Once upon a time, they played baseball just south of the White House. On a large, circular field with four baseball diamonds, known as the White Lot. (The Ellipse sits there now.) They did it first in the year Abraham Lincoln was elected to the White House on the threshold of the Civil War.
Some today think the presidential election finally done and affirmed was a spiritual equivalent of a civil war. Some also thought it would take longer to settle the election than it took for the Cubs to win their first World Series since the deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Now that it’s been decided at long enough last, first I place President-elect Joe Biden on notice: Your presidency to come will be judged first and foremost by your positions on the four most serious issues facing these United States today.
Mr. Biden, your first order of business is acceding to plain sense and supporting the universal designated hitter. Your next is standing athwart the free cookie on second base to begin each extra half inning, the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, and the permanently-expanded postseason.
Now, I bid advance farewell to the departing president whose early life included playing a little high school first base and, for whatever reasons lost to history long enough, reputedly attracting a little attention from the Philadelphia Phillies. He grew up (spoken facetiously) to use the presidential bully pulpit for pointing the way to sports wisdom by taking positions that ran, not walked, in the opposite direction entirely.
It didn’t begin with a February tweet in which Mr. Trump demanded, and I quote, “Pete Rose played Major League Baseball for 24 seasons, from 1963-1986, and had more hits, 4,256, than any other player (by a wide margin). He gambled, but only on his own team winning, and paid a decades long price. GET PETE ROSE INTO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME. It’s Time!”
A president who thinks (erroneously) that Article II of the Constitution granted him the license to do as he damn well pleased as president isn’t a president on whom the rules make any great impressions. I remind you first of the precise language of baseball’s rules and defy you, concurrently, to find one syllable suggesting the prescribed punishment for Rose and any other such gambler on baseball is contingent on whether he bet on his team to win:
1. Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.
2. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.
Second, I remind you that the Hall of Fame itself, an independent body in actual fact, enacted a rule declaring that those on MLB’s permanently ineligible list were likewise ineligible to stand for election to the Hall of Fame.
The Hall enacted the rule when it looked very much as though Rose would be elected despite his banishment. In effect, the Hall asked itself whether the game’s highest known honour could and should be conferred upon those considered persona non grata in the game itself.
Mr. Trump’s February revival of an argument he enunciated a time or two in the past (especially when commissioner Rob Manfred denied Rose’s reinstatement in 2015) wasn’t even close to the only time he showed his faith that the rules don’t mean a thing if they ain’t got that swing toward his preferences.
Almost a year earlier, he decided that disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security was a victim of—wait for it!—political correctness.
The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one. It was a rough & tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch. Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby – not even close!
The best horse in that Derby broke the following rule to enable the victory of the 65-1 longshot Country House: “If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul . . . If, in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”
Perhaps the best wisecrack in the immediacy of Mr. Trump’s pronouncement came from a CNN reporter, Ana Navarro: “Apparently one horse won the popular vote and another horse won the Electoral College.”
When Mr. Trump appeared in Nationals Park during Game Five of the 2019 World Series, two things stood out especially: 1) He hadn’t attended a single Washington-area sports event since he assumed his oath of office. 2) The seventh inning found a considerable contingency in the stands chanting “Lock him up! Lock him up!” a la his 2016 campaign crowds chanting likewise for his opponent Hillary Clinton.
Those who thought the chanting was aimed at Mr. Trump might have been disappointed to know they were really aimed at home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, whose dubious ball-and-strike calls—especially the ball four Barksdale called strike three on Nationals center fielder Victor Robles—left you unable to determine whether Nats fans or Astro fans were more outraged.
Mr. Trump had to settle merely for being booed. Many of his minions were not amused. Some among them thought it was unprecedented disrespect to a sitting president. Herbert Hoover (Prohibition-weary Philadelphia Athletics fans booing when not chanting “We want beer!” at the 1931 World Series), Harry Truman (booed on Opening Day, 1951, after throwing out the first commander of U.N. Forces Korea), the first George Bush (he got his at the 1992 All-Star Game not long after breaking his no-new-taxes promise), the second George Bush (at the Nats’ 2008 home opener, from perhaps a war-weary and economically nervous audience), and the only Barack Obama (he got his in St. Louis when he threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the 2009 All-Star Game for wearing a White Sox jacket), might have argued against the lack of such precedent.
This week’s protracted election vote counting and state calling provoked Mr. Trump and the Twittersphere alike to round after round of remarks ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and all the way back to the you-had-to-be-there. The most popular might have been Mr. Trump hereby declaring himself the winner on more than one premature occasion, and the Twitterpated hereby declaring all manner of previously-decided sports contests decided otherwise.
I couldn’t resist joining the fun on one online forum and declaring the St. Louis Browns the winners of the 1944 World Series. As the week plodded onward, though, I was almost convinced it would take more time to declare a winner between Messrs. Trump and Biden than it took for the Dodgers to return to the Promised Land. Almost.