“Having the President there to throw out a pitch may not matter for the score, but it lets the entire nation know it is now time to play ball.” – Washington Post, 1953.
Though Benjamin Harrison was the first President to attend a major league game — in 1892 — William Howard Taft threw out the inaugural first pitch.
Taft became the first pitching President April 14, 1910. American League president Ban Johnson thought the POTUS’s appearance would give a boost to sagging attendance, and it did. A record 12,000 fans were on hand to cheer Taft and the baseball Senators. Sitting in the stands next to close friend and military advisor Archibald Butt, the 300-pound right-hander lobbed the first throw to Senators ace Walter Johnson. Taft threw out the first ball again in 1911, again in the company of Archibald Butt. He intended to continue his practice the following year, but Butt sank with the Titanic while returning from a European vacation in April 1912. President Taft felt too distraught to throw out the opening ball in 1912.
Woodrow Wilson rebooted the first pitch honors in 1913 and a tradition was born.
Right-hander Warren Harding became the only President to throw out Opening Day pitches on one day’s rest. Our twenty-ninth Commander in Chief did the honors at New York’s Yankee Stadium, then again at Griffith Stadium in D.C. four months before his passing, in 1923.
Thanks to his unprecedented time in office [a dozen years], Franklin Delano Roosevelt holds the record for most Opening Day appearances, with eight. His last toss came in April 1941, eight months before America entered World War II.
After a four-year hiatus, Harry S. Truman delivered what is perhaps the most important first pitch in history. Knowing that his attendance at our national pastime would lift the nation, Truman in 1946 showed the world that America was back and moving forward when he tossed out the first ball at Griffith Stadium. Truman went to the ballpark more than any other President. He was the first Chief Executive to attend a night game, and six days after Japan surrendered to end World War II, the diminutive diplomat took in a game at Griffith Stadium in September 1945. In total, Truman attended 16 games –every one of them in Washington.
In the more than 100 years since Taft, 17 sitting Presidents have thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day.
Dwight D. Eisenhower took some heat in 1953, when he decided to play golf at Augusta National on the day of the Senators’ season opener rather than attend the game. Fortunately for Ike, the contest was rained out and he threw out the first ball in the make-up game while becoming, at 62, the then-oldest President to do so.
After the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers following the 1971 season, our nation’s capital was left without a baseball team. Richard Nixon became the first POTUS to throw out the first ball on Opening Day somewhere other than Washington, doing the honors before an Angels game in Anaheim in 1973.
Jimmy Carter left office in 1980 having been the only sitting President not to have thrown out an Opening Day first pitch. A one-term POTUS, Carter saved face by throwing out the first ball before Game 7 of the 1979 World Series in Baltimore. In 2004, Carter tossed out the first pitch at PetCo Park before the Padres home opener in San Diego.
Ronald Reagan ushered in the era of the true first “pitch” at Wrigley Field in 1988, when he became the first POTUS to toe the rubber for his ceremonial Opening Day delivery. Prior to Reagan, every President had thrown from either a box seat or from an area near the infield.
On Opening Day in Baltimore in April 1989, former Yale first baseman George H.W. Bush – 41 – took the hill wearing the old Rawlings mitt he had worn as an Eli. The 64-year-old lefty toed the rubber and confidently buzzed a bullet to Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton, who was standing just in front of home plate.
George W. Bush – 43 – is the first President to open seasons in four different cities, throwing out first pitches in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Washington and Cincinnati. His most important first pitch came in 2001, when “W” took the mound before an emotional crowd at Yankee Stadium. Prior to Game 3 of the World Series – just six weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 – the rugged Texan fired a perfect strike before nearly 56,000 patriotic fans in New York.
At Nationals Park on Opening Day 2010, Barack Obama tossed what is unquestionably the worst first pitch in Opening Day history. Standing sixty feet, six inches away from the Nats’ Ryan Zimmerman, Obama uncorked a wildly weak toss that headed closer to the on-deck circle than home plate.
On this date in 1950, President Harry Truman opened the baseball season at Griffith Stadium in D.C by throwing out the first pitch. He actually threw two baseballs – one lefty and one righty.