Bush Details Presidential Passion for Sports

President Bush said a highlight of his presidency was attending the Army-Navy game as commander-in-chief.
President Bush said a highlight of his presidency was attending the Army-Navy game as commander-in-chief. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008

With six weeks to go before he leaves the White House, President Bush has been looking back at his time in office. Yesterday, he offered a summation of one of his favorite topics -- his love of sports, both as a participant and spectator.

The president lamented the challenge that the hobbled U.S. economy will present major league sports in the coming months, both at the ticket window and in terms of corporate support -- particularly baseball, the game he knows and loves best.

"It's a repeat business," said Bush, who was managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994. "If you're unable to get the American family to come to your park more than once a year, you're going to have a difficult time when it comes to your attendance. Of course this will exacerbate the problem."

Asked if he'd be interested in succeeding Bud Selig as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bush firmly rejected the notion -- not because of any disaffection from the sport, but rather, he said, because of a fatigue of public life.

"I'm looking forward to getting off the stage," Bush said. "I have done my duty to my country. I have given it my all. It's now President-elect Obama's time. I have had enough of the spotlight."

Fortified by half a cup of black coffee, Bush seemed willing to talk sports on end, joking at the conclusion of the 40-minute Oval Office interview that he only needed to end it because Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke was waiting to see him.

In addition to baseball, he spoke about performance-enhancing drugs, the Beijing Olympics and his own exercise regimen. He also recalled how some of his strongest memories of his eight-year tenure involved sports -- some of them humorous, others somber.

He laughed about the brouhaha that erupted in 2005 when Northwestern's national championship women's lacrosse team arrived at the White House wearing flip-flops. "I thought it was cool!" Bush said. "Look, I'm the father of young girls -- now professional women. But I thought it was great; it didn't bother me in the least. When you're president, you get used to all kinds of characters."

He also recalled the overwhelming adrenaline he felt as he strode out to the mound at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch of a World Series game not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the epiphany he gained from it, as a capacity crowd chanted, "USA! USA!" and fighter jets roared overhead.

"The emotion of the crowd and the unity of the moment reminded me, upon reflection, that sports can cause people to momentarily forget their problems and join together to cheer for the favorite team," Bush said. "It helps you face difficulties."

Bush said that baseball teams in small markets and cities without a significant corporate base face hurdles during the recession -- the Washington Nationals, among them. But they can be overcome, he said, pointing to the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins as examples of small-market success stories.

"Putting a winning team on the field will help all markets," Bush said. "No question about it. The revenue disparities are huge. And the Washington market doesn't generate nearly as much money as the New York market does, and in many ways they share expenses through arbitration."

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