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Lots in Common with political season and baseball Season!

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Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Tampa, Florida


 Just what is America’s favorite pastime?  Is it baseball or politics? The past few years have offered interesting comparisons. On one hand, the country is enmeshed in a full-blown presidential campaign with deep divisions over how to stimulate the economy and how to define America’s role in the world. Because of urgent concerns with these issues and others, politics has become a major spectator sport all over the country. But don’t sell baseball short. Not only has baseball been around longer than any of America’s professional team sports, the game’s highs and lows have been injected in national politics, almost from the sport’s inception.

 Now, I’m a diehard baseball fan. I grew up in St. Louis, and lived next door to the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the great former Cardinals shortstop, Marty Marion. I was in his box on a Sunday afternoon in May 1954 — May 2, to be exact — when “Stan the Man” Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader at Busch Stadium.  All this week, I’ll be in Tampa for spring training and I’ll watch five major league ball games, including a trip to the home stadium of my perennial favorite, the New York Yankees.

The problems of major league baseball have often been a mirror image of the problems facing America. Its history is both a reflection of this country’s fears and ignorance, and its hopes and promises. Like almost any other cultural phenomenon of such prominence, baseball has served as solace and as a poke to our conscience.

In the 1940s, major league baseball faced the problems of segregation before the politicians in Washington did.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and won the rookie of the year award in his first season. It took court cases and sit-ins to get our political representatives to follow suit. Today, steroid use by baseball players has become a major issue, and has undermined the image of the ball player as a wholesome example for American youth. And the use of performance-enhancing drugs has become a major focus of congressional investigations, which may result in possible federal legislation.

At recent press conferences, the President has taken questions about steroid use in baseball, and whether or not the federal government should get involved in closer monitoring. Even though the country is facing an economic recession, multiple wars abroad, and a major energy crisis, he still can’t get away from baseball.

Baseball played a role in the presidential campaign four years ago. Senator McCain accused Barak Obama of baseball rooting malfeasance for the way he used baseball analogies at the start of the World Series as he traveled campaigning the country.  The Republican nominee charged: “When he (Obama) is campaigning in Philadelphia, he roots for the Phillies, and when he’s campaigning in Tampa Bay, he shows love to the Rays. It’s kind of like the way he campaigns on tax cuts, then votes for tax increases after he is elected.”

And don’t forget that our last President came from a baseball background. In 1989, George Bush headed up an ownership group that bought the Texas Rangers, but the former President didn’t get a lot done in that job either. The Rangers had zero World Series appearances, and hired a cast of characters right in the middle of the steroid mess, including José Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, and Ivan Rodriguez. The former President’s swings and misses as a baseball man should have given voters an indication of the kind of president he was going to be.

You can even find a number of political analogies just by studying the baseball teams themselves. Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays were the Cinderella team that went from “worst to first,” finishing in last place a year earlier, but winning the American League pennant the following year. Maybe it has something to do with their name. They used to be called the “Devil Rays” and their record was terrible. As soon as they dropped the word, “Devil,” they became victorious overnight. Was their sudden turnaround based strictly on skill and talent, or was the Religious Right involved?

Many major league games this season will be carried by the Fox network. You know — as in “Fox News?” In the National League, everyone, even the pitcher, gets an equal chance to bat, so will Fox claim that the National Leaguers are “socialists”Â because everyone gets an equal chance? Will Fox commentators argue that they should call some home runs out if they are too far to the left?  And I guess you can’t blame the Democrats for bemoaning that every time someone steals a base, they are reminded of the 2000 presidential election. It’s probably impossible to get away from campaigns and politics by focusing on baseball spring training, but I’m going to give it a shot.

There is also a lesson to be learned from Babe Ruth as congress considers limiting executive pay and bonuses at corporations that received bailout money.  When the Babe was asked how he could justify making more money than the President, he answered, “I had a better year.”

I suppose one of the biggest differences between these two spectator sports is the sense of optimism that baseball brings every spring. The crack of the bat, a pop fly against a blue sky, and the green grass seem to offer a sense of renewal. It harkens back to the essence of youth and heroes of the past, and you feel that almost anything is possible in the coming baseball season.  But in today’s political climate, there is little thought of the great statesmen and the principled political figures of the past.  Political courage today is too often defined by poll watching and sticking a wet finger to the wind.

Baseball offers hope and optimism that there is a grand opportunity and a bright future for the coming season. Politics, at least for the moment, lacks the promise of good things to come and needs an infusion of that same hope and optimism.  So when the TV remote offers a choice of politics or baseball — I’ll pick baseball hands down.


The difference between politics and baseball is that in baseball, when you are caught stealing, you’re out.”Â Â Â Ron Dentinger

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.







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