The truth about John Kerry's sports flubs.

The stadium scene.
Sept. 28 2004 2:53 PM

Fumble on the Kerry

The truth about John Kerry's sports flubs.

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Qualified to be the First Fan?

Football Fans for Truth is probably the only 527 committee that traces its origins to a fantasy football draft. In the conference room of a Washington, D.C., law firm, team owners Dino Panagopoulos and Jeff Larroca were laughing at how John Kerry called the Green Bay Packers' home stadium Lambert Field rather than Lambeau Field. Someone else remembered that Kerry continued to use a line about the greatness of Ohio State football after crossing into Michigan. In Michigan, people wear T-shirts that say, "Oh how I hate Ohio State."

Mike Pesca Mike Pesca

Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate daily podcast The Gist. He also contributes reports and commentary to NPR.

As soon as Panagopoulos and Larroca filled out the proper IRS forms, named the group, and put up a Web site, kindred spirits began e-mailing more evidence. Kerry, it turned out, once named Eddie Yost as his favorite Red Sox player. Yost never played for the Red Sox. Kerry thought there was a current member of the Red Sox named Manny Ortez. Not to mention that Kerry flinched like a coward while catching a football.

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In the words of Panagopoulos, these gaffes prove that John Kerry is "someone who's trying to be all things to all people, and so he's trying to act like he knows some of these things." When Kerry says "Lambert Field," he's advertising his ignorance while putting on the front of being a real fan. At least that's what the president and vice president suggested on their own trips to Wisconsin.

"I thought after John Kerry's visit here I'd visit Lambert Field," said Dick Cheney, who then paused a bit for laughs. "The next thing is he'll be convinced Vince Lombardi is a foreign leader." The president's Lambert field joke was a more oblique critique of the wine-and-cheese liberal. "And I understand my opponent ... even mentioned the legendary stadium in Green Bay," he began. "Listen, I've got some advice for him: If someone offers you a cheesehead, don't say you want some wine. Just put it on your head and take a seat at LAMBEAU Field."

But for all the jokes, there's evidence that John Kerry really does know the name of the stadium—that he simply misspoke. At a Green Bay rally in February, Kerry got the name right. He also nailed it in a May rally right across from Lambeau Field.

The baseball gaffes also seem less criminal after a little scrutiny. The supposed flubs were broadcast widely in two columns by Peter Gammons. In the first (scroll down to "Thing Called Love"), Gammons incorrectly claims that Kerry changed his middle initial so his monogram would read JFK. He also writes that Kerry "threw someone else's medals into the water." Gammons' politics are on the table—how are his facts?

The Eddie Yost story checked out with the man who conducted the interview, Boston sports radio host Eddie Andleman. But Andleman says the conversation took place "about 10 years ago," not in the recent past as Gammons implies. As far as the second flub, Kerry did invert and somewhat mangle (look for the second "News and Notes" item) the names of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in a speech delivered in Boston on July 12. But he did quickly catch the error, even repeating "Manny Ortez" in an incredulous tone as if to scold himself for making such a bonehead mistake.

Still, when Kerry corrected himself he did mispronounce David Or-TEEZ as David Or-TEZZ. Panagopoulos hadn't heard Kerry make the gaffe—he had only read about it in Gammons' column. When I played the clip for him, he said he still wasn't sure if Kerry was a true fan—after all, the guy's name is David Or-TEEZ.

The Football Fans did miss one more example of the supposed disconnect between Kerry and the sports-loving public. On March 18, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote:

Even when he puts on that barn jacket over his expensive suit to look less lockjaw—and says things like, ''Who among us doesn't like Nascar?''—he can come across like Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennet's pretentious cousin in ''Pride and Prejudice.''

A few Web sites (scroll down to "Kerry's Dumb Comment") have noted that Dowd's column was the first print reference to "Who among us doesn't like NASCAR?" All subsequent quotes, including four in the Times, seem to stem from it. Dowd wasn't at the event where Kerry supposedly said "Who among us ... " She learned about it in a casual conversation with Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who said Kerry said it on Feb. 17 at a union rally in Milwaukee.

What Kerry actually said at that rally was "There isn't one of us here who doesn't like NASCAR and who isn't a fan." Because of the roundabout way in which the quote got into print, it didn't get the normal vetting, i.e., playing back the tape. Stolberg now says it's possible that she made a mistake and that Kerry never said "who among us."

The Kerry campaign, though, can hardly cry foul, having helped create the intense competition over the "First Fan" title. Once you get the full context, Kerry seems to know more about sports than the Football Fans for Truth would have you believe, but less than a seasoned candidate should. For instance, Kerry's full NASCAR line might not have included "who among us," but it wasn't nearly as sharp as the president's cheesehead barb:

This president went to Florida just the other day to start the NASCAR races. There isn't one of us here who doesn't like NASCAR and who isn't a fan, but I'll tell you what. Instead of just saying "Gentlemen start you engines," and during that race listening and looking at a race while 350 manufacturing jobs were lost, $171 million was added to the deficit of our country. ...

I'll stop there. The only way that paragraph evokes NASCAR is how it circles around and around, begging for a caution flag. Kerry can show off that he knows his way around a ski slope or a gun range, but Bush has the vernacular and the stats to prove that he's a true team-sports aficionado. Kerry should give up and let Bush retain the title of Armchair Quarterback in Chief. Or maybe he could just end the debate with "one of us traded Sammy Sosa, please vote accordingly."