Gene Lyons: Media swing and miss on Hillary’s love of baseball

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Hillary, shown here in 1992, says she’s a Cubs fan and a Yankees fan, though skeptics have questioned one of those loyalties. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

In my view, God invented baseball to provide a sanctuary from the fallen world of politics. I believe I’ve missed two televised Red Sox games this year. To me, the seven-month major league season is the sporting equivalent of, say, “Downton Abbey.”

My earliest specific baseball memory is racing into the bathroom where the old man was shaving to tell him that the Giants’ Bobby Thompson had hit a miraculous ninth-inning home run to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a one-game playoff. At first, Dad thought I’d imagined it. That was 1951, for those of you keeping score at home. However, there are older home movies of me imitating the Dodgers’ Howie Schultz at age 3.

It follows that baseball is both too important and too trivial to lie about. Even if your name is Hillary Clinton. But hold that thought.

Some years ago, I overheard my wife explain to a bossy woman friend why she allowed me to watch ball games on TV.

It went something like this:

“Well, if I told him he couldn’t, he’d do it anyway. He doesn’t tell me what I can watch on TV. Also, my Daddy was a baseball coach, so sometimes we watch games together. Do I ever get tired of it? Sure. But there are a lot worse habits a man can have. When Gene’s watching baseball, he’s home, he’s sober and he’s not out in some bar with the boys.”

Sorry fellows, but she’s taken. Having spent her childhood riding in school buses all over Arkansas and Oklahoma with wisecracking teenaged baseball players, Diane’s often the woman laughing when the others are gasping for breath.

In that she somewhat resembles, believe it or not, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. According to everybody who knew Hillary as a child, she was a passionate baseball fan. Her own father, a former Penn State football player, taught her early how not to swing like a girl.

At a 1994 White House picnic celebrating Ken Burns’ documentary film “Baseball,” Hillary surprised onlookers by stepping into the batting cage and smacking a couple of pitches. The Washington Post covered the event, mentioning in passing that she’d always been a Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees fan — like many Chicagoans for whom hating the crosstown White Sox means loving their rivals. (That’s basically how I came to the Red Sox. As a National League kid in New Jersey, Yankee-hating was in my DNA. Also, Ted Williams.)

Indeed, a 1993 Post profile of Hillary quoted childhood friends saying that she’d been a walking encyclopedia of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris lore — this before word went out among the Washington press clique that shaming her as the World’s Biggest Liar was the solemn duty of every ambitious pundit.

Now normal human beings take a person’s word about these things. But our esteemed political press corps, as my friend Bob Somerby points out in a series of witheringly funny blog posts on this solemn topic, isn’t populated by normal people.

Information and facts, he writes, “no longer play a role in our discourse … It’s narrative all the way down! The children select a preferred group tale. Then, they all start reciting.”

And so they have on the topic of Hillary Clinton, baseball fan. The fun began in 1999, when the then-First Lady was contemplating running for the U.S. Senate from New York. She made the mistake of going on the “Today” show and telling Katie Couric she’d always been a Yankees fan.

The host objected. Wasn’t she a Chicagoan and a Cubs fan?

“I am a Cubs fan,” Clinton said. “But I needed an American League team … so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees.”

Without bothering to check his own newspaper’s reporting on this critical issue, a Washington Post “Style” reporter wrote that “a sleepy-eyed nation collectively hurled” at the surprising claim.

The New York Times’ Kit Seelye dubbed it “a classic Clintonian gesture.”

And they were off to the races on the Sunday shows. Famous baseball fan George Will denounced what he called a “Clintonian lie, which is say, an optional lie and an embroidered lie.” He used the word “mendacity.” Jonathan Yardley pronounced it “a magnificent example of Clintonian vulgarity.” Ever obliging team player Doris Kearns Goodwin used the word “sacrilege.”

And so it’s gone throughout Hillary Clinton’s public life. To my knowledge, not one of these elaborately offended pundits has ever admitted error on this trivial, but telling theme. As recently as July 2016, New York Times columnist Gail Collins cited the troubling claim as evidence that Hillary Clinton is opaque and unknowable.

Examined closely, it’s amazing how many Hillary-the-liar claims follow a similar pattern. And they wonder why she’s iffy about holding press conferences.

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