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S.L. Price
August 27, 2001
Over RATED Fidel Castro
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August 27, 2001

Jock Politician

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Fidel Castro

When it comes to name recognition, Fidel Castro has achieved his nation's ultimate male fantasy-he is the most famous Cuban baseball player in history. Sportswriters, short-story hacks, at least one novelist and all serious Castro biographers have spilled gallons of ink on the legend that Cuba's Maximum Leader mesmerized superscout Joe Cambria and was coveted by the New York Yankees or the San Francisco Giants or the Washington Senators. All buy into the same conceit: He was a major league prospect. "Baseball will not bring Castro's regime to an end," read a 1999 editorial in The New York Times, "but had Cambria been more patient with a developing prospect, baseball might have prevented it."

Wrong. Castro was a good all-around athlete in high school and college and proved himself a pretty good basketball player, high jumper and middle-distance runner. He was indeed a pitcher, but high school teammates say he had little control on the mound. Most damning, though, is that in a land that worships the game and has built a cult of personality around Castro, no one in Cuba mentions his baseball prowess. Even Castro knows better. He has survived 42 years of shortages, an army of fanatical exiles and 10 U.S. presidents. But to lie about a subject as serious as baseball? Now that could get a guy in trouble.

Gerald Ford
As if pardoning Richard Nixon and holding the republic together in the aftermath of Watergate weren't trouble enough, Gerald Ford (above) was characterized as a klutz during his short term as the 38th president. One stumble down the steps of Air Force One, one spectator whacked on the head by an errant tee shot and—wham!—Ford was being mocked mercilessly on Saturday Night Live by Chevy Chase. The irony is that no president has come close to Ford in athletic ability. A star lineman for Michigan's national championship football teams in 1932 and '33, Ford was the Wolverines' MVP in 1934 and turned down offers to play for the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. He became an eight-handicap golfer, and he was tough enough as president to shrug off two assassination attempts. When Ford and Chase met, Chase said, "You're a very funny president." Without missing a beat, Ford shot back, "You're a very funny suburb." Pretty light on his feet, I'd say.