I am talking of course, about baseball. In honor of today's inaugural ceremonies, More Hardball takes a moment to examine the many Chief Executives and their prowess at the plate.
Baseball has been America's sport since the inception of the nation. Several reports from soldiers serving under General Washington recorded in their journals that he enjoyed the early baseball game of "rounders" in Valley Forge. Only one record exists concerning Washington's abilities:
"When the Feeder [pitcher] tossed the ball, the General took a mighty swing. Alas, on many occasions, he would only break the air around him. After many such swings, he demanded a new Feeder. When the ball was finally struck, our General pranced around the Sanctuaries [roughly, bases] in the most dainty manner. For a man of such strength and demeanor; he hits and runs as if he were a wee lass...This sport has kept us most entertained, and our spirits lightened."
Years later, Andrew Jackson would often be spotted playing another early version of baseball called One Old Cat. However, as Jackson was a raging party animal, he would most often be inebriated while participating. At times he would "erupt in a tremendous rage," as one observer noted, and chase the giver (pitcher) "throughout the maples and sycamores in the garden, until both were either out of breath, or until he had caught up with him, and struck him senseless." It was well known that during one such outburst, Jackson pulled a pistol and killed the pitcher. He would later claim that this was a fair duel, so as to avoid controversy.
Lincoln enjoyed baseball more so than his predecessors, however, little was recorded about his actual ability to play the game. During his campaign for the presidency, a political cartoon lampooning the future Commander-in-Chief depicted him outrunning his opponents on an early baseball diamond.
Presidents' athleticism wouldn't be tested again in hardball until William Howard Taft threw the first ever "first pitch" for the opening season of the Washington Nationals. A reporter immortalized the event:
"The ball flew from his pudgy fingers only to bounce off his considerable stomach. It hit with such force that it ricocheted onto the field, where it was caught by the pitcher." Every president since has, at some point in their tenure, tossed a ceremonial first pitch. Below is a summary of their athletic ability:
- Woodrow Wilson - Stiff arms the throw, and it launches beyond the stadium. Later says "I have come slowly into possession of such powers as I have."
- Warren Harding - Lobs ball "as if he was playing horseshoes." He muses afterward, "I love the game, but I am so terribly poor at it!"
- Calvin Coolidge - Never played the game. Never liked the game. Threw the ball "as if it were covered in excrement."
- Herbert Hoover - Fans constantly booed Hoover. Historians say it was because of the Great Depression. In truth, Hoover was said to "pirouette upon one foot like a ballerina, and throw the ball with all of his strength, which was impressively unimpressive."
- Franklin Roosevelt - Developed the odd habit of staying seated while tossing out the first pitch.
- Harry S. Truman - Had what most people referred to as an "atomic arm." Despite a powerful pitch, he suffered from poor eyesight as a child "so they gave me a special job - they made me an umpire."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower - "Had he not been one of the greatest generals ever, he would have made a helluva ball player!"
- John F. Kennedy - Naturally gifted in athletics, and a huge fan of all sports. According to a close associate "His style of pitching was smooth and effective. He was as good a sports player, as he was a player."
- Lyndon B. Johnson - Not only pitched in games, but batted as well. He had an unusual stance, and was once booed by the crowd. Later he remarked "They booed Ted Williams too, remember? They'll say about me I knocked the ball over the fence, but they don't like the way he stands at the plate."
- Richard Nixon - Earned the nickname "Tricky Dick" because of his pitching. "That man could throw a mean curve ball, and some nasty sliders. You'll think it coming at you straight, and then WHAM! He turns on you!"
- Gerald Ford - Contrary to SNL's portrayal of him as clumsy, Ford was very athletic, and skilled in baseball. However, "I had a life-long ambition to be a professional baseball player, but nobody would sign me."
- Jimmy Carter - Loved softball, not baseball. Like his presidency, he was "Weak and ineffective, and made controversial decisions."
- Ronald Reagan - Although he called many games for the Cubs, Reagan was afraid of the ball. At bat, he would jump away from the plate screaming hysterically. Through his tears, he pronounced "I really do love baseball."
- George H. W. Bush - An accomplished athlete, Bush excelled in the sport of baseball. An aid claimed that if Bush had to do it all over again, he would have "stuck with baseball."
- William Clinton - Threw "light and fluffy," according to a catcher. "He needs to lay off them cheeseburgers and do some exercise!"
- George W. Bush - Liked baseball, tried baseball, failed at baseball, tried to own a team, failed at that, became governor and president instead.
- Barack Obama -Was signed by the Chicago White Sox, but this occurred simultaneously with his taking office as a junior Senator from Illinois. Faced with a difficult decision, he decided that he changing the practices in government would be easier than ending the use of performance enhancing substances and betting that occurred within the sport.
For Real Facts about presidents and baseball, visit the Baseball Almanac and the White House.
*The Presidents of the United States of America- Lump