Stepping Up to the Plate: A Brief History of Baseball Players in Politics

Curt Schilling may find that success in the Green Monster does not guarantee victory in the political arena

Curt Schilling threw America a curveball, announcing his intention to run against Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Curt Schilling threw America a curveball, announcing his intention to run against Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Boston Red Sox legendary pitcher Curt Schilling recently announced plans to run against Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018, joining hundreds of other pro baseball players who have run for public office. According to and many other sources, roughly 300 people involved in playing, ownership, beat writing, scouting, and management have been elected to office, including Ronald Reagan (who played Grover Cleveland Alexander in a movie) and started his career as a broadcaster calling Chicago Cubs games.

In fact, my research published in Ron Briley’s edited book The Politics of Baseball shows that players on average do better than the average politician in elections. Certainly fame from playing America’s pastime helps, but it also seems to benefit a fair number of minor leaguers, owners and commissioners. Because baseball is seen as a team sport, the ability to organize and work together with a disparate group of varying talents seems well-suited to the political arena.

The controversial conservative former Red Sox still may need help from the baseball gods

Republican Jim Bunning, who pitched for 17 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies and threw two no-hitters (one of which was a perfect game), then served in Congress and the Senate. Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell had a good career as a left-handed pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, then won several terms as a Republican House member representing North Carolina.

Outfielder Fred Brown played just nine games for the Boston Beaneaters in 1901-2, but enjoyed a far longer career as a public servant, wining a Senate seat in then-conservative New Hampshire (he also served as a congressman and governor). Franklin Delano Roosevelt later named him comptroller general of the United States.

Versatile John Tener pitched and played outfield for a few teams, and later served as governor of Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Victor Aldridge won a pair of World Series games in 1925, and a few terms in the Indiana legislature. Ernie Shore threw a combined no-hitter with Babe Ruth (getting 26 of the 27 outs) and won two World Series in 1915 and 1916. Afterwards, he served as Forsyth County Sheriff (North Carolina) for 34 years.

Bobby Richardson campaign button.

Bobby Richardson campaign button.

Baseball Commissioners like Morgan Bulkeley (Connecticut) and “Happy” Chandler (Kentucky) found electoral success in Congress and state politics (both are also in Cooperstown), but former MLB leader Peter Ueberroth lost his race to become governor of California in 2003.

South of the United States, players like Bobby Avila, Aurelio Lopez, Raul Mondesi, Magglio Ordonez and Melido Perez became involved in politics in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. It’s a similar story for several Japanese baseball players too.

But success in the baseball stadium does not guarantee victory in the political arena. Walter “Big Train” Johnson, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher for the Washington Senators, lost a race for U.S. Congress for the GOP in 1940 when he promised to “study up on them issues” once elected from Maryland (he lost, most likely based on that comment). Enshrined in Cooperstown for racking up more than 3000 hits, “Cap” Anson won a race for Chicago City Clerk in 1905, but was blown out in a race for sheriff the following year, failing to win even the primary. As the Chicago Tribune quipped “When an elected official’s eagerness for some other elective office is of the sort that makes him a coward in his present office, that cowardice is not a good qualification for another job. The stories which Capt. [sic] told on the platform during his campaign a year ago seemed then to win him votes, but the people may not so ‘easy’ a second time. They may turn the light on the captain’s record.” Also, like Pete Rose today, Anson gambled on baseball, insisting he only bet on himself to win as a player.

President Calvin Coolidge shakes hands with pitcher Walter Johnson.

President Calvin Coolidge shakes hands with pitcher Walter Johnson.

Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop Honus Wagner lost badly in his race for Allegheny County Sheriff in 1928. Even 1960 World Series hero and second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bill Mazeroski, finished second in his bid for Westmoreland County Commissioner. Fellow Pirate, Jim Rooker, a pitcher, lost bids for U.S. Congress and the state legislature in Pennsylvania, after helping win the 1979 World Series for Pittsburgh. Bobby Richardson’s stellar career with the New York Yankees apparently did not help him win in Dixie; he lost his race for U.S. Congress in South Carolina in 1976.

Schilling certainly has a strong baseball CV, even if he’s a political neophyte. Best known for the gutty pitching performance that produced the legendary “bloody sock” for the Boston Red Sox in the amazing 2004 postseason, Schilling’s World Series wins with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, along with the championship with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 (and a World Series appearance with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993), does give the lefty at least the statistics and the memories that could eventually lead to a call from Cooperstown, New York for a place in Major League Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame.

But the controversial conservative former Red Sox still may need help from the baseball gods to oust an incumbent all-star like Elizabeth Warren in bright blue Massachusetts.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at