Play Ball! (Not Politics)

It's that time of year again — the race is coming down to the wire. Supporters' stomachs are clenched, not wanting to do anything that may jinx their team. I'm talking, of course, about the Major League Baseball playoffs.

As last night's improbable come-from-behind win by the Boston Red Sox showed, anything can happen. (There might be a campaign metaphor there.)

Over the past several years, politicians have tried to turn our National Pastime into something political.

In 2000, Chicago native and lifelong Cubs fan Hillary Clinton, now a candidate in New York, threw the Cubbies under the bus and donned the cap made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and, yes, Costanza. She was now, she claimed, a Bronx Bomber.

At the time, Clinton had the temerity to say something everyone knew was false — that she had "always been a Yankees fan."

At Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, when the New York Yankees hosted cross-town rivals the New York Mets, Clinton supporters attempted to hand out bumper stickers to fans as they arrived. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Bronx can imagine the reaction (and language) Yankees fans had toward the team-poaching, carpetbagging candidate.

Last year, as Clinton campaigned for president and both the Cubs and Yankees were playoff-bound, Clinton ducked a simple question from the late Tim Russert — "Who would you be for?” — saying something no sports fan would ever say: "I would probably have to alternate sides."

The statement should have made clear Clinton's lack of inevitability then and there.

Now we have another Democrat trying to interfere with baseball. No surprise, it's Barack Obama.

Should the World Series go to a Game 6, baseball fans tuning in to catch the beginning of the game will instead be greeted by a 30-minute Obama campaign ad. In order to accommodate the ad buy — which is running on rival networks — Major League Baseball has decided to delay Game 6 of the World Series by 15 minutes.

This is not a news event, such as John McCain's acceptance speech, candidates attending games or when the president throws out a ceremonial first pitch. This is a candidate's political ad delaying an honored American tradition. It smacks of arrogance, something the Obama campaign must be wary of. It could also be an error that angers millions of baseball fans turning on their television set to see a baseball game, not more political ads.

Of course, there are probably other examples of politicians interfering with baseball going back to the beginning of the sport. Perhaps in the 1870s, President Rutherford B. Hayes, an Ohio native, tried to use the Cincinnati Red Stockings for his political advantage.

After holding a campaign rally in Germany and his acceptance speech in a football stadium, Barack Obama has now decided his television ads are more important than the World Series.

Talk about audacity!


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On a related note, The Washington Post's Paul Kane had an interesting take this week on the baseball/politics phenomenon — how the Philadelphia Phillies' advancement to the World Series may drown out any political news in the state. If Kane is right, that means the outcome of the Tampa Bay/Boston series may have serious political consequences.

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