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Jewish World Review April 13, 2001 / 20 Nissan, 5761

Dale McFeatters

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Opening Day has come and gone on the first season of the failed Bush administration -- RESIDENTS of the nation's capital had a simple, straightforward reaction to George W. Bush's election as president: Great. Now we'll get a baseball team.

Washington, D.C., once had a team, a forlorn but beloved franchise called the Senators. Founded in 1902, it roused itself in 1924 to win the World Series before lapsing back into its customary torpor that led to the expression: "Washington. First in war, first in peace, last in the American League." So hapless was the team that a successful Broadway musical, "Damn Yankees," was written about a Senators' fan who was willing to sell his soul to the devil to beat the Yankees.

It didn't seem to be asking a lot to let the capital of the free world keep this team, but Washington suffered the indignity of losing the Senators twice. In 1961, owner Clark Griffith, who didn't much care for black people, moved the team from Washington, where there were a lot, to Minnesota, where there were only a handful. In 1971, the owner of Washington's new team, Bob Short, whom, we should note, had been Democratic Party treasurer, saw an opportunity to turn a fast buck at the fans' expense and took it.

So Bush coming to town was a big deal. His greatest career success had been in baseball, as managing director of the Texas Rangers. He clearly loved baseball, but even if he didn't, turning a $600,000 stake in the team into $15 million would have made him fond of the game.

In a way, Bush sort of owed Washington's baseball fans. The Rangers had been the Senators II until they were spirited off to Arlington, Texas. Bush did not become involved with the team until 1989, but the bloodlines cannot be denied.

Bush truly does love baseball. A guy who likes quick, decisive meetings shot a whole morning and lunch hour schmoozing with a bunch of baseball Hall of Famers in town on a promotional trip. He offered the White House for a screening of the new movie "61*," about the home-run duel between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The first working day of the spy plane incident, Bush gave his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, the day off to attend the Yankees' opener.

Bush himself went to Milwaukee to throw out the first ball in the Brewers' new stadium. President Taft, a fellow Republican, began that custom in 1910 - with the Washington Senators.

One obstacle to Washington's regaining a team is said to be Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles 45 miles away.

Should we mention that Angelos is a major backer of the Democratic Party? You remember Democrats, Mr. President. The people who sued to try to take away your election victory. Angelos was one of only three individuals to give over $500,000 to the Democratic National Committee last year. Should we also mention that he gave the maximum $10,000 to the Bill Clinton legal defense fund? No, we shouldn't because we're above partisanship.

You can imagine then that there was quite a bit of excitement when the White House scheduled a major announcement about baseball. The announcement - it was almost too cruel - was that as part of his Community Initiatives program, Bush was going to sponsor tee-ball games on the White House lawn.

Tee-ball? The capital craves major-league baseball and we get little kids whacking a ball off a plastic stump? And to make the old excitement needle jump off the charts, Fleischer promised "a healthy amount of participation from the White House, from the Cabinet secretaries." Administration celebrities, we were assured, would be umping and coaching. At least at the White House the Secret Service will be able to provide security from the kids' parents.

If Bush wants to revive baseball among the youth of Washington, where it is indeed dying, he ought to get the kids a team they can watch, a major-league team. Washington is the largest, most lucrative market in the nation without a baseball team, and, Mr. President, its fans turn their lonely eyes to you.

For a president who prides himself on being tough, realistic and effective, Bush's stand on baseball for Washington is pure fluff. In answer to an inquiry, his staff pointed to a remark by Fleischer: "I think the president would welcome that if that was possible, if that could happen.''

Not good enough, Mr. President. Opening Day has come and gone on the first season of the failed Bush administration.

Comment on Dale McFeatters' column by clicking here.


04/06/01: Signs that an involuntary career change is nigh
03/30/01: Democrats hope for lightning
03/28/01: The fiscal fortune tellers
03/23/01: Bush's free lunch, or: Why Dubya worries about Japan's economy
03/21/01: Congress' growing nuisance
03/16/01: A new kind of layoff for the New Economy
03/09/01: Another snow job in the nation's capital
03/02/01: Bush either brave or naive
02/23/01: Long hours=great presidency? What our 'dim-bulb' of a president knows
02/16/01: Just what the spin-doctor ordered? Bush can't even get ridiculed on TV
02/09/01: A heartbeat from presidency, and both feet in obscurity
02/02/01: AlGore is continuing his fall from grace
01/26/01: "Fifteen Minutes in December"

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