Between the European sovereign debt crisis, the looming fiscal cliff, and the country’s stubbornly high unemployment, there are plenty of natural questions for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke when he makes a public appearance.
Then, there are the curveballs.
“Can we learn anything about the dramatic success of the [Washington] Nationals that might apply broadly to economic policy or monetary policy specifically, or vice versa?” the Fed chief was asked at a question-and-answer session on Monday following a speech in Indianapolis. The baseball team is entering the playoffs after several dismal seasons in what is widely viewed as a surprising turnaround.
“You know, I keep these two issues in different compartments of my mind,” Bernanke replied. But he was able to draw a few lessons for the broader economy out of the Nationals' experience. “They looked to the future. They—even when they were really bad, they were trying to hire, scout, you know, sign young players and look towards the future, and I think that’s what our economy is all about. We have to look towards the future,” he said.
Bernanke is an avid baseball fan and has a specially engraved Louisville Slugger bat bearing his name, he revealed to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an interview this spring. He's dedicated to his adopted hometown's team and has been periodically sighted at Nationals Park in Southeast Washington. And he wants the world to know he's not a fair-weather fan.
“I want to say here and now that I’ve been following them since 2005. I’m not a Johnny-come-lately just because they’re having a good year,” he told members of the Economic Club of Indiana on Monday.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Fed chief took time out from preparing for the central bank’s latest round of quantitative easing to attend a Nationals batting practice just five days before the bond-buying program was launched. Sports Illustrated, describing the same visit, reported that Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth tried to ask Bernanke questions about the Fed’s bond-buying program, but noted that Bernanke wasn’t discussing economic issues and just wanted to talk baseball.
Bernanke speculated on Monday that many economists like baseball because they like the numbers and statistics associated with the sport. And, as in economics, there's also a lot of forecasting. In this realm, Bernanke got it right, telling Diane Sawyer in March that he was “very optimistic” about the Nationals' upcoming season. “This is the year,” he said.