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A SPORTSMAN Born and Bred
George Plimpton
December 26, 1988
AFTER PITCHING A RINGER IN NOVEMBER'S ELECTION, GEORGE BUSH WILL BRING TO THE WHITE HOUSE A RICH ATHLETIC HERITAGE
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December 26, 1988

A Sportsman Born And Bred

AFTER PITCHING A RINGER IN NOVEMBER'S ELECTION, GEORGE BUSH WILL BRING TO THE WHITE HOUSE A RICH ATHLETIC HERITAGE

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The usual procedure when he is done with his day's jogging is to pitch a game or two of horseshoes. His interest in the sport began a few years ago, when a court was installed at Kennebunkport to provide a diversion for the Secret Service and other members of his entourage. Bush tried it and was entranced: "Heaven!" He has joined the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, which has a membership of 15,000—all of whom are surely stirred by the prospect of their sport ranking high in the athletic hierarchy at the White House.

The Bushes have not yet decided where to put the Presidential horseshoe court. Barbara Bush feels that sizing up the Rose Garden now would be like measuring for drapes before the Reagans have moved out of the White House. When they decide, the President-elect intends to bring some of the country's best horseshoe pitchers to the White House for exhibitions. He undoubtedly will team up with the best of them to take on all comers.

Bush is in awe of horseshoe champions, just as he is of any athlete who performs extremely well. He describes a horseshoe exhibition he once saw in which the pit and the stake were hidden from the throwers by a high partition: "Clunk! Clunk! That's all you heard. Didn't faze these guys a bit. They don't even have to see the stake."

At the moment three horseshoe pits are at Bush's service—one at the Vice-President's residence in Washington, and two in Kennebunkport—and they are focal points of social activity. An annual event in Kennebunkport over the past seven years has been a get-together of those in the area who are responsible for the President-elect's well-being—the Coast Guard, personnel from Otis Air Base on Cape Cod, the Secret Service and so forth. On these occasions, with more than 300 guests milling about on Walker Point, the day is highlighted by competition on the tennis and horseshoe courts between the Agent Busters and Bush Whackers.

The festivities start with a parade. The Bush clan carries various flags brought back from international travels in somewhat haphazard fashion up the driveway, to the beating of pails and tin pans. The Bush Whackers do not march in the parade. "We observe," says Secret Service agent Tom Clark, who heads the Whacker team. His squad members are from the midnight detail; those on duty during the festivities keep their backs to the goings-on, staring into the sea roses or out at the water for unfriendlies. But they can tell from the needling and the shouts of encouragement—most of it from the Agent Busters—how things are going. The competition is stiff. Over the years the Agent Busters have held the edge. As Clark says of the President-elect, "He's a good loser, but he's a much better winner."

The results of all Bush family competitions are passed on to a mysterious organization known as the Ranking Committee. The Bushes talk a great deal about the Ranking Committee—a mystical, fictitious family body with what Jonathan Bush describes as "enormous power." No one is quite sure who is in charge of the Ranking Committee, and its findings are rarely divulged, because hardly anyone in the family will admit that someone is better than someone else. Yet all matches reported to the Ranking Committee are considered upsets by the victors, which tends to confuse matters.

For all his competitiveness the President-elect seems to take little interest in its tangible rewards. His mounted bone-fish (TEN POUNDS, EIGHT OUNCES, reads the plaque under it) has a little rubber bathtub shark riding its back, tossed up there by a grandchild. The closest thing to a trophy case in the Bush household is a cluttered shelf in a dormitorylike room on the third floor of the Washington residence. The jumble includes 22 autographed baseballs, one of which was signed by Joe DiMaggio, who added the comment, "You make the office look great." There also is a football autographed by Roger Staubach, who wrote, "Thanks for giving a darn about friends"; a Keith Hernandez-model first baseman's mitt; a Chicago Cubs pennant; a 1988 Dodgers World Series baseball cap; an NASL soccer ball; two hard hats (Brookfield Fire Dept.); and a blood-red Arkansas Razorback novelty hat.

The President-elect tried it on, the hog's snout poking out over his forehead, and then put it back on the shelf and started talking about throwing out ceremonial first balls. One of his most embarrassing moments occurred in Houston two years ago, when he bounced a baseball halfway to the Astros' catcher. "You tend to forget the distance," Bush said, not mentioning the fact that his motion had been hampered by a bullet-proof vest. "It's a question of raising your sights. You learn. Next time it's going to be right on target."

He stepped over a sleeping bag and looked out the window at the panorama of the city. Through the trees he could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

Did he think his duties in the White House would curtail his athletic activities?

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