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Time Machine: Trump, Biden both exaggerated athletic prowess
This story originally appeared in the Japanese newspaper Yukan Fuji in 2020.
TOKYO — The USA is coming up on a presidential election. In-person voting commences on Nov. 3.
National polls are a good guide as to how popular a candidate is across the country as a whole, but they’re not necessarily a good way to predict the result of the election. In 2016, for example, Hillary Clinton led in the polls and won nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump, but she still lost — that’s because the U.S. uses an electoral system which gives more weight to individual states, so winning the most votes doesn’t always win you the election. Winning so-called key states does.
Joe Biden has been ahead of Donald Trump in most national polls since the start of the year. He has hovered around 50% in recent months and has had a 10-point lead on occasions. But again, polls are notoriously unreliable, and as 2016 showed, may be as much as 5 points off. Or more. Many voters who support Trump do not want to admit it, because they don’t want to get into arguments with their neighbors who may have strong feelings against him.
Professional sports figures are involved in the election, as always — something that is not seen much in Japan. Most NFL and NBA players support Biden, the Democratic Party candidate. Those leagues feature overwhelmingly black athletes and blacks traditionally vote Democrat, the party of social justice. L.A. Lakers star LeBron James openly supports Biden. So does Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors coach.
MLB players are mostly white and most support Trump, the candidate of the Republican party, traditionally the party of business. Los Angeles Angels owner Art Moreno supports Trump. So does longtime MLB umpire Joe West and Kansas City Royals Hall of famer George Brett.
One of MLB’s biggest supporters of Donald Trump was former Tampa Bay Rays 30-year-old reliever Sean Gilmartin, who was released at the end of the 2020 season. His wife is Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary.
So it would appear that having connections in the White House is not all that beneficial when it comes to a career in baseball, but useful in other ways. Gilmartin's brother Michael was drafted by the Oakland Athletics as an infielder in the 27th round of the 2009 draft. His cousin, Chad, works in the office of the White House press secretary.
Big names like Curt Schilling, Jake Arrieta, and baseball iconoclast Trevor Bauer have supported Trump and this past March Trump played golf with several players from the defending champion Washington Nationals. UFC president Dana White is a huge supporter. Also, pro golfer John Daly likes him.
Trump seems to have fewer vocal big name supporters than he did in 2016, perhaps because big name athletes consider themselves winners and Trump has been trailing in the polls. Many are apparently alienated by Trump’s braggadocio and his tendency to stretch the truth. For example, Trump wrote in his autobiography that he was a slugging first baseman in high school, at the elite New York Military Academy. He said that he was the best player in the state of New York and that he was good enough to be a major league player, but chose a career in real estate instead because there was more money in that field. He wrote about a headline in the local newspaper, “Trump Hits Game-Winning Home Run in 9th inning,” and said he knocked the ball completely out of the park. However, that never happened, according to Slate Magazine which investigated Trump’s background. His teammates recall the winning hit was a blooper that the infielders misplayed. Trump never did hit a home run in high school.
“Trump was not a bad athlete,” former teammate, Ted Levine told a reporter for Slate Magazine. “Trump was as good as you could probably be in our high school. He was very large, a lot of leverage. Well-gifted, intelligent. And athletic. He probably could have played at some level of professional ball. That’s what I remember. He was probably, in my opinion, the best athlete in the school.”
Twin brothers Dick and Bob Guido, who were two years ahead of Trump, recalled a “pretty good” (Bob) to “average” player (Dick). “I thought his defensive skills were better than his offensive skills,” said Dick.
“He was a darn good first baseman,” said Joe Kinego, an outfielder who was a year ahead of Trump. But “best baseball player in the state? I probably would doubt that.”
“I heard him say he could have played Major League Baseball,” says Keith Vanderlip, a pitcher a year ahead of Trump. “But he wasn’t that good.”
Based on Slate’s reporting, it seems like Trump was a solid defensive first baseman but a bad hitter. Perhaps that’s why, while Trump was voted “Ladies’ Man” by his classmates in his senior yearbook, “Most Athletic” went to Jim Toomey, Trump’s baseball co-captain. Toomey also won the school’s Laidlaw Athletic Award, which appears to have honored the best athlete in the school.
Trump wasn’t even the best player on the team.
Trump played between 30-40 games with box scores available for nine of them. Trump’s statistics were .138 with no home runs.
Trump was close to late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium before a game with the Red Sox in 2006. Trump was so enmeshed with the Yankees that he reportedly considered longtime team president Randy Levine for White House chief of staff.
Nonetheless, Trump is the first president since Theodore Roosevelt not to throw out a first pitch at a professional baseball game while in office, upending 110 years of tradition. In that respect, at least, he’s made baseball history.
Joe Biden, for his part, was an outstanding football player in high school at halfback and led the conference in touchdowns. He also played outfield on the baseball team, batting near the bottom of the order. But like Trump, Biden got caught lying about his athletic achievements — in Biden’s case he told a crowd at a campaign stop in Athens, Ohio, about a game he had played for the University of Delaware football team versus the University of Ohio Bobcats in 1963. However, reporters investigated and records later revealed Biden did not in fact play in the game. In fact he was not even on the varsity team. Biden did play briefly for the freshman Junior Varsity team but dropped out because of a bad scholastic record.
Biden also alienated people when he claimed he finished at the top of his class in law school, when in fact he was at the bottom of his class and barely graduated. Moreover, he was caught plagiarizing speeches of other politicians when he moved into politics and first ran for president.
Both men have their own real achievements. Trump was a successful businessman who went on to become a reality TV star and then President of the U.S. Biden had a 40-plus year career in the U.S. Senate before becoming Vice President under Barack Obama.
However, both men have been on the wrong side of the Covid-19 issue. Trump’s mask policy was widely criticized. But Biden opposed the Trump travel bans from China and Europe and was later forced to reverse himself. In late July he predicted the MLB and NFL seasons would not happen. Yet, they in fact did, shortly thereafter.
The election is a clear-cut choice between Open Borders, BLM, free health care, free college education and globalization on the Democratic Party side and ending illegal immigration, cutting down street crime, promoting deregulation, increasing domestic energy production, ending political correctness, curtailing China influence and putting American jobs first. For Japan, a Trump regime may put strings on the U.S.-Japan alliance because he wants Japan to pay more of the expenses for U.S. troops in Japan or he will bring them home and he is more of a hard liner on trade than Biden.
On the other hand, he strongly opposes the rising influence of China and has been an ardent supporters of the Yokota and other families victimized by North Korean kidnapping. So it would be a mixed blessing. Biden as President would be more of a team player and invigorate ties with Japan, he says, although you never know. His son Hunter has ties with China.
Both sides basically hate each other. So whoever wins on Nov. 3, you can expect more turmoil in the United States.