How big a mistake was it for Rudy Giuliani to pander to New Hampshire voters last month by telling them he was pulling for the Red Sox in the World Series?
Big enough that his status among the G.O.P. candidates as The Big Baseball Fan may have been usurped last night by Mitt Romney, a man who almost certainly can’t tell the difference between a splitter and a forkball. But to casual viewers of last night’s debate, it was Mr. Romney who seemed like the authentic fan and Mr. Giuliani who conjured memories of Hillary Clinton and her “lifelong Yankee fan” nonsense.
The exchange took place when a YouTube questioner, addressing the former Mayor as “Giuliani,” asked Rudy if he could “explain why you being a lifelong Yankees fan, that this year, after the Yankees lost everything, you rooted for the Red Sox in the postseason? Can you explain that position to me?”
Rudy was forced to repeat his past explanation, that “I root for the American League team when they get to the World Series,” a passionless assertion that even to non-sports fans had to sound insincere. Everyone understands the 24/7/365 intensity of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. True fans of either team aren’t supposed to just put their feelings aside – ever. Do Michigan fans cheer for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl? Do North Carolina fans pull for Duke in the Final Four? Do Giants fans wear Philadelphia green and white when the Eagles outlast them in the playoffs?
Mr. Romney, standing next to Mr. Giuliani, jumped at the opening and played the role of Red Sox devotee:
“Eighty-seven long years. We waited 87 long years. And true suffering Red Sox fans that my family and I are – we could not have been more happy than to see the Red Sox win the World Series, except by being able to beat the Yankees when they were ahead three games to none. And so, I have to tell you that like most Americans, we love our sports teams and we hate the Yankees.”
To casual viewers, Mr. Romney’s response sounded more authentic and more human. And it’s truly amazing, because Mr. Giuliani inarguably has Yankee baseball in his blood. On so many issues, he has so little in common with the G.O.P. base, but he had a good thing going for a while with his Yankee fixation. In an earlier debate, don’t forget, he ridiculed Hillary Clinton to superb effect for her various absurd claims about her Yankee fandom. Now, because he tried to pander in New Hampshire, he’s lost that edge.
Mr. Romney? Well, the Red Sox World Series drought he alluded to was actually 86 years (from 1918 to 2004), and not 87, like he claimed. The 86-year figure – the years of “The Curse of the Bambino” – is tattooed on the brain of every “true suffering Red Sox fan.” To Red Sox Nation, Mr. Romney sounds like what he is: a typical politician feigning interest in the local sports team. But outside of Red Sox Nation, Romney hit last night’s baseball question out of the park, while Giuliani struck out.