For the political junkie, one might be hard-pressed not to have seen Barack Obama parading around in his White Sox hat at some point in the past six months.
He dons his well-worn black fitted cap to pick up his daughters from school, and it helped protect him from the Hawaiian sunshine during his family’s December vacation to Honolulu.
America’s 44th President is unabashedly a supporter of Chicago’s South Side baseball team, and he’ll tell you as much to your face. When Chicago sports talk show host David Kaplan asked Obama recently if he would ever show the cross-town Cubs any love, the big man responded simply, “Never.”
You’ve got to give him respect for not degrading to typical political jelly-legging on a question like that. Someone lesser might have given a lame-duck answer claiming he supports all Chicago teams.
So what does Obama’s fandom mean for Chicago baseball?
On top of everything else, Obama’s public endorsement for the White Sox garners a new level of recognition for the city, not unlike the way Rudy Giuliani took the Yankees to the forefront of the sports world in the wake of Sept. 11, sitting in the front row through their 2001 playoff run.
Put simply, Obama is the most publicly well-known Chicago sports fan. At this juncture, he might very well be the most famous person on the planet, and Chicago is soaking up every minute of it.
Or, at least, the White Sox sure are.
Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Game Two of the 2005 ALCS between the White Sox and Angels in Chicago, and he was one of the first to welcome the team plane back home after the White Sox beat the Astros to win the World Series down in Houston.
It should come as no surprise, then, that White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams extended Obama an invitation back in November to throw out the first pitch at the club’s 2009 season opener.
The White Sox even put together a giant banner to hang over the external façade of US Cellular Field showing Obama decked out in his White Sox regalia as an Inauguration Day nod to the First Fan.
On an internal level, this is just one more stake in the heated White Sox-Cubs rivalry.
The Sox have long been known as the second team in the Second City, even after their World Series championship, something the Cubs still can’t lay claim to after 100 seasons. Even so, the Cubs remain the city’s darlings.
But Obama gives the Sox a huge boost in publicity. Who else would you want cheering on your team but the man who sits in the Oval Office?
The Cubs love to show off their celebrity supporters, parading figures like Bill Murray, Vince Vaughn, and John Cusack through the WGN television booth for the world to see.
Even Hillary Clinton, a native Chicagoan and Obama’s competitor for the Democratic Party nomination, is a Cubs fan.
But Obama trumps them all.
In the late 1980s, club owner Jerry Reinsdorf once publicly called his team the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball.
“We get no respect,” he said.
Even Williams remarked that the Sox would have to win a second championship before they could ever begin to overtake the Cubs as the city’s favorite team.
Obama’s presidential victory might just be good enough to change that.