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 online 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 percent of political stories sound like sports stories."
Political polling is like a line score: Both keep track of the contest.
Opposition research and scouting reports find vulnerabilities to exploit.
Modern congressional gridlock resembles rugby, says Carrick, who played the sport in college. "Progress is one inch at a time."
There's also thrust and parry, as in fencing.
Veteran Assembly education consultant Rick Simpson was a fencer in college. "Thrust is when you're trying to hit the other person," he explains. "Parry is when you're trying to block with your sword."
He cites an example during this year's legislative session. Gov. Jerry Brown thrust with his radical new school funding formula. The Legislature parried to soften the blow to suburban schools, represented by many lawmakers. "We blunted the force of his attack."
Politics and sports attract similar minds. The best participants possess mental toughness, exercise discipline, incessantly prepare and refuse to be beaten.
Top politicians think like All-Star athletes.
"You've got to know you can win before taking the court," says Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an All-Star NBA point guard for the Phoenix Suns. "And when you suffer a setback, you need to come back even stronger.
"It's about vision, strategy, teamwork, getting people to work together. That's transferable from sports to politics."
Johnson has been the right mayor at the right time for Sacramento -- using his athletic mentality and stature to save the NBA Kings from being relocated to first Anaheim, then Seattle. He sold the City Council on a new arena financing plan, recruited new team ownership and persuaded the NBA to keep the team in Sacramento.
"It was a play-to-win strategy," he says.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, played competitive tennis in school. "My style was that I ran down every ball and generally got one more ball back across the net than my opponent," he recalls. "I was never out hustled."
That's also Steinberg's style in the Legislature.
"When it comes to hard negotiation, a lot of success comes from just staying with it and not giving up. I call it grinding," he says.
"There are also other styles. There are those who throw curve balls or a little chin music" -- aimed threateningly near the head.
But so far, I've never seen a politician try to steal a press badge.
Contact George Skelton at firstname.lastname@example.org.