10 political lessons from the 2011 World Series

I’m not a sports writer, but I am a Cardinals baseball fan and a political junkie. So, after the downs and ups of the 2011 World Series, I’ve been thinking about what happened as a parable for progressive politics. In no particular order, here are some thoughts:

1. Statistics don’t score runs.

The Texas Rangers—several other teams, too, in fact—looked a heckuva lot better on paper than the St. Louis Cardinals. If a computer program had played the World Series using probabilities and payroll statistics alone, St. Louis would not be celebrating. But St. Louis fans are riding high, because the Cardinals had something that simply wasn’t quantifiable. That’s a lesson to remember, as we move into the 2012 election season: The folks with the most money are supposed to win; but sometimes, they don’t. Surprises happen, so we all need to look beyond the fundraising totals and the beauty-contest votes and examine candidates [at all levels] in non-numerical ways before jumping on the bandwagon, pulling out in the face of supposedly insurmountable odds, or declaring a winner.

2. The superstar can’t do it alone.

Everyone assumed that future-Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols would power the Cardinals through the post season. He contributed significantly, but he wasn’t the whole show.  I think that’s what a lot of us thought about Barack Obama when we voted for him: walk-on-water superstar who will change everything. It didn’t exactly happen that way. Our mistake was thinking that the President can do it all.

3. Pitching is everything.

In baseball,  you’ve got to step up on the mound and throw your best stuff. If the pitcher fails, you’ve got nothing. The Cardinals figured that out. President Obama and Democrats in Congress have been somewhat minor league in that department. They’ve been lobbing softballs to the opposition, while the other team is throwing curves.

4. A few smart trades can make a difference.

The Cardinals had a mediocre record for the first half of the season. Then they shuffled the deck, got rid of some non-performers, and added some young talent that changed the team’s chemistry. After a gangbusters start and then a depressing slump, President Obama did a bit of housecleaning. Getting rid of two toxic team members—Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel—could turn out to be game-changers for the Obama administration.

5. Experience counts.

Cardinals fans were highly critical of the team’s 2011 decision to sign Lance Berkman, an aging [for baseball] player with a doubtful future. He turned out to be a productive batter, a consistent clutch hitter and fielder, and a stabilizing influence in the dugout. On the political scene, Vice President Joe Biden’s future on the 2012 ticket is under scrutiny. But dumping him, as some have suggested, could mean losing a solid, savvy, wizened [and, yes, outspoken] political asset who acts as a pragmatic counterweight to President Obama’s often-criticized conciliatory nature.

6. Use the bench and the bullpen wisely.

When Pujols didn’t, others did—including guys like John Jay, who was 0 for 16 before hitting a key double in Game 6 of the World Series. Allen Craig and David Freese, who were not full-time starters during the regular season, became World Series heroes. Jason Motte, a catcher who became a relief pitcher, turned out to be the Cardinals closer. That can happen in politics, too. Elizabeth Warren, a relative unknown until President Obama nominated her to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has become a progressive icon, and is running a courageous race for Senate in Massachusetts. If we want to win, the left needs to look at our bench, our bullpen, and our political farm system, and encourage people to step up and make a difference—even if the odds are long.

7. Risk can reap rewards.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa wins a lot of games by doing unconventional things—such as having the pitcher bat eighth in the lineup, or making “double switches.” Unfortunately, the Democratic political establishment isn’t that creative. Conventional wisdom rules, meaning that races deemed unwinnable often don’t even get candidates. We need to climb out of that box, take a chance on new candidates, and make sure that the progressive viewpoint on issues is part of the dialogue in every elective race. We need to encourage courageous candidates who are willing to take on the thankless task of running in Republican gerrymandered districts—and even buck the Democratic establishment.

8. Stay steady, and let the other team self-destruct.

Both the Cardinals and the Rangers made mistakes during the World Series, but, in the end, the Rangers made more, and the Cardinals never stopped playing. Amazingly, while President Obama is under fire from both left and right, and as the vote-killing economy drags along, the Republican party can’t come up with a decent candidate for President, is engaged in an internecine game of presidential-primary leap frog, and is amassing an embarrassing voting record against even the most modest economic recovery and jobs programs. Letting that that error-filled scenario play out could be the Democrats best game plan for winning in November 2012.

9.  Fan support is a huge factor.

Players hear the cheers from the stands. Cardinals fans are famous for being knowledgeable and discerning about the game, and they buy tickets even when the team has a less-than-stellar record. We may not like everything that President Obama is doing, and we may wish that he had a better win-loss record, but considering the alternative, you gotta cheer [and vote] for him, right? Of course, the fan thing works both ways: it’s equally important for the team to keep the fans interested and motivated by giving them something to root for.

10. It’s okay to mess with Texas

Texas shoulda, coulda, woulda won. But just because George W. Bush throws out the first ball of the World Series [he was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers, an investment that made him a very wealthy man before he became president], and just because one of baseball’s greatest pitchers [Nolan Ryan] is the team’s president, the team doesn’t get a special entitlement to the World Series championship. You can be Texas Governor Rick Perry and proclaim that your state is a role model for all kinds of things, but the “Texas miracle” in education was a fraud, and the new jobs created in Texas are  mostly low-paying, and the state’s oil industry has created a slew of wealthy one-percenters who live in a specially reserved bubble. So you can scream, “Don’t mess with Texas,” and “Let’s go Rangers” at the top of your lungs, but, in the end, that don’t make me no never mind.