LONGSHOTS: The primary concern is getting a clear picture
by Dave Long
As a kid I loved baseball cards. I liked to put them in the spokes of my bike for the cool sound they made. I liked to flip them, trade them, and I loved the gum that came in the package. But most of all I liked those cards for the stats I found on the back.
For some reason the stuff sang to me. Then it stuck in my brain and over time the info grew like a landfill as the trash piles up year after year. It’s why on the day I met my boyhood guy Mickey Mantle he incredulously asked me after we’d been talking for a while, “How the hell do you know this [expletive deleted (to borrow a phrase from the transcripts of the Nixon White House)]?” It just sticks like Velcro, I told him.
One of my favorite discoveries came when I won Washington Senators utility infielder John Kennedy flipping cards. Being an inquisitive tyke, I was intrigued by that one because, if you’re not one of the children left behind, you know the political boss in D.C. then had the same name. Even more interestingly, John Fitzgerald Kennedy the president and John Edward Kennedy the infielder had the same birthday. I knew the president’s birthday because birthdays for some reason also stick like Velcro.
John E.’s baseball card tells us he was good enough to last in the majors for 12 years and was one of the few who played for the Sox and the Yanks. It says he hit .225 lifetime with 32 homers, which gives you a pretty clear idea of just what kind of a player he was. Same thing for Ted Williams’s .344 average and the 300-plus wins Tom Glavine has.
I bring this up because the first-in-the-nation primary finally arrives next week, after a campaign that seems like it began when Drew Bledsoe was the starting quarterback in Foxboro. It arrives amid the usual charges and countercharges from one campaign to another that create a haze in the voters’ minds because everybody exaggerates. Like when candidates talk about their record, they’re scout of the year, and when the other side does the talking that candidate falls somewhere between child molester and ax murderer. OK, they’re not the only ones who embellish, but you get the picture. After a while it just sounds like kids, “I’m better than you! Naa-aah, I’m better than you!!!”
My favorite is the fight over who is the “real” conservative — like that’s a good thing. Well, I guess it is if you want to get the Republican nomination. Thus, they do it because a lot of voters who call themselves “conservatives” are like sheep who’d follow the label off a cliff, because they’re too lazy, or too dumb, to listen to any idea unless it’s billed “conservative.” That doesn’t mean those other ideas are good or bad, or that many from their point of view haven’t solved problems in the past. It just means they won’t listen without the stamp. Sorry, that’s not the way to solve problems. Isn’t voting blindly for the “real” conservative how we got stuck with a guy in the White House with a lower approval rating than Barry Bonds after entering a war on false pretenses, bumbling the New Orleans disaster badly, the Alberto Gonzales mess, yada, yada, yada.
My point is, there’s got to be a better way to vote. So in addition to a country with much less political acrimony, I wish we had better clarity on just who the candidates are. Not the haze that comes from the campaigns, but a political trading card that provides clarity on every candidate in the way John E. Kennedy’s baseball card tells us he ain’t batting clean-up in the biggest game. Which, oh, by the way, is what the person we elect has to be able to do. So in lieu of political cards here’s a series of baseball cards I think some of the candidates are similar to and a few nuggets you might find on the back.
The Mickey Mantle Card: I’m not sure Mitt Romney will reach the pinnacle the Mick did. But he does have all the tools to become the best political switch hitter of his time as evidence suggests he’ll hit from either side of the plate depending on who’s pitching. Personally I’ve got nothing against changing your mind. But, with candidates I want to know why and WHEN. While Mitt has a nice explanation, his timing on abortion and gun control, for two, strikes me like Al Gore in 2000. A guy who’ll say almost anything to win.
The Shea Hillenbrand Card: He’s the Sox third baseman who’d be hitting .450 every May and .260 by August 1. That’s the way it went for Rudy Giuliani, whose admirable record of leadership and visibility in the aftermath of 9-11 got him an early lead, but personal baggage Bernard Kerik and static from NYC have him down to also-ran status here.
The Dice-K Card: After his up-and-down year I’m still not quite sure what he is. That’s the way I feel about John Edwards. He talks a great game, but is he real? He announced for president filling sand bags in New Orleans. Here’s my question: Senator, when was the last time you were there, and when were you there before the announcement? If the answer is never, or not for a long time, it tells me he was using imagery to treat voters like chumps and I hate to be treated like I’m stupid.
The Don Zimmer Card: Since he signed a cock fighting ban into New Mexico law Michael Vick’s probably not voting for him, but, like Zim, Bill Richardson is an experienced, likable candidate with an impressive resume. However, it bugs me that he stiffed the good folks of New Mexico by running for governor when he knew he’d be running for president two months later (just as Sen. Hillary Clinton did to New York). So with that on his card, along with the Wen Ho Lee espionage scandal when he was Energy Secretary and being the guy who hired Monica Lewinsky, I don’t think he’s got the juice go all the way. He’s a Zimmer-like bench coach — so VP maybe?
The Chris Carpenter Card: Like the hometown favorite after his first surgery, most thought John McClain was done after backing the surge in the unpopular war. But he’s baaack, though like Carp after his latest surgery, he’s got a ways to go. Anyone who knows the details of his harrowing 5½ years as a POW in Viet Nam is in awe of his grit, toughness and amazing courage and knows he’s earned the right to be listened to at the very least.
The Grady Little Card: Sen. Clinton has the same problem Little did after not pulling Pedro in Game Seven. After the excruciating loss the bashers had so much venom there was no way the Sox could keep Little, even though his two-year record was better than ANY manager’s in team history. Thanks to the blue state-red state mentality we have a divided, contentious country and need a leader who can start to bridge the widening political gap. The other side hates her so much she’ll never be able to do that and status quo will remain. That’s not her fault, but it is the reality.
The Jacoby Ellsbury Card: I didn’t want him in the Johann Santana deal because he’s going to be a star. But it’s not a sure thing and Santana is. So it’s a real risk. That’s they way I look at Barack Obama. If someone in the DNC didn’t pick him to give the keynote speech at the last convention he’d have started in the polls down there with Dennis Kucinich. He talks about the promise of the future — which is nice, but can he pull it off? And since he hasn’t even been in the Senate for a full term, he doesn’t have many more at-bats than Ellsbury. But after losing two consecutive Senate races and serving one undistinguished term in the House Abraham Lincoln didn’t either and he held the country together during arguably its darkest hour. So maybe experience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I don’t know if he was a conservative or a liberal, even though both sides today would claim him, I’m sure. I just know Lincoln was a great president who didn’t follow a typical path to the job. So open your minds, people, because if your answer in 2008 is no to the famous “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” question Ronald’s Reagan asked in 1980, you know a political label has nothing to do with picking the right person to lead in a divided time.
Instead it comes down who is the smartest, most ethical, compassionate and capable leader in the field. And I sure do wish I had a political version of my baseball cards to help me decide.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.