SACRAMENTO — This has been All-Star week in major league baseball. It's also the week when a treasure of memorabilia is being auctioned from the estate of the late pitching great Warren Spahn.
Combine the two subjects — the All-Star game and sticky fingers Spahn — and they're what inspired me into political writing half a century ago.
Bad memories returned the other day when I read that Spahn's boatload of mementos was being auctioned. Going on line to read about the 826 items being peddled, I hoped to find the prized souvenir press credential that the future Hall of Famer yanked off my coat lapel at the 1961 All-Star game in San Francisco.
"That's cool," the Milwaukee Braves lefty said. "I can give that to some [woman]." He used an unprintable vulgarity.
No luck searching for my badge. But I did find press credentials in the Spahn collection, including seven from other All-Star games. They sold as a package this week for $800, which would have made mine worth $114. I suspect his greatness gave it, as he had indicated, to some bar pickup.
What his press credential cache told me was that the former World War II hero and 17-time All-Star also was a serial pilferer who thought nothing of bullying sportswriters.
Yes, I'm still ticked.
But Spahn actually did me a huge favor. He so disgusted me that I asked United Press International for a transfer to Sacramento to cover politics. There were jerks in politics, too, I figured. But at least they did things that were truly important in people's lives beyond providing entertainment and escape.
I soon learned there are many similarities between politics and sports. Arrogance and egos afflict both, for example, although politicians tend to be more charming. They were the ones, after all, who got elected class president.
To excel in either field, says Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, "you've got to have this abnormal confidence and a good dose of narcissism and at times arrogance."
Stutzman, who was former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's communications director, cites his ex-boss as a prime example. Schwarzenegger was a world champion bodybuilder.
"It was Schwarzenegger's fierce competitiveness that propelled him to the top in bodybuilding and politics, and he was arrogant about it," Stutzman says.
"When it's game time you'll absolutely run through your opponent and lay him out. You'll do whatever it takes to win."
Democratic consultant David Townsend quotes legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." (Actually, UCLA coach Red Sanders said it first.)
"'Just win, baby!' is heard in locker rooms and campaign headquarters all the time," Townsend says.
Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant, says "there's a commonality of competition" between politics and sports "and the finality of it. On election day, you've won or lost. At the end of the ballgame, you've won or lost. The rest of life is murkier. In business, several people can get a piece of the pie and walk away happy.
"If you're risk averse you're never going to get anywhere in politics, and that's true of sports, too."
Politicians, jocks and people who write about both types often share the same lingo: Home run. Strike out. Slam dunk. Hail Mary. Horse race. Playbook.
Says Townsend: "90% of political stories sound like sports stories."