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February 21, 2011

Happy Presidents' Day!

"Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution." - Herbert Hoover

From throwing out the first pitch of the season to inviting the World Series champs to join him in the Oval Office…nearly every U.S. President has had some connection with baseball.

This Presidents' Day, here are ten (alright, eleven) things you might not have known about the connection between the guy who calls 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home and our national pastime.

When Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record for consecutive games played was surpassed by Cal Ripken on September 6, 1995, both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were in Baltimore to watch it happen. When Ripken went deep in the fourth inning, Clinton was in the WBAL radio broadcast booth and called the home run over the air.

On June 6, 1892, President Benjamin Harrison was the first president to attend a Major League baseball game. He saw his Washington Senators get topped by the Cincinnati Reds 7-4 in 11 innings.

Of the 52,154 fans on hand in Cincinnati to see “Hammerin’ Hank” tie Babe Ruth all-time home run record on April 4, 1974…Vice President Gerald Ford was one of them.  Four nights later, Aaron bested Ruth. Four months later, Ford took over the Oval Office from Richard Nixon.

When Grover Cleveland Alexander was born (1887), president Grover Cleveland was in his second year in office. After a 20-year big league career, the eventual Hall of Fame pitcher put up 373 victories. In 1952, Alexander was portrayed on film by, you guessed it, then-future president Ronald Reagan in the movie “The Winning Team”.

At a reported 335 pounds, William Howard Taft is not only the heaviest president…but on April 14, 1910, dude started the American tradition of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. The Washington Post headline the next day: "TAFT TOSSES BALL…Crowd Cheers President's Fine Delivery of the Sphere”. Tough crowd.

On August 13, 1960, former President Herbert Hoover threw out the first pitch at an old-timers game at Yankee Stadium…he was eighty-six years old.

It should come as no surprise that the president that was elected to four consecutive terms is the same president that has thrown out the most Opening Day first pitches with 11. But did you know that Franklin D. Roosevelt also threw out the ceremonial first pitch on October 1, 1932…a game best known for Babe Ruth’s “called shot”?

This one is a tough one to nail down officially, but according to a number of online sources, there have been nine left-handed (Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) since 1860.  But as I found out, throwing left-handed and writing left-handed are two different things.  That said, Truman was the first to throw out a pitch lefty when he did so in 1945. Five years later, the 33rd President did himself one better, by throwing out two first pitches…one left-handed and the other with his right. Yup…Truman was ambidextrous.  (A big thanks to commentor Rob for making me look into this one again)

Of the 20 Presidential Medals of Freedom that have been handed out to athletes, baseball players have received the most. By placing the medal around Stan Musial's neck last week, President Barack Obama made the lifelong St. Louis Cardinal baseball's eighth recipient.  The other seven...Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Buck O'Neil, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams.  Not too shabby.

Even though he’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, Jamie Moyer is the only current player to have played during five (Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) presidential administrations. Also, having been born November 17, 1962…he’s the only one that could tell you where he was the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Much has been made about George W. Bush being the former owner of the Texas Rangers. Truth is, baseball runs in his blood since both his father and grandfather played college ball at Yale University. The elder President Bush threw left-handed, batted right-handed, played first base and hit .264 during a 1948 season that saw the Bulldogs lose to Southern California (two games to one) in the National Collegiate Athletic Association final.

Bill over at The Flagrant Fan did his annual Presidents' Day post as well.  Check it's worth a read.


Rob said...

Isn't Obama left-handed? Shouldn't it be 6 left handed presidents that have thrown out the first pitch?

Norm (Ty Cobb) Coleman said...

Did you know? Ty (The Georgia Peach) Cobb was the first
player invited to the White House? Courtesy William Howard Taft.

The OCP said...

George Bush was actually the captain of that Yale squad. The Yale team played in the 1947 and 1948 championship games, the former being the inaugural College World Series. In '47, Yale lost to Cal; a team that boasted Jackie Jensen (an interesting player that I did a profile piece on... shameless plug )