Talkin' baseball and diplomacy
NEW YORK -- "I've got a near-torn Achilles," Henry Kissinger said outside the door of his apartment building.
"Like Kobe Bryant," said Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, as she helped him into the van.
"Who?" he asked as he settled into the seat for the ride to Yankee Stadium.
"You know who Kobe Bryant is," Power said.
"I don't know basketball," Kissinger said.
But the 90-year-old former Secretary of State knows baseball, and has been an avid Yankees fan since his youth. Power, on the other hand, can detail decades-old at-bats in the Bronx-Boston rivalry, but from her vantage point as a fervent Red Sox fan. The Irish-born ambassador even wrote this essay for The Boston Globe after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013.
For 30 minutes, as the van negotiated traffic from the East Side of Manhattan to the Major Deegan, Power and Kissinger discussed baseball and diplomacy. The two are natural allies, given his experience and her current work at the United Nations, which included the passage Thursday of a resolution to send 12,000 peacekeepers to the Central African Republic, from where Power had returned that morning.
Power would have a few other issues she'd want to discuss "between pitches" in the owner's box, but the conversation began with the subject of the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry.
"One of the great negotiations," Kissinger started.
"If a Yankee fan and a Red Sox fan can head into the heart of darkness for the first game of the season," Power said, "all things are possible."
Power: Was it love at first sight?
Kissinger: I actually went also to the Polo Grounds [where the New York baseball Giants played] and decided the Yankees were for me.
Power: Was that in keeping with a realist's perspective on the world? Was that where victories were likely?
Kissinger: You might end up doing more realistic things.
Power: The human rights advocate, of course, falls in love with the Red Sox, the downtrodden, the people who can't win the World Series. Now, the fact that we've won three in the last decade ...
Kissinger: Now we are the downtrodden.
Power: Indeed. There are young idealists all around the world falling in love with the Yankees now and realists who are gravitating to the Red Sox. I think the universe is on its head.
Kissinger: Wait until Samantha says "realpolitik." It means: He's a German and watch out for him.
Power: Realism. I came to America when I was 9. My mother brought me.
Kissinger: Oh, I didn't know that.
Power: From Ireland, yeah. My second day in the country, she brought me to Three Rivers Stadium.
Power: Yes, in Pittsburgh, and it was 1979, so it would prove to be the year that they would win the World Series. We, of course -- she was just starting over -- didn't have any money and we got seats that were way up high in the bleachers.
Kissinger: Was she a sports fan, or did she do that for you?
Power: She knew nothing of baseball, but she was the captain of the Irish field hockey team and the Irish squash champions. She was an amazing athlete.
Kissinger: Why did she come here?
Power: My mother and my natural father split up, and there was no divorce in Ireland. And so she came with an Irish guy who has been my stepfather since 1979, and he had been here and he explained to her that baseball was the currency and baseball was Americana. So our second day, she took us and we were way up in the gods. And I look down and we had been told in Irish school that grass was only really green in Ireland. And I looked up and we were so far away and I saw the artificial turf and it was so much greener than even Irish grass, but in that kind of bright artificial way. So I was like, "What's going on here? How can Pittsburgh have greener grass than in the heart of Ireland?" But I fell completely in love. Within weeks I was chewing Big League Chew and spitting it out as if it was tobacco.
Kissinger: From the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, you couldn't see much. You couldn't. It was about 500 feet away from home plate. You could see Joe DiMaggio, you could see the outfield, but you couldn't see the pitches.
Power: I find the bleachers -- you don't see anything like the fancy seats we're lucky enough to have from time to time -- but at Fenway, I'll do the bleachers partly because the walls have come in so much. Now they built seats on top of the Green Monster.
Kissinger: I think Fenway Park is a terrific park.
Power: It's spectacular; I'll take you there.
Kissinger: Some friends take me there on Opening Day.
Power: You've done it before?
Kissinger: I've done it twice. I went to a World Series game in Fenway Park wearing a Yankees jacket, and that was life-threatening. It's life-threatening. They were not gentlemanlike.
Power: Listen. I've been spit on in this stadium for wearing Red Sox attire. It's only you and your Yankees jacket that's going to be protecting me this evening. And not sitting in the bleachers probably helps, too.
Kissinger: [Laughs] It depends on how you behave. How loudly you carry on.
Power: One of my lowest moments was 11 years ago, I was in Yankee Stadium for the seventh game of the ALCS when Grady Little kept Pedro Martinez in the game too long and -- and the bloop single and hit after hit -- and everyone in Yankee Stadium took their keys, because we hadn't won in 85 years, they took their keys out and they did this with their fingers [she rubs her fingers together] as if "Curse, curse" and you could feel it unravel. And I was the enemy within just like you in Fenway. And just one [hit] after the other after the other. Then, [Tim] Wakefield, who'd had this incredible series, the only person who'd been able to able to hold the Yankees batters back, was brought in in relief, and then in the 10th or 11th, Aaron Boone came up.
Kissinger: And never played for the Yankees again.
Power: Hurt himself right in the offseason. As soon as the ball left the bat, and the fact it was Wakefield was so unjust because he'd been unhittable, as soon as it left the bat I went running out of the stadium so I wouldn't have to be there.
Kissinger: I read your article in the Globe last year. You really study the pitches. I was at Yankee Stadium with [George] Steinbrenner that the series the Yankees lost, but they won the first three games, if you remember.
Power: Of course. I was in Yankee Stadium for those games as well.
Kissinger: I was there in the first game, [Mike] Mussina was pitching for the Yankees and he was pitching a no-hitter and he was ahead 7-0, a big score anyway, in the seventh inning ...
Power: And we began coming back, one by one by one!
Kissinger: And they got a hit and I said to Steinbrenner, I'm so glad they got the hit, because now he can take Mussina out and save him for a later game. Next thing we know the score is 8-7, and Steinbrenner isn't talking to me anymore because he thinks I've jinxed his team.
Before long, baseball was compared to diplomacy, and Power said baseball was like negotiating in that you send your closer in last. Kissinger countered that he always made his best offer first.
As the sunset turned golden yellow, the black van pulled up to Yankee Stadium and the diplomats exited to watch the next chapter in one of baseball's great rivalries and talk of matters with more far-ranging consequence.