Lesser mortals among the fraternity known as ‘world leaders’ may take a little comfort from the fact that finally, Barack Obama has been found wanting.
Luckily for the President, who can make fly-swatting look like an act of relaxed statesmanship, his chink has been exposed not on matters war and peace, life and death, or even in questions of domestic policy, but on the baseball mound.
To be fair, his pitch, which I have just watched, was not terrible, terrible, terrible. It just wasn’t very good. He looked great of course. Unlike other leaders I could mention (see The Blair Years, various points pages 1-757) Obama does great casual gear.
So on he walks, to the rapturous welcome that he must by now think is part of the soundtrack of life, wearing a supercool Chicago White Sox jacket, well-cut denims, white socks and trainers. Up to the point when he reaches the mound, he looks his usual, totally in command self. But there are hints of nerves as he coils back to pitch the ball towards St Louis Cardinals’ hitter Albert Pujols.
His pitch was more a toss than a pitch and had Pujols not been quick off the mark, leaning forward to catch the ball, it would have landed short of the plate, 60 feet from Obama.
He admitted to nerves afterwards, and said he had been better when practising in the White House garden. In sport, as in oratory, you can practise all you want, but a crowd makes a difference to the event.
I think it is going over the top, as some commentators have, to describe the pitch as ‘sissy,’ and the crowd clearly loved him just as much as he left the field as when he arrived.
George Bush, unfavourably compared with Obama on most counts, is widely acknowledged as having done the best Presidential first pitch, not long after September 11.
TB’s greatest sporting moment was probably the photocall we did with former England manager Kevin Keegan at the Labour conference in 1994, when they headed the ball to each other 28 times. People were stunned at TB’s footballing prowess, but think about it – to someone like Keegan, heading the ball is no different to throwing it, so he was able to land it on TB’s head pretty much every time, as though it was being lobbed to him.
Then there was the famous ‘bike race’ of European leaders at the EU summit in Holland, which he won, helped by the fact that Helmut Kohl refused to get on the bike for fear he would fall off. I sensed some of the other leaders were a little annoyed that TB sped off. You see, they are competitive types these politicians. Which is why I bet I’m not alone in political circles in having taking a peek at Obama’s pitch.
All that being said, I think all political leaders, and all politics, stand to benefit from Obama doing well on the stuff that really matters. As if he does not have enough riding on his back already, if he can deliver the change he has promised, and continue to provide the leadership on offer so far, he will cement not only his own reputation, but help the standing of politics around the world.
There are plenty of others who can pitch a baseball.