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A Baseball Fan’s Guide to the Presidential Election
Let’s be honest here: America loves sports way more than politics. If we fans read The Atlantic and The Economist half as much as we read ESPN and Off The Bench, America would be out of this recession, we’d have a unified Congress, world hunger would be in decline, and the USS Enterprise would be exploring the far reaches of the galaxy. Well, maybe Congress would still be divided, but the point still stands. We spend a massive amount of time monitoring our fantasy teams and don’t always leave enough to stay informed about–dare we say it–the things that really matter.
For those of you who have seriously lost track, this is an election year. For President. Of the United States of America. To say it’s an important one would be a little cliché; every presidential election is important. But as has become the norm of late, this one is especially important. (Side note: Check out William Henry Harrison’s presidency. It was rather unimportant.)
To be honest, it’s quite understandable why ESPN has such a greater appeal than The Economist. Most of us can connect better with the language of sports than that of politics. It’s simpler and more to the point. Homeruns and ERAs resonate with the everyman in a way mergers and IPOs don’t. But that doesn’t make the boring stuff any less important, so we’re going to put this whole election thing in form baseball fans can better grasp.
Rather than try to explain differences in policy or advocate merits of either party, we’re going to assign each candidate an MLB Manager Equivalent. In the spirit of our country’s two-party system, we’ll offer two perspectives–two managers who might reasonably be compared to each candidate–to help illustrate how the two parties view their guys in vastly different lights. We hasten to make clear that after reading this, you won’t really be informed on any of the actual issues, but we hope you’ll have a better idea of who each candidate is–their character, persona, and how they operate.
Democratic Presidential Candidate: Barack Obama, President of the United States
MLB Manager Equivalent (Red Lens): Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies
Jim Tracy shocked the baseball world back in 2009. To refresh your memory, that was the year of ‘Rocktober Part 2’ (Part 1 being the 2007′s trip to the World Series). The Rockies started of the year 18-28; in the cellar of the NL West. Then they fired manager Clint Hurdle and promoted Tracy to fill the vacancy. What happened next remains one of the best baseball stories of the decade. Tracy led the Rockies on a 74-42 (.638) run, good enough for an improbable Wild Card berth.
However, after the Tracy era’s red-hot start, the team fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs and has not made the postseason since. Despite the Rockies recent struggles, Tracy was awarded with an indefinite contract extension before this season began.
Of course, the Rockies will always have Coors Field as an excuse for bad pitching, but the team as a whole has really underperformed. While the honeymoon phase has worn off in the eyes of everyone but Colorado’s core base, the Rockies still seem to love Jim Tracy.
Barack Obama stormed into the national spotlight in 2008. During one of the worst economic crises in American history, he ran a campaign driven by rhetoric of hope and change, and gave the nation, and the world, something to believe in. However, during his first term in office that change has been less than tangible–and less than what most were hoping to see.
While Obama still has a strong base within his party, his sway with independent voters has diminished significantly and they are not the guaranteed vote they were last election. Of course, Obama will always have the Tea Partyers in the House of Representatives and his inheritance of an impossible situation as an excuse, but the economy has not improved much and many Americans are still without work.
MLB Manager Equivalent (Blue Lens): Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kirk Gibson is a guy with limited experience and less-than-stellar actual managerial ability who has still garnered respectable results. With the whole benching-and-maybe-trading Justin Upton situation as evidence, it’s pretty clear that Gibson has some things to work on.
Likewise, President Obama isn’t known for his ability to work particularly well with his subordinates or to get his agenda through Congress. The stalemate over National Healthcare is a good parallel. (Maybe also the Secret Service Hooker Scandal, but come on, those guys deserve a little fun, no?)
Despite the fact that both men were thrown into difficult situations midstream (mid-season for Gibson, mid-recession for the President) each has managed to make something resembling lemonade form their respective lemons. Gibson won the NL West last year, and made an admirable playoff run; Obama passed the Affordable Care Act against tremendous Congressional odds and saw to the demise of Osama Bin Laden. It’s quite arguable that neither leader has received nearly as much credit as they deserve.
Republican Presidential Candidate: Mitt Romney, Former Massachusetts Governor
MLB Manager Equivalent (Red Lens): Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox were looking for a manager this past offseason, Bobby Valentine was the favorite for the job–even before he was officially being considered. However, was he actually wanted? Following a historic collapse, the Red Sox shook up their whole front office and wanted to make a big-name signing to replace Terry Francona, the manager who finally made Boston a title town again.
Bobby-V was the big name on the market–but when I say ‘the’ big name, I mean ‘the only’ big name. There’s a reason he was out of a managing job in the MLB for 10 years, and it wasn’t because he enjoyed sushi so much. After The Collapse, Sox ownership wanted the new manager to be a leader in the clubhouse, someone who could bring a starkly different philosophy to the table. Instead they got a guy who, while very baseball savvy, cannot go a week without blabbering a controversial comment to the media. Instead of bringing authority to the clubhouse, he has brought a faux pas circus. While he has the tools to be a great manager, he just can’t seem to get his act together to be a good statesman. Bobby-V may not have been the ideal choice for the Red Sox, but he did seem like the only choice.
The Republican Party got its butt whooped in the 2008 presidential election. Needless to say, this time around they wanted someone who could better counter Obama. Going into primary season, Romney was the big name on the ballot, but it seemed the GOP really wanted anybody to beat him (do the names Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, or Paul ring a bell?). But, after failed attempts by the lesser-known candidates (and a major about-face by the Republican constituency), Romney is challenging Obama for the seat of Commander-in-Chief.
Mitt really hasn’t done much other than blabber controversial comments again and again (just try googling “Romney controversial quotes”). As a politician, he’s terrible. While he may actually know what stances he and his party will/want to take, he has been known to support his ideas during debates by betting his opponent $10,000. Romney may not have been the ideal choice for the GOP, but he did seem like the only choice.
MLB Managerial Choice (Blue Lens): Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox
Bobby-V is definitely the Mitt Romney equivalent.
For a while last winter, it seemed destined that Bobby would get the managing job in Beantown but the announcement just never came and we kept getting rumors that other dark horse candidates were being considered. Sound familiar?
On top of that, after Bobby got the job there were even more snafus. Valentine managed to alienate the entire team early on by needlessly criticizing Kevin Youkilis and eventually driving the New England icon out of town. Likewise, Romney pointlessly attacked ‘Old England’ just before the Olympics and torpedoed his popularity with our closest ally.
For someone with as much managerial experience as Valentine has, you would think he would avoid such stupid mistakes. For someone who has been running for President as long as Mitt Romney has (really, most of his adult life), you’d think he would be better at it.
Democratic VP Candidate: Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States
MLB Manager Equivalent (Red Lens): Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins
This is going to sound a lot like Romney/Bobby-V. Biden and Guillen share the same characteristics: great wealth of knowledge, horrible with the media. But while Romney/Valentine continually make comments that leave their respective bases sick with regret, they manage to walk the fine line of never actually saying something so bad that their respective bases would start censoring every future word out of their mouths.
Biden/Guillen accomplish the opposite. They are likable guys but every now and then get too comfortable in front of the media and let loose that one zinger that could really get them in trouble. Recall earlier in the season when Guillen, manager of the team that seems desperate to rally a mainly Cuban-American fanbase, commented on his “love” and “respect” for Fidel Castro? Yeah, that is a HUGE no-no. The club ended up suspending Ozzie for five games.
Just recently, in the middle of a speech, Biden told a mostly African-American audience in Virginia that if Mitt Romney is elected he is going to “put y’all back in chains”. While there have been analysts who have come to his defense on the metaphor (see chained vs. shackled metaphor mix up), this hasn’t been Biden’s only glaringly inappropriate comment and there has been whispers of the Democratic Party reeling him in a bit.
The bottom line for both of these guys though is that while they will make the occasional appalling one-liner, they are still likeable and their respective club/party will do their best to censor them so they stay likable (as opposed to Romney/Bobby-V with less likability).
MLB Managerial Equivalent (Blue Lens): Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers
Like Leyland, Biden has been around forever and knows everybody. Like Biden, Leyland hasn’t been quite as successful as you might think over the course of his career. Both men will tell you exactly what they are thinking and they won’t mince words.
Sure, Leyland is a chain smoker and Biden doesn’t drink, but that might make them more similar than different when it comes right down to it.
Republican VP Candidate: Paul Ryan, Wisconsin State Representative
MLB Manager Equivalent (Red Lens): Buck Showalter
Buck Showalter reinvigorated the Baltimore Orioles in 2010 in much the same way Jim Tracy did for the Rockies in 2009. The only difference was Buck inherited a 32-73 team later in the year, and despite a 34-23 (.597) record under his reign, had no shot at the playoffs no matter what.
As we head into the stretch run, Showalter has micromanaged an impressively mediocre team into playoff contention. (We expounded on that last week.) Other than a great bullpen they really haven’t performed well outside of Adam Jones. Can we attribute this to Buck Showalter’s micromanagement, or just luck? It really is unclear (but I believe it’s luck).
What we can say though, is that he does not sit around and let the game unfold. Rather he takes charge and makes every move possible in both games and practices. While people many who know the game are split on his baseball philosophies, Showalter has been completely active in trying to come up with solutions to a huge problem (the Baltimore Orioles).
Like Showalter, Paul Ryan is a newcomer to the national spotlight. While he has been thrust into that spotlight recently, he has been a leader among the right-wing Representatives for a few years now. What sets Ryan apart is his supposed synthesis of old school GOP ideals and those of the embryonic Tea Party, to construct a budget proposal designed to overhaul government spending and taxation. While many people see the proposal as extreme, it is the first tangible plan to challenge current government policies that is backed by conservative idealists. Ryan has succeeded in being completely active, one might say micromanaging, in trying to come up with a solution to a huge problem (the federal deficit).
Just for a huge disclaimer before the comment section blows up with anti-Ryan comments (because I’m soft on him with this): the Ryan budget proposes some serious changes in government spending. As a conscientious populous, every voter should really give this plan strict scrutiny before putting him in position for the oval office.
MLB Manager Equivalent (Blue Lens): Eric Wedge, Seattle Mariners
Eric Wedge and Paul Ryan both got into their respective games at a very young age. Both are charismatic and good looking. Both talk the talk, but neither has yet walked the walk.
Wedge was fired after seven seasons in Cleveland and has a career managerial winning percentage of only .495. He’s still only 44 but he’s yet to prove himself as anything but a slightly below average manager.
Ryan has served in Congress for a long time, especially for someone as young as he is, but he too has yet to actually produce anything beyond ideas. The detail and work put in on his budget proposal is impressive and admirable, but the actual substance of the plan has a shockingly low approval rating (see the third to last paragraph in the link, and the previous section’s disclaimer for an idea why).
When Wedge started with the Indians, he was treated like a bit of a young rock star, much like Ryan is being treated now. Ultimately, a manager and a politician are judged on a similar scale: tangible results.
In this article we’ve tried to stay away from the actual political issues and compare the candidate’s traits with the MLB managers. That said, for those of you sport fans who were completely clueless as to who these candidates are, use this article as a platform to learn the issues and be informed voters this coming election. It’s going to be a close race so every vote canmake a difference. At Off the Bench, we don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote.
-Race Bottini wrote the bulk of this article, Max Frankel contributed the ‘Blue Lens’
This post was brought to you by a good friend of Off The Bench and we encourage any of our readers with ideas for a post to send it to us at offthebench[AT]maxfrankel.com