SWIFTBOATING THE BABE
Professor of Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology, Mountebank University
On Election Day morning, Bob was sitting at my kitchen table, scribbling furiously on a sheet of foolscap, drinking my coffee, and complaining that I didn’t have any doughnuts. He's like that sometimes. We'll be talking and suddenly he gets an idea about something he wants to write. Until he puts it down on paper, he's lost to everything else. Except doughnuts, of course.
I, as you would expect, was devoting my thoughts to the election. I believe an intelligent, informed electorate is the backbone of democracy and that voting is both a privilege and a duty. Had it not been threatening rain, I probably would have walked over to the polling place to cast my precious ballot for what's-his-name. Or maybe the other guy.
Bob looked up from his writing. "Doc? Why do they call this kind of paper ‘foolscap?’"
"Originally, it was called ‘fool scrap,’" I explained, "taking its name from people asking, ‘Where’s that fool scrap of paper I was writing on yesterday?’"
Bob made a disappointed face and scratched out something on his paper.
I certainly understood his annoyance. I well remember the agonies I experienced in searching for the perfect word or phrase while writing A History of Balls of the Base Variety, my magnum opus. How many times had I become so frustrated in my search that only a large lunch and long nap could free my muse and convince me that what I’d already written was good enough?
Just then, my neighbor C.C. walked in without knocking as he usually does. "Wowee!" he exulted. "What a beautiful day!"
"Did you bring doughnuts?" Bob asked.
C.C. shook his head. "I was wonderin’ if you guys were ready to go vote."
I told him it looked like rain and I was on the verge of a cold. "There’s not a cloud in the sky," C.C. said.
"Actually, it might be the flu."
"And the temperature is above sixty," he added.
C.C., who is himself above sixty, never seems to know when to let a subject drop. One time Bob complained that C.C. went "on and on ad nauseum." C.C. told him, "Maybe I do beat a dead hearse to death, but you go on odd gymnasium yourself. I’ve heard about you going to Cleveland as a kid so often my butt’s sore from ridin’ the bus!" When C.C. gets started, we just try to change the subject.
"The next time I go to Cleveland," I said, changing the subject, "I think I’ll visit the Rock Museum."
"I’ve got plenty of good rocks in my backyard," C.C. said.
"Hey, C.C., do you know why they call this kind of paper ‘foolscap?’" Bob asked, changing the subject.
"Sure." C.C. answered confidently, "In school, the teachers used to fold up sheets of it to make dunce caps for the dummies. Uh -- anyway, that's what I was told. You ready to go vote, Bob?"
Bob put down his pencil. "Back in October, I got so sick and tired of all those attack ads on TV that I vowed I would never vote for anybody who put out one of those poison pieces. Yesterday I checked. The only person I can vote for is that fellow running unopposed for county surveyor."
"Well, are you going to vote for him?" C.C. asked.
"No, I don’t like his stand on foreign aid."
"I for one think those ads were terrific," C.C. said. "Otherwise, how would we know that the bums in charge of the country for the last couple of years are such selfish, devious, lying, two-timing, hypocritical scallawags?"
"But," Bob said, "according to the ads, the people running against them are also selfish, devious, lying, two-timing, hypocritical scallawags."
C.C. shrugged. "No system’s perfect," he said.
"I was reading something George Will wrote about elections," I began learnedly.
"What’s a baseball writer know about politics?" C.C. asked.
"I think he writes a column about Washington or something in the off-season," Bob said. "A humor column, I think."
"Is he funny?" C.C. wanted to know.
"Well, he's no Mark Russell," I said.
"Russell was a great center with Celtics," C.C. said, "but I never thought he was all that funny."
"I'll tell you what’s weird," Bob said. "Guys like us gripe about politics, but the only elections we really get excited about are the ones for the Baseball Hall of Fame. I mean, Doc is still upset that they ignored Gil Hodges last year. C.C., you’re always complaining about Pete Rose."
"Don't forget how you go on and on about Hank Majeski," I said.
"Exactly," Bob said. He picked up the piece of foolscap he’d been writing on. "Imagine, if you will, that the Hall of Fame was just opening this year and they were holding a national election for the first player to be elected. Here’s what ---"
"Wait a minute," C.C. said. "Is this some fool crap you’re writing?"
"Fool crap? Another derivation heard from," I muttered.
Bob set his paper down. "I -- uh -- thought it might make an interesting subject for my column."
"That’d be a first," C.C. said sitting down at the table, his expression bemused. "I don't get it. They keep publishing your weird scribblin’s. What? Do you have photos of one of the editors in fragance grandee with a barcalounger? They always send back my articles, like the one I wrote on Charley Maxwell."
"Maybe they sent it back because you spelled ‘Maxwell’ with two x’es," Bob said. "Anyway, get the picture. Imagine it’s the election for the first player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. You turn on your television and you see pinstripes on a white background. They are expanding. The camera pulls back and we realize we're looking at Babe Ruth’s belly. A voice like that guy who used to imitate God for NFL Films says, ‘How many hot dogs and how much soda pop can this belly hold? And how much extra have you Yankee fans paid for your hot dogs and sodas to make up for the freebies this man consumed? Do you really want this glutton who cost you money enshrined in your Hall of Fame? One year, he stuffed himself with so many hot dogs and sodas he missed half the season!’ An insinuating female voice: ‘If it was hot dogs and sodas.’ Back to the voice of God: ‘His appetites were out of control!’ And at the bottom of the screen: ‘Paid for by the Ty Cobb for the Hall of Fame Committee.’"
C.C. stared at him. "This is an ad on television?"
"Well, not a real ad," Bob said. "It's imaginary. You have to imagine they're holding the first --"
"-- election for the Hall of Fame," C.C. completed. "What I don't get is why they’re sayin’ rotten things about Babe Ruth."
"It's like those attack political ads," Bob explained. "Only about baseball."
"I see," C.C. said, the light dawning -- sort of. "Hey! How about this? Babe Ruth is pulling the petals off a flower and suddenly there’s this big nuclear explosion."
"That's sort of -- uh -- sort of --" Bob looked down at his paper. "Here's one. We could show pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover, and Babe Ruth. And the voice says, ‘He told us he was better than an American President!’"
I couldn't let that pass. "What Ruth really said, Bob, was that he had a better year than Hoover."
"Hey!" C.C. erupted, making a TV screen in the air with his hands, "‘He'll call his shot, but he won't talk about Whitewater!’ Or better yet, ‘Babe Ruth wants to cut Medicare!’"
Bob slowly rolled his piece of foolscap into a ball. I felt it was time to change the subject. "Who are you planning to vote for in the real election, C.C.?"
I was soon sorry I asked. C.C. started at the top of the national elections giving both his choices and his reasons. He finally ended with his candidate for county surveyor whose stand on foreign aid he admired. I noticed that for the final ten minutes of the recitation, Bob not only didn't move -- he didn't even blink.
I couldn't think of anything to say.
At last, Bob took his wadded up piece of foolscap and made a one-handed push shot for the sink. Two! Then he stood up.
"Well, Doc," he said, "let’s get going."
C.C. was elated. "So you guys are going to vote after all?"
"Oh yes, in self defence," I said. "You convinced us."
As we walked out the door, C.C. was saying, "About that other TV thing. How about ‘The Babe was not only soft on crime, he even stole some bases himself'?’"
"We can stop on the way for doughnuts," Bob said dreamily.