Kadner: Congress and lessons from a sandlot
It seemed like the end of the world at the time. When you’re 11 years old, every crisis seems insurmountable.
Bobby summed up the problem bluntly.
“If Ralph plays, we lose again,” Bobby said. “We can’t let him play.”
“Put him in right field,” Joey said.
“No,” Bobby said. “We’ve got to stand firm this time. We’ve given in before, and he always screws up.”
The problem was that Ralph controlled the baseball. He owned it. Without the ball, there was no game.
“Here’s what we do,” Bobby continued. “We tell him he can stay on the team, sit on the bench, but he can’t play.”
“He’s never going to go for that,” said Billy, always the pragmatist. “How about we let him be the designated hitter?”
This was before the era of the designated hitter in Major League Baseball, so Billy was demonstrating tremendous foresight.
And his novel solution generated heated debate between baseball purists and those who didn’t want Ralph to play.
Eventually, when things calmed down, everyone agreed they hated the designated hitter idea.
“He can be the designated runner,” Little Tommy suggested.
“What does that mean?” Joey asked.
“It means whatever we want it to mean,” Little Tommy explained. “It’s a trick. We don’t ever have to let him run the bases, but he’s too stupid to realize it.”
“I don’t like it,” said Bobby, a hard-liner if there ever was one. “No deals.”
It seemed like just about everyone was in agreement that Ralph couldn’t be allowed to play. That’s when Big Mike spoke up.
“That’s not fair!” he said.
A sudden silence gripped the other members of the Kolin Avenue Nine.
Mike was known as a reasonable guy. Mild mannered. Still, he was the biggest kid on the block.
“It’s his baseball,” Big Mike said. “We all knew that when we got the team together. And we agreed he could play.”
“I didn’t agree,” Bobby said.
This was true. Bobby was invited to join the team after Donnie Jankowski was put on the “unable to perform” list due to piano lessons.
Bobby was a welcome addition
to the team because he could hit, run, field and brought his baseball bat.
From the moment he joined the team, he made it clear that his philosophy about baseball and Ralph’s were diametrically opposed.
Ralph simply enjoyed playing with the other guys, wanted everyone to have fun and the final score didn’t matter. Bobby wanted to win, period.
“Before you came here we agreed that Ralph would play with us,” Big Mike said. “We voted on it.”
“That’s because it was his baseball,” Richie said.
“Maybe,” Big Mike said, “but we all like him. He’s our friend.”
There was some grumbling agreement, but then Bobby spoke up again.
“He may be a nice guy, but he stinks at baseball,” Bobby said.
“He falls down whenever a fly ball is hit to him in the outfield,” Little Tommy said.
This was true. For reasons unknown to anyone, Ralph would position himself directly under a fly, place his gloved hand over his face and then, as the ball began to descend, drop to his knees.
As the ball arrived near his mitt, Ralph actually would fall backward onto the ground. He once actually caught the ball in this fashion. Perhaps that led him to conclude it was a practical defensive tactic because he had never been able to catch a baseball previously.
“I’m with Bobby,” Richie said. “Ralph sits on the bench.”
“Ralph plays or I quit,” Pat said.
You should understand that Pat’s position on the issue may have been influenced by unrelated concerns. Pat was Richie’s little brother. They never agreed on anything.
Pat wanted to be a priest when he grew up. Richie liked to blow things up and one day would become a Navy SEAL.
All sorts of arguments erupted among the team now, many having nothing to do with Ralph or baseball.
Little Tommy accused Big Mike of cheating at Stratego, a board game that resembled war, especially when Little Tommy was involved.
Billie seemed to have a beef with Bobby over a package of Oreos that went missing between innings of a game. Brothers Richie and Pat began throwing punches, then wrestling in the dirt.
At about this time, Ralph showed up. He smiled, as he always did, tossed his baseball to Mike and said, “Let’s warm up before the game.”
Before Mike could react, Bobby grabbed the baseball and ran away a few steps.
“The ball’s mine now, and you’re not playing,” Bobby told Ralph.
“Give him his baseball back,” Mike growled.
“Will not!” Bobby said.
Ralph ran after Bobby but was too slow and too awkward to catch him.
“I’m telling my Mom!” Ralph shouted.
“Go ahead,” Bobby said. “Be a crybaby.”
As Ralph ran off, Bobby announced, “Now we can play.”
“I call left field,” Richie said.
Pat responded, “I always play left field.”
And they both began fighting again.
Little Tommy announced that he was pitching, and Bobby told him he didn’t throw hard enough to break a pane of glass. So Little Tommy quit.
Big Mike sighed and said, “This stinks. I’m going for a swim.”
Joey and two other kids trotted off with him.
I didn’t take sides that day. I was too scared to speak up and hoped somehow everything would get resolved.
There was no game. It turned out it wasn’t the end of the world.
But it sure was disappointing at the time.
I don’t know if the members of Congress ever played sandlot baseball, but I learned something about democracy that day.
It only works if everyone agrees to follow the rules. And it doesn’t work in baseball at all.