Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell writes a weekly sports column for the Daily News from a fan's perspective. His column appears Wednesdays.
THE TWO THINGS a politician fears hearing the most are, "Agent Jones from the FBI is here to see you," and "We'd like you to throw out the first ball on Opening Day."
The FBI quote is self-explanatory because it almost invariably cannot turn out well, but why do we fear throwing out the first ball? Isn't it an honor? Perhaps it's an honor, but most politicians can do without it because, like a meeting with the FBI, it almost never turns out well.
Let's examine the reasons.
* You almost always get booed.
It really doesn't matter how well you are doing at your job or how popular you are, it seems to be a great American pastime to boo politicians on Opening Day or at any sporting event.
I have never thrown out the first ball at a Phillies game, but I have at numerous minor league games throughout Pennsylvania - and consistently been booed. Last spring I was asked to throw out the first ball at the opening of the Harrisburg Senators' beautiful stadium - and I was booed. Good grief, I gave them $9 million to help make that stadium a reality and they still booed me!
In 1995, I won re-election as mayor with 80 percent of the vote and a few days later I was booed at a soccer game.
This American tradition continues, though, because a week ago Rick Scott, the newly elected governor of Florida, threw out the first ball at a Yankees-Blue Jays Grapefruit League game in Tampa and got soundly booed. Of course, he had just cut billions of dollars out of education and health care, so that might have had something to do with it.
There was only one time I went on the field and participated in a ceremony and didn't get booed. That was in 1993 when the "everyman Phils" made it to the World Series. I was asked to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in playing the national anthem. I actually was cheered, but to tell the truth, our fans were so delirious over unexpectedly being in the World Series they would have cheered Hannibal Lecter.
* You will almost always look like a doofus.
When you throw out the first ball, you must wrestle with the question, "What will I wear?" There is no right answer. If you put on team paraphernalia, the fans hate it. They simply don't like pols wearing team garb, especially if they feel he or she is not a real fan and is just doing it for publicity. Second, rarely does an elected official look good in team clothes. We're out of shape and look anything but authentic.
A few years ago, Mayor Nutter (whom I like and respect) threw out the first pitch at a Phillies game. He wasn't content to wear a Phils hat and jacket, he wanted to don a genuine Phillies uniform - shirt, pants, hat, socks and spikes. That would have been a complete disaster.
The mayor, a man who usually possesses class and dignity, would have looked like a brown-nosing weenie. Fortunately, the Phils' management talked him out of it and he wore a hat and jersey, thereby only looking like half a weenie.
You also can enrage fans if you don the other team's stuff. President Obama has urged us to do big, bold and brave things as a nation and he has demonstrated that same bravery by wearing a hat or jacket of his beloved White Sox no matter what city he is in to throw out the first ball.
* The chance of you throwing a good pitch is almost nil.
The best reason for politicians to stay away from first-pitch invitations is that they will surely throw the ball into the ground or too wide or too high.
After accepting an invitation to throw out the first ball, the politician and his or her staff will have arduous practice sessions. (e.g. Martin Sheen in "The West Wing"). It won't help! I've done it both ways - lots of practice or just going up there cold - and I have still never thrown a strike. I've put them in the ground, over the catcher's head, wide left, wide right. I've tried throwing hard and straight or rainbowing it - no difference, I sucked either way.
My only consolation is that I'm not the only one who sucks. There is a long line of celebrity first pitchers who were awful, too. In fact, if you're interested in viewing the "10 worst ceremonial first pitches," go to YouTube.
The No. 1 worst pitch, according to that list, was thrown by Mariah Carey, but given the tightness of her clothes, that's not a surprise. I think the worst was from Mayor Mark Mallory, of Cincinnati - he couldn't have done worse if he was trying. No. 8 was thrown by a mascot, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Actually, I feel it shouldn't have been on the list because the T-Rex has tiny, little arms and it actually threw the ball with its mouth and he came closer to the plate than the mayor.
Well, it's that time again. Tomorrow and Friday, politicians and others will take the mound, shamelessly ready to embarrass themselves.
The Cubs have the most interesting first pitcher in Robert Redford, who starred in one of the great baseball movies of all time, "The Natural." Fans and moviegoers wanted to know if Redford actually batted and fielded in the movie. Well, he had the background to do so. He was a pitcher in high school (and teammate of the great Don Drysdale) and he went to the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship. And yes, he'll look good no matter what he chooses to wear.
The Phillies will have a corporate sponsor throw out the first ball, so we'll have some relief from politicians making fools of themselves on the field. But it still sort of makes you wish for the Bill Giles era when Kiteman delivered the ball (sometimes) to home plate with a grandiose flourish. But regardless of how we do it, let's just get to it! Let's get it started! Play ball!
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