A Kid in the White House
Fans who grew up in the 1990s will undoubtedly recognize the significance of a “Griffey in ’96” button housed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection. It’s a perfect symbol of Griffey’s popularity by 1996, when he announced his presidential candidacy in a fictional television ad campaign with Nike.
Despite these minor quibbles, some major names from the political world and beyond were inspired by Griffey’s platforms of more home runs and endless games of pepper. Political strategist James Carville, who had successfully advised President Bill Clinton’s victory just four years before, seemingly switched to the outsider Griffey over the incumbent in ’96.
“People don’t want someone coming out of left field,” said Carville, a Democrat, in one Nike ad, “And they sure don’t want someone who plays too far right. Griffey’s in the center (field), perfectly positioned.”
The candidate’s staff got a major boost with the addition of campaign manager George Clinton – yes, that George Clinton, of Parliament-Funkadelic music group fame. It turns out the colorful singer thought Griffey could bring a lot to the table.
He is a fabulous American hero, and there hasn’t been anyone like him since, well, Reggie Jackson."
But maybe Griffey himself summed up his campaign best when he said, “We need someone who can hit a Mark Langston overhand curve ball.”
Bill Clinton, as expected, was re-nominated for the Democratic ticket, while Bob Dole carried the Republican primaries. But as the summer wore on, ‘Griffey in ’96’ bumper stickers began popping up on the highways, as did roadside rallies in battleground states. On the diamond, Griffey was delivering on his home run promise, smashing his way to a then-career high 49 round-trippers. Meanwhile, Nike copywriter Hank Perlman was seeing a perfect opportunity for baseball to represent the desires of American voters.
It seems at least one Rhode Islander was convinced by Griffey’s campaign mantra: “We’re not a nation of individuals, we’re one big American League.”
Matt Kelly is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum