There's this new kid on the baseball team, Jody Powell was telling Jim Brady, Ronald Reagan's new press secretary, last week. And the kid's scared. Just sitting there on the bench, watching the right fielder. Who's named Powell, by the way.
Well, Powell misses a fly, and then a line drive straight over his head. In goes the new kid.
Who misses another fly. And another. Next he throws the ball home, six feet past the catcher. Out comes the new kid.
"Jesus Christ," says the Coach, "what happened?"
"Look, Coach," says the kid, "Powell's got right field screwed up so bad, nobody can play it."
In the thin red line of White House press secretaries, few have said that the care and feeding of the ornery press is easy.
In fact, Brady says Powell told him that right-fielder story as solace for "those days when you can't answer any questions right and they're just pounding on you." Powell, considered by many to be one of the best press secretaries ever, adds: "The pace is quick, and there's always an undercurrent of tension that, to me, is pleasant and stimulating. But on the underside of that, you fell like you're constantly racing from one brush fire to another."
"It's a crusher," says Brady. "And next to being the president, it's the toughest job in the administration. . . We have a saying on this side -- 'You never win an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrelful.'"
6 a.m. The beginning of Jim Brady's full day as press secretary to the incoming president. "God, it's beautiful," he says, driving his AMC jeep down a still Arlington street so full of fresh snow that it looks like a Christmas card. He pulls into a Metro parking lot, then hops on the subway because, as he said, "driving gives me a nosebleed."
The subway ride means he can read the morning news, and today, he's it. "Hmmmmmm," he smiles at his front-page picture at the top of the paper, "Brady above the fold." He races through the accompanying story, chuckling at sentences describing a man whose belly long ago ruined the view of his toes. "I guess pudgy is going to stick," he sighs.
In the next four hours at Reagan transition offices on M Street, Brady meets with two dozen people, receives 50 calls, holds one press briefing, and accepts congratulations that flow like the Dom Perignon he opened after Reagan offered him the job. That was Jan. 2, 2 1/2 years after the champagne was placed in his refrigerator for an auspicious occasion. "I figured it was as good a time as any to drink it," he says, then laughs with delight.
As it turns out, this entire first day is filled with delights.
"Hey, Mr. Secretary!" one man yells from the street when Brady gets into a staff-driven car.
"Well, look who this is!" another says when he buys lunch with the works from the hot-dog man on the curb.
"Excuse me, sir," a pleasant young striver says to him downtown. "I just want to offer my congratulations. You'll be in the hot seat . . . you think you could use my resume?"
Says Brady afterward, still laughing: "You know, this whole thing's all right -- if you don't inhale it."
Jim Brady's appointment as press secretary surprised more than a few Washington reporters. At 40 he's widely regarded as a sharp, seasoned press handler, but he has never been a Reagan insider. He started the campaign as John Connally's press secretary, and didn't enter the Reagan camp until the later Republican primaries. He served skillfully as transition spokesman but was chosen late as press secretary, and not until Reagan's upper echelon had sounded out several others about the job. At Christmas, their final list still contained four names: Brady's, and those of three seasoned journalists.
Nicknamed "the Bear," Brady consorts easily with the press. His earmarks: Republican ideology "compatible with" Reagan's; demanding boss ready with fast one-liners; aversion to eating alone; photographic memory -- including the two pages of "Semi-Tough" that rate women from 1 to 10. He reads Summa Theologica to put himself to sleep.
He's respected and well-liked by reporters who love repeating his unbridled irreverences, the most infamous of them his shout of "killer trees, killer trees" as a Reagan plane flew over a smoldering forest -- a reference to the candidate's statement that trees cause air pollution.
And at one of his Washington press conferences, in response to nattering questions about the more formal attire required at Reagan's swearing-in ceremony, he ad-libbed:
"I think actually what happened was that the OSHA inspector for swearings-in went up there and feared there'd be a concentration of polyester and it'd be a fire hazard."
On Dec. 31, reacting to reports that Nancy Reagan didn't think he was good-looking enough to be press secretary, Brady told reporters that "I come before you today as not just another pretty face, but out of sheer talent." And before that, summarizing the schedule of the president-elect: "He's not doing anything significant today. He may be going to the dentist and having a traffic accident again. . ."
That day, as most days during the transition, Reagan was in California and Brady in Washington -- a situation suggesting to reporters that Brady won't have the presidential access required for solid, accurate information. Certainly, he'll never be the soulmate to Reagan that Powell was to Carter, but as one veteran reporter says of Richard Nixon's press secretary, "Dammit, Ron Ziegler had the best access of all, and he got to where he couldn't breathe." The Factoid Equation
2 p.m. Brady is at a dining room table at Blair House, meeting with Reagan and his economic advisers. He has removed the L.L. Bean boots he wore through the morning snow and now, in dark loafers and crisp three-piece suit, makes verbal suggestions but also written notes on seven pages of legal paper. His class ring and American eagle cufflinks move quickly across the pad.
Nearly three hours later, he's back with two aides in a car on the way to his office.
"Hey, Stockman said something out there," says aide Larry Speakes, referring to remarks Rep. David A. Stockman (R-Mich.) made to reporters after the econonmic meeting. Stockman's to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.
"Oh, did he commit news?" asks Brady.
"A little substance is good once in a while," says Mark Weinberg, the other aide.
"Factoids, as we call them," says Brady, who then tells Speakes he wants to do the press briefing tomorrow. Speakes looks slightly ill.
"The chances of being held up to nationwide ridicule and scorn are indeed great," Brady laughs. "You know the old Jerry Warren story (Warren was press aide to two presidents.). He said, 'Well, if I run this red light and I have an accident and I go to the hospital, I won't have to do the briefing tomorrow.'"
Speakes greens. Old Bosses, Old Bars
Press briefings aren't easy for Brady either, but he has dne plenty of them. He's worked for James T. Lynn at HUD and OMB, Donald Rumsfield at Defense, Sen. William V. Roth of Delaware and the legendary Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen. Brady is an authentic old Washington hand who knows the bars as well as the Hill and likes to say, as he did at a press briefing last week, that he knew where the Class Reunion was before Jody Powell did.
He often stopped for drinks at the popular hangout in his HUD days, and an old friend who used to ride with him to work remembers how Brady picked him up one morning.
"My wife was standing on the steps in her bathrobe," says the friend, Ron Weber, now at a forest products company in San Francisco, "and Jim rolled down his window, and then like a train conductor, called out: 'Here's Bradymobile, going from Arlington to the Class Reunion, with an intermediate stop at HUDDDDDDD.'"
Brady is in fact a train nut, the only child of a Centralia, Ill. yardmaster for the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. "My dad would take me when I was a little boy to sit on the engineer's lap," he remembers. "He'd let me take a switching engine down to the coal field. I just loved it."
It was a no-nonsense upbringing in a small southern Illinois town that depended on coal mining and the railroads for the weekly paychecks. Brady made extra money in grade school by stoking neighbors' coal furnaces, and by high school, had blossomed into an incurable leader. He got five letters in varsity sports -- football, cross country, track, tennis and swimming. "If you could breathe or get out on the field," he says, "you got a numeral or a letter."
He was also president of: Teen Town, the group that had all the parties and did the Halloween float. The Centralia Dance Club. The Pogo Institute, in appreciation of the comic strip. "I guess if you're going to be in something, you ought to run it," he says. "Well, I was vice president of a lot of things too."
He graduate in 1962 from the University of Illinois with a degree in communications and political science, the Sigma Chi president who married the Kappa Kappa Gamma just after he graduated. The marriage lasted three years, and Brady remembers collecting two-cent coke bottles so he could pay for the baby's milk.
He later got a doctorate in public administration at Southern Illinois University and then worked in advertising and public relations in Chicago. In 1973 he married his current wife, Sarah, and moved to Washington as a communications consultant to the House. In the city of eternal press releases, he has worked as aide to three Cabinet departments, two senators, two candidates and now, one president.
His biggest coup until Reagan's Jan. 2 call was probably his press promotion, while executive assistant to Roth, of the Kemp-Roth tax cut bill. pOr as he insisted upon calling it, "Roth-Kemp." In 1978, after Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) introduced a bipartisan version of the legislation, Brady staged an elaborate press conference where reporters were given cigars in honor of the competing bill he christened "Son of Roth-Kemp." The bill died, but the name didn't.
There were also calamities. When tornadoes ravaged parts of Tennessee in 1974, Lynn, as HUD secretarty, was scheduled to inspect areas near Chattanooga. Brady, who was doing advance work with aide Hugh O'Neil, had arranged for Lynn to arrive by helicopter in a large football stadium. The people of Chatanooga were supposed to be waiting as Lynn landed, cheering lustily while the secretary's traveling press recorded the glorious deed.
Lynn landed, burst from his helicopter, beamed toward the good people of Chattanooga and saw them -- far, far away, locked outside the stadium gates. The mob rattled the chain link fence, but alas, all was in vain.
"O'Neil did it," Brady said later.
"Brady did it," O'Neil replied. Colas and Calls
6 p.m. Brady is drinking his second Tab of the day. There's a button on his desk that says "The Big Cheese" as well as three dozen telegrams that say "Congratulations." The lights on the phone are continually lit.
He begins to return the stack of "While You Were Out" slips. Fast:
"Who would have thunk, huh?"
"Well, I'm not going to do the shows right off. I turned down 'Today' and 'Good Morning America.'"
"If she does you as an exclusive, before the inaugural, I think you're in big trouble. But she kind of likes you."
Through them all he laughs a low, deep laugh that eventually turns to giggle.His eyebrows are continually arched, his cheeks full, his chin doulbles. The expression, the same one he wore outside of Blair House when Reagan announced his job last week, is one of pleasant bemusement at the world around him.
Mark Weinberg, his aide, enters the office. Weinburg announces he absolutely must see Brady before the end of the day. Brady eyes him. No more laugh. No more arch to the eyebrows.
"I still have to sit down and detail my presentation to the cabinet tomorrow," he says to Weinberg. Pause. "And you can type it." Work, No Flack
Brady is continually described by his large circle of acquaintances as a warm, friendly stand-up comic who loves people and seldom gets ruffled. But those who've known him a long time say he's sensitive, goes through highs and lows, is a demanding boss and you can get shouting mad. At inefficiency, particularly. A veteran of Connally's campaign remembers once when a staffer didn't get a press release out in time and Brady, at the other end of the line, blew up.
"You can put the phone on the table and walk away from it and still hear him," says the staffer.
Says an old friend who has watched Brady through the transition period: "He's been amazingly calm through it all. Jim's not a patient man. He worries about things."
Once on the way to his HUD job, crossing the 14th Street Bridge in his Volkswagen with friend Ron Weber, Brady was cut off by a big, fat American car. "So Jim pulled up alongside them, jerked his wheels, slammed into the side of them, said 'Fools!' and just kept right on going," says Weber. "Jim's car was so beat up anyhow you coldn't tell what was new and what was old."
"I suspect," says William Greener, the man who hired Brady at HUD and taught him a good deal of what he knows about press agentry, "that some time along the way, Jim will vent some anger up there on the platform."
Greener, whom Brady calls "Teacher," says that "obviously, I think he'll be outstanding. He's got integrity and good balance. He knows when it's time to work, and when it's time to play."
What Brady learned from Greener is something Brady now calls "the pure science" approach to press agenty. "It's the difference between flackery or publicity," he begins, running through a long explanation of press work as "communications planning" and "management by objective." In essence, it means you don't just announce the news, you plan how and ask why you're going to announce it.
"Then you can concentrate on the substance," says Greener, "without worrying about the details."
Inattention to detail and lack of organization have been criticisms of Jody Powell, and Brady, says Greener, may be "similar to that. He'll be sticking stuff in every pocket, but he'll be smart enough to have somebody under him who's organized.
"Jim, though, is perfectly capable of sitting down an organizing a long-range plan -- and has. Still, we're always teasing him that long-range for Brady means what's after lunch."
As for the comparisons with Powell, Brady explains that "I have to play the hand that's dealt, and we got dealt different hands. You know I cannot claim I got started -- like Powell did with Carter -- as Reagan's chauffeur who drove him all over the country. . .
"Jody's relationship as press secretary has been almost unique. But I've heard how Reagan thinks for almost a year. If you went through a list of issues right now, I could tell you what he'd say on almost every one."
But what could be more important for Brady in his ability to get along with Ed Meese and Jim Baker -- the two men who will run the Reagan White House. Observers say that so far, it looks good. The two appear to like Brady and enjoy the infectious humor of a man who has never taken himself too seriously.
But some wonder if that will last under the pressure of the White House, particularly at the times when reporters turn bloodhounds. Brady might become a problem to both sides in a job that at this early stage, he's made look like nothing but fun.
"Well," he says with unconcealed joy, "it is." Quitting Time
8:25 p.m. Brady leaves his office. Like his arrival, the departure is in the cold inky dark. He walks down Connecticut, boots crunching on the hard snow, his loafers in a souvenir canvas tote bag from Balitmore's presidential debate. He swings it from a gloved paw.
At nine, he's home. "If Jim ever came home at six o'clock," says his wife matter-of-factly, "I wouldn't know what to do." Concocted Cocktails
She's waiting with a rum and tonic. "I have moods," says Brady."Dewar's and water is one drink, depending on where I am. Kir is another, at luncheons. Then we start drinking Mount Gay rum. That's the come-home-at-night-instead-of-having-a-martini drink."
He is especially proud of a drink concocted by himself, called "Captain Bear's Nightie Night." He serves it when they go for weekends on the Delaware shore. Recipe: A little tea, a little sugar, and a lot of Jack Daniel's. "It gets into your system almost immediately," he says, remembering fondly, "and you sit there on those cold, clear nights, with the waves pounding. . . "
At this point, he's stretched out on the rug, changed from the three-piece suit into Levis, soft moccasins, a flannel L.L. Bean shirt. Behind him are the two cats, the fireplace and dozens of wooden duck decoys he collects as a hobby. The house is small, with a wood wall and endless knickknacks to make it look like a cozy backswoods retreat.
On the mantel is a bouquet of congratulatory flowers from the Centralia Chamber of Commerce and in the corner, a Christmas tree. Still. "Oh Jim, you've got to take that out of here," says his wife.
"Do you remember in Chicago when I still had my tree up in May?" he asks, recalling a weekend from their courtship.
She does. It was at his Marina City high rise, with doors too small for a tree that would lose every needle at the slightest bump.
"I think we did a bad thing that evening," he says.
"We threw the tree off the balcony," she giggles.
"I was 14 then," he deadpans.
He calls his wife "the Raccoon," because they both agree she looks like one. "That's because," she says not at all unhappily, "I've got dark circles under my eyes, little hands and feet, and a big stomach." She looks like a human being to anyone else, with short dark hair, dark eyes and an out-going charm.
Once she was the director of administration for the Republican National Committee, but now she says she's content raising their son, 2-year-old James Scott Brady, Jr. Brady has from his previous marriage, a daughter, Melissa, majoring in forestry at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
Says his wife: "If something like Jim's job is going to come at a certain time in life, I suppose the perfect time is now. We waited until late to have a child, and now that he's 2, I like being at home with him." She says she's excited about her husband's job, but then says, in the next breath: "Although I may, just six months from now, say, 'God, I was really naive.'"
Dinner is chili. His. As in: Bear's Goat Gap Texas Chili, copyright Jim Brady, 1977. It has won first prize for three years at the Washington Area Chili Bull, and to the uninitiated, is a fine antidote for any sinus problem now and forevermore. He's a gourmet cook in the family, famous among friends for his potato pancakes and fish fry parties in the back yard. It's how he relaxes.
By 10 or 11, the two have usually gone to bed. Brady, who wakes without an alarm, will be up six hours later.