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Commentary: Baseball and Politics


You may not have realized this, but the best thing President Obama may have going for him in November is that the Detroit Tigers are having a pretty disappointing season.

That may sound nuts to you, but there is documented evidence of this:  Throughout history, whenever the Tigers have done spectacularly well in an election year, the Republicans almost always win. When they’ve disappointed fans, the Democrats usually triumph.

Here’s proof. The last time the Detroit Tigers won the World Series, back in 1984, Ronald Reagan won every state except one.  That was their first series win since 1968. What happened in '68? Richard Nixon won the presidency, that’s what. That’s not to say that the Tigers were to blame for what followed.  Four years later, the Tigers didn’t win the pennant, but thrilled fans by almost winning the playoffs.

Fast forward 16 years, to when George Bush the first took the White House. The Tigers thrilled fans and came within a game of first place, though I have to say I think Michael Dukakis had more to do with Bush’s easy win than the Detroit Tigers.

Now let’s look at what happened when Democrats won. Four years ago, Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African-American to win the White House. The Tigers made history too. They were supposed to have been competitive that year.

They finished dead last. 

Bill Clinton was the last Democratic president to win reelection. The year he did, the Tigers had one of the worst records ever in major league baseball.

There have been a few mild exceptions. The Tigers were not very good the year Jimmy Carter was elected, but they did have Mark “The Bird” Fidrych.  Nor were they great in 2004, when George Bush the second was re-elected. I am saying nothing about 2000, because people disagree as to who really won.

But other than that, the pattern has held, pretty much, down through the ages. Right back to a hundred years ago, when the Tigers were terrible and the Republican presidential candidate finished third. Four years before, of course, the Tigers got in the World Series, and William Howard Taft romped to victory.

The model even occasionally holds, to some extent, for Congress. Detroit last got in to the World Series six years ago. They blew it, and Democrats won back both houses of Congress a month later. Now, you can say this is all silly coincidence and meaningless number games, and you‘d be right.

You might even find some more contradictions in my theory. For example, Detroit surprised everybody by getting in to the n1940 World Series, and in November, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats did just fine. 

The first time the Tigers ever won the World Series, in fact, was five years earlier, right smack dab between two of the biggest Democratic landslides in history.

However, odd coincidences like this are fun to think about.  Superstition has long been a big part of both baseball and politics. But I do know this.  If I were a member of President Obama’s reelection team, no matter how big a Tigers fan I was, this year …I would be secretly rooting for them to finish last.   

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