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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Baseball in Washington

Good news for the country

Montreal (Quebec)
Richard Nixon
Ronald Wilson Reagan

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- In 2005, for the first time in 33 years, Washington will have its own major league baseball team.

The former Montreal Expos will be reborn as the Washington Nationals. This is good news obviously for the people in and around Washington, but it may be even better news for the people of the nation.

Why? The country and its capital city especially have much to learn from baseball, a sport that is the very antithesis of influence-peddling and special privileges.

Neither a six-figure soft money contribution nor the best-wired lobbyist on K Street can bend the rules: Three strikes, and you're out.

The very language of baseball, straightforward and unpretentious, will be refreshing and welcome in this city. Hits, runs, errors, outs. No "out years" in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, and nobody clearing his throat to tell us once again that a motion to table takes precedence over a motion to recommit.

The rules of baseball -- under which a Washington team last won the pennant in the first year of FDR's first term -- remain essentially unchanged to this day. You are out or you are safe. No lengthy administrative reviews or protracted appeals. In baseball, decisions are made and their consequences known almost immediately.

And there's the genius of the game's design. As the legendary Red Smith wisely wrote: "Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection."

Despite the changes in playing surfaces, athletic shoes, and the size and speed of the players, the race between the batter and the ball to first base remains as it has always been -- a photo finish, a virtual dead heat.

The campaign recently completed devoted an ordinate amount of time and attention to family values. Baseball is the most personal of pastimes.

For most of us, baseball almost surely goes back to our connection to a parent or relative or caring mentor who introduced us to the game and its mysteries. Baseball reminds us of their kindnesses and their love. And if you're really fortunate, you get to give the same gift of baseball to your own children.

Baseball is a great game, but it can also be a really unattractive business. The miraculous power of the sport is nowhere more evident than in the game's ability to survive the greed and shortsightedness of its owners.

Washington first lost its team to Minnesota. The owner, a benighted fellow named Calvin Griffith, explained he decided to do so "when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here." Griffith added, "I moved the team to Minneapolis because you have good, hard-working white people here."

Washington is too often a town full of self-important individuals with no patience making incessant demands for immediate attention. Unlike football and basketball, there is no clock in baseball. No two-minute warnings or final guns. Baseball means an endless summer of potentially endless games.

Richard Nixon, a genuine fan, explained that, "I never leave a game before the last pitch, because in baseball, as in life and especially in politics, you never know what will happen."

It is a game of memory and connection virtually free of violence. The nation's capital, and the nation, will be the beneficiaries

The stories are special. When Ronald Reagan was president and Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill was the Democratic speaker of the House, Reagan on a visit to the speaker's office complimented O'Neill on his desk, which the speaker's secretary had reclaimed from a government warehouse.

Tip explained that his desk had once belonged to Grover Cleveland, to which the Gipper responded, "I played him in a movie."

O' Neill, remembering the president's 1952 role in "The Winning Team," a baseball story, corrected Reagan: "No, you played Grover Cleveland Alexander, the pitcher." They both had a good laugh.

Baseball will be good for Washington and for the United States.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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