The U.S. State Department said it couldn’t find any other record of a former major league player having served as an ambassador.
“Sure, I remember him,” La Russa told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I was always taken with his intelligence and how he was committed to what we were trying to teach _ to become a teammate, a competitor and to pursue excellence as a professional.”
“You do that and get a proper foundation and out of the bottom, out drops your fame and fortune. I think he’s now raised his excellence to a new level,” he said.
Told that ambassadors are often addressed as “His Excellency” or “Your Excellency,” La Russa chuckled.
“I think if Mark walks into a clubhouse with his old teammates, I don’t think they’re going to call him `Your Excellency,’” he said with a laugh.
Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Larkin and Dennis Martinez are among the many former big leaguers who have served the State Department in roles such diplomacy envoys, goodwill ambassadors and baseball sports envoys. Gilbert, incidentally, once hit a bases-loaded double off Martinez at Comiskey Park.
Next up, a rookie diplomat in a new field.
“Baseball is America’s pastime, so what better way to represent the United States overseas than with someone who, before he was a successful businessman, began his career as a major league baseball player?” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“While this clearly wasn’t the reason for his nomination, it doesn’t hurt that ambassador-designate Gilbert played for the president’s favorite team, the Chicago White Sox,” she said. “As fans all around the country and the world, including die-hard Rex Sox fan Secretary of State John Kerry root for their teams in the World Series, Embassy Wellington is preparing to hopefully get a new manager sometime soon.”
Those nominated for ambassadorships typically don’t comment during the confirmation process.
Several baseball executives have become ambassadors. Among them, Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer served in Japan and Australia.