NEW YORK • It was a photograph that was retweeted round the world. Snapped aboard Mrs Hillary Clinton's campaign plane last Saturday night by her travelling press secretary Nick Merrill, the picture captured her staring at a smartphone, mouth agape in astonishment, as she watched the Chicago Cubs clinch a World Series berth.
"That look when you cap off a day on the trail by watching the @Cubs cement their trip to the #WorldSeries," Mr Merrill tweeted.
Almost instantly, the image ricocheted across social media - and kicked up a heated debate, one that cuts to the heart of the character and integrity of the Democratic presidential nominee: Was Mrs Clinton, a native Chicagoan who ostentatiously donned a New York Yankees hat during her 2000 campaign for the Senate from New York, really a Cubs fan at heart?
An indictment was quickly circulated, and in one of Mrs Clinton's hometown papers, no less. "It's time to recount Hillary Clinton's tortured explanations about being a diehard Cubs fan - and how she's also for the Yankees," Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet wrote in a piece published last Thursday.
And yet the fact of Mrs Clinton's Cubs fandom is not really open to dispute. Born in Chicago in 1947 - two years after the team last appeared in the World Series - Mrs Clinton grew up in the suburbs, watching the Cubs on television with her brothers, according to a newspaper column she wrote in 1996. Her father was a devoted fan, too, making her loyalty both geographic and genetic.
The source of suspicion as to her baseball loyalties is another set of facts: In 1999, only days after announcing that she was forming an exploratory committee to run for the Senate from New York, she and her husband, then President Bill Clinton, welcomed the Yankees to the White House for a visit. Mrs Clinton donned a Yankees cap given to her by the team's manager, Joe Torre. The resulting photographs fuelled criticism for years.
"She went to the Yankees so that she could run for senator from New York," MSNBC's Chris Matthews said in 2007 on the network's show Hardball. "It's so obvious... doesn't she know she looks like a fraud?"
For her part, Mrs Clinton has pointed to ample evidence, including interviews from the early 1990s, that as a young girl in Chicago, she followed the Yankees in addition to the Cubs because she "needed an American League team", and "in our neighbourhood, it was nearly sacrilegious to cheer for the rival White Sox", as she wrote in her 2003 memoir, Living History.
Mrs Clinton's dual loyalties, longstanding and verified or not, may be an affront to baseball purists, who believe that a true fan can have only one team. However, if the goal was to pander to voters, she would certainly be far better off rooting for the Cubs' swing- state opponents - the Cleveland Indians.