When Branch Rickey determined to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, he wisely recruited Jackie Robinson, a stellar athlete in multiple sports, who soon established himself as one of the greats of the game, black or white, and went on to easily earn a plaque in the Hall of Fame. He was an excellent hitter, an excellent fielder, an excellent base runner, and a man of high character. If there was anyone who had sincerely argued that blacks were not qualified to play in the Biggies, he demolished their arguments for good and all.
Alas, Branch Rickey didn’t live long enough to broker the 2008 presidential election, in which a black man smashed through the color barrier in the Oval Office. Rickey, one of the shrewdest men ever to strut the public stage, probably would have sensed that the time was ripe, but I have to believe that he would never have chosen Barack Obama as the man to pull it off.
This thought occurred to me as I watched our totally inept President weasel his way through the Syrian crisis over the past several days. The man is over his head in foreign dealings, dangerously inexperienced, has no idea how to make a plan or execute it, waffles and postures while keeping one eye on his TelePrompter and the other on the latest polls. He has no ideals, no convictions, just a cunning political instinct. Up till now he had an uncanny talent for making himself look good despite all rational evidence to the contrary, but even that has failed him. He is a joke to the rest of the world, and even his most avid supporters at home are finding it impossible to defend him.
Now suppose that a black man with an Obama-like absence of job qualifications had been selected to become the first black major league baseball player. We’ll assume that he, like Robinson, was assigned to play second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. For convenience, we’ll call this hypothetical baseball pioneer Obama.
His team is playing at home, and on the first play of the game a batter smashes a difficult bouncer that pulls the first baseman off the bag. He successfully fields it, and whirls to throw it to second baseman Obama, who is supposed to cover first on any such play. But Obama hasn’t budged. He is still standing midway between first and second, and both he and the first baseman gawk helplessly as the batter reaches first safely.
On the next play, the batter hits a grounder to Obama, giving him a chance to start a double play by throwing to the shortstop, who has run to cover second base. Instead, Obama throws the ball over the shortstop’s head to the third baseman, so the batter reaches first safely and the runner from first base is safe at second. The shortstop, not wanting to give the impression that he thinks the first black major leaguer is a screw-up, politely asks him why he threw to third.
“Why, to keep anyone from reaching third,” Obama replies condescendingly.
Both the runners that Obama allowed on base go on to score, but eventually the other team is retired.
Obama bats lead-off in the bottom of the first inning, and hits a fly ball that goes over the head of the center fielder and bounces off the wall. He stands at home plate, watching with narcissistic pride, until his manager screams from the dugout for him to run to first base. Unfortunately, the center fielder, who has some Slavic name like Putin, catches up with the ball, relays it to the infield, and Obama is thrown out before he can get to first.
His next time at bat, Obama is hit by a pitch, and jogs down to first base. His manager gives him the signal to try stealing second, but Obama calls time because he doesn’t understand the signal. He runs over to the dugout. The manager, nearly apoplectic, tells him “I want you to steal a base. That’s why I scratched my crotch. That’s what the signal means.”
Obama trots out to first base again, and as the pitcher begins his windup Obama dashes full speed toward home plate and slides, knocking over the batter, who had timed the pitch perfectly and was about to crush it for extra bases. The batter gets back up, dusts himself off, and explains to Obama that he was going the wrong way and was supposed to steal second base, not home. Obama takes offense at this mild rebuke, and blames it on the man who used to play second base for his team, and was let go to make room for him.
And so it goes, inning after inning. The other team wins by a score of 17 to 2, as the star of that team, Putin, hits three home runs and fields flawlessly.
The Brooklyn home crowd, never well-mannered in the best of circumstances, storms the box seat where general manager Rickey is sitting, strips him naked, tars and feathers him, and carries him out of the stadium on a pole.
The next day the media unanimously declare that Obama made a brilliant debut.