clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Break it down

New, 2 comments

Yurasko notes that George Washington won the first ever Race of the Presidents. This seems fitting. After all, he bears the name of my alma mater. (Oh, and he's the Father of our Country and was the first president, too.)

And now I've witnessed the race, or at least MASN's quick clip of it between innings. (I keyed up the archived game on MLB.tv.) It would appear that old George staged a stunning comeback, rallying from fourth place to first with what practitioners of ClarkKellogSpeak would call tremendous spurtability. Honest Abe placed, and TR showed. Jefferson served as the also-ran.

Yet, I am wondering whether this result is appropriate. While I understand that, over a period of time, the winners will vary in a no doubt equitable and arbitrary manner, I wonder who would win a footrace---or, if you prefer, a series of footraces---between George, Thom., Abe, and Teddy. Why am I wondering this? Because you don't want me to write 4,000 words about Melvin Dorta. I don't even want me to write 4,000 words about Melvin Dorta.

With that, let's evaluate these presidents in terms of physical description and recreational activities. Unless otherwise linked, I'm relying on The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (4th ed. 1993) by William A. Degregorio. What kind of conclusions can we make from this stuff?

WASHINGTON

Physical Description: Washington stood 6'2" and weighed 175 pounds in his prime, about 200 in his later years. He was tall (especially for his day), muscular (Stanazolol?), broad-shouldered, and had large hands and feet (size 13 shoes).

Recreational Activities: Walked daily, enjoyed the fox hunt, played billiards.

Breakdown: Adjusting for era, Washington is likely the best pure athlete of the four racing presidents. Descriptions of him indicate he was a man of great power, which I'd suspect would give him an advantage out of the gate. His daily walks suggest a certain amount of stamina, ensuring he would not terribly tire towards the end of the race. And, if I may so bold: Contrary to the Parson Weems stories, it's possible the man had a bit of mean streak. Viewing this in a light favorable to Washington, we'll call it a competitive spirit and killer instinct.

JEFFERSON

Physical Description: A little bit taller than Washington and thin rather than muscular. Was gawky as a youth; never quite grew into his large feet, walking with a loping gait and maintaining poor posture. Generally had good health, aside from occasional stress headaches and late-in-life rheumatism.

Reacreational Activities: A true Renaissance man---architecture, botany, animal husbandry, meteorology, mechanical engineering, books, inventions, importants, agriculture, you name it. But did not appear to be an athletic sort. Jefferson rode horses about an hour or two per day, but---unlike Washington---had no military experience whatsoever.

Breakdown: Aside from a creative and calculating mind, nothing about Jefferson strikes me as worthy of contender status in a footrace.

LINCOLN

Physical Description: Another tall guy---at 6'4" Lincoln was the tallest president to date. Complained of fatigue, suffered from severe headaches, and had cold hands and feet. Dr. Harold Schwartz of the U.S.C. School of Medicine speculated that Lincoln was dying of heart disease when J.W. Booth came along.

Recreational Activities: Not a walker, nor a rider. Detested hunting. Loved reading, swapping jokes, and---unfortunately, as we know---attending play. But Lincoln didn't devote much time to recreation. "Nothing touches the tired spot," he complained while in office. In his younger days, he developed muscular arms and shoulders from swinging an ax all day.

Breakdown: Sort of depends on whether you believe the doc's retrospective diagnosis. If Lincoln's heart is healthy, maybe he's a contender in a "24 Hours of Le Mans" type of race from Mount Rushmore to RFK Stadium; he does sort of "look" like a long-distance runner, given his sort of sallow-looking bearing. At the same time, I rather doubt this. Aside from his early years, Lincoln did not seem like much of an athlete or physical worksman.

T. ROOSEVELT

Physical Description: Totally against type, at least among this lot---short (5'8"), brawny, robust, great barrel chest, bull neck. A sickly boy (asthma, frequent bouts with diarrhea---poor kid!), yet was still hyperactive and mischievous. Was once chased down by his father for biting his sister's arm.

Recreational Activities: Exercised rigorously (first president to be a member of a gym?), took up boxing as an adult, grappled with a middleweight champion wrestler several times a week. Practiced jiujitsu! Also liked horseback riding, tennis, hiking over rough terrain, hunting, polo, rowing, and, well, skinny-dipping. (Also enjoyed more sedentary activies such as bird-watching, reading, and, of course, writing.) His service with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War is obviously well-known. Earlier, during 1872-73, he toured Egypt and climbed to the top of the pyramids. Apparently, he enjoyed doing things like that.

Breakdown: A strong proponent of "the strenuous life," TR was certainly one-of-a-kind; nevertheless, it strikes me that American culture and society changed an awful lot in the couple of generations between Lincoln's presidency and Roosevelt's. Speaking of which, say hello to professional baseball! And, speaking of professional baseball, Roosevelt sort of strikes me as a 1980s version of Kirby Puckett: squat and powerful, with nearly tireless energy. As you'll recall, once Kirby got some momentum going, he could really roll on the basepaths. I think TR is a strong contender.

IN SUM

So there you go. I would think that Washington and Roosevelt would be the top of the racing class. Washington had the muscular frame, military training, and reputation from earlier in life as a man who could make great headway in the wilderness. Roosevelt was in the mold of what we'd call a modern athlete, even if he didn't necessarily look like one. In addition, I suspect that TR would be the only one who really, truly, and egotistically care whether he won a footrace against Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson.

Of course, it's hard to compare men from different generations, and they're all dead now anyway, so how could you really compare? Considerations of verisimilitude and the undead aside, I think that, out of a random 100 races, Washington and Roosevelt rougly split 90 of them, with Lincoln and Jefferson lucking into about five wins apiece.

* * * *

Back to the here-and-now, the Nats ushered the Grand Re-Opening Weekend in fine fashion: a come-from-behind victory over the Cubbies, and a late-night delivery of some very important papers. (Oh, and apparently Ryan Church is back? It's a pity Alex Escobar can't stay healthy; he was tearing the cover off the ball.)

I'm sure Tom Boswell (file photo from Miss Chatter) penned a nice column about the first "Paint the Town Red" game, but that'll be linked other places. Here's a Richmond perspective, via John Markon of the Times-Dispatch. Funny story:

Kentuckian Stew ("With an 'e-w,' just like Beef and Brunswick") Mones enjoyed meeting Austin Kearns but said he would have really appreciated a chance to speak with one of the Lerners about the direction of the club. Unknown to Mones, he was only 10 feet from at least two Lerners, who were shaking hands and distributing free caps to customers who had no idea they were encountering the new owners.

Note to Stew: Counting the sons-in-law, there seem to be about eight million Lerners; chances are, you'll be in the company of at least one of them at any given point in time.