|As a rabble-rousing, damn-the-corporations candidate for president, Al Gore knows how to throw heat. Unfortunately for Gore, he left his best stuff on the campaign trail when he stepped on the mound at Detroit's Comerica Park during September and pitched batting practice to the Tigers for six minutes.
One of Gore's tosses nailed Tigers' utility man Robert Fick in the hip. Fick responded by hitting one of Gore's pitches back up the middle, nearly punishing Gore, who failed to hide behind the screen. "Where's the Secret Service?" Gore asked, laughing.
If Gore succeeds in reinventing himself as a Regular Guy, it won't be through sports. His time on the hill in Detroit was a rare instance of trying to relate to voters through one of the nation's favorite games. Unlike Republican candidate George W. Bush, Gore has tied his image to sports in only the most superficial ways.
When he has used sports references as a tool, they have often come off as forced.
To wit: After holding off Bill Bradley in a tough Democratic primary in New Hampshire in February, the vice president -- fighting the perception of being a beltway insider rather than true Tennessee folk -- compared the Titans' defeat in the NFL title game to early exit poll results. "During the day, some people thought this might be like the Super Bowl and we were a yard short," he said at the time. "Well, this Tennessean is in the end zone, and it feels great!"
Ironically, Gore might have been a better athlete than Bush. Like Bush, who played briefly on the Yale University freshman baseball team, Gore's career as an athlete ended after his first year in college. He made the freshman basketball team at Harvard, but he sat at the end of the bench and got into games only when they became blowouts.
However, Gore was a star at St. Albans School for Boys in Washington, where he made himself into the school's top basketball player through hard work and -- as might be expected from the nerdy politician -- attention to technical detail, staying late after practice to refine his shot. Gore was also a track star and captain of the football team, as a 165-pound center.
Bush, by contrast, was best known in his New England prep school as head cheerleader.
To his credit, Gore isn't tone-deaf to the politics of sports. In September, when Oprah Winfrey asked for his favorite childhood memory, Gore said, "Playing baseball with my dad," an answer that melted the talk-show host's largely female audience. He had effectively stolen the punch line from Bush, who when asked the same question by Oprah later in the month said his favorite memory was playing Little League ball in Midland, Texas.
Gore himself was the object of a punch line during the Tennessee Titans' preseason game with the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football when Dennis Miller cracked, "You know Al Gore is watching because not only is the game in his hometown but the Rams are the only team in football that shifts positions as frequently as he does."
Ah, that staple shared by politics and sports, the cheap shot.
Tom Farrey is a Senior Writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Al Gore took time out from working hard for America's families to work on his fastball with the Detroit Tigers.|
Wednesday: Bush establishes a management style
Slideshow: Photos that defined a candidate
Bush family links to sports go back a century
Politicians who rubbed up against sports
Timeline: George W. Bush and Rangers