After the World Series, mixing baseball with politics

Rarely do we mix baseball with politics around here. We all have varying opinions on the political landscape, and we use River Ave. Blues to argue over Joba Chamberlain and his role on the pitching staff, not health care and the debate over a public option. Trust me; it’s just better that way.

Sometimes, though, the political stories involve baseball, and winning the World Series certainly brings out some amusing baseball stories from the political realm. So as your work day draws to a close, we’ll just jump right in with one the more amusing pieces The Times has run in a while. Yesterday’s Week in Review section featured a Yankee-related Op-Ed from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Fleischer has been a long-time George W. Bush confidante and is close friends with the former president. Still, he knows who’s responsible for the Yanks’ World Series drought:

It is hard to find a bigger admirer of President George W. Bush than me. I support his policies; I believe in him; he’s a really good guy to be around; and he throws a mean fastball. As his press secretary, I stood by him through thick and thin. But recent events require me to speak out about my former boss: For eight long years, President Bush put a curse on my New York Yankees.

It’s not lost on me, as a lifelong Yankee fan, that the Bronx Bombers won the World Series four times during Bill Clinton’s presidency, the last time in 2000. On Wednesday, they won it again — in the first year of Barack Obama’s administration. Yankee success bookended the Bush presidency and that presents a problem for fans like me.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was standing in the Oval Office when the president secretly put his curse on my team. The 2000 champions paid a celebratory visit to the White House in May 2001. President Bush gathered the players in the Oval Office and was telling them what role models they were when George Steinbrenner, the team owner, suddenly tried to talk over him. “George,” Mr. Bush interjected, “not even the Boss gets to interrupt the president.”

The Boss tried to talk over the President, and the Baseball Gods did not smile upon the Yankees. Or maybe the Baseball Gods didn’t look kindly upon President Bush’s silencing of the Boss. Either way, as Fleischer wrote, “For eight straight years — all of which perfectly coincided with his time in office — the Yankees didn’t win.”

Fleischer notes that the previous eight Yankee World Series wins have come under Democratic presidents and wonders what a G.O.P. Yankee fans is to do. “If you’re a Democrat who wants the Yankees to lose — like the Boston Red Sox president, Larry Lucchino — you need to start voting Republican,” he said. “And if you’re a Yankee fan like me, well, I just can’t bear to say it … ”

Fleischer’s Op-Ed comes on the heels of a House vote on H.Res. 893, congratulating the Yankees on winning the World Series. Usually, these ceremonial bills pass the House with little debate and most are unanimous. Not this one though for baseball brings out the partisan debates like no other.

As you can see from the above map and this roll call list, not everyone in the House voted to congratulate the Yankees. It passed with a vote of 386 for, 17 against, 11 present and 19 non-votes. The nays were a nice mix of Democrats and Republicans from anti-Yankee districts. A few Phillies fans objected; a few Red Sox fans voted no; some Yankee haters couldn’t stomach the bill; and one guy voted against it because the Yankees, well, “just they’re not the Padres.”

“I’m usually rational but when it comes to the Yankees, I take a hard-line position. For those of us in Red Sox nation, it was a sad, sad day,” Bill Delanhunt, a Massachusetts rep, said. “It tells you something about the corrosive nature of money in sports and politics.”

Even Mets fans from the New York delegation to the House who supported the bill heard from their colleagues while 2013 mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner voted for the resolution but did not support it. All in a day’s work for the House.

Just a friendly reminder to play nice in the comments…

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World Series hangover: Joba, Pedro and feelin’ good

The Hot Stove League will soon heat up, but as a bright November weekend dawns in the City of New York, Yankee fans are still recovering from their collective World Series hangover. To that end, we have a few stories for your Saturday reading pleasure.

A World Series moment with the Chamberlains

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Major League Baseball players are young kids who are struggling to adjust to a world very unfamiliar to them. Subject to more debates over the last 2.5 seasons than any 24-year-old should, Joba Chamberlain has been growing up in the New York spotlight. Starter, reliever, overhyped or not, Joba has heard it all. When the Yankees won the World Series on Wednesday, Joba and his dad shared a moment captured by photographers and Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew author Kevin Kaduk.

The story is a great reminder about how baseball is about families. It’s about how baseball is about the people and how the players we analyze, the players we admire and the players some people criticize are, at heart, just people similar to you and me. At ‘Duk writes, baseball is always about a father having a catch with his son, and Joba and Harlan had the joy of sharing a baseball moment this week that doesn’t come around too often.

Yanks’ son leaves in a huff

While Joba and Harlan had their hug, Pedro Martinez was feeling less than happy about the game. After his Game 6 defeat at the hands of the Yankees, Pedro tried to duck out on reporters. The media throng cornered him in the hallway, but he would speak only in Spanish to them. One fan taunted him with a chant of “Who’s your daddy?” but Pedro was clearly upset about losing the game. Beating Pedro made this World Series victory even sweeter.

A calm in New York

For Tyler Kepner, 2009 marked his eighth season covering the Yanks and their first World Series under his watch. From World Series losses to 0-3 ALCS comebacks, it has been a tumultuous few years in Yankeeland, but as Kepner wrote on Wednesday night, this World Series restored a “peaceful, easy feeling” to the Bronx. No team has won more games in the 21st Century than the Yankees have and now they have their title to go with it. It has indeed been a peaceful time for Yankee fans.

Thanking those behind the scenes

Winning a World Championship takes more than just 25 guys and a manager. It takes smart player development, hordes of both pro and amateur scouts, countless medical personal, plus many, many more. Bob Elliot spoke to Yanks scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, who noted the way GM Brian Cashman took the time to pop champagne and toast everyone who made this thing happen after the last out was recording Game Six. Buster Olney talks about it even more in his blog post today, and also mentions all the contributions the team got from those behind the scenes during their title run.

They’re both great reads, so make sure you check ‘em out.

Yanks-Phils Classic sees 42% ratings jump over ’08

A year ago, those in charge of baseball were panicking a bit. The 2008 World Series ended amidst some weather-inspired controversies, and no one had watched. Ratings were down 20 percent from 2007, and average of just over 13 million fans, the lowest total since FOX started broadcasting the Fall Classic, tuned in per game. Baseball was on the verge of losing its wider national audience.

However, with the onset of the MLB Network’s wall-to-wall coverage of the sport and, more importantly, the return of the Yankees, the villain of October, to the World Series, ratings for the Series were up a record 42 percent over last year. Although this year’s wasn’t the most watched World Series of recent times, it was the fourth-highest viewed of the last decade and has restored baseball’s October dominance and popularity. Over 19 million fans tuned in each night to watch the Yankees battle the Phillies, and the numbers suggest that the Yankees, as I’ve said before, are good for baseball.

Maury Brown at the Biz of Baseball has more on the ratings:

Fueled by outstanding individual and team performances, dramatic come-from-behind wins and the most one-run games in a single postseason, each round of the 2009 MLB Postseason generated double-digit percentage year-to-year increases in average viewership as compared to 2008, capped by the 2009 World Series averaging 19.4 million viewers, a +42% increase over last year and the largest-ever year-to-year gain in viewership (previous high was 36% from 2000-2001, which followed a low viewership showing for the Subway Series).

Complete 2009 MLB Postseason coverage on FOX and TBS averaged 9.0 million viewers, up +30% over last year and the most-watched since 2005. In addition to the +42% viewership gain for the World Series on FOX, viewership for the Division Series on TBS was up +11% over last year and viewership for the League Championship Series on FOX and TBS increased +14% over 2008.

The 2009 MLB Postseason delivered extraordinary results for FOX and TBS, including leading TBS to the most-watched week in its 33-year history, and catapulting FOX to a commanding +22% lead in the key Adult 18-49 demographic against its network competition. The huge Adult 18-49 season-to-date advantage for FOX is the largest in the network’s history in the fourth quarter and the largest fourth-quarter lead for any network since 2003.

In addition to these hearty aggregate numbers, the World Series was the highest-rated network primetime show during the six nights of games, reports Brown. All over the country, people wanted to watch the Yankees.

And so fans may hate the Yanks. They may root against the team and its payroll. They may say the Steinbrenners bought another title. But the reality of it is simple: Baseball fans tune into watch Goliath because they hope David can win. When David happens to be another team with a payroll in excess of $100 million from a major media market, baseball executives can go home happy. This year, the World Series was very, very good for baseball.

A nice day for parade

It’s a beautiful November day in New York City. The skies are clear blue, and the temperatures are hovering in the upper 40s. You couldn’t ask for a nicer day for a parade. So let’s have one.

In honor of your 2009 World Series Champions, the City of New York is hosting a ticker tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan. The march toward City Hall starts at 11 a.m. and ends at around 12:30 p.m. when the Mayor will present the Yanks with keys to the city. While an estimated 500,000-1 million fans will turn out for the celebration downtown, many of us have to go to school or work. Fear not though for the parade is being broadcast live for free online via MLB.com. The YES Network and MLB Network will be carrying it live, and the city’s local news stations should be as well.

So for those of you watching at home, those of you furtively catching glimpses of the parade will in your cubicle, those of you in class, this thread’s for you. Toast the team; cheer the World Series victory; and bask in the glow of winning after a nine-year wait. For us Yankee fans, it seemed to be an eternity.

The most important game of the year

AL Burnett in Game Two of the World SeriesFans are quick to throw around the “must win” or “huge game” or (ahem) “playoff preview” moniker these days. If a team loses two games in a row with a division rival set to come into town over the weekend, then it’s called a big game. No matter what fans call it, you can always tell which games are the most important by how the team treats them. When Ian Kennedy is brought into the eighth inning with a one-run lead in Anaheim for his first action of the season, then yeah, it’s not all that important.

Most of the time for a playoff club, the most important game of the season is a Game Seven, or an elimination game where the season was on the line. Those are the true “must-wins,” not those dumb games in June that seem important just because the offense is in a little bit of a funk.

For the 2009 Yankees, the most important game of the year seems pretty clear to me: Game Two of the World Series.

Think about the circumstances coming into the game. Cliff Lee had just manhandled the Yankees the night before. He crushed them, grabbing liners behind his back and shagging pop-ups nonchalantly when he wasn’t striking guys out. For a team that had dominated the competition during the regular season and made good clubs like the Twins and Angels look like Little League teams with all the mistakes they forced, Game One of the World Series was a humbling experience.

Not only did the Yankees come into Game Two already down one-love in the series, they were going on the road to Philadelphia for the next three games. Heading down the turnpike down two games to none was something the Bombers wanted to avoid at all costs. So they gave the ball to AJ Burnett, the most unpredictable starter in their playoff rotation.

And AJ delivered.

He pounded the zone early all night, throwing first pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. He threw his fastball and curve at almost a 1:1 ratio (53 fastballs, 45 curves), and allowed the first four batters in Philly’s’ lineup to reach base just twice, and one of those instances was an intentional walk to Chase Utley. Burnett sat down the last eight batters he faced, and the only run he gave up came on a ball that ricocheted off Alex Rodriguez‘s glove.

It was a masterful performance, and the game was more important to the outcome of the Yankees’ season than either of his Game Five starts (ALCS or World Series). Opposing starter Pedro Martinez held the Yankees’ offense down, meaning there was little margin for error. Anytime a starter can hand the ball off to Mariano Rivera in a playoff game, then you know he’s done his job and then some.

Let’s give AJ some props. He’s frustrating as hell, but the dude was money in the team’s most important game of their championship  season.

Photo Credit: David J. Phillip, AP

RAB’s parade meet-up details

RAB parade meetup location

You see that little star? That’s where we’re going to meet-up for the parade tomorrow. Specifically, it’s the northwest corner of the Beekman and Nassau Street intersection. Here’s the map so you can zoom in and stuff. Joe and I are shooting to get there around 8:30-9 a.m., but you’re welcome to come whenever.

The parade comes right up Broadway, so we’ll have to finagle our way over to get a good luck. I’m not 100% certain, but I believe they’ll set up a big screen in City Hall Park to show all the speeches and stuff. After the parade and stuff, we’re probably going to go grab a bite to eat somewhere, and everyone’s more than welcome to come. Leave any suggestions or anything in the comments.

If you want to come and hang out and watch the parade, email Joe or me, and we’ll exchange cell numbers to coordinate. If you do that tomorrow, e-mail Joe because he has the BlackBerry.

Also, if anyone has a better spot, let us know via e-mail and we’ll update plans.