With all that’s going on at home and abroad, you’d hope something as picayune as baseball could offer a moment of wholesome distraction and relief. That’s the point of it, right? The national pastime? Turn on a game and unplug your brain for three hours. Hell, that’s why Major League Baseball was in such a hot rush to get the season going even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic (well, that and the money, of course). Baseball is “normal,” and normal has been in desperately short supply.
I suspect that even those who detest sports might find a wrinkle of comfort in the return of something we all took for granted until it was gone. The crack of the bat, the voice of the play-by-play announcer marching up the octaves as the ball sails out of sight in a majestic arc… it is the stuff and sound of summer.
There is no swelling crowd noise now, and home runs clank inelegantly off empty seats instead of falling into a swarm of upraised hands, but it is enough. If we’ve learned anything in this passage, it is what we have learned to live without, individually and collectively. Getting a slice of that back is a boon, and if you listen to the games on the radio, you’d hardly know the stadium was empty.
So, of course, Donald Trump had to screw that all up, too.
This time, however, he had help. New York Yankees president Randy Levine invited Trump to throw the first pitch at a home game on August 15. Given everything that city has endured because of Trump’s galactically bungled pandemic response, take a moment with the fact that the invitation was proffered in the first place.
Before becoming president of the most storied franchise in baseball history, Levine served as Commissioner of Labor Relations under then-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and was one of Giuliani’s closest aides. In 2008, according to OpenSecrets, Levine was a campaign fundraising “bundler” for presidential candidate John McCain. From Rudy to McCain/Palin to George Steinbrenner’s old barn… yeah, it’s pretty safe to say we know what kind of cat he is.
Somewhere along the way, Levine acquired the standard Trump-brand tin ear, one so massive that he believed rolling out the red carpet for a president whose botched COVID response contributed to consigning over 23,000 New York City residents to early graves was a good idea.
Trump, to the surprise of none, happily accepted the invitation. Why not? The first pitch is cool president stuff, and he gets to be on TV, which basically appears to be the thing that gets him out of bed these days. Plus, the stadium would be empty (thanks to him), so there would be no chance of him getting thunderbooed the way he did when he dared to show his face at a Washington Nationals game last year.
Cooler heads apparently prevailed, however, and Trump backed out of the appearance. I’d hazard a guess his campaign advisers didn’t relish the optics of an entire city simultaneously booing one guy standing on a dirt mound in the Bronx. Plus, there was the very real chance Trump would accidentally and embarrassingly wing the ball into left field. For a rare change of pace, it seems, Trump listened to his people when they were being wiser than he is.
That the invitation was made is disgusting, verging on performative obscenity given the travails that city has endured. That Trump turned it down is one of the infinitesimally few good things he has done while in office.
The way Trump turned it down, however, is perhaps the most galling portion of this sordid little baseball tale. “Because of my strong focus on the China Virus, including scheduled meetings on Vaccines, our economy and much else, I won’t be able to be in New York to throw out the opening pitch for the Yankees on August 15th,” he tweeted on Sunday, using his customary xenophobic and race-baiting name for COVID-19. “We will make it later in the season!”
So much garbage crammed into 47 words, like the Gettysburg Address delivered in Bizarro World.
There have been more than 4 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and nearly 150,000 people are dead. The pandemic is out of control in the South and West on the doorstep of schools reopening, and an already fragile economy is threatening to fly apart at the seams, again.
In such a moment one would expect a president to be busy, but in this case the Television President has “meetings” with Sean Hannity, and afterward with whoever is filling Tucker Carlson’s racist chair on Fox News these days. That is what passes for “busy” in this White House, along with the ubiquitous golf outings that have finally and thoroughly murdered shame.
Even Trump’s most devoted aides and advisers have (finally) begun to despair that he will ever do anything more that wave at the escalating calamities before him while firing racist “China virus” dog-whistle trills at his base.
“People close to Trump, many speaking anonymously to share candid discussions and impressions, say the president’s inability to wholly address the crisis is due to his almost pathological unwillingness to admit error;” reports The Washington Post, “a positive feedback loop of overly rosy assessments and data from advisers and Fox News; and a penchant for magical thinking that prevented him from fully engaging with the pandemic.”
You’ll never hear me wax rhapsodic about the “purity” of baseball. It’s a billion-dollar industry that has a long, bad habit of screwing municipalities to get stadiums at the expense of the people (Looking at you, Dodgers), and for every breakthrough Jackie Robinson there have been a thousand flagrantly racist actors like Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who as commissioner of baseball almost singlehandedly kept the game whites-only decades after integration should have happened.
Moreover, I never expected the league to get a whole season in under the present circumstances, and it turns out my concern was sound. On Monday afternoon, news broke that as many as a dozen players and coaches for the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID, and more may have been infected. It was news that, while unwelcome, was entirely unsurprising.
Two upcoming games have been postponed, and the outbreak may come to be severe enough to imperil a season that is only days old. Calling off the season entirely would seem to be the prudent move; this crisis clearly shows the league is not ready to begin play again, and given the insidious nature of COVID, the outbreak may even motivate the other leagues to reconsider opening or continuing their own seasons.
In other words, it seems entirely possible that Trump would not have gotten to throw out that first pitch next month, even if he had kept the invitation. Still, we had the new version of real baseball for a few days there, and I tried to enjoy it while it was still around.
Instead, I got Trump being invited to the city he nearly destroyed before turning down that invitation with a pellet of lies so vile it would poison a rattlesnake at 20 paces. I can’t wait to see what he does if/when football season starts, and whole teams kneel in solidarity with the racial justice uprising that shows no sign of ebbing. As with all things Trump, best you bring a helmet, and a mask.
UPDATE 7/28/20: The New York Post’s report that Trump had been invited by Randy Levine to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium was, as it turns out, based on yet another fabulation by the president. According to a later report by The New York Times, Levine never invited Trump. Worse, Trump manufactured the tale of his invitation because he was jealous of the press coverage Anthony Fauci got after Fauci threw out the first pitch for the Nationals on Opening Day.