John McCain took in a Yankees game yesterday, well, more or less. He disappeared from the stands in the middle of the sixth, never to be seen again. The score was tied, but the photo opportunity had been won, and if McCain stays in the sun for more than an hour or so he turns into one of those Francis Bacon paintings of Pope Innocent X, a set of gnarled skeleton claws and an ashy howling skull, exploding.
And no one wants to see that.
It didn't really matter to McCain if he saw the end of the game, since his most cherished sports memories are all imaginary, anyway.
Here's McCain in one of his ghost-written autobiographies:
No one was ever more determined to be his own man than Ted Williams, or so I thought when I first saw him strike out at Griffith Stadium, then raise his head and spit from the plate towards the fans who booed him and the sportswriters who harassed him. That's how I remember the moment, anyway, the moment when Ted Williams became my hero. I saw him spit even if it didn't happen at that game, and the legend that is Ted Williams began to seep so far into my subconscious that in my memory I am physically present at some of its more colorful highlights... it sure looked as if he spat at them that day, and I was thrilled to witness it, even if the papers didn't write it up, even if my cousin Peter Andrews, who was sitting beside me wasn't sure he did.
There are a couple of really piquant things about this anecdote:
1) What's with right wing Vietnam veterans and imaginary offenses involving saliva? There's a whole pretty interesting book about it called The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. At least McCain didn't imagine the Splendid Splinter hurling dog shit and calling him a baby killer.
2) What kind of damaged person goes to the park and fantasizes about his hero striking out? "Oh, boy! What a great day for a ballgame! I really hope someone on our side eats it and it drives him into a fit of impotent apoplectic rage!"
3) The obvious tension between author and editor. It's pretty clear that this spit vision is a cherished McCain story and he wants in the book, even when presented with evidence that it never happened.
Uh, Senator, the researchers checked, and it never happened.
But I've been telling that story for over a hundred thousand years!
Well, uh... maybe... that makes it better! That's just the kind of guy you are! You love Ted Williams so much, you imagine him spitting on people!
So it stays?
Your subconscious memory is good enough for me!
The night before Sunday's game, McCain was talking baseball on a Straight Talk helicopter ride from a Hamptons fundraiser, and, of course, by baseball, we mean Ted Williams.
Not only was Williams a great player, but he also served stints as a Marine Corps pilot during World War II and the Korean War, Mr. McCain said, thereby embodying the model of patriotic service and sacrifice that Mr. McCain preaches on the campaign trail.
And oh yes, there was one other thing: Williams' prickly independence and maverick streak, which sometimes soured his relations with fans, management and sportswriters. "I always liked that," Mr. McCain said with a grin.
We don't know if McCain retold the spitting story, but I'm guessing he did.
Speaking of rictus skulls, John McCain's date for the Yankees game was the great comic disaster of the Republican primaries, Rudy Giuliani.
Rudy took the requisite questions about he and McCain forming and ticket, and/or a cancer cluster, and Giuliani used the occasion to take a swipe at Barack Obama's tour of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fact that Barack Obama is now making his first tour, in essence, of the world is an indication that John McCain is the man with the experience. John doesn't have to go for the first or second time to these places. He has been going there for 20-30 years. He knows the world. He understands the world.
Rudy Giuliani has never been to Iraq.
In 2000, after a personal meeting with John McCain, Ted Williams endorsed George W. Bush.