Baseball and politics shouldn’t mix. And yet, they do. They must. Baseball dominates the culture of this country like football never will. Like basketball never will. And the Olympics are coming up, so for a few weeks their athletes will rise to baseball’s dimensions. But then they’ll fade away, too.
Yes, I’m pumping up baseball on a baseball website. I’m preaching to the proverbial choir. But I’m also stating a fundamental fact, which is that the game of baseball — the players and those who pay them — gets our collective attention like nothing else can.
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The report that the Steinbrenner family was considering selling the Yankees is the latest example of this. Everyone knows about George Steinbrenner, either through real life with Billy and Reggie back in the 1970s, or through the caricature of him on Seinfeld. When he died, it was big news. And now, when his heirs are thought to be considering the sale of the team, we all sit up and take notice. Can any other sports franchise draw so much attention? I’m going to say no.
And so, when the news of the “Ricketts Plan” to defeat President Obama this fall became public via a New York Times report on May 17, it made headlines. The nexus between sports and politics was discussed anew, and the Ricketts family hit a land mine in their attempts to secure public money for the renovation of Wrigley Field. It was lose-lose for the Ricketts family and their new bauble, the Chicago Cubs.
But the losing hasn’t been confined to the public relations sphere, though. On the day the story was published, the Cubs lost to the Phillies 8-7, to run their losing streak to three in a row. Since then, the streak has now reached 11 straight, with last night’s 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh on a walk-off HBP perhaps the most painful one yet. Friday wasn’t much better when the Cubs had 10 hits but couldn’t score in a 1-0 loss to the Pirates — starting pitcher Ryan Dempster must now be praying for a trade out of this city. I couldn’t blame him for that, either.
Many people will see this as a facile juxtaposition between two otherwise unrelated events. Fair enough. I’ve seen enough Cubs baseball over the years to know they’ve lost ten in a row without a Ricketts Plan being involved. But I can tell you, more than a week after the story was made public, that the baseball the Cubs have played since then has been completely uninspired, flat, and unworthy of the term “major league.” And this is a longtime Cubs fan saying this.
Karma is coming into play here. If Joe Ricketts decides to play ugly politics by throwing his money at a plan to divide this country, and bad things happen in the wake of the news, should anyone be surprised? I’m not.