Remembering 41: “If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri”

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The outpouring of kind words after President Bush’s recent passing is a deserved tribute to his leadership as President and his decades of public service. For two exceptionally good testimonials, click here and here.

But no tribute to President Bush would be complete without mentioning his zeal to win – especially on the softball field. Bluntly, this man did not like to lose even if the competition was “just a friendly staff game.” And woe to the staffer who didn’t appreciate the game’s gravity!

Mr. Bush’s passion to win and a young staffer’s naiveté were both on splendid display at a staff softball game in mid-1987 at Vice President Bush’s home on Observatory Hill. I was playing shortstop when the Vice President came to bat. He hit a one-hop and sprinted to first. I moved toward second base, grabbed the ball after the hop and then realized I had two options:

Option #1: Throw it hard to first, likely throwing him out but also risking “beaning” the nation’s second most powerful elected official.

This would not have been a good career move.

Option #2: Deliberately overthrow the first baseman, my fellow speechwriter Joe Casper.

After introspection that lasted slightly more than a nanosecond, I made my decision. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the height of his career couldn’t have grabbed the throw I tossed over Joe’s head.

More than 30 years later, I still vividly recall that look Mr. Bush gave me while standing on first base. He knew I’d deliberately overthrown and he was enough of a competitor not to like it one bit.

If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri.

George Bush was a tough and demanding boss but never unfair. If a speech text wasn’t to his liking, he would stress clearly, firmly what needed to be improved. But he was always respectful to every member of his staff. In turn, this fostered the intense loyalty that so many of us have felt toward him for these past decades.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. Thank you for everything.