by Casey Singer
With the death of Fidel Castro last fall, the number of world leaders with even theoretically verifiable experience on the diamond has fallen to a new low. Despite efforts and reputation, Castro never quite achieved the heights of dictatorship as envisioned by self-impressed prevaricator “Che” Guevera, settling for middling career numbers in a pursuit fueled, per persistent rumor despite the dates not matching in the slightest, by the shortsightedness of the Baltimore Orioles, whom we delight in blaming for let’s say all of Cuba’s ills even though, again, they didn’t even exist during Castro’s youth.
So you find yourself in need of a dictator, but aren’t sure where to look? You want solid stats and a proven track record, but it’s a tricky affair: Rare is the dictator who swaps teams mid-career. Rare as well is the hot prospect, dictators often being defined in part by the longevity of their rule.
Surely you’ve considered making an offer to Kim, who doubtless owns a Batting Average, OBP, and wOBA each over 1.000, if we are to presume his family’s sporting prowess extends to pastimes more popular in their southern neighbor than at home. Ah, but the scouts have cooled on his staying power, suggesting that this reigning copy-of-a-copy is more dud than stud.
You’ve caught Assad’s name in the news quite a bit of late. He seems to be coming to the end of his contract, unless the international community decides to give him an extension, and has even begun cultivating a mustache to improve his appeal with the youth demographic, but two factors have dampened interest: First is a spotty career defined more by peaks than by consistency, though his qualities as a dictator have increasingly shone through as his body of work is reviewed, notwithstanding the fact he was bombed in his last several outings; second is the strong presence of Russia in negotiations, suggesting to some that the team may be seeking a return to their days of being a multi-dictator powerhouse, as they were in the heydey of the USSR pennant-winning dynasty (although it produced just the one championship), and that the embattled honcho may already be off the table.
Speaking of which, after starting with little promise, Berdimuhamedov has quickly shown himself to be as crazy and oppressive as a dictator needs to be, but most critics complain his rule lacks the particularly loony flavor of his predecessor, Niyazov. The same is often said of other Central Asian states and a desperate GM begins to despair for the mass-murderers of yesteryear.
How precious a gem is a Mugabe, still plugging away, decades of crime under the spotlight? Is it too late to turn up another quiet, under-the-radar performer like Afwerki, efficiently flipping from independence to one of the world’s most oppressive regimes in just a few years? There are risks, of course. The last thing one wants is for a possible dictator to pull an Obasanjo — inheriting a junta only to turn around and begin transitioning toward a democratic civilian government right away.
Some teams just don’t have the structure in place to produce their own superstar strongman, but all is not lost. Many otherwise multiparty states have achieved some degree of success with an ersatz dictator, such as in the case of a Berlusconi, who, despite being in and out of the roster and operating in a system that should in theory have prevented it, put up outstanding numbers. Sometimes a franchise just needs to foster a supportive oligarchy, and the damage that can be achieved in a short time will be tremendous.
In the end, we suggest that one not pine for greater monsters, comparing today’s standouts to the legends of the past era — the game was different in the 30s and 40s — but instead appreciate the real potential of the leaders you’ve got.