Martha Coakley, Curt Schilling, and Why Baseball Matters in Politics

Martha Coakley, Curt Schilling, and Why Baseball Matters in PoliticsMartha, Martha, Martha! What the heck was Martha Coakley thinking in accusing Boston Red Sox legend Curt Schilling of being a Yankee fan? Sacrilege!

If the Democratic Senate candidate loses her race Tuesday, she can blame two huge sports-related items for her loss – labeling Schilling a Yankee fan, and mocking Republican opponent Scott Brown for shaking hands outside Fenway Park.

First up – the Schilling Yankee fan diss. Is it possible that Coakley simply didn’t know who Schilling – the most legendary folk hero in Red Sox Nation since Carlton Fisk – was? I highly doubt it, not just because Schilling – and that bloody sock – are so famous in Massachusetts, but because the pitcher openly considered throwing his Red Sox cap into the ring for that race.

Instead, Schilling threw his support behind Brown, and repeatedly criticized Coakley on his 38 Pitches blog even before her infamous radio interview. And the ballplayer played a big part in publicizing the candidate’s first sports-related gaffe. Last week, under the headline “Want Another Reason to Not Vote for Martha Coakley,” Schilling highlighted a Boston Globe interview with the Democrat about her campaign. Thanks to Schilling’s post, this story got a ton of traction in the blogosphere:

Coakley bristles at the suggestion that, with so little time left, in an election with such high stakes, she is being too passive. “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” she fires back, in an apparent reference to a Brown online video of him doing just that.

The Globe didn’t elaborate on what Coakley was referring to; Brown showed up outside Fenway Park on New Years’ Day to talk to hockey fans gathering for the Winter Classic hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. Making an appearance at such an event would seem to be a natural for a politician with a big election coming up. But Coakley not only didn’t make an appearance outside Fenway; she proceeded to mock Brown for doing so. Not exactly the smartest thing for a politician running in such a sports-crazy state to do. But nothing can be as dumb as calling Schilling a Yankee fan.

For her part, Coakley later claimed she was making a “joke” about Schilling with the remark. Why somebody in the Bay State would make a joke about the player arguably most responsible for the Boston Red Sox’s first World Series Championship in 86 years is beyond me.

Was her jibe a way of claiming that supporting Republican candidates equals supporting the arch-rival New York Yankees? Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey attempted to make the case for such humor, telling MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Monday, “a lot of times, we do confuse the Republicans and the Yankees.” Markey also dissed Schilling for not being from Massachusetts, noting “he has only moved in here since 2004.”

Let’s review. Schilling moved to Massachusetts after getting traded to the Red Sox. He helped lead the Red Sox to two World Series rings in his five years with the team. After retiring, he and his family stayed in the state, in no small part because of his 38 Studios video game company, which is headquartered in Massachusetts, putting locals to work, and hiring even during this recession. Schilling has also raised a ton of money for local charities in his time in Boston. Yet all that apparently isn’t good enough for Markey because Schilling wasn’t born in the state.

It still ticks me off that Schilling, one of the biggest Yankee-killers ever, helped cost my team two World Championships. I saw Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS – aka the bloody sock game – in person, and I’m still not quite over it!

But at the same time, I appreciate how much Schilling has done for others, from raising over $10 million for ALS research, to the work he and his wife have done to fight melanoma, to visiting military troops stationed in the Persian Gulf.

What this Yankee fan has also learned to appreciate over the years about Schilling is how fan-friendly he is, and how much an innovator he has been when it comes to the way athletes communicate with the public on the Internet.

Way before Twitter, and Facebook, and blogs, the pitcher was yakking with fans online. When Schilling first became a Red Sox, he joined Sons of Sam Horn, the most well-known Boston Red Sox fan site, to talk with fans. But he didn’t stop there; Schilling is also a longtime member of NYYFans.com, a Yankee fan message board, talking to fans about the rivalry between the two teams. He even went on the board to pass on his condolences the day Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle died.

As for the Coakley/Schilling kerfuffle, does it really matter in the scope of things? I say yes, it does. As Schilling told reporters after appearing in a pro-Brown rally Sunday:

“It does reflect on an elected official’s relationship with her constituents. I don’t think that somebody who’s lived here their whole life, not understanding the importance of the prominence of the sports teams in this city, it’s a big deal to people,” he said.

“I think it’s another sign of her aloofness, and just the fact that she’s very out of touch, I think, with the people.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time a Massachusetts politician made a sports-related gaffe. The late Ted Kennedy once referred to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as “Mike McGwire” and “Sammy Sooser.” John Kerry once talked he also called Green Bay’s Lambeau Field “Lambert Field. Even worse, Kerry once talked about a Red Sox player named “Manny Ortez.”

But messing with a Boston legend is much worse than mispronouncing his name. And it may cost Coakley dearly at the polls Tuesday.

Photo by Aaron Frutman

Lisa Swan, a lifelong Yankee fan, grew up in Passaic, N.J., where her favorite player was the talented but insecure Reggie Jackson. Today she lives on Staten Island, where her favorite player is the t ...read more

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