‘Presidents and the Pastime’ explores chief execs and baseball
We spent this past Presidents day celebrating our leaders, former George H.W. Bush speechwriter Kurt Smith celebrates their love for baseball in his book, "The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House." In the book, he chronicles all 44 presidents. Remember, Grover Cleveland was elected twice for two non consecutive terms. Smith goes into detail about the connection the national pastime had with our chief executives and their love for the game, as well as what the game meant to the country at the time they were running it.
Since President's Day just passed, we start with George Washington. "In 1777-78 Washington played catch with a baseball or facsimile of same with his aide de camp," Smith said. Fast forward to Abraham Lincoln, "He's playing pound ball in the White Lot or as we refer to now as the Ellipse where the Christmas Tree is lit," Smith says. "It is rumored that when delegates to the convention in Chicago came to him in 1960 to tell him that he had been nominated as the Republican candidate, Lincoln couldn't quite see them for a few moments as he said, 'I'm delighted to hear of the news, but they will have to wait until my next turn at bat,' which they did."
It was William Howard Taft who inaugurated throwing out the first pitch to begin the season. Howard was so big weighing over 300 pounds that it too two box seats to seat him! Herbert Hoover got booed in Philadelphia much to the surprise of his wife.
Smith believes Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved baseball after the bombing of Pearl Harbor when he declared, "Baseball will be played during the duration of the war." It turned out that, not only was baseball popular here at home but it showed conclusively that, except for letters from the family, nothing has a greater effect on morale of troops. Box scores and game counts from the folks back home were great.
In 1960 President Kennedy running for President at age 42 met Stan Musial at age 39 and according to Smith, JFK says to Musial, "They tell me I'm too young to run for President and you're too old to play baseball, maybe we'll fool them." Two years they meet at the All-Star Game, Musial comes up to JFK and says, "We fooled them."
Smith refers to Richard Nixon as, "Baseball's Walter Mitty." In 1965, Nixon was offered 2 positions, one as director of the players union and the other as Commissioner of Baseball. Ronald Reagan used to call the reenactment games. George H.W. Bush was a huge Yogi Berra fan who would use "Yogi-isms" in his speech. George Bush's first pitch in game three of the World Series after 9-11 throws a perfect strike, which made him, "closer to being a hero than he ever had been." Barack Obama, after being ordered by the Nationals to, "show hometown loyalty," snuck a White Sox cap to the mound when he threw the first pitch.
Which now brings us to President Trump. He was so good when he played at military academy was so good that the Red Sox and Phillies wanted to sign him. He had no speed but was a great pull hitter. Why didn't he do it? Because Trump didn't want to make baseball money, he wanted to make, "real" money. At least in baseball, Trump was able to get over the wall!
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