Tag Archives: William Howard Taft

“When Wilson wanted to Play he was a Star”

10 Oct

When campaigning for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, former North Carolina Governor Robert Broadnax Glenn would tell crowds about the year he spent as Wilson’s teammate on the Davidson College baseball team.

Governor Glenn

Governor Glenn

The Baltimore American said, while stumping for Wilson in Maryland, Glenn told supporters that the candidate had an “(A)rm like iron and the speed of the wind,” and could have been a great player:

“Woodrow Wilson was a fine baseball player but too darn wrapped up in reading to come out for practice…(he) was a good player but he was too confounded lazy to make a star. When the team would be called out for practice, we’d have to go to his room and drag him away from a book.

Wilson

Wilson

“But when Wilson wanted to play he was a star. He played left field and while he had an awkward way of running, he covered a lot of ground and was the best pinch hitter on the team.  His only trouble was he cared more for history than for Spalding’s rule.”

Wilson withdrew from Davidson in 1874 when he became ill, Glenn said:  “After that, Wilson went to Princeton and I went back to the plow.”

Not much else was said about Wilson’s interest in the game, and after he was elected, some questioned if the new president would support baseball the way his predecessor William Howard Taft had.  The Associated Press said:

“Washington fans have wondered whether or not the new administration, of which a former college president is the head, would give as much support to the great game as did President Taft, an irrepressible fan.”

The question was answered April 11, 1913, when Wilson threw out the first pitch for the Washington Senators’ home opener:

The Washington Star said:

“Wind, weather, and press of duties permitting, President Wilson is believed likely to be a frequent attendant at the American League Baseball Park…The belief is based on the interest shown by the president in the first game of the season and his applause when the bird of victory which had shown itself exceedingly coy, finally decided to perch on the shoulders of the Nationals.”

The paper noted that excitement overtook the chief executive on one occasion:

“President Wilson at one point in the game arose to his feet in his enthusiasm.  Official dignity prevented his yelling.  A cheer arose in his throat, but did not pass his lips. He could and did applaud frantically, however, by clapping his hands.”

The American Press Association said:

“There is no doubt about it—President Wilson is a real baseball fan.  He knows all about the game, and he is going to be seen often at the ballpark here.  At the opening game of the season between the Washingtons and the Yankees the president was given a new ball in a box by Clark Griffith, manager of the Senators, and he threw it—not tossed it, mind you—with speed and precision into the hands of pitcher Walter Johnson…For a few hours he forgot all about the intricacies of the tariff situation and gave himself up to enjoyment.

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener--"Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith" and "Wilson the fan."

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener–“Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith” and “Wilson the fan.”

And Wilson did appear often, attending five Washington games during the first six weeks of the 1913 season.  He would attend just one more that season and a total of six more during his presidency.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

“It is a democratic game for Americans”

7 Oct

Charles Phelps Taft, owner of the Philadelphia Phillies and brother of President William Howard Taft, told The Cincinnati Times-Star his brother’s visit to Chicago’s West Side Grounds for the September 16, 1909, Cubs-Giants game was meant to send a message to the American public:

Charles Phelps Taft

Charles Phelps Taft

“That is one of the reasons why my brother attended (the game) just after starting on his long tour around the country…He wanted to put his stamp of approval upon what he and I regard as our country’s greatest outdoor institution for pleasure.  He was as glad to shake hands with the players that day as they were to meet him.  My brother is very fond of the game for the mere sake of personal enjoyment as well as to observe its bearing on the country at large.”

President Taft at West Side Grounds

President Taft at West Side Grounds

Taft told the paper that he and the president were of the same opinion:

“Baseball…is strictly American in every particular.  It deserves  its great popularity because it is clean and wholesome.  It offers opportunity for the rich boy, the poor boy, the educated boy and the uneducated boy.  It is a democratic game for Americans.  Professional baseball has an important effect upon the young men of the country.  It offers to many of them the chance of quitting vacant lots, where unhappily, a number would otherwise become mere idlers.”

Baseball, Taft said, was aspirational:

“Once they become proficient enough as ball players to reach the big league they get an insight into the better things in life and immediately they become ambitious.  They realize then what it means to neglect education. It stimulates them to go higher and higher, and when they return to their homes then stimulate those left behind by example.

“The future of baseball is in keeping the game clean.  The players must be manly.  The day is coming when so called toughness will be a thing of the past in baseball.  The personnel of the players is improving every year and will continue to improve.

“Any game that can give the unfortunate youth of neglected training a chance to rub elbows with the boy from college on an even footing is a great game.  Both the college boy and the less fortunate boy are benefitted.  It is democracy.”

President Taft meets Giants catcher John "Chief" Meyers after the game in Chicago

President Taft meets Giants catcher John “Chief” Meyers after the game in Chicago

When asked about his personal experience playing baseball, Taft, born in 1843,said:

“Oh, no, I got old before baseball got to be so popular.”

And about the president, fourteen years his junior:

“As to whether my brother played or not—well, I don’t really know whether he ever played at Yale.  Anyway, we both like the game just as well as if we had played.”

President Taft “Not only Likes the Game, but Knows it”

5 Oct

taftbrown

President William Howard Taft,  above shaking hands with Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown, attended the September 16, 1909 game at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.  Tickets for the game went quickly and scalpers who expected a windfall were foiled by Cubs’ management.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Ticket scalpers who tried to dip their hands into the pockets of local baseball fans  through the opportunity offered to see President Taft at Thursday’s Cub-Giant game were foiled in a novel way by the Cub officials.  How thoroughly did not develop until (the morning after the game).”

The Cubs limited the number of tickets to three for each purchase, but “A flock of scalpers and their agents obtained a couple hundred seats in blocks of three,” but the paper said they were unable to sell most of them.

Taft attended a make-up game, necessitated by a June 9 postponement.

“(Cubs management) had no set of reserved and box seat tickets for (the make-up date).  Instead the regular set printed for the game of June 9, which was postponed, was revised for president’s day…when (scalpers) tried to hawk and dispose of them around the ‘L’ stations and elsewhere prospective buyers were seeing the date ‘June 9,’ became suspicious and would not buy.  Consequently, practically all the seats the scalpers purchased were left in their hands.”

taftcartoon

A syndicated cartoon that appeared the day before the game.

In addition to shutting down the scalpers, the paper said the Cubs went to great lengths to ensure that the game would be incident free:

“Few of those who thronged the park knew of the preparations made to insure safety not only of the nation’s chief but of every person present, nor how ‘carefully the seat reserved for President Taft was guarded from danger that might arise from the presence of any crank.

“On the day before the game the entire plant was inspected by the police and building departments.  Wednesday night three watchmen spent the night in the park.  From early morning two Pinkerton men remained beneath the section of the stand in which the president’s seat was located, and from noon until the president left the grounds there were twelve detectives and secret service men directly beneath that section of the stand.

“The actual number of guardians of the president was close to 500 aside from his own immediate bodyguard.”

The paper said the security force included 50 Secret Service agents, 60 Chicago police detectives and nearly 400 uniformed officers.

The overflow crowd 0f nearly 30,000 watched the Giants behind Christy Mathewson further dash the Cubs pennant hopes with a 2 to 1 victory–over Mordecai Brown–dropping the Cubs six and a half games behind the Pittsburg Pirates.

tafttenney

President Taft meets Giants first baseman Fred Tenney after the game.

The visit by Taft–and his interest in baseball in general–was, important for the game according to The Chicago Daily News:

“The prestige which baseball gains by numbering among its admirers a President of the United States who has graced three major league diamonds during the current season is inestimable.”

Taft attended games at Washington’s American League Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in addition to his Chicago trip.  His presence sent a message to the public that:

“(I)t’s leading citizen, blessed with a clear mind and a great one, approves of its favorite pastime.”

The paper said that while at the game in Chicago, “Taft for an hour and 30 minutes…ate popcorn and drank lemonade as simply as a big boy enjoying a long-expected holiday.”

And, the paper said, his interest in the game was real:

“President Taft is not a baseball fan because it is the popular pastime, but because he is one and because he not only likes the game, but knows it.  That was manifest by the closeness with which he followed each play, scarcely ever taking his eyes off the ball while it was in action.  A leading constituent might be confiding an important party secret to the presidential left eat while another citizen whose name appears often in headlines might be offering congratulations on the outcome of the battle for revision downward to the right auricle, but while both ears were absorbing messages from friends both presidential eyes were steadily watching Christy Mathewson and the Giants revise downward the standing of the Cubs.”

Taft attended games at major league ballparks 10 more times during his presidency.

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

Congress Plays Ball

11 Mar

On July 16, 1909, the United States Congress took over Washington’s American League Park.  More than 1000 Washingtonians paid 75 cents to watch Democrats and Republicans in, what The Washington Post called an “affair (that) was advertised as a ball game.”

The Washington Herald said:

 “Hurrah for the Democratic party!

”No joking—the faithful followers of Jefferson, or whoever it was that gave (William Jennings) Bryan’s friends their principles, certainly did do things to the tried and true lieutenants of Speaker (Joseph Gurney) Cannon at the National Park yesterday afternoon, when two baseball teams composed of members of the House of Representatives fought it out for seven innings in some of the hottest rays Old Sol has dealt out to Washington this summer.”

[…]

“Republicans and Democrats alike were free traders, so far as errors and two or three base hits were concerned.”

The game ended after seven innings, the Democrats winning 26-16.

The Democrats

The Democrats

The Associated Press (AP) said:

“More varieties of baseball were played in that game than ever crowded into seven innings before and strange as it may seem not all of the varieties were bad.  The Democrats put up a rattling good game in the field—sometimes.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

The AP said one of the highlights of the game was the collision between Republican catcher James F. Burke (PA) and pitcher Joseph H. Gaines (WV) in front of home plate on a pop up, “While (Burke) and the pitcher were doing the ‘Alphonse and Gaston,’ three Democrats with a warped idea of chivalrous courtesy raced home.”

The Republicans

The Republicans

The Washington Times was more critical of the abilities of the lawmakers, singling out several:

“Before going further it is necessary to state that for the Democrats the man who attracted the most unfavorable notice was Handsome (James Thomas) Heflin of Alabama, who, with the help of a collie dog, covered left field for his party in a lamentable, sad and sorrowful style.  Heflin is tall and stout, and not to say sebaceous, and he and the dog went on the principle that they could catch every fly and stop every grounder by simply staring the ball out of countenance.  Heflin played the position like a merycotherium.  He probably does not know what that mean, but a glance at the dictionary reveals it to be an animal like a rhinoceros, ruminant, contemplative and far from agile.”

Nick Longworth (OH), who was dressed in a golfing suit, and hit at the ball as if he thought it had been teed for him (he struck out twice) is suffering this afternoon from a wrenched erector spinae muscle, caused by continually looking up and seeing flies, which he had misjudged go sailing over his head in center field.”

congressman Longworth at the plate.

Congressman Longworth at the plate, Congressman Kinkead is the catcher

The Times said, in general:

“Most of the players in trying to catch the ball held up their hand as if they expected someone to place in them very gently a salary check or a piece of pie.  On grounders they all had holes in their legs and could not stop a thing.”

Despite the overall criticism, the paper did mention three players on each team for being, at least, passable on the field.

Among the three Republicans was former big league pitcher, turned Pennsylvania Congressman, John Tener who played shortstop and had two hits and made just one of his team’s nine errors.  The other two Republican standouts were Albert F. Dawson of Iowa and Leonard Paul Howland of Ohio.

The three ”best fielders” among the  Democrats were Eugene F. Kinkead and William Hughes  of New Jersey and William Oldfield of Arkansas.

Congressman Hushes at the plate.

Congressman Hughes at the plate.

The game raised $320.55 to for the Washington Playgrounds Association “for the benefit of the children of Washington.”

The nation’s biggest baseball fan, President William Howard Taft skipped the game to play golf with Vice President James S. Sherman.

“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.

Lost Advertisements–President McKinley, Spalding League Ball

29 Nov

mckinleyspalding

 

An April 1897 advertisement for the Spalding.  The advertisement appeared in several papers across the country–including The Chicago Inter Ocean and The Chicago Daily News.

President McKinley Formally opened the Base Ball Season yesterday at Washington with the Spalding Official League Ball…

It seems very appropriate for the American game of Base Ball to be formally opened by the President of the United States, as was done yesterday at Washington by President William McKinley, in breaking the seal and tossing to the umpire the Spalding Official League Ball.”

While the advertisement ran on April 23 so did a story from The Associated Press which said the president was a no-show:

“It was expected that President McKinley would favor the Senators with his presence, he having promised the Washington players if his duties did not prevent he would toss the first ball to the umpire, but he evidently was too busy entertaining office-seekers, and as a result players and spectators alike were greatly disappointed.”

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms defeated the Senators 5 to 4.  It would be 13 years before  William Howard Taft became the first president to throw out the first ball on April 14, 1910, in Washington.

William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch in 1910

William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch in 1910