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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Senator and the Old Perfesser

Since baseball's World's Serious (as Ring Lardner would have it) is upon us and Congress is in session, let us examine the testimonies before that august body by representatives of both institutions: a giant, Casey Stengel and a midget, Sen. Rolland Burris (D. Illinois).

First, the Old Perfesser, at a hearing of the Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee on July 8, 1958, offers his thoughts on Major League Baseball's exemption from anti-trust laws:
Mr. Stengel: Well, I started in professional ball in 1910. I have been in professional ball, I would say, for forty-eight years. I have been employed by numerous ball clubs in the majors and in the minor leagues. I started in the minor leagues with Kansas City. I played as low as class D ball, which was at Shelbyville, Ky., and also class C ball, and class A ball, and I have advanced in baseball as a ballplayer.

I had many years that I was not so successful as a ballplayer, as it is a game of skill. And then I was no doubt discharged by baseball in which I had to go back to the minor leagues as a manager, and after being in the minor leagues as a manager, I became a major league manager in several cities and was discharged, we call it "discharged," because there is no question I had to leave. (Laughter). And I returned to the minor leagues at Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Oakland, Calif., and then returned to the major leagues.

In the last ten years, naturally, in major league baseball with the New York Yankees, the New York Yankees have had tremendous success and while I am not the ballplayer who does the work, I have no doubt worked for a ball club that is very capable in the office. I must have splendid ownership, I must have very capable men who are in radio and television, which is no doubt you know that we have mentioned the three names — you will say they are very great.

We have a wonderful press that follows us. Anybody should in New York City, where you have so many million people. Our ballclub has been successful because we have it, and we have the Spirit of 1776. We put it into the ball field and if you are not capable of becoming a great ballplayer since I have been in as a manager, in ten years, you are notified that if you don't produce on the ball field, the salary that you receive, we will allow you to be traded to play and give your services to other clubs.

The great proof was yesterday. Three of the young men that were stars and picked by the players in the American League to be in the all-star game were Mr. Cerv, who is at Kansas City; Mr. Jensen, who was at Boston, and I might say Mr. Triandos that caught for the Baltimore ball club, all three of those players were my members and to show you I was not such a brillant manager they got away from me and were chosen by the players and I was fortunate enough to have them come back to play where I was successful as a manager.

If I have been in baseball for forty-eight years there must be some good in it. I was capable and strong enough at one time to do any kind of work but I came back to baseball and I have been in baseball ever since. I have been up and down the ladder. I know there are some things in baseball, thirty-five to fifty years ago that are better now than they were in those days. In those days, my goodness, you could not transfer a ball club in the minor leagues, class D, class C ball, class A ball. How could you transfer a ball club when you did not have a highway? How could you transfer a ball club when the railroads then would take you to a town you got off and then you had to wait and sit up five hours to go to another ball club?

How could you run baseball then without night ball? You had to have night ball to improve the proceeds to play larger salaries and I went to work, the first year I received $135 a month. I thought that was amazing. I had to put away enough money to go to dental college. I found out it was not better in dentistry, I stayed in baseball.

Any other questions you would like to ask me? I want to let you know that as to the legislative end of baseball you men will have to consider that what you are here for. I am a bench manager. I will speak about anything from the playing end — in the major or minor leagues — and do anything I can to help you.
Now Senator Burris' testimony at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on czars, October 22, 2009.
[Sen. Burris]: This has — being a constitutional and political science student, I mean, this is Political Science 101 or Political Science, maybe, 1000. The panel’s just been terrific.

And I have so many thoughts just rolling through my head, I don’t even know where to start. I mean, this is — this is the meat that caused us political scientists to even exist, because you’re dealing with these major issues of the separation of powers and the creation of this country and whether or not you want your president to really have the powers that you granted it, and whether or not the Congress, which is on similar or equal footing, can then control or muscle in on those powers of the president.

Based on the fact that — especially the House of Representatives, since they stand for re-election every two years and senators much longer, you — you have this constant power struggle as who is really representing the people and what that representation is going to mean when it gets to the — the policy decision that’s going to impact the public.

And I don’t know whether or not — I don’t think you can come up with a definition dealing with this. Having served in a governor’s cabinet and having dealt with those staffers, it almost depends on how strong the cabinet member is as to just what and how he’s going to deal with those situations and those circumstances.

Because having experienced that on the state level, and knowledgeable to some extent on the federal level — I was very close to the — to the Carter administration and had good insights into the workings of the White House and all of those decisions that were being made and how the gatekeepers really sought to filter the information that got to the president.

Every president’s going to go through it. I don’t even know how we in the Congress can legally — I mean, I heard the distinguished ranking member say that we passed a law. We can pass a law and say there’s going to be a position in there, but I don’t think the Congress can tell the president who to put in that position.

I mean, if we do that, then I think that we’re violating the separation of powers. I mean, this is what we get into. And you can create a position. What happens if — what happens if the president says, “I don’t want to appoint anybody as secretary of state. I’m going to use the undersecretary as an acting secretary”?

Is there a law that would require us or require the president to appoint a secretary of state? Is there? Is there?
Obfuscation of two kinds: intentional, like that from Casey Stengel, a highly intelligent and witty man who preferred to stay out of an area beyond his purview, knowing he could add no insights to the matter (as the no doubt starstruck Senators already knew full well), and unintentional, like that from Senator Burris, a sad little political hack (with delusions of grandeur), spawned from the swamps of the Cook County Democratic machine who, in this desperate display of scrambling, reveals to the nation just how far out of his league he is.

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