President Obama gestures during a campaign event in Boston. (Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty…)
President Obama grabbed hold of the third rail of Boston politics and didn’t let go Monday night: He brought up the Red Sox.
“Finally,” the president said, wrapping up his introductions at a fundraiser there, “I just want to say thank you for Youkilis.”
That would be Kevin Youkilis, beloved slugger, who was traded this week to the Chicago White Sox, Obama’s hometown team. The crowd, members of which paid at least $144 a ticket to see the president at Symphony Hall, immediately booed playfully.
“I’m just sayin’. He’s going to have to change the color of his socks,” Obama continued.
The audience booed again, though some did seem to be cheering “Youk,” a staple at Fenway during his nine seasons with the club.
“I didn’t think I’d get any boos out of here,” Obama said. “I guess I shouldn’t have brought up baseball. I understand. My mistake. … You’ve got to know your crowd.”
Indeed you do, particularly given recent history in Beantown, where mixing baseball and politics has been a dicey proposition.
Obama was preceded on stage by Elizabeth Warren, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown in a key congressional battle in November. Brown’s shocking 2010 victory was aided in part by the low baseball IQ of his Democratic opponent Martha Coakley, who had the temerity to suggest that former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan.
Mitt Romney’s campaign teased the president Tuesday morning for antagonizing the local sports fans so soon after the trade was made official.
“President Obama went to the heart of Red Sox nation and committed an error by taunting fans,” spokesperson Andrea Saul said in an email to reporters, comparing it to other Sox tales of woe like the Babe Ruth trade and Bill Buckner letting a Mookie Wilson ground ball roll through his legs in the 1986 World Series against the Mets.
“Maybe the president should have congratulated the team for winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007. Instead, he chose to mock them for trading away one of its favorite players at a time when the team is struggling.”
The Red Sox trail the first-place New York Yankees by 6 1/2 games in the American League East. Chicago's Sox are clinging to a narrow lead in the Central Division.
White House and campaign officials did punch back at the notion that Obama was booed, though reporters on scene clearly heard some.
Speaking with reporters on Air Force One en route from Boston to Atlanta, press secretary Jay Carney, a Red Sox fan, brought up the issue unprompted, and cast Obama’s remarks as an act of political courage.
“There's been some really silly reporting about the president's remarks about Kevin Youkilis,” he said. “This president has always refused to pander on sports. He is a White Sox fan, he owns his fandom of the White Sox and proved that again last night. And anyone who knows Boston and knows the Red Sox and was in that room knows that the preponderance of people shouting in response to what the president said about Kevin Youkilis were saying ‘Youk’ not ‘boo,’ for God's sake."
Carney may have to take it up with the White House stenographers. The official White House transcript indicated the crowd was booing.