The Classical launches in November, but the cruel folks behind it love baseball way too much to let the World Series pass without comment. Throughout the series, its writers will do a daily diary for Deadspin. Keep tabs on us @Classical.
Over the weekend, Canadian radio host Brent Bambury asked Chad Harbach about all the faces in baseball. Was it possible, Bambury asked, that the interminable, static close-ups, presented as objects for contemplation, lent themselves to literature like no other sport? Harbach responded that "There's a slowness, an openness there, that gives the writer space to work in there."
(This aggrieved NBA fan would like to point out that pro basketball has faces galore and kinesis to spare, and that "literary" is nearly a euphemism with baseball. Whatever. Let's do this!)
Sunday, there were plenty of notable faces on display. These don't just heighten tension; they fill out the story when precious little happens on the field.
There was Derek Holland, awaiting instructions from a long-lost Son of Sam puppy that had wandered off, leaving him with nothing to do but pitch an absolute gem of a game. Lance Berkman—trying his best to sustain normalcy while his team withered—was that dude in a horror movie trying to decide whether to freak out or make a play for last man standing.
And oh yeah, there was this guy.
Supposedly, the Iraq War has ended, even if all Obama really announced was Mission Accomplished (Slight Return). Last night, after Mike Napoli's homer put the Rangers up 4-0, the man who started it casually slapped five with baseball's all-time strikeout (and walk) leader, who also happens to be Texas's
general manager president.
George W. Bush is at most Rangers home playoff games, seated next to Nolan Ryan. From 1988 to 1994, Bush was part of the group that owned the Rangers; he has no official standing with the team now. He's just a former U.S. President, throwing out first pitches in Arlington and yukking it up with Nolan. Unlike Dick Cheney, Bush has kept a relatively low profile since the end of his administration. But national television, sure to draw innumerable close-ups and reaction shots, is hardly a cloak of invisibility. Maybe it wasn't the spotlight Bush wanted to avoid, but a certain kind of exposure.
The mere sight of Dubya prompts outrage for most of us. I've had several conversations about the moral implications of rooting for the Rangers, specifically, for that charming, wizened gentleman known around certain Twitter circles as "Uncle Ron." And from a narrative standpoint, there's really nothing richer than Bush cheering on the Rangers a week after his signature foreign policy blunder has finally been put to bed. His face, like Nixon's, should probably be shamefully totemic.
Yet subjected to repeated shots of Bush, interpolating them into the game as I would any other recognizable face in a baseball stadum, I rarely think "arch-fiend doodler" or even "apocalyptic klutz." He's utterly harmless, and actually, seems natural in a way he never did while attempting to run the country. But the Bush reax shots—and our reax to them—are not just a question of relief. This is George W. Bush's element. He's no different from any number of Texas oil brats who went off and had themselves an adventure, one that involved sizable failures but never a crisis of confidence.
As undeserved as it might seem to the 66 percent of the world that loathes him, the man just wants to get on with his life, legacy be damned. For Bush, that means attending the World Series, not endlessly revisiting the battles of his presidency. Like us, he seems glad the whole thing is over.
The injustice we might feel seeing Bush have a nice time at the game days after his war finally closes on Broadway offends far less than the dissonance of his time in office. At least he's had the decency to step away. Or was he ever really there to begin with? Maybe sports, not statesmanship, was always his primary frame of reference, with Bush conceiving of himself as part Tom Hanks, part Roger Staubach. Realistically, he was always a cheerleader at heart. He shows up, eschews the luxury boxes, and enjoys himself. That's more than we can say for Zooey Deschanel.
Somehow, George W. Bush is a straw man, one of many rich and powerful folks at sporting events with shit on their hands. Clueless destroyer that he was, he remains a jovial, well-meaning fan, with no armies waiting his command once the game winds down. The real power match-up is between the style of the two managers; that's the moral question here.
Tony La Russa is a priggish reminder of baseball's most irritating tendencies. I'll even guess that his superstition is designed to ward off witches, and his Santana-gifted necklace was fashioned from recycled copies of Duets. Ron Washington, with his bouts of hyperactivity and a sense of engagement that acknowledges, rather than controls, the mysteries of baseball, is the hub of all charisma in this Series. La Russa's face attempts to bend the game's outcomes through the depth of his concern, like players leaning to keep a ball fair. Washington buzzes with possibility. Leapin' and hoppin' aside, Washington is the only person on the field who can reliably be counted on for something resembling levity, or irony. La Russa sits in judgment; Washington waits to be surprised.
It would be one thing if Bush-like La Russa-wore his convictions to the ballpark. Somehow, though, it's washed clean, or at least neutralized, by his winning Rangers. There's no story here, and only the most vapid face imaginable. Nolan Ryan knows how to wear his legend on the bloated mask he now calls home. Bush doesn't. You can decide if that's a minor miracle or yet another grave injustice.
Bethlehem Shoals writes about the NBA for Bleacher Report. He was a founding member of FreeDarko.com and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. Help him tweet @freedarko.