This story illustrates Bruce Holland Rogers’s sixteenth Short-short Sighted column, “George Washington’s Life in Baseball: Using Characters Your Reader Already Knows.”
The secretary never had a chance to say, “Do you have an appointment?” Washington was already past her and opening the CEO’s door. Benjamin Rush, the man behind the enormous desk, was on the phone. He looked up and said, “I’ll call you back. Something’s come up.”
The secretary hovered in the doorway behind Washington, but Rush said, “It’s all right. I’ll see him.”
Washington shut the door.
The CEO stood up and extended a hand. “Always good to see you, George.”
Washington ignored the hand. “You’ve owned this team for two months, and I haven’t heard a word from you. Your assistant calls. You don’t want an appointment, but your underling does. When I let a player go, I have the guts to do it in person.”
“All right,” Rush said. “I’ll be straight with you. The team’s been stuck in neutral — ”
Washington looked at two glass encased baseballs on the desk. “Ruth and Williams. Any chance those are authentic?”
“They…of course they’re authentic.”
“How would you know? I ask because you seem to have a hard time recognizing the genuine article.” Washington thumped his own chest with his fingers. “I am the genuine article. Did you know that I take batting practice with the team? At my age? Why do you think I do that?”
“George, it’s not a question of your leadership — ”
“Those guys would walk through fire for me. Hell, they have walked through fire. We were twenty-five games out of first place when we played the Yankees. Did you see that series? Did you see my guys lose in fourteen innings and then play their hearts out the next day to avoid the sweep?”
“When a team changes hands, some adjustments — ”
“Yes. So here are the changes we’re going to make. First, you’re promoting me to president of baseball operations.”
“Promoting you.” Rush smiled a thin smile.
“But I’m still managing the team in the dugout, so I’ll need to hire an assistant. Someone I trust. He’s not in baseball any more, but Al Hamilton would be perfect.”
“Alexander Hamilton?” Rush laughed. “He makes the kind of money I make!”
“He’ll come down a peg for me. He will. Anyway, you’re going to have to get used to spending. Pitching is going to cost us. Two top starters and a middle reliever. Then we’re going to buy the best closer available. You’re going to bid against the Yankees ownership until they blink.”
Rush seemed to be fighting to keep a genial smile in place. “George, we’re rebuilding.”
“You’re saying you don’t expect to win.”
“These things take time.”
“We’ve got the bats, Rush. We don’t have to go for the long ball. Singles. Men on base. Patient offense. Give me the pitching staff I want, and I’ll bring you a pennant with the position players we already have. They’ll walk through fire, but I want them walking through fire because there’s something on the other side.” He leaned over the desk. “So is there going to be something on the other side? Or is this a hobby for you?”
Rush’s face reddened. “I want to win.”
“But that’s not enough. You’ve got to want to win as much as I want to win.” Then Washington pushed at his dental work as if the bridge were loose. It wasn’t, but the gesture would remind Rush that when Washington was a player, he’d stood in at the plate, bases loaded, and taken a brush-back pitch right in the mouth. He lost five teeth and won the game.
Washington reached across the desk, picked up the phone, and handed it to Rush. “Call publicity. Tell them about your new president of baseball operations.”
And Benjamin Rush, to his lasting credit, made the call.
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