The history of baseball and the American presidency.

Baseball and the American Presidency
Baseball and the American presidency have had a long history together. Since baseball’s inception in the mid–19th century, Presidents have been involved with the National Pastime in many ways, whether it be by playing it, watching it, or supporting it. As far back as 1860, associations between Presidents and baseball appeared in print and illustration. Since 1910, Presidents have ceremoniously rung in the new baseball year by throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day, providing official sanction to the beginning of the season. In addition, for more than a century U.S. Presidents have also taken time from their busy schedules to attend other games, from amateur sandlot contests near the White House to All-Star and World Series games.  Right: The cover of the 1984 World Series Program featured artwork of former Presidents.

This facsimile of an 1860 Currier and Ives lithograph shows President Abraham Lincoln and his three opponents in the 1860 presidential election: John Bell, Stephen Douglas, and John Breckinridge.

By 1860, baseball terminology was so much a part of everyday language that the candidates’ platforms were explained with baseball metaphors.

On May 1, former President Ulysses S. Grant watched the first big league game at New York City’s Polo Grounds. With attendance estimated at 15,000, it was the largest crowd in New York baseball history to that point.

Opening Day at the Polo Grounds, 1888.

William H. Taft, 1909-1913
"I like it (baseball) for two reasons. First, because I enjoy it myself and second, because if by the presence of the temporary first magistrate such a healthy amusement can be encouraged, I want to encourage it."

On April 19, 1909, Major Archie Butt, a military aide, convinced Taft to attend a Washington Senators game. Butt thought that attending the game would help the President get his mind off business and relax. Taft loved it, spending the day dodging foul balls and sharing peanuts with his Vice President in the presidential box.

Baseball signed by William Taft and given to Walter Johnson.

On April 14, 1910, Taft threw out the first pitch on Opening Day, becoming the first in a long line of Presidents to uphold this tradition.

1910 was a big year for another baseball tradition. The classic "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" began to be played in ballparks across the nation.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game, sung by Edwin Meeker, 1908.

Less than a month later, on May 4, 1910 Taft became the first and only President to see games in each league on the same day. After sitting through two innings of a Cincinnati Reds/St. Louis Cardinals game, Taft rushed across town to watch Cy Young and Cleveland take on the St. Louis Browns.

President Taft shaking hands with player-manager Clark Griffith.

Taft’s love for the game continued to grow, and he would become one of its biggest promoters. Not only did the President “believe in baseball,” but as the 1911 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide stated, Taft told “his friends that it is a pastime which is worth any man’s while, and advises them to banish the blues by going to a ball game…”

President Taft speaking with player-manager Clark Griffith.

Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921
"A big enough boy to enjoy the national game - and a man big enough to guide our country through its greatest crisis." - 1917 World Series program

Even before he assumed the presidency, avid sports fan Woodrow Wilson hinted to the Sporting News that he would be a frequent spectator at Washington Senators games. He added though, that he would pay for entrance to the game instead of taking advantage of his presidential season pass.

Woodrow Wilson at a 1913 Washington Senators game

Wilson attended Game 2 of the 1915 World Series between Boston and Philadelphia, becoming the first President to attend the Fall Classic. The Red Sox defeated the Phillies 2-1.

Wilson's pitch went high and wide. With the roaring approval of the crowd, the umpire presented the ball to Wilson, who in turn kept the ball safe in the pocket of his overcoat.

Although Wilson was a fan of the game, baseball suffered during his presidency, largely due to the World War I military draft. Playing baseball was declared a nonessential job, and therefore nonexempt from the draft. As a result, hundreds of players left to work on farms and factories or fight overseas, lessening the quality of play.

Furthermore, in 1918 the government called for a shortened baseball season. The season ended on Labor Day and was immediately followed by an accelerated World Series. Two months after the season ended, on November 11, 1918, World War I ended and the 1919 baseball season was saved.

The last baseball hit in that last game before World War I on Labor Day, 1918

Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923
"I never saw a game without taking sides and never want to see one. There is the soul of the game."

Like many of his predecessors, President Harding was an avid baseball fan. Growing up in Ohio, Harding played youth league with Bob Allen, a future major league shortstop. The future President also managed, and at one point co-owned, the Little Rock baseball club of the Southern Association.

Harding tossing out a first pitch.

On April 24, 1923, Harding showed up unannounced at the New York Yankees’ new stadium to root for the Washington Senators. As it turns out, the president was able to witness the first shutout in Yankee Stadium, pitched by the Yankees’ Sam Jones. The President died in office four months later.

Harding shaking hands with Babe Ruth

Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929
"It would be difficult to conceive a finer example of true sport."

After Harding died in office in 1923, his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, assumed the presidency. Though Coolidge received the Republican nomination in 1924, members of the party were worried his taciturn personality would turn voters off. So, Silent Cal’s handlers decided to make him a baseball fan, hoping a few hours in Griffith Stadium’s presidential box would win some votes.

Baseball signed by Calvin Coolidge and the 1924 Washington Senators.

When the Washington Senators clinched the World Series in 1924, the President addressed the team, as well as 100,000 fans, on the White House lawn, congratulating them on their win.

Coolidge & the Washington Senators at the White House. Coolidge is in the second row wearing a black armband.

Throughout his presidency, Coolidge would throw out six first pitches, two of which were World Series games. He would also be the first president to attend a World Series opener.

Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933
"Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution."

President Hoover took his role of “First Fan” seriously, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Senators' Opening Day each of his four years in office.

President Hoover throwing out the first ball at Opening Day in Griffith Stadium on April 14, 1931.

Hoover was also present at Shibe Park in Philadelphia for the first game of the 1930 World Series. Ignoring the chilly weather, Hoover watched the game in a plain brown business suit sans topcoat.

Herbert Hoover at the 1930 World Series.

Regardless of his fandom, Herbert Hoover really didn’t want to attend Game 3 of the 1931 World Series in Philadelphia. The nation as a whole was beginning to feel the effects of the Great Depression. He only kept the engagement because he “felt [his] presence at a sporting event might be a gesture of reassurance to a country suffering from a severe attack of ‘jitters.’”

Taft, unfortunately, could not have been more wrong. While the President and First Lady were first met with a light applause, it was quickly followed by boos and chants of “We want beer!” from a Great Depression and Prohibition-weary crowd. The President left the ballpark with the chant still ringing his his ears.

The heckling, however, couldn’t diminish Hoover’s appreciation for the game. He continued to watch games on television, and even threw out the first pitch at an Old Timers Game at Yankee Stadium when he was 86.

Connie Mack, Herbert Hoover, and Cy Young at Yankee Stadium in 1954.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1945
"I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average, not only for myself, but for my team." - 1933 Radio Speech

Roosevelt, was an ardent fan who, as journalist Harold C. Burr put it, “enjoyed himself at a baseball game as much as a kid on Christmas morning.”

“Once in his right field box the present president believes again that there is Santa Claus. He gets right into the spirit of the game, munches peanuts, applauds good plays and chuckles over bad ones.”

President Roosevelt winds up for the ceremonial first pitch of the season at Griffith Stadium, April 19, 1937.

In 1937, on the night of the big league trading deadline, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith jokingly stated that he "signed" Roosevelt to make the first pitch at the All-Star Game.
The New York Times remarked that FDR's pitch showed "marked lack of control, but considerable speed."

FDR would throw out a record eight Opening Day pitches throughout his presidency. Most were solid tosses, but unfortunately his 1940 Opening Day pitch ended up hitting a Washington Post camera.

Baseball autographed by President Roosevelt after throwing it out to open the 1940 season.

Roosevelt threw out his last Opening Day pitch on April 14, 1941. By the end of the year, the United States would enter World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt throwing out the first pitch of the 1941 season at Griffith Stadium.

In January 1942, a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Commissioner Kenesaw Landis (who was a staunch Republican) wrote to Roosevelt asking him whether or not professional baseball would continue to operate during wartime.

Roosevelt responded quickly, writing to the Commissioner the following day. In what is now known as the “Green Light Letter,” FDR explains that he “honestly feel[s] that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” The letter was front page news, and fans, players, and owners everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Harry Truman, 1945-1953
"May the sun never set on American baseball."

Six days after World War II officially ended, on September 8, 1945, President Harry Truman brought peace to the nation by throwing out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium. Truman’s appearance at the Stadium signaled a return to normalcy, both on and off the field. The President pitched two left-handed tosses that day, becoming the first southpaw to toss a pitch from the presidential box.

President Truman tossing at the first pitch of 1950.

The following year, Truman arrived at Griffith Stadium, ready to throw out the 1946 Opening Day first pitch. The sold-out crowd anxiously waited to see what hand the ambidextrous president would use.

President Truman tossing out the Opening Day first pitch on April 17, 1946.

The president once again used his left hand, becoming the first president to throw a left-handed Opening Day pitch. He then sat back down and became another fan, drinking pop and munching on peanuts.

President Truman tossing out the Opening Day first pitch on April 17, 1946.

During his seven and a half years in the White House, President Truman attended 16 baseball games, setting a record that he still holds today.

President Truman throwing out a pitch in 1947.

Truman’s interest in baseball did not stop once he left the White House. In April 1956, the former president sent Ford Frick, the Commissioner of Baseball, this telegram expressing his belief that baseball was more than just a sport.

Dwight Eisenhower, 1953-1961
"You cannot hit a home run by bunting. You have to step up there and take a cut at the ball. Never be more scared of the enemy than you think he is of you."

Future President Dwight Eisenhower grew up playing baseball with his older brother, Edgar. One of the greatest disappointments of Eisenhower's life was not making the baseball team while attending West Point.

Baseball glove worn by Eisenhower while throwing out the 1956 Opening Day pitch.

Later on in life, however, Eisenhower admitted that while he was at West Point he had played semi-professional baseball for one summer under an assumed name to earn some money. He stopped answering questions about his semi-pro career when he realized that this was in violation of NCAA rules. Luckily for Ike, he was not caught in violation of this rule and graduated from West Point with honor.

A detailed view of the baseball glove worn by Eisenhower while throwing out the 1956 Opening Day pitch.

On April 14, 1958, Eisenhower threw out his next-to-last first pitch. The President tossed the ball from Griffith Stadium's presidential box, and watched as the Senators topped the Red Sox 5-2.

Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower attended 13 games. He tossed out first pitches at seven of those games.

Eisenhower throwing out the first pitch of 1955 as Clark Griffith, Chuck Dressen, and Paul Richards look on.

John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963
“Last year, more Americans went to symphonies than went to baseball games. This may be viewed as an alarming statistic, but I think that both baseball and the country will endure.”

April 10, 1961 - Kennedy’s first presidential opener was the last one for Griffith Stadium. On a chilly, 40 degree day, Kennedy took off his jacket and hurled the ball into a sea of players. It has been termed the longest and hardest ball thrown by a president.

The following year, on April 9, 1962, the President helped the Washington Senators open their brand new $23-million ballpark. The ballpark would be renamed for his younger brother, Robert, in 1969.

An image from the 1962 All-Star Game, hosted at RFK Stadium.

JFK threw out the last first pitch of his short presidential career on April 8, 1963. At the time, stadium vendors were on strike and had been picketing.

Kennedy throwing out the Opening Day first pitch on April 10, 1961.

Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz promised to mediate the dispute in exchange for the President avoiding the political peril of crossing a picket line. The offer was successful, and JFK enjoyed his last Opening Day ballgame.

Kennedy throwing out the Opening Day first pitch on April 10, 1961.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1969
"We cheer for the [Washington] Senators, we pray for the [Washington] Senators, and we hope that the Supreme Court does not declare that unconstitutional."

On April 9, 1965, President Johnson and the First Lady traveled to Houston to watch the first big league game at the Astrodome, the first indoor ballpark. The exhibition game between the Astros and New York Yankees marked the first dedication of a new stadium by a president.

Souvenir program from the 1965 exhibition series at the Astrodome. During the series, New York Yankee and Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle hit the Astrodome's first ever home run.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the baseball season was delayed in deference. Due to the delay, President Johnson missed the Senators' late home opener, and Hurbert Humphrey attended in his place.

Baseball autographed & thrown out by Johnson on April 13, 1964.

Though he managed to throw out the Opening Day pitch in 1964, 1965, and 1967, Johnson had little time for baseball during his presidency. The President was dealing with both the Vietnam War and civil unrest across the nation.

Johnson throwing out the first pitch at Opening Day, 1965.

Richard Nixon, 1969-1974
"I never leave a game before the last pitch, because in baseball, as in life and especially politics, you never know what will happen."

Three years before being elected president, Richard Nixon was offered a different kind of job. With the retirement of Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick in 1965, the owners offered the position, complete with a $100,000 salary and big expense account, to Nixon. Though flattered, Nixon declined even though he knew his wife would “kill [him] for turning [them] down.”

Then-Vice President Nixon throwing out the first pitch at Opening Day in 1959.

On July 14, 1970, Richard Nixon tossed out the first two pitches (one to a member of each team) in Cincinnati at the first All-Star Game played at night. Nixon also threw out three balls into the stands. He was the first President since Taft to attend a game in a National League park.

In 1972, prompted by a reporter, Nixon compiled his All-Time Baseball Team.

In addition to naming his All-Star Teams, Nixon also named the top players in categories such as batting, pitching and base running.

Though Nixon's 1972 selections drew both criticism and praise, the choices he made reflected a deep understanding and passion for the game.

Gerald Ford, 1974-1977
"In baseball when they say you're out, you're out. It's the same way in politics."

After fighting in World War II, Ford returned to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and began practicing law. For entertainment, he attended games played by the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. He even took his future wife, Betty, to a few games when they were courting.

A 1947 Grand Rapids Chicks Yearbook.

During his first year in the White House, Ford signed a bill allowing girls to play Little League baseball. Prior to 1974, the Little League charter specified that it was only for boys.

Baseball containing the signature of multiple presidents. It is one of dozens of signed presidential baseballs preserved by the Hall.

The only Opening Day festivities that President Ford took a part of was in 1976 in Arlington, Texas. Ford threw two baseballs to Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg.

Ford holding a Rangers flag after throwing out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers' 1976 Opening Day.

Ford threw out first pitches with each hand at the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench caught Ford’s right-handed pitch while Thurman Munson caught Ford’s left-handed pitch.

In 1975, Ford wrote to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, applauding MLB for their Drug Education and Prevention Program. The program still exists today under a new name, the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981
"...I was the pitcher on our baseball team. I learned there, obviously, that you have to be mutually dependent to achieve an identifiable goal, and you have to learn how to accept either defeat or victory with some degree of equanimity and look to the next contest with hope and anticipation."

During his time in office, Jimmy Carter only attended one baseball game, the last game of the 1979 World Series (played by the Baltimore Orioles & Pittsburgh Pirates). He was the only President since William Taft to not throw out an Opening Day first pitch.

Carter wasn’t a baseball fan, but loved softball and always took it seriously when he played. Secret Service men were often his teammates, and “were terrified that if they messed up they might end up stationed in Ohio.”

Softball glove used by President Carter during softball games at the annual Peanut Festival.

Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989
"Baseball of course is our national pastime, that is if you discount political campaigning."

Ronald Reagan was the first and only President to work as a baseball broadcaster. He did radio re-creations for station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.

Reagan didn’t attend a baseball game as President until 1983, when he traveled to Baltimore for Game 1 of the 1983 World Series.

Lifetime pass that was presented to Ronald Reagan when he became president.

The same year Reagan designated May as "National Amateur Baseball Month" to recognize the good sportsmanship, competitiveness and teamwork so necessary in developing good citizenship which the game of baseball affords.

Pen used by Reagan to sign the proclamation

The following year, in 1984, Reagan returned to Baltimore to throw out the Opening Day first pitch. After tossing out the pitch, which hit the low inside corner, he watched the entire game from the dugout (the first and only President to do so).

Baseball containing the signature of multiple presidents. It is one of dozens of signed presidential baseballs preserved by the Hall.

On September 30, 1988, Ronald Regan threw out the first two pitches of a Chicago Cubs game. He then returned to his broadcasting roots and is in the booth for an inning and a half, making him the first president to call play-by-play while in office.

George Bush, 1989-1993
"Baseball is just the great American pastime."

On April 30, 1989, President Bush tossed out the first first pitch of his presidential career at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, MD. Bush witnessed future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. belt a three-run homer off Roger Clemens.

Throughout his presidency, Bush attended ten ballgames, throwing out the first pitch at eight of them.

Baseball containing the signature of multiple presidents. It is one of dozens of signed presidential baseballs preserved by the Hall.

On April 10, 1990, Bush became the first president to attend and throw out a first pitch in Canada. He tossed out the first pitch with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Toronto. Three months later, in July, the two leaders attended the 1991 All-Star Game together.

Bill Clinton, 1993-2001
"...all of us Americans have reason to smile, for baseball is back."

On April 5, 1993 Bill Clinton walked out to the pitcher's mound in Baltimore and tossed out his first Presidential pitch. Though the toss was a high, soft arc, Clinton was relieved that it didn't bounce. Afterward, he joined Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and Jon Miller in the broadcasters' booth and called the top of the first inning.

Baseball containing the signature of multiple presidents. It is one of dozens of signed presidential baseballs preserved by the Hall.

The following year, Clinton traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to throw out the Opening Day first pitch at the Cleveland Indians' new Jacobs Field.

Clinton and his Vice President, Al Gore, were at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 6, 1995 to witness Cal Ripken Jr. break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games played record. Clinton was in the broadcasters' booth when Ripken hit a home run.

Though a St. Louis Cardinals fan, Clinton was convinced to also root for the Chicago Cubs by his wife, Hilary Rodham Clinton, who was a lifelong Cubs fan. He attended a Cubs game in 1999 and watched as they topped the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4.

Baseball signed by the Clintons and presented to the Hall by Mrs. Clinton during her tour of upstate New York in summer of 1999.

In 1997, MLB decided to retire Jackie Robinson's uniform number, 42, throughout all of professional baseball on April 15th. At a special ceremony held at Shea Stadium, Clinton helped Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife, and Commissioner Bud Selig honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie's first game.

George W. Bush, 2001-2009
"From baseball I developed a thick skin against criticism. I learned to overlook minor setbacks and focus on the long haul."

April 6, 2001 was a day of firsts. Not only was it President Bush's first presidential first pitch, but his pitch was also the first pitch of the first game at the Milwaukee Brewers' Miller Park. He shared the ceremonial duties with his friend, Commissioner Bud Selig.

Baseball containing the signature of multiple presidents. It is one of dozens of signed presidential baseballs preserved by the Hall.

Two months later, in June, Bush launched Tee Ball on the South Lawn to encourage fitness among the youth and promote the national pastime to people of all ages. A game was held annually on the South Lawn during Bush's two terms as president.

Five months later, the nation was rocked by the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Elected officials urged the public to get back to everyday life in the days following the attacks. Baseball obliged, and the New York Yankees, a team playing in the epicenter of the country's distress, managed to make it to the World Series.

President Bush, wearing a bulletproof vest, walked out to the mound at Yankee Stadium before Game 3 of the World Series. He flashed the crowd a thumbs up before delivering a strike, signaling to the country it could begin to heal.

President Bush would throw out the first pitch at six of the nine games he attended while in office.
Each of these six pitches were tossed out in six different cities.

Bobblehead representing President Bush distributed during the "Bobblection" held in various minor league parks in August 2004.

Barack Obama, 2009-2017
"We do a lot of tough stuff as president. By definition you don't end up as president if you don't handle stress well. Nothing is more stressful than throwing out a first pitch."

Barack Obama threw his first presidential pitch during the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, MO. The southpaw threw to St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols.

Obama threw out his first Opening Day ceremonial pitch in 2010, at the Washington Nationals' April 5th home opener. While the President donned a Nationals' sweatshirt, he drew boos from the crowd for wearing a Chicago White Sox cap.

In May 2014, Obama became the first sitting president to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. The President, accompanied by Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, was led on a tour by Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. Obama visited Cooperstown as an effort to promote American tourism.

In March 2016, President Obama attended a landmark exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team in Havana, Cuba. The game was part of ongoing efforts to set aside more than 50 years of Cold War hostility. The historic game was the first visit to Cuba by a major league team and visit by a President since 1999 and 1928, respectively.

Artifacts collected by the Hall from the exhibition game.

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This online exhibit, curated by Jamie Rose Brinkman, is a revised and updated version of a 2001 physical exhibit curated by Erik Strohl.

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