CARACAS, Venezuela.Â With the start of baseball season justÂ two weeks away, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today threatened the United States with an embargo on the export of shortstops until his countryman David Concepcion, a five-time Gold Glove winner for the Cincinnati Reds' "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970's, is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Venezuela produces the world's most beautiful women and the best shortstops," ChavezÂ told a cheering crowd at the presidential palace in Caracas.Â "Let the Yanqui oppressors try to get by with their pathetic little David Ecksteins and Freddie Pateks."
Chavez once took out a full-page ad in USA Today touting Concepcion's Hall of Fame candidacy and praising other Venezuelan shortstops such as Luis Aparicio and Miquel Cabrera.Â TheÂ socialist dictator has become increasinglyÂ eccentric over the past few years,Â calling for an end to presidential term limits and ordering the nation's clocks to be moved forward by a half hour.Â "He kept missing the Web Gems segment on SportsCenter," said Marvin Schaeffer, who covers Latin America for The New York Post.
In addition to shortstops, Venezuela is a major exporter of petroleum, which is marketed in the United StatesÂ under the "Citgo" brand.Â The company is perhaps best known in America for the sign in Boston's Kenmore Square that is visible to spectators in Fenway Park.
Conspiracy theorists have speculated that Chavez uses the sign to disrupt the play of non-Venezuelan infieldersÂ such as former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and current Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has developed "Garciaparra Syndrome," aÂ disorder characterizedÂ by obsessive fiddlingÂ with batting gloves.Â Chavez has issued perfunctory denials of that charge, citing the writings of left-wing linguist Noam Chomsky as evidence that America is to blame forÂ the designated hitter rule.
Democratic Senator John Kerry issued a statement deploring the failure of the Bush administration to maintain sufficient shortstop reserves over the past eight years, saying "When I was a boy growing up watching Eddie Yost play shortstop for the Red Sox,Â whom among us would have thought that America would ever lose itsÂ position as theÂ birthplace of the world's greatest 'hot corner' men?"Â Â Â
In the 2004 presidential race Kerry lost several swing states when he identified Yost, a third baseman who played for the Washington Senators, the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, as his favorite Red Sox player.
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