Foul balls and fair play

cubs-championship trump-hack-in-a-trucker-hat Argument could be made over which was the most unlikely phenomenon of November 2016 – the election of Donald Trump as President or the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Time will tell, of course. But there may be some positive lessons from the latter event that carry into our collective political world going forward. Hopefully The Donald’s one-time interest in owning the Minnesota Twins will yet translate into a true interest in the well-being of all potential fans of the national pastime, regardless of race, sex or creed.

No doubt the recent political season was full of foul balls and sometimes foul language that even an old barnstorming ballplayer might have found embarrassing. Bull Durham’s Nuke LaRouche looked cerebral and genteel compared to some of our presidential candidate performances. Sure baseball has sign stealing, beanings and even occasional bench-clearings, but almost always they turn into more dustups than brawls.

Which brings me to my point: The game must go on according to rules that ultimately benefit both teams or all sides. We also might mock or even appear to hate umpires but we also recognize their necessity. Imagine if either the Cubs or Indians had refused to accept rulings on the field during the Series? Even worse if they had refused to accept instant replay’s best empirical evidence (climate change parallels?) what might it have meant for our ability to continue the national pastime?

Our body politic might benefit from remembering some of the same messages going forward. We have a Constitution and Bill of Rights that were designed to benefit us all. We have government and a judicial system designed to serve various purposes, but most importantly to be an umpire making calls that are fair to all and let the game continue.

Interestingly, baseball has certainly grown to accept diversity amongst players on the field. The recent Major League playoffs saw an encouraging mix of Asian, Latino, black, and white stars. Meanwhile the premiere of a new fictional TV series focusing on the rise of a female pitcher gave hope that another barrier may soon be broken.

chief-wahooBaseball, like America, does have flaws and room for improvement e.g. getting rid of Cleveland’s “Wahoo” logo. The Major Leagues in general, again like the entire nation, need to continue confronting racial, economic and gender divisions that often keep a full diversity of fans from our ballparks. Calvin Griffith’s awkward (at best) Waseca speech description of how blacks weren’t coming to ballgames at Washington D.C.’s old Griffith Stadium did convey some truth that still continues.

Calvin got badly, and perhaps correctly, burned for his remarks and for other shortcomings in addressing baseball’s racial divides. But I believe even dinosaurs can evolve and I heard and saw very different attitudes from him in his later life. Maybe there is hope that even President Donald Trump can rise above his grievious remarks about women, gays, handicapped and various persons of colors and faith.

It may now seem like a lot to expect. Many are understandably planning resistance strategies to possible abuses of power. No one should accept a “rigged” game.

But all of us, including people who voted for Trump, also have a shared stake in making sure the game goes forward according to a level playing field that benefit us all. True fans of the game and our country remember that fairness doesn’t belong to just one team and cheaters who justify their actions by comparing them to other infractions are still just cheaters. Privileged members of both political parties, have clearly sometimes forgotten that – ringing up strikes against their credibility.Calvin-Cover-225x335 (1)

They also forget an ongoing basic baseball rule at their own peril: Three strikes and you’re out.

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If Trump had bought the Minnesota Twins?

me.boatOne of the interesting things about revisiting something you wrote years ago is realizing how something that you gave relatively minor attention then has assumed new importance with the passing of time.I could argue that is generally true about former Twins owner Calvin Griffith’s life. But what I’m really focused on now, as is much of the world, is another character by the name of Donald Trump who in the early 1980’s dramatically came into the Twins owner’s life. He wanted to come into every Minnesotans life at the same time.

Calvin-Cover-225x335 (1)In particular, the Donald was wooing “Baseball’s Last Dinosaur” in hopes of becoming the owner of the Minnesota Twins. He invited Calvin to New York in late 1983 to wine and dine him. It was a time when the Griffith family was finally coming to grips with the reality that its ma and pa operation could no longer successfully compete in the era of free agentry, arbitration and corporation-owned baseball teams.

Calvin was not born with Bernie Sanders’ class consciousness. But he was born as a street kid son of an alcoholic in Montreal and never forgot it or stopped being impressed with how the rich and famous lived.

“I had the thrill of my life going through Mr. Trump’s towers there and seeing all those million dollar condos he had,” remembered Calvin with almost child-like innocence. “Whoooeee! It was so superb it was unbelievable. Johnny Carson has a condo there.”

Even more unbelievable would be the financial discussion that followed, with Trump making an offer reported at $50 million. Today that would be almost $123 million.

“It was a lot of money no question about it,” said Calvin. “I never thought I’d get in a room talking about the kind of money he was talking about. It was more than (Carl) Pohlad ever offered, definitely.”

Griffith was referring to the Twin Cities banker to whom in the next year he would eventually sell the Twins – to his later regret. More on that later. But in 1983, Calvin had his choice of bidders and Trump had definitely gotten his attention.

Twins attorney Peter Dorsey, who went along for the meeting, confirmed Trump’s serious interest in the Twins as well as the bravado with which we’ve all become familiar.

“We met up in his office and he said, ‘I’ve got something that a lot of other people have and I don’t have something that a lot of people do have. I don’t have a board of directors or shareholders. And I do have a helluva lot of money,” said Dorsey repeating Trump’s sales pitch.

When the two sides disagreed on a price, the multimillionaire real estate developer got the chance to prove his wealth, recalled Dorsey. “Just like that he said ‘I’ll up it $3 million.’ Just like that. In a second.”

Imagine for a second what could have been if Trump had succeeded in gaining ownership of the Minnesota Twins. Control of a Major League franchise might have given him a forum bigger than The Apprentice. Think Calvin was controversial, guess again. How would The Donald have handled the Players Union, Cuban asylum seekers, female sportswriters in the lockerroom, Reggie Jackson?

trump-hack-in-a-trucker-hatTrump’s day-to-day unfiltered egotism versus Minnesota Nice would also have been epic. Of course he would almost certainly have sought immediate glory. It might have meant infusions of cash to bring star power to the Twins. It might also have meant impulsive decisions that endangered the young core Calvin’s organization had developed and which would bring a World Series championship to the Metrodome in 1987.

Of course my guess is that Trump would never have been able to handle those gloomy, indoor confines for long. In fact, I seriously doubt he would have long found much of interest in the Midwest. He never identified long-term plans, but Trump’s Florida financial interests suggest that the Twins might have soon been not been coming north from Spring Training. Or maybe he would have just ripped the roof off the insiders’ stadium.

Hard to say where it all might have gone. But it could have been really huge.

However something kept Calvin from leaping at Trump’s offer – tempting though it clearly was – to the likely benefit of Minnesotans today. Despite his initial awe, the Twins owner was no pushover. He knew he had plenty of options, with hungry cities like Tampa lining up, as well as potential Twin Cities buyers.

I think it was basically Calvin’s loyalty, along with maybe a bit of leftover guilt from moving the Senators out of Washington D.C., that tipped the scales against Trump – along with anyone not from Minnesota. Taking a lower cash offer from Pohlad also had something to do with mistaken ideas about his loyalty. It certainly had nothing to do with a home-grown grandstander named Harvey Mackay. But more on that also in the book.Calvin-Cover-225x335 (1)

Meanwhile we can all likely be thankful that we aren’t yet having to see our national pastime played in a stadium with Trump in control. No doubt it would have had really high outfield walls. The Green Monster would have been put to shame by the shameless Orange Trumpster.

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