WASHINGTON — The Chicago Cubs visited the White House for the first time since 1888 on Monday, with President Obama congratulating the baseball world champions in one of his last official acts as president.
“I will say to the Cubs, it took you long enough,” Obama said. “I mean I only have four days left. You’re just making it under the wire.”
Indeed, the White House and the Cubs moved up the traditional White House ceremony — usually scheduled around a road series in Washington during the next season — so that the Chicagoan president could do the honors.
The president, a fan of the Chicago White Sox, did not hide his allegiances to the southside team. “I can’t claim that I have the same just visceral joy of some in this White House,” he said, noting first lady Michelle Obama’s enthusiasm for the Cubs. “Even though it will be hard to wear a jersey, do know that among Sox fans, I am the Cubs’ number one fan,” Obama said.
There were no hard feelings. Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein granted Obama a “midnight pardon” for his baseball transgressions.
Obama fit the celebration in among other activities to mark Martin Luther King Day— but insisted that there was no tension between the two. He said sports had the potential to unify Americans even where politics has failed.
“Sometimes people wonder, why do you spend time on sports, when there’s other stuff going on?” Obama said. “Throughout history, sports has had the power to bring us together, even when we’re divided. It is a game, and it is a celebration. But there is a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me standing here.”
“Sometimes it’s not enough to change laws, you have to change hearts. And sports has a way of sometimes changing hearts in a way that politics and business can’t,” he said.
But mostly, Obama’s remarks were filled with the kind of one-liners that have become the hallmark of such events. Of the Cubs’ veteran catcher, he said, “There’s something that David Ross and I have in common. We’ve both been on a year-long retirement party.”
He called manager Joe Maddon a “master of tactics — when to pinch hit, when to pinch run, when to make it rain.”
And he noted Epstein’s knack for ending championship droughts in Boston and Chicago. “I’ve talked to him about being (Democratic National Committee) chair. But he’s decided wisely to stick to baseball.”
The team presented Obama with what he said was the “best swag I’ve gotten as president.” First baseman Anthony Rizzo shared his No. 44 jersey with the 44th president. The team gave Obama a number 44 from the scoreboard. There was a “W” flag signed by the team, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley field for the Obama family. “Is this an emolument?” Epstein quipped.
“I love how it says, ‘Non-transferable,'” Obama said.