Sunday, July 17, 2005

Politics in Baseball, With a Twist

My pal Jack has reported on the meeting of baseball and politics as seen in Washington D.C. with the Nationals ballclub and the groups competing for its ownership. But the New York Yankees' acquisition of veteran pitcher Al Leiter this weekend reminded us of a different sort of influence that politics has had on baseball in recent years.

The New York Post reported this morning that the Leiter acquisition was pushed along by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, who made numerous phone calls to both the pitcher and the New York team since Leiter was released by his former team just a few days ago. Bloomberg may be an Al Leiter fan, but the phone calls were nothing more than payback of a political favor. It turns out that Leiter campaigned for Bloomberg in 2001 and emceed his inauguration. He also made a scheduled appearance at a major party held for members of the media at the Republican National Convention in New York City last summer.

Leiter is an outspoken Republican who has often suggested that he may run for public office in New Jersey, his home state, after his playing career comes to an end. Leiter isn't alone in bringing political beliefs into the clubhouse, though. Curt Schilling used his facetime on ABC's Good Morning America last October after his Red Sox' World Series win not to speak about the team's victory, but to announce his endorsement of President Bush in the next week's election. Within a few days, Schilling was out campaigning at official Bush-Cheney events in the Northeast.

Leiter can hold his own beliefs and is of course free to profess them, as is Schilling. But what do either of them stand to gain by making their politics such major aspects of their identities as ballplayers? Does anyone root for them harder because they are Republicans? Doubtful - in fact, given the political leaning of the cities the two play in (New York for Leiter, and Boston for Schilling), fans might be less inclined to cheer for the two pitchers.

Basketball players dropping rap albums is one thing, but doesn't anyone else see baseball stars digging into the box for their political candidates of choice as being just slightly outside the foul pole?

Is Al Leiter going to be a future senator from New Jersey? He'd be the second pitcher, as well as the second republican, to join the exclusive club. Jim Bunning (R-KY), is a hall of famer who once pitched a perfect game for the Phillies on June 21, 1964. Would Al Leiter be a Bloomberg Republican or a Real Republican?


At 7:22 AM, Blogger wfoley said...

I suspect he'd be a real republican. Bloomberg became a republican only to get elected in NY. Leiter's been one for years.

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous The other Jack said...

I'll vote for Leiter if the Yankees don't make the playoffs this year.


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