Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bush and Baseball

I disagreed with this piece on the other day. In it, Jerry Crasnick argues that George W. Bush, back when he was owner of the Texas Rangers, was wrong to vote against the realignment and wild-card playoff system for Major League Baseball. He cleverly exhumes this 1993 quote from Bush, who was the only "no" vote, as the system passed, 27-1: "I made my arguments and went down in flames. History will prove me right."

I guess it's not so easy to be The Decider when you're only one of 28 voices. But was W. wrong to vote against the current system? Crasnick argues that baseball's record attendance this year and booming revenue are enough to settle the case. I'm not so sure. For one thing, there's the regular season: the realignment into three divisions in each league seems to produce at least one truly mediocre division champ every year. (I have no hard science to back any of this up. I think Bush would approve.) This year, it was the Cubs. Last year, it was the Cardinals, who ended up getting hot and winning the World Series. In 2005, it was the Padres.

Then there's the wild card. You don't have to be a fanatical purist as a baseball fan to believe that the very long regular season is supposed to mean something significant. I'm a Yankees fan, and they're the wild card this season. I wasn't thrilled about it. Don't get me wrong, I'm rooting for them. But it used to be that a division race could become classic. Crasnick and Bud "Beavis" Selig are elated that those races have been replaced by wild-card races, usually involving more teams and keeping late-season attendance inflated in more cities. But how dramatically satisfying was it on September 10 to know that seven National League teams were within five games of the wild card spot?

Compare that to what is called the "last real race" in another ESPN piece. That was 1993, the year the Braves and Giants entered the last day of the season with identical records of 103-58, but only one could make the playoffs. (The Braves won the division on that last day.) When an uninspiring division winner or a wild card wins the World Series (which has happened much more often than not so far this century), I feel like the regular season has been cheated a bit. And this is to say nothing of the ridiculous first-round series, which the unimaginative Selig can't seem to extend to seven games instead of five. A best-of-five baseball series is like a 15-minute soccer match.

Andrew Sullivan, who admittedly knows nothing about baseball, picked up the Crasnick piece and used the Bush quote above to have some fun at the president's expense (nothing wrong with that). But I agree with a reader of Sullivan's who wrote back:
Sorry, Andrew, you're wrong on this one. Bush was right about the wild card, and the sportswriters who think that the current baseball system is a good thing are just mistaken. No point in running through the arguments -- since I don't think you care very much! -- but while baseball did in fact have a somewhat difficult problem to solve, the solution that Bush voted against wasn't the right one.

In fact, Bush on baseball turns out to be an interesting subject. I'm a political scientist and a fairly serious baseball fan, so I have pretty good qualifications on this one, and I can tell you that every time I've heard Bush talking about baseball he sounds not only well informed, but quite intelligent. My conclusion? He's not at all a dumb guy; he's just not interested in government and public affairs. I think he's interested in the political junkie side of electoral politics, but I just don't think that, you know, the world is particularly interesting to him.


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