January 3, 2008

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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 dlong@hippopress.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.


12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007

12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did

02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon

Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat