Let's Play Ball

Fielding an All-Star Political Baseball Team

By Tevi Troy

PLAY » Click on a player or field position to learn more. As we enjoy another baseball season, we do so with the knowledge that our city lacks the baseball history—and championships—of places such as New York, Boston, and St. Louis. Yet Washington has had its share of politicians with links to the national pastime. Herewith, an all-Washington All-Star team.

Owner

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George W. Bush was seen as a comparative ne'er-do-well in his illustrious family until he put together a deal to buy the Texas Rangers and build them a new stadium. The transaction made Bush independently wealthy — he put in $606,302 and later sold his stake for $14.9 million. In his retirement, Bush can still be seen sitting in the front row of Rangers home games.

Outfield

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Billy Sunday was an outfielder known for his defensive play, but in 1891 he found religion and quit, turning down $500 a month for an $83-a-month job with the YMCA. He became a well-known evangelist, meeting Presidents including Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, and Hoover, for whom he campaigned.

Shortstop

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Although Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter maintains an apolitical air, in 2001 he gave President George W. Bush crucial advice after September 11. Set to throw out the first pitch of World Series Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, Bush was nervous about a long throw while wearing the bulletproof vest required by the Secret Service. He was considering throwing from in front of the mound rather than the full 60 feet, 6 inches, until Jeter told him, “Throw from the mound or else they’ll boo you.”

Outfield

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Baseball’s greatest player and biggest star, Babe Ruth, met or corresponded with every President from Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman—interactions that, while often humorous, had real political implications. Most famously, in 1930 he responded to a query about his salary’s being higher than that of Herbert Hoover by saying, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.”

Second Base

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Dodgers great Jackie Robinson is famous for breaking baseball’s color line in 1947, winning the Rookie of the Year award, and leading the Dodgers to the World Series. In 1960, after he retired, Robinson surprised people by backing Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy for President—an endorsement that stemmed from his discomfort with the Democrats’ lock on the minority vote.

Outfield

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Before he was New York governor, Mario Cuomo was outfielder for the Brunswick Pirates in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system, with a chance of making the major-league club. He played well enough in 1952 that Pirates scout Ed McCarrick wrote that he was “potentially the best prospect.” But in August of that year, a pitch hit Cuomo in the head, causing dizzy spells that ended his ball career.

First Base

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George H.W. Bush is known for his political résumé—congressman, Republican National Committee chair, CIA director, Vice President, and President—but he was a baseball player in his youth. Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team and played in the first College World Series in 1947. As President, he kept his college first-baseman’s mitt near him in the Oval Office.

Manager

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The most storied manager in baseball, Connie Mack oversaw the Philadelphia A’s for 50 years, winning nine pennants and five World Series titles—and launched a political dynasty. Grandson Connie Mack III became a Florida congressman and senator. Senator Mack’s son, Connie Mack IV, also became a member of the House but lost his 2012 Senate campaign. The family’s hopes for continuing the dynasty now rest on Mack IV’s young son, Connie Mack V—nicknamed Cinco de Macko.

Catcher

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Moe Berg—a catcher for the Senators, among others, and the inspiration for the time-honored assessment “good field, no hit”—spied for the US before and during World War II. While on a 1934 barnstorming tour to Japan with major-league All-Stars such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, he surreptitiously took rooftop pictures of Tokyo that American planners later used to select bombing targets during the war. After he died in 1972, his sister accepted the US Medal of Freedom on his behalf; it’s now at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Right-handed Pitcher

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The greatest mix of pitching talent and Washington experience has to be Hall of Famer and former US congressman and senator Jim Bunning, who spent 17 years pitching for the Tigers, Phillies, Pirates, and Dodgers. Among his career highlights: throwing two no-hitters, including his famous 1964 Father’s Day perfect game against the Mets.

Left-handed Pitcher

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Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell pitched for nine years for the Cardinals, Pirates, and Mets, winning 90 games over his career. He was a crucial member of the 1960 World Series champion Pirates, going 13-5 that year with a 3.12 earned-run average after being traded from St. Louis. He became a three-term Republican congressman from North Carolina, and President Gerald Ford appointed him an assistant secretary of Commerce; Ronald Reagan later picked him as an Agriculture assistant secretary.

Third Base

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Three-time All-Star Kevin Youkilis became an issue in the 2012 campaign when White Sox fan Barack Obama said to a Massachusetts audience, “Thank you for Youkilis.” Red Sox fans reacted strongly to the apparent jibe over the recent trade of their beloved “Youk” and seemed to boo Obama. Mitt Romney said the President “committed an error by taunting fans.” White House press secretary Jay Carney argued that his boss deserved credit for refusing to pander to a Red Sox crowd.

Photograph of Derek Jeter by Steve Nesius/Newscom , Photograph of Field by Ron Sachs/Corbis, Photograph of Youkilis and Jeter By Steve Nesius/Newscom, Photograph of Bunning By Ron Sachs/Newscom, Photograph of Cuomo By Patrick McMullan/Newscom, Photograph of Berg courtesy of Bettmann/AP Images, Photograph of Mizell courtesy of Ap Images, Photograph of Robinson Courtesy of AKG-Images/Newscom, Photograph of Mack Courtesy of Getty Images, Photograph of Ruth Courtesy of Denver Post/Getty Images.

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Posted at 11:25 AM/ET, 05/08/2013 RSS | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Guides