Politics mirrors baseball teams

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2004

WASHINGTON On national political maps, Republicans are red and Democrats are blue, but when it comes to the national pastime the parties switch colors.

Democrats more nearly mirror the Boston Red Sox and Republicans the dark blue-pinstriped New York Yankees a link playing out with the GOP holding its convention in New York next week after the Democrats held theirs in Boston.

Like Boston, New York is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, but the Yankees have historically reflected New York's richer, Republican residents. This dates back to an era when three baseball franchises played in the city, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were the workingman's team.

In fact, many Dodgers fans switched allegiance to the Red Sox after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, rather than embrace the haughty Yankees.

The Yankees embody values of the Republican Party wealth, entrepreneurship. The team remains the richest in baseball, just as the GOP maintains its dominant financial position in American politics. The Yankees resist revenue-sharing aimed at helping poorer teams, just as the Republican Party fights economic policies aimed at redistributing wealth.

And the Yankees are successful winning American League pennants in five of the last six years, just as the GOP has won four of the last six presidential elections. The team's most visible fan is one of the nation's leading Republicans: former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The Red Sox, like the Democrats, seem more vulnerable. Last year's crushing loss in the American League Championship Series resembled the Democrats' loss in the last presidential race narrowly missing a prize that many felt should have been theirs.

The Red Sox were five outs away from winning the decisive seventh game of the series, only to lose the game in extra innings; Democrat Al Gore lost the presidential election despite getting more votes than George W. Bush, in an election that took weeks to sort out.

As Jay Leno put it before this year's Democratic National Convention, ''You know Boston is a perfect city for Democrats because the Democrats are like the Red Sox: They're optimistic in the spring, concerned in the summer, ready to choke in the fall.''

This trend goes back years. In 1978, the Red Sox blew a 14-game lead to the Yankees, who went on to win the World Series. A decade later, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis lost a 17-point lead in the polls to George H.W. Bush, who went on to win the White House. Dukakis, a lifelong Red Sox fan, calls the Yankees baseball's Republicans.

''The Yankees got money, lots of it,'' he said in an interview. ''And you know, they're out there, and they always do their thing, and nine times out of ten they win ... whereas the Red Sox are scrappers and battlers, they've got to live off the land. The Yankees are the establishment.''

By a scheduling quirk, the Yankees and Red Sox faced off at Fenway Park on the eve of the Democratic convention, prompting John Kerry to divert his plane from the campaign trail to Boston to attend the nationally televised game, where he threw out the first ball.

''The idea of missing a Yankees-Red Sox series right before a convention week was not acceptable,'' the Sox fan said.

Some Democrats try to demonize the Yankees and Republicans into one giant, evil political-sports entity. ''You've got to be a Democrat to love the Red Sox, because they're the workingman's team,'' said Paul Begala, the liberal co-host of CNN's ''Crossfire.'' ''They're in there every year. You know, the Yankees are like General Motors, ... like Halliburton, and the Red Sox are like the rest of America.''

The idea that the Red Sox are working-class scrappers is part of the team's ancient mythology. Of course it's a distortion. The team has the sport's second-highest payroll (after the Yankees) and were sold for a record $660 million in 2001.

If anything, that makes the comparison to the Democratic Party even more apt. The Democrats years ago became almost as adept at raising money as their Republican counterparts.

Speaking of money, is it a coincidence that the Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, has contributed to President Bush in this election, while the Red Sox chair, Tom Werner, has given to Kerry? Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez also contributed to Bush. With an annual salary averaging $25 million, he's got a financial incentive in preserving Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which Kerry promises to eliminate.

Republican Yankees fans, less obsessed about the rivalry than Democratic Red Sox fans, don't play up the connection as much. Success will give you that kind of graciousness.

''I don't care if the guy sitting next to me is a Democrat or Ralph Nader guy,'' says former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, a lifelong Yankees fan. ''If he's cheering for the Yankees, he's one of my guys.''

Frederic J. Frommer has reported from Washington for six years. He is co-author of ''The Great Rivalry: Red Sox vs. Yankees,'' (Sports Publishing, 2004), with his father, Harvey Frommer.

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