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Late Innings: Democrats Need To Don Their Rally Caps

November 10, 2003

by Alan Bisbort

It's late in the game and, according to a Washington Post poll, the score is tied (50% want Bush, 50% want the Democratic challenger).

In baseball, when it gets down to the late innings in a tie game, any smart manager (read: NOT Grady Little) plays for the winning run. Even if you have some of the most vaunted power hitters in the game, you still play "small ball." That is, you try to manufacture a run, by drawing a walk or getting hit by a pitch (accidentally on purpose stepping into an inside curveball), then stealing a base, playing hit and run, and taking an extra base against a weak-throwing outfielder.

Once the go-ahead run is on the scoreboard, you go to your bullpen for the closer to nail down the victory.

The Democratic Party currently has two men on first base (Howard Dean, Wesley Clark). Neither seems willing to concede the base to the other but they would make a pretty formidable team, if they played together.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have a candidate who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

Why am I talking baseball metaphors? First, baseball is the National Pastime, and there are few Americans who have not used a baseball metaphor for some aspect of their lives, from adolescent sex ("I got to second base last night with Suzy Creamcheese") to adult sex ("You're going to need a pinch hitter tonight, honey") to marriage ("If you don't cut that out, I'll file for free agency"), to politics ("That speech, Senator Windbag, was a homerun -- no, a grand slam").

I was put in mind of this by Jeff Hart, a Durham, North Carolina-based musician (current band, the Brown Mountain Lights; current release "Late Show at the Cave"). He, like me, is a Baltimore Orioles fan. We vaguely recall the days of Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Elrod Hendricks, but we cut our teeth in the Eddie Murray-Cal Ripken era, of which we have nearly total recall. Spanning those two eras was the great manager Earl Weaver, who only played "small ball" under duress (his famous saying was, "F@#% small ball, give me a 3-run homer"), but it nearly always worked for him.

How does this relate to national party politics?

As Jeff points out, "The whole idea of lesser of two evils turns off enough people to not even vote or to cast a protest vote, and that plays right into Republican hands. The Republicans have played the game of presidential politics smarter. They hold their noses and get behind someone, as they cannot stomach the alternative of having a Democrat in the White House."

Democrats, he suggests, need to take some batting tips from the Republicans.

Jeff sagely opines, "Sometimes to get a run across the plate, you have to bunt with a man on first. That means, give up one out for the greater long-term goal of winning the game. In other words, Democrats have to get past their differences from the primaries and get behind the guy who can get the run in from 2nd base with a single. I don't see any power hitters on the Democratic side right now. We don't have Boog Powell, Frank and Brooks Robinson in the lineup anymore. And no one is hitting the Republican sliders [ed. note: or screwballs] well. We just need to play the game smarter. Rather than cast blame, it's time to grab a bat and try to get someone to 2nd base and someone to single him home. I'll take that."

Although Jeff thinks "a 'Republican liberal' such as Bill Clinton seems a luxury now that we've seen 3 years of Bush," I don't agree. I think that Bill Clinton could be the Democratic closer, the ultimate Mariano Rivera. Bring his ass to the convention, front and center, then let the Big Dog loose to campaign all over the country for Democrats. Seeing Clinton again will not evoke the Monica daze. After all, Republican scab Linda Tripp just bilked the government (that is, taxpayers) for more than half a million dollars! Rather, Clinton's beaming, confident face will remind Americans that, not that long ago, we had the biggest surplus in US history, peace at home and abroad, the respect of other nations, a leader capable of articulating a vision who didn't let ideologues tell him what to do, who never seemed to take vacations (is it my imagination but does Bush seem to be on a permanent vacation?). It will also remind Democrats that they are winners, fair and square, and can be again.

To take this baseball/Orioles metaphor one at bat further, we need Clinton the way the Orioles depended, year after year, game after game, on Eddie Murray. Though a power hitter, Murray was also able to shorten his swing from either side of the plate (he was a switch hitter) and get the run home with less than two outs. I literally can't count the number of times I watched at both Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards from the 7th inning on that Murray, called upon to get a run home or to move the runner over (from first to third, say) that he delivered. Eddie was an unrivaled clutch hitting (over .400 average in his career with runners in scoring position). He was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, into which he was inducted in July. And never, I repeat NEVER, did Murray point to the sky god after hitting a homerun, like such head cases as Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds, nor did he taunt the other dugout. Only under the most sustained standing ovation would he come back on the field to doff his cap. Eddie was smart enough to know that there was another game the next day. No need to give his opponents the edge. Thus, he was the most feared hitter I've ever seen. Check it out.

Eddie Murray, Democratic icon.

Let's put on our rally caps and go get 'em next year.

Anybody but Bush in 2004.


Alan Bisbort ia a columnist for the Hartford Advocate. His most recent publication is "What Happened Here? New York City" (Pomegranate Communications). His most recent book, co-authored with Parke Puterbaugh, is California Beaches (Avalon/Foghorn Outdoors).


American Politics Journal E-mail Edition Copyright (C) 2003 American Politics Journal Publications, Inc All rights reserved. ISSN No. 1523-1690
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