Happy Opening Day from Political Capital, where we like to explore the links between politics and baseball this time of the year.
We are taking the liberty of placing former and current Major League Baseball players on Democratic and Republican teams, based on their political participation or one or more campaign contributions. It’s possible some campaign donations were made out of personal friendship or professional association and don’t reflect an alignment with a political party.
Some players have supported Democratic and Republican politicians.
Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer who hit 512 home runs, donated to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Obama, a fellow Chicagoan and a White Sox fan, recognized Banks first at a 2011 Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Chicago. Banks also signed a letter backing President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 and attended a 1983 fundraiser for Republican candidates headlined by President Ronald Reagan.
Many baseball executives are active donors. Bud Selig, the longtime commissioner of Major League Baseball, is a frequent donor to Democratic candidates and committees.
So what other major-league ballplayers would you include on the Democratic and Republican teams using that criteria? Use the comments section below to answer, along with any supporting evidence.
Hank Aaron, outfielder. Hammerin’ Hank, who has the most RBIs in history (2,297), the second-highest home run total (755) and the third-highest hit total (3,771), has donated to Georgia Democrats including Max Cleland, a U.S. senator from 1997 to 2003, and to Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida.
Fred Brown, outfielder. Brown played for the Boston Beaneaters early in the 20th century and later served as a New Hampshire governor and U.S. senator, then for a period as U.S. comptroller general in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.
Lou Brock, outfielder. Brock, a Hall of Famer who stole most of his 938 bases as a St. Louis Cardinal, gave money to Obama’s re-election campaign.
Willie McCovey, first baseman. Hall of Famer McCovey hit 521 home runs, most of them as a San Francisco Giant. He’s a donor to the Democratic National Committee.
Paul Molitor, third baseman/second baseman. Molitor, a Hall of Famer whose 3,319 career hits rank ninth overall, made a donation in 2004 to America Coming Together, which worked to turn out the vote for Democratic candidates.
Jimmy Rollins, shortstop. Rollins, a longtime member of the Philadelphia Phillies and the 2007 National League MVP, got a shout-out from Obama in May 2009 for making calls on behalf of his 2008 presidential campaign.
Sammy Sosa, outfielder. Sosa, the only player to have three seasons of at least 60 home runs, donated to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Dave Winfield, outfielder. Winfield, a Hall of Famer whose 1,833 RBIs are the 17th-most in history, is an Obama donor.
Johnny Bench, catcher. Bench introduced Bush at a 2004 campaign rally in Cincinnati, where Bench, one of baseball’s best backstops, amassed 389 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves for the Reds. Bench also appeared at a rally for Ronald Reagan in 1984.
George Brett, third baseman. Brett, a Hall of Famer who hit .390 for the Kansas City Royals in 1980, striking out fewer times than he homered, donated to Bush’s presidential campaign. He’s also a longtime friend of broadcaster Rush Limbaugh.
Jim Bunning, pitcher. Bunning, a Hall of Famer who threw a no-hitter for the Detroit Tigers in 1958 and pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964, represented Kentucky in the House from 1987 to 1999 and in the Senate from 1999 to 2011.
Roger Clemens, pitcher. Clemens, who won the Cy Young Award a record seven times, isn’t politically active, though we’re including him here because he’s a friend and campaign donor to Rep. Ted Poe of Texas.
Bob Feller, pitcher. Hall of Famer Feller, who won 266 games despite missing more than three seasons due to military service in World War II, joined some professional athletes signing a 2004 letter endorsing Bush’s re-election.
Walter Johnson, pitcher. “The Big Train,” first in career shutouts with 110 and second in career wins with 417, ran for Congress from Maryland in 1940, losing by 7 points to Democrat William Byron.
Al Leiter, pitcher. Leiter, whose teams included the Yankees and Mets, has donated to Republicans such as Bunning and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. Leiter backed Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign and came to a White House T-ball game Bush hosted in 2006.
Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, pitcher. Mizell, who played most of his career for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1950s, represented North Carolina in the House from 1969 to 1975.
Dale Murphy, outfielder. Murphy hit most of his 398 home runs for the Atlanta Braves, where he won back-to-back MVPs in 1982 and 1983. Murphy donated to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2007.
Bobby Richardson, second baseman. Richardson played for the Yankees from 1955 to 1966 and ran for Congress from South Carolina in 1976, losing by 3 percentage points to Democrat Ken Holland in a district where Jimmy Carter trounced Gerald Ford by more than 20 points. ”I had no political ambitions,” Richardson told the Abilene Reporter-News in 1997. “But Gerald Ford and I were friends and he asked me to run.”
Alex Rodriguez, third baseman. A-Rod, whose 654 home runs are the fifth-most in history, donated to the presidential campaigns of Bush in 2003 and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2007. Personal and professional considerations may have played a role in the donations: A-Rod used to play for the Texas Rangers, a team Bush once co-owned, and since 2004 has played for the Yankees, Giuliani’s favorite team.
Nolan Ryan, pitcher. The Hall of Fame strikeout king has sent many of his political donations to Texas Republicans, including Bush.
Curt Schilling, pitcher. Schilling, who won World Series titles with Arizona in 2001 and with Boston in 2004 and 2007, donated to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and to Scott Brown’s 2010 Senate campaign in Massachusetts.
John Smoltz, pitcher. Smoltz, who spent almost all of his career (1988-2009) with the Braves, is the only pitcher in history to record 200 wins and 150 saves. He’s donated to Mitt Romney and Georgia Republicans Tom Price and Mack Mattingly, while eschewing interest in seeking office himself.
John Wetteland, pitcher. Wetteland, who’s donated to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, saved 330 games for four teams including the Yankees.