- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, President Bush insisted that he’s a baseball fan. He told how much he enjoyed rooting for the Astros as a young man and running the Rangers as managing general partner. He recalled how Julio Franco invited him and Laura to Franco’s wedding. In fact, he gave the impression he’d rather watch a ballgame than see Hillary Rodham Clinton flap her arms and fly to the moon.

All of which begs a question I’ve asked before: Mr. President, why don’t you summon Bud Selig, bang your fist on the desk a few times and demand that Major League Baseball put a team in the Washington area?

After all, you might be a resident of our town for five more years. Should you have to skedaddle off to Texas — or worse yet, to Baltimore — every time you want to sip a cold one, scarf a hot dog and watch overpaid men in knickers playing a child’s game? Of course you don’t.

It’s too late now for next season, but the virtually homeless Expos are still out there waiting to be plucked for 2005. Think how much fun it would be to take your dad to a game. Heck, he might even grab a foul ball with that old first baseman’s mitt he used at Yale. …

Not that Bush could order MLB to restore our baseball birthright — such things rightly aren’t done by presidents, particularly Republican presidents — but Bud and his minions might find it hard to ignore a fervent request from the nation’s first citizen and, theoretically, first fan.

Certainly the principal of free enterprise applies here. The Lords of Baseball, as author Harold Parrott termed them several decades ago, have every right to run their sport as they see fit — which, by every recent indicator, means right into God’s green earth. But somebody needs to straighten them out before the most American of sports goes the way of jousting and lawn bowling.

What’s more, there are precedents for presidents getting involved in rounders, and I don’t mean just by throwing out the first ball on Opening Day. In his excellent recent book “The Seasons,” local author Bill Gilbert tells how sportswriting icon Shirley Povich and publisher Phil Graham of The Washington Post enlisted President Dwight Eisenhower’s somewhat unwitting help when Calvin Griffith was making noises about moving the original Senators in the mid-‘50s.

Working through presidential press secretary James Hagerty, Povich and Graham arranged for the Post’s White House correspondent to ask Eisenhower about the issue at his next press conference. Ike replied that he would hate to see the Senators leave Washington, and that bought fans here a few more years of lousy Washington teams before Griffith eventually decamped to Minnesota and renamed his club the Twins.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ask whether baseball should shut down for the duration. In his famous “green light letter,” FDR replied that the game should keep going because it provided a welcome respite for war workers and others.

Many presidents have gotten their own respites from watching baseball. Abraham Lincoln enjoyed seeing federal employees playing on the Ellipse. Woodrow Wilson was a frequent ballpark visitor in the days before World War I, though his second wife, Edith, was said to be the family’s real fan. And Ronald Reagan broadcast baseball without seeing it, recreating Cubs games in the ‘30s for a Des Moines, Iowa, radio station.

Even dour Herbert Hoover got into a baseball discussion, albeit indirectly. When somebody told Babe Ruth during the Great Depression that his $80,000 salary was more than the president made, the Bambino is supposed to have said, “Yeah, but I had a better year than he did.”

So there’s no reason why George W. shouldn’t get involved, although he has a few other things on his mind and plate. Somebody should tell him that not having the national pastime in the nation’s capital is so ludicrous that everybody except those Lords of Baseball knows it.

Admittedly, there are some valid reasons not to want a team in town, mostly centering around the likelihood that millions of tax dollars would be spent to build a ballpark because a new ownership group — its pocket picked clean by MLB to the tune of $400million or so to buy the Expos — couldn’t afford to do so on its own.

Also, a club hopefully called the Washington Nationals would bring with it all of the sport’s latter-day evils: outrageous ticket and concession prices because journeyman players now earn $2million a year; games that seem to run from sundown to sunup because players must meditate before each pitch; weeknight World Series contests that prevent children from watching; lunkheaded leadership at the highest levels.

Nonetheless, baseball belongs here … has belonged here for the 32 years it hasn’t been. If you’re counting, seven presidents have come and mostly gone since a team with “W” on its caps took the field. Now it’s time for this “W” to get into the ballgame.

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