Father’s Day with the Player-Pols

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Father’s Day 2010, whether you be a father, a child, or are creepily referred to as “Daddy” in your social circle.

My dad is pretty fanatical about his sports. Baseball is his game – the New York Mets (nee: Brooklyn Dodgers). But really, his bat-bag contains all sports and all teams. Because he collects memorabilia, primarily in the form of cards. Stacks and stacks and stacks of them, which he shuffles to some kind of order only known to him.

With this addiction hobby in mind, my Father’s Day present to him is a copy of Dave Jamieson’s Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, which essentially tells him that he’s sunk countless hours and a small fortune into a cardboard Ponzi scheme.

Now, since my dad is completely impervious to any who doubt the worth of his flammable Fort Knox, I am not concerned by the reaction this will provoke. But just in case this book ruins his Father’s Day, I’ve decided to include him in this week’s column.

Politics has long been a popular second act for professional athletes. Who can forget President James Garfield’s many bow-hunting championships? OK, that’s about as real as Ronald Reagan suiting up for Notre Dame. But we have seen a few over the years. U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) was a basketball hall-of-famer, 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills, while Rep. Steve Largent (R-OK) is enshrined in Cleveland’s football hall.

There are several pro-athletes making a go at elective office in 2010. But as a conversation with my father shows, they’re not exactly household names. They’re not even backyard names. Why? Because my dad has little clue who they are.

PLAYER-POL: Chris Dudley
THEN: 6″11 NBA center, mostly the Portland Trail Blazers.
NOW: Republican nominee for governor in Oregon.
DAD: “Yeah, he used to play for the Knicks, used to play for the Nets, too. Played for a long time.”

PLAYER-POL: Jon Runyan.
THEN: Offensive tackle, retired last season with the San Diego Chargers but had long been a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
NOW: Republican nominee for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd District.
DAD: “Oum?”
ME: “Oum?”
DAD: “He played for the Eagles, right? A lineman?”

PLAYER-POL: Clint Didier.
THEN: Tight end for the 1984 Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins.
NOW: Tea Party-favored U.S. Senate candidate in Washington. (That’s the state – not the district, which is deprived of congressional representation. Didn’t you read the license plate? Taxation without representation! Write a letter, folks!)
DAD: “Name seems familiar.”

Didier was endorsed by Sarah Palin just days before a more establishment friendly candidate, Dino Rossi, got into the race. How did Didier react? By alluding to great men: George Washington and Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who “always told his players that competition brings out the best in everyone.”

Competition. Politics, like professional sports, has a fixed number of contests. Sport teams have a season and maybe some playoffs; politics has primaries and maybe a general election.

And like sports, playing in politics has a high barrier to entry. There’s a lot of training in sports, and a lot of fundraising in politics. Unless, of course, you’re wealthy.

Which many player-pols are. Just as campaign costs have soared over the last twenty years, sports teams pay a lot more than they used. So they are in a better position to run for office if they wish to.

The most interesting intersection of sports and politics in recent history is sure to be next year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The 2011 scrimmage honoring the best of the best in a sport where Latinos account for many of the standout players is being held in Arizona, a state whose new immigration law makes all Latinos stand out.

Senator Bob Menendez and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called for a boycott but MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will not budge. “Apparently all the people around and in minority communities think we’re doing OK,” said Selig. “That’s the issue, and that’s the answer.”

I asked my dad what he thought about Selig’s staid position. “I wouldn’t expect Bud Selig to crumble right now,” he said. “He’s probably got a feeling it will be resolved by this time next year – that federal legislation will come through or modifications to the law will be made so it will be moot.”

He said eventually the players will put the pressure on him. But who knows how much they care about politics? In May, Chicago White Sox GM Ozzie Guillen said he wouldn’t go to the game. People thought he was championing Latinos’ cause. Then he clarified: “The only way I go to the All-Star Game is if I’m the manager. That’s it.”

Politics had no part in that equation.