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Deep within the Lubyanka Building in Central Moscow at Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters, agents Mikhail and Ivan were biding their time last week on a particularly slow day.
(Translated from the Russian by our Beachwood interpreters, who have listening devices buried deep within the Russian intelligence agencies.)
Mikhail: I know there's not much going on, Ivan, but get your feet off the desk and look busy.
Ivan: I'd be happy to if you can suggest something for me to do.
Mikhail: Well, we can't interfere in an election in America for another year-and-a-half, but I've discovered a good way we can practice. Have you ever heard about the American game of baseball?
Ivan: I've heard of it. The one that takes forever where the ball is thrown a high speeds, and someone with a club tries to hit it?
Mikhail: Yes, that's the one. It's not called a club. It's a bat, and from what I understand, they don't usually make contact with the ball, but when they do, it goes a long way. A very curious game.
Ivan: So how can we sabotage that? It already seems kind of crazy. Do people actually watch baseball?
Mikhail: Not as many as a few years ago, but baseball is the second-most popular game in America during the summer right behind football practice. And there's a big game coming up in July.
Ivan: So what does that have to do with us?
Mikhail: You may not believe this, but they're having an election right now to see who gets to play in what they call the All-Star Game.
Ivan (taking his feet off his desk and leaning forward with rapt attention): An election? Throughout the country? Democrats vs. Republicans?
Mikhail: No, no, no. It has nothing to do with politics. At least not the politics we spy on. Trump doesn't have time to follow baseball. He's too busy playing golf. This election is very different but something which is very familiar to us.
Ivan: I want to hear more.
Mikhail: Well, for one thing people can vote many, many times. Like five times a day. Not only in Chicago, but everywhere. From our intelligence, we've discovered that the game has positions, and that people who pay attention to baseball have favorite teams. They want the players from their teams to play in this game in July.
Ivan: I've heard of this term, 'All Star.' Like Michael Jordan or LeBron James. But you say the voters want players from their teams, and they don't vote for the very best players?
Mikhail: Basically that's the case. I know it sounds crazy, yet somehow the best players usually get elected anyway. That's where we come in.
Ivan: You mean we can try to help inferior players get elected while the real all-stars watch? This sounds really interesting . . . and a lot of fun.
Mikhail: They do have a ballot, but the individual teams decide who gets on the ballot for each position, not unlike our very own elections here in Russia. I don't know much about this, but intelligence says that in the American League at a position called first base, a player named Chris Davis from Baltimore is on the ballot. His batting average is .161, which is very poor. Earlier this year he went 62 times without making contact with the ball. Well, maybe he made contact, but he never reached first base. We definitely should work to get him as many votes as possible. We can hack into the Baltimore market and cast a few thousand votes.
Ivan: Who should win the election for first base? Who is really the best player?
Mikhail: It could be close. Chicago has someone named Jose Abreu, a Cuban, and helping the Cubans should be a priority for us as well. They sure don't get any help from the U.S. Abreu is tied for the most RBIs - I'll explain later - in his league, but his batting average is just mediocre, only .250. The New York team, which has loads and loads of dollars, has a guy, Luke Voit, and Carlos Santana from Cleveland is doing well.
Ivan: Is Santana a Cuban?
Mikhail: No, he's a Dominican. Many of the players in baseball are Dominican. About 12 percent. Not bad for a country of less than 11 million. The U.S. has 330 million, but 30 percent of baseball players come from other countries.
Ivan: Hmmm. Maybe we Russians should start playing baseball. I hear those guys make a lot of money.
Mikhail: And they have a difficult time detecting drug use. Some of the balls they're hitting this season go much farther than a football [soccer] field, and some little guys are hitting them. It's something we might bring up with our sports federation.
Ivan: Are there other Cubans we can help?
Mikhail: Funny you ask. The Chicago team has another one, Yoan Moncada, who plays on the other side of the field from Abreu. He's young, good-looking, and he wears this white headband which goes great with the black stuff he rubs on his cheeks. He wasn't much good last year, but now he's improved. He's hit 12 home runs, balls that have gone over the fences, some way over the fences. But there's strong competition. Houston has a young player, Alex Bregman, who gets a lot of publicity because he's good and he plays for one of the best teams. Same with Rafael Devers of Boston, which won last year's championship.
Ivan: I can start creating thousands of fake e-mail addresses and use them five times a day to vote for Moncada. We can use Facebook posts to send rumors of drug use about Bregman and Devers. Same with Twitter. This is what we do. I can get Moncada thousands more votes as early as this afternoon.
Mikhail: Yes, all good ideas. But listen. Moncada only needs to be in the top three vote-getters. This is just a primary like Iowa or New Hampshire, places where we've always done nicely. The top three then face off for a final vote, and, who knows, the rules might say you can vote as often as you like. We have until June 21 before the primary closes.
Ivan: Anyone else we should help?
Mikhail: As long as we're talking about Chicago, we have another one. By the way, the team is called the White Sox. There's another team in the city, the Cubs. But their fans probably already have figured out ways to stuff the ballot box. The White Sox have a talented player who stands between Moncada and Abreu. They call him a shortstop. His name is Tim Anderson. But getting him elected will be a huge challenge.
Ivan: How so?
Mikhail: Outside of Chicago, people don't like him. He's does this thing after hitting one of those long balls. He throws his bat or sometimes just stands there watching the ball.
Ivan: What's he supposed to do? Is breaking any rules?
Mikhail: Not that our intelligence can detect. The other players just don't like it. You're not supposed to brag when you are successful. You have to act like it happens every day. Lots of Americans don't like their president boasting and bragging all the time about what he says are his accomplishments. I guess the same rules apply to baseball. Who knows? Americans are weird.
Ivan: So what about Anderson? Is he any good?
Mikhail: Yes, but not as good as another Dominican, Adalberto Mondesi, who plays for Kansas City. He's young and talented and having a great year. But he may need our help also because no one pays any attention to Kansas City. They're pretty awful.
Then there's Francisco Lindor who missed much of the early season with an injury, but he's come on strong recently. Znd Minnesota has a shortstop Jorge Polanco. His batting average is .333, second best in the league.
Anderson is right behind, but unless he learns to catch the ball when he's out at shortstop, he'll make 25 or 30 errors this season. That's not good.
Ivan: Okay, we'll cast thousands of votes for Anderson, but why wouldn't the people in Chicago just vote for the best player?
Mikhail: I already told you. It's all about having players from your favorite team play in this game. Teams like the White Sox tell people to vote for their players. They don't say, Vote for the best player, they say, Vote for our player.
Ivan: I don't get it. The strategy doesn't seem to work if, like you say, the best players usually get elected anyway.
Mikhail: That is strange. You think it's fixed?
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