- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

One thing we have seen in the battle over baseball in Washington — the game always will be surrounded by politics, whether it is the D.C. Council battling over ballpark funding or President Bush throwing out the first pitch for the Nationals’ home opener, as expected.

In this town, everything is politics.

After a 33-year absence from Washington, some in baseball may not be prepared for sharing the stage with politicians, whether they are local, national or international, whether they be protestors or heads of state.

But Tony Siegle, the Nationals’ assistant general manager, may have an easy time fitting in. He’s had some brushes with politicians over his nearly 40 years in baseball — including one memorable encounter with former President Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon’s passion for football has been well documented, from his pep talks to the Redskins to his play calling for Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula in the Super Bowl. But he was an avid baseball fan as well. He was the president when the Senators left Washington after the 1971 season and had attended a number of Senators games at RFK Stadium, sitting in the stands.

Even after Nixon resigned in 1974, he remained a fan of the game, and liked to talk baseball, as he did more than 20 years ago when Siegle met the former president.

“This was the mid-1980s at Veterans Stadium, and I was working for the Phillies at the time,” Siegle said. “Richard Nixon was good friends with [longtime New York baseball public relations man] Arthur Richman. Arthur was with the New York Mets at the time.

“Nixon came to Philadelphia to see a Mets game as Arthur’s guest. We put him up in a booth in the press box. There was a long rain delay, so I knocked on the door and asked if I could come in and talk baseball to him. I knew he was a baseball fan. He was very cordial.

“I was awestruck. We talked for some time. I was amazed at his knowledge of the players and what they hit and all the stats. He knew a lot about the players and the game. I was amazed that he was so up on baseball, looking at the history of all he had been through. He knew what hitters were good, where they were from, the players who were up and coming. I was there for about 20 minutes, and got an autographed baseball from him.

“He was very matter of fact. Everyone who imitated him, that was exactly who he sounded like. All he had been through in history, the good and the bad, and he was here enjoying himself watching this baseball game, and talking to me as one fan to another, and he knew what he was talking about.”

This wasn’t Siegle’s only experience with the Nixon family. He got to know Nixon’s son-in-law, David Eisenhower, grandson of former president Dwight Eisenhower who had married Nixon’s daughter Julie. David lived in the Philadelphia suburbs and had actually worked as a sportswriter for a brief period.

“David Eisenhower came by Connie Mack Stadium when I was working for the Phillies in 1970,” Siegle said. “David and Julie were pretty much newlyweds at the time, and they had moved to a suburb of Philadelphia called Berwyn, I believe. I was director of stadium operations then. They called and said they wanted to go to a baseball game, so we had to make security arrangements. We put them in the club box, next to the Phillies dugout, which was at third base at the time. When he came with Julie, I went down to the box to make sure they were comfortable, and I got another baseball signed. He showed a lot of interest in baseball. Once in a while he would come into the offices of the Phillies and just talk baseball.”

Siegle had another encounter with a politically famous son-in-law 10 years later, when he was assistant GM of the Houston Astros, and received a surprising letter from someone looking for a job — Siegle’s.

“[It was] Tal Smith, who was Executive of the Year and got us within an eyelash of being in the World Series. … He was fired by [Astros owner] John McMullen, and Al Rosen took over as general manager of the Astros in 1981,” Siegle said. “That produced, like we are getting now [with the Nationals], a spate of resumes from people.

“One resume I took particular interest in. This guy wrote that he wanted my job — assistant general manager. He had no experience, but he happened to be the son-in-law of LBJ — Pat Nugent [married to President Johnson’s daughter, Luci]. He was running Johnson’s television stations at the time. I wrote him back and told him the job happened to be occupied at the time, but I would be happy to discuss a career in baseball. I never got an answer.

“Maybe he’ll want to come to work for the Nationals.”

So when the politicians descend on RFK Stadium for the inaugural Nationals season, Siegle — who met President George H.W. Bush when George W. was running the Texas Rangers — should be right at home.

“I am looking forward to Opening Day,” he said. “At least I can drop some names up there.”

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