September 10, 2004

'Let's Play Hardball'

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Leap year is a sports fan’s dream.

Somehow, that extra day in February brings so much more to the table than normal years. It’s just simply amazing.

Sure, you’ve got all the regular stuff — the Super Bowl, the Final Four, baseball. But leap years are special for what extra they bring to the table.

Like the Ryder Cup. And the Olympics. And the presidential campaign.

The last one is the best of all.

In what other platform do two competitors engage each other in battle for not just a single day, but over the course of half a year. It’s a nine-month-long race. The true embodiment of that old sports cliche, “a marathon, not a sprint.”

The presidential campaign puts the six-month long baseball campaign to shame. But it’s not just the endurance necessary to put forth a successful effort in the greatest spectator sport of them all.

You need tenacity, work ethic, and a will to win.

Do this year’s players have it? From this point in the season, it seems they both do. Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) are playing the game like Willie Mays during an MVP season. But, as in baseball, there can only be one winner at the end. The fun is watching the drama unfold.

What better way is there to do that than through the eyes of the pundits? In professional sports, we have the talking heads, the veterans-turned-analysts, and the insightful, though socially-awkward scribes. Same goes for presidential politics. Instead of Chris Berman, there’s Tom Brokaw. John Madden is played by the venerable Tim Russert. Baseball has Peter Gammons, politics has Bob Woodward. It’s all the same.

One of the best part about professional sports is trying to figure out the intricate strategies employed by the participants. Those simply pale in comparison to the strategies employed by professional politicians.

There are plenty of people who make a very good living out of creating political strategy. The business of politics is as complex and competitive as they come.

To the observant sports fan, there is nothing better than the months of September and October, when baseball’s pennant race and the presidential campaign’s stretch drive coincide. The time between the conventions and election day comprises the most intense days of the entire electoral cycle. That baseball playoffs and the beginning of the NFL season occurs simultaneously indeed makes for must-see television.

The greatest similarity between presidential politics and professional sports is the emotion with which winners and losers are determined. What’s striking, though, is the difference in maturity between the big winners and the big losers in each. Professional athletes, it seems, take losses with much more maturity, it seems, than professional politicians.

In 2000, one baseball team won more games than any other. It had a phenomenal regular season, winning 94 games. It breezed through the Division Series and the League Championship Series and into an unprecedented showdown with a local rival in the World Series. That team, the New York Mets, lost to the New York Yankees in the regular season, despite having many more wins between the regular and postseasons combined. The Mets, though, took the loss with grace, heeding the rules of the game. It doesn’t matter who wins the most games. The first to 11 playoff victories wins the championship.

In 2000, one presidential candidate had more popular votes than any other. He had a tremendously successful campaign season, virtually sweeping up the primaries and into a showdown with a popular governor from one of the most populous states in the nation. That candidate, Al Gore, lost to George Bush in the national election, despite having more popular votes. Gore, though, took the loss poorly, bemoaning the rules of the game. Unfortunately for Gore, it doesn’t matter who receives the most popular votes. The first to 270 electoral votes wins the presidency. Last leap year, the electoral college did not correlate with the popular vote, one of the rare times in history that has happened. But in sports, the winningest team over the course of the season does not always win the championship rather frequently. It’s just the nature of the animal.

Yes, losses are frustrating, but sportsmanship should never go by the wayside. Even when the outcome of the game is as important as the future of the nation.

But, no matter what your sport of preference is, be sure to enjoy the next two months. We’re all in for a wild ride.

Owen Bochner is the Sun Sports Editor. He can be contacted at [email protected] In The O-Zone will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Owen Bochner