Cheering Delgado's Dissent
By Chris Green
Baseball has nothing to do with politics, right? In fact, baseball is deemed a solution to our deepest rifts -- political, generational, whatever. Consider the now-official cliché: I-Couldn't-Talk-To-My-Dad-About-Anything-But-We-Could-Still
-Watch-The-Ballgame-Together. The guys you vote into the All-Star Game are supposed to transcend the guys you vote into office in November. So in baseball, it doesn't matter if you're liberal or conservative, if you're for the war or against the war.
Except if you're against the war.
And except if you're my brother, or if you're Carlos Delgado.
I'm not sure which is more courageous: that Delgado remains the only Major League Baseball player (to my knowledge) to have openly announced his position against the war in Iraq, or that he did so in a season which likely will feature his career lows in batting average, home runs and RBIs. And I'm not sure either is as courageous as unfurling a giant banner in the middle of Yankee Stadium that expresses a preference for a guy on the other team to replace our sitting chief executive.
Which is what my own brother, bless his foolhardy little heart, went and did.
A note about my brother's heart: Once upon a time, it didn't work so well. It took three major childhood surgeries to rectify the problem. And, while he won't be running any marathons, he's more or less in the clear, health-wise, and has been for a while. But to hear him tell it, one of the effects of his earlier illness has been to regard the rest of his life as gravy, as bonus time. So he tends to live a little closer to the edge than I do.
Which is why, on Aug. 6, you could have found him holding one end of a giant "DELGADO FOR PRESIDENT" banner in the upper deck during the Yanks-Jays tilt in the Bronx.
We grew up Yankee fans in New Jersey, in the Mattingly era. I moved west and kicked the habit; Jon stayed east, and still wears his Yankee cap with pride. He lives in Connecticut, on the fringes of Red Sox Nation, and has devoted his entire post-college life to political activism and organizing. As the director of a grassroots political outfit engaged in promoting working-class community issues, pushing progressive candidates for election and generally sticking up for the little guy, he's as true-blue as the blue states make 'em.
He told me about the idea for the banner a few weeks prior. At the time, I filed it in the "Good Idea/Never Gonna Happen" category, into which I'd earlier placed his plans for booking gigs for his high-school band and his notion of writing a musical based on T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land."
But then I got the photo.
There was the banner, bigger than I'd thought it would be. They unfurled it in the front of the upper deck on the first-base side, just as the P.A. system struck up the obligatory "God Bless America" for the seventh-inning stretch. Delgado would be making his quiet protest, remaining in the dugout for the duration of the song, while a 9x12-foot banner boosted his yet-undeclared candidacy.
I asked Jon what the reaction was.
"Well," he said, circumspect, "now I know what it's like to be booed by 50,000 people."
He's still surprised that he and his partner in free speech -- a shady character known only as "Kenny" -- weren't evicted.
"We had come with a pretty large group," he told me. "And when we went to show off the banner, we pretty much said, 'See you in the parking lot.' We were fully expecting that we would get tossed."
Delgado had been roundly booed in each of his previous trips to the plate. Say what you will about Yankee fans -- that they're obnoxious, that they have an epic sense of entitlement -- they're nothing if not well-informed. The crowd was well aware of Delgado's position on the war, and delivered a counterpoint of catcalls at every opportunity.
But in the top of the seventh, it was "go time" for the banner, nonetheless.
Their seats were in the upper deck behind third base, and the trek through the grandstand to the first-base side was a nervous one. Carrying a banner that praises an opposing player through the Yankee Stadium bleachers is sort of like toting a briefcase full of enriched uranium through the International Convention of Weapons Inspectors, only these weapons inspectors are way bigger than you and kind of drunk.
To prevent (or at least delay) the possibility of being thrown from the upper deck, Jon and his brothers-in-arms took the precaution of decking themselves out in full Yankees regalia -- caps, jerseys, T-shirts, the works -- making it clear that they weren't enemy agents, and that this critique, pointed as it was, came from inside the Yankee family.
Still, Jon told me, "I was nervous. And I mean really, physically nervous. My stomach, my whole body ... everything was jumpy."
They arrived behind first base just as the third out was being made. As Bob Sheppard delivered his nightly stentorian introduction to "God Bless America," a fixture since September 2001, they moved into position. As the opening bars played, they dropped the banner. The reaction was immediate.
"Did everyone boo you?" I asked. Surely, I figured, there had to be a contingent of traditionally-liberal New Yorkers present.
"Pretty much everyone," Jon said. "It felt like everyone."
A few people, he recalls, gave a subterranean thumbs-up, but expressions of support for the Delgado presidency clearly were unwelcome at the Stadium.
"There were people who said nice things about us," he later told me, "but they said it in a tone that made you think they were risking abduction by the KGB."
Amazingly enough, being booed by thousands wasn't the most awkward part of the affair. The banner was visible to nearly the entire stadium, save, of course, for the section in which they were standing and those immediately around it. As "God Bless America" played over the near-continuous ocean of derision, those folks on the first-base side understandably were curious about what was causing the stir. So several of them asked what the banner said.
Swallowing hard, gritting his teeth and giving an I-Know-This-Sounds-Crazy shrug, Jon told them that it said "Delgado for President."
"The weirdest thing," he told me later, "was seeing their reaction. It was like there was this mental disconnect, where they couldn't quite figure out the contradiction. They'd say, 'But you're wearing a Yankee cap!' And I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm a Yankee fan.'
Carlos Delgado quietly continues to make his point about the war in Iraq.
"'But the banner says ... '
"And I'd just nod and say, 'Yep.' And they would look really puzzled."
He thought about it for a moment.
"Though on the other hand, that reaction was still better than the guys yelling 'F--- you, you f------ Commie!' There was a fair amount of that one."
It's hard to second-guess Yankee fans. Twenty-six World Championships can't be wrong, right? Still, I admit to surprise that more of the legendary New York tolerance wasn't displayed. Who knows? Maybe all the Democrats go to Shea.
Or maybe I'm surprised at the degree to which political and baseball affiliations become so easily conflated. Is pulling for the Yankees necessarily a conservative/Republican act? Maybe so. Yankee apostates like me remember, even treasure, the circumstances of George Steinbrenner's first suspension -- that would be those illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign. Steinbrenner and A-Rod both have donated the maximum $2,000 to the re-election coffers of George W. and Dick Cheney enjoyed a very public photo op at the Stadium earlier this season, cadging an autograph from Joe Torre and sporting a brand new Yankees cap while enjoying a game with Rudy Giuliani.
All the same, how much easier is it to boo Carlos Delgado because he plays for one of those dope-smokin', gay-marryin', socialized-medicine-utilizin' Canadian teams? And how much easier would it be for Yankee fans to take a stand against the war if Derek Jeter -- or, hell, even Ruben Sierra -- came out against it?
Baseball doesn't exist outside of politics, and politics doesn't exist outside of baseball. Somewhere, there's a sociological equation, an ideological multi-variable calculus problem that ought to let us know how it works. Let George Bush = x, and Carlos Delgado = y; factor in the ratio of your tax cut to how much you paid for your tickets; divide by the square root of Bud Selig. And leave room for the random variant -- the veteran sitting two rows down from you; the innocuous backpack that stadium security now won't let you take into the park; those guys on the other side of the grandstand with the crazy banner.
The Jays aren't going anywhere this year, and Carlos Delgado will have all October and beyond to balance his personal/political equations. But he saw the banner. It was after "God Bless America" had concluded, and he was on the field, warming up.
"Orlando Hudson saw it," Jon told me, "and pointed it out to him. He didn't have much of a reaction, which makes sense."
No, Delgado kept warming up, taking grounders at first, staying focused. There were at least two more innings in this game, two more months in the long, losing season, and this week's re-visit to Yankee Stadium -- the Jays play their last game in the Bronx this year on Wednesday night.
And, as Jon said, "We weren't expecting him to start jumping up and down and take a victory lap around the field."
Like any effective chief executive, Delgado apparently knows when to pick his battles. But even if the Delgado Administration is a fantasy that lasted only through the seventh-inning stretch of a single game, it's a worthy one. After all, Delgado knows there are tougher corners of the world to defend than first base.
And my brother knows that heroes deserve his vote, no matter what field they play on.
Chris Green is a writer living in Los Angeles, and the editor of 'Produced by' magazine.
Delgado for President: "Now I know what it feels like to be booed by 5,000 people."