On Nixon and baseball — The best of Mike Royko
From the Chicago Sun-Times, July 5, 1979
A Perfectly Clear View of Baseball
by Mike Royko
Transcribed by Jack M Silverstein from Sez Who? Sez Me
Former president Richard Nixon recently said that he would like to be a sportswriter. In fact, he said that if he had a second life, that’s what he would do with it, which is probably cheering news to voters who believe in reincarnation.
If sports writing is what Mr. Nixon wants to do, I would hope that some sports editor would give him a shot at it.
A baseball story written by Mr. Nixon would probably have a distinctive touch. It might go this way:
“My fellow sports fans:
“I, your sports reporter, have come to you today to give you a full and frank report on the state of the game that was played last night.
“I will not pull any punches. I will not conceal any of the facts. I will give you the bad as well as the good because I know you are strong enough to take it. I will level with you, as I always have.
“Remember, your sports reporter is not a liar.
“First, I would like to make something perfectly clear: We did not lose that game.
“Yes, there are those who would tell you we lost it because the other team scored more runs than we did.
“But that game was not lost. It was stolen from us.
“I know that is a serious charge, and I do not make it lightly. As I write it, in fact, I am making chopping motions with my right hand to emphasize how serious it is – and that makes it difficult for me to type.
“This theft occurred – and the record will bear me out – in the ninth inning when the score was tied.
“A runner from the opposing team was on first base. Now, let me say in all fairness that he deserved to be there. I did not want him there. You did not want him there. Most decent, honest fans did not want him there. But he had singled cleanly to the outfield and, under the rules, he had the right to be there, whether we liked it or not.
“But then he stole second base. While our pitcher was not looking, he ran to second and slid in. And because of that theft, he eventually scored the winning run.
“Now, I ask you: Is it the American way to win by stealing? To sneak into a base while the pitcher is not looking? To slide in the dirt to avoid being tagged?
“I am aware that the rules allow stealing. But that doesn’t make it right. That isn’t the way the decent, honest sports fans of this city want it. And the majority of you sports fans are decent and honest.
“This rule makes it possible for a small minority of players who like stealing to impose their will on the majority of players who are satisfied to stay on their own base where they belong.
“I am not going to quarrel with those who made the rule, or the umpires who permit it, or the managers and coaches who encourage players to steal. If they believe that stealing is right, they must answer to their own dirty consciences.
“But I know this: As a poor boy in California, I once tried to steal a base. And my mother and father said to me: ‘Richard, if you cannot reach a base with your head held high, do not crawl on the ground to steal it. You’ll get your pants dirty.’
“And I never forgot those words. Often, I have stood on life’s first base and thought: ‘How easy it would be to steal life’s second base.’ There were those who said to me: ‘Steal the base. If you don’t, someone else will.’
“But the words of my mother and father always came back to me: Keep your head high and don’t dirty your pants. And I did not even take a long leadoff.
“And let me make this point perfectly clear: The stolen base was not the only miscarriage of justice in that game.
“If we look back to the second inning, we find a turning point. I have always believed that turning points can occur at any point where events can turn. I have said that to Pat often, and she has always agreed, as she does in this case. As I write this, she is nodding.
“At that point in time, our pitcher threw a ball that hit an opposing batter in the head because he did not try hard enough to get out of the way.
“Make no mistake about it: I do not condone hitting opposing players with a pitch. But we all know that both sides do it. Lyndon Johnson’s favorite team did it. John F. Kennedy’s favorite team did it. Oh, they denied it. But I’ve read the box scores. I’ve seen the instant replays. There is nothing new about it. They all did it. But it’s only when my team does it that somebody tries to make something sinister out of it. When their team did it, it was strategy. When my team does it, it is dirty tricks.
“Now, when it happened last night, the batter was knocked unconscious and was unable to get up and go to first base. In fact, I believe he is still unconscious.
“I have studied the history of America. Hardly an evening passes when I do not turn up my air-conditioning and sit in front of a roaring fire and read the history of this great land of ours.
“And I have learned one lesson above all others – that when Americans are knocked down, they pick themselves up out of the dust and fight twice as hard. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
“But that batter didn’t pick himself up. He didn’t even try. He just stayed on the ground with his eyes closed, waiting for someone to come along and stick a hand out to pick him up.
“That’s not the spirit that made this country great. America was not built by people who lie around waiting for a handout.
“Let me make this perfectly clear: Despite the fact that he did not have the gumption to get up and go to first base, the umpire awarded him the base anyway, and somebody else went in to run for him. And that led to one of the key runs of the game.
“So in closing, I can only say that it is a sad thing for this country and our team when a baseball game can be won by a (expletive deleted) thief, and an (expletive deleted) who waits for a handout.
“As for the final score, it was….I’m not sure what it was. It somehow got erased from my notes. Strange.”