AUGUSTA, Maine — The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees open their 2013 seasons Monday with a game at Yankee Stadium. As Opening Day approaches, it’s hard not to view everything through the prism of the Bronx-Beantown baseball rivalry. Even politics.
So let’s make up a new game based on the old game and match major players in Maine politics with dominant characters in Yankees and Red Sox lore. Personality and political style — not rooting interests — will guide the process.
Gov. Paul LePage has to be the Blaine House version of George Steinbrenner, the late Yankees owner known by supporters as “The Boss” and by detractors as “Phineas T. Bluster.”
Steinbrenner unquestionably brought an executive’s perspective to his job, demanding results and eschewing process. He fired managers, bought superstars and occasionally showed his anger in public. Sound familiar?
After buying the struggling Yankees franchise from CBS in 1973 — some might say he liberated the Bronx Bombers from the liberal media — Steinbrenner spent lavishly to restore the team’s storied image and championship talent. LePage might object to Steinbrenner’s exorbitant spending, although it was all private funds, but The Boss’ direct approach, demand for immediate results, loyalty to close associates and penchant for sparking media controversies with blunt comments align closely with the way Maine’s Republican governor conducts his and the state’s business.
When Steinbrenner wanted a particular player, he went after him with the same single-mindedness as, well, a certain governor trying to repay Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals.
Like LePage, Steinbrenner, who died in 2010, drew passionate responses from admirers and detractors. He rarely if ever elicited a tepid reaction.
And Steinbrenner was a staunch Republican. In terms of public persona and leadership style, comparisons to LePage are a slam dunk. Oops, wrong sport.
LePage’s Blaine House predecessor, and potential gubernatorial election rival in 2014, Democrat John Baldacci offers a stark contrast in style and personality. His public persona is much more akin with that of John Henry, the button-down owner of the Boston Red Sox. Like Henry, Baldacci always seemed to be flanked by trusted associates during his tenure as governor. Henry also enlists analytical “process” people to oversee the team’s operations.
The two leaders named John offer measured public pronouncements, rarely displaying anger and reining in most other emotions. Henry made billions as a hedge fund manager by using computers to factor human emotion out of trading decisions. He hired unemotional Ivy League thinkers rather than grizzled baseball veterans to run the Red Sox, an organizational shift that contributed to World Series victories in 2004 and 2007.
Process shapes their decision-making and collaboration defines their approach to leadership.
Baldacci entered politics with his 1978 election to the Bangor City Council. He went on to serve 12 years in the Maine Senate and eight years in Congress as Maine’s 2nd U.S. House District representative. Until being sworn in as Maine’s 73rd governor in 2003, Baldacci’s entire political career consisted of serving on deliberative bodies.
On the Bangor City Council, in the Maine Legislature and in Congress, Baldacci held one vote on legislative bodies that made decisions by majority votes. To succeed, he had to build alliances, seek consensus and use persuasion — and, when situations dictated, coercion — to achieve his agenda.
Baldacci refined his ability to make the legislative process work for his constituents — and pave the way for relatively easy re-elections — during more than two decades of municipal, state and federal service. He brought that same style to the governorship.
After eight years, Maine voters wanted something else. They got LePage and his markedly different approach as “The Boss.”
On a side note, all of the Democrats who serve in legislative leadership positions and many of those who serve in the current Legislature were first elected during Baldacci’s governorship. His affinity for the “legislative process” shapes theirs, which goes a long way to explaining the Red Sox-Yankees nature of the dynamic between the Legislature’s Democrats and LePage.
Eliot Cutler, a third potential candidate in the 2014 Blaine House race, draws comparisons to Larry Lucchino, president and CEO of the Red Sox. Throughout a generally successful career, Lucchino worked as an administrator within various teams’ organizations to make them more efficient.
Cutler, a successful attorney who worked for Sen. Ed Muskie and President Jimmy Carter, also built much of his career by trying to strengthen organizations from within. Like Lucchino, who is credited with coining the term “Evil Empire” to describe the Yankees, Cutler occasionally comes off as caustic and self-laudatory in public appearances.
A fourth 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Steve Woods, seems to defy categorization within the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Perhaps his willingness to toss around controversial ideas makes him akin to former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, nicknamed “Space Man,” or Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, whose cryptic pronouncements were interpreted as either sage observations or gibberish. Expanding the baseball comparisons beyond Boston and New York, Woods seems most like former Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley, who introduced tradition-bending innovations like a mule mascot, orange baseballs, white shoes and different colored uniforms for different occasions. Some of Finley’s ideas, which were derided as odd at the time, have become part of Major League Baseball’s marketing strategy.
The game’s rolling along now, so readers can take over. Is Rep. Mike Michaud a Maine political version of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, who works efficiently outside the limelight and circus that Steinbrenner and his heirs brought to the Bronx? Which of Maine’s young politicians most resembles former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein, the Boston area native and Yale University graduate who built the Red Sox roster that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004? Who’s on the hot seat like current Boston GM Ben Cherington? And is there anyone in Maine politics who offers hope for the future like Boston phenom Jackie Bradley Jr. or the stability and grace of the Yankees’ stalwart shortstop Derek Jeter?
For the real trivia geeks, what Maine politicians would wear the same numbers as Morgan Burkhart, Dooley Womack, Jackie Gutierrez or Kei Igawa?
It’s your call.