Four days after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, Theo Epstein, the club’s general manager at the time, used his newfound clout to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in Manchester, N.H.
“It’s only been four years, but it sure feels like 86,” Epstein said, comparing President George W. Bush’s first term to the Red Sox’s championship drought.
“On issue after issue,” Epstein added, “the scouting report comes out straight A’s for John Kerry.”
Epstein was joined at the rally by two of his bosses, Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, who share his Democratic politics.
Eight years later, Epstein, in his first season as president of the Chicago Cubs, finds himself working for a family at the other end of the political spectrum. Last week, Cubs part owner Joe Ricketts launched a $10 million independent ad campaign backing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Ricketts’s son, Tom, the Cubs’s principal owner, is a Republican donor, as is another son, Todd, who owns a minority share of the team. A third son, Pete, also a minority owner, was the Republican nominee in the 2006 Senate race in Nebraska.
In a notable exception, Ricketts’s only daughter, Laura, is a bundler for President Obama who has helped to raise between $100,000 and $200,000 for the president’s reelection effort, according to the Obama campaign.
Earlier this year, Ricketts mulled spending his eight-figure sum on an ad campaign linking Obama to controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright Jr., whom the president has described as a former spiritual adviser. Wright is known as a leader of “black liberation theology,” a movement begun in the 1960s by James Cone, who taught that “what we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.”
Wright has made inflammatory remarks of his own, such as when he said after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
Obama is a former congregant at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which Wright led from 1979 to 2008, but he has distanced himself from the pastor since entering presidential politics.
In the original ad strategy commissioned by Ricketts, the goal was for voters to “see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” according to leaked documents the New York Times reported on in May.
Romney quickly condemned such a tactic, and Ricketts scrapped it, saying through a spokesman that “it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.”
The Cubs declined to make Epstein available for an interview to discuss Ricketts’s political activity.
Epstein donated $1,000 to Obama in 2008 and gave $500 to Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley in 2010 as part of a Red Sox front office that contributed regularly to Democrats.
Werner has donated $289,900 to Democratic candidates and committees since 1989, according to a campaign finance database maintained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Henry has stayed out of the last four federal election cycles, but between 1992 and 2004, he gave almost $1 million to Democrats.
And Red Sox President Larry Lucchino has given $88,700 to Democrats since 1990, while occasionally donating to Republicans, including presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
In March 2005, when the Red Sox visited the White House to celebrate their first championship since 1918, Epstein sat out of the team photo with George W. Bush. He later told the Globe that he wanted attention to be on “those who deserved it.”
When the club made another trip to the Bush White House after winning the World Series again in 2007, Epstein did not travel to Washington. He told the Globe that he stayed behind because of family reasons.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.