Category Archives: hillary clinton

The Cubs fan litmus test. And Hillary Clinton.


Are you with the Cubs in this partisan fight? If so, should you be required to show your papers? Does it matter whether you were born a Cubs fan—as opposed to being a previously undecided outsider just become drawn to trickle-down excitement?

It’s just baseball. And yet it is abundantly clear that some people out there believe there should be a litmus test. That being a member of the Cubs party now should be restricted to those who can provide indisputable proof. (Photo IDs, maybe?) That they be required to have experienced the Cubs’ overwrought mythology, to know how it feels to be Tantalus or Sisyphus, to have gone through at least a significant part of the team’s 108 years of solitude.

Here’s an example: Hillary Clinton. According to, she is “Bandwagon Hillary.” She is “jumping on Chicago’s bandwagon [and] like with every other matter….switches allegiance with sports teams like positions on issues.” reminded that, when she was running for the Senate in New York in 2000, she claimed she had “always been a Yankees fan.”


We probably shouldn’t be allowing World Series loyalties to be leaching into the contentious White House campaign. But it is a given that sports-team passions can get a bit manic around championship time. (If you don’t believe it, listen to sports talk radio.) And just as true is the time-honored tradition of politicians using sports identity to demonstrate their regular-folks bona fides.

Still, I’m going to defend Clinton’s right to declare herself a Cubs fan. First of all, isn’t everybody drawn to the long-suffering Cubs now? Outside of Cleveland Indians territory, anyway? Check out this map, a World Series sendup of the ubiquitous red state/blue state presidential election forecasts, that is circulating on the Internet.


Beyond the fairly universal appeal of the Cubs’ Halley’s Comet-like star turn, there is data to support Clinton’s logical and lengthy connection to the team. She was born in Chicago (two years into the Cubs’ 71-year absence from the World Series) and raised in the city’s Park Ridge suburb, less than 10 miles from the Cubs’ historic Wrigley Field home. Her father was a Cubs fan. Her brothers, with whom she watched plenty of Cubs’ games on television, were Cubs fans.

In 1993, when she was First Lady, Clinton was offered membership in the Emil Verban Memorial Society, an exclusive club of Washington-based Cubs fans named for a Cubs infielder from the late 1940s and early 50s who was said to epitomize the team by being “competent but obscure and typifying the team’s work ethic.”


That a player such as Verban, who hit .095 in 1950, should be fervently embraced in that forgiving way is yet another indication of Cub allegiance, especially since society members were among the nation’s most successful folks—Ronald Reagan, retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, TV personalities Bryant Gumbel and Bruce Morton, golfer Ray Floyd, actor Tom Bosley and conservative columnist George Will among them.

What some commentators and Republican Party operatives object to, regarding Clinton’s fandom, is that she indeed admitted to rooting for the Yankees in general—and Mickey Mantle in particular—as a child, in part because she admitted that a Cubs fan so often needs the fallback of having a team that wins once in a while.

Among those who have questioned Clinton on the matter is Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet in a recent column, and political commentator Chris Matthews, who had asked when she donned a Yankee cap during her Senate campaign, “Doesn’t she know she looks like a fraud?”

This protestation of multi-team fandom, unreasonable to my mind, recalls the late Bill Searby, one of my first bosses at Newsday in the early 1970s. The way his colleagues told it, Searby had taken advantage of the G.I. Bill to complete his education after his service days, and wound up attending several colleges. As the scores came over the wire on football Saturdays, more than one winner would prompt Searby to exult: “That’s my team!”

“Which one?” his co-workers would snicker. I think they were jealous.

King (Clinton?) vs. Riggs (Trump?)

Here’s the sports analogy for what already is a theatrical, historic Presidential campaign: Billie Jean King as Hillary Clinton, Bobby Riggs as Donald Trump. A woman of substance and accomplishment vs. an attention-craving egotist considered by many folks to be a con artist. A female pioneer against what used to be known as a male chauvinist pig. With bad hair.


In 1973, King and Riggs played a tennis match, won by King, that was more about the so-called glass ceiling than a racket-and-ball contest. Because it paired the 29-year-old King, at the height of her career as a 12-time major-tournament champion, against a 55-year-old geezer whose last of three major titles was 32 years in the past, physiological comparisons of innate female/male strength and speed hardly applied.

More to the point was King’s symbolic intrusion into the Old Boys’ Club. In the circus-like buildup to their match, Riggs had been bluntly dismissive of women’s role in society as well as women’s tennis—at a time when the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution had passed both houses of Congress and was awaiting ratification by state legislatures.

So, beyond the promotional excesses of the King-Riggs “Battle of the Sexes,” which felt at times like a public leg-pulling exercise, the match in fact became a prominent piece in the real national struggle that was playing out over gender rights. And Riggs had no interest in assuming what the current presumptive Republican Presidential candidate repeatedly disdains as political correctness.

Riggs was a showboating hustler and gambler, reportedly with large debts and ties to the mob. Months before the King showdown, he had challenged Margaret Court—whose 24 major-tournament championships remain more than those won by the likes of Steffi Graf and Serena Williams—and easily defeated her in a best-of-three-sets exhibition.

Against King, then, polls—that, is, the betting odds—overwhelmingly favored the blustering Riggs to repeat his proxy proof of apparent male superiority. The King-Riggs match employed the men’s more demanding major-tournament format of best-of-five sets, but King needed only three for her decisive sweep. A triumph of competitive chops over empty braggadocio.


In the following day’s New York Times front-page account, Neil Amdur wrote that King “attacked with a professional cool” while Riggs “hit marshmallow shots, some of which went in….Most important perhaps for women everywhere, she convinced skeptics that a female athlete can survive pressure-filled situations and that men are as susceptible to nerves as women.”

In Sports Illustrated, Frank Deford wrote that King “has prominently affected the way 50 percent of society thinks and feels about itself….”

There were stories of secretaries marching into offices the next day and demanding raises, or announcing that their coffee-making days were over. King immediately was seen as a unifying leader in the fight for gender equity—far beyond tennis and sports in general—and a fire under the new federal law, Title IX, that prohibited sex discrimination in public schools.

Likely, the pre-match carnival barking (mostly by the hectoring, boastful Riggs) had helped entice more than 30,000 spectators to pay their way into the Houston Astrodome and an estimated 50 million Americans (and 90 million worldwide) to watch on television. Beyond the hyperbole, the happening itself clearly produced a broad significance. (Momentous enough that, 44 years later, there will be a biographical movie based on the match released in 2017.)

“Everybody knew it was a gimmick,” Donna Lopiano, one of the most influential figures in women’s sports, noted years later. “But, up to that moment, the women’s movement had played the fringes, with things like bra-burning. Because that was sports and a woman proved her athleticism, it struck at the heart of male dominance.”

King herself said recently, “I hated the term ‘Battle of the Sexes.’ When I was younger, I’d lose to guys on purpose. But I knew playing Bobby had huge social significance. I knew, athletically, it meant nothing. But to the world it meant everything, because it was on guys’ terms. That’s why it worked.

“The only attention women get is when we get in their arena.”

(Donald Trump)

(Donald Trump)

(Bill and Hillary Clinton)

(Bill and Hillary Clinton)

Four decades later, with his wife in the arena, one William Jefferson Clinton has a front-row seat to the 2016 political analogy that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has called “the most stark X vs. Y battle since Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.”

P.S. When Bill Clinton said, in 2009, that “she has probably done more than anyone in the world to empower women and educate men,” he was talking about Billie Jean King.