The Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball’s National League are one of the world’s oldest and most unfortunate sports teams.
Born the Chicago White Stockings in 1870, they were back-to-back American baseball champions in 1907 and 1908. But they haven’t won the championship since. They haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945.
To be a Cubs fan, you have to be ready for never-ending melancholy, for suffering, for putting on a hair shirt replica of a baseball jersey and heading out to see a team that has come to be known to many as the “lovable losers.”
One of those long-suffering fans is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Chicago area native.
The Diplomacy of Baseball
During this past weekend’s surprise visit to Kabul, Clinton commiserated with the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, comparing the sometimes thankless machinations of diplomatic service to waiting more than 100 years for another championship baseball team.
“Like me, he is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan,” Clinton told the Kabul embassy staff, recalling the game she and Crocker attended during May’s NATO summit in Chicago when the Afghan commander, Marine General John Allen, threw out the first pitch.
“He and I sat through yet another loss at Wrigley Field, along with General Allen. We tried to put a good face on it. But I think if you are masochistic enough to be a Cubs fan, you are drawn to assignments like this, and what I do every day,” she said.
One of the most-traveled diplomats in U.S. history, Clinton has been to more than 100 countries as secretary of state. So there is less time for baseball, especially with the White House now focused on re-electing President Barack Obama, a vocal fan of the Cubs’ hated cross-town rival, the Chicago White Sox.
As America’s First Lady, Clinton threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on opening day of the 1994 season. It was a promising start to the season, with leadoff Cubs hitter Tuffy Rhodes touching Mets ace Dwight Gooden for three home runs. Even so, the Cubs went on to lose the game. And Rhodes hit just five more homers the rest of the year. The Cubs finished last in their division that season, 16 and a half games out of first place.
The Politics of Baseball
Clinton’s Cubs loyalties came under question in 1999 when, preparing to run for a U.S. Senate seat from the state of New York, she told a TV interviewer that she also rooted for an American League team – from New York. “so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees,” she said.
And running for president in 2007, she tried to split the difference in a debate question about her baseball loyalties. Who she would cheer in a fictional Cubs-Yankees World Series, she was asked. “I guess I would have to alternate,” she answered.
That didn’t sit well with some Cubs fans, who accused Clinton of pandering and duplicity to win New York votes.
But it turns out Clinton may have been telling the truth after all. Her 2003 autobiography includes a photo of her wearing a Yankees cap long before moving to New York. She remembers dressing up like Yankees great Mickey Mantle for Halloween when she was seven years old.
With the Yankees’ record 27 championships and 40 American League pennants, Clinton could not have chosen a team more unlike the Cubs.
At least she didn’t choose New York’s other baseball team, the Mets, whose blistering finish to the 1969 National League season shattered the Cubs seemingly insurmountable mid-August lead.
That season’s collapse was typical for the Cubs. During one game, a black cat ran onto the field, creating yet another of the Cubs’ famous curses — the best known of which was an incident in 1945 that came to be known as “The Curse of the Billy Goat.”
Clinton takes it all in strike, concluding that being a Cubs fan was good training for her current job as the U.S. secretary of state.
”I’m so glad I learned to play hard ball when I was a little girl,” she once told a group of former baseball players. “I remember talking with my dad in those days, worrying about the Cubs in the same way you’d discuss an errant child.”
”Being a Cubs fan prepares you for life, and for Washington, which is part of, but not totally synonymous with life.”