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December 12 2000 : Is The Wait Over? (A-Rod and the Election)

Baseball and the 2000 presidential election have been linked ever since the early campaigning of George W. Bush, who when asked what his greatest mistake in life was, joked: “trading Sammy Sosa” (back when Bush owned the Texas Rangers). The Sosa and Yale baseball references continued to pile up. In July, The Washington Post ran an article on Bush and baseball which stated: “Baseball has been, arguably, the most important thing in Bush’s life.”

Then there’s the fact that all three presidential debates were broadcast at the same time as major post-season games, prompting ESPN columnist Rob Neyer to comment: “While flipping between the Cardinals vs. the Mets and Bush vs. Gore, it occurred to me that Tim McCarver is the Al Gore of broadcasting. Like Gore, McCarver is intelligent and opinionated, with a wondrous grasp of the details. And like Gore, McCarver is (at least on TV) overly smug, and prone to forced, mostly failed attempts at humor.” Neyer wasn’t the only patriotic baseball fan forced into channel flipping, and in some areas of the country the pre-empted ballgames were found on channels not known for their sports coverage (like PAX, for example).

Al Gore hasn’t got quite the major league cred that Bush does, relying on invitations to toss out the ceremonial first pitch at games once in a while, but he does answer the question “what’s your favorite childhood memory?” with “playing baseball with my Dad.” That’s a much more succinct answer than the ones Gore gave in this year’s official World Series Program book, in which Major League Baseball interviewed both candidates. That’s right, with the World Series taking place at the height of election campaign season, and perhaps to make up for the fact that so many baseball fans decided to watch the Series instead of the debates, MLB did its part in the decision-making process of voters by grilling the candidates on everything from foreign-born players to the advantages of grass over turf. Just as in the debates, Bush came off as a regular joe who doesn’t always have the facts straight, and Gore came off as a regular Mr. Spock, answering each question as if it were a take-home exam.

But no one could have predicted that the presidential race would turn out to be as close as all those one-run Yankees/Mets games. If nothing else, this offseason will be remembered for all the “Mets Demand A Recount” and “Torre For President” joke articles that went around the Internet. Who would have thought that this offseason, the whole nation would be holding its breath, waiting to find out who would be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January? It’s an anticipation that baseball fans know well, for it is identical to the wait to find out what will happen with big free agent signings. Even though your life won’t really change as a result of the outcome, you care deeply about what happens, and yet you know that it’s now in some higher authority’s hands.

Just as in a political campaign, this offseason has had its share of spin-meistering and smears, as well. You’d think A-rod was bucking for a party nomination the way Scott Boras was tooting his horn at the general managers’ meetings in November, with everything short of a motorcade. Met’s general manager Steve Phillips fired the first salvo in response, putting the first blot on Rodriguez’ stellar reputation with his negative spin on A-rod’s alleged laundry list of prima donna perks. And just like a campaign, there were recanted remarks which didn’t matter, the initial damage having been done. (According to the Associated Press, November 15: “Phillips conceded Rodriguez hadn’t actually demanded any of the perks be written into a contract. And he said further that he couldn’t remember which ones Boras actually mentioned, which ones were part of Rodriguez’s deal with Seattle and which ones he picked up from newspapers or gossiping at the general managers’ meeting.”) Yes, and I hear A-rod didn’t inhale, either.

Despite all the wrangling, you know a winner will eventually be declared. In the A-rod race, the winners are Bush’s old team, the Texas Rangers. I was so amazed to see the announcement when I arrived home from work, that I rushed over to to see if maybe the presidential race had also been decided. But no, the decision is still pending on that one, though it is expected soon.

It is the tenure in office that will determine how the winner is remembered, not the mud which was slung by opponents during the campaign, and this will be as true for Alex Rodriguez as it may be for Bush or Gore, whichever one we end up with. Today it was announced that the race is over, and Alex Rodriguez will be going to Bush’s old team, the Texas Rangers, for ten years and $252 million (and no special perks, apparently). And if this begins a new dynasty at the Ballpark in Arlington, you can bet whatever some whiners from Queens may have said will be forgotten.

On the other hand, if A-rod stumbles, you can be sure his every move will be picked apart by analysts and pundits just as vehemently as Bill Clinton’s health care reform plan was. We still don’t have universal health care, and we’ll have to wait and see if a division championship, pennant, or World Series trophy materializes in Arlington, or if that too is just one man’s dream of a legacy.

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