Scout Says Donald Trump Had 'No Chance' of Playing in the Big Leagues

Jesse Pantuosco
May 06, 2020 - 12:35 pm
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Leander Schaerlaeckens of Slate recently set out to answer the age-old question, was President Donald Trump actually a good baseball player? Trump’s athletic prowess has been explored often throughout his presidency, with many questioning the validity of his suspiciously low golf scores. The real-estate-mogul-turned-politician made the bold claim in 2013 that he was once considered the top baseball player in his home state of New York.

After looking into the matter, Schaerlaeckens believes that’s highly unlikely. Slate dug up a collection of nine box scores from Trump’s heyday at New York Military Academy and—though it’s an admittedly small sample size—the president hit a ghastly .138 (4-for-29) during those games. While Trump was lauded for his defense at first base, it’s debatable how good of a hitter he was.

“I thought his defensive skills were better than his offensive skills,” Dick Guido, a fellow NYMA alum, recalled of the president’s playing days.

“I heard him say he could have played Major League Baseball,” Keith Vanderlip, another one of the president’s former teammates, said of Trump’s baseball acumen. “But he wasn’t that good.”

In an excerpt from the 2014 book The Games Do Count: America’s Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports, Trump claims that playing professionally was “in the equation,” though he abandoned that pursuit after attending a tryout with the far superior Willie McCovey. In his reporting, Schaerlaeckens found no evidence that tryout took place, noting that McCovey was eight years Trump’s senior and already a five-year major-league vet by the time the president graduated high school.

Ted Dobias, the coach Trump referred to in his earlier tweet, told the Daily Mail in 2015 that "The Apprentice" star was scouted by both the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies while attending NYMA. And while there’s no evidence to dispute that (neither teams’ scouting records go back that far), Slate easily debunked Dobias’ claim that he made Trump an “unofficial assistant coach” during his senior year. Dobias was only an assistant himself at the time—co-coaches Michael McCann and Ralph Petrillo were both ahead of him on the team’s pecking order that season—and wouldn’t have had the power to bestow that title on Trump, official or otherwise.

Schaerlaeckens also learned of an instance when Trump was asked to substitute at third base (the team’s regular third baseman was away for a wedding) but rejected his assignment, refusing to man any position other than his preferred first base. With Trump unwilling to leave his first-base post, the team was forced to start left-handed Barry Chasen at the hot corner.

While others may not remember Trump’s baseball tenure as glowingly, a handful of ex-teammates have come to the president’s defense. “In my memory, he had a very sweet swing,” Jim Scherz, an outfielder on the team, remembers. “Almost a Ted Williams–like swing.” Ted Levine, a former roommate who Trump once tried to push out of a second-story window during a heated argument, offered similar praise for the commander in chief.

“He was very large, a lot of leverage. Well-gifted, intelligent. And athletic,” Levine said, describing what skills Trump brought to the diamond. “He probably could have played at some level of professional ball.”

Even if Trump had some appealing traits, veteran baseball scout Keith Law doubts he would have drawn much big-league interest. “There’s no chance,” said Law, a former Toronto Blue Jays scout who now writes for The Athletic. “You don’t hit .138 for some podunk, cold-weather high school playing the worst competition you could possibly imagine. You wouldn’t even get recruited for Division I baseball programs, let alone by pro teams.”

Trump never played baseball at the collegiate level, though he did compete briefly on Fordham’s squash team before eventually transferring to Penn, where the president received his degree in economics in 1968. Maybe Trump’s big-league dreams never transpired, but having a billion in the bank and a desk in the Oval Office are pretty good consolation prizes.

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