new team Tuesday night in Cleveland):


The Sox are rolling the dice that Ramirez will turn into a stone killer playing for his contract, as he did after the Red Sox traded him to the Dodgers two years ago.  He put on a show in 2008 but otherwise hasn't had more than 13 RBIs in September since 2005.   Don't worry too much about Ramirez's dreadlocks and what he does or doesn't do in the clubhouse.  He has historically been a non-factor off the field — although, sure, it would be nice if he kept his uniform on until the end of games, something he might not have always done in Los Angeles.

“Here's the snap.  Go deep.  The Sox are so desperate, they're calling the hail-Manny play.”

                           - o -

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(Posted: 8/27-28/10)

 

A Down Year for the Angels, etc. and Team USA in Education League

 

It’s been a disappointing year for the Angels, Brewers, Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners, Marlins, (even the) Mets, and Tigers – all of whom hoped to be in playoff contention now.  Baseball as a whole has taken a hit, too.  But it is Team USA, competing in the world education league, that has tumbled in most dramatic fashion.

 

The MLB standings attest to the also-ran status of the eight clubs listed above.  And polls identifying America’s most popular spectator and participant sports have baseball finishing second to football in one, and second to basketball in the other.  Globally, an overriding blow to national pride can be found in the educational attainment standings:  Team USA, once number one among 36 developed nations, is now 12th.  Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan and New Zealand comprise the top five of the rankings – based on percentage of college degrees among the 25-34 age group.    

 

World education’s official scorers note that the double-play pitfall of soaring low-income student dropout rates and ever-higher college costs helped knock the U.S. team far out of first in their attainment league.  Baseball has been unwilling or unable to match pro football in areas of, among others, team parity and use of technology; thus the fall to second place as a watched sport.  But, based on numbers of blacktop/sandlot players, baseball finishes second to football’s fourth, and just behind basketball in participation rankings.   

 

Disproportionate team earnings, we know, make for baseball’s economic (and competitive) inequality, a main source of fan discouragement.  Lack of a sufficient spread of money - for scholarships and such programs as dropout-prevention - is also at the base of Team USA’s educational losing streak.  Socialism anybody?

                           -     -     -

It was a social midweek for contending teams, no one getting too uppity: the standings going into Friday’s games remaining much the way they were after the weekend. 

 

Rundown:  The Yankees did fall into a tie with the Rays, losing two of three to Toronto while Tampa Bay took two of three from the Angels.  The Braves lost three to the Rockies, but still moved a half game up (to three) on the Phillies, who lost four to the upstart Astros.  The White Sox, winners of two of three from the Orioles, picked up a game-and-a-half on the Twins, who lost three of four to the Rangers.  Minnesota’s lead in the AL Central is now three-and-a-half games.  Cincinnati lost of two of three to the Giants but still gained a half-game on the Cardinals, who lost two of three to the Pirates and another to the Nats. The Reds lead the Cards in the NL Central by four games.  The Rangers added a game-and-a-half and a half-game to their margins over the Angels and Athletics.  Texas leads Oakland by eight-and-a-half games.  The Padres started the week six games ahead of the Giants, which is where they are late Friday afternoon.  Everybody up to date?

 

Bull Durham Redux: On MLB-TV Thursday night, color-man John Smoltz spotted the Twins’ Denard Span talking to himself in the batter’s box.  “He’s telling himself to expect a fastball,” said Smoltz.  Sure enough, a close-up showed Span’s lips moving on each pitch, obviously prompting himself on what to wait for.  The system worked: Span went two-for-five.  As for Smoltz, he batted a thousand as a commentator.

 

                           - o -

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(Posted: 8/25-26/10)

 

Underhanded Play on the Political Field, and in Baseball, Too

 

Snap quiz:  How does the latest inning of the WikiLeaks-Pentagon contest connect to baseball’s “shot heard round the world’?  Answer:  The connection is deceit, something we’ve come to expect in politics, but, now, thanks to a book about Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run in 1951, we know existed in baseball long before the recent steroids scandal. 

 

The record book shows that late last month WikiLeaks posted thousands of secret Pentagon documents on the internet, many of them exposing lies about Team USA’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan.  The Defense Department accused the WL team skipper, Australian Julian Assange, of endangering American lives. He was wrongly charged with rape in Sweden this week - the charge was withdrawn – and he said he suspected Pentagon “dirty tricks” at work. 

 

The record book also shows that this is what John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the day of the WL postings: "However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Those policies are at a critical stage, and these documents may very well underscore the (urgency)…needed to get the policy right.”

Kerry changed signals a couple of days later, presumably after hearing from the Pentagon, which was found to have covered up widespread U.S. killings of Afghan civilians.  Given the DOD’s credibility problem, it is hard not to be rooting for the continued success of Assange and his team.

On the possibility of Team USA filing criminal charges against the WL team, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is dismissive: “The insistence that WikiLeaks editors are ‘criminal’ by virtue of their disobedience of Pentagon secrecy orders -- even though they're not American citizens and are not physically present in the U.S. -- appears driven by the belief that the U.S. Government has the right to extend its authority to the entire world… (In other words,) anyone who defies the Pentagon is a criminal: (that is) warped beyond belief.”

 
Although comparatively trivial, the confirmation in Joshua Prager’s “The Echoing Green” that the NY Giants used a centerfield telescope to steal signals at the Polo Grounds over the last 10 weeks of the ’51 season, is a crusher to Brooklyn Dodger fans of that era.  Without admitting he knew what Ralph Branca would throw, Thomson said to his questioner: “I don’t like to think of something taking away from (my hit).” Despite the evidence of his team’s deceit, all but diehard old Dodger fans will give Bobby, who died last week, the benefit of the doubt.
                             
  -     -     -

“Sighs-ing” Up Sox Pitching:  The Red Sox could sigh with relief Wednesday when they got six good innings from struggling Josh Beckett.  White Sox sighs are anxious: key relievers Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz are newly on the DL when most needed.  Staff health and performance will determine if either contending Sox team makes the playoffs.

No More Manny in the Offing?  Respected Orange County (CA) Register columnist Mark Whicker sees this as Manny Ramirez’s last season.  He doubts any team will want mercurial, much-injured Manny in 2011.  (Whicker doesn’t realize how desperate at least one East Coast team can be.)

What Hitting Coach Change in Houston Has Meant: It's been tremendous getting to work with Jeff Bagwell.  He has such a presence.  Everyone listens to him intently.  He's brought some swagger back to the Astros.  He works tirelessly on my swing, and perhaps best of all is his preparation.  What I've learned from him is how to prepare against each pitcher to try to know what pitch I want to hit.  Hitting is all about getting a good pitch to hit and doing something with it, and Baggy has taught me a ton in a short period of time."  (Rookie Chris Johnson to MLB-TV’s Peter Gammons.)

Wait Your Turn: We like to think Timesman William Rhoden is a baseball fan, who resents pro football excess – and media exposure – in August.  Why? Because he wrote this: “The NFL perpetrates (an) annual fraud…against the American public…to make the league a multibillion-dollar enterprise….(It)is preseason football, those empty, glamorized scrimmages that teams force on season-ticket holders as parts of the regular-season package.”    

                              - o -

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(Posted: 8/23-24/10)

 

On Risky Investments in Baseball and War

 

“It’s always difficult when the high-priced players don’t live up to their contracts,’’ (said a NL exec to the Globe's Nick Cafardo).  And in politics, we know how hard it is to acknowledge that high-priced strategic plays have ended badly.  We had an example of that last week.

 

First, a quick look at a few of the pricey players who haven't matched what teams saw as their potential.  Jayson Bay ($8.625 million/BA .259, HR 6) is the major new example in Mets-land, where Luis Castillo $6.25 mil/.238) and, especially, Oliver Perez ($12 mil/0-4, ERA 6.70) are familiar sad stories.  Elsewhere, Chone Figgins ($8.5 mil/.247) has been a huge disappointment to the Mariners, and the Astros had no problem letting their veteran slugger Lance Berkman ($7.5 mil/.245, HR 13) go.  Aaron Rowand ($13.6 mil/.239) brought his glove but not his bat to SF this season, and Kevin Millwood ($12 mil/2-14) misplaced his usual number of wins when he moved to the Orioles. Yankee fans know it took Curtis Granderson ($5.5 mil/.246, HR 13) until mid-August to start contributing to his new team. 

 

Team USA tried to put a tough-job-well-done face on the partial troop pull-out in Iraq last week.  But Robert Fisk, scouting for the UK Independent in Iraq much of the last seven years, produced a scorecard that tells it as it was: 

 

“The millions of American soldiers who  passed through Iraq have brought the Iraqis a plague.  From Afghanistan…they brought the infection of al-Qa'ida.  They brought the disease of civil war.  They injected Iraq with corruption on a grand scale.  They stamped the seal of torture on Abu Ghraib - a worthy successor to the same prison under Saddam's vile rule…

 

“Iraq(‘s)…suicide bombers…turned America's soldiers from men who fight to men who hide.  Anyway, they are busy re-writing the narrative now.  Up to a million Iraqis are dead.  (Tony) Blair cares nothing about them…Nor do most of the American soldiers. They came.  They saw.  They lost.  And now they say they've won.  How the Arabs, surviving on six hours of electricity a day in their bleak country, must be hoping for no more victories like this one.”

                           -     -     -

What We Know after the weekend:  Three of eight playoff-bound teams are sure things a month and a week before the regular season ends: the Yanks, Braves and Phillies.  The Rangers are in the almost-sure category.  Mike Scioscia and the Angels are not quite ready to be counted out.  The Rays and Red Sox are either/or sure (and won’t it be fun to watch them duke it out, and sad when one is eliminated?)

 

Vin Scully, doing Reds-Dodgers Sunday, said Joey Votto “may well be the National League’s most valuable player.”  Accolades don’t come much higher.

 

Joe Girardi foresaw Robinson Cano’s bright future while doing Yankees color on YES two years ago: “He’s a little unfocused now, but that should change.”  Cano gets our vote for team MVP (at least).

 

Laugh of the Week: The suggestion that Joe Torre could be lured to manage the Mets next season.  Mrs. Torre didn’t raise son Joey to mix with jerks.  

                             - o -

 

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(8/20-21/10)

 

Obama and Jeter: Not So Clutch Anymore

 

A few days after Skipper Obama backed away from his strong stance on the Lower Manhattan mosque, Derek Jeter fidgeted in the Stadium batter’s box with the game against Detroit on the line.  He hit into a bases-loaded, game-ending double play.  But that was less telling than Derek’s lunging across the plate and fouling off what would have been ball four.  The sureness, so characteristic of the skipper and Jeter, was gone in both at-bats. 

 

Obama, we remember, said a week ago that, as Americans enjoying freedom of religion, Muslims had a right to go ahead with their building plan.  He stepped up in the clutch and hit a rhetorical home run.  But then, unaccountably, the skipper didn’t round the bases. Instead, he asked for time to explain what he had been aiming for – to support a people’s right to freedom of religion, “not (to) comment on the wisdom of…(where) to put (the) mosque.”      

 

Jeter, now 36, can be forgiven for looking less relaxed at the plate than in previous years.  His flair for almost-automatic clutch hits couldn’t last forever.  But his fans expect Obama, only in his sophomore season, to come through when the concept of fairness needs to be driven home.  One of them, CUNY’s Peter Beinart, recalls Barack, the presidential candidate, two years ago:

 

He promised that if he won, Democrats would no longer consult polls to decide what they believed…he (would do) what he thought was right…His initial statement in support of the mosque was laudable; his subsequent efforts to deny that that’s what he meant have been pathetic. Yes, the polling is bad; standing up for a religious minority being made to feel like a pariah…might cost Obama a few approval points.  So what.  Core convictions are worth losing approval points over.  At least that’s what Obama (used to) believe…”

 

Obama has Harry Reid, Anthony Weiner and Howard Dean, among other Dems, on his hit-with-the-wind team.  On the other side of the field, Mike Bloomberg has, in comparison, seldom looked so good.

                       -     -     -

Although Jeter’s BA has fallen off drastically – from .334 in 2009 to .276 so far this season – he owns a good statistical year otherwise.  He has already driven in 55 runs in 118 games; last year his RBI total was only 66 in 153 games.  His  range may have inevitably narrowed, but Derek has made the fewest errors – five – of any regular shortstop in either league.  A tell-tale negative stat: he has hit into the highest number of double plays - 17 - of any AL player at his position.  Jeter shares that unwanted distinction with Juan Uribe of the Giants.

                     

19-28-16:  Those Josh Beckett numbers - 19 runs, 28 hits in his last 16 innings (over three games) - are ominous for the Red Sox as they try not to be the odd team out in the AL East.  It’s hard not to wallow in regret that all three mega-talented contenders in that division, the Sox, Yanks and Rays, can’t qualify for the playoffs.

 

Not a Pretty Picture:  “Two dead teams” is how the Daily News’ Andy Martino described the Mets and Astros, playing toward “a slow conclusion” the other night.  On Yes Thursday afternoon, Paul O’Neill said players on teams out of contention this time of year “don’t look forward to going to the ballpark.”  And when they get there, “It becomes a personal, not a team thing: ‘How are my numbers going to look at the end of the season, how much money will I be worth at contract-time’?”  The exception, said O’Neill, is when an out-of-contention club has a series with a team like the Yankees: “You perk up when the games count.”  How has the Mets’ offense “perked” since the All Star break? A team BA of .211.                     

                       - o -

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(Posted: 8/19/10)

 

Yankees and Right-Wing Political Team Taking No Chances

 

Two strong, well-heeled teams, heading toward the homestretch of their baseball and political seasons, are taking no chances.  Both the Yankees and the political squad playing for Team GOP are consensus favorites in their races.  Yet, both are involved in a late surge of spending to try to guarantee success. 

 

The Yankees, we know, just added a few million to their more than $200 million payroll by dealing for Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns and Kerry Wood. The Yanks call the trio reinforcements; opponents cry overkill.   Team GOP considers a late financial rally staged by supporting players cautionary; the Dem team fears the rally will deal a death-blow to its chances of retaining control of Congress.

 

The hit-to-right club was permitted to swing in support of the GOPers by the  Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United case.  It gave corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts to elect or defeat anyone they want.  The GOP pinch-hitters will unleash their media-driven offensive against the Dem team next week.  This LA Times report of what’s in store does little to reassure the Dems:


“A conservative advocacy group Monday will kick off a huge ad campaign in 11 states and two dozen of the most competitive congressional races, slamming ’wasteful federal spending’.  The (script of the) $4.1-million ad buy from the Americans for Prosperity Foundation attacks Washington policies, describing the economic stimulus program as a failure and declaring that ‘wasteful spending must stop’.  The ads -- part of a midterm election likely to be the most expensive on record -- will run in 27 media markets through August. Democrats hold all but one of the 24 House seats in question, including 17 incumbents seeking reelection.”


The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen notes that viewers won’t know where the ads are coming from or whether their pitches have merit.  But they willl be noticed, he says, and are surely “going to affect public opinion.”  Benen adds that there will be many more of these anti-Dem ads over the next two-and-a-half months, “with business interests gearing up to crush as many Democratic candidates as possible.”

Thus, the aftermath of the  Citizens United outcome could begin tilting elections to the right as early as the next few weeks.                             

                                  -     -     -

2-2-2 and 3-2-1:  Those are the number of first-place competitors, division by division, as the regular season moves into its last month-and-a-half.  In the NL, it’s Braves/Phils in the East, Reds/Cards in the Central, Padres/Giants in the West. Yanks, Rays and Red Sox are the threesome in the AL East; Twins and White Sox are left in the Central, and only the Rangers in the West.  If asked to pick one other team in either league with a chance to creep back into contention, we’d take Colorado on the basis of the Rockies’ late-comeback history.

 

Then again, the Rangers, losers of three straight to the Rays, are showing signs of vulnerability that could let the Angels back into the AL West race. The other night on MLB-TV, Mitch Williams picked apart the team’s defensive play as Texas gave up a two-run lead in a 6-4 loss to the Rays.  Williams singled out center fielder Julio Borbon for vainly trying for a shoestring catch that turned a single into a run-scoring extra-base hit.  He noted, too, that on another key play, shortstop Elvis Andrus lunged for a ground ball that eluded him, then lay where he landed.  “He should have gotten up and covered second base,” said Williams.  The message to manager Ron Washington: get your fielding coaches to work.

 

Concussion Repercussions: Justin Morneau has been lost to the Twins since July 7, when he suffered a concussion while making contact on a slide into second base.  He isn’t expected back until next month, leaving a big hole in Minnesota’s offense.  Jason Bay experienced a delayed concussion after colliding with an outfield wall on July 23.  Bay is unlikely to return to the Mets before Morneau resumes playing for the Twins; Bay’s absence, however, has meant little to a team going nowhere.  Both cases highlight how cautiously that particular injury is being treated by MLB.  Here is how Jeff Passan put it on Yahoo Sports: “After years of neglect due to ignorance, professional sports organizations are beginning to recognize that concussions – in simple terms, the brain rattling against the skull; more technically, the premature death of brain cells from trauma – are not only a threat to players’  health but the sports themselves.”

 .

The success of the Morneau-less Twins up to now attests both to the depth of the Minnesota organization and the resourcefulness of manager Ron Gardenhire. And, oh, yes, the determined play of a spirited team. 

                               - o -

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(Posted: 8/17/10)

 

The ‘Selfish Game’ in the Minors and in America

 

The words of Giants' rookie catcher Buster Posey and the 75th anniversary of Social Security coincided last week.  For that reason, Posey's pitch resonated more than it might have.  Posey spoke to Timesman Tyler Kepner about his career up the baseball ladder: "(In college)," he said, "everybody had one common goal, and that was to win. You get into the minor leagues, and whether it’s right or wrong, it’s a selfish game.  Everybody’s trying to get (to the majors).  It’s nice to be here now and feel like it’s back to the way it should be.”

 

For fans who came of age around mid-century, the sense of people as a team was "the way it should be."  That feeling was fed not only by Social Security - a sign that government cared about the elderly - but also by the "we're-all-in-this-together" spirit rallied by World War Two.  The guns-and-butter double play hit into by government at the time of the Great Society and Vietnam cleared the field for shifting-to-right reforms and the comparatively "selfish game" we see today: lots of chatter about “freedom”. "markets", "tax cuts" and "deficits"; all that, and little patience for support of the safety net put in place when Team USA had a common goal.

 

Some years before 9/11, a French president predicted that Americans would soon change their stance and emulate Europe's embrace of what he called "social cohesion" - public programs and services (and yes, sizable taxes) helping to bring people together.  We know we've swung the other way since then; and, in the eyes of many, Team USA is playing itself back into the minor leagues.

                     -     -     -

The Baltimore Orioles were playing like minor leaguers until Buck Showalter took over two weeks ago.  The O’s have won nine of 13 games over that span.  What’s Showalter’s secret?  Pitcher Jeremy Guthrie blows Buck’s cover: He hasn’t done anything…different to make us win games, but we know what he expects.”

 

What We Know after the weekend:  Twins, Padres and Reds composed the three top stories with a combined eight key victories out of nine.  The Twins’ sweep of Oakland was important because the White Sox were dropping two of three at home against the Tigers amid signs Ozzie Guillen’s bullpen is worn down.  The Padres made credible their intention to stick around in the NL West by taking two of three from the Giants.  They’ve won seven of nine games with second-place SF so far this season.  The Reds’ sweep of the Marlins was a message to the Cardinals: we have the resilience to stay with you all the way.

 

The opposite of home-team resilience was on display at Citi Field this week.  A Philadelphia-native Nubbite who attended the Saturday night game sent this report of what he saw:  One could understand the lack of hitting against someone of (Roy) Halladay's caliber (and Halladay was in very good form) but the lack of defense speaks of something much deeper problems with the entire (Mets) organization.  It seems that no one can keep…focus(ed for a full nine innings…

 

“The stadium was not full.  Phillies fans seemed in the majority, with red-clad boosters overwhelming some sections.  On the walk down the left field ramp after the game, there were hordes of Phillies fans and a smattering of seemingly out of place, dejected Mets fans who could not counter the boisterous cheering of the fans from Philly.  Too bad.  The Mets are a sorry lot.  No spark.  No life.  No consistency.”

 

The Mets managed a total of two runs in 27 innings over the weekend (2.8 per game since the All-Star break).  Bob Klapisch of the (Bergen,NJ) Record suggested last week that Jeff Wilpon relieve Omar Minaya as GM and make him a super-scout.  The boss’s son could do something similar with his buddy Howard Johnson, who never should have been hitting coach in the first place.

                              - o -

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(Posted: 8/13-14/10)

 

Missing: Baseball Fans and Political Sense in Florida

 

“What’s the Matter With Kansas?” the political question posed in the 2004 book by author Thomas Frank, has a baseball-related equivalent - “What’s the Matter with Florida?” – in the late summer of 2010.   Frank’s progressive pitch was that GOP- leaning Kansans logically should be hitting left, not right, to advance their economic interests.  The similar baseball argument is that Marlins and, especially, Rays fans should be filling the local ballparks in an effort to advance the fortunes of their competitive teams. 

 

Despite Frank’s effective populist delivery, Kansas gave John McCain a 57-41 margin over Barack Obama in 2008.  (In 2004, George Bush beat John Kerry, 62-37.)  The Marlins share the bottom of MLB attendance with Cleveland, averaging

17,875 fans a game compared to the Indians’ 17,637.  The Rays, with a 22,617 average, are in the bottom third in attendance while trying to compete with the Yankees, 46,358, and the Red Sox, 37,625.

 

Those stat sheets tell Democrats that something is clearly wrong in working-class Kansas and suggest to baseball fans that Florida has skewed its priorities. More time at the ballpark(s) might have cleared Floridians’ heads and kept them from making such bad judgments as: playing and losing the sub-prime mortgage game in record numbers, and allowing the state’s lawmakers to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons.

 

Florida’s most alarming bad decision, though, is a recent one: the state’s front office has raised tuition 15 percent at public colleges after a 17-percent hike the previous year.  That’s a 32-percent increase over two years.   Michael Tomasky swung hard against the move in the UK Guardian: It's just impossible to think that squeezing…thousands (of students) out of a college education (which is to say, out of a lifetime of advancement, taxpaying, making contributions to society etc.) is a good idea. And yet, the few hundred people who are charged with the making of public policy in Florida, from Charlie Crist on down, just did it.

 

Consensus poll results show that Crist, for all his shaky stances as governor, is a shoo-in to win the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Mel Martinez.   Crist is running as an independent.

                             -     -     -

How fans in the Tampa-St.Pete area can resist flocking to Rays games is a continuing mystery.  The team has been slowed by injuries to first baseman Carlos Pena, and pitchers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, but David Price, Matt Garza and James Shields head a still-solid rotation.  Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford are two near-super-stars among position players.  Going into the weekend. the Rays were wild-card leaders by four games and two behind the Yankees.  The Marlins are long shots to get back into the NL East mix, but they are traditionally fast finishers.  And they have the best ERA pitcher in the majors in Josh Johnson (1.97), an All-Star shortstop in Hanley Ramirez, and a slugging rookie in Mike Stanton, who has hit 12 HRs in 53 games, nine of them since July 6th.   

 

Who will it be, the Braves or the Phillies in the NL East?  The season-ending injury to Chipper Jones this week tilts the advantage to the Phillies.  That’s especially true since the Phils expect Chase Utley back by early next month. Whichever way it goes, chances are the division runner-up will be the wild card.  Only the Giants, a game ahead in that race, stand in the way, as of now.

 

In Friday’s Daily News, SNY’s Bobby Ojeda (quoted by Bob Raissman) all but said the Mets should fire Jerry Manuel now: “If you don’t make (the change), you accept that bad things are going to happen.”   But we know bad things have already happened to the hitting-challenged Mets…and batting coach Howard Johnson still survives.

 

Support the Safety Net: The Rays, Marlins, Rangers and Padres (in that order) were in the bottom (20-30) echelon of 2010 team payrolls.  Fans whose favorite teams are out of contention and who appreciate clubs that do more with less, have an obvious one to support: the Padres.  San Diego had the majors’ next-to-lowest opening-day payroll - $37.7 million (compared to the Pirates’ $34.9 million). The Rangers were at $55.2 before their mid-season acquisitions, including Cliff Lee.

                              -     -     -

Mailbag:  Your mention of political ‘high, hard ones’ last time failed to note that politicians tend to resort to low pitches that break left or right – almost never down the middle.  – R. Ohlhausen, Manhattan

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(Posted: 8/12/10)

 

Players, Politicians and Avoidance of ‘the High, Hard One’

 

On a crucial, bases-loaded at-bat against Daniel Bard the other afternoon, Derek Jeter swung at a 0-and-2 fastball at the shoulders.  It was an un-Jeter-like moment, because the Yankee captain didn’t have a chance: Bard, the Red Sox’s closer-in-waiting, was throwing 98-miles-an-hour.

 

There is growing sentiment, especially among pitchers, that a high fastball down the middle, now an automatic ball, should be called a strike.  The pitch would be a little lower than the one Jeter swung at.  The revised strike zone proposed would run from “just below the shoulders to just above the knees,” what it was until 1988, when the zone dipped with baseball’s blessing.  Now supporters of the change say it would respond to baseball’s desire to speed up the game (through fewer walks) and make the crowd-pleasing “high, hard one” an exciting feature of the game.

 

Batters resist the idea of the zone change the way nearly all Americans object to suggestions that they face the political high, hard one: more taxes.  Yet, with reports of streetlights turned off, roads returned to gravel and school programs cut, it is clear the country is taking a punishing hit from the lack of public money.


“We’re told that we have no choice,”
says Timesman Paul Krugman, “that basic government functions – essential services…provided for generations – are no longer affordable…But (we) wouldn’t be quite as cash-strapped if…politicians were willing to consider at least some tax increases.”

 

Krugman says Republicans and “centrist” Democrats have led a campaign to reduce the deficit through reduced spending, while at the same time fighting against new taxes and for preservation of tax cuts for the rich.  The “campaign has always been phrased in opposition to waste and fraud,” he notes. “But those were myths…And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing (the disappearance of) services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or no one else will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.”

 

The question the current crisis poses: how long can we keep ducking away from the high, hard one?   

                            -     -     -

ESPN’s Orel Hersheiser, a leader of the high-strike rally, gave viewers an illustrated lesson in how pitchers like he once was carve up home plate in their mind’s eye.  The plate is 17 inches wide,” he said, “we make it 18 inches to simplify things.  There’s six inches on either side, six inches down the middle.  The middle belongs to the batter, the sides belong to us.”  As to how most pitchers try to get an out, Hersheiser said it depends on three things: his command, the situation, and who is swinging the bat.


Making a Statement:
The Cardinals began a three-game series at Cincinnati Monday, two games behind the Reds.  It was a chance for Cincy to show who’s boss in the NL Central.  Instead, the Cards swept into first by a game, winning by decisive 7-3, 8-4, 6-1 scores. 


Wash Post-man Tom Boswell, after Nats’ phenom Stephen Strasburg got hammered by the Marlins in his return from the DL: “For six months, Strasburg has fulfilled every Nationals dream - and more.  But his last two nights at Nationals Park have introduced the sport's two nightmares - arm problems and early-career wear-and-tear - to our drama.”


Stat
City
snap quiz:  One player in each league is in the top five in BA, HR and RBIs.  Who are they?  A - Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; Andrew Pujols, Cardinals.  A Met leads both leagues in one fielding category.  Who is he and what is the category?  A - Jeff Francoeur, with nine outfield assists. 

                           - o -

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(Posted: 8/10/10)

 

Once-Popular Political Exuberance Lives Anew in Baseball

 

The days of irrational exuberance have come and gone on Wall Street and in Democratic politics, but the feeling endures in baseball.  Baltimore may be only a long outfield throw from the White House, but Orioles fans are behaving much as did onetime supporters of the skipper in Washington, DC.

 

Many of us remember the dreams of Hope and Change fostered by Team Obama  in 2008.   New manager Buck Showalter is the reason for such dreams now in Baltimore.  “The O's started playing better the moment Showalter put on the uniform, writes Sun columnist Peter Schmuck, “and no one in the clubhouse calls it a coincidence. .. He appears to have dug something out of this team that his immediate predecessors could not — a heightened sense of self-esteem.”

 

The O’s won the first five of six games under Showalter (three against the defending AL West champion Angels), much as did the O-team in the 2008 primaries.  The record book shows that Showalter, like Obama, had - has - a shiny career: his Yankees team had the best record in baseball when the players strike ended the 1994 season; a year after he left the Yankees and then the D-backs, those teams, molded by him, went to the World Series.  He was voted manager of the year in Texas.  But the book also says Showalter believed strongly that he knew it all and brooked no second-guessing: George Steinbrenner fired him in ’95 when he refused to remove one of his coaches. 

 

Showalter believed in having experienced coaches around him; since he was smarter than the owners, he remained loyal to those coaches in the face of the bosses’ dissatisfaction.  Timesman Frank Rich could have been relating Buck-like behavior to the skipper in his piece on Eric Alter’s “The Promise” in a recent New York Review of Books:

 

“If (Obama is) so smart, and so sane, why has he fallen short of his spectacular potential so far? That shortfall is most conspicuously measured by his escalation of a war held hostage by the mercurial and corrupt Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai; a woefully inadequate record on job creation; and the widespread conviction that the White House tilts toward Wall Street over those who have suffered most in the Great Recession.  Alter doesn’t soft-peddle these criticisms. ‘’Even by late 2009, when every major bank except Citigroup had paid back its TARP money’, he writes, ‘the impression of a colossal injustice remained—that fabulously wealthy bankers would be made whole, but ordinary Americans would not’.”

 

Just as the impression of colossal underachieving will undercut the skipper in the midterm election, inevitable dismay awaits fans of Showalter.  When they face the the reality that even he cannot push the Orioles to compete winningly in a division that includes the Yanks, Red Sox and Rays, disillusionment could again curtail the tenure of an indisputably top-notch manager.                  

                                -     -     -

It is expecting too much of Jerry Manuel that he emulate Showalter and refuse to allow the release by the Mets of Alex Cora.  Players, fans and media people alike know that Cora was a spirited clubhouse presence as well as valuable utility infielder.  The Wilpons’ order that he be cut came at a time when his playing in 18 more games would have qualified him for a $2 million option for next year. That decision is more than just further evidence of Madoff damage to the franchise; it is disgracefully cheap.  The move makes clear that Manuel is finished when his contract ends this season.  If he had more money owed him, as does Omar Minaya, he’d be kept on.  We can look for a new, cheaper manager to be hired this fall.

 

What We Know after the weekend:  In only one of six divisions – the AL West - is there an almost-sure winner.  And the Rangers wouldn’t even be that if the Angels, not the A’s, were in second place.  The Yankees, after their four-game split with the Red Sox, are even surer than the Rangers to qualify for a playoff spot.  The Rays’ five-game losing streak, including a stunning sweep by Toronto, suggests Tampa Bay may not be in the Yanks’ class, after all...especially with two of their starters hurting.  En route to dropping two of three to the D-backs, the NL West-leading Padres got a big assist from the Braves, who took the series from the second-place Giants.  Can the Padres keep fending off their three pursuers?  Will the surging Reds keep the pressure on the Cardinals? Who could pick a favorite as between the White Sox and Twins in the super-exciting AL Central?

Those are the big questions whose answers we can guess at, but know not.

                               - o -

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(Posted: 8/6-7/10)

 

Santana and Schumer: Their Pitches ‘Aren’t Doing Anything’

 

The other night on MLB-TV, Joe Magrane was watching Johan Santana during a “look-in” of the Mets-Braves game.  “His pitches weren’t doing anything,” Magrane said to his colleagues afterward.  Fans and media people have noticed what Magrane saw: Santana’s breaking-ball doesn’t have the same movement it once had, and his velocity is down:  He is not the ace lefty the Mets signed three years ago.

 

Santana has a political counterpart in Chuck Schumer.  NY Dem fans have noticed Schumer is not the lefty ace they thought their Senate team was getting 12 years ago.  His political pitches, like Johan’s, aren’t doing anything these days.   They’re almost non-existent when it comes to financial reform.  But close observers know his sudden silences are nothing new. They detected early that Schumer could talk a good game; he was big on showmanship, but never a standup performer. (No opposition to war powers for George Bush, never a negative word on the invasion of Iraq, memorable other examples.) All in all, the worst aspect of Chuck’s play: his disappearance in the crucial-debate clutch. 

 

Now, Chuck’s careful approach to the political game has been analyzed from outside the liberal Democratic ballpark. Straight-down-the-middle hitter Jeffrey Toobin notes in the August 2 New Yorker that “the stereotype of Schumer as a big-government liberal does not square with his legislative record…He is an incrementalist, whose legislative passions… run to ideas of…limited ambition… He talks incessantly about delivering what middle-class voters want…His references to the poor, or to the broader problems of poverty are sparing.” 

 

Toobin recalls that Schumer resisted Team Obama’s push for health care reform on pragmatic grounds: “(He) pointed out that while 30 million Americans were uninsured, only about 11 percent of them were voters – a small group to merit such a large investment of Democrats’ political capital.”  That stance, so lacking in concern for needy outsiders, can most charitably be described as inside-out. 

 

But, if Toobin does not score Schumer high as a lefty, he does admire the NY Senator for his “political dexterity.”  As head of the Dems’ Senate Campaign Committee in 2006, Chuck “recruited candidates who could win rather than those with particular beliefs,”  Toobin says.  He adds that Schumer raised the campaign money needed to insure victory, thanks in great part to his close relationship with Wall Street.  Intent on retaining those ties amid the current crackdown on Street practices, Chuck told Toobin he objects to any “piling on” of the banks, but recognizes the validity of public opposition to “leaving them alone.”

 

Schumer’s pursuit of electoral success has made him a sure winner at home and an invaluable guide to the party – coaching Dems to keep their eyes on the electoral ball.  So, although Chuck’s lack of lefty focus and his frequent passes on key issues are dismaying to progressive voters,   Toobin has this implicit message for them: “Get over it.”

                              -     -     -

Stat City: Santana’s vital signs are all troubling – 8-6 and 3.20, his worst W-L and ERA as a Met; his strikeouts, only 105 in 154 innings dramatically down, his walks slightly up, etc.  Mike Pelfrey, second in the rotation to Santana, has been even more horrendous than Johan since late June (the last time Pelfrey won).  He’s now 10-6, 4.16, with only 77 strikeouts in 129 innings and 50 walks.   

 

Going into the weekend, 13 of 30 teams realistically have a chance to win their divisions: the Padres, Giants, Rockies and Dodgers in the NL West, the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox in AL East, the Braves and Phillies in the NL East, the White Sox and Twins in the AL Central, the Reds and Cardinals in the NL Central.  A fair guess would be that the wild cards will come from the most competitive divisions (where winning intensity will be highest) – the NL West and AL East.  The one weekend matchup that can alter the outlook is Texas at Oakland.  A sweep by the A’s would get them back into the division mix, five-and-a-half games behind the Rangers.

 

One reason Buck Showalter went three-for-three in his first three games as Orioles manager: “He knows a player when he sees one.”  MLB-TV’s John Hart made that point when Showalter got the job.  Hart’s MLB teammate Harold Reynolds reminded viewers of the great players – Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Alex Rodriguez, etc. - Showalter had managed with the Yankees, D-backs, Rangers.  The sweep by Showalter’s O’s put an exclamation point on the Angels’ departure from AL West contention, just as the four-of-six the D-backs and Braves took from the Mets put a closing stamp on the NYM’s playoff pretensions.

 

The Mets may be moribund, with no reason to think a 2011 renaissance is in the offing.  But ESPN’s Adam Rubin has found something praiseworthy about Jeff Wilpon.  The team’s deer-in-the-headlights COO is credited with resurrecting the career of Wally Backman, now managing the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones.  Rubin sees Backman as a likely successor to Jerry Manuel, not necessarily because he’d be better.  Backman would manage for peanuts, Rubin says, out of gratitude for being given a second chance.  (He lost a managerial job with the D-backs a few years ago when a domestic violence case surfaced.)  

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(Posted: 8/5/10)

 

Bonds, Clemens, Rangel, Waters: the Defiant Four

 

The symmetry is too strong to be ignored: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters.  All four  - two in each pastime - stand accused of playing their separate games in unlawful or unethical ways.  Bonds and Clemens are fighting charges of using illegal substances and lying about it; NYC’s Rangel and LA’s Waters of letting personal considerations influence their use of Congressional clout.

 

Bonds is under the most serious imminent challenge.  He could go to jail if found guilty of perjury in a federal court trial scheduled for next March.  Clemens faces possible indictment when federal investigators complete assembling the case against him.  Clemens seems more vulnerable than Bonds in the long run: Roger’s personal trainer Brian McNamee would likely be a key prosecution witness should the Rocket go to trial.  Bonds’ personal trainer Greg Anderson, also a would-be key witness, has refused to cooperate with prosecutors – even doing more than a year’s jail time for contempt.  The case against Barry may thus be  bound for the showers.

 

Rangel and Waters are under party pressure to concede ethical errors – in Rangel’s case, (among other things) pushing through a tax loophole for a contributor to an education center set up in his name; in Waters’, helping a bank in which her husband holds stock receive bailout money.  Both could say they were sorry for lapses and accept reprimands. But each is prepared to face an ethics trial that could cause them further pain and do further damage to Democratic chances in this fall’s mid-term election.  

 

Rangel and Waters, as political people, have accumulated much personal good will through the years.  That suggests an accommodation will be reached before serious play begins in court.  Bonds and Clemens do not have those Andy Pettitte-like personal advantages.  The media have depicted both as arrogant stonewallers.

 

In fairness, however, we know that both former players must be presumed innocent.   And, despite gut prejudices, fans should acknowledge that the two - indeed, all four competitors - have earned at least grudging respect. The resolute defense of their reputations at this stage of the game may be seen by many as quixotic.  But their defiant stances are, if nothing else, examples of impressive pride and determination.  

                         -     -     -

Deadline Dividends: Daniel Hudson, traded from the White Sox to the D-backs, and Ted Lilly, from the Cubs to the Dodgers, have had the biggest positive impact on their new teams so far.  Hudson, we remember, limited the Mets to one run in eight innings on Sunday, Lilly held the Padres one run in seven innings Tuesday night.  Ryan Ludwick, from the Cardinals, got a decisive hit in the Padres’ one-run victory over the Marlins Sunday…as did former Royal Rich Ankiel for the Braves against the Mets Monday night.

 

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti traded for Lilly, the Royals’ Scott Podsednik, the Pirates’ Octavio Dotel and Lilly’s Cubs teammate Ryan Theriot just before the deadline.  He made similar deals that paid off in 2008 and 2009, when the Dodgers made the NLCS.  He explained his philosophy to SI’s Tom Verducci this way:  "I always believe that if you have a team capable of reaching the postseason you owe it to your players to do everything you can to make it happen.  Any time you can upgrade an area even by an nth degree you try to take a shot at doing it."


August, baseball’s first real meaningful-games month, is also the time when meaningless pro football stories crowd into the sports pages.  Training-camp trivia desecrated more than 30 percent of the Daily News sports section yesterday.  The pro grid game must produce as much ad money as the right-wing does during the political campaign period. 

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(Posted: 8/3/10)

 

Baseball and Political Deals Hurting Many Fans

 

"It's an empty feeling," Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said as the inter-league trade deadline ended Saturday.  He was talking about his team's inability to reinforce its lineup through a meaningful deal.  Aside from the Sox, rich teams like the Yankees got richer through deadline trades; poorer teams - the Astros, D-backs, etc. - got poorer, except in the prospects they received for name players.  The empty feeling understandably extends to many fans.

 

At mid-summer deadline time, especially, there is a striking correspondence between baseball's worsening imbalance and the economic inequality plaguing people in our national ballpark.  Checking the record book for his London-based front office, a Financial Times scout reviewed our money gap this way:

 

"The annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300.  The trend has only been getting stronger."

 

The trend can be tracked on the political field: instead of swinging hard in support of the need to strengthen safety-net programs like social security, jobless benefits, Medicare, and also unions, Congressional hitters swipe to the right.  Their aim is to find ways to cut back on “entitlements” to contain the deficit.  Harvard statman Larry Katz describes how big a brush-back this is to the average American, and does it in vivid terms:

 

“Think of the American economy as a large apartment block.  A century ago - even 30 years ago - it was the object of envy.  But in the last generation its character has changed. The penthouses at the top keep getting larger and larger. The apartments in the middle are feeling more and more squeezed and the basement has flooded.  To round it off, the elevator is no longer working. That broken elevator is what gets people down the most.”   

 

Apologists of baseball's persistent inequitable system point to occasional examples of low-budget teams doing well - the Rays making the World Series in 2008, the Padres leading the NL West this late in the 2010 season.  But rich, big-market teams reach the playoffs consistently; poorer, small-market teams make them seldom: that’s a reality everyone knows.

 

Since that’s so, why does baseball allow the inequality to widen with two months left in the regular season?  The Reds and Marlins are two small-market teams very much in the mix in their division races.  They couldn’t afford to take on more salary now, as did their respective competitors, the better-healed Cardinals and Braves and Phils.  It will clearly be tougher for Cincy and the Fish to hang in there.  The system is particularly unfair to their fans in Cincinnati and Miami this season.  But it’s always unfair to some teams, season after season.  Another thing all fans should boo: the policy of allowing teams to expand rosters on September 1.  Why should more changes that could give one competing team an edge over another be permitted during the homestretch month?  There are no good answers: most fans know that; they recognize, too, that most media people like the skewing arrangements – they’re newsy.

                         -     -     -

July Deal Game-Changers:  Joining the Rangers’ Cliff Lee in the difference-maker category, at least, potentially, are Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada.  They give the Padres much needed offense.  None of those traded overall is in Lee’s class, a sure change agent – not Roy Oswalt, nor Matt Capps.

 

What We Know after the weekend: the Rockies, whom we said last week would have a hard time getting back into the NL West mix, are back(what do we know?).  Big stakes in the current Padres-Dodgers series: San Diego knows it must win to fend off the surging Giants, the LADs to avoid slipping out of competitive range in the four-team NL West battle.  Series of the half-week: Twins-Rays at the Trop.  The best news for Mets fans is the grapevine suggestion that the team’s unwillingness to spend is connected to Madoff-related litigation.  And that the festering financial problem could prompt Fred Wilpon to sell the team.  Too good to be possible?  Probably, but it does provide dream-fodder for NYM fans, who have nothing else to sustain them this season.

 

E-mail from New Orleans – footnote to a previous Nub item on Fernando Tatis and his 1999 feat: “Here's one more factoid on the two grand slams in one inning hit by Fernando Tatis when he was a Cardinal.  Tatis hit both off Chan Ho Park and in 2007...Tatis and Park were both teammates on the New Orleans Zephyrs.” 

                                                                                                           - Ron Swoboda

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July 2010 Archive


(Posted: 7/30/31)

 

Team Managers and the Military: Making the Rounds

 

Weekend snap quiz: Baseball, Wall Street and Team Obama frequently use what piece of equipment?  Answer: a revolving door. 

 

Exhibit A:  Manny Acta.  Both the Indians and Astros liked Manny’s managerial act.  He skippered the Nationals through three losing (two last-place) seasons.  But Acta had his choice of jobs in Cleveland and Houston.  Most major-league managers – Tito Francona, Jerry Manuel, Jim Tracy, Bruce Bochy, Ken Macha, Ned Yost, even Joe Torre, to name a few – failed before being rehired by another team.  The feeling in Chicago is that the Cubs won’t let heir-apparent Ryne Sandberg replace outgoing Lou Piniella next season because he hasn’t experienced managerial failure at the big-league level.

 

The team owners’ play-it-safe inside game is no different from the way Wall Street and other corporate squads choose skippers.  It’s their choice, one they must justify to investing fans.  When Team Obama makes a similar recall move, as it did in letting Tim Geithner and Larry Summers return to play moneyball, then we, the public, have a right to boo.  The O-team’s military rotation play is another crucial example of the retread problem.  The same players at different positions have been part of a series of war-related setbacks.  The International Herald Trib’s official scorer William Pfaff has watched the deadly game long enough to foresee a bad outcome:

 

“Failure is merely a stepping-stone to success in the American military and political systems.  No one accepts responsibility.  The war will go on until it is extended to Pakistan, and possibly beyond.  Casualties will steadily mount.  No one can predict when the inevitable moment will come, but it will come, when the last Americans are lifted by helicopter off an embassy rooftop, and the Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians, Tajiks and others at last are left to reconstruct their own world.”    

 

As the O-team campaigns to divert attention from WikiLeaks evidence that the war is not going as well as the military says, the website’s Australian founder Julian Assange says more documentation is coming.  He told Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now” that the UK Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel disseminated the material at length, as he had hoped.  The NY Times disappointed him, he said:   “The paper checked with the White House before it published (a comparatively brief version).  That’s not the independent journalism Americans deserve.” (Assange spoke from London.  He said colleague Seymour Hersh warned when he was in the U.S. that the government was looking for him.)

                          -     -     -

What We Know as we enter the trade-deadline/beginning-of-August weekend:  the Phillies’ addition of Roy Oswalt confirms that the Braves will have to wage an underdog battle to stop the defending league champions in the NL East.  Miguel Tejada may be the more important pickup; he gives the Padres a sorely needed bat to go with their pitching.  It will be tough for the Rockies to rejoin what is now a three-team NL West race.  A deadline pickup by either team could be the decider in the Reds-Cardinals NL Central struggle.     

 

Yankees/Rays/Red Sox – we know the AL East will be a great three-team show, with or without deadline deals.  Matt Capps makes the Twins at least an even bet to outrun the White Sox in the AL Central.  The Tigers are bleeding.  In their weekend series with the Angels, the Rangers can confirm the sense that they are the MLB’s only sure division winner.

 

The Yankees and Mets would be wise to stand pat for different reasons: the Yanks because they already have enough to make the playoffs (at least), the Mets because they can’t advance no matter who they add and can’t spare the prospects they’d have to give up in a futile cause.   

 

Watch Out for the Brooms: .Sweeps can be lethal as the season moves into August.  It’s unlikely either the Yanks or Rays will take three at the Trop this weekend.  The Mets, fighting to keep fans interested, would love to sweep the visiting D-backs (as payback for what happened last week in Phoenix), but they know they must win the series, at least, to stanch leaking attendance.  The Braves-Reds, Dodgers-Giants, Marlins-Padres are three exciting weekend matchups in the NL.  And let’s not forget Tigers-Red Sox in the AL. Deadline deals to the side, it’s a great time of year!

 

 

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(Posted: 7/29/10)

 

No Boos, Please, for the Next Muslim Major Leaguer

 

Watching the Mariners’ magnificent Ichiro stealing a White Sox home run the other night (thanks to MLB-TV) was a reminder of the boon the Japanese have been to major league baseball.  The popularity of players - like Hideo Nomo, the first to switch permanently from competing in Japan to the U.S. (with the Dodgers in 1995); Hideki Matsui, a seven-year Yankee, now with the Angels, Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox’s mercurial pitching import, and Ichiro, now in his 10th season - offers a striking history lesson.

 

Through much of the last century, the Japanese were treated like outcasts in the U.S. – little better than animals after Pearl Harbor.  In time, Americans learned to tolerate, then appreciate the Japanese for the qualities - industriousness, self-discipline, etc. - that are now so evident.

 

The lesson is that people who don’t look and act like “regular” Americans one day can be golden-glove outfielders the next.  We’ll surely have a standout Muslim major leaguer one day. (A utility infielder who was Muslim - Sam Khalifa - played for the Pirates in ’85-87.)  In the meantime, members of the Islamic team find NYC to be a rough playing field.  Over the last few years they’ve encountered: opposition to an Arabic-language public school in Brooklyn; rejection of a plan to convert a vacant Catholic church in Staten Island into a mosque, and, most recently, outrage over a projected Islamic community center two blocks from ground zero.  To paraphrase NY Timesman Clyde Haberman, fear of people unfairly hit with a wartime-enemies label “almost never strikes out.”


Haberman’s teammate Robert Wright makes a cogent case for the wrongheadedness of the effort to stop the Islamic center:  (Osama) bin Laden would love to be able to say that in America you can build a church or synagogue anywhere you want, but not a mosque. That fits perfectly with his recruiting pitch — that America has declared war on Islam. And bin Laden would thrill to the claim that a mosque near ground zero dishonors the victims of 9/11, because (it says) that the attacks really were, as he claims, a valid expression of Islam.”

                              -     -    -

It’s a rare year, we know, when Ichiro isn’t leading in some department.  This season, as usual, he’s first in the AL in runs; he’s led in that category after six of nine seasons and in BA twice.  He’s never batted below .300, and has a career average of .331.  What else? An MVP twice, Ichiro has been an All-Star in all 10 of his years with the Mariners. The biggest disappointment connected with him: fans in the East don’t get to follow closely one of the few great active players.


No one, least of all himself, would describe the Mets’ Fernando Tatis as a great player.  But the 35-year-old Tatis owns a major league record unlikely to be matched.  On April 23, 1999, he hit two grand slams in one inning while playing for the Cardinals against the LA Dodgers. Appearing at El Museo in NYC the other night, Tatis had a simple explanation when asked how he did what he did:
“I know how I did it: I see it and I hit it hard!”  The Mets, we know, could use a hard hitter these days.  But Tatis is on the 60-day DL with a bad shoulder. 


Attention-worthy: 
The Phillies, with six straight wins going into last night’s games, and the Rockies, with seven straight losses.  The Phils are now poised to challenge the Braves in the NL East without rushing into a trade-deadline deal (don’t think the return of Placido Polanco hasn’t already made a huge difference).  They have enough hitting - especially with Chase Utley due back around Labor Day - to overcome spotty back-of-rotation pitching.  The Rockies need to add right-handed punch to their lineup, but with 300-hitting Troy Tulowitzki newly returned from the DL, they may sit tight.  Their division, the NL West, is a perfect storm of momentum-shifts. (Check out the Giants, currently on a 16-4 tear, and the Dodgers, losers of six straight before winning five of their last six).

It may be September before the Red Sox get back Dustin Pedroia.  Can they remain in close pursuit of the Yankees and Rays ‘til then is the nail-chewing question in Sox Nation.  The q and a in AL West: Is the Rangers’ runaway an accomplished fact?  Answer: It looks like it.

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                                                                                                     - Bill Moyers

 

(Posted: 7/27/10)

 

Where Has Baseball Attendance and the U.S. Economy Gone?

Observers told baseball to cheer up last year - that box office receipts could be worse.  So baseball cheered up...and, sure enough, attendance got worse.  Experts

said Team USA's economy could only improve after last year's recession.  But we know that it, too, went south.

 

The stats: baseball attendance off by more than half-a-million at the season's halfway point.  The shortfall in state budgets up $90 billion from last year.  Forty-six of 50 states are deep in the red.  The Mets have lost 300,000 in attendance since '09, to lead both leagues in that dubious category.  The figure is based on slightly more than half the scheduled home games – 46 games in which fans could see them as playoff contenders.  Since that likely won’t be the case for the rest of the season, an attendance falloff of at least a million is a reasonable estimate.

 

America's economic inequality is, the experts say, highest in the world among industrial nations, as high now as it was in 1928, before the Depression.  Among the causes: loss of union membership and, with it, Labor’s political clout; also a steady trimming of efforts to grade, if not even, the economic playing field through government services and social programs. 

 

Baseball, we know, began upscaling its product in response to growing attendance - and player salaries - in the late nineties.  “What the market will bear,” was the watch-word.  For 19 of 30 teams this season the market has been bear, and bare.  (Attendance in Cleveland has taken the second hardest hit – down 252,000  after 45 games.)  Free-market capitalism became the globally cheered winner over socialism when the final cold-war score was tallied.  Team USA soon exchanged a liberal democratic uniform for one labeled “market democracy.”  NYU political scientist Tony Judt says (in NY Review of Books) that making the move was a huge collective mistake:

 

“Our contemporary faith in “the market” rigorously tracks…the unquestioning belief in necessity, progress, and History… So Europe’s leaders today (“necessarily”) scuttle into budgetary austerity to appease ’the markets.’   But ’the market’…is just an abstraction…It has its true believers…who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom… proudly proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see…

“The thrall in which an ideology holds a people is best measured by their collective inability to imagine alternatives.  We know perfectly well that untrammeled faith in unregulated markets kills…In vulnerable developing countries (the) emphasis on tight fiscal policy, privatization, low tariffs, and deregulation—has destroyed millions of livelihoods… But in Margaret Thatcher’s deathless phrase, ’there is no alternative’.”

Judt says that an alternative can be found among “regulated market variants of liberal capitalism.”  It remains for political and economic players to agree on a variant; then, he says, they must go to bat freed of the need to swing to the right, looking instead to the other field, toward the direction of disciplined markets.

                               -     -     -

“BETTER SEATS   LOWER PRICES” says a predictable Mets ad after the team’s  2-9 road-trip debacle on the West Coast.  Logically, the Mets should give up on attendance-building and take advantage of the trading deadline to exchange pricey name players with value for prospects.  Frankie Rodriguez, whose $37 million contract runs through next year (with an option), could be useful to a lot of contenders.  Carlos Beltran, who has $20 million coming on the last year of his contract in 2011, is another who might draw interest despite his faltering return from surgery and the DL.  Jeff Francoeur has only a one-year, $5 million deal.  So, trading him would add little to the team’s Madoff-reduced treasury.

 

“If we continue playing the way we’re playing…I could get Cy Young and Mariano Rivera, and it wouldn’t matter.”  The Mets’ Omar Minaya?  No.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro (before his team won five straight).

 

The AL Central races continues to be a fascinating tangle of injured contenders: the first-place White Sox are playing without starter Jake Peavy, the second-place Twins without their best hitter Justin Morneau, the Tigers without two key offensive players, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.   Peavy is out for the season, Ordonez for four-to-six weeks, Morneau for an indefinite period, owing to after-effects of a concussion.  Only Guillen is expected back in less than two weeks.

 

No Angelic White Flag:  The deal sending D-backs ace Dan Haren to the Angels is significant because it says the LAAs are not giving up…even though they are almost as far behind in their division as the Mets are in theirs.  

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(Posted: 7/23-24)

 

The Dashed Hopes of Deep Summer

 

Deep summer is high season for huge hopes – in baseball, politics, life.   It’s a time when doldrums spawn “gotta-get-better” thoughts, not only about the weather and our future.  More to the point here, fan expectations concern a favorite ball club or political team.  Among NY area baseball fans, the Mets provide a case study of how hype can raise hopes to unrealistic levels.

 

The Mets’ spin went like this: Once we get our regulars back – after roughly a season and a half – we’ll be a contending team again.  If we can stay close until the All-Star break, we’ll surely be in the playoff mix.  What’s happened, we know, is that the revivified Mets have all but dropped out of the mix, losing seven of eight since the break (with their one win the result of a bad umpiring call). 

 

In politics, Team Obama premised its pitch on the belief that booing over the slow economic recovery would subside; then execution of the reform double play - health care and financial reg – would clear the bases of broad fan opposition and set up a progressive winning streak.  The skipper had his personal pollster take a look at how the strategy was working.  The results surely gave him a shock.  By a score of 48(%) to 43, fans surveyed said the O-Team had made the economy worse, not better.  Furthermore, in the contest pitting tax cuts for business against more stimulus spending, they sided with the tax-cutters by a whopping 54-32 margin.

 

Completion of the rout came when fans chose between two takes on corporations. Are they "the backbone of the US economy and we need to help them grow”, or do they "have too much power, hurt the middle class, and government needs to keep them in check".  The score in that one: 55-37, corporations over government.  The poll certainly served one purpose, a sobering one: it blew away the remote chance of irrational O-Team exuberance. 
                          -     -     -

The new pitch the Mets hope fans will buy is that, in the “weak” NL East, anything is possible.  But Atlanta has the best W-L record in the NL, and the third best in the majors.  The Braves are far from weak, and there’s little doubt the defending league champion Phillies will be heard from before long.  The Phils, we know, have a legitimate shot at the wild card.  Mets fans can relax: their team lacks spirit, clutch hitting, reliable relievers and number 2 starter.  Their only concern now should be completion of a futile, attendance-minded deal wherein the Mets give up prospects for a “name” journeyman.  Time for fans to accept that their hopes, if not expectations, were unrealistic.

 

Who After Lou? The expectation in much of Chicago is that Ryne Sandberg will succeed Lou Piniella as Cubs manager.  The ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers doesn’t think so.  He notes that Cubs GM Jim Hendry said the new skipper “would not be a short-term guy.”

 

Joe Torre would be a short-term guy.  Sandberg could be a long-term guy.  But something tells me Hendry is not going to roll the dice on a guy with no big-league track record -- that a Fredi Gonzalez would be a favorite over Sandberg.

”(My) guess…Sandberg winds up in Chicago next season, but as a member of the coaching staff, not the manager.”

 

Former D-backs manager Bob Brenly is also a candidate for the Cubs’ job.  His hiring would be a loss to fans who follow the team on TV.  Brenly and Steve Stone, who does White Sox color, give Chicago fans two of the best, most knowledgeable baseball-announcing voices.  Vin Scully, with the Dodgers, heads the “best” list.  Gary Thorne, who does play-by-play for the Orioles, is on it, too.  Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez get special mention; they are out of the competition because they don’t work all Mets games.

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(Posted: 7/22/10)

 

Baseball Playing America’s Insider Game

 

How could the bankrupt Texas Rangers pull off a mid-season steal – the purchase of priceless Cliff Lee?  That was the mystery.  It has now been solved: the team had a friend in baseball’s highest office.  That friend, Commissioner Bud Selig, helped arrange a $40 million MLB loan the team used as it snapped up Lee. 

 

The clubby arrangement confirms something we’ve long known: personal ties with the powerful are a big part of the American success game.  A day after the NY Times told how the Rangers’ exec partners Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg were tight with Selig, the paper listed the names of children of financial players chosen to be summer interns at NY’s City Hall.

 

These young people had the connections – through their parents – we’d all like to have:  They were (as Times slugger Jim Dwyer put it) “mostly white, many quite wealthy, coming from private high schools and Ivy League colleges.”  So, they represent the privileged side of the country’s class playing field.  So what?  Well, if nothing else, the name of Lloyd Blankfein’s son among those on the list is a reminder of the elder Blankfein’s profitable connections.  His ties as skipper of Goldman Sachs with the likes of Henry Paulson, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers helped his team make out remarkably well in the deal-making that resulted from the market rout of 2008.

 

Selig has made clear that Ryan and Greenberg are favored buyers of the Rangers, despite the fact their bid does not match those submitted by others, including Houston businessman Jim Crane,  In response to protests about the insider game being played, Selig is dismissive:  Baseball has always “ha(d) the right to select ownership,” he says.  The courts will decide if he’s made the proper call.

 

In the broader, political ballpark. money is the clean-up hitter of the connecting game.  It can make outlier financial players insiders, giving them access to influence lawmaking strategy in Washington.  That influence succeeded in persuading Team Dems to play small ball instead of swinging for the fences on  finreg.

 

Who were the two elected gold glovers who fielded most financial-sector dollar drives this year and last?  Let’s look at the box score posted by the Center for Responsive Politics:  Senators Charles Schumer, D-NY, $4,080,089, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, $1,838,800, were one-two.  Fans could only dream of such cash-producing connections.

                           -     -     -

Stat city:  Only one team has four healthy starters in the top 60 listing of major league pitchers: the Minnesota Twins, with Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn.  The Yankees would have four – C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett – if Pettitte wasn’t newly on the DL

 

The Phillies have three starters - Roy Halladay, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels – among the 60.  The grapevine says GM Ruben Amaro is hopeful of landing Houston’s Roy Oswalt soon to put the team back on playoff track.

 

As of early last night, the Carlos Beltran-reinforced Mets had averaged two runs a game since the All-Star break.  The team is 20th in team batting.  Another team a few slots lower than the Mets, the Astros, fired hitting coach Sean Berry last week, replacing him with Jeff Bagwell.  We’ve suggested often that memorably undisciplined batsman Howard Johnson should not be the Mets hitting coach.  Jeff Wilpon - it says here – ought to find his buddy Howard another job and get somebody new to help the Mets develop a consistent offense.

                                - o -

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Posted 7/20/10)

 

The Predictability Plague in Both Baseball and Politics

 

If you are a NY-oriented fan of either pastime, it has been a season plagued by predictablilty.  Everybody foresaw the Yankees making the playoffs and Andrew Cuomo winning the contest for governor.  At midseason, does anyone doubt either eventuality (Andy Pettitte’s injury, notwithstanding)?  Predictable, too, to a lesser degree, is the plight of the scuffling Mets.  That they still have a chance of playing meaningful games as late as mid-August, is a pleasant surprise for still-invested fans.

 

At a political league-wide level, the dismal outcome for lefthanders of the mid-term House contest is no longer in doubt, despite a positive Team Dem scoring record.  Washington Post press box observer Ezra Klein explains why in the simplest of terms:

 

"Democrats won their massive majority because of an economic collapse. They've passed so much legislation because they have a massive majority based on an economic collapse. But the economic collapse isn't over.  And having a lot more seats than the other party means 1) voters blame you for the condition of the country, and 2) you have a lot of seats to lose. What the bad economy and the huge majority giveth, the bad economy and the huge majority taketh away."

 

It has been an enigmatic rather than a predictable year for Team Obama's skipper.

Who could have foresaw his leadership bringing so many victories while so many fans

feel so let down?  Mother Jones scout Kevin Drum provides the plus-and-minus pieces

of the O-enigma:

 

"Here's the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes

Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years.

And here's the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist

sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic

Democratic president of the last 40 years.  Take your pick."

                           -     -     -

Wild Card Watch:  Let’s concede division victories (a risky move, we know) to two teams - the Yanks and Braves; that leaves 16 (other) wild card possibilities here in late July, seven in the AL, nine in the NL.  Put down the Rays, Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Rangers and Angels in the AL, the Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Cardinals, Reds, Padres, Rockies, Giants and Dodgers in the NL.  Four of those teams, obviously, will finish first in their divisions.  The other dozen could still be in the wild-card playoff race a month from now.  Barring dramatic deals, the Mets and Marlins figure to have dropped out by then. That will still leave 14 of 30 teams to watch (16, counting Atlanta and the NYYs) as the homestretch approaches.  Did we talk about predictability earlier?  This number of second-half contenders many of us did not foresee.   

 

Walking wounded: The Red Sox will be reinforced with the return this weekend of would-be ace Josh Beckett.  The man the team most misses, Dustin Pedroia, is still on crutches.  The Mets are not the same without a healthy Jose Reyes (right-quad injury); and although he’s playing on and off (ineffectively), he’s proving to be, as ever, a slow healer.  The Twins must operate with much lost fire-power while Justin Morneau sits.  He’ll be on the DL until the end of the month, recovering from a contact-caused concussion while base-running.  The Yankees, we know, have enough hitting to minimize the effect of Andy Pettitte’s month-long groin-injury-caused absence.

                            - o -

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(Posted: 7/9-10/10)

 
Two Teams Whose Fans Are Finding It Hard To Be Hopeful

 

At a party the other day involving fans of both pastimes, a man confided “I am hopeful about the Mets.”  Then he added: “And I haven’t given up on Obama.”  Clear-eyed fans know hope is poorly invested in the plucky-but-punchless Mets.  And the suspicion grows stronger each day that Team Obama will not turn its losing streak around before the November playoffs.

 

Latest consensus polls give Team GOP an even chance of pulling a double play – winning back control of both the Senate and House.  The skipper could help turn things around by being more forceful with his team and stronger in his appeal to skeptical spectators.  But southpaw supporters, like Bob Kuttner in the Huffington Post, have all but despaired of its happening:

 

“Despite our hopes, Barack Obama is unlikely to offer bolder policies or give tougher speeches any time soon, even as threats of a double-dip recession and an electoral blowout in November loom.  This is just not who he is.  If the worst economic crisis in eight decades were going to change his assumptions about how to govern and how to lead, it would have done so by now.” 

 

There is similar lefty booing of the the skipper’s strategy away from home, particularly in the game in Afghanistan.  Boston U. historian Andrew Bacevich went to bat in the New Republic to express the discouragement:

 

“The Americans who elected Obama… were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a different—and truer—inner compass.

 

“Events have demolished such expectations.  Today, when they look at Washington, Americans see a cool, dispassionate, calculating president whose administration lacks a moral core.  For prosecution exhibit number one, we need look no further than the meandering course of Obama’s war, its casualties and costs mounting without discernible purpose.”

 

Democrats, whether hitting left, right or straight away,  have reason to fear that their skipper’s “cool, dispassionate” stance signals a devastating DP in the making.

                                 -     -     -

Even with the imminent return of Carlos Beltran, it is only diehards who take the Mets’ playoff prospects seriously.  The Boston Globe’s veteran baseball writer Nick Cafardo surveys major-league teams with an experienced, objective eye.  He identifies 10 teams at the All-Star break with valid world championship potential: the Yanks, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Angels, Braves, Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers.  Add the Tigers, Rangers, Reds, Rockies and Padres, and you have 15 teams with realistic playoff chances.  It’s an irony that former Mets Billy Wagner and J.J. Putz are key reasons for the Braves and White Sox success – Wagner as Atlanta’s long-needed stopper, Putz as Ozzie Guillen’s reliable (1.54 ERA) late-innings man.  Had Omar Minaya held on to either late last year, the Mets might be a 16th playoff possibility.

 

The emergence of the Reds and Rangers as serious contenders in their divisions is the year’s most exciting double-development so far.  We knew the Braves were going to be good and know it’s risky to discount the Padres.  But Cincinnati and Texas have given fans a surprising reward for their support.  The Rangers have “the scariest lineup in the American League,” said Chisox play-by-play man Hawk Harrelson during the Angels-White Sox game Thursday.  And the Reds, with 27 come-from-behind wins, embody the term “resilience.”

 

Another surprise: Kansas City sneaking back into the AL Central picture.  The Royals have won eight of 10 entering the weekend and moved to within eight games of first place.   New manager Ned Yost, take a bow.

                        

Little Doubt About Lee’s Eventual Home: If the Twins are willing to give up their blue-chip catcher Wilson Ramos to rent Cliff Lee, and that short-term deal goes through, here’s an easy question: Which team figures to snap the ace lefthander up in the post-season for the long-term?  The Yanks don’t need Lee now.  But Yankee fans have every reason to envision him in pinstripes.  Would that be a good thing for baseball?  A question for another time.

                       - o -

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The Nub will take its regular All-Star break over the next week.

 







(Posted: 7/8/10)

 

Team Obama Must Face a Mariano-Like Court Stopper

 

If almost everyone agrees the AL East is the strongest of baseball’s six divisions, it’s fair to envision an ALCS involving the Yankees and either Tampa Bay or the Red Sox.  At some point a similar crucial playoff looms between Teams Obama and Scotus – that is, between the White House and the Supreme Court.

 

The Yankees are the only AL team diversely talented enough to have avoided a prolonged - more than three-game - losing streak.  Team Obama hasn’t been so lucky – the oil spill only the latest of a series of setbacks that can be traced to hard-nosed GOP opposition and sluggish play by Dem affiliates in Congress.  The skipper is still hopeful his extended team will regroup and rally in an effort to regulate corporations, banks, health insurers and the energy industry.  But the O-Team is playing come-from-behind baseball.  And in what will be the political equivalent of a series of ninth innings, it will be facing a judicial equivalent of Mariano Rivera, - Chief Justice John Roberts and the 5-4 conservative High Court.

 

LA Times birddog David Savage lays out some of the rutted terrain Team Obama must try to play around:

 

“Already, the healthcare overhaul law, Obama's signal achievement, is under attack in the courts.  Republican attorneys general from 20 states have sued, insisting the law and its mandate to buy health insurance exceed Congress' power and trample on states' rights.  Two weeks ago, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled Obama had overstepped his authority by ordering a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

”On another front, the administration says it will soon go to court in Phoenix seeking to block Arizona's controversial immigration law, which is due to take effect July 29. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer said Arizona would go to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to preserve the law.  As chief justice, Roberts has steered the court on a conservative course, one that often has tilted toward business. For example, the justices have made it much harder for investors or pension funds to sue companies for stock fraud.”
 

 

Skipper Obama can hope that, just as Rivera has proved himself to be (infrequently) human, failing in two of 21 save opportunities this season and giving up a little over a run (1.08) every nine innings, Team Roberts can somehow be scored upon successfully.  It does, however, appear to be as long a shot as getting a hit off Mariano with an 0-and-2 count.   

                        -     -     -

What Makes Mariano Special?  In 1995, Rivera’s rookie year, he was asked to pitch a total of five-and-a-half innings in the division series against the Seattle Mariners.  He did so without yielding a run.  NY Times writer James Traub asked fabled stopper Goose Gossage about watching Mariano in the series: “Gossage took notice when Rivera came on in the decisive fifth game (which the Yankees went on to lose) and got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout.  ‘I just sat there,’ the not-easily-impressed Goose says.  ‘Oh, my God – the coolness’.”

 

Traub also sought the opinion of veteran Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek: “Varitek described Rivera’s success with a catcher’s dispassionate appreciation.  ‘You see guys with sometimes even better stuff unable to make quality pitches when the game is on the line,’ he said.  Rivera, with his easy delivery and simplicity of moving parts, had the gift of execution.  ‘The ability to repeat,’ Varitek said, ’ ‘is both mental and mechanical’.”  And, he might have added, the result of an almost mystical composure.

 

Snap Quiz:  Teams in one of the six divisions finished the last week and a half without a losing record.  Which division was it?  The AL Central, featuring a close three-team race that all but eliminates any possibility of the league’s wild card coming from the Midwest.

 

Stat city: MLB leader in outfield assists: Houston’s Michael Bourn with eight.   Five have seven assists: the Rays’ Carl Crawford, the Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez, the Mets’ Jeff Francoeur, the D-backs’ Gerardo Parra, the Giants’ Nate Schierholtz.

                              - o -

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(Posted: 7/6/10)

 

A Salute to Ballplayers Unafraid of the Political Game

 

As we say goodbye to the holiday weekend, let's salute the baseball players independent - and patriotic - enough to express their political views publicly.  Former players Curt Schilling and Al Leiter were never shy about their support of George W. Bush.  The Cardinals' Jeff Suppan openly backed local Republican causes.  The Rays' David Price and Carl Crawford made known their allegiance to Barack Obama before his election, as did the D-backs' Edwin Jackson and Cincinnati's Jonny Gomes.  Issues-oriented Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres has said he will not play in the All-Star game next year in Phoenix if Arizona does not relax its strict immigration law.

 

Playing the political game in a democratic society in a way that goes beyond voting is as rare as it is admirable.  Most people settle for expressing patriotic attitudes - as baseball loves to do in frequent seventh-inning support of the military.  The idea of Team USA, battling to make the world a better place, is cherished by many Americans.  They don’t know their history, current as well as past.  The late, left-hitting historian Howard Zinn gave them a lesson on the holiday not long ago:

“Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy…We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different.  They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians.  And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture…

“One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.   And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence.

“…We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history….We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.”

                                     -     -     -

.Snap quiz:  Who has the biggest post-July 4 lead in the majors?  The surprising Padres, who finished the weekend four games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West.  The Rangers lead by most games in the AL, three-and-a-half over the Angels in their division. Fans of the Blue Jays don’t know what hit their team over the past two weeks – Toronto has dropped 10-and-a-half games behind the Yanks and Rays in the AL East.

Stat city:  David Wright has a 64-62 edge over Alex Rodriguez in RBIs as of this morning.  Wright leads the NL in that department, A-Rod is only third in the AL, behind Miguel Cabrera, 71, and Vlademir Guerrero, 70.  Toronto may be in a funk, but the Jays have the AL’s leading home run hitter in Jose Bautista, 21, with teammate Vernon Wells not far behind, with 19 HRs.

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(Posted: 7/2/3/10)

 

Braves and Waterboarding: the Benefits of Home Field

 

The home-field advantage of the Atlanta Braves – 28 wins in 37 games (going into the weekend), the best domestic record in the majors – has been more than matched in the field of political journalism.  A newly released Harvard study finds that, for our four largest newspapers, waterboarding, when practiced by the home team, is “enhanced interrogation”, arguably a win, but when done by others “torture”, certainly a loss.

 

Harvard kept a scorebook on the performance of the NY Times, the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.  From the early 30’s to the most recent decade – a neutral-field period - the papers uniformly called waterboarding torture, or scored it as such – the NY Times in 44 of 54 chances, the LA Times in 26 of 27.   But as of the start of a whole new ballgame, the 2002 run-up to Iraq, the home-field advantage on waterboarding kicked in.  The NY Times stopped using or implying the term torture in 141 of 143 journalistic at-bats, the LA Times in 60 of 63.  Team WSJ referred to torture only once in 63 turns.

 

Predictably, the papers had no problem labeling waterboarding torture when the practitioners played for foreign teams. Over 85 percent of such articles in the NYT and 91 percent of those in the LAT made the foreign-torture connection.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes how quickly our media – including the Washington Post and NPR - gives the home-field advantage to Team USA when it gets the signal from Washington:

“(They) explicitly adopted policies to ban the use of the (pejorative) word…once government officials announced (waterboarding) should not be called ‘torture.’   We don't need a state-run media because our media outlets volunteer for the task.”  

The most cogent theory as to why General Stanley McChrystal used such impolitic terms while talking about civilian teammates in Afghanistan to Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings (and others) is this: the general assumed that Hastings would give him home-field advantage and voluntarily refrain from quoting his revealing remarks. Reporters’ willingness to go along with the game is a sad indictment of a once-proud profession.  

                            -     -     -            

The Mets, Rangers and Yankees are thriving at home almost as much as the Braves.  The NYMs and Texas both are 28-12 in their ballparks, the Yanks, entering last night’s game, were 26-12.  What makes the Yankees so impressive: among the four top home-cookin’, they were the only one going into the weekend with a winning away-from-home record, 23-18.

 

Where the hurtin’ leaves us: The rash of injuries to the Red Sox and Phillies has

 given two teams reasons to wear collective smiles.  The Rays, who had been slipping, now have a legitimate shot to remain in the AL East playoff hunt.  And Atlanta appears to own a clear field to the NL East title.  P.S.  The chances of the NL East getting a wild card spot have diminished considerably. 

 

On Cliff Lee: Surprising unofficial word out of Seattle this week is that the Mariners would be interested in dealing Cliff Lee for the Mets’ Angel Pagan, catcher Josh Thole and a minor-league pitcher (Jenrry Mejia?)  Omar Minaya did a miraculous job in trading for Johan Santana and giving away little – only Carlos Gomez of the four prospects sent to the Twins is in the majors, and he’s a part-timer with the Brewers.  But Lee would be another in a series of big names – Santana, Bay, etc. – who could not lead the Mets to the playoffs absent good players in the minors ready to reinforce in an emergency.  The Mets’ flair for fading in the homestretch has had to do with an empty farm system.  If reason prevails (a big if), that should change now, and Lee left to go elsewhere, preferably to the other league or another NL division.  

 

How are our favorite five now-departed, recent former Yanks and Mets doing at this point of the season?  Some better than others.  Johnny Damon is having an off-year with the Tigers; he’s batting .261 with three home runs and only 20 RBIs in 71 games.  Hideki Matsui is batting .256 with the Angels, but has 10 HRs and 46 RBIs in 76 games. Melky Cabrera has hit .257 with the Braves – two HRs and 23 RBIs in 76 games. Teammate Billy Wagner has been lights-out as closer with Atlanta: 5-1, 1.15 ERA, with 16 saves in 18 tries, and 49 strikeouts in 31 innings.  J.J. Putz is 4-2, 1.86 as eighth-inning man with the White Sox.  He has 34 Ks in 29 innings, and two saves out of three attempts.

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June 2010 Archive      


(Posted: 7/1/10)

 

Team Obama and the U.S. Losing Streak in Latin America

 

The White Sox fan in the White House could learn a lot from Ozzie Guillen.  Ozzie was - is - a lefty hitter, but he doesn’t like Fidel Castro’s politics and he’ll bat away any talk of how his president Hugo Chavez runs Team Venezuela.  Still, Guillen admires both Fidel and Hugo for their toughness in the face of powerful (Yanqui) opposition. It’s the way Guillen has had to run his team, defying attacks from GM Kenny Williams and Chisox fans.  The White Sox, touted as an AL Central team to beat, fell 11 games under .500 the second week of June; fans called for Ozzie’s impeachment and Williams seemed prepared to concede the season and begin selling off his manager’s best players..  Then Ozzie led the team to 15 wins in 16 games – 11 straight.  The White Sox zoomed close to the top, rebuilding support as it revised its approach to playing the game.

 

Guillen, a loyal Venezuelan but not anti-Yanqui,, surely wishes Team Obama would turn its Latin American fortunes around the way he did the White Sox.  Why?  Because the gringo policy has led to a recent losing streak for the U.S. in the region, a prolonged slump that began in Ozzie’s country eight years ago.  Robert Naiman reviewed the record book in the UK Guardian:


“On April 13, 2002, an event occurred…which was as world-historical for South America as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Eastern Europe: a U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela collapsed.  The Bush Administration's efforts to promote the coup failed, in the face of popular resistance in Venezuela, and diplomatic resistance in the region.


“The failure…to overthrow President Chavez…sent a powerful new signal about the limits of the ability of the United States to thwart popular democracy in the region…Following the reversal…a succession of presidents were elected across South America promising to reverse the disastrous economic policies promoted by Washington…The story of this dramatic transformation has been largely untold in the United States.  Our major corporate media are largely uninterested in the freedom narrative of South America, because it's a narrative of freedom from control by U.S. institutions.”


So far, Team Obama has blown away any hope that, Guillen-like, it would change the Bush approach in Latin America.  A year ago this week it supported a right-wing coup in Honduras, and around the same time arranged to establish U.S. bases in Venezuela’s right-field neighbor, Colombia.  The skipper in the White House seems to be testing how long a losing streak can last.

                                             -     -     -

No sad songs for Sox: Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell, Jeremy Hermida: an injury list that matches any a would-be contender has had to endure in recent years.  Yet the Red Sox keep winning, with a minimum of the “woe-is-us” bleats heard in Queens last summer.


The Phillies have just taken a key double-injury hit, losing Chase Utley and Placido Polanco, at least until after the All-Star break.  They join catcher Carlos Ruiz, and relievers Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and J.A. Happ on the DL.  The Phils in depleted condition have four games with the Pirates, three with the Braves and three with the Reds before the break.


A.J. Burnett’s problems are the only obvious kink in the Yankees’ purring machine.  But, as Al Leiter noted on YES the other night, the late-emerging effectiveness of Javy Vazquez has made Burnett’s laboring easier to absorb.  Less obvious, but in need of watching: the mysterious disappearance of two miles-per-hour in Phil Hughes’ velocity.  “Throwing at 91 instead of 93 is a big difference,” Leiter and Michael Kay agreed as the Mariners clobbered Hughes Tuesday night.


Same old story:
“It always comes down to pitching.” – Joe Torre on the NL West outlook.   “If a team can pitch, it has a chance every night.”  - Terry Francona (paraphrased by the Globe’s Nick Cafardo) on the AL East outlook.

                                                - o -

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(Posted: 6/24/10)

 

Crash!...Go the Astros, Orioles, Pirates and Economic Team USA

 

Say what you will about inter-league baseball, the games tell teams where they fit in the broader scheme of the sport.  The Astros, Orioles and Pirates, for example, now know that they really, truly suck.  Together (up to last night’s games), they had won six and lost 26 – Houston, 2-10,  Baltimore, 2-8, Pittsburgh, 2-8.

 

In the same way, Team USA found out after the recent crash its perceived place in the global financial league of nations: at Double-A level.  Super-scout Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, did the bird-dogging that placed the world military power where it belonged in the securities field.  His most sobering discovery: that the finance industry has taken control of our government instead of the other way around.

 

In his report, published in the latest Atlantic, Johnson reminds us that our team triggered the crash by playing an error-filled minor-league brand of money-ball: “Financiers …played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse.  More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive.  The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.”     

 

Johnson says Team USA fell under the thrall of gashouse-gang financial play over the past decade when “the attitude took hold that what was good for Wall Street was good for the country. The banking-and-securities industry has become one of the top contributors to political campaigns, but at the peak of its influence, it did not have to buy favors the way, for example, the tobacco companies or military contractors might have to.  Instead, it benefited from the fact that Washington insiders already believed that large financial institutions and free-flowing capital markets were crucial to America’s position in the world.”

 

America is scrambling to reestablish the standing it relinquished in the rout of 2008-09, Johnson says.  Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers are being penalized for misuse of the capital, just as Astros, Orioles and Pirates fans have been hurt by their teams’ unrewarding transactions and unproductive investments in player development.  LA Dodger fans have a different gripe: their team’s 2-8 inter-league record could be partially blamed on a schedule that has them meeting the Angels (six times), Tigers, Red Sox and, as of tomorrow, the Yankees.

                             -     -     -

What We’ve Learned over the last several days:  Streaks by Texas (nine straight and 12 of 13) and the White Sox (seven straight and 11 of 12) all but confirm that the Rangers and Angels will duke it out in the AL West, the Sox, Twins and Tigers in the AL Central.  Less sure, but possible: the Padres will hang in to make it a four-team donnybrook – Dodgers, Giants, Rockies and SD –in the NL West.

 

Hard to believe the Rays - 10 wins in 26 games through Tuesday - are fading in the AL East, but both the Yankees and Red Sox are looking strong now, and both have deal-making power should their teams sputter.   How hot are the Bosox? At 36-20 (up to last night), Boston has the best record in the majors since April 20.  Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz are 14-4 in the last 22 games.  Each worked six innings or more in 21 of those games.

 

Query: Which teams among the 20-plus still in playoff contention most need, and have the resources, to rent Cliff Lee? Answer (It says here): 1) Phillies, 2) Dodgers, 3) Mets, 4) Angels, 5) Yankees, 6) Red Sox, (7) Cardinals.  

                                   - o -

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(6/22/10)

 

Will Team USA Hit Out Toward the Income Gap?

 

Thanks to MLB-TV, attentive baseball fans know the meaning of the term “economic inequality.”  The channel does “look-ins” of games around the majors each night.  And what viewers see, more often than not, is crowds clustered in corporate-box sections of the grandstands and yawning swaths of empty seats elsewhere. 

 

Nubbite Frank Macchiarola is certainly attentive to baseball (and may even watch MLB-TV).  But he e-mailed an objection to the pitch launched here last time that progressive taxation hitting the rich on down in a proportional way would begin to narrow the income gap.  “The simple fact is,” he wrote, “that governments which tax at higher rates inhibit economic growth.  Governments which tax at lower rates promote that growth and hence jobs.”  The record book shows Brooklynite Macchiarola to be a heavy hitter in the financial field.  And national polls show his support of tax-restraint is seconded strongly by most Americans, including elected officials like Andrew Cuomo, and the corporate media.

 

But polls consistently show something else that is seldom publicized: Even in hard times, people have no problem investing in public services through taxation if a condition is met.  The taxes, if imposed on income, must be seen as fair, in keeping with what a person can reasonably spare.. Why, then, with most new jobs on the menial/service roster, has progressive reform of the tax code been low-bridged in NY and around the economically unequal nation?  The Macchiarola stance amplified by an anti-tax offensive in the right-side media is one explanation.  Despair or exhaustion is another:

 

“In a two-party system,” wrote the late historian Howard Zinn, “if both parties ignore public opinion, there is no place voters can turn.”

 

The scorecard confirms Zinn’s reference:  Team GOP had its opponent as accomplice in skewing the American political game.  Repubs and Dems came together after the 1976 Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited amounts of money to be used in political races. Lefty author William Greider notes that “the moneyed elite first began to win big in 1978 with the Democratic party fully in power well before Ronald Reagan came to Washington.  Democratic majorities have supported th(e) great shift in the tax burden every step of the way.”  

 

A sign as to whether the shift will at last be reversed nationally may be flashed in the inheritance tax contest.  There’s a chance Congress will reduce instead of ratcheting up taxes on heirs to mega-million-dollar estates.  That would deprive the economy of billions-a-year in income-gap-narrowing revenues.  But Dems may well join with GOP players to hit to right and move the cut into scoring position.

                     -     -     -

Weekend Overview:  By taking two of three from the Mets while the Rays lost two of three to the Marlins, the Yankees gained both first place alone in the AL East and the best record in the majors.  But it was the Red Sox, only a game behind the Yanks, the White Sox, on a six-game tear, and the Rangers, who’ve won eight straight, who swept in the AL.  The Braves were the only NL team to win three inter-league games, beating KC. 

 

The Rays had been atop their division since April 22, but they’ve won only 10 of the last 25 games.  Boston’s sweep of the Dodgers enabled the Padres to sneak back into first in the NL West by a game-and-a-half over the Giants and two games over LA.  The Rangers galloped four-and-a-half games ahead of the LA Angels in the AL West with their dispatch of the Astros.

 

The Inter-league won-loss record was 42-42 after the first weekend.  Since then AL teams have gone on a spree.  The tally was AL 92, NL 76 after Sunday night.

 

On ESPN’s Sunday night game, Boston’s Mike Cameron failed to run out a pop fly that could have resulted in the Dodgers deliberately dropping the ball and turning a double play.  The four men in the broadcast booth – Jon Miller, Joe Morgan, Orel Hersheiser and Curt Schilling – acknowledged that Cameron was in a depressing slump but refused to cut him slack:  “All teammates ask is that you give the impression of hustling,” Hersheiser said.  “You can’t be expected to hustle all the time (something Morgan noted), but you can give 80 percent.”    

 

On Manny Ramirez, Schilling said “No one I ever played with worked harder.”  But Manny had a tendency to loaf, he added, “and after he let a ball drop in front of him when I was pitching, I wanted to discuss it with him.  But I was told to leave him alone.”  Schilling didn’t mention Tito Francona by name, but implied he didn’t approve of the manager’s kid-glove treatment of Manny. 

                            

Updating (with apology) an item by the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers: “Look out for CC Sabathia.  His victor(ies) over Roy Halladay…(and Johan Santana) reminded us that we have arrived at his time of the year. The Yankees' ace has gone 29-6 from mid-June until the end of the season the last two seasons.”

                     - o -

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(Posted: 6/15/10)

 

Unpredictable Cuomo Takes Ballplayers’ Stance on Taxes

 

If Andrew Cuomo had followed his father into professional baseball – Mario Cuomo was a highly regarded Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand – his stance on taxes would make sense: ballplayers hate anything, even the sport’s minimally close-shaving luxury tax, that might brush back their income.

 

But Andrew, NY’s probable next governor, didn’t play ball. And he comes from a progressive tradition that deplores economic inequality.  It’s a surprise, then, to discover he’s rejected membership on a team pitching for a tax code that socks it to the under-assessed rich.  Most press box observers have given young Cuomo a free pass: he makes positive news almost daily with his bearing down as state attorney general against alleged wrongdoers in and outside government.

 

A journalistic exception is the Village Voice’s Wayne Barrett, who consistently hits the telling long ball in the political-coverage game.  After cheering much of candidate Andrew’s reform-Albany offensive strategy, Barrett swings out against his approach to taxes:

 

“’God helps those whom God has helped’ was Mario Cuomo’s (wry) refrain about tax cuts for the rich.  Now his son, the man who exposed the gargantuan bonuses Wall Street continues to pay, is against taxing them…..Cuomo’s (published program)….notes…that the state and local tax burden falls heaviest on the middle class, is kindest to the rich (those earning between $33,000 and $56,000 pay 12 percent of their income in New York taxes, while those earning more than $3 million pay 9.4 percent).  Yet he…never discusses how he will attack economic inequality in his program.

 

“Indeed, Andrew Cuomo’s (program) contain(s) a crisp statement of his core beliefs, and they are resoundingly liberal…but the list does not include any commitment to progressive tax policies or even to maintaining the temporary restructuring of the state income tax…(which) raised state taxes on the wealthiest.”

 

Why would Andrew resort to a small-ball, hit-to-right strategy when he doesn’t have to for success in the gubernatorial game?  Barrett notes a “Clintonian triangulation” stance, a sign the younger Cuomo may already be looking beyond New York.  Whatever his game plan, Andrew does take after his fiscally conservative father.  When, many years ago, we suggested a progressive tax hike as a way of dealing with a budget crisis, Governor Mario was incredulous: “I can’t believe you said that,” he said.  “If you believe in more taxes, you’re the only one in the state who feels that way.”

                       -     -     -

Re: Baseball’s luxury tax: Only two of 30 teams have payrolls in excess of this year’s spending limit, $170 million – the Yankees, of course, and the Red Sox.

 

Weekend Wrap:  Six of the 28 teams involved in the three-game inter-league series swept:  the Yanks, Tigers and Angels in the AL, the Mets, Rockies and Giants in the NL.  The Yankees earned top billing by moving into a first-place tie with the Rays, who lost two of three to the Marlins.  June 13 could be remembered as the day the clicking NYYs reached the top to stay.  The Angels demonstrated that the façade of Dodger dominance in the NL West could be dented.  That the Astros, Pirates and Orioles were swept was unsurprising; Toronto’s loss of three to the Rockies, however, was surely a psychological jolt to Jays fans.   The Mariners salvaged what could have been a life-preserving victory over the Padres Sunday.  Being swept might have started a plank-walking process rumored to be imminent in Seattle.                                  

 

Dusty Baker invited second-guessing when he chose to rest red-hot Scott Rolen against KC’s Zack Greinke on a day another hot hitter, Brandon Phillips, couldn’t play.  Result: the Reds lost the rubber-game of the series and a chance to extend their lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central.  Rolen had gone six-for-10, Phillips five-for-eight (including a HR) in the first two games.

 

Final weekend (W-L) tally: AL 23, NL 19.

 

“I’m not trying to hype this guy,” said TBS play-by-play man Dick Stockton about Stephen Strasburg Sunday.  Too late to express restraint: Stockton’s TV colleagues Dennis Eckersley and Buck Martinez had already likened the rookie to Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Josh Beckett, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Verlander.

 

                       - o -

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

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A minor medical problem will put The Nub on the DL for about a week.

 





(Posted: 6/12/10)

 
Baseball, Team USA and the Need for Heroes

 

It’s no secret why baseball is celebrating the exploits of rookies Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and even Ike Davis: the sport needs heroes.  And what about war?  If we wage it in the future primarily using drones – that is, in hero-less fashion, by remote control – how can our skippers hope to get the people’s support for devastation done in their name?

 

These thoughts were triggered by a pair of messages in the e-mailbag.  One, from Seth, of Cliffside Park, NJ, who wondered if the (presumed) drop in steroid use has led to an erosion of baseball’s offensive numbers?  A stat check over the past five years showed no such falloff, but did suggest why baseball was short on position-player heroes.  Of the four players who led in at least three of the 15 separate-league categories (BA, HR, RBI) between 2005 and 2009, two, Alex Rodriquez and David Ortiz, have been tainted by substance-abuse charges. Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard are the two who cleanly earned their pedestals.  Albert Pujols is a third; he only finished first in one category – HRs in 2009 – but he made the top five in a total of 10 categories throughout the five years.

 

It was Rolf, of Manhattan, who said wars waged at long distance would be unpopular, having left no room on the field for heroics.  The wars would still be waged, he said, probably in the name of freedom, but to insure that this country’s material needs are met.  Charlie Rangel identified the major need as a three-letter word:  O-I-L.  News services, meanwhile, are reporting that Team USA is allowing Iranian oil into our bailiwick through non-American companies like Royal Dutch Shell and, yes, BP.  The O-Team does not want to prohibit oil exports from Iran lest it trigger a shortage and escalating fuel prices   Protecting a way of life is the highest priority.       

                        -     -     -

Why Reds could well be for real:  As weekend began, more than a third of Cincinnati’s victories - 12 of 35 – had been pulled out in a last at-bat.  And Dusty Baker has a deeper rotation than the Cardinals’ Rudy La Russa.

 

Praise for the Padres:  After splitting their six games with San Diego, the Mets had nothing but admiration for Padre pitching, particularly the relievers: “(Theirs) is the best bullpen in baseball,” said Jeff Francoeur. “They’re going to be tough to beat…I’m not going to miss seeing those guys the rest of the season.”  Added Jason Bay: They’re by far the best staff… we’ve seen…(Their)bullpen shortens the game considerably.”

 

While the Padres were taking three of seven from the Phils and Mets on the road, the Dodgers took five of seven at home from the Braves and Cardinals.  In so doing, LA leapfrogged SD into first place in the NL West.

 

Open for business: Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh and Arizona: Those are teams perceived to be ready to sell off their player-assets for the right price in prospects and, perhaps, dollars.  The Astros’ Roy Oswalt, the Orioles’ Kevin Millwood and, lately, the Mariners’ Cliff Lee are the most-mentioned sales items.  One more tailspin and the White Sox could join the sellers’ list.  

                           - o -

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

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Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 





(Posted: 6/10/10)

 

Big Changes Seen in Baseball and the Waging of War

 

Momentous changes in baseball and politics may be just ahead:  former managers Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine, and Ron Swoboda, key member of the ’69 World Champion Mets, all see expanded use of video replays during games as inevitable.  Boston Globe columnist James Carroll sees a similar but sinister change occurring in the political field – the outcome of our conducting a remote-control war in the Mideast.

 

“We can’t let baseball become archaic,” Showalter said while appearing with Valentine on ESPN.  Swoboda, who spent two decades as a TV sportscaster, predicted that baseball “would have to concede to the camera’s eye.”  Speaking by phone from his home in New Orleans, Swoboda, now a local TV baseball color commentator, said the sport’s decision-makers cannot ignore for long that “cameras catch everything at a ballgame.” Pictures of crucial mistakes, he added, “will be shown everywhere.”  He implied the potential embarrassment would speed the game’s adoption of the new technology.

 

Carroll calls the use of pilot-less drone aircraft a “military revolution…No one can predict the consequences for the meaning of war of this total removal of one combatant from the field of battle on which the other is met.  War’s mainly personal character has, until now, been its only check.  The video-screen pilot in Nevada, whose weapon obliterates lives half a world away, is a psychological mutant.  The technically ingenious Pentagon has set devils loose here, without regard for ultimate consequence — either to drone victims, drone victimizers, or a drone-infested world.” 

 

A propos:  Helen Thomas (newly retired Hearst White House correspondent) epitomized what young journalists should be taught: that reporters ought not take sides, except on the side of life.  That is, they should challenge any rationale for visiting death on people. That idea informed much of her questioning of presidents through the years.

                                  -     -     -

Stat city:  The disparity in AL-NL offensive stats is striking: going into last night’s games, the top BA in the AL was .370 (Robinson Cano) compared to .325 in the NL (Martin Prado); in home runs, the margin at the top was 18 (Jose Bautista) to 15 (Corey Hart); RBIs 52 (Miguel Cabrera) to 35 (Troy Glaus and Casey McGehee); stolen bases, 23 (Rajai Davis) to 19 (Michael Bourn).

 

(The Mariners’ Cliff Lee has the mlb’s best strikeout-walk ratio, by far:  In 61.2 innings, Lee has struck out 57 and walked only four.   

 

Swoboda, remembering the ’69 Mets:  There was an anti-Vietnam war consensus among attentive members of the team.  “(Tom) Seaver even said publicly ‘If the Mets can win the World Series, we should be able to get out of Vietnam’.”  On the possibility the “miracle” could happen: “(Catcher) Jerry Grote said he had known we could do it as early as spring training.  I wish somebody had told me…(First baseman) Donn Clendenon knew.  He asked to be traded from the Pirates and picked us as the team he wanted to go to.  He said he thought early on we could win it all.”  (Clendenon was ’69 Series MVP.) “Hardly anybody knew that (manager) Gil Hodges was an ex-Marine who had fought in the Pacific.  It wasn’t something he’d talk about.”

                   

Former Texas Rangers scout Frankie Piliere monitored the amateur draft for FanHouse earlier in the week.  Here are squibs from his report:

 

 By getting Kolbrin Vitek, Bryce Brentz, and Anthony Ranaudo, the (Red Sox) netted three of the best college players in the country and three guys that aren't that far away from the big leagues… If they can sign all these guys, it was a tremendous day for the Sox.” 

 

“Hats off to the Mets.  There were some questions about their willingness to spend on the draft, and by taking Matt Harvey, it sure looks like they are willing to go above slot. (He)… is one of the few college arms in the class to show front-of-the-rotation upside.”

 

“The…Yankees had a player they really wanted, regardless of where he was in the draft, and that was Cito Culver, who they picked 32nd overall…Culver… got stellar grades from the MLB Scouting Bureau this spring, grades that could have pushed him into the top 25.”

 

                              - o -

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

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Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

 






(Posted: 6/8/10)

 

Why Can’t Both Pastimes ‘Have It Both Ways’?

 

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Steve Stone to Hawk Harrelson on WGN-TV.  “You can’t keep the human element in baseball and resort to using video replays.” The subject came up during a White Sox broadcast after the missed call last week at the end of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. 


Stone is one of the best baseball analysts on the air.  But he knows that baseball  games offer as much individual spontaneity as does any sport; that’s true, whether or not umpires are involved in a play.  

 

Indeed, having it both ways is the American way.  That’s certainly the case in politics.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is a current example.  He wants Team Obama to get the spilled oil out of the Gulf of Mexico and at the same time let drilling continue; that is, he wants the government to respond simultaneously to his state’s environmental and economic needs.  Of the skipper’s moratorium on deep-sea oil exploration, Jindal wrote this to the White House: "The last thing we need is to enact public policies that will certainly destroy thousands of existing jobs.”

 

We know that Team USA, as the world’s preeminent power hitter, felt entitled through the years to have it both ways.  Possessor of the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, it has sought to keep other nations from going similarly to bat on even a modest scale.  We know, too, that while encouraging democratic elections, it reserves the right to oppose winners who decline to play ball with our home team.  An unwillingness to take any stance in a contest is another strategy designed to have it both ways.  Robert Fisk of the UK Independent cites an Israeli-Palestinian case in point:

 

“The Goldstone report…found that Israeli troops (as well as Hamas) committed war crimes in Gaza, but this was condemned as anti-Semitic - poor old honorable (Richard) Goldstone, himself a prominent Jewish jurist from South Africa, slandered as ‘an evil man’ by the raving Al Dershowitz of Harvard - and was called ‘controversial’ by the brave Obama administration.  ‘Controversial’, by the way, basically means ‘fuck you’.”

 

The “both-ways” list includes a U.S. pledge to avoid the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan while using pilot-less drone attack planes incapable of discriminating between the innocent and the enemy.  Many in the mainstream sports media treat possible use video replays as the equivalent of a drone attack on the umpiring human element and baseball in general.  This pitch from Globe ace Nick Cafardo is typical:


“Baseball has always wanted the human element involved. That means you’re not always going to get the call right.  The techno-geeks will argue that in the 21st century, why not utilize instant replay?  Why not use technology?   But if you’re going to do that, then why not remove the umpires altogether and have a guy in the press box watch each play and make a ruling, then push a button.”
   


Baseball will always need on-field umpires focusing up close on plays in and around the bases.  If allowing managers, say, two replay challenges of particularly close calls, and that insures getting most of them right, why not let baseball enter the 21st century?  

                                -     -     -

Few weekend brooms:  In only two of the 15 weekend series did teams sweep: the Mets took three from the Marlins (partial revenge on the four Florida won from them late last month); the Angels swept the Mariners to move a half-game out of first in the AL West.  Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar went nine-for-14, a .644 average, in Atlanta’s four-game series split with the Dodgers.  Escobar’s BA jumped from .217 to .252 over those four days.

 

The Yankees gained another reassuringly solid performance by Javier Vazquez but might have lost a third straight to the Jays Sunday were it not for a puzzling strategic mistake by Toronto manager Cito Gaston.  With the score tied 2-2 and men on second and third in the top of the eighth, Gaston let Jason Frasor pitch to dangerous Robinson Cano instead of purposely putting him on first.  Cano drove in the decisive runs in the 4-3 victory. 

 

The weekend results left little changed anywhere except in the AL West, where the streaking Angels (five straight and eight of 10) look poised to take command yet again.  Either the Braves or Dodgers could have lost momentum in their four-game set, but neither did with the split.  It seems certain both will be around at September crunch-time.                       

                               - o -

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(Posted: 6/5/10)

 

Selig Should Follow Obama’s Lead on Reversing Crucial Calls

 

Time for Bud Selig to reconsider – and do for the missed call in Wednesday’s perfect game what the national umpire-in-chief did on the oil-spill call: try to undo the political damage.  Selig has the authority to reverse Jim Joyce’ s two-out “safe” call that ruined Armando Galarraga’s unblemished no-hitter.  Since Joyce conceded he made a mistake after seeing a video replay, the reversal (media traditionalists notwithstanding) will elicit universal public approval. 

 

Chief Obama, we know, originally justified the decision to let BP, as the “responsible” party, clean up the mess.  Belatedly he saw the error: BP was to blame, Team USA - the government – was responsible for returning the Gulf to what it was.  Obama fans can hope his slowness to take charge – seen by many as a characteristic failing – will not do him and his Dem team permanent harm.  But lefty supporter Jim Hightower is unsympathetic, and vehemently so:


What we're witnessing is not merely a human and environmental horror, but also an appalling deterioration in our nation's governance.  Just as we saw in Wall Street's devastating economic disaster and in Massey Energy's murderous explosion inside its Upper Big Branch coal mine, the nastiness in the gulf is baring an ugly truth that We the People must finally face: We are living under de facto corporate rule that has rendered our government impotent.


“Thirty years of laissez-faire, ideological nonsense (pushed upon us with a vengeance in the past decade) has transformed government into a subsidiary of corporate power. Wall Street, Massey, BP and its partners — all were allowed to become their own "regulators" and officially encouraged to put their short-term profit interests over the public interest.”
  (Common Dreams)

 

Hightower only hints at the most troubling part of the indictment: Mega-corporations like BP and Goldman Sachs can at least match many governments in resources – money, connections, power, legal expertise, etc.   Team USA’s challenge to do a better clean-up job than BP will be watched worldwide, especially by anti-government spectators.

 

Unlike Obama, Selig knows he has the technology to insure against any recurrence of the mistake made in his baseball bailiwick.  He hints that he will broaden the use of video replays;  He should do it soon, insuring at last that baseball is getting controversial calls right.

                        -     -     -

Who would have guessed that, going into the first weekend of June, three games would be the largest margin a first-place team would have in any of the six divisions?  The single team with such a margin: the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.  Their remaining games with the Dodgers will be the most notable in the majors through Sunday.  The Rays-Rangers matchup of two first-place teams warrants extra attention, as well.  That’s especially true since the LA Angels seem ready to try to push aside both Texas and Oakland at the top of the AL West. 

 

Epitaph for Dave Trembley:  The newly-fired Orioles manager sounded like he knew the boot was coming with this complaint about his team in late April: "It's time to dial it up and get this thing going in a positive direction and quit accepting it and saying, 'It's OK.’  It's not OK.  It's not OK at all.  And I'm tired of covering for them. I get questions point blank, and I feel like I'm a damn presidential press secretary sometimes.  Instead of telling them how it is, I have to smooth it over.  I ain't smoothing it over anymore.”

 

Interim manager Juan Samuel has the “smoothing-it-over” job now

                    - o -

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(Posted: 6/3/10)

 

Why Can’t Baseball Play a Whole New Political Game?

 

It’s hard to boo the way baseball observed Memorial Day this year, but let’s try: the “Welcome Back Veterans” motif and the idea of raising money to address their needs was fine.  The men and women who have served in our two endless wars deserve all the help baseball can offer.  But the flag-waving associated with the observance – the selling of “Stars and Stripes” caps – is another, too familiar  story:  It equates wars and patriotism, something baseball has done slavishly since 1898 and our intervention in Cuba.

 

If Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the American people, including baseball fans, anything,  it is that the rationales for these wars are questionable.  Polls confirm the substantial lack of support for them in much of the country.  To expect baseball to amplify that widespread doubt would be unrealistic.  But asking for a different, less militaristic emphasis is surely appropriate. 

 

One such approach might go like this: “Welcome Back Veterans…to a Whole New Ballgame - Playing for Peace.”  Elaborating the theme would be an expression of hope that military conflicts could be brought to an expeditious, and permanent, halt.  And, more pertinently, that the deaths of so many – allegedly “not in vain” – would come to an end.

 

The Globe’s heavy thinking James Carroll could have had baseball in mind when he launched this Memorial Day pitch: 


“Just because we necessarily make something noble of war, by thinking gratefully of those who served to the point of death, does not remove the indictment of what killed them. War is a crime. Among its victims are its heroes. Yet in the modern era, they have been vastly outnumbered by men, women, and children for whom war was only catastrophic, in
no way valorous.


Through the centuries there may have been a few “good wars”.  Historians count World War II as one.  In his book “Days of Sadness, Years of Triumph”, Geoffrey Perrett says that war did more than just defeat Hitler.  It produced “the closest thing to a real social revolution” in the U.S.  For Memorial Day, Washington Post-man E.J. Dionne advanced that particular Perrett thesis:
“(World War II) sharply reduced ‘barriers to social and economic equality which had stood for the_nub archive Download FileZilla Download FileZilla

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