"This would have swung my vote to Dubya ...
"In the official program for the World Series baseball finals, Bush and Gore were invited to give some written answers to some questions about the state of baseball in the U.S.
"One question - 'What do you think of domed stadiums?' - drew these answers:
"Gore: 'The design and construction of domed stadiums - in Seattle (the Kingdome was the first free-standing current dome ever built), Houston (the Astrodome was the first stadium to use astroturf) and Minnesota (the Metrodome is the only stadium in the USA whose roof is suspended without beams or rods - it's supported by air pressure), for example - have been feats of architectural and engineering excellence. But the real measure of any stadium, domed or otherwise, is how much fun you have inside.'
"Bush: 'I like to go to baseball games outside.'"
It was obvious on the face of it: this was a hoax, one of those Internet urban legends, like that yarn about the U.S. Post Office getting ready to impose a five-cent surtax on every e-mail (a tale that somehow surfaced in a Hillary Clinton/Rick Lazio debate), or an "AP story" I almost published at a previous job about hydrogen-laced beer in Japan that was causing Karaoke singers to belch fire.
"This is clearly an e-mail lie, you understand," I wrote back.
Ah, I thought, what good fortune! Here's the perfect chance to make an ass out of George Will on three separate counts: for his faux-intellectual neo-conservative BS, his insufferable writing about baseball, and for his sloppy -- if not dishonest -- reporting methods. Nothing tickles an "online columnist" more than catching seven-figure journalists with their Internet pants down.
A few days later I went to Google and typed in '2000 World Series Program' Gore Bush. As I suspected, there wasn't exactly a flood of media citations that such a howler should have triggered, just a small item from the Nov. 6 New York Magazine with another overly ideal anecdote:
"The official 2000 World Series program contains a baseball 'debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush,' and it's the first debate all over again. Consider the answers to Who was better, Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams?
"Gore: 'Both players brought great excitement to the game ... DiMaggio's record of 56 consecutive games with a hit still stands today, and Williams' season batting average of .406 is still the standard for every player. It's hard to say who is better, but I can tell you that they were both the best.'
"Bush: 'They were both great.'"
If that wasn't enough to seal the deal on the Hoax Theory, the only other listings were two bits posted on the wacky conservative-conspiracy discussion list FreeRepublic.com.
The first "sampling from the World Series Program," dated Oct. 29, contained three new questions, all of which fit the pattern of Al Gore playing the tone-deaf, detail-obsessed teacher's pet, while Bush shoots out sensible one-liners:
"What pitcher on your team would you like to have and why?
"Al Gore: 'There are so many great pitchers today -- Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mariano Rivera -- it's impossible to choose. Like choosing a running mate, I want a pitcher who I can trust to give the ball every time, and one who in clutch situations can lead my team to victory.'
"George W. Bush: 'Pedro Martinez because he doesn't give up many runs.'
The second and final listing was from Oct. 27, and had the suspiciously vague heading of "CAMPAIGN 2000: Mark Sherman - Staff." It appeared to be the full text of the "interview," and answer after answer was perfect:
"What do you see as a possible solution to the disparity between big and small market clubs in Major League Baseball?
"George W. Bush: 'More revenue sharing.'
"Al Gore: 'The most complicated parts of baseball are no longer the hit and run or the double steal. The influence of television and electronic media has added a new dimension to the game. This allows more people around the world to enjoy the game, but also adds pressure for small market teams to compete fairly. The most important thing is to realize that competition among teams -of all sizes in -all cities is important and whatever it takes to perserve that fundamental part of the game should be considered.'"
Nearly topping the delicious parody were the comments posted about them by the loyal "freepers."
"jeez -- gore can't even give a straight answer about baseball!" wrote "dep."
"Lonesome in Massachussetts" even provided the smoking gun: "Don't let George Will know about this."
Well, as Urban Legends-chaser Barbara Mikkelson told me last year, "When something continues to niggle at your common sense despite assurances that the story is for real, take another look. And never, ever rely on only one person's say-so -- confirm facts instead of placing trust in even the most reliable of sources. ... Anything laced with a heavy dollop of humor should always provoke at least the slight arching of an eyebrow. Mom always said if something appears too good to be true, it generally is."
I searched the Dow Jones Interactive database -- a poor man's Lexis-Nexis, which includes most daily newspapers in the U.S. and thousands from abroad -- and the only references I saw were a lengthy excerpt in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and passing mentions by the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and Hardball's Chris Matthews. Look at any Internet hoax worth its salt, and you will find many more official-sounding citations than that.
So, a fantastic interview with the two presidential candidates, printed three weeks before an election in a program purchased by hundreds of thousands of people, including tens of thousands of journalists ... and no one besides three newspapers, George Will and some conservative Internet rabble see fit to mention it?
I started writing Blair a nasty e-mail, calling him a "right-wing dupe with bad news instincts" ... and then I took one last look on the official Major League Baseball Web site. And ... oh, my, God, it's all true.
Unless author Mike McCormick -- the editor of publications for Major League Baseball Properties -- has engaged in a swindle of Sidd Finch proportions (with the added bonus of being potentially illegal, or at least vulnerable to brutal litigation), this appalling, side-splitting document that no one really noticed is the Lord's truth (which you should go read in full, if you haven't already). My friend Ken Layne once wrote "There is no satire in American politics," but I thought this year's Saturday Night Live had finally proved him wrong.
As to the significance of all this, leave it (as usual) to the foreigners:
"It's an astonishing document, isn't it?" Blair wrote. "Baseball has provided the character analysis all those debates merely hinted at. Gore = egocentric blowhard. Bush = Gump-like savant."