Adam Wainwright, Derek Jeter & NY’s race for governor

jeterIn a pivotal scene of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, a tough and hardened Marine colonel named Nathan Jessup declares “You can’t handle the truth” to the young military attorney questioning him during a court-martial proceeding.

The colonel, portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson, may be on to something, albeit not in the context he uttered in Sorkin’s 1992 film.

This summer, more than 11 million of us watched the Major League All-Star Game, which doubled as a much deserved (and perhaps overdone) tribute to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who was making his final appearance in the midsummer classic.

When Jeter led off the game with a double to right field, even Sorkin could not have written a better script. But that all changed when Adam Wainwright, the pitcher who faced Jeter in the first inning, revealed he had given the Yankee shortstop an easy pitch to hit.

“I was going to give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it,” Wainwright told reporters after he exited the game.

An interesting fact about the media firestorm that followed Wainwright’s statement is that he was criticized not only for grooving a pitch to Jeter, but also for telling the truth about what he did.

“Pretty classless move by Wainwright to say he was grooving pitches to Jeter. Either do it and keep quiet or don’t do it at all,” tweeted New York Daily News writer Mark Feinsand.

“Maybe ‘bush’ to do it. But worse to SAY you did it. Ruins moment you conspired to create. Dope,” Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell added in another tweet.

It’s almost as if we’d rather not know the truth; we’re happier believing Jeter rose to the occasion and cracked a tough pitch into the outfield for a two-bagger. That’s because we’re accustomed to hearing pitchers with pinpoint control say that one “just got away” after hitting a batter with a fastball in apparent retaliation for some actions on the diamond. And that’s why we would have preferred it if Wainwright said Jeter connected with his best stuff, even if that was not true.

But this was just a baseball game – an exhibition one at that, even if it does have repercussions for the post-season. Let’s turn to a more serious matter, one that has greater consequences – this fall’s election for governor of New York State.

The incumbent, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, is ahead by more than 35 percentage points in recent polls. He also has more money and greater name recognition than his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino.

astorino_oleanI heard Astorino speak at a small campaign rally in Olean, N.Y., earlier this summer. He speaks confidently about the election and his prospects for winning. That’s what one expects from a candidate, even a longshot like Astorino.

We also expect the same from leaders in the candidate’s party, which is why comments made by N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, have created a stir.

Asked if he planned to help Astorino’s gubernatorial campaign, Christie replied, “I will spend time in places where we have a chance to win… We don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes.”

Astorino responded by suggesting that Christie consider stepping down as RGA chair if he isn’t willing to help all GOP gubernatorial candidates. He also hinted that Christie’s reluctance to get involved in the New York race is related to the “Bridgegate” controversy involving the New Jersey.

Nevertheless, Christie’s description of the New York race as a lost cause for Republicans may very well be accurate, just as accurate as Wainwright’s description of the pitches he tossed to Jeter. But again, the truth is not what we are accustomed to hearing.

I was an assistant communications director for two of Christie’s predecessors in the New Jersey governor’s office. If I held a similar position today, I suspect I would have crafted a more measured assessment of Astorino’s chances, something along the lines of:

Rob Astorino is a great candidate with a strong record as Westchester County Executive. We have a number of critical races around the country this fall, and we’re still assessing how best to allocate our funds and resources.

A statement like this may have worked better and prevented the controversy that followed Christie’s remarks. It’s the type of statement we’re accustomed to hearing because, to paraphrase Colonel Jessup, sometimes we just can’t handle the truth.

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