Bush at Bat

Peter W. Schramm

January 1, 2001

January 20, 2001. We have a new president. He knows the game of baseball, both as a player, and an owner. I mention this in passing because it may be relevant to my musings.

Baseball is a great game. It is played in a sculptured, lovely space, a lot of mathematics and geometry involved. All the stadiums are beautiful. Although a team sport, individual effort is a massive fact, and it is recognized. Its pace is natural, if not relentless. Its laws are clear. And you play until there is a victor.

And just like in politics, there is a division of labor. Watching the shortstop snatch a hard grounder, make an off balance throw to the second baseman, who is trying to get out of the way of the sliding runner, as he then nails the fellow sprinting for first to complete the double play, is a wonderful sight. Seeing a fine pitcher in top form preventing anyone from getting a hit is also something to be wondered at.

But there is nothing more exciting than seeing a great batter do his work. This is the fellow that makes things happen. He is the dangerous man. His swings are natural and smooth. He is courageous, knowing that the pitcher can be wicked. He is steady and confident in his own powers. He knows the capacity of each pitcher, of each opponent.

He can do a lot of damage. People will have to react to his efforts. And in their defensive moves, in the way they pitch to him, in the way shade him to the left or right, in the way they play the ball he hits, the fielders may look good. But they are only responding to his efforts; they are playing defense. The batter is the one alone, the cause of action.

I like to watch Jim Thome at the plate. This is an old-fashioned ball player. He looks as though he played in 1915 or 1937 or 1956. Sometimes his helmet and uniform look as though they have been in use since then. He is a gritty player. He is not one of those perfectly sculpted players who, you just know, will have a future career as an actor or a TV broadcaster, and therefore suspect that he is playing the game as a means to some other end. He doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining to people what he does, why he does it, and how good it feels. He is not very introspective. He sees the ball, he hits it, he puts it in to play. He loves doing it.

I once saw a fine Arabian stallion prancing around. It took my breath away. Thome’s swing is something like that. His swing is smooth and natural and powerful. You can feel the vacated air in his swings. Even when he misses the ball you are in awe of the power and the force and the possibility behind the swing. Of course, pitchers are afraid of him, and the fielders try to prepare themselves to react.

For eight years the Republicans have been fielding. Sometimes they have had good pitching (Gingrich, for example), and sometimes some excellent fielding (stopping Clinton’s health care plan). But you need relief pitching, and the percentages are against the fielders. Most important, you can’t get runs without a hitter. You can’t govern through the legislature, just ask Henry Clay or Newt Gingrich.

The Republicans now have an executive. After eight years they are going to try to get some runs. The substantive power of the presidency, the energy that goes with the executive power, the set stage upon which all eyes are focused, all lead inexorably to the conclusion that things will happen. It is odd how the emphasis by commentators is on the fact that Bush will have a hard time governing because of the closeness of the election, or the slim majority in the House and Senate. They are not only underestimating Bush, but misunderstanding the nature of executive power.

What they have not noted is that Bush is at the plate, with bat in hands. The fans are all focused on him, as are the men in the field. His warm-up swings (selection of the Cabinet, inaugural speech, sticking with his agenda) were good, confident, self-controlled, powerful, and even graceful.

The fact that Bush mentioned courage in the inaugural speech (along with civility, compassion, and character) should be noted. The batter has to be courageous above all. You can’t get a hit if what you are thinking about at the plate is that the wily pitcher can bean you.

Bush the batter looks confident and purposeful. He looks happy in his work. This has already surprised his opponents in the field.

In the next few weeks he will be taking some swings. For today, it is just enough to note that his stance is aggressive and under control. And everyone will be reacting to him as he wields the bat. Everyone is expecting him to drive it up the middle. The odd difference between baseball and politics is that although Bush is already at bat, the Democrats are still looking for a pitcher. And that already puts them at a disadvantage. This is not talked about because the political commentators are like those generals we read about in school: they were always prepared to fight the last war, and win it. Maybe the outfield should shift to the right.