On April 25th, 2019 the San Francisco Historical Society hosted a discussion of my book Baseball Goes West: the Dodgers, the Giants and the Shaping of the Major Leagues. The discussant was longtime baseball executive Corey Busch. The event was held at the San Francisco Athletic Club.
In the years since the 2016 campaign, various media figures and institutions, including the New York Times,haveapologizedfor their shoddy coverageof that election and of Donald Trump. The gist of these sentiments have been that media outlets made a mistake by allowing themselves to be pulled like moths to the flame that was Donald Trump’s strange, unconventional and sensational candidacy, while failing to give enough coverage to his primary opponents and creating a false equivalency between Trump’s scandals and those related to Hillary Clinton. Despite these mistakes, most of the media similarly botched their coverage of Attorney General William Barr’s letter to congressional leaders summarizing the final report by Special Investigator Robert Mueller.
The Mueller report is an important historical document that scholars will study closely in future decades, but as a political document it was always going to going to have a limited impact. Based on the indictments and information we have learned in the 20 months of the investigation, it is clear that Trump had, at the very least, an untoward relationship with Moscow that should make any American, regardless of party, deeply concerned. It was also clear that even if the report had called for indicting the entire Trump family, Trump’s Tweets about “witch hunts” and “no collusion” were going to be believed by the third or so of the American people that are now his praetorian guard.
It may be that in 2016, it was not Sanders who consolidated the anti-Clinton sentiment, but Clinton who consolidated the anti-Sanders sentiment. As the primaries went on voters who found Sanders too far left, did not like his inability and seeming unwillingnessto connect to non-white voters, or chafed at the sexism of many in his campaign, had nowhere to go but to Clinton. In 2020, according to this view, the vote that went to Clinton will be dispersed among all the other candidates while Sanders will hold his base. If that happens, Sanders will be in a very good position to win the nomination.
By running in the Republican primary, Bloomberg would be able to force Trump to campaign and to answer charges from somebody who is viewed not as a fiery liberal, like almost the entire Democratic field, but from an older white businessman. Keeping that political heat on Trump for the first half of 2020 would further weaken the incumbent President going into the election. It would also present a new vision for the Republican Party, one that is largely true to the economic principles that have always been at its core, but that is not dominated by the magical thinking of tea partiers, climate change deniers and religious fundamentalists.
For decades, one America’s most valuable assets in the economic, security and foreign policy sectors, was its stability. This is why the dollar became the most trusted currency in the world and why the US was able to lead the way in crafting alliances and relationships that benefited our allies as well as ourselves. Trump has destroyed that stability. Today our European allies look at the Trump administration and recognize if the US can elect somebody like him once, it can do it again. The forces in American society that elected Trump are unlikely to go away simply because a Democrat wins an election in 2020. Those forces have been cultivated and activated by this administration and in the 2016 campaign, but they are here to stay. As long as that is true, the trans-Atlantic alliance is under threat and America can never be trusted the way it once was to honor its word and fulfill its commitments to its allies.
While recent events are a reminder that racism and anti-Semitism are problems that do not know partisan boundaries, the faux earnest concern about anti-Semitism from Republican leaders who have quietly sat through the festival of intolerance that is the Trump administration are not just hypocritical, but offensive. Those who see the anti-Semitism in Omar’s Tweets, but not in actions, associates and messages of the Trump administration, care about settling political scores, not about ridding America of this ancient, but sadly persistent, hatred.
During the past few weeks, two American billionaires have floated their name as presidential candidates. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, has indicated his interests in running an independent candidacy in 2020, while Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City, has suggested he may run in the Democratic primary. At first glance, these two men seem to have a lot in common. Both of these men, who have built extremely successful businesses, are offering a message that their business skills make them uniquely poised to solve the problems facing the US while presenting a vision of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism that is popular among some segments of the educated elite, but has no traction beyond that. Additionally, both have attacked the more economically progressive elements within today’s Democratic Party. Lastly, they are both very unlikely to ever be President.
This means that rather than turning to our attention to who might win Iowa, which candidate is racking up the most endorsements, the latest great speech, gaffe or negative story about a candidate, we might be better off paying attention to a different set of issues. The question of whether or not the 2020 election is likely to be conducted freely, fairly and democratically is much more central to the future of our country than whether Kirsten Gillibrand or Corey Booker is in third place in Iowa or other such inside baseball campaign dynamics. The questions of which states are passing more restrictive voting laws, which of these laws are being upheld in the courts, why the federal government continues to do nothing to protect our elections from further Russian interference like what we saw in 2016, and the extent to which major media outlets traffic in lies and fear-mongeringare among the much extremely critical issues that too easily get overlooked as we all handicap the Democratic primary.
The impeachment hope rests on the belief that Mueller will find something out that is so extraordinarily bad about the President that almost half of the Republicans in the Senate will vote to remove Trump from office. To hold out hope that will happen is to believe that Republicans in positions of leadership do not already know about Trump’s involvement in Russia and will be shocked when they find out, but given the last two years that is not plausible. The only way Republican senators will vote to remove Trump is if their constituents demand it, but many Republican senators come from strongly red states where Trump is still quite popular.
As Donald Trump’s presidency careens into its third year leaving a wake of avarice, cruelty and enduring damage to American democracy and America’s standing in the world in its wake, it is still difficult for many Americans to believe this can go on much longer. Some hold out for Robert Mueller III to be a deus ex machina whose findings will lead to impeachment and removal from office for the President, but that is very unlikely. Others believe that the Donald Trump will tire of the office and the ongoing investigations and resign after securing a promise of a pardon from Mike Pence, who as vice-president would assume the presidency in such a circumstance, but that ignores the likelihood that Trump would then face legal problems from state Attorneys General, particularly in New York. Still others believe that Trump will lose the 2020 election. That is a real likelihood, but there is no certainty that Trump would leave office even if he loses. Despite all this, Trump will not be President forever. Ultimately, an election defeat in 2020 could push him out of office. Similarly, if he is reelected, he would probably leave after his second term. Moreover, Trump is a man in his mid-seventies who is overweight, eats a poor diet and rarely exercises. There are some actuarial realities in that area that cannot be ignored.
For the second time in twenty years, a major national election outcome hangs in the balance as election officials in Florida count votes, bicker over the counting of the votesand, in some cases, try to prevent the counting of the votes. The stakes are different in 2018 from what they were in 2000. Eighteen years ago, the presidency itself would be determined by whether George W. Bush or Al Gore was awarded Florida’s electoral votes. Now a US Senate seat and the governorship are being contested. That is not the same as the presidency, but with the GOP likely to have a slim majority in the Senate, the difference of one seat there will make a difference. Additionally, given the history of voter suppression in Florida and the potential challenges around the recently passed Amendment Four, which returns voting rights to many felons who have served their time, the difference between a pro-voting rights Democrat and a voter suppression oriented Republican as governor could have a big impact in the 2020 when Florida will again be the country’s biggest swing state.
My favorite baseball player ever died this month. Perhaps that is a rite of middle aged American male passage. Willie McCovey was a gigantic left-handed slugger who hit his first home run when Eisenhower was President and George Christopher was mayor of San Francisco, the city where McCovey played most of his career. He hit his last home run for the Giants when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Dianne Feinstein was our mayor. During his very long career, McCovey was often overshadowed by his more famous teammate with whom he shared a home state, Alabama, and the same first name. McCovey was not as good as Willie Mays, but almost nobody ever was. Nonetheless McCovey a formidable power hitter. When he retired in 1980 McCovey’s 521 career home runs tied him with Ted Williams for second most ever by a left handed hitter. At that time, the only player with more round trippers from the left side of the plate was Babe Ruth.
What do the following players from Yankee history, Bob Meusel, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller, Gene Woodling, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Paul O’Neill have in common? All were outfielders who, except for Jackson, were very good Yankee players, but not quite of Hall of Fame caliber. Reggie was a truly great player, but spent only five years in pinstripes. However, they have something else in common as well; they all played fewer games in the outfield for the Yankees than Brett Garnder has. Currently, Garnder has played the eighth most games in the outfield in Yankee history. If he plays 50 next years, he will pass Hank Bauer an move into 7th place on that list, one hundred more games patrolling left or center field will push him past Hall of Famer Earle Combs into sixth place. The next question is a little easier. What do Rickey Henderson and Derek Jeter have in common? They are the only two players who have stolen more bases with the Yankees than Gardner.
Although the midterms went better for the Democrats than the Republicans, they did not quite run the table. Democratic control of the House of Representatives is good news for that Party and all but guarantees that the conservative legislative phase, such as it was, of Donald Trump’s presidency is over. However, Republicans can point to the US Senate where they expanded their lead meaning that President Trump will be encounter no resistance when appointing federal judges, cabinet appointees or other positions requiring Senate confirmation. Thus, both parties can claim partial victories, but there was a clear loser-American democracy.
The turnout assertion is also intellectually lazy and, if believed, unhelpful for democracy. Focusing too much on turnout suggests that nothing else is important. If everything comes down to turnout, then there is no need to probe issues, look at why some voters are undecided or even to campaign outside of a party’s political base.
If the Yankees want to improve at first base, there is another player on the Giants who would be a more intriguing option. Buster Posey has been the face of the Giants franchise more or less since he was brought up to the team during the 2010 season. He has led them to three World Series victories and is a likely future Hall of Famer. However, he will be 32 years old when the 2019 season opens, may not be a full time catcher anymore and is clearly in the decline phase of his career. From 2012-2015, Posey posted an OPS+ of 145. Over the last four seasons, that number has declined to 117. That is still valuable production, but not what is needed from the middle of the order on a contending team, a role the Giants expected him to play in 2018. Moreover, Posey is owed $88.5 million over the next four years, so the Giants are stuck paying him more than what he is worth at this phase of his career.
The murder of eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue was horrific. The were killed by a vicious anti-Semite who had proclaimed that “all Jews must die.” These killings are a terrible blew to the Squirrel Hill community in Pittsburgh, all Jewish Americans, and indeed our entire country. It also feels like a turning point for American Jews and for the slowly unfolding civil conflict in the US. The killings came only days after bombs were sent to several high profile critics of President Trump by a deranged supporter of the President. More importantly, it comes following weeks of Republican candidates, pundits and propaganda organizations warning the American people that a shady Jewish billionaire is funding caravans of brown people to invade our country. It also occurred during the presidency of a man who, despite his hawkish support for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned on ancient anti-Semitic themes, has surrounded himself with anti-Semitic advisors and has never spoken out against the anti-Semites who are among his supporters.
With the midterm elections only two weeks away, we have seen Donald Trump return to his message that Democrats are committing widespread vote fraud, primarily through allowing non-citizens to vote in large numbers. For example, on October 20th, Trump Tweeted “All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!” He has also riffed on this theme, which dovetails with Republican fear mongering around immigration in recent speeches. We should remember that implicit in all the right wing talk about caravans crossing the border, although not the border into the US, are that those people will come here and cast illegal votes for the Democratic Party.
The easiest person to blame for this is Giancarlo Stanton whose ninth inning strikeout with two runners on base in game four was just one of several times in that series when the slugger came up empty in potentially game changing situations. That strikeout will likely be the enduring memory from a solid, but unspectacular season from Stanton, his first with the Yankees. However, the fault cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Stanton. The problem is bigger than that and starts with a team that had five batters with 100 or more strikeouts, two more with between 90-99 whiffs and 180 more team strikeout than the Astros, Red Sox or Indians, the other teams that made it into the final four in the American League.