President Obama, a White Sox Fan, Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

President Obama with the World Series champion Chicago Cubs on Monday. Among them, at right, was Theo Epstein, the team’s president for baseball operations. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The team that wins the World Series typically visits the White House during the subsequent baseball season. But President Obama wanted none of that tradition. With his presidency down to its final week, and the start of the 2017 season still more than two months away, Mr. Obama arranged for the Chicago Cubs to celebrate on Monday.

And why not? Mr. Obama is a Chicagoan, even if he is a fan of the city’s other baseball team, the White Sox. The Cubs, in winning the 2016 Series and ending a confounding 108-year championship drought, also produced one of the more improbable sports accomplishments in Mr. Obama’s eight years in office.

So it was baseball in January and Mr. Obama was enjoying the moment, the final White House event of his presidency.

“I’ve only got four days left,” Mr. Obama said as the afternoon ceremony began. “I made a lot of promises in 2008. We’ve managed to fulfill a large number of them. But even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the World Series.”

It almost did not happen. The Cubs blew a lead in Game 7 of the Series, seemed ordained to fail yet again, then rallied in extra innings to beat the Cleveland Indians, a team that has not won a championship in nearly 70 years.

This past weekend, the Cubs were the hosts of an exultant fan convention in downtown Chicago before flying East to meet the president, with a visit to the Walter Reed military hospital scheduled for later on Monday.

That would add a somber note to the Cubs’ day, and there was a reflective moment, too, when Mr. Obama, noting the visit was taking place on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, described the influence sports can have on politics and American life. He said a line could be traced from Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier, to his own election as president.

Still, the overall mood of Monday’s get-together was playful, even raucous.

Before the event, Cubs players, some dressed in three-piece suits, wandered around giddily, taking group photos. The team’s standout first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, said he felt “like a kid in a candy shop.” When the event did start, with guests and reporters packed into the room, cheering and singing periodically broke out. Cubs caps dotted the crowd.

There was an element of poignancy, too, with former Cubs stars who never did win it all — players like Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg — on hand. Another former Cub, Jose Cardenal, who was Michelle Obama’s Wrigley Field favorite from her Chicago childhood, also received an invite and got an ovation when he was introduced.

It was left to Theo Epstein, the team’s president for baseball operations, to speak on behalf of the Cubs. He thanked Mr. Obama for the “dignity and integrity” he demonstrated as president. He wryly offered a “midnight pardon” for Mr. Obama for his support for the White Sox, then gave Mr. Obama a lifetime ticket good for any game at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs’ blithe and idiosyncratic manager, Joe Maddon, came dressed for the occasion in a black turtleneck, olive jacket, blue pants and boots, flouting the dress code. He took questions from reporters outside the White House after the event, saying he “had a lot of respect for the office” while deferring on a question about President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Toward the end of the East Room event, more conventional gifts were handed to Mr. Obama, the country’s 44th president, including a white team jersey with the number 44 on the back. A placard with the number 44 was also taken from Wrigley Field’s famous manual scoreboard and framed for Mr. Obama.

The championship trophy was also on hand. When Mr. Epstein took over in Chicago in October 2011, that trophy amounted to a responsibility. Mr. Epstein had already won it twice as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, breaking that team’s historic curse. Now he was expected to do the same for the Cubs.

It took a while. But after several dreary seasons while Mr. Epstein rebuilt the franchise, the Cubs almost made it to the World Series in 2015. Then in 2016, they finished the job.

On Monday, a number of current and former White House staff members were seated up in the front during the ceremony, including one unnamed staff member Mr. Obama playfully chided for being interviewed at a bar outside Wrigley Field during the World Series when he was supposed to be at work.

Mr. Obama turned out to be a more gracious host than President Theodore Roosevelt, who was in office the last time the Cubs won the World Series, in 1908.

Mr. Roosevelt despised baseball and refused to watch it. Before he left office, he finally relented and agreed to have three American League clubs — the Washington Senators, the New York Highlanders and the Cleveland Naps — pay a visit.

More than a century later, Mr. Obama needed no coaxing. And now that he will have more time on his hands, he can watch as much Cubs baseball as he wants. And the White Sox, too.

Source: NYTimes