Thursday, February 12, 2009

Presidential Baseball

February 12, 1809, 200 years ago today: Abraham Lincoln is born in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Also on this day: Charles Robert Darwin is born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.

Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin seem to have no other connection, although Lincoln did bring about some serious evolution in America.

If we were to make a baseball team of all Presidents, who would be on it? Granted, no President has ever played professional ball -- and quite a few were around before the game itself. But let's speculate.

Surely, Lincoln would have to be on the team. He was tall and thin, but known for splitting rails, so maybe he could hit. With his long legs, he might be a good, fast, rangy center fielder. So we'll put him in center and bat him leadoff.

George Washington would have to be included. He was big and strong, and supposedly threw a silver dollar across Virginia's Rappahannock River in his youth. But a pitcher? I'm not sure. He seems to have had a nasty temper, not good for a pitcher. But he was very cool under pressure. Possibly a good choice for "the hot corner," 3rd base, where his good arm would be put to good use. So let's put him there, and in the middle of the lineup, somewhere between 3rd and 6th.

Along with Washington and Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt is considered one of the 3 greatest Presidents. But his polio makes him a bad choice to play. So I'll make him the manager.

Theodore Roosevelt? Not a pitcher. He liked to say, "Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far." Definitely a hitter. He was a bit of a control freak. Make him the catcher, have him call the signals. Actually, his successor, William Howard Taft, was a catcher, playing for Yale University. But I'll take the 225-pound TR over the 325-pound Will. "The Colonel" will bat cleanup, although his status as the first real "environmental President" has little to do with that.

The elder George Bush, like Taft, played baseball at Yale. He was a member of the Bulldog team that made the 1st 2 College World Series finals, in 1947 and '48 -- but lost both. But he's probably still the best baseball-playing President, even if the first ball he through to open Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992 fell short of the plate -- and boy, was that recession-plagued President booed for it! He played 1st base, and he does here as well, though at or near the bottom of the lineup.

Now, 2nd base requires quick thinking and quick movement, and is not conducive to large men. Tall men, maybe; large men, no. Andrew Jackson is my choice, and I'm guessing he would have liked hitting.

Shortstops need to be versatile. Aside from TR, no President had as varied a set of interests as Thomas Jefferson. Tall, not heavy but fairly strong, he'd match the model of shortstops set by Robin Yount and Alan Trammell in the late 1970s, followed by Cal Ripken in the 1980s and Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and A-Roid in the 1990s. I'll bat him 3rd, and not just because he was the 3rd President.

That leaves left field and right field. I'll avoid the political definitions of "left" and "right." John F. Kennedy would probably get hurt too much, and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would probably both complain about their place in the batting order. So they're all out.

Barack Obama is a lefthander, and the left fielder could be lefthanded, logistically speaking. We know he's a baseball fan (the White Sox), and he's showed some pretty good range so far. Hitting? He certainly hit Hillary Clinton and John McCain hard in the campaign. Put him 2nd in the order.

James Monroe is the only man to be both Secretary of State and Secretary of War (the post now called Secretary of Defense) at the same time. He was with Washington in the boat crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776. And he (along with his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams) created the Monroe Doctrine. Not sure what kind of hitter he'd be, but his defense would be good. Right field.

Both John Adamses, James Madison, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison? These men would be too short. The elder Adams, Ben Harrison, William McKinley, the aforementioned Will Taft, too fat. William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Chester Arthur, too sick. Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson, too drunk. Warren Harding and George W. Bush, too dumb. Calvin Coolidge, hated baseball. Herbert Hoover, would drop the ball. Jimmy Carter, would probably hold out for 444 days.

The pitching rotation could be: Ronald Reagan, who played Hall-of-Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander in the film The Winning Team; Bill Clinton, a strong, innings-eating lefthander who might know a trick pitch or two, given his nickname of Slick Willie; Gerald Ford, who was an All-American lineman at the University of Michigan and probably could play a little baseball; and Dwight D. Eisenhower, a calm, cool, corner-painting righthander, who with Reagan would balance out the rotation with lefties Bill and Jerry.

Grover Cleveland, rather chunky but a hard worker, could be a 5th starter or a long reliever, much like Alexander, who was named for him. Woodrow Wilson, who chose to "make the world safe for democracy," could be the closer, except he didn't do what he said he would do. So let's make him the setup man out of the bullpen. No, the closer has to be the cagey lefthander who put the finishing touches on World War II, Harry Truman.

So here's the lineup, with their sequential numbers being their "uniform numbers":

1. 16 CF Abraham Lincoln
2. 44 LF Barack Obama
3. 3 SS Thomas Jefferson
4. 26 C Theodore Roosevelt
5. 1 3B George Washington
6. 7 2B Andrew Jackson
7. 5 RF James Monroe
8. 41 1B George H.W. Bush
9. 40 P Ronald Reagan

Four Democrats (Obama, Jefferson, Jackson and Monroe), four Republicans (Lincoln, TR, Daddy Bush and Reagan), and the non-partisan Washington. Fair and balanced.

Bring on the other team.

"Leading off, the center fielder, Number 3, George 'the King' Hanover."

George III? In center field? That's crazy!

Play ball!