One would think that presidents and baseball don’t have much in common, but at least one former White House speechwriter would beg to differ.
“JFK gave a marvelous speech once where he said our problems are manmade and can, therefore, be solved by man,” said Curt Smith, an award-winning radio commentator, author and a former White House speechwriter for George H. W. Bush. “Baseball’s problems should be solved by baseball. Baseball has voluntarily divorced itself from network television. It has gone from the national pastime to a regional and local pastime.”
Smith has noticed a decline in the game’s popularity, especially within the last decade. He said one of the “crises” that baseball faces is that people don’t see the game enough anymore. Smith said he had a class of 25 students and only four of them knew who Mike Trout was. Trout, 26, is one of baseball’s biggest stars today, playing outfield for the Los Angeles Angels.
Smith wrote more speeches for Bush 41 than any other speechwriter. The baseball fanatic was raised in Upstate New York and grew up playing America’s pastime. Throughout his life, Smith has kept a close relationship with baseball via his beloved Boston Red Sox. Some of his most famous works include Pull Up a Chair, What Baseball Means To Me, Voices of Summer and, most recently, The Presidents and the Pastime.
Smith shared his experiences throughout his decorated career and major changes he has noticed with baseball in America today, in an interview with the Daily Caller.
“The game is much more diverse today [with] more Latin players and players from the Third World,” Smith said. “There is too much pitching and not enough batting, unfortunately.”
Smith believes that in order to make a ballpark symbolic of a city, it must be downtown. As he explained,”Baseball’s roots are rural, yet it grew prominence in the metropolitan sections of cities. Fenway Park is the hub of the hub. Downtown on a game day revolves around baseball.”
He also believes the voice of baseball swings between Mel Allen and Vin Scully: “The voice of baseball today has yet to be heard. John Miller was fired by ESPN, which was a colossal error. He was one of the best to ever call the game.”
According to Smith, there are not as many fine broadcasters today as there once were because “people don’t read as much today. People don’t study the English language as much today. There could be some [commentators] to step up, but baseball is not seen or heard. The game is invisible. What is the MLB doing to lure casual fans that may become devoted fans?”
A 2013 Tweet from the Los Angeles Dodgers referenced a Vin Scully quote, stating, “He played 1B for Yale, and I played CF for Fordham. We both went 0-for-3. #TrueStory #VinScully.”
Smith reacted with a chuckle and said, “[Bush] was a great field, no-hit first baseman. He had great affection for Vin. He had great respect for baseball.”
Smith playfully said a former scout told him, “Had there been a position for designated fielder, Bush would have made the major leagues.”
When asked about professional sports teams visiting the White House, a tradition started by the Cleveland Blues in the 1880s, Smith said, “The tradition went out of business here for a long time. It happened in the late 19th century. Ronald Reagan restored the right in his first term as president. Smith went on to say that Reagan kept baseball interest alive in Washington, even when the city did not have a team. The former president was able to convince Washingtonians to adopt the Baltimore Orioles as their team.”
Commenting on today’s teams that have recently declined their invitations to visit the Donald Trump White House, Smith said, “I think the president is inviting teams on behalf of the public. I would consider myself to be privileged. It is a free country, but I think it’s rather shameful if players allow their personal feelings or political animus to override what should be a fine day for the city and the country.”
In his book, The Presidents and the Pastime, Smith compares the feeling of hope that comes from the MLB World Series to the feeling of hope that came from major US events like the Moon Landing and the flag-raising in Iwo-Jima. When asked if baseball is the one sport that provides this unique sense of true hope, Smith said that baseball used to occupy a specific niche, but it no longer does because baseball does not have the right leadership.
Smith said, “It needs younger, more aggressive, more communicative leadership with better marketing.” The author does not believe that baseball will ever occupy the niche that it once did, especially with the way it is going today.
Smith made his predictions for the 2018 Fall Classic, stating, “I would love to see the Boston Red Sox. I’m rooting for the Red Sox and the Nationals. If that’s not a historic world series, I don’t know what is.”