Trump v Clinton: A Baseball Analogy

Long before George Will decided to resign as a leader of the out-of-favor moderate Republican establishment, he wrote a marvelous book about “America’s pass-time” – Men at Work: The Art and Craft of Baseball. His understanding of baseball is his most useful perspective in thinking about the presidential election.

There are at least three applicable lessons to understand from the profession of baseball:

1. The game is played in such a way that the successful team does not just “play its game”, it tries to maximize its strengths and exploit the opponents weaknesses.

The professional basketball regular season (unlike the playoffs) is a series of one night stands – each team does what it does best, then moves on to play another team a night or two later – there is little time for analysis and adjustment of strategies and tactics. Baseball is different. The season has a rhythm of 3 to 4 game series – a better chance to tailor the approach – perhaps play more left handed batters if the opponent is heavy in right handed pitchers; perhaps play a more aggressive base-running game based on the other team’s catcher or the strength of the arms in the outfield; perhaps take more pitches if the other team has strong starting pitchers and a weak bullpen; perhaps use more right-handed power hitters with Fenway Park’s left field wall or infielders with more range with the Oakland Coliseum’s expanded foul territory. Successful teams adjust to Denver’s Coors Field where the thinner air causes fly balls to go further and breaking pitches to break less. It is a game of nuance and adjustment, seeking to take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses and the conditions of the ballpark. It is not just doing what you do best.

2. It takes a long time to make it to the major leagues. With rare exceptions, even the top draft choices are consigned to a few years of learning the trade in the minor leagues.

This is also unlike professional basketball where most of the better players have at most a year or two of college experience.  By agreement between the NCAA and Major League Baseball, players at four year colleges must complete at least three years. With very few exceptions, everybody goes through a (sometimes truncated) progression from the rookie league to A to AA to AAA before arriving at the major leagues. Rookie sensations like Mike Trout, Kris Bryant,  and Jacob DeGrom,  spend at least a year or two in the minors honing their skills before entering the big stage.

Almost everybody has weaknesses that can be exploited by an adversary. Catchers, who call the pitches, must learn how to vary the pitches to keep batters off balance; pitchers must learn how to make it difficult for fast runners to steal bases and develop a slider and change-up to go with their 95 mph fastball; batters who can clobber a fastball must learn how to tell from the pitcher’s grip in a split second what movement will be on the ball.

3. Professional athletes have help. They rely on agents to evaluate their worth and negotiate contracts. They have equipment managers to keep track of their bats, gloves, uniforms, and assorted protective devices. They have strength coaches and trainers for the off season. They have advisers to tell them about the best steakhouse in Kansas City and to protect them from the pimps, con artists, and opportunists who prey on wealthy young celebrities.

So, what does it mean for politics?

Trump is a rookie. He learned at his father’s knee how to manage the politics of real estate development in New York.  He added a little variety expanding to tourist destinations, but he skipped all of the training of running for office himself at any level – trolling for contributions, organizing volunteers, managing the legal constraints, developing a platform, handling hostile interviews.  He learned a great deal about inciting the public in reality TV, but he has never had to build coalitions or deal publicly with a hostile audience on a national stage.  He has never seen a 92 mph slider from a left-hander or a high tight fastball. Hillary owns a stable of pitchers.

Trump hasn’t learned how to play in somebody else’s home park. He understands the relative powers of the borough presidents, the mayor, and the planning commission in NYC, and he has passed out millions of dollars in an effort to buy access with politicians, but he didn’t understand the nuts and bolts of how delegates get selected in primaries and caucuses. He doesn’t know how balls bounce off of the left field wall at Fenway Park. Hillary does.

Trump doesn’t have a trusted agent who understands this game. He doesn’t have a bag man; somebody to help him decide whether to have the elbow surgery or to tough it out; somebody to tell him when to be aggressive and when to play defense. (How different the world would be if Romney had played offense in the second and third debates.) Hillary has Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills;  Obama had David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. Trump has his family with no experience in politics and a questionable ability to privately call him to task when he needs it. He now has campaign manager Paul Manafort – a journeyman lobbyist and consultant who at least understands the mechanics but has no particular relationship with the candidate.

As a potential president, it is important that Trump doesn’t understand the details of public policy issues. His supporters would say that he deserves a break – this is new to him, he is a rapid learner, he’s got the big picture, and he can delegate. One can judge whether he can learn in the job, but the near term challenge is that he doesn’t have the experience in politics. He skipped from the rookie-league Brooklyn Cyclones to the New York Mets without first going through Port St. Lucie, Binghamton, and Las Vegas and he is facing a 30 year veteran in her own ballpark.


This week’s bonus is Nigel Farange’s “I told you so” UKIP speech to the European Parliament – perhaps right on the substance, but counter-productive on the form.

www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 7/1/16