The red flag and the green grass: Miliband and the Sox

Those of us who follow the game closely — and who even get lucky enough to play it once in a while —  understand why baseball has secured its place in the public consciousness far beyond a mere sport. It has acquired mystique and enviable history over the course of years. But it has that because it has rhythm, it has poetry, and it speaks to people in ways which other pastimes cannot.

And so, when something special happens inside the world of baseball it even manages to spread to the outside world. And the UK noticed when the Boston Red Sox secured their third World Series in a decade.

At the centre of much of this was the leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband. As the Sox prepared for the ultimately decisive game 6, Miliband used his obligatory Twitter feed to post a very optional message — “Great Red Sox win last night. Hope and expectation about Weds night. But bitter experience means us Red Sox fans can never be complacent”.

Daily Telegraph
Ed Miliband's support for the Red Sox discussed in the Telegraph

The response from the Conservatives was swift. They used their Twitter feed to accuse him of being “out of touch” for commenting on a baseball game when he would not comment on that day’s British economic figures.

Plenty of people on the Twitterverse hurled abuse his way, either for jumping on a popular cause, or for commenting on a geeky foreign sport. One wag who accused him of bandwagoning got this deeply sarcastic reply from another user: “I’m sure that was calculated for the big baseball vote”.

Debate was plentiful in the press in the ensuing days. The Spectator saw symbolism in the fact that the Sox are a rich team, who often cast themselves as underdogs. But The Telegraph’s Dan Hodges defended Mr Miliband, saying he preferred an honest baseball fan to a fake football fan, as many politicians are.

Undeterred by it all, Ed Miliband tweeted throughout Game 6, concluding thus in the small hours of the morning: “Amazing to see team I watched as kid find way to win with ease. Didn’t even put us through normal red sox agony.”

Rarely has baseball been such a central topic in British political debate.

What many people were seeing for the first time was that baseball is followed closely by lots of people in the UK, including many high profile — even respected — figures. The eminent historian Simon Schama is a big Red Sox fan from his days at Harvard. Similarly, the former controller of Radio 4, Mark Damazer — now Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford – is a devoted citizen of Red Sox Nation. The former Conservative party leader, Michael Howard, is a New York Mets fan, who once told me he flew out specially to watch the team’s final game at Shea Stadium.

And whatever criticism can be thrown at Ed Miliband, there was little disputing of the simple fact that he has been a Boston fan since spending time in the city with his academic father.

Who would have thought there was this great untapped, unseen well of affection for baseball? Well, most of us reading this knew it was out there. We are part of it. But it is good to see it emerge.

Herts Baseball Club is of course, entirely independent and has no political view. But if Mr Miliband wishes to support baseball, we wish him all the best. Should David Cameron declare a deep love for the Baltimore Orioles, say, we would wish him the best too. We know he has read a baseball book — The Art of Fielding — so who knows what is next?

Credit Tlumacki/Boston Globe
The B Strong logo at Fenway after Game 6 (photo: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe)

Of course, the other reason baseball took such a high profile this October is one which goes back to the poetry and symbolism we mentioned at the start. The 2013 Red Sox had become closely linked to the city’s recovery from the bomb attack on its marathon in the Spring. The team adopted the Boston Strong slogan, and David Ortiz gave a memorable and heartfelt speech to fans: “This is our f***ing city”.

The ragged glory of Boston’s team – bristling with ridiculous beards in a gesture of brotherhood — showed spirit as much as it showed sporting talent. And that helped the Sox to persist in an unlikely turnaround from worst to first. And spirit was what Boston wanted to see after it had seen tragedy.

John Tlumacki of the Boston Globe was at the scene of the marathon bombing and took one of the most defining photos of it — police officers, wreathed in smoke, standing over a fallen runner. He took more stunning images of the World Series triumph and said it was a magical moment as smoke from the fireworks lifted after the game to reveal the B Strong cut into the outfield grass.  I include that image here — all rights, of course, remain with Mr Tlumacki and the Globe.

The New York Yankees did not win the World Series in 2001, which took place just weeks after 9/11. Perhaps they should have for a similar fairytale to be complete. But they were part of an extraordinary Series. And in 2013, Boston was able to have the final line written as if by Hollywood.

Both British and American journalists have celebrated and explained this moment in moving and insightful terms. And if Ed Miliband, or whoever else, feels it too, then they should feel free to talk about it. Just like the people of Boston, Herts believes in the power of baseball.