Teddy Roosevelt Can't Win: A Discussion of Baseball's Last Fixed Race

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Teddy Roosevelt was a sickly rich kid who grew into a little man with a high voice, and spent the rest of his life in the relentless pursuit of bad-assery. While in public office in Washington, he decided it was time to kill some people. So he went to San Antonio—at the time, a middle-of-nowhere cowboy town—and posted up in the Menger Hotel. He recruited the toughest-looking dudes who walked through the door, then took them to Cuba to start a war. He compared firing a gun to having an orgasm in terms of pleasure and necessity. Even his signature policy accomplishment as President, the "trust-busting" of monopolies, has a tough-guy name. He would scoff at Obama for issuing a “kill order” instead of personally going to Pakistan to carry it out himself. For his sheer mythic ruggedness alone, Teddy Roosevelt is the sort of President to whom candidates in both parties routinely compare themselves. But when it comes to a simple foot race, the 26th President of the United States just can’t win.

At every home game, the Washington Nationals have the President’s Race, where the heads of Mount Rushmore—I’ll save you the Google search: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and TR—run around the field. They have giant heads, and maneuver with the toddler-ian gracelessness generally associated with humans in giant felt mascot outfits. It’s amusing. Except, Teddy never wins. No, really: not ever.

This means that Teddy Roosevelt has a Bobcats-like 456-game losing streak. He has been prevented from winning most races due to unusual circumstances, such as Washington and Jefferson mounting a tandem bike. At other times, Teddy's decision to don a makeshift cosmonaut helmet has critically impaired his vision; when he boarded a Segway, he wound up getting disqualified.

To dig deeper into an ongoing injustice that tarnishes the image of perhaps the truest American Badass, I spoke with Scott Ableman, founder of Let Teddy Win, a site dedicated to documenting this true American tragedy. He shared some thoughts on what the race has meant to the Nats since they moved to DC in 2005, and why now is the perfect time to let Teddy win.

In the early days at RFK, the Presidents Race often got more attention than the Nationals. Did you ever feel like the race was bigger than the game?

I've been a loyal season ticket holder since the team first came to DC in 2005. I share tickets with a group of other fans and bloggers. When the Presidents Race was created, I saw pretty quickly that for some people it was a bigger draw than the product on the field, which unfortunately wasn't very good at that time. When the Nationals came to town, my son was ten years old and had never had a local baseball team to root for, so he wasn't really a baseball fan. If you want to cultivate those future fans, you need things to bring them to the ballpark. The junk food and the stadium entertainment is a big part of the draw for kids, especially when a team is losing 103 games. Now my son is 17 and pays attention to every pitch. On May 1, he and his schoolmates sang the national anthem, but you can be sure he raced back to his seat to take in Bryce Harper's first home game. It still bothers me that the Presidents race is introduced as "the main event." It should not be and is not the main event.

At the same time, I saw the potential for the Presidents Race to bring fans to a struggling team, and was surprised that the Nats didn't even have standings on their website. When I created Let Teddy Win, I certainly didn't expect it to be such a big thing, but the community really embraced it. People in this town see the injustice, they want to raise their voice on behalf of this great president, and they want to know every day what happens in the Presidents race.

With Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Nats now have two legit stars on the team that draw national attention, unlike the RFK days. They're also currently leading the division. Now that the team is actually good do you think the race won't be the "main event" for long?

A lot of fans hope they stop introducing it as "The Main Event," and I hope the Nats will listen. It's not like this is the first year there's been compelling baseball at Nationals Park. It's been fantastic watching the Nats slowly build a nucleus. They're doing it the right way, and it's unbelievably exciting to see.

I grew up in Ohio and rooted for the Reds when Rose and Bench and Morgan were young. I lived in New York City when Davey brought up Gooden and Strawberry. I lived in Chicago when the Bulls drafted Michael, Scotty, Horace, and company. As a sports fan, I've been blessed to see this movie a few times, and let me tell you, it's happening in the nation's capital right now.

Let’s talk about Teddy. Was the irony in Teddy being the lovable loser what made you start the site, or would you have started it even if it was "Let Tom Win" or "Let Abe Win"?

That’s an interesting question that I've never been asked. Certainly George, Tom, and Abe were among our countries greatest leaders, and if their image were being tarnished systematically by conspiracy, I would likely have been just as motivated to do something about it. That being said, Teddy is unique among presidents. He was a boxer and had a black belt in jujitsu for crying out loud.

It should be noted that George Washington was something of a badass himself, and I don't want to malign the father of our country. But is there any doubt Teddy Roosevelt would be kicking the butts of these other guys in a real race? We can't raise a generation of Washington children who think Theodore Roosevelt was a lovable loser. It's the 100th anniversary of Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Bull Moose Party. What better time to let Teddy win?

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