Magglio Ordonez for Mayor? Not so Fast

ChavezordonezConsistent with our core mission of bringing together Sports and Politics, The Bench Jockeys noted with keen interest the candidacy of former Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez’s who is presently running for Mayor of the Venezuelan city of Puerto La Cruz.  Like the late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez (pictured on the left), Magglio Ordonez (pictured on the right) is an avowed socialist… maybe Ordonez’s political slant was cultivated while he was playing in Chicago.  Puerto La Cruz boasts a population of almost half a million people and hosts one of the largest refineries in oil-rich Venezuela so this position carries with it quite a bit of responsibility.  Is it really a major league baseball player’s place to be providing leadership to a city like Puerto La Cruz? So that got us wondering about 2 things:

  • 1) Who are the most accomplished political leaders who also played a professional sport? 
  • 2) Should the citizens of Puerto La Cruz decide to elect Ordonez, how have professional athletes performed as political leaders?

First we turn to Issue 1.  For starters, there have been no US Presidents who have also played a professional sport, but  there have been a few Presidents with notable collegiate careers (and some who have purported to have been college athletes*). The Bench Jockeys dug into the stats and offer our top three for consideration:

  • 3.  George H.W. Bush (#41 )was first baseman, batted .354 in his senior year and played in the College World Series for Yale.
  • 2.  Dwight Eisenhower  (#34) was a linebacker and running back at Army, Nicknamed the “Kansas Cyclone,” Eisenhower injured his knee while tackling one of the greatest athletes of all time, Jim Thorpe, in the famous 1912 Carlisle vs. Army game.
  • 1.  Gerald Ford (#38) was an All-American and played center for 1933 National Champion Univ. of Michigan Wolverines football team.  He was voted team MVP in his senior year.

*Although there was a great deal of talk about the college basketball career of Barack Obama, there seems to be no documentation of the assertion that Barack Obama led the Occidental College Men’s Basketball team in scoring in 1979 as has been reported.  He attended Occidental for two years and we can find no corroboration that as a freshman he even played on the school team.  (You never know what will surface when you start doing a little good ol’ fashioned investigative journalism.)  As for other professional sportsmen turned public servants, we found the following tasty tidbits for your consumption:  The most accomplished member of this select group is former US Senator from New Jersey, William “Bill” Bradley who was a member of the 1964 Olympic basketball team and was voted the NCAA Player of the Year in 1965. He played on the New York Knicks for ten years, winning two championship titles.   He was also a Rhodes Scholar so I am guessing he is a pretty smart chap.

US Congressmen from New York, Jack Kemp was appointed as Housing Secretary under George H.W. Bush. Kemp was selected as the Vice Presidential running mate in Bob Dole’s failed 1996 election campaign against Bill Clinton.  Ironically, like Barack Obama, Kemp also attended Occidental in the 1950’s where he was a record-setting javelin hurler and played several positions on the football team: quarterback, defensive back, place kicker and punter.  Interestingly Occidental does have a record of Kemp’s collegiate accomplishments.  Kemp went on to play professional sports as a quarterback for 13 years, with brief stints in the NFL and CFL, later securing star status in the AFL with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills.  Kemp was selected as the AFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 1965 after leading the Bills to a second AFL championship.

Although appointed to the role, defensive tackle and the most celebrated member of the Purple People Eaters, Alan Page, serves as a Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Fellow Minnesotan Jesse Ventura was elected as Governor of the state, but to count him would mean we are calling the WWE a professional sport – which it is not – so he is out.   However, the late Jack Mildren, a two-way player who over the course of a three year career with the Colts and Pats made three interceptions as a defensive back and rushed for 22 yards and threw 1 incomplete pass as a quarterback, served as Lt. Governor of Oklahoma.  He meets the pro-pol crossover criteria on paper. 

Internationally, there have been some instances of professional sportsmen transitioning  to public office.  Both Alexis Argüello, who was Mayor of Managua, Nicaragua for a few months before he was assassinated (or committed suicide depending on who you ask) and Philippine House of Representatives member, Emmanuel “Manny”  Pacquiao, were professional boxers who became mid-level political leaders.  Sanath Teran is a former Sri Lankan cricketer and a current member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.  Ari Uolevi Vatanen is a Finnish rally car driver who won the World Rally Championship in 1981 and the Paris Dakar Rally four times was a member of the European Parliament.  But perhaps the most successful foreign-born professional athlete is Donald Ross Getty, a Canadian politician who served as the Premier of Alberta after quarterbacking the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League.  As Premier, Getty served as the de facto Chief Executive for the territory.  Nice work.

And then there is Ahhhhnold.  If bodybuilding is a truly professional sport – and according to ABC’s Wide World of Sports (which I grew up watching as a kid) it is – The Austrian Oak’s election as Governator of California has to trump them all.  But notice some interesting coincidences…and that leads us directly into Issue 2.  Schwarzenegger oversaw the workings of one the most financially unstable states in the US, with the majority of Californians suggesting his limited concepts of state management made fiscal matters even worse.  Imagine that?  

Similarly, there have been two US mayors who were former professional athletes: the Mayor of recently bankrupt Detroit is former NBA-er Dave Bing and the Mayor of cash-strapped Sacramento is Kevin Johnson, formerly of the Phoenix Suns.  (As a former Bullet, I like Dave Bing, but that’s a big 0 for 2 on assuming NBA skills sets prepare players for the complexities of leading a city.)

Which brings us right back to Ordonez.  What experience during his 15 year career in the Major Leagues possibly prepares Magglio Ordonez for the leadership of Puerto La Cruz?  Given the vast anthology of professional sports figures who have come and gone over the last 125 years, success stories are scarce.  In fact, the lion’s share of those stories can be condensed into less than 1000 words (see above).  Ex-athletes seem to be able to serve as a part of a body politic, or a team, but when it comes to leading a state or a city, they fall flat.  With the exception of Don Getty, there is no success story where a professional athlete was elected to the role of a chief executive of a city, state or province.  Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp were strong representatives of a constituency, but effectively leading that same populace requires a completely different array of talents.  Maggs, please reconsider your political aspirations before you get in over your head, or even worse, lose it.  

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4 Responses to “Magglio Ordonez for Mayor? Not so Fast”

  1. Ian Paregol Says:

    Incidentally, there have been six former professional athletes who were elected to the US House of Representatives: Jim Bunning, Steve Largent, Tom McMillen, Wilmer Mizell, Jon Runyun, and Heath Shuler. If we include the CFL, JC Watts counts as well.

  2. Jerry Measle Says:

    Wonderful insight. Thank you for bringing up this issue. I wonder what would happen if politicians started becoming MLB all-stars? LOL!

  3. Tim W Says:

    Nice study. You guys don’t mess around. This would make a good SI piece. Can you submit it?

  4. C Drayton Says:

    Let’s take it to the Judicial Branch. Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White was a All American halfback at Colorado and played in the NFL.

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