Mined from the notebooks, Tuesday night, October 2, 2018. Posted Wednesday night, October 3.
His sliminess was as much a calling card as his savvy: Clinton Manges, owner of the United State Football Leauge’s San Antonio Gunslingers during the USFL’s brief existence in the 1980s. Donald Trump owned the New Jersey Generals at the same time, and in some ways Manges was a worse person than Trump, and even he isn’t the worst person in the book! Photo courtesy of the San Antonio News-Examiner.
Watching baseball. Reading football. Cubs and Rockies in the NL Wildcard game. “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL” by Jeff Pearlman.
In the mid-1980s, the upstart USFL---United States Football League---struggled to provide a spring fix for football addicts suffering from withdrawal after the Super Bowl. According to Pearlman, the level of play was professional. Not up to NFL standards but worth the price of admission. The league did make a go of it for a while and might have lasted if not for a number of adverse factors including the stupidity, cupidity, arrogance, greed, and deluded thinking of some of the team owners, one of whom was Donald Trump.
Trump owned the New Jersey Generals and he figures bigly in the book, doing what Donald Trump does best---destroying things. In this case, he’s seen helping to destroy the USFL which he only joined as a means to finagling for himself ownership of an NFL team which he covets because it’ll make him more money and gain him more respect and celebrity. Self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement being the twin pole stars of his moneygrubbing, attention-whoring life.
Surprisingly, he’s not the worst person in the book.
He’s one of the worst.
He’s as miserable a specimen of human being as we know him to be. In 1983, he wasn’t yet forty, but even then he was up to no good. He’s always been a nogoodnik. It’s just that the story Pearlman’s telling is populated with nogoodniks, other liars and cheats, con artists and frauds, and out and out crooks of Trump’s ilk if not his fame. Take Clinton Manges, the owner of the San Antonio Gunslingers…
In the late 1940s, [Manges] managed a service station in Port Aransas, Texas. It was there, while pumping gas and checking beneath the the hoods of automobiles, that Manges caught his break. Or to be more accurate, created his break. One day he found himself working on the car of Lloyd Bentsen, the investor who amassed a fortune worth $100 million in real estate, oil, and cattle. As he fixed up the vehicle, Manges inquired as to where Bentsen was heading. “Farmer Jones up the road as some land for sale,” [Bentsen] said.
“Hmm,” said Manges. “That’s interesting.” He excused himself, rushed inside the service station office, and placed a call to Farmer Jones, a man he knew well. He returned moments later with a smile pasted to his face. “Mr. Bensten, you can deal with me directly,” he said. “I just bought the land.”
Bentsen could have been furious. Instead, he was dazzled. From that day forward, he took Manges beneath his wing, involving him in land deals and teaching him the tricks of the game...Within a half decade, Manges was known as one of [Texas’] elite property traders. “He had no peer when it came to understanding the intricacies of deals,” [Paul Burka wrote in Texas Monthly]. “He knew to read people; he could be charming and expansive and incredibly persuasive, or he could be belligerent and ruthless.”
As the years passed, Manges’s sliminess was as much a calling card as his savvy. He was regularly sued for unpaid bills and skipped taxes. He wrote fake checks and was content bribing any available on-the-take public official. In 1963 Manges was indicted for making false statements on a loan application to the state of Texas…
Manges had money. It just seems that it came and went, and when it came in he was reluctant to let it go back out again and did what he thought he had to and was entitled to stop it on its way out the door. He avoided paying creditors when he could and didn’t pay his players as a matter of course. Once when the Gunslingers were flying home from an away game, he left them stranded on an airport runway when their plane stopped to refuel, having neglected to allocate money for the fuel bill.
But even he isn’t the worst person in the book.
One of the other owners is an outright fraud with no money of his own who uses his team as a piggy bank. The head coach of the Arizona Outlaws is a sadistic alcoholic. Many of the players are violent and vicious drug addicts and drunks. There are plenty of decent and well-meaning people, executives, coaches, players, and others, with real talent, intelligence, and ethical standards throughout, but they’re surrounded by sharpers, schnorrers, schnooks, self-dealing strivers, hangers-on, wannabes, and sellouts, ethical trimmers, moral dunces, and vainglorious dopes on the make. And in this thieves carnival and parade of fools, Trump fits right in.
I’ve said it before, one of the reasons political media didn’t cover Trump as what he was during the presidential campaign was they didn’t believe he could be what he was. Nobody like that could possibly be a serious contender for President of the United States, let alone get himself elected, therefore Trump couldn’t possibly be like that. This circular thinking persisted well into his first year in office and still crops up now and then as credulous journalists and pundits look hopefully for signs he’s turned into somebody else, somebody worthy of holding the job George Washington held.
But as “Football for a Buck” makes clear, Trump is nothing original or new. He’s a type, firmly in the American grain. Given how many characters there are like him and how many there have always been, the wonder isn’t how did one of them become President. The wonder is it didn’t happen sooner.