Baseball and Presidents- Early Days
by Tom Knuppel
Baseball has been around a long time. Just as long as this country has been electing Presidents. Actually, baseball has been in this country longer. In 1778, there is a reference in writing during the Revolutionary War in April from a soldier that he played base ball in his spare time.
It is said that George Washington would play catch with his aides for hours in camp during the same time period. In DC in the 1880’s it is said teams began played the game in the ellipse area of the Capitol. Early reports here. Martin Van Buren visited Cooperstown , home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the site where James Fenimore Cooper wrote the famous works called “The Deerslayer”. But the Hall of Fame had not been built yet.
Baseball and President- Abraham Lincoln
It is recorded that in the year 1860, when the Committee of the Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency visited his home at Springfield, Illinois, to notify him formally of the event, the messenger sent to apprise him of the coming of the visitors found the great leader out on the commons, engaged in a game of Base Ball. Information of the arrival of the party was imparted to Mr. Lincoln on the ball field. Reportedly, Lincoln asked them to wait until after he took his turn at bat before delivering the news.
After he was elected, his son, Tad, and Abe would sneak out of the White House and walk to the ellipse area to watch others play the game. Sometimes they talked the U. S. President into playing the game himself. More baseball and Lincoln stories.
Baseball and Presidents- Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson may have been the most rapid fan of baseball than any president in the present of future. Johnson gave his government workers time off to watch the Washington Nationals play the Philadelphia Athletics in August of 1866 and he planned on attending. But government work kept him in the office and he missed this game, On September 18, 1866 he became the first President to attend a game, even if it was brief as the Brooklyn Excelsiors scored 33 and the National Baseball Club of Washington finished with 28. Teams from all over the eastern seaboard were trying to convince Johnson to attend their games to stir attendance. He was the first president to have a team visit the White House.
Baseball and Presidents- Ulysses S Grant
After the completion of the Civil War and Grant became president. there are a few reports of his carriage stopping in the outfield grass of some of the major league games in the area and watching for a few minutes here and there.
After he left office he began in earnest going to games and on May 1, 1883, he went to Polo Grounds for the first game and sat at the rear of the grandstand, mostly unnoticed.
Baseball and Presidents- Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley
On June 6, 1892, Harrison was the first president known to have witnessed an entire major league game as Washington lost to Cincinnati 4-2 in 11 innings. The next game he watched Washington lost 9-2 to Philadelphia. Many weren’t sure it as a good idea for him to return often.
William McKinley was the first president to invite a team directly to the Oval Office. On April 17.1897, the Senators were allowed to meet the president in his office while former commander-in-chiefs met them in the mansion. McKinley also offered to throw out the first pitch on April 22nd. With this commitment came the building of a presidential box with hanging flags and bunting attached. Over a hundred members of Congress also came to attend this game. The issue came that McKinley was a “no show” at the game and took plenty of flack over this.
Baseball and Presidents- Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt had no love for the game of baseball. He talked at times about it being the “national pastime” but he preferred more ‘manly games such as Boxing and lacrosse or cricket. He did invite a couple of baseball mangers to the White House and one of his children, Quentin, loved to play the game of baseball. But the president, not so much.
Baseball and Presidents- William Taft and Woodrow Wilson
President William Howard Taft threw out the first ceremonial pitch on baseball’s Opening Day, April 14, 1910. Taft would also throw the first pitch the following year, but missed 1912 due to the sinking of the Titanic five days prior. Taft was a large man over 300 lbs and when he accepted the invite to throw out the first pitch, the Washington club had two seats removed and installed a big mans chair for him to sit.
Taft and 7th Inning Stretch
On April 14,1910, President Howard Taft who was 6’2″ an 350 lbs had been sitting in his seat since the start of the game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Washington Senators. It is believed that Taft stood up to relieve his pain and a tradition began as the the rest of the crowd stood up to stretch and joined the president in this stretch. This gave publicity to the practice that became known as the 7th inning stretch.
Woodrow Wilson- first pitch
Coming soon! Baseball and Presidents – Wilson to Biden
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