The love affair between presidents and baseball is almost as old as the country itself: George Washington reportedly took part in the occasional game of catch with his aides during the Revolutionary War. Abraham Lincoln was once depicted in a baseball related cartoon by Currier & Ives. Even the most un-athletic president ever, William Howard Taft, tried his hand at baseball and became the first president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch in 1910. In honor of baseball’s playoffs, the Constitution Daily Sports Desk consulted its covert archive of constitutional athletic lore to compile a list of Great Presidential Moments in Baseball History.
1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Gives the Green Light
Whether or not Franklin Roosevelt was a true fan is debatable but he will always be linked with the game because of a January 1942 letter he wrote to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The “Green Light Letter” gave the Commissioner the go-ahead to continue playing baseball in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of World War II. Roosevelt believed that the game would serve as a welcome diversion even if play suffered as a result of the best players being pressed into military service. FDR even advocated additional night games so that day-shift workers could go out to the ball park. Roosevelt attended 11 games while in office but none after Opening Day of 1941.
2. Truman Goes Both Ways
Like his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry Truman recognized the importance of baseball in America. During his tenure in office, Truman was a regular at historic Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC, attending more games (16) than any other president. On April 18, 1950, President Truman displayed a unique skill by throwing out a ceremonial pitch right-handed and then left-handed. Although the quality of both pitches is unknown, it still represents a unique feat in bi-partisanship.
3. JFK Names an “Undersecretary”
A devoted Boston Red Sox fan, President John F. Kennedy was 17 months old when The Curse began. Although his duties as president kept him from ever seeing his beloved Sox in person, Kennedy was always kept informed of the goings-on at Fenway Park. Kennedy reportedly made his staffer, Dave Powers, his statistician and scorekeeper-in-chief and named him the “Undersecretary of Baseball.”
4. Ronald Reagan Plays Harry Caray
Although he built his reputation in California, the “Great Communicator” cut his teeth in the Windy City as a Chicago Cubs radio broadcaster. The life-long Cubs fan began broadcasting Cubs play-by-play for WHO Radio in Des Moines, IA, in 1933. In 1937, while traveling with the Cubs, Ronald Reagan did a screen test for Warner Brothers Studios, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1998, President Reagan returned to his roots and broadcast part of a Cubs game.
5. George W. Bush Doesn’t Bounce It
George W. Bush inherited his father’s love for baseball. Prior to becoming president, the younger Bush was a co-owner of the Texas Rangers. On Tuesday October 30, 2001, a mere seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush emerged from the dugout at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch of game 3 of the World Series between the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Clad in a blue FDNY pullover, the President made his way to the mound, toed the rubber, and gave the sellout crowd of 57,000 fans screaming U-S-A a big thumbs-up. Then he wound up and threw a strike over the heart of the plate.
Michael Simzak is Youth Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center and the official sports writer for Constitution Daily.