WASHINGTON — President Bush said Tuesday that even in a losing streak, it is possible to win by sticking with your goal and showing character no matter what the doubters say about you.
He was talking, of course, about baseball.
Bush, a lifelong fan of the sport, honored the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals by commending them for winning the hard way.
To be sure, the Cardinals were not a powerhouse on their way to the White House.
The team limped into the playoffs with the worst record of any World Series champion in a non-strike season. The Cardinals played with castoffs in key positions and a sense of being slighted by people other than their fans.
“When you overcome the odds this team overcame, you’ve got to play as a team,” Bush said. “And they did.”
In beating the Detroit Tigers last fall, the team was led by a little guy: David Eckstein, a sparkplug of a shortstop who stands 5-foot-7.
“They said he can’t hit. They said he can’t throw,” Bush said of Eckstein, who stood smiling behind the president with his teammates.
“Listen, David. I’ve made a career out of people underestimating me,” Bush said, drawing laughs from a packed East Room audience.
Bush lauded the team’s entire operation — its management, coaches, players and fans. He had plenty of nice words for St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa and his old business partner, Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., who worked with Bush when the president was managing partner of the Texas Rangers.
“The Cardinals now have won 10 World Series. That’s 10 more than the Texas Rangers,” Bush said.
The biggest applause, though, came when Bush introduced an injured Marine, Lance Cpl. Chad Watson. Bush met him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recently and noticed the soldier was wearing a Cardinals hat. So he invited him to the ceremony.
“You never know where you’re going to find a St. Louis Cardinal fan,” Bush said.
Bush later said that growing up in Texas, the only games he could get on TV were Cardinals games.
“That was in the ‘50s — see that was before your time,” Bush said to laughter. When he noticed Rep. William Lacy Clay chuckling, Bush said, “Isn’t that right Lacy?”
Clay responded: “Does that make you a Cardinals fan?”
“It made me a baseball fan,” Bush said to more laughter. “It made me a Stan Musial fan.”
Guests at the reception included most of the state’s congressional delegation, Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, wearing a bright red blouse and jacket, brought her 19-year-old son, Austin, to the event. “Apparently, I was the only one who got the memo about the dress code,” she joked.
Afterward, LaRussa said he was overwhelmed by Bush’s sincerity and humor.
“I think it’s one of those experiences that you look forward to and you have an expectation, but it just completely overwhelms you,” LaRussa said. “It was almost difficult to describe. The president was so gracious and his remarks were just perfect.”
A few notable players, chiefly slugger Albert Pujols, did not attend because of schedule conflicts. Pitcher Jeff Suppan led the team into the room even though he is with another team now, the Milwaukee Brewers, after signing a $42 million contract in the offseason.
For this event, the business attire typically required in the Bush White House gave way to some Cardinal red. A few fans wore baseball caps. Others wore Cardinal jerseys. A little girl came with a bright red bow, while a young boy sported a sharp red tie.
More than a few players, despite being used to a spotlight, seemed a bit overwhelmed around the president.
Said Eckstein after the event: “It’s just an honor to have him even mention you, to have him even know your name.”