SSTN Interviews Dr. Tevi Troy
SSTN: Today we are here with Dr. Tevi Troy, a big Yankees fan, former White House aide, and the former Deputy Secretary of the US Department Health and Human Services. Dr. Troy is also a presidential historian and an accomplished writer, having written four books on the presidency, including What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted, Intellectuals and the American Presidency, Shall We Wake The President, and Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. Over the last few weeks, we have provided excerpts from those books here at SSTN. You can see them here:
Exclusive Excerpt from “Shall We Wake The President?”
Exclusive Excerpt from “Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump”
Exclusive Excerpt from “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted”
Dr. Troy, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.
Thank you, Paul. I love the blog, love your appearances on the Bronx Beat podcast, and I love talking about the Yankees.
Dr. Troy, you have had an amazing career to date, working at many levels of the federal government including in the White House itself. You are also a big Yankees fan. I would assume you get asked about politics a lot, so I’ll try to keep this a little less serious and a lot more fun.
How are baseball and politics similar?
They are both high profile activities that have millions of passionate followers. History is also extremely important in both. And they can both transcend differences. There are people with whom I disagree over politics and bond over baseball. And some of my closest political friends are Red Sox fans.
Among the politicians you worked with and knew (and know) who was/is the biggest baseball fan?
My boss at HHS, Secretary Mike Leavitt, was a big baseball fan. He played baseball growing up and was quite good. He was a big Dodgers fan and used to listen to Dodger games over the radio as a boy in Utah. He once told me he was a fan of Wes Parker, who had 111 RBIs for the Dodgers in 1970, but may be better known for his Brady Bunch appearance.
You worked for President George W. Bush. He, of course, once owned the Texas Rangers and was fond of stating that he was the owner who traded away Sammy Sosa. How often did you get to talk about “lighter” subjects like sports with the President or was it always business?
I heard Bush talk about baseball a number of times, and he was quite knowledgeable. My conversations with him when I worked for him were mostly business — the White House is a serious place. But I did go to see him in Dallas post-presidency and we had a more relaxed conversation on many topics, including baseball.
On a more serious note, please tell us a little about your career and how you progressed to the highest levels in Washington. What are you doing now?
I would have loved to play for the Yankees, but I lacked the talent to do so, so I applied myself in the world of politics and ideas. I knew that I needed some political experience in order to write intelligently about politics, so I worked for 13 years in high level government jobs before leaving and starting to write seriously about policy and political history. Right now I am doing a lot of writing and promoting of my latest book, “Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump,” which the Wall Street Journal listed as one of the best political books of 2020.
You have had a great deal of “White House” experience. Was your office actually in the White House? If so, what was that like, working in the actual White House? Not many people have the honor and privilege of going to work in America’s Executive Mansion.
It was terrific, of course, and a great honor. My office was on the second floor of the West Wing. One thing of interest to the SSTN readers will be how many baseball fans there were in the White House. There were lots of Yankees and Red Sox fans, of course, but there were also fans of the Phillies, Rangers, Mets, Pirates, Giants, Reds, and lots of other teams. There seems to be a serious overlap between politicos and baseball fans. And the best events were the annual visits of the World Series champs to the White House. I was there when the Marlins came in 2004 (the season after their 2003 victory) and I got a ball signed by Pudge Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, and manager Trader Jack McKeon. Even though they beat the Yanks in that Series, it was still a thrill.
Yankee Stadium is also an iconic building, of course. If you had to choose between working in the White House or working in Yankee Stadium, which would you choose, and why?
It’s an impossible to answer this question, of course. I think it’s unlikely that I will ever get to work in Yankee Stadium, so I will just say that working in the White House was the honor of a lifetime. I did have a friend who said that working in the White House was like getting the free buffet at Yankee Stadium. You never want to leave, and the ice cream always tastes good, but at some point you have to break away and do something else, whether by choice or because the ride comes to an end.
How did you come to be a Yankees fan?
I grew up in Queens in the 1970s and had two older brothers. One was a Mets fan and the other a Yankees fan, and they used to fight over which team I should support. The Mets were the better team at the time – they had Tom Seaver and had made the World Series in 1973 – but the Yankee fan brother made the case that the Yankees had a more glorious history. The budding historian in me appreciated that argument, and I chose the Yankees and have not looked back.
As a Presidential historian, what stories can you share that connect baseball to the Presidency?
There are so many great stories about the presidency and baseball, including Babe Ruth meeting every president from Wilson to Truman. I have written about a lot of these stories, and have also made sure to mention baseball at least once in each of my books, but my favorite story is Franklin Roosevelt attending the game in Chicago at the 1932 World Series in which Babe Ruth hit his famous “called shot.” FDR was running for president at the time, and he wanted to get Illinois’ 29 electoral votes, but that did not stop him from laughing and cheering Ruth on as he circled the bases.
Let me throw some names of Yankees managers at you, and if you can, which U.S. President would these managers be most similar to?
Jimmy Carter. Huggins was short for a player, and Carter was short for a president. They both seemed unhappy in their positions and struggled to control the people underneath them. Huggins had trouble with Babe Ruth, and Carter had trouble with Secretary of State Cy Vance, who threatened to resign multiple times until Carter finally took him up on the offer.
FDR. They both had super long tenures in the job, and their tenures even overlapped, with McCarthy holding the Yankees job from 1931 to 1946 (with seven World Series wins), and Roosevelt serving as president from 1933 to 1945.
George W. Bush. Like Stengel, Bush had a terrific sense of humor and was often “misunderestimated.”
Ike. Eisenhower was a successful general before becoming president, and Torre was a successful player before becoming a manager. Also, both had a relatively easygoing management style in which they expected their teams to get the job done without micromanaging.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
There are so many great Yankee and baseball books, but one that I have not seen and would love to read would be one about the Yankee managers who have won a World Series – Huggins, McCarthy, Bucky Harris, Stengel, Ralph Houk, Martin, Bob Lemon, Torre, and Girardi – with a chapter on each and how they got there.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
I went to Milwaukee in 2011 to see a Cardinals game because I wanted to see Albert Pujols in action. At the time, he was on a trajectory to be one of the all-time greats. I also went to Yankee Stadium to see Mike Trout play. He is clearly the best player of this generation. I sure wish the Yankees had been able to draft him. He was on their draft board, but the Angels went four slots ahead.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Short answer: Yankees, now and forever.
Who was your favorite player?
Ron Guidry. I will never forget watching him strike out 18 Angels in 1978.
What is your most prized collectible?
We had a ball signed by Babe Ruth when I was growing up in Queens, but my parents say they lost it when they moved to a retirement community in New Jersey.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Simon & Garfunkel, because of the Joe DiMaggio mention in “Mrs. Robinson.” Mickey Mantle once supposedly asked Paul Simon why they didn’t use Mickey in the song, and Simon replied, “Syllables, Mick, syllables.”
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Since we are not going to restaurants during this awful pandemic, my wife and I like to get takeout sushi (tuna and salmon for me, sweet potato for her) and eat it outside with a Starbucks and a chocolate chip muffin.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
I am hoping that 2021 is the year for the next Yankee title. They have a heck of a team if they can keep everyone on the field and uninjured.
This was so much fun Dr. Troy. Thank you for joining us and taking all this time to talk baseball (and history). Hopefully we can do this again one day soon.
All the best to you – always!