Can he make a comeback?

There’s no better storyline in baseball or politics than a compelling comeback. Whether it’s the “worst to first” Red Sox in 2013 or Buddy Cianci in 1992 (who “never stopped caring about Providence” even while incarcerated), fans and voters love an underdog and someone who has been down-and-out before clawing back to the top.

Down at JetBlue Park, Grady Sizemore, the former all-star centerfielder for the Cleveland Indians is hoping to be the comeback kid for the Red Sox this year. A phenom for his first four seasons in the majors, he hasn’t played a full season of baseball since 2009 — or a single game since 2011. I’m knocking on wood and crossing my fingers as I write this, but the Red Sox are cautiously optimistic that he could contribute to the team in a meaningful way this year.

Unwittingly, Clay Pell may have put himself in the underdog position in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor. The odd rollout of his campaign with the never-ending “Clay is IN” web ads featuring Michelle n’ Clay (IN where?) and the incredible story about his car running away from home/being stolen have definitely put him behind his two primary opponents in terms of appearing ready from day one. I won’t count him out yet — quirky sometimes wins (see current governor) and a big bank account can make that happen (again, see current governor), but the car story might tell a tale that inspires some voters to opt for another candidate.

I’ve done some dippy things with my car. Once I left a cup of coffee on the roof and drove down Hope Street wondering why people were gesticulating and giggling. I have a friend who briefly lost her car when she drove to work, walked home and then wondered where her car went. We laugh at ourselves and move on. But the story of the Pell Prius says a little more about the candidate than he might want voters to know.

In December when he first reported that it had been stolen, he simply parked it somewhere and walked home, forgetting where he parked it. These things happen but his response lacked some basic common sense. He went out of his way to criticize the Providence Police for responding slowly, saying he waited in the cold for two hours with the car once he found it. A regular Rhode Islander would be embarrassed for being dippy but grateful to have found the car unharmed. He would drive the car home, call the police and go down to the station to do the paperwork, not wanting to waste one more minute of patrol time. He also would not publicly criticize a law enforcement officer for a slow response to such a non-emergency.

When Pell misplaced his car the second time, he left it unlocked with the keys inside. A Prius has a button start and so whoever borrowed the car simply opened the door and pressed a button. Knowingly leaving your keys in your car in an area where cars are frequently stolen is either naïve, dumb or too rich to care. But I am not sure that this is even an accurate picture of what occurred since he and Ms. Kwan spent a significant amount of time driving around looking for the car as if it were a lost cat. Perhaps they weren’t sure that it just hadn’t been misplaced again — or didn’t know the neighborhood well enough to be certain on which street they’d parked. Either way, this episode illustrates a lack of gravitas. Rhode Island needs “West Wing” leadership, not reruns of “Laverne & Shirley.”

A Grady Sizemore comeback this year would confirm that Red Sox scouting and management continues to be incredibly adept at assessing talent and potential. A Clay Pell comeback might say just the opposite about Rhode Island voters.

Cara Cromwell is a public affairs consultant with more than twenty years experience managing issues campaigns for corporations, non-profits, associations, coalitions and candidates on both sides of the aisle.  Visit her blog, Straight Up The Middle, at http://straightupthemiddle.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter @cmcromwell.

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