When an institution has been around as long as baseball has, it develops its fair share of tall tales. From billy goats, to curses, to “called shots,” baseball certainly has a few whoppers, and sometimes the urban legends are so great the diamond just can’t contain them. Over the years a few of baseball’s better yarns have managed to weave their way into the fabric of government. Inspired by the World Series, now tied at two games apiece, the Constitution Daily Sports Desk decided to look at baseball legends with political ties and separate fact from fiction.
This one comes straight from a source with White House ties. While attending Opening Day in Washington, DC in 1910, William Howard Taft became uncomfortable in his seat. By the seventh inning, Taft could no longer sit, so he stood up to unwind. Out of respect for the President, everyone stood and the game was delayed. After a few minutes Taft took his seat again, the spectators followed, and the game resumed. From this the tradition of the seventh inning stretch was born.
FACTS: At around 300lbs, William Howard Taft was America’s most rotund president, so it is not hard to imagine that he would be uncomfortable in a stadium seat. Unfortunately, this story is just that: a story. The Baseball Almanac cites an 1869 letter from Cincinnati Red Stockings player Harry Wright as the earliest reference to a seventh-inning stretch. Wright mentions in a letter home that the fans get up in the middle of the seventh inning and stretch and occasionally walk around the stadium. However, this story is not entirely without truth. Taft was an avid baseball fan, and he did go to Washington Senators games while in office. At the request of Senators’ owner Clarke Griffith, Taft participated in a ceremony on Opening Day of 1910 and threw a pitch to Walter Johnson, inaugurating the tradition of presidents throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
MYTH: In the late 1940s Fidel Castro, a left-handed pitcher, was spotted playing for a college team in Havana. Castro received a tryout with a Major League club, either the New York Yankees or the Washington Senators; however, he was not signed. Castro returned to Cuba so humiliated that he became an anti-American revolutionary leader.
FACTS: There is no evidence to suggest that any baseball team ever gave Castro a tryout or that he was ever anything other than a recreational baseball player. This story is most likely a clever attempt to explain Castro’s Communist politics.
Ike a.k.a. “Wilson, c.f.”
MYTH: Dwight Eisenhower played minor league baseball for Junction City, KS, in the summer of 1911 under the assumed name “Wilson,” before attending West Point and playing football for the Cadets.
FACTS: This is probably the toughest of the rumors to substantiate or debunk. There is a record of a Wilson playing 9 games for Junction City in center field in the summer of 1911. To add to the intrigue, Wilson listed no first name or birthday. Eisenhower did play baseball in high school, and it was a fairly common practice for athletes to attempt to maintain their amateur status for college by playing under an assumed name. Eisenhower further muddied the waters by giving conflicting statements over his baseball career, he admitted privately that he had played as Wilson, but would deny his “nom de baseball” when pressed. Had Eisenhower played in 1911 he would not have been eligible to play any sport in college. Furthermore, his deceit would have put him in violation of the honor code at West Point.
What’s the moral of these tales, as Texas and St. Louis battle it out? We like to keep both our politicians and the game of baseball honest. And up to a point it’s a good idea to fact-check baseball lore, too. So long as truth doesn’t get in the way of a good story.
Michael Simzak is Youth Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center and the official sports writer for Constitution Daily.