Wrote this column for SI.com today. They rejected it. Hence, a jeffpearlman.com freebie …
With his political career mimicking Dom Ameche in Cocoon (inside a rock at the bottom of a pool) and his poll numbers plunging like Carson Palmer’s quarterback rating, Charlie Crist had one last trick up his sleeve.
The Florida governor, completing his final term and running independently for U.S. Senate against the flawed Republican Marco Rubio and the even-more-flawed Democrat Kendrick Meek, was invited by the Tampa Bay Rays to throw out the first pitch before Game Two of the ALDS against the Rangers at Tropicana Field. Naturally, he eagerly accepted.
It was a golden opportunity. Not as golden as Crist’s perpetually blinding tan, but golden nonetheless. The former Wake Forest quarterback, blessed with unrivaled posture and (we assumed) a powerful right arm, would at long last have his own George W. Bush moment.
If you recall, in 2001 Bush was asked by the New York Yankees to throw out the first pitch for Game Three of the World Series against the Diamondbacks. Beforehand, an admittedly nervous president spoke to Derek Jeter beneath the stadium bowels, with the shortstop insisting New York’s fans would boo the commander in chief should he fail to throw from the rubber or reach the catcher’s mitt on the fly. With his trademark strut, Bush marched toward the mound, waving confidently to the fans. He took the rubber, stepped forward and threw a perfect dart to Todd Greene. Whether one liked Bush or loathed him, it was an undeniable goose-bump visual; our president stepping forward in the wake of the 9.11 attacks and, with a single pitch, barking, “We’re not afraid of you!”
Admittedly, Crist had no such backdrop. Instead of magnificent Yankee Stadium, his setting was the innards of the world’s biggest sardine can, The Trop. Instead of a nation’s eyes turned toward him (as was the case with Bush), a region’s eyes were turned toward the weather report running along the bottom of the screen (For the curious, it was going to be 65 degrees in downtown Jacksonville the next morning). Instead of Greene, a well-respected six-year veteran, Christ’s catcher was some guy in a black windbreaker. We think it might have been Quinton McCracken.
Yet even with all the strikes against him, this pitch mattered. Baseball fans were watching. A campaign in desperate need of energy would gladly take the roar of an appreciative crowd. This was Charlie’s Crist’s last stand, dammit. His moment in the figurative sun.
He, ahem, blew it.
It was ugly. Really ugly. Like bed bugs mixed with an oozing staph infection. Crist gripped the ball in his glove, took a step forward and heaved it right—far, far, far, far right. It flew past the lunging catcher and toward the backstop, where it came to rest. The fans let loose a dispiriting “Oooooohhhh!” as the governor lifted both hands into the air, as if to say, “My name is Kendrick Meek.”
The worst part? Crist wasn’t rushed to the mound. He didn’t have serious state business to attend to. There was no hurricane relief or AARP dispute. No, he had spent 15 minutes warming up beforehand.
In other words, considering the implications behind the appearance, as well as his background as a Division I athlete, Crist’s first pitch has to go down as the worst in modern history.
Why worse than Mariah Carey’s first pitch before the Yomiuri Giants- Rakuten Eagles clash at Tokyo Dome on May 28, 2008? Because while Carey’s bound-bounce-roll was, technically, more pathetic than Crist’s, she was wearing high-heels and short-shorts at the time.
Why worse than Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory’s first pitch on Opening Day 2007, when the baseball literally flew 25 feet to the left of home? Because when Mallory was invited onto the Jimmy Kimmel Show to try again, he was equally as horrific. Simply put, the man isn’t an athlete.
Why worse than Olympian Carl Lewis’ dying quail at Safeco Field in 2003? Because even Lewis’ worst throw can’t live up to his mangled Star Spangled Banner before a Nets game in 1993.
Why worse than Gary Dell’Abate (aka Baba Booey from the Howard Stern show) at Citi Field in May 2009? Because he’s Gary Dell’Abate (aka Baba Booey from the Howard Stern show).
Fortunately for Crist, he’s down by 15 points in the latest poll.
He might never have to take the mound again.