ABCNews’ Matthew Jaffe, Karen Travers, Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller & Kirit Radia report: President Obama today welcomed another victorious underdog to the White House, celebrating the Philadelphia Phillies’ surprising World Series victory last fall.
"What an unbelievable run it was, full of come-from-behind wins by an underdog team that loved to prove the prognosticators wrong," he said this afternoon on the sun-splashed South Lawn. "And we share something in common then because nobody thought I was going to win either."
The Phillies, the losingest franchise in pro sports with over 10,000 defeats in their history, shocked the sports world by capturing the title last fall, only days before then-Sen. Obama won the presidential election. And the President has a lot more in common with the Phillies than just the ability to defy expectations. Both also share grief-stricken success stories, Hawaii roots, and high-profile supporters.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, both Pennsylvania natives, are avid Phillies fans, as is David Plouffe, the campaign manager who guided the Illinois lawmaker to the Oval Office.
"I’m not sure he cared about my victory or the Phillies’ victory," quipped the President about Plouffe, who was in the audience today.
Another one of the President’s supporters is Phils captain Jimmy Rollins, who made calls on Mr. Obama’s behalf just before the election and appeared with the Bidens at a Philly campaign rally on Election Eve.
The similarities even extend to Hawaii, the birthplace of both the President and Phils centerfielder Shane Victorino. "He was pointing out the Hawaiian flag on the carpet [in the White House], saying ‘shaka’ — local boy," Mr. Obama said.
Also, both Mr. Obama and Phils manager Charlie Manuel had to overcome the deaths of family members only days before their triumphs. Manuel’s mother passed away during the team’s playoff run, while Mr. Obama’s grandmother died just before the election.
"I admired your perseverance during those trying times," the President told the skipper.
But persevere Manuel did, leading the Phillies to their first title in 28 years and the city of Philadelphia’s first in 25 years, bringing to an end the longest title drought of any city with four major professional sports teams. The team had to wait even longer to hoist the trophy after the longest rain delay in baseball history.
"Even though the stretch between the top and the bottom of the sixth inning in game five took two full days of rain, you came out before the toughest fans in sports to win Philadelphia’s first major championship since 1983," the President said. "And so this was truly a victory for both young folks but also the young at heart, those who waited nearly three decades and a new generation of fans that have been waiting their entire lives."
One young at heart fan who recently passed away was the Phillies’ legendary announcer Harry Kalas, who died in the broadcast booth before a game against the Washington Nationals last month. His sudden death led to the postponement of the team’s White House visit until today.
"I know a season without the warm comfort of his voice is difficult, but I also know this: that Harry is here with us in spirit today and he is proud of all of you," the President told the ballplayers, before then paying tribute to both the team’s leaders charitable work off the field and their contributions on it.
"This is a team made up of guys who don’t quit," Mr. Obama said. "Cole Hamels, the unbelievable playoff ace. Chase Utley, a throwback who plays hurt and plays hard and never complains. Brad Lidge, who came to the Philly organization looking for a fresh start and who went a perfect 48 for 48 in save opportunities all season long and who wiped away 28 years of near-misses and heartbreak with that final strikeout."
That victorious feeling is not only familiar to the President from the election, but also as a baseball fan himself who witnessed his beloved Chicago White Sox win the title three years ago. Even in celebrating the Phillies today, Mr. Obama could not resist touting the Sox and firing a dig at their bitter cross-town rivals, the Cubs, who have the longest World Series drought dating back an entire century.
"Cubs fans out there, take heart!" the President said to laughter. "Anything is possible!"
Even, as the President emphasized, for an underdog.
And so it was that one unlikely victor presented another with a traditional gift, as Rollins unveiled a version of the special gold-trimmed white home jersey the Philles wore on Opening Day this year, complete with #44 Obama on the back.
"Jimmy likes to say that nothing comes easy in Philly," the President said, referencing the notoriously demanding fans in the City of Brotherly Love. "And that’s why, I think, that so many Americans found themselves rooting for this extraordinary team. As Americans, we know a little something about being underdogs. We know a little something about being together when times are tough. And like this team, we remember a simple truth, which is that we rise and fall together and no individual is bigger than the team. So Phillies, congratulations, not only for a great season, but doing it the right way."
– By Matthew Jaffe, Karen Travers, Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller & Kirit Radia