Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Candidates' Baseball Bonafides

Some say baseball and politics don't mix. But for as long as there has been baseball, there have been politicians seeking to exploit it. This exploitation usually takes the form of candidates cloaking themselves in the glorious Americana that is our national pastime, and trying desperately to ride those coattails to higher poll numbers. More recently it has involved piling on baseball when it has faced challenges like steroids, labor difficulties, and the like in an effort to appear to be fighting for the rights of the common fan.

Neither dynamic is stopping anytime soon, and as the playoff races heat up, we can expect to see more and more baseball photo-ops and sound bytes from the seventeen ambitious folks who have declared (or in Fred Thompson's case have all but declared) their candidacy for the office of First Fan.

I was curious to see how the field stacked up baseball-wise, so I spent several hours with a bottle of bourbon and my trusty laptop trying to Google my way to the truth. Who do these people root for? What is their record when it comes to the national pastime? What, if anything, do their baseball bonafides say about what kind of president they'd make?

What follows represents my best effort at answering those questions, setting aside (for the most part anyway) my own political leanings and my personal feelings about each of these folks. For purposes of this exercise I am a monomaniacal, single-issue voter, and that issue is baseball.

The Republicans

Sam Brownback

Declared rooting interest: I couldn't find any reference to one, though given that he's from eastern Kansas and came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, I'd guess he's more likely to be into the Royals than the A's.

Record: Then again, maybe he's a Monarchs fan. Brownback once issued a press release praising Buck O'Neil and was one of 16 members of Congress who sent a letter to Selig asking that O'Neil be reconsidered for induction into the Hall of Fame. He was previously given a personal tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City by O'Neil. Bowie Kuhn and former Tigers' owner Tom Monaghan were on his exploratory committee, but that probably had less to do with baseball than it did with Catholic activism and philanthropy. Brownback likens the role of judges to that of umpires, though he doesn't comment on how Ques-Tec fits into the judicial system.

Analysis: While I'd prefer that the person who has his finger on the button be a somewhat bigger baseball fan than Brownback's record seems to indicate (both pursuits require patience and an appreciation of history that brings greater perspective to one's thinking), I'd still prefer a president who is a casual or non-fan to one who is a pandering, phony fan, and Brownback doesn't appear to be the latter. In addition to being nice, the hat-tips to O'Neil appear genuine as well given that, as a politician from Kansas, Brownback has never had a need to pander to either Missiouri residents or, let's face it, black people simply to win votes.

Rudy Giuliani

Record: In a word, extensive. He allegedly sports a Yankees' World Series ring, tried his damndest to deliver Steinbrenner a West Side stadium, and sat front and center for all 40 playoff and World Series games played in the Bronx during his tenure as mayor. Some have argued that, in 2001, he was more supportive of the Bombers in the Bronx than he was of those cleaning up after the bombers at Ground Zero. Rudy's campaign is currently offering baseball tchotchkes as incentives for fundraisers.

Analysis: Rudy may or may not be the biggest baseball fan in the pool, but he's certainly the most conspicuous. Like many of the other candidates (see Clinton and Richardson), his embrace of baseball has caused controversy, though he is probably the only one who could wind up being investigated over it (how much did you pay for those WS rings, Rudy?). The biggest baseball issue for him, however, may be the fact that he's a Yankees' fan, which, among discriminating baseball fans, makes him even more of a polarizing figure than Brownback.

Mike Huckabee

Declared rooting interest: Nothing could be found. By geography he's likely to be a Cardinal or Braves fan, but my personal history (Braves fan from West Virginia) has taught me that it's a fool's game to predict such things in a baseball no-man's-land like Arkansas.

Record: Recently used a Charlotte Knights baseball game as the backdrop for a fundraiser. Given that hot dogs > rubber chicken, this is a good thing. While Huckabee himself appears not to have said anything about it, a blogger-for-Mike apparently believes that Huckabee thinks that the federal government should keep its nose out of baseball. Huckabee himself likens the Iraq situation to baseball inasmuch as he believes there should be no set timetable, though he has not opined on whether there should be extra innings or a mercy rule.

Analysis: As a baseball fan, Huckabee appears to be a non-entity. He lost over 100 pounds a couple of years back and has since become an avid runner. Guys like that tend not to enjoy sitting on the couch for three hours flipping between the Cardinals-Cubs and the Yankees-Angels.

Duncan Hunter

Declared rooting interest: Before we get there, allow me to inform you that Duncan Hunter is a Congressman from San Diego. No I did not know that, nor did I know until now that he was running for president. Anyway, Hunter appears to be a Padres fan, though I couldn't find anything definitive about it anywhere.

Record: Hunter, along with other members of Southern California's congressional delegation bet New York City's congressional delegation a meal of Rubios Fish Tacos against some New York cheesecake on the outcome of the 1998 World Series.

Analysis: I am certain of two things in this world: (1) the fish tacos in San Diego -- even at chain places like Rubio's -- are better than New York cheesecake; and (2) in 1998, no one with a lick of sense was picking the Padres to beat the Yankees in the World Series. What this tells me is that Hunter, as president, would be inclined to risk too much for lost causes. Troubling.

John McCain

Declared rooting interest: Diamondbacks, though he'll put on a Greenville Drive hat for a fundraiser.

Record: No one has used -- or threatened to use -- the power of the federal government to influence sports more than McCain. When he didn't like MLB's first draft of a drug policy, he threatened to introduce legislation to do it for them, and declared that "baseball can't be trusted." That aside, he wasn't above accepting some tickets to the World Series back in 2001. Outside of baseball, McCain has been out front in efforts to clean up boxing and eliminate gambling on college sports.

Analysis: One's support of McCain may very well depend on how one feels about the government regulating big-time sports. If elected, he may very well eliminate the DH, raise the mound, and declare Tony La Russa an enemy combatant. Not that any of those would be bad things.

Ron Paul

Declared rooting interest: Though a congressman from Texas, he grew up, went to college, and spent his medical residency in the Pittsburgh area, where, as a youth, he claims to have delivered milk to Honus Wagner. In light of that, if he isn't a Pirates fan he has a lot of 'splainin' to do.

Record: His supporters were recently booted out of a Marlins game for displaying campaign signs. According to John LeBoutillier at NewsMax "Paul is a great hitter in baseball. We played in 1981 and 1982 on the House Republican baseball team and he has great wrists!"

Analysis: Given his strong-libertarian leanings, one assumes that Paul would be the anti-McCain when it comes to mixing politics and sports. I suppose he'd probably have a lot of bad things to say about publicly-funded baseball stadiums too. There simply isn't much else to be found online about Paul and baseball. That may be because a third of the internet's aggregate bandwidth seems to have been used up by Paul supporters talking about how no one ever talks about Ron Paul.

Mitt Romney

Declared rooting interest: Red Sox, but he may not be fully up to speed on the vast body of Red Sox arcanum. Not that anyone with a life can really be expected to. A far more serious chink in Romney's Red Sox armor is the fact that he owns stock in the YES network, which seems pretty unforgivable even to a casual observer of the rivalry like myself.

Record: Son Tagg Romney was, until recently, VP and Chief Marketing Officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Signs (literally) indicate that he didn't do that good a job. Earlier this summer, those who donated more than $100 to the Romney campaign were entered to win tickets to watch a baseball game with Tagg. Considering that the Romneys are Mormons, that means no beer at the ballgame, which violates just about every principle in which I believe.

Analysis: Given his inconsistent stance on other issues, I wouldn't be surprised to see a President Romney wearing a Devil Rays jersey if the polling dictated he should. I am nowhere near as fanatical about sports bigamy as Bill Simmons is, but Romney has not shown that he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt on this score.

Tom Tancredo

Declared rooting interest: Colorado Rockies (at least if the Rockies giving Tancredo's staff free tickets qualifies as a rooting relationship), but given his zealous anti-immigration positions, he probably has a place in his heart for the Yankees or the White Sox, with an emphasis on the White.

Record: Used baseball as a springboard for a foreign policy broadside against China. Not much else, really, though I'm guessing that he has a few things to add about the prevalence of ballplayers from Latin America on major league rosters.

Analysis: Though he will never win the nomination, the prospect of a Trancredo presidency is terrifying for baseball fans due to the fact that if the Rockies don't win the NL West, the sumbitch may very well bomb Phoenix.

Fred Thompson

Declared rooting interest: None that I could find, but then again, he's not very big on declaring. Born in Alabama, raised in Tennessee, but a longtime inside-the-beltway resident, he may be a Cardinals, Braves, or Nationals fan. As with everything else, Thompson the baseball fan seems to be an inkblot test in which we all see that we want to see.

Record: Despite appearing in stellar NASCAR, football, and, um, zebra racing films, Thompson has never played a role in a baseball movie, which only goes to support the charges that Thompson suffers from inexperience. Recently declared a distant second to New York Giant Bobby Thompson as the Thompson most likely to be remembered by history.

Analysis: About as weak a baseball record as any candidate in the field. If I was a one-issue voter and that issue was baseball, Fred would not be getting my support. He's not getting my support anyway, but that's neither here nor there.

The Democrats

Joe Biden

Declared rooting interest: According to Biden's MySpace page, he's a member of the "Phillies Phans" group. Not sure if the page is legit or not, but given that he was born in Scranton and has lived all of his adult life in Delaware, I'd be surprised if that wasn't true.

Record: Wrote the 1990 law making steroid trafficking illegal and the 2004 law banning andro and THG. Was quite vocal around the time the sluggers came to Capitol Hill, writing an op-ed about the scourge of steroids. Was criticized for misstating the actual definition of the strike zone during Justice Roberts' confirmation hearing, though until we start expecting umpires to properly recite the Senate's cloture rules, I'm inclined to give him a free pass. Was recently front and center, along with three other Democratic challengers, at Iowa state Rep. Polly Bukta’s annual corn boil, which took place right smack dab on home plate at Alliant Energy Field in Clinton, Iowa.

Analysis: Along with McCain, Biden has been the most vocal of all of the candidates when it comes to steroids in baseball. Unlike McCain, Biden seems to have spent more time actually doing stuff like writing laws to make them illegal and writing op-eds about their health risks as opposed to simply rattling his saber at Major League Baseball. The most troubling thing about a President Biden: the awkwardness that will ensue when he ends his inaugural address by saying "today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

Hillary Clinton

Declared rooting interest: Oh dear, this is complicated.

Record: Recently had her cleavage compared to Barry Bonds' steroid use. Claimed in 1999 that George Steinbrenner wrote her often to discuss their mutual travails. Was at the corn boil.

Analysis: The whole Cubs-Yankees rooting thing overshadows all other baseball issues on Clinton's plate. Until she can clearly establish that she was, in fact, a Yankees fan as well as a Cubs fan as a child, anything she says about baseball will be forever suspect.

Christopher Dodd

Declared rooting interest: Die hard Red Sox fan. Isn't above talking anti-Yankees smack to friend and Dodd-campaigner Paul Simon either.

Record: Is a close, personal friend of Bud Selig's, and took the time to praise Selig, at length, on the Senate floor when he was named permanent commissioner. Spoke at length about sports in a recent interview with Deadspin, where he revealed that that he spent time in the Dominican Republic while in the Peace Corps (contrary to popular belief, he managed to walk off the island); is against the embargo against Cuba and can rattle off the names of Cuban ballplayers like Yuniesky Betancourt, Livan Hernandez or Danys Baez without prompting. Was at the corn boil.

Analysis: One gets the sense that Dodd knows his stuff when it comes to baseball. Probably vulnerable on steroids inasmuch as he is officially on record as being a huge fan of the 1998 chase of Roger Maris, the home run boom, and basically everything else Selig has ever done as commissioner. As a Democrat, maybe even more vulnerable over the fact that his dear, personal friend Mr. Selig has chosen Ari Fleischer as his political adviser as opposed to a someone in the donkey party. If your bestest buddy in the whole world doesn't seek your counsel, why should the American public trust you?

John Edwards

Declared rooting interest: I couldn't find one. Something called the Presidential Brands Study says "if we have to pick a baseball team for Edwards, it would probably be the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox – a bit of hard luck story with a lot of nostalgic appeal." I imagine that the inferiority complex and the obnoxious supporters is simply assumed.

Record: Not much out there on Edwards when it comes to baseball. Extrapolating a bit, his laser-like focus on the lack of egalitarianism in the "two Americas" leads one to believe that he'd support a salary cap. Won two gold gloves behind the dish for the Reds in the mid 60s. Was at the corn boil.

Analysis: When it comes to baseball, he's the Democrats' answer to Fred Thompson.

Mike Gravel

Declared rooting interest: Coming from Alaska, I assume he's into the Goldpanners and that whole Midnight Sun Classic thing.

Record: As the man who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record, Gravel may be the guy who can finally force the owners to reveal how much dough they're really making. Big direct democracy advocate, which bodes well for keeping the fan ballot for the All-Star Game.

Analysis: Did you know that there is less on the internet about Mike Gravel than there is about Duncan Hunter?

Dennis Kucinich

Declared rooting interest:

Record: Won 1964 Cleveland Indians season tickets as first runner-up in "Why I Want To Be the Batboy" essay contest. Keeps a 1966 Rocky Colavito baseball card
in his wallet. Was so unpopular as Cleveland mayor that he wore a bullet-proof vest while throwing out the first pitch of the 1978 season. Introduced something called "The Baseball Fan Protection Act" in 2003, which made tax breaks to franchise owners contingent upon them increasing the number of home games shown on free, broadcast television.

Analysis: Decades as an Indians fan has no doubt fueled his love of lost causes, and absent some sort of King Ralph scenario, he won't be winning the presidency in 2008. Still, his baseball record is weighty compared to many of the others on this list, and the fact that he carries around the Colavito card entitles him an infinite amount of cosmic love as far as I am concerned.

Barack Obama

Declared rooting interest: White Sox.

Record: Recently sputtered about 300 incoherent words when Keith Olbermann asked him if he'd honor Barry Bonds' at the White House if he were president. Knew well enough to apologize when an appearance at a New Hampshire bar interrupted a Yankees-Red Sox game.

Analysis: Like Thompson, a thin record, though he has not shied away from liking the pale hose. Given his willingness to negotiate with Iran and Syria, he may be called upon one day to try and talk to Scott Boras, though I'd hope he'd warm up with the dictators first. You know, to ease into things.

Bill Richardson

Declared rooting interest: He's all things to all people.

In his autobiography, Richardson wrote that baseball was “the ruling passion of my young life.” Once claimed to have been drafted by the Kansas City A's in 1966, though later admitted it to be bogus. Likes to tickle the scalps of comely lasses at minor league baseball games.

He says he's a Yankees and a Red Sox fan. I think Abraham Lincoln identified the flaw with this thinking 149 years ago.

So that's it, folks. I've reported, you decide.

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