Yankees Haunted By Curse of Nixon

Here’s a quiz, Yankee fans:

To bring a World Series championship back to New York in the near future, George Steinbrenner should:

a) fire Brian Cashman and bring back Bob Watson.

b) fire Joe Torre and let him go to the Red Sox, who would be only too happy to tweak the Boss by enlisting his former skipper to manage 19 games against the Yankees every year.

c) trade Alfonso Soriano to a team in need of an error-prone second baseman who strikes out frequently.

d) cut $100 million from the payroll and give it all to former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

The correct answer, surprisingly, is d), although the amount doesn’t really matter, and the recipient doesn’t have to be Dr. Dean: It could be any Democratic Presidential candidate. The important part is getting a Democrat back in the White House. That, more than any on-field strategy or front-office reorganization, has proven vital to the Yankees’ success ever since Mr. Steinbrenner became their commander in chief.

In the Steinbrenner era, the Yankees win the World Series only when a Democrat is in the Oval Office. Put a Republican in the White House and the Yanks lose.

Mr. Steinbrenner took over the Yankees in 1973 and invented the era of free agency by stocking the team with high-priced players from other teams. But in a scene that would be repeated often over the next 25 years, the high payroll didn’t translate into a championship right away. It wasn’t until Jimmy Carter took office in 1977 that the Yankees won it all. They repeated in 1978, again with Mr. Carter as President.

Ronald Reagan bounced Mr. Carter from office in 1981, and Mr. Reagan’s hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, did likewise to the Yankees in the 1981 Series, despite losing the first two games. With Republicans in the White House for the next 11 years, the Yankees didn’t even reach the playoffs, much less win a World Series.

The next Yankee world championship came in 1996, after more than a decade of wandering in the wilderness. Four years earlier, Bill Clinton had returned the Democrats to the White House after 12 years of Republican rule. With Mr. Clinton in office, the Yankees re-established themselves as a dynasty, with easy triumphs in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series.

But as soon as the Republicans took back the Presidency in 2001, the Yankees’ postseason mystique went the way of the blue states. As President, George W. Bush has had more success in denying the Yankees a championship than he ever did as owner of the Texas Rangers, a team the Yanks easily dispatched in 1996, 1998 and 1999. In the first year of Mr. Bush’s Presidency, the Bronx Bombers lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a thrilling contest not decided until the very last play of the game, much as Al Gore supposedly “lost” to Mr. Bush 11 months earlier. In October 2002, the Yanks were rudely evicted from the postseason in the first round. The Democrats were beaten just as soundly in that year’s midterm elections.

This year, despite a convincing performance against the Minnesota Twins and a gut-check victory over the Red Sox (who appear to be waiting for the return of the Whig Party to win a World Series), the heavily favored Yankees meekly conceded in six games to the Florida Marlins.

So how to explain this 30-year-long string of coincidences? Maybe it’s some kind of civil-libertarian justice against Mr. Steinbrenner for forcing Yankee fans to sit-stand, actually-through “God Bless America” every seventh-inning stretch before they’re allowed the pleasures of the more traditional, less jingoistic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Or maybe it’s a curse: the curse of Richard Nixon, to be specific. In 1974, Mr. Steinbrenner was banned from baseball for two years (the ban was later shortened to 15 months) for making illegal contributions to Mr. Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972. Since then, no good has come to the Bronx when the G.O.P. has been in charge.

Mario Cuomo, a former minor-league player in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization (legend has it that he also governed New York for a time, and was encouraged by many Democrats to seek the Presidency), couldn’t explain the coincidences, but was not surprised. “New York generally doesn’t do well when the Republicans are in power, so it would be an aberration if the Yankees went all the way under a Republican administration,” he said.

Oh, and by the way, Yankee fans: None of the moves that Mr. Steinbrenner is currently plotting will likely pay dividends next year. Even if the Democrats pull off an upset in 2004, Mr. Bush wouldn’t leave office until January 2005.