Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. It wasn’t pretty. Obama’s pitch was high and outside, which juxtaposes nicely with the too-low toss that was the first presidential opening day pitch, made 100 years ago today.*
On April 14, 1910, President William Taft, an avid sports fan, went to see the Washington play their home opener against, coincidentally, Philadelphia (back then, however, the teams were the Senators and the Athletics). A few members of his administration came along, including military aide Archibald Butt. Just before the game started, umpire Billy Evans walked over to Taft’s seat on the first base line, unprompted, and handed him a new baseball. He asked the president to throw the ball from the stands to Senators pitcher Walter Johnson at home plate to officially start the American League season. Taft rose, turned and threw a right-handed pitch low and inside. Contemporary accounts say the throw had little grace or style, but Johnson caught it and the crowd went nuts. Washington beat Philadelphia 3-0 and Taft later autographed the ball for the team.
Taft threw out the first pitch of the 1911 season, too, but the budding tradition experienced some growing pains in the following years. Taft skipped the 1912 home opener when his close friend Butt went down with the Titanic —on the return trip from a vacation Taft had urged him to take. The United States occupation of Veracruz kept Woodrow Wilson from throwing the first pitch of 1914, and he missed four more home openers because of World War I (1917 and 1918), the Paris Peace Conference (1919) and a stroke (1920).
Even with the shaky start, the president’s ceremonial pitch became cemented as a part of baseball tradition. Read more...
Apr 15, 2010
The Presidential First Pitch
Mental Floss has a good round-up about the history of the "Presidential Pitch". Here are some highlights: