In these times of political turmoil, I truly try to avoid news channels like CNN and MSNBC (don’t worry about FOX; they are never considered). Repetitive stories, manipulated debate, pompous commentary. Hey, maybe the President’s right—fake news!
One guy I try to avoid at all costs is Irish American Chris Matthews over at MSNBC. He yells all the time, he interrupts his guests continuously, and he has the unfortunate habit of always looking like he is about to salivate on the camera lens.
He once talked about an Obama speech saying it gave him a thrill down his leg.
A hyberbolix, as my aunt might say.
He likes to brag about his resume, reminding us that he worked for President Carter and for Democratic Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill. One of the reasons Carter only lasted one term may have been that Matthews was writing his speeches.
But you would think that working for O’Neill he might have taught Matthews something about politics. [O’Neill, in his book "Man of the House," also had the funniest Ronald Reagan story I ever heard. O’Neill had President Grover Cleveland’s desk in his office. Reagan was in the Speaker’s office one day admiring the desk. “You know,” said the President, “I once played Grover Cleveland in the movies.” “No, Mr. President,” O’Neill had to correct him, “You’re thinking of Grover Cleveland Alexander, the ball player.”]
Which brings us to Chris Matthews, Sandy Koufax, and President Trump. Matthews' show is called “Hardball,” which may be why he got stuck on the great Koufax. I was channel-surfing on Tuesday night just before 8 p.m. when I stopped at MSNBC. (Shame on me!) Matthews usually ends his show with a minute-and-a-half commentary. He does this every night and it must get tiring trying to find something interesting to say.
Last night was a beaut. He compared the beginning of Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax’s career to that of Donald J. Trump, our neophyte president. The premise of Matthews’ little speech was that Koufax got off to a slow start in his career, just as the Trump Administration is getting off to a slow start, basically achieving nothing in its first 100 days.
Matthew’s point was that after that slow start Koufax became the best pitcher in baseball for a number of years. So, I guess what Matthews was saying is that there is still hope for Trump.
I am not holding my breath.
The analogy was pretty weak, especially on the side of Koufax facts. Koufax was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 to a $20,000 signing bonus. Under the baseball rules of the day, this made Koufax a “bonus baby” and he had to be immediately carried on the team’s active 25-man roster even though he was a raw talent.
He could not be sent to the minors to develop his craft. This was how baseball, in the day, tried to intimidate teams into not giving out bonus money to talented unproven players. So, Koufax had to sit on the bench of the Brooklyn Dodgers for a number of years, mostly absorbing, not pitching, for the famed “Boys of Summer.” It had nothing to do with his ability or lack of it.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Koufax began to blossom as a pitcher, winning the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the National League three times. He retired after the 1966 season because of arm troubles.
The bonus baby rule was the reason Koufax did not bloom immediately; he should have been in the minor leagues learning his craft.
Matthews also said that as a Jew, Koufax never pitched on the sabbath, which would be interesting news to the New York Mets who I used to watch Koufax beat them on many a Saturday by just showing up.
Koufax’s religion only interrupted his pitching career on a few occasions, the most prominent time being the first game of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins. The opening game of that series fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Holy High Holiday. Koufax refused to pitch and Don Drysdale, the baseball Shabbat goy for a day, took the ball and lost to the Twins. Koufax came back the next day, but lost.
He would pitch the seventh game of the series on two-days rest and shut out the Twins 2-0 to give the Dodgers the World Championship. It was to be one of the highlights of his great career.
So, I see what Matthews was trying to do. But why drag Koufax into it? Why not substitute Bill Clinton for Trump? Clinton’s presidency also got off to a rocky start, but he rebounded and managed to get reelected to a second term.
But Trump as Koufax? Matthews should remember something – Koufax had the best fastball of his generation. Koufax was modest; he never bragged. Trump’s only baseball connection is that he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.
The only thing Trump and Koufax have in common is that they were both “bonus babies.” Koufax got $20,000 from the Dodgers and Trump’s daddy got the ball rolling for The Donald by chipping in 17-million bucks.
Over time, Koufax proved his mettle with class and dignity. The jury is still out on Donald Trump. Perhaps he should go work on his fastball. Meanwhile, Matthews needs to change up and learn the facts.
Dermot McEvoy is the author of the "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising" and "Our Lady of Greenwich Village," both now available in paperback, Kindle and Audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at [email protected] Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook.