Throwing Out the First Pitch
By Scott Greene
With President Trump’s decision to forgo the invitation from the Washington Nationals to throw out the first pitch at Monday’s Opening Day, a look at Shirley Povich’s 1954 column on presidential first pitches is a must read:
President Eisenhower’s decision to make himself available for the opening pitch at Griffith Stadium on Tuesday could be a manifestation of his new political savvy. A year ago, he announced he would forego the opener in favor of playing some golf. The Republicans almost lost control of Congress.
The opening game in Washington is a must for the President. He is supposed to check in, unless there is a war on Mr. Eisenhower’s brush-off of the opener last year produced something of a public pout. A one-man sample of public opinion fetched the comment, “Who needs him?”
The President was able to make a partial recovery when last year’s original opener was rained out and he presented himself for a warmed-over inaugural a couple of days later. Whether he achieved a full pardon is doubtful however.
Mr. Eisenhower made no mistakes this time. At the first asking, he told Clark Griffith he’d be there. A few hours later, when he made a chummy talk to the people on a national hook-up stressing vigilance as against fear in this atomic age, it was acclaimed as one of his finest speeches. He had a friendly audience.
Paradoxically, Mr. Eisenhower is the most-fan among all the Presidents who have tossed out the opening ball. Before the golf bug bit him so deeply, he was so baseball-minded his friends were of the belief he stepped up the war’s mop-up in Europe so he could get to see another ball game. He beat it from the victory parade to the ball yard.
In the gallery of Presidents who have thrown out the first ball since 1912 when Taft inaugurated the custom, Mr. Eisenhower is a standout. He goes into his wind-up like a pro, as if he knows the feel of a baseball, which he does. He played the outfield for West Point, and one story identifies him as the center fielder in C League under an assumed name.
He’s Clark Griffith’s favorite president, “because we can talk a lot of baseball with each other.” Typical was Mr. Eisenhower’s first question the other day, “What’s the matter with Mickey McDermott?” The fact that the left hander had a sore arm had not escaped the President, even under the mounting pressures of the H-Bomb atmosphere and other affairs of state.
The fans’ favorite president, however, was a Democrat. Franklin Roosevelt used to send ‘em with his happy-warrior entrances into the park and the fighter’s handshake of greeting, with both hands clasped high over his head. His four terms helped him to set the new record for most appearances by a President at the opener.
The pixie among the Presidential pitchers was Harry Turman, who confounded the cameraman and the crowd by making the first pitch left-handed, after previously establishing himself as a right-handed thrower. It developed that Mr. Truman, in preparation for his prank, had pre-empted the White House lawn for secret workouts throuwing southpaw.
The least White House fan was Mr. Coolidge. He had to be prodded to stand up in the home team’s seventh and once walked out on a World Series game. The Coolidges wind up with a high family rating, however. Mrs. Coolidge saw more ball games than all of the Presidents combined, and rarely missed a World Series, a fact which the American League noted when it implemented her lifetime pass with the choice seats to the series wherever it was played.
The White House used to be Clark Griffith’s private preserve untila a few years back. He was the only sports figure with ready entry to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on his annual treks to present the Chief Executive and the First Lady with their gold passes. Of late, however, other sports figures have horned into the act. The President receives the nabobs from football and golf.
The participation of the President in the opening-game ceremonies has helped to label baseball as the national game, and so importantly is it viewed that the American League in alternate years gives the Washington club an advanced opening. That is to insure the President’s presence andt heWhite House blesseings on the game at the start oft heseason, rather than later in the week after the Nats have opened on the road.
Baseball is the only industry to command such Presidential blessings annually. It’s a command performance, in revers. The White House lends its dignity to no other private enterprise. The President, for instance, may send a word of greeting to the annual convention of the Master Plumbers, but he has yet to throw out the first plumber.
April 7, 1954