Over the course of this Nation’s history, U.S. Presidents have shared in the rich cultural heritage and fascination with America’s National Pastime. In perhaps the first reference to baseball (although it was called rounders at the time), Abraham Lincoln once told an aide, “Tell him I’m glad he’s coming, but he’s gonna have to wait till I get my next at bat”.
There should be little wonder as to why baseball
became an outlet for these men who occupied this stress filled position. During times of national crisis, baseball filled not only a personal need but a source of nationwide unity and relief. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, saw fit to write what became known as the Green Light Letter encouraging the commissioner not to forego a season during World War II. Similarly, and with the fervored urging of President Bush, baseball helped to soothe the nation following the 9/11 attacks bringing the game back to New York City in dramatic style (See the video) with a Mike Piazza home run to send the Mets ahead.
Like many of us, presidents have harbored dreams of playing baseball at a higher level. Dwight Eisenhower (left) once said of himself “One of the biggest disappointments in my life was not making the West Point baseball team. No, actually it was my biggest disappointment.” But if they could not play, they pursued other means of attaching themselves to the game George W. Bush, for example, once owned the Texas Rangers and he has a whole section of his Presidential Library devoted exclusively to baseball.
Perhaps the most ardent and knowledgeable fan of the game was Richard Nixon. Displaying a serious passion for the game, he wrote extensively about baseball and once produced a thoughtful piece in 1972 (while in office) titled 1972 All Star Selections in which he goes era by era picking all time teams. I’d love to know how Dave McNally fits in there but at least he tried……
Traditionally, it was the rite of Spring that the President would throw out the first pitch. In recent years, that practice has waned somewhat in the midst of security concerns, but still they put themselves out there, often in a vain attempt to reach home plate without a bounce (For the curious, Bill Clinton was the first to successfully throw from the mound). Once, Ronald Reagan caused near pandemonium when he appeared unannounced and then proceeded to watch the entire game from the dugout.
Barack Obama gets one last chance to do the same as the 2016 season opens on April 3rd. Previously, he’s shown good form with a high leg kick, but it’s only part of the fun and lure of the game that attracts the diversity of fans……and even Presidents……