Like many notable events of his presidency, last week’s bizarre back-and-forth between Trump and the New York Yankees reportedly began from a place of personal hostility. On Thursday, hours before noted Washington Nationals fan Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening pitch to inaugurate Major League Baseball’s pandemic season, President Trump stood at the podium of the White House briefing room and informed the press that he would have his own on-field ceremony next month in the Bronx. “Randy Levine is a great friend on mine from the Yankees,” Trump said, of the team’s president. “And he asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I think I’m doing that on August 15 at Yankee Stadium.”
According to the New York Times, Trump broke the news because he was frustrated by Fauci’s time in the stadium lights — perhaps the pettiest moment yet in the president’s tiff with the public-health official he sees as competition for the nation’s attention. But when he made the announcement, no actual date had been set. Though White House officials had called the Yankees to make good on a standing offer from the team’s president, neither party had confirmed that Trump would throw out the first pitch that Saturday night in August. The announcement reportedly alarmed both the Yankees and White House staffers — resulting in aides scrambling “to let the team know that he was actually booked on Aug. 15, although they have not said what he plans to do.”
Then on Sunday, the president declined the RSVP for his self-invite, citing his “strong focus” on dealing with the pandemic.
While Trump obviously has bigger problems than making up engagements to draw attention away from the nation’s top infectious disease expert in the middle of a devastating pandemic, so do the Yankees. On Monday, 14 coaches and players on the Miami Marlins tested positive for the coronavirus, leading to further doubts that the MLB can responsibly pull off a 60-game season featuring interstate travel among all of its 30 teams.
Perhaps one appeal of quickly setting a date for Randy Levine’s standing offer was that Trump would not have to throw the pitch in front of a crowd of New Yorkers, a city notoriously over its erstwhile real-estate scion. Last October, the president had a conversation with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred about throwing out the first pitch at the World Series game he attended in Nationals Stadium. Trump decided not to do it — concerned, according to Manfred, about “fans getting into the stadium” — which was probably the smart bet, considering the D.C. crowd booed him for even being at the game.
The president has had a hard time projecting plans with his fellow C-suiters this year: In March, Trump announced that Google would help build the federal government’s COVID-response website, though the company reportedly had no idea it had signed on for such a project. And in April, Trump announced his Opening Our Country Council, listing executives at Pfizer, McDonalds, and Cisco Systems as team members, to the surprise of the business leaders.