By J.F. McKenna
The double steal is baseball pyrotechnics at its best, a strategy allowing two base runners to advance sans hit, balk, error, et cetera. No other larceny compares, it’s said—even in government.
That claim may be faulty, though. Uncle Sam, I’m confident, could manage a maneuver just as impressive in his own game. In fact, I’m certain he could even execute a double steal while talking baseball. The old boy, I’m sure, could leverage imaginative confiscatory powers while effortlessly invoking the names of such long-dead diamond legends as Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.
To illustrate my point, let me spin out a fable. I promise you won’t be disappointed, even if you’re not a great fan of the summer game or the sport’s greatest contribution to iconology—the baseball card. Given what passes for news lately, my story might actually make for a welcome diversion.
A century ago, a Defiance, Ohio, businessman named Carl Hench carefully collected hundreds of baseball cards and put them in his attic. There they stayed until his grandson, Karl Kissner, discovered them one winter’s day.
Note well that these baseball cards are not the ordinary kind. Quite the contrary. The Hench Collection is the baseball equivalent of the Library at Alexandria—cards in perfect condition, cards extolling the on-field exploits of Cobb, Wagner and other early-game greats.
Since the first day of their discovery in an old box, these cards have caused quite a stir among fans. “The haul was worth millions,” the newspaper reports. “They were pristine, the colors rich, the edges pointed. There, too, were cards of Wagner, one of the 15 Hall of Fame players in the set and the most valuable. One of the former Pirates star’s rarest had sold for $2.8 million in 2007.”
There may never be joy in Mudville, but in parts of Defiance joy reigns. “It’s just a blessing,” Kissner tells the press. “My grandfather stuck the box in the attic a hundred years ago and here it is now, a blessing to his grandchildren.” A multi-million-dollar blessing, to be sure.
But what’s a decent fable without an antagonist? Why, it’s the hanging curve of narrative arc. So I offer you wily Uncle Sam, who traffics in innovative ways to redefine life, liberty and property. To his way of thinking, anything that has to do with the national pastime is, by definition, the property of the nation.
“Tell you what,” Sam tells the heirs, “the quality and amount of these treasures belong to the nation as a whole. It’s only right that Honus, Ty and the rest of the gang be shared equally with every American. They fall within a special category. They belong to us all.”
“How can that be?” ask the grandchildren of Carl Hench. “Grandpa intended for his family, for us, to enjoy them and to do with them as we wished. It doesn’t seem fair.”
“You must broaden your notion of fairness,” the cagey old uncle says soothingly. “You owe it to the rest of us, to your country, to get past your selfishness!”
“If we don’t?” say the residence in Defiance.
“Then we have no choice but to penalize you,” Uncle Sam says. “It’s the only right thing to do. Naturally, we will credit you for holding these cards for so long. A finder’s fee will be issued, along with the thanks of a grateful nation.
“Of course,” he adds, “the fee will be subject to the current tax rate.”
With those final words, Uncle Sam completes his double steal and my fable.
What? I already hear you grumbling. This fable, you say, is the worst kind of invention. You say it strains the imagination far more than any talking animal concocted by Aesop.
Maybe you’re right. Maybe my story is too farfetched, even for a fable. Then again, maybe it loses some of its dramatic punch when placed alongside actual government chicanery such as Obamacare and contorted Supreme Court decisions. Maybe I should have considered the guidance of a better storyteller.
“Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction?” Mark Twain once cautioned. “Fiction, after all, has to make sense.”
J.F. McKenna is a business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at email@example.com .