Baseball and I have a tortured history. I found something like redemption and hope in the game as a child. Then time eroded the childlike perception that miracles were possible. Efforts to rekindle the romance with the game fluttered and died in adulthood.
But I was born in Chicago, you see, in the mid-1950s. My first love was, therefore, the Chicago Cubs, a team that seemed jinxed, forever destined to something less than success. It’s been more than a century since the Cubs won the World Series; more than the length of my lifetime since the team even appeared in one.
Can it be they are playing now, this very moment, in the second game of the best-of-seven event? (As I write this, the Cubs are in the second inning of the second game, playing in a city that even God seems to have forgotten, Cleveland. And they’re winning, by a score of 1-0, having lost the first game.)
I tumbled in a warren of memories when the Cubs clinched the National League Championship.
It was 1962. Ernie Banks played first base; Billy Williams and Lou Brock were in the outfield; Ron Santo played third base. And on a blessed number of Saturdays I sat in the rightfield bleachers of Wrigley Field. The sea of green, and bright blue hats and trim on the Cubs uniforms, were pure delight.
I recall little of any of the individual games, except for the sight of a baseball rocketing over the wall and into the street running alongside the stadium. We’d watch as balls landed in the street during batting practice, rooting for one of them to smash the windshield of a parked car. I was seven, and the fact that something like that could happen as a result of an adult’s conduct delighted me.
We lived within walking distance of Wrigley Field the year after my father disappeared. My mother and I returned to the apartment building she and my father lived in when they first married. My godparents, Mable and Percy lived there, sharing a studio with a Murphy bed that descended from a closet. Our studio was just like theirs — I got the bed, my mother took the couch.
We’d eat leg of lamb with mint jelly some Sundays with Mabel and Percy. They were ancient, and childless.
I’m not sure who got the idea to send me to the ballpark, but I was sent there, and I sat in the bleachers. Money was tight then. I’d be given just enough money to get into the game. I brought a peanut butter sandwich in a paper sack to the game, waiting as long as I could to eat it.
Memory is fickle, and I can’t say how many games I actually attended. I want to say dozens, but I suspect it was far fewer. The Cubs management was good to local kids. If you stayed after a game and helped pick up trash in the bleachers you’d be given a ticket for the next Saturday’s home game. The stadium seemed awfully big while walking a row picking up discarded beer and popcorn containers.
We didn’t read newspapers in my house, so I learned what I could at the ballpark. I loved watching scores for other games being posted on the scoreboard. It seemed like magic, watching these numbers appear reporting events in faraway places like New York, or Detroit, where my grandparents lived.
I always brought my baseball mitt to the games, against the off chance a homerun would head my way. I’d spend hours working linseed oil into the glove, just as I had read about in a baseball magazine.
A classmate from the Lemoyne Elementary School, located a few short blocks from Wrigley Field, lived in an apartment building overlooking the field. One day we went to his roof and we could actually see onto the field. He told me he’d go up there to watch games. I was already an elitist; I preferred my seat in the bleachers.
One day as the teams warmed up before the game, Billy Williams stood in the outfield, catching fly balls. I called out to him. He turned, and nodded in my direction. It was at this moment I think I first believed that God might answer prayer.
I prayed a lot that year — for the Cubs to win, for my father to return home from wherever it was to where he had fled, and for my mother to change her mind, when she announced that she was sending me to Detroit to live with her parents as she tried to rebound from the mysterious disappearance of a man she dearly loved.
We didn’t own a car, and would not own one for many years. So I was sent via train from Chicago to Detroit. I wore a Cubs uniform on the train. When my mother handed me over to the conductor and asked him to keep an eye on me, as I was traveling alone, I imagined I was being sent to one of the cities on the scoreboard, to play baseball.
Being a Cub made me feel brave.
In truth, I was never brave, and I was never any good at baseball. When I arrived in Detroit, no one was amused by my costume, and I soon forgot the Cubs. Detroit, you see, had no National League team. The Tigers, whom I came to adore, were in the American League.
But the sight of a Cubs uniform always thrills me, and seeing a Cubs hat always makes me smile. My mother would buy me one at the beginning of the baseball season, and I’d wear it daily, the sweatband disintegrating in the Midwestern heat. I never owned a Tiger’s hat.
All this and more came flooding into mind when I learned the Cubs were at last to play in the World Series. I even researched the cost of a ticket in Section 103 of the bleachers at Wrigley Field, my own venue on this particular field of dreams. The cost is beyond my reach.
Maybe it is true. You can never go home again. But I swear I can smell the hotdogs, the beer, the sweat of all those people crowded into the stadium. I see a sea of green, and men in bright white uniforms with blue trim running with purpose. I am at once returned to a place of great joy amid a childhood of trouble, and I once again believe in miracles.
Trial lawyers know a thing or two about the art of persuasion. We make our living, after all, pitching stories to strangers. In that regard, we are much like politicians. But the similarity between jurors and voters is superficial. The 2016 presidential campaign proves it, and last night’s presidential debate illustrates why.
The early polling suggests that Hillary, a woman widely regarded as a liar and untrustworthy, prevailed.
Donald, in the meantime, claims victory, and asserts that even if he is not elected come November, it will be because the election was “rigged.”
We’ve an election pitting a woman with the existential appeal of an ironing board against a tempestuous teapot of a man who can’t speak in simple declarative sentences. Would you really trust either of them to advise you on an important decision?
Two folks almost no one seems to like are vying for the highest office in the land. Come November, or shortly thereafter, depending upon just how complicated things get, one of the two will be declared a winner.
Were this a trial, I doubt there would be a winner. That’s because few really seems to trust either candidate. One will be declared a winner because that is the way the process works: at the end of this grinding ordeal, one person must be elected. There must be a verdict, regardless of how poor the performance of the participants.
At trial, things are different. One party, either the plaintiff, in a civil matter, or the government, in a criminal case, wants something from the defendant. The party wanting something must persuade jurors to give it to them. They must persuade the jurors by relying on enough proof to tip the scales in their favor – either the preponderance of the evidence in a civil case, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. If jurors aren’t persuaded, the case ends without a verdict – a mistrial.
There aren’t mistrials in elections, and the candidates know it. Thus, political argument has become forensically sterile, if not repulsive. Neither Hillary nor Donald demonstrate the basic honesty necessary to inspire trust. The debates don’t illuminate; they disgust. And the media plays along. Outsiders appeal because the insider’s game is going nowhere.
Consider the following rhetorical deploys:
The Pivot: We accept as a matter of course that candidates, and their surrogates — just what rock garden spawned this year’s crop? -- will seek to “pivot” when asked an uncomfortable question. What does that mean? Refusing to answer the question, instead redirecting the discussion to another topic. Candidates are evaluated on how successfully they can pivot, or avoid answering a question. We punish children for the behavior we reward in politicians.
Donald is a master at the pivot. When pressed about his tax returns, he counters with an attack on Hillary’s emails. It’s a dishonest version of the "tu quoque," or, you, too, argument. Did I not pay taxes? Why you hypocrite! You destroyed emails. How dare you call me dishonest, when you yourself are dishonest?
Jurors regarding this mudslinging might easily conclude that neither party is to be trusted, and might well tune out. That might benefit the defendant, who wants to avoid an adverse verdict at all costs. But it would be fatal to the party having the burden of proof – jurors must be motivated to side with one party rf the other. Liars don’t motivate; neither do hypocrites.
In a presidential race winning is everything. One would think that would require the parties to strive to appear trustworthy. Paradoxically, it doesn’t.
Red Herrings: These are assertions that mischaracterize or mislead.
A classic from last night’s debate? Donald’s claim that Hillary’s defense of partial birth abortion entails her willingness to rip a nine month old fetus from a mother’s womb to engage in infanticide.
Donald effectively wielded this brickbat against Hillary. She appeared so stunned by it that she did not know how to respond. Rather than deny it, she engaged in a species of the pathos, saying she wished that Donald had met some of the women she had met.
The exchange illuminated nothing, two ships passing in the night destined for ports unknown.
The wisdom of jurors penalizes lawyers who engage in these forms of misdirection. That we have come to expect it from politicians is ominous.
Ad Hominem Attacks: Every forensic contest, much like a presidential election, is a morality play. People want to decide between good and evil. That is a far easier thing to do than making difficult judgments about policies.
Trial lawyers seek to demonize the other side of the aisle to motivate jurors. It matters not whether opposing counsel, his client, or one of the adverse witnesses is painted in the blood-red hue of the devil. All that matters is that the paint sticks to the other side, and not to your side.
In a presidential race, character matters. Attacking the person, and not the principle, the ad hominem attack, is therefore a staple of political debate. Is Hillary a wicked woman? If jurors believe it, then Donald might win. However, few are prepared to follow Putin’s puppet.
Exaggeration: How is it in this post-Cold War world that we’ve managed to reincarnate the Red Scare? I’m listening to the rhetoric about Russia and hearing ancient echoes about Communism. Didn’t we win that war? Why are we letting the politicos draw from that fetid well?
Are the Russians hacking emails and trying to influence the elections? Probably. I’m not losing sleep over that. Nation-states always play fast and loose with the truth. We pumped enormous amounts of money into destabilizing and toppling unfriendly regimes in Central America. Recall the Iran-Contra deal? Or how about the US-sponsored coup in 1954 in Guatemala?
Shame on both candidates.
Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton make a persuasive case about why they should be president. Both are playing defensively, attacking their adversary as unfit. That’s a fine strategy if you’re playing for a mistrial. But in electoral politics, someone always wins.
The 2016 election is a loser’s paradise. When it is over, I suspect nothing much will change. The same old gridlock will descend on the capitol and little will get done. Neither candidate has a story about what can make move us forward. Donald offers an empty promise to make us great again; Hillary wants to include everyone in a future in which diversity is an end in itself.
Maybe next election we’ll get around to discussing issues. This year is a lost cause.