As the US winds down its military involvement in Iraq, it’s easy to overlook the many successes of this far-reaching American crusade to extend freedom and our way of life. Among the great advances in this cradle of civilization since US-led liberation, let us not neglect the feats of the Colorado Iraqis.
“I know even less about baseball than I do about hair care,” former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. “But I am moved by the success of the Colorado Iraqis since the advent of freedom in Iraq.”
The Colorado Iraqis were conceived in the wake of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s widely condemned invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After US forces expelled the invaders, the Pentagon and Major League Baseball officials established the Iraqis franchise. “From Abner Doubleday through Tim Johnson, there’s been a strong, positive relationship between baseball and the military,” Gen. Colin Powell, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman during that first Gulf War, explained. “So we believed that establishing a major league franchise could help moderate the regime’s behavior.”
After two inaugural losing campaigns, the Colorado Iraqis reached the playoffs as the first-ever National League wild card team in 1995. However, the franchise failed to continue its winning ways. The growing misrule of Saddam Hussein led to increased international scrutiny. Consistent major league leading power output fueled suspicions of an illegal nuclear program. The team’s Blake Street Bombers nickname suggested connections with international terrorism.
“In a post-9/11 world, those risks were unacceptable,” former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush, who served as US President from 2001 to 2009, said. “Plus, we wanted to create a government and a team that the Iraqi people could support.” So the US led an international coalition to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom to oust Saddam Hussein and bring democracy and winning baseball to the Iraqis.
Regime change didn’t make the Colorado Iraqis successful overnight. Replacing Saddam Hussein with L Paul Bremer didn’t do the Iraqis any more good than replacing Jim Leyland with Buddy Bell had. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s experiment with the Iraqis using a seven man lineup set back their progress. But the rising tide of freedom would eventually propel the Iraqis upward in the standings.
While the US-led invasion uncovered no weapons of mass destruction, the Colorado Iraqis retained Todd Helton. The Coalition Provisional Authority’s efforts in the immediate aftermath of the invasion to nurture democracy and development enabled the Iraqis to develop Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki.
However, it wasn’t until advent of the surge strategy in 2007, championed by Senator John McCain and implemented by manager Clint Hurdle, that the Colorado Iraqis returned to the postseason. With a 6 1/2 game deficit on September 16, the Iraqis won 14 of their last 15 games, including a one-game playoff, to become the National League’s wild card team for a second time.
The Colorado Iraqis fantastic 2007 postseason run became known to all as Iraqtober. The Iraqis swept the Philadelphia Phillies to advance to the National League Championship Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Iraqis repeated the sweep to win their first National League pennant, giving them an unprecedented 21-1 run from mid-September. But Iraqtober came to an abrupt end in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, which the Iraqis lost four games to none.
“The surge strategy enabled the Iraqis to make meaningful, sustainable gains against opposing forces,” General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq in 2007, recalled. “The past four years of learning to defense the hit and run really paid off.”
Not everyone was as pleased as Petraeus with the Colorado Iraqis’ results. “After nearly one million Iraqi deaths, you ought to get a least one game off the Boston-effing-Red Sox,” Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said. “The only thing worse would be losing to the apostate Cardinals or Padres. And, to be honest, I don’t like those Indians much either.”
The late season surge strategy has become a regular feature of the Colorado Iraqis’ finish every year since 2007. In 2009, the Colorado Iraqis rode September winning streaks of eight and five games to another wild card berth. They didn’t get beyond the first round of the playoffs, but they’ve become a force to be reckoned with annually, transforming the season’s closing weeks into the fall of Iraqis.
“Whatever you think of the original circumstances of the invasion of Iraq, it’s indisputable that the Colorado Iraqis are established as a thriving, successful franchise, right in the center of the Middle East,” President Barack Obama said. “That’s allowed my administration to focus on the current threat to global order from WMDs – the Wilpons of Mets Destruction – and to dare hope we can duplicate the success of the Colorado Iraqis in our efforts to assist the long-suffering Detroit Libyans.”
Totally globalized native New Yorker, reforming baseball writer, and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.