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Monday, April 26, 2010

So why didn't the 1996 Yankees ever visit the White House?

There's a whole slew of stories about how the New York Yankees are heading to the White House today, to be honored by Barack Obama for their 2009 World Series win. And most of the articles say that this will be the fifth time that the Core Four have been honored that way, saying they were honored in 1997, 1999, and 2000 by Bill Clinton, in 2001 by George W. Bush, and in 2010 by Obama. But these numbers are  wrong.

The Yankees never visited the White House after the 1996 World Series, and that non-visit was very controversial at the time. Who knows what the real story was, but the rumor of the day was supposedly that John Wetteland, who was very conservative politically, either instigated teammates to threaten a boycott, or was planning on confronting Clinton on his political views. And so the visit never happened.

That was in the early days of the internet, so I could find very little online about it. But the Washington City Paper wrote in 1997 about the story. You know it was a long time ago, because they described the Yanks as a "loveable bunch," instead of as the face of evil! The paper wondered about what happened:
There are any number of conspiracy theories as to why the visit never took place. The juiciest rumor out of New York was that a band of reactionary Yankee players, led by World Series MVP John Wetteland, asserted that they could not in good conscience break bread with President Clinton. The players, according to this rumor, didn't want to in any way assist the incumbent in the then-current presidential campaign....

Wetteland couldn't be reached for comment, and although his agent, Adam Katz, admitted that the player throws from the right side in politics as well from the mound, Katz denied that the reliever led a Yankee rebellion against an invitation.

"Yes, John is conservative politically, but he wouldn't impose his will on the rest of the club like that," said the L.A.-based Katz. "Didn't happen."
The paper also asked the Yankee front office for the scoop:
"We've heard those stories, but the truth is the players had nothing to do with this," said Yankee spokesman Rick Cerrone. "Going to the White House to see the president, well, that sounds like a great honor, and there's no way a few players would get up and tell the owner, 'We are not going to the White House!' That's ridiculous."

OK, then, Cerrone was asked, why didn't the Yankees ever visit with Clinton?

"We didn't go because we were never invited," Cerrone said.
Not invited? What?

According to Mary Ellen Glynn,  a White House spokesperson quoted in the article, the Yanks didn't get an invitation at the time "because they won the World Series in the middle of a campaign." (Back then, such sporting event visits happened within weeks of the event, not many months later as they are now.) But the Clinton spokesperson  told the Washington City Paper that "the president is a big baseball fan, and we love the Yankees, and we'd love to have the Yankees visit the White House if we can arrange it."

When Cerrone was told that (this article was written in January 1997), he effectively said "thanks, but no thanks" to the offer:
"Realistically, I don't see how a trip like that could happen at this point," he said. "It wouldn't even make too much sense now. I mean, we're not even the same team any more as the one that won the World Series."
Ironically, given the rumors of the instigation, John Wetteland was one of the Yankees no longer with the team.

Anyhow, it took until 1999 for the 90s-dynasty Yankees to get that White House visit. This one happened in June of that year, when lifelong Cubs fan Hillary Clinton, who was starting her campaign for the New York Senate at the time, put on a Yankee hat and announced that she had also been a lifelong Bombers fan.

At any rate, I would still love to know what the full story was with the 1996 Yankees not getting the chance to visit the White House. Considering how many stories we hear about those years, it's curious that this is such a forgotten chapter in Yankees history!


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