Anybody who actually believes that Peter Ueberroth will be content to remain commissioner of baseball until he packs up for Sun City is advised to read "Made in America." Not for the pleasure of it, for "Made in America" offers not a moment's pleasure, but for firsthand exposure to what is transparently a campaign document. What Ueberroth is running for has yet to be disclosed, but running he most certainly is; from first page to last, "Made in America" is a political speech.
Doubters are referred to the foreword, in which Ueberroth tells us: (1) "The United States of America is the greatest country in the world and every one of us knows how lucky we are to live here"; (2) "If enough Americans believe in an idea or project, anything is possible"; and (3) "Patriotism is alive and well and all the people needed was a rallying point to give them reason to stand up and cheer for their country, their communities, themselves, and share their great spirit with the peoples of the world."
Who provided that rallying point? Why, none other than Peter Ueberroth, who as president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was the presiding genius at last year's spectacularly successful Summer Olympics and who subsequently achieved the dubious distinction of being named "Man of the Year" by Time magazine. If a movie actor can be president, and if football players and basketball players can aspire to be, then why not the fellow who presided over the coronation of America's Sweetheart, Mary Lou Retton, and other events too numerous and gaudy to mention?
"Made in America" is a chronicle of those events, yet it is blessed with neither the excitement nor the glitz that made the 1984 Olympics nothing if not memorable. Like most essentially political documents it is a careful book: careful to mention all the right names, careful to numb the reader with facts and figures, careful to record in ample detail every triumph recorded by its author, careful not to offend. "Made in America" is so careful that it contains not a single lively moment; it is possible that there is a good story in how the 1984 Olympics came to be, but Ueberroth and his amanuenses have not written it.
Instead, they merely plod their way through vast amounts of material that is already familiar, in outline if not detail, to most people who read newspapers or watched television during the past several years. We are reminded that the Los Angeles games were privately rather than publicly funded; that security was the "primary concern" of the games' organizers; that an ingenious fund-raising campaign enlisted corporations as Olympic "sponsors" (though we are not reminded that this contributed to the debasement of the Olympic movement); that the contributions of volunteer workers were crucial; that the Russians did Ueberroth the dirty turn of boycotting his games; that American athletes won oodles of medals and set off an orgy of "patriotism"; and that the games ended up turning a handsome profit, thereby vindicating Ueberroth and all his works.
We are reminded of all of this, though to what point -- aside from the fabrication of a Ueberroth hagiography -- is difficult to ascertain. Readers looking for startling or interesting new information about the Los Angeles games will find none here; readers hoping for access to Ueberroth's deepest thoughts will be equally disappointed, for he has nothing to say beyond the carefully sanitized expressions of love and gratitude to family and friends such as are obligatory in political rhetoric. In sum, he offers nothing to maintain the reader's interest, and it is difficult to imagine that many readers will therefore make it from beginning to end of what is a long and pointless book.
"Made in America" doesn't even succeed in making Ueberroth an appealing political candidate. Its prose is so mechanical and its narrative so lifeless that we never sense a real voice or a real person in it. We have no clearer understanding of Ueberroth after reading it than we did before. We know that he is bright, hard-working and formidably ambitious, and we know that he wears the flag on his sleeve, but we have scarcely a clue to what, if anything, he really believes. He knows how to say all the right things, all the buzz words through which public figures these days communicate their fidelity to received American wisdom, but it's quite impossible to tell what is style and what is substance.
But don't put your money on the latter.