Tag Archives: Junction City Soldiers

“William J. Bryan was a Ballplayer”

10 Jan

It’s fairly certain that claims of President Abraham Lincoln playing baseball were fabricated years after the fact, and the debate is ongoing over whether President Dwight Eisenhower appeared in a handful of games for the Junction City Soldiers in the Central Kansas League in 1911.

President Eisenhower at the 1957 American League opener in Washington--with Senator  Manager Chuch Dreesen and Baltimore Orioles Manager Paul Richards

President Eisenhower at the 1957 American League opener in Washington–with Senator Manager Chuck Dressen and Baltimore Orioles Manager Paul Richards

During William Jennings Bryan’s second of three campaigns for the presidency his prowess as an amateur player made the news.

Bryan received the Democratic nomination in 1900 t0 challenge President William McKinley who had defeated him in 1896.

In the weeks before the election an article, which first appeared in The St. Louis Republic, told of Bryan’s connection to the national pastime:

“That William J. Bryan was a ballplayer way back in the ‘80s when he commenced the practice of law in Jacksonville, Illinois, would probably have not been known, at least not authenticated, were it not for a telltale photograph.”

The picture was in the possession of a Denver businessman named John Springer, the nephew of former Illinois Congressman William McKendree Springer.  Springer said when Bryan became an attorney and moved to Jacksonville in 1883 he became part of a ballclub comprised of local attorneys from 1884 until he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1887:

“The day the picture was taken, Mr. Springer recalls that the club of which Bryan was pitcher and himself catcher, had been victorious over a team made up of the best players among the town store clerks.  He also recalls that victory was pulled out of defeat in the ninth inning by Bryan’s home run hit.

“’I remember the incident perfectly,’ said Mr. Springer.  ‘The score was 18 to 20 against us, for we were not in the habit of playing 1 to 0 games in those days.  There were two men on bases when Bryan came to the bat.  Bryan was not the sturdy built man those days that he is now, but the way he swung his bat on the first ball pitched over the plate was a surprise to all the players, and the 500 or 600 spectators who viewed the game from a point of vantage along the first and third base lines, and the foul ground back f the catcher.  Bryan knocked the ball clear over the center fielder’s head, and into another lot in the distant back ground.  Around the bases he went driving two other men ahead of him and the game was won.  Bryan played with as much determination and enthusiasm as he has shown in his political career.  He was looked on as a good amateur pitcher in those days, and often after the game my swollen hands attested the speed he had.”

Springer said Bryan wore a beard in the 1880s because it gave him “a more elderly and dignified appearance…it can hardly be said that the picture resembles Mr. Bryan as he looks today, it is he, however, as he appeared in a baseball uniform along with the rest of us in 1884.”

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

Bryan’s connection with baseball failed to help him at the polls.  McKinley was reelected in November.

McKinley missed his own appointment with baseball immortality during his time in office.

Bryan was the Democratic nominee one more time, in 1908, and was defeated by William Howard Taft, who began the tradition of the president throwing out the first ball of the season.