Ever since William Howard Taft became the first U.S. president to toss a ceremonial first pitch at a Major League baseball home opener on April 14, 1910 in Washington D.C., (the brainchild of owner Clark Griffith as a promotional idea) Presidents and baseball are about as inseparable as hot dogs and mustard or beer and pretzels; and as patriotic as apple pie, jazz music, and the American flag.
Of course, Taft was no casual fan. He reportedly attended several baseball games while in office and even coached his political friends and colleagues on the proper way to keep score. At Wrigley Field, a special box was installed especially designed for his wide girth.
Woodrow Wilson, much like his predecessor, displayed an abiding love for the game as well. Wilson attended four games during his first year in the White House, including a game between the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox in which a boisterous fan prodded the 28th president of the United State to stand up during the seventh inning stretch. "Stand up, Woody!’’, the fan reportedly yelled. Undisturbed over the boorish comment, Wilson was moved to laughter and rose to his feet, prompting a thunder of wild cheering from fans. In 1915, Wilson also became the first president to attend a World Series game, when he traveled to Philadelphia for a game between the Red Sox and Phillies,
Calvin Coolidge appears to have been somewhat of a fair weathered fan. ``Silent Cal’’ threw out the first pitch of Opening Day in 1927; but after attending again in 1928, the cold weather was too much for him and headed for the exits after the opening frame.
Sometimes, of course, politics and baseball just don’t mix. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, found that out while attending Opening Day in 1937, when a plane flew overhead with a banner that read: ``Play the game, don't pack the court’’, an obvious reference to his ill-advised scheme to pack the U.S. Supreme Court. FDR didn’t take the message to heart and reportedly laughed it off while downing a few more peanuts. Despite the ominous rumblings of the war in Europe, FDR still managed to attend Opening Day ceremonies in 1940 and 1941.
Harry Truman attended 16 baseball games while in office, a presidential record that still stands. But Truman is best remembered for showing off is ambidextrous abilities by throwing out the first pitches with both his left and right hands at the Opening Day ceremonies in 1950.
After so many presidents took such a liking to baseball, Americans grew accustomed to seeing their president at Opening Day festivities; and if they weren’t, they grow suspicious. President Eisenhower instead of attending Opening Day in 1953, opted instead to play golf at Augusta National. But after receiving such bad press for turning a cold shoulder to Opening Day (which as it turned was rained out) Ike raced back to the nation’s capital to attend the rescheduled opener.
President Kennedy had the distinction of throwing out the first pitch at the Senators’ new home, D.C. Stadium on a cold day in 1962 in which the president wasn’t shy about supplying plenty of autographs.
Lyndon Johnson didn’t to seem to share his predecessors’ fondness for the national pastime. He only attended two games while in the White House; and at the opener he attended in 1965, LBJ was so busy holding court with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and other members of his cabinet, that he completely missed a home run in the second inning.
Despite his passion for baseball, Richard Nixon got off to a rocky start at Opening Day in 1969, when he ordered a presidential seal to be displayed in front of his box; only to be embarrassed when the word ``presidential’’ was misspelled. And when it came time to heave the opening pitch, Tricky Dick fumbled the rock.
Still, Nixon continued to show his love for the game. Even when forced to stay put in the White House on Opening Day in 1970 to wait the vote of his Supreme Court nominee, G. Harold Carswell, Nixon still managed to dash off to the park later in the afternoon, showing up in the 5th inning. Nixon would often use baseball metaphors in his speeches, while praising the sport for "its integrity and its credibility that is beyond reproach.’’ Nixon additionally became the first president to attend an opener outside of Washington in 1973, when he was at hand to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Anaheim Stadium between the Angels and Kansas City Royals.
Both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter exhibited little enthusiasm for baseball, but Ronald Reagan, a former baseball broadcaster, was quick to display his love for the game when he entered office. The Gipper threw out the first pitch at Opening Day in Baltimore in 1984 and then watched the rest of the game from the dugout. He would have attended the opener in 1981 had it not been for John Hinckley’s assassination attempt. Reagan also threw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Baltimore in 1986; and again in 1988 at Wrigley Field, where he would broadcast 1 ½ innings behind the radio mike.
George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton both made history on Opening Day; Bush being the first president to attend an Opening Day on foreign soil (Toronto) in 1990 and Clinton was the first president to fire a pitch from the pitcher’s mound into the catcher’s mitt at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1993. Bush’s son, George W. Bush, would make history by becoming the first president to attend an Opening Day in the nation’s capital (RFK Memorial Stadium) since Richard Nixon in 1969. And in 2008, George W. made history again by attending Opening Day in 2008 at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. where he helped the broadcasting crew on ESPN in which he called the first home-run ever to be hit in the new ballpark, a solo shot by the Atlanta Braves’ Chipper Jones.
In 2010, President Obama, despite some erratic throwing, was on hand for Opening Day at Nationals Park in Washington, DC between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals.
So you might be wondering which president holds the best record for the home team after attending the season’s curtain raiser? Well, according to press office at Major League Baseball, Woodrow Wilson was a perfect 3-0, LBJ was winless at 0-3, Herbert Hoover wasn’t much better at 1-3, FDR suffered 5 losses on Opening Day, winning 3, while Calvin Coolidge was a respectable 3-1; and both George W. Bush and William Howard Taft were 2-0.
March 30, 2011
Opening Day Milestones
• In the American League’s first opener on April 25, 1901, the Detroit Tigers came up with 10 runs in the ninth inning and went on edge Milwaukee, 14-13.
• The Boston Red Sox christened Fenway Park on April 20, 1912 by beating their division rivals, the New York Yankees, 7-6.
• Babe Ruth opened Yankee Stadium in 1923 by slapping a two-run home run off of Boston’s Howard Ehmke to propel the Yankees' to a 4-1 victory.
• On April 18, 1925, Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Charles H. Ebbets, died from a heart attack at his Waldorf Astoria apartment as the New York Giants soundly defeated the heartbroken Dodger team, 7-1, at the home opener.
• On April 13, 1926, Walter Johnson, 41, whiffs a dozen batters, enough to outlast the Philadelphia Athletics knuckleballer Eddie Rommel, 1-0, in 15 innings.
• On April 16, 1940 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, The Cleveland Indians flame thrower Bob Lemon became the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day in a 1-0 win over the White Sox.
• On April 18, 1950, Billy Martin of the New York Yankees became the first rookie to slap two hits in the same inning during an opener in which the Boston Red Sox let a commanding 9-0 lead slip through their hands, losing to their hated division rivals, 14-10.
• April 10, 1959: Nellie Fox, who went 623 at-bats the previous season without a dinger, went 5-for 7 on Opening Day, which was punctuated with a 14th-inning home run off Detroit’s Don Mossi for a 9-7 Chicago White Sox victory.
• On April 8, 1975, Player-Manager Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball, smacks a first inning home run at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in helping the Tribe to a 5-3 win over the New York Yankees.
• White Sox pitcher Tom Seaver on April 8, 1985 surpassed Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators for the most Opening Day starts at 15.
• On April 4, 1988, Toronto's George Bell deposits three home runs in an Opening Day win over the Kansas City Royals.
• April 5, 1993: Late-inning defensive replacement Eric Fox of the Oakland Athletics belts a grand slam in the bottom of the 8th inning; his only home-run of the season, in a 9-4 win over the Detroit Tigers.
• On April 1, 1996, the New York Mets, faced with a 6-0 deficit, mount the biggest Opening Day comeback of the century by beating the St Louis Cardinals, 7-6.
• April 4, 1999: In the first Opening Day outside of the United States or Canada, The Colorado Rockies defeat the San Diego Padres, 8-2, at Monterrey Stadium in Mexico.
• On March 30, 2004: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays defeat the New York Yankees, 8-3, in the first game of Opening Series 2004 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan; a game in which Japan native Hideki Matsui of the Yankees recorded the first hit of the season with a first inning double.
• On April 6, 2004: New York Mets rookie infielder Kazuo Matsui crushes a home run on the first pitch of the game to become the first player to hit a leadoff Opening Day home run in his Major League debut since Emmet Mueller of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1938.
• The first Opening Day to be played at night at Fenway Park takes place on April 4, 2010, in a 9-7 win over the New York Yankees.
• April 5, 2010: In his first Major League at-bat, Atlanta Braves rookie Jason Heyward smacks a three-run home run in a 16-5 thumping over the Chicago Cubs.
Source: Major League Baseball