Live, from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, it's Wednesday Night. Tonight's host: Jimmy Carter.
Viewers watching the final game of the World Series didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
They say that the television camera adds 10 pounds to you. But it certainly doesn't add inches. Flanked by Bowie Kuhn, the 6-foot-4 commissioner of baseball, and Tip O'Neill, the 6-3 patriarch of the House of Reps, Mr. President looked like the Incredible Shrinking Man, grinning into oblivion.
Hey, who was that little guy I saw you with last night?
That was no little guy, that was the Pres.
Perhaps the ultimate insult was rendered Carter when Willie Stargell, the 6-4 Pirate captain and most valuable player, came up on the victory platform and Kuhn, eager to shake his hand, literally reached over Carter's head to do so. Carter's posture was somthing like a dinghy going under a giant drawbridge.
The mix of ludicrous posture and political insult made a national television appearance before 28 million home viewers that Carter -- and certainly Connally and Kennedy supporters -- will have a long time forgetting (Don't look for Kuhn as the next HEW secretary.)
Imagine poor Ham Jordan and Jerry Rafshoon back at the White House, watching their boy's loss for words and smiling out from dead air.
Take a memo to the President.
Hey, that's him.
Poor Don Drysdale, the ABC commentator who was in charge of the postgame locker room ceremony. He's trying to congratulate Daniel Galbreath, the Pittsburgh Pirate owner, and his manager, Chuck Tanner, and there's Jimmy, just taking up space and smiling like he'd swallowed a canary. The man just wouldn't yield the platform. So, what did the lords of baseball do? They brought on a fourfoot trophy and all but covered Carter with it. As his face faded slowly into the sunset behind the trophy, you could almost hear the voice of Roone Arledge in the background shouting, "Give him the hook."
But Carter stayed there, every now and again seen smiling through the gold slats of the trophy, occasionally offering such brilliant witicism as, "Gee, you really played well." Or, "Miz Lillian is a big fan." Or, Willie (Stargell) I understand you're the most valuable player."
Who writes this stuff?
They pay people to write this stuff?
Carter did what few people in TV have ever managed: Make Howard Cosell seem Big.
Past presidents have survived the flying champagne corks of TV locker room clebrations. Even New York City's former mayor, John Lindsay, with the help of Pearl Bailey, came out of the Met locker room looking good. w
The reasons for their success were simple: ground rules. If you want the Pres, here's the game plan. And if our rules make our guy too big for you, well, he doesn't have to play.
But, Wednesday night in Baltimore, Carter was put in a position appearing like a hanger-on, in search of Bowie Kuhn's autograph and a baseball signed by the whistle-tooting Pirate wives.
Why couldn't he just have gone over to the Baltimore clubhouse and said "Hey nice try guys, I know what it's like to fall behind . . ."
Instead, he can't even handle a gift question. The man has worse hands than Doug DeCines. Somebody ask him, "Did you root for the home team?" And he responds, "Well, I tried to stay neutral."
Which is like saying, Sure I'm voting for SALT. And while your're up, would you pass me the pepper too.
Now Nixon, he has class in the locker room.
Did you see Nixon in Anaheim when the Angels won the West Division? He was there, coast to coast thanks to the wire service photographers, sloshed out on beer, dripping even worse then he ever did from his upper lip, looking like a cat that was dragged in from the rain.
Then, he one-ups it.
When the Angels were losing to Baltimore, Nixon got on national television chewing -- make that munching -- on a cocktail napkin, rooting for his favorite team, the Gene Autry Angels. He walks into the locker room and hangs up a sign that says, "Never Give Up." Somebody said that the sign was recycled cardboard, that it used to read, "Four More Years." So Nixon -- imagine our surprise -- walks out with Autry and piles onto an elevator filled with reporters. Up walks Pete Pascarelli, of the Baltimore News-American. Pascarelli says, "You may or may not remember this. But I spit on your motorcade in 1969."
Nixon, ever the diplomat, just smiled and presumably wanted to hand Pascarelli a sourvenir pen.
"I'd have to say he was pretty incoherent," Pascarelli said.
Which brings us full circle to Carter.
Whom, for all we know, is still in the Pittsburgh clubhouse shaking hands with the grounds crew.