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Sweet: Hillary’s baseball politics: A Cubs, Yankees saga

Hillary Clinton grew up as a Cubs fan, but she's also a Yankees fan. | Sun-Times print collection (left) and Getty Images file photo

WASHINGTON — With the Cubs in the playoffs and the presidential election soon, it’s time to recount Hillary Clinton’s tortured explanations about being a die-hard Cubs fan — and how she’s also for the Yankees.

Clinton’s reputation for taking the politically expedient route when it comes to her baseball loyalties is well deserved. Let’s throw in basketball, too, since she drifted from the Bulls to the Knicks.

The transition — to use a polite word — started publicly on June 10, 1999. On that day, Clinton, then first lady, was considering a Senate run in New York, a state where she never lived. She was a carpetbagger.

THE BEGINNING

She was born in Chicago, and her family moved from the Edgewater neighborhood on the North Side to Park Ridge when she was a kid. Clinton’s favorite team growing up was the Cubs. She joined her dad and brothers watching games on WGN called by Jack Brickhouse.

On the Cubs’ Opening Day in 1994, Clinton, then first lady, threw out the ceremonial first ball at Wrigley Field, decked out in a Cubs hat.

It was an overhand toss, not a pitch.

She didn’t take to the mound. She threw from her first row seat, standing next to then-Gov. Jim Edgar. Later, she would go to the press box to hang out with Harry Caray for a few innings.

In her role as first lady, Clinton wrote newspaper columns. With a new season about to start, the subject of her April 16, 1996, column was the Cubs.

“Just 162 games stand between us and our first pennant since 1945,” she cheerfully wrote, hopeful that Ryne Sandberg would take the team to the World Series.

“I have been a Cubs fan since I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs. Despite more than half a century of frustrated pennant dreams, the Cubs are still my favorite team,” she wrote.

“. . . We’re the ones with a look of undaunted optimism on our faces. . . . We know that being a Cubs fan prepares you for life (and, I’ve discovered, for Washington and politics.)”

THE NEW YORK DEAL

It’s the morning of June 10, 1999, and I’m in New York covering Clinton’s probable exploratory Senate bid.

Clinton is at Public School 72 in East Harlem for an event.

Later in the day, Clinton would return to the White House, where President Bill Clinton would honor the Yankees for their 1998 World Series win.

Before heading to the school, Clinton talked to Katie Couric, then a host on NBC’s “Today Show.” In the course of the interview Clinton declares, “The fact is, I’ve always been a Yankees fan.”

Couric said she thought Clinton grew up with the Cubs.

“I am a Cubs fan,” she said. “But I needed an American League team, because when you’re from Chicago, you cannot root for both the Cubs and the Sox. . . . So as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees.”

When reporters talked to Clinton outside PS 72, the question came up on whether she also was going to be for the Knicks, now that she might move to New York. Before that, she had given the impression she was for the Bulls.

“I am a Knicks fan now,” she proclaimed.

Back at the White House a few hours later, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner gave Yankees caps to the president and first lady.

Hillary Clinton put on the Yankee hat. She was running.

FAST FORWARD, CHICAGO

Wait, she’s still for the Cubs.

It’s Oct. 8, 2014, and I’m covering Clinton speaking to the Economic Club of Chicago. She is being interviewed by J.B. Pritzker, who was and is a major fundraiser for her.

Pritzker asks her about the Cubs and Sox.

“I am a Cubs fan,” Clinton said to applause.

“. . . And you know, when I was a little girl, I quickly caught on that being a Cubs fan was more of a tenet of religious faith than any kind of passing fancy. Once a Cubs fan, always a Cubs fan, but my personality was such that I couldn’t stay hitched only to a losing team and I couldn’t, with all due respect to my dear friends from my childhood who are rapid Sox fans, I could not become a Sox fan.

“So I had to search for a team that would counterbalance the experience of losing every single year, so — I hate to say this, and I know you’ll probably boo me — I became a Yankees fan.”

Clinton explained: “I alternated my affections because it was just too hard only being a Cubs fan. But absolutely a Cubs fan.

“Someday, some day it will happen.”