Chris Matthews popularized the political term “hardball” with his book, Hardball: How politics is played, told by one who knows the game (1988), and his MSNBC political show (since 1999), Hardball with Chris Matthews. In the game of baseball, “hardball” is a much tougher game than “softball”—the ball can be hit harder and go faster and further. To “play hardball” (sometimes written as the two words “hard ball") in business or in politics is to play a professional, high stakes game.
Newspaper columnist and author Robert Ruark (1915-1965) wrote in a March 1949 column about the Cold War: “No matter what the president said about keeping the peace, the lads are still playing hard ball.” Ruark wrote in February 1950 about the nuclear problem: “But in a hard-ball league, every so often you got to come in with a hard ball.” Ruark wrote in November 1960 of “the hard-ball, dirty-pool world we live in.”
Political “hardball” became widely known in 1972 and 1973, popularized by the Watergate scandal. President Nixon speechwriters William Safire and Patrick Buchanan both used the “hardball” term.
Another sports term used in politics—and opposite to “hardball”—is the “softball question.”
Wiktionary: play hardball
to play hardball
1.(idiomatic) To use every means possible to achieve a goal, especially in disregarding the harm caused.
He was more than willing to extend the terms of the loan, but his boss decided to play hardball and demanded a balloon payment.
2.(idiomatic) To act rough and ruthless, especially in politics or business.
So you wanna play hardball?
Hatchet Jobs and Hardball:
The Oxford dictionary of American political slang
By Grant Barrett
Oxford: Oxford University Press
hardball n. aggressive or ruthless competition, esp. in politics or business; in phr. play hardball or [as v.] hardball it to engage in such competition; to do whatever is necessary to prevail or succeed. Often attrib. Now colloq.
1972 in Bernstein & Woodward President’s Men 173:
This is the hardest hardball that’s ever been played in this town. We all have to be very careful, in the office and out.
1973 in Submission of Pres. Convers. 223:
He is playing hard ball. he wouldn’t play hard ball unless he were pretty confident that he could cause an awful lot of grief.
1975 New York Times (Aug. 24) IV 19:
Nixon was a mean, tough hardball politician.
1979 Eble Campus Slang (Mar.) 4:
hard ball—tough, given to ruthless tactics: He’s a real hard ball businessman.
1982 Los Angeles Times (Nov 21) IA 6:
Paul’s really hard-balling it now. They’re locked in a relatively high levelfor competition.
1983 Los Angeles Times (Oct 26) I6:
[Sen. J. Biden] accused White House counselor Edwin Meese III of deciding “to hardball it.”
Wikipedia: Hardball with Chris Matthews
Hardball with Chris Matthews is a talk show on MSNBC, broadcast weekdays at 5 and 7 PM hosted by Chris Matthews. It originally aired on now-defunct America’s Talking (as Politics with Chris Matthews) and later CNBC. The current title was derived from a book Matthews wrote in 1988, Hardball: How Politics is Played Told By One Who Knows the Game. Hardball is a talking-head style cable news show where the moderator advances opinions on a wide range of topics, focusing primarily on current political issues. These issues are discussed with a panel of guests that usually consists of political analysts and sometimes include politicians.
Wikipedia: Robert Ruark
Robert Ruark (December 29, 1915 in Wilmington, North Carolina – July 1, 1965 in London, England) was an American author and syndicated columnist.
Google News Archive
4 March 1949, Spartanburg (SC) Herald, “ROBERT RUARK Says Navy and Air Force Carrying on Cold War,” pg. 6, col. 7:
No matter what the president said about keeping the peace, the lads are still playing hard ball.
9 February 1950, Reno (NV) Evening Gazette, “Bob Ruark’s It’s a Wonderful Life,” pg. 6, col. 6:
NEW YORK, Feb. 9.—The brewing of a hellbroth of such violence as the hydrogen bomb is a desperate antidote for global nausea. But in a hard-ball league, every so often you got to come in with a hard ball, or so Bernie Baruch was saying the other day when Harry Truman ordered the atom chefs to cook him up a mess of hellbombs.
Google News Archive
5 June 1952, Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, “Ike Pretty Likely To Roll With Punches” by Robert Ruark, pg. 4, col. 4:
And as Ike the politico, he steps into a hard-ball league that is somewhat rougher than an indoor hassel (sic) between generals or a public fist fight between civilians.
U.S. News & World Report
Volume 47, Part 2
“But I think these Eastern people play with a hard ball. They tend to look at politics a little more coldly than we do out here.”
5 November 1960, Reno (NV) Evening Gazette, “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Bob Ruark, pg. 4, col. 5:
Thusly, I would not care for the idea of the president of a nation accepting any of Adlai Stevenson’s learned “liberal” advices on the hard-ball, dirty-pool world we live in, not after a couple of Adlai’s efforts in recent times and a steady record of softheadedness where the Soviet is concerned.
Google News Archive
10 November 1961, Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, “Old Hawgjowl Stays Ahead” by Robert Ruark, pg. 6, col. 5:
In a hardball league, we haven’t got anybody who can touch him (Nikita Khrushchev—ed.) for sheer hateful efficiency.
16 September 1962, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Washington” by John Mashek, sec. 4, pg. 3:
While President Kennedy’s “snub” of conservative Rep. Bob Casey of Houston on last week’s space tour was generally considered a political boner, one observer said he wasn’t surprised. “His crowd plays with a hard ball,” he said.
9 August 1963, Lawrence (KS) Daily Journal-World, “We Need Good Handshake But Still Must Be Cautious” by Robert C. Ruark, pg. 4, col. 3:
I have a great deal of respect for Khrushchev in the hard-ball league, and not much admiration for our own people as global diplomatists.
24 May 1965, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Dollar Speculation Continues” by Eliot Janeway, pg. C6:
Let’s Play Hard Ball. There’s a simple way to show these best friends of ours as these speculators against the dollar officially are that we mean to break up this ball game.
29 November 1967, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, Pg. 14A, col. 3 ad:
When the name
of the game
is unlisted securities,
in our ballpark.
So when it comes to over-the-counter securities, or any kind for that matter, Robinson-Humphrey does more than talk a good game. We play hard ball.
The Robinson-Humphrey Company
MEMBER NEW YORK & AMERICAN STOCK EXCHANGES
Google News Archive
18 September 1969, Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune
As Transportation Secretary
O’Neil “Suits Self”
TALLAHASSEE (AP)—Transportation Secretary Michael O’Neil is abusing his power, subcommittee chairmen of the Legislative Transportation Committee charged Wednesday.
Rep. Lynwood Arnold, D-Jacksonville, committee chairman, met with five sub-committee chairmen to coordinate the Transportation Department investigation that is expected to run for another two months.
“I assume Mr. O’Neil is going to cooperate with us,” Arnold said. “We’re going to be just as nice and pleasant, (but) if they want to play hard ball, we’re going to play hard ball.”
5 December 1971, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, “Mills Jabs Own Party in the Purse,” pg. 30A:
“That’s why this was hard ball,” O’Brien said. “We had to come out of this with at least the issue, the veto. We didn’t.
(Lawrence F. O’Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee—ed.)
23 June 1972, New York (NY) Times, “Transcript of the President’s News Conference Emphasizing Domestic Matters,” pg. 14:
The other point that I should make is this: In looking over the transcripts of various press conferences, I have not seen many softballs and I don’t want any because it is only that hardball that you can hit or strike out on.
Google News Archive
20 April 1973, Milwaukee (WI) Journal, “Never Fear, Nixon’s Here” by William Safire, pg. 21, cols. 6-7:
3. Not every hardball is a beanball. Let’s wait and see if a connection is proven between the Watergate crime and other political activity that may be shady but is not criminal. Let’s also watch out for ex post facto morality, condemning tactics in the most recent campaign that were tacitly condoned in other campaigns. We would be better off without such “hardball” but we should not pretend it never existed.
27 June 1973, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, “Interview with Ehrlichman by Richard W. Larsen,” pg. A13, col. 2:
(In an unrecorded aside, Ehrlichman reflected on a charge from Senator Charles Percy, liberal Illinois Republican, that on one issue he was “blackjacked.” The white House wanted a Percy vote on the anti-ballistics-missile question, Percy needed help on a housing issue. Ehrlichman acknowledged that “blackjack” remark, saying “we played a hard ball game.")
Google News Archive
27 September 1973, Daytona Beach (FL) Sunday News-Journal
Buchanan Says Pranks, Agents
OK; Draws Line At Sabotage
WASHINGTON—Nixon campaign tactician Patrick J. Buchanan defended ghost written advertisements, pranks and undercover operatives as legitimate political weapons Wednesday, but denied he recommended or authorized political sabotage.
He put those activities into four categories: things utterly outrageous, dirty tricks, political hardball and pranks.
July 1977, Texas Monthly, pg. 95, col. 1:
Criticized last session for failing to play hardball; this time went down to defeat with his cleats on.
Pg. 96, col. 3:
Peer to Jim Nugent, the top House practitioner of political hardball—but, while Nugent pitches curves, Davis slings beanballs.
January 1979, Texas Monthly, pg. 78, col. 3:
Carter may play softball, but Clements, we can be sure, would play hardball.
OCLC WorldCat record
Hardball : how politics is played, told by one who knows the game
Author: Christopher Matthews
Publisher: New York : Summit Books, ©1988.
Edition/Format: Book : English
Safire’s Political Dictionary
By William Safire
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
hardball Aggressive, rough-and-tumble political tactics; stronger than practical politics or pranks, but not as over-the-line as DIRTY TRICKS.
The author first heard the word used on December 20, 1972, by attorney (later Secretary of HEW) Joseph Califano, complaining of Republican tactics during the campaign that trounced Senator Geogre McGovern: “Nobody ever played hardball like you guys.”
The word gained a sense of “aggressive questioning” as the title of a political interview program on MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, its host a former aide to Democratic Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill and author of a perceptive book about the relationship between senators Nixon and Kennedy.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (2) Comments • Friday, December 03, 2010 • Permalink
Hardball...to the point of even digging the rival’s past and sometimes even telling lies about the opponent.
hardball is traditional baseball