Will racing Teddy be Mr. October?

Tracee Hamilton
September 21, 2012

So the spotlight on the Washington Nationals — at least the national one, no pun intended — has finally shifted from Stephen Strasburg, which is a relief for the Nationals, the pundits and probably Strasburg. But it’s shifted to Teddy Roosevelt, which is . . . weird.

The Racing Presidents are not yet famous throughout the land, but you can bet they’ll be showcased when the playoffs come to town and commentators and broadcasters discover their unique . . . uh, well, I’ll go with “charm.” After all, playoff television tends to focus on the local color. Remember the Rally Monkey?

So the Nationals face a conundrum of sorts. Do they let Teddy win a race? He’s famously 0 for forever. He’s had some near-misses. And now everyone from Ken Burns to John McCain to President Obama (well, his press secretary) is calling for the Nationals to give Teddy a “W.”

But how can they make that happen, without ruining the race? If, say, Teddy wins during the Nationals’ first home playoff game, and the Nats subsequently lose that game, the “When will Teddy win?” discussion will devolve into “The Curse of Teddy.” Is there a level of postseason play at which letting Teddy win is a must? And should the Nats let Teddy win just so everyone will stop talking about it? Not on your nelly, not if you believe there is no such thing as bad publicity.

But there are more important things to talk about, you say. And you’re right. But don’t giant racing presidents make a nice change of pace every now and then?

It’s unfortunate and not historically accurate — in a town built on history — that Teddy was the president chosen to never win a race. While all four of our racers grew up in sturdier, more manly times when men rode horses and split rails and, I suppose, spit and scratched themselves, maybe even more than some ballplayers, Teddy Roosevelt was one of our most ruthlessly active presidents. He was also a guy who could work both sides of the aisle: He created the national parks system, but he also liked a good hunting trip.

Biographers attribute his devotion to physical activity to his sickly childhood, but whatever the reason, Teddy liked to be on the go, all the time. If he were to return in this century, he might be a marathon runner, or that guy at the gym who never wipes off the equipment. He’d have Lasik to get rid of the glasses, although the mustache might stay. His follicular achievements would fit in well in the Nats’ clubhouse, where no one seems to be joining the Hair Club for Men anytime soon.

In short, he may not be our greatest president, but one assumes he could beat George Washington in a foot race. And I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

As interest in the Nationals ratchets up, so does interest in Teddy’s fate. Because this is Washington, he could hire a K Street lobbying firm, but he really doesn’t need to build support outside the franchise. The Nats ultimately will decide if they want to keep Teddy a loser forever. It seems un-American, somehow.

Say, I have an idea: Avoid the decision. Announce he’s reached his (between) innings limit for the season, and shut him down. It worked with Strasburg.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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