April 17, 2005
What if President Bush decides after his term's up, he wants to go back into baseball?
It sounds farfetched - even fanciful - but two people who knew him well from his days as Rangers managing partner told Newsday they still envision Bush wanting to become baseball commissioner.
"That's a job he'd want," one of Bush's baseball friends insisted.
"He'd be a great commissioner," former commissioner Fay Vincent said. "But I don't think the owners would ever again hire someone who isn't one of them to be commissioner. A former president becoming commissioner ... I think that would be highly unlikely." Vincent added: "I'd advise him not to do it. It's a very tough job, a losing situation."
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said: "The president remains focused on a full plate of priorities in his current job. His focus remains on the work that's important to the American people. He certainly has a love for the game of baseball. But we don't get into hypotheticals." Ah, but we do.
We recall how Bush, before running for governor of Texas, looked into becoming commissioner. The story goes that Bush went to Bud Selig, then head of baseball's executive council, for advice. There's divergence of opinion as to what happened next, but Vincent claimed, "Bud led him on." If true, Selig beat Bush at his own game of politics. "Bud definitely led him on," Vincent asserted. "Bud will deny it."
Selig declined comment, but MLB people insist that isn't true and that Selig - whose contract runs through 2009 - is still close to Bush. MLB people say Vincent has an ax to grind and point out that Bush and Selig recently had a long visit in the Oval Office and sat together for five innings at the Nationals' home opener Thursday night. But Vincent said: "I don't think they're particularly friendly. They're together because Bud's the commissioner, and the president has to deal with him."
Bush continues to show interest in baseball issues, particularly steroids. Some may think Bush is undercutting Selig by continually mentioning that problem, but Selig's people say the commissioner welcomes support for the tougher policies Selig seeks.
Bush talks a good game. But what's his record in baseball? Our one complaint with Selig is his understatement of baseball's 1990s steroid problem. But Bush is no better on this score.
Bush's response to Jose Can- seco's charge that Bush had to know about the steroid problem was to deny it and point to denials of use by former Rangers stars Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro as proof that Canseco was off base. Palmeiro scored with his denial in congress, but Bush's attempt to create an impression there wasn't use among Rangers is folly.
Politics aside, Bush's Rangers record was spotty. Under him, the Rangers traded Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez for aging Harold Baines, Scott Fletcher and Fred Manrique - perhaps the worst trade of the past quarter century.
Bush was the only owner to vote against the wild card, a vote suggesting that Bush was either upset at Selig or out of touch. As owner, the most noteworthy thing Bush did was make money, for himself.