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Hillary’s Cubs Fandom Actually Checks Out

Plenty of authentic Chicagoans have abandoned the Lovable Losers for greener pastures.
Clinton cubs.png

As an election full of improbable events draws to a close, there could be no more fitting an end to all of it than if two of the most improbable events in American culture took place within a week of each other. Which is, of course, exactly what’s happening.

After 240 years as a nation run by men, and after a title drought lasting a statistically impossible 108 years, Americans are today preparing ourselves to see a female president elected nearly the same week as the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series.

It. Is. Bonkers.

Or as we’ve come to know it, exactly the kind of last-minute twist 2016 deserves. Suddenly, this now-famous joke has new levity.

But the serendipity gets better still. What better way to end the Year Of The Media Coup than with one more delectable storyline: Hillary Clinton, first female president, is herself a Cubs fan! The president-elect who would save our democracy gets to accessorize her victory with the magic of a curse being snapped. It’s too perfect for anyone to resist playing up, least of all the candidate herself.

Her opponents, meanwhile, will play down the association. One approach will be to question whether Hillary is really a Cubs fan. And they’ll have a compelling case.

She’s natively from Chicago, sure, but wasn’t she seen more recently wearing other teams’ gear? Didn’t she jump on the New York Yankees bandwagon when she ran for the Senate in New York? Is this just another Clinton shape-shifting?

Not necessarily. As a native Chicagoan (and a bemused White Sox fan) I’m here to tell you that Hillary’s story about her relationship with the Cubs actually, technically, checks out.

To be clear, let’s acknowledge the limitations of the word “fan” here. Hillary Clinton spends very little of her time giving a shit about baseball. She’d have better things to do if she were only a working grandmother. Add in the gig as the most-travelled Secretary of State in history, and we can dwindle close to zero the amount of time she’s probably spent following Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project.

But sports fandom, as we know, goes beyond the on-field games around election time. Team affiliation offers an opportunity for relatable, safe micro-nationalism that politicians can’t pass up. So even though Hillary’s baseball enthusiasms are probably no more electric than those demonstrated in the below clip (in which she throws out the first pitch of the Cubs’ 1994 season without leaving her box seat) the decision about which team to associate herself with has certainly crossed her mind.

Her first affiliation was decided for her. The Rodhams were, by all accounts, devoted Cubs fans. But Hillary left that home, and that state, and never returned.

Arkansas didn’t have a professional team, so her Cubs identity stayed intact. (She did ingratiate herself by adopting a version of their accent — before quickly discarding it.) As First Lady, Clinton continued to identify as a Cubs fan; in the above clip you can hear Wrigley’s P.A. announcer introduce her as such. So at least through the Clinton administration, she was a regular Old Style-guzzling, cheezborger-scarfing bleacher bum.

But when she ran for the Senate in New York, a Yankees cap suddenly appeared on the FLOTUSine crown. I remember seeing an Onion piece around that time, apparently offline now, joking that one of her methods for appealing to working-class New Yorkers was to wear in a new Yankees hat by rolling over it a few times with her car. To everyone watching the race, for which purpose the Clintons bought their house in Chappaqua, that sounded about right.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you can’t do with team affiliation. Shifting policies is one thing. Shifting native identities is anathema.

The truth is, people don’t care if a candidate roots for their team. Case in point: Rudy Giuliani, tone-deaf Count Chocula that he is, pissed off everybody in New Hampshire when he rooted for the Red Sox on the campaign trail in 2007. Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, stayed true to his Red Sox during his mayoral campaign in New York City. He still won. People are not so simple that they are swayed, generally, by a flimsy display of cultural interloping. It’s treason they don’t like.

Which appears to be exactly what Hillary committed against her Cubs when she donned Yankees stuff. I however contend that her story actually does check out. Maybe by dumb luck, but it does.

Hillary’s contention is that she was always a Cubs fan, but needed an American League team that wasn’t the hated White Sox. Her choice was the New York Yankees. It’s a plausible story, given that team’s magical run of success throughout Hillary Rodham’s childhood. By the time she dressed as Mickey Mantle for Halloween at age 7, the Yankees had just finished winning five straight World Series. In successive years they would win more. It’s understandable how she came to cheer for them, and there’s ample evidence that she continued to support them, years before her decision to run in New York.

Treason! you might say. Bandwagoneer! Who abandons their long-suffering team? Who chooses the Yankees except sell-outs? They’re like the Clintons of baseball, for christ sake!

Keep in mind two things, neither of which have been mentioned in the numerous defenses of Hillary’s fandom that have been published in recent days. (Jonathan Mahler’s being a good digest.)

First, rooting for the Yankees in mid-century Chicago was actually fairly common. This was before my time, obviously, but I once heard from an old Italian guy that due to waves of immigration carrying minorities westward from New York, his South Side neighborhood was full of White Sox and Yankees fans. I’m not sure how many of those people made it out to Park Ridge, but on paper, Hillary wasn’t alone.

More importantly, if there was ever a team that it was OK to abandon, or at least supplement, it has been the Chicago Cubs. Non-Chicagoans who demand unfailing fealty from Cubs fans don’t understand how soul-crushingly bad the team has been over the span of living memory. Maybe Cleveland Browns fans. In Chicago, ex-Cubs fans are all over the place. The soul can only take so much abuse.

Here’s a fun fact: until last Saturday, the Cubs had never won the National League Championship Series. How could they have? The last time they won the NL was two months after World War II, and the LCS system debuted in 1969. Know what else happened that year? While Hillary Rodham was busy graduating from Wesleyan, the Chicago Cubs were in the process of one baseball history’s greatest implosions, a late-season collapse that allowed the New York Mets to overtake them and go on to win the World Series. It was a loss bad enough to serve as the final straw for my own uncle, at the time a devout North Sider, who disgustedly declared himself a White Sox fan from that point on. To this day, he has an ex’s relationship with the Cubs.

Understanding the abject shittiness of the Cubs, for so long, is not only key to permitting a Cubs fan’s dual cheering, but to understanding Chicago’s present revelry. So, yes, everybody. By the laws of Cubs fandom, Hillary Rodham had every right to root for the New York Yankees, just like she has every right to celebrate the potential victory of her family’s native team.

Run free with the story, media. It is sensational: the same year we see our first female president, the newly elected’s Lovable Losers win for the first time in the era of female suffrage. As for purist Cubs fans, I wouldn’t expect any of them to pitch a fit about Hillary’s re-dedication to her first team. After all, the White House is about to shift from a White Sox to a Cubs fan. And no one in the Windy City is about to argue with that.