From the Archives: Play Ball, Mr. President!

Our national pastime and our Nation’s leaders have shared a unique relationship for some 150 years. Presidents throwing out first pitches or hosting World Series winners at the White House are familiar images from each baseball season.

The connection between Presidents and baseball stretches back as far as Abraham Lincoln.  According to research conducted for the 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration, Lincoln was playing baseball in Springfield, Illinois, when he was informed that the Chicago Republican Convention had nominated him as the Presidential candidate. Lincoln is reported to have responded, “They will have to wait a few minutes until I get my next turn at bat.” A year later when he arrived at the White House in 1861, baseball’s popularity had caught on in Washington, D.C.  As President, Lincoln is said to have played baseball on the White House lawn.

  • Herbert Hoover throws Out the first pitch on Opening Day

    Herbert Hoover throws out the first pitch on opening day, April 15, 1929.

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  • Franklin D. Roosevelt’s World War II “Green Light Letter” to Commissioner

    Franklin D. Roosevelt’s World War II “Green Light Letter” to the Commissioner, January 15, 1942.

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  • Harry S. Truman throws out the first pitch of the 1947 baseball season at Washington's Griffith Stadium

    Harry S. Truman throws out the first pitch of the 1947 season at Washington's Griffith Stadium, April 18, 1947.

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  • Dwight D. Eisenhower gets ready to throw out the first pitch of the season at a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators

    Dwight D. Eisenhower gets ready to throw out the first pitch of the season at Griffith Stadium, April 13, 1954.

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  • Senator John F. Kennedy meets with Ted Williams and Eddie Pellagrini

    Senator John F. Kennedy meets with Ted Williams and Eddie Pellagrini at Fenway Park in Boston, April 1946.

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  • Lyndon B. Johnson throws out the first pitch at the opening day game between the Washington Senators and New York Yankees

    Lyndon B. Johnson throws out the first pitch at an opening day game, April 10, 1967.

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  • 1935 Baseball Pass for Franklin D. Roosevelt

    This pass was presented to President Roosevelt at the White House on April 13, 1935. (Ford Frick and American League player Clark Griffith)

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  • 1979 American League of Professional Baseball Clubs Annual Pass for Jimmy Carter

    A 1979 American League of Professional Baseball Clubs annual pass to all parks was given to Jimmy Carter.

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  • Richard Nixon at the Washington Senators Versus the New York Yankees Game on Opening Day

    Richard Nixon at the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees baseball game on opening day, April 6, 1969.

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  • New York Mets World Champions 1969 set was presented to Richard Nixon

    This New York Mets World Champions 1969 set was presented to Richard Nixon.

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  • Gerald R. Ford before the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia

    Gerald R. Ford before the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia, July 13, 1976.

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  • Ronald Reagan as a Radio Announcer

    Ronald Reagan was a WHO radio announcer and as part of his broadcasts he would call Chicago Cubs and White Sox games.

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  • President Reagan in the press box with Harry Caray during a Cubs game

    President Reagan in the press box with Harry Caray during a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, September 30, 1988.

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  • George Bush, captain of the Yale baseball team, receives Babe Ruth’s autobiography

    George Bush, captain of the Yale baseball team, receives Babe Ruth’s autobiography, 1948.

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  • George Bush first baseman's mitt from Yale

    When he became President, George Bush kept his first baseman's mitt from Yale oiled and ready in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

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  • Barbara Bush throws the ceremonial first pitch of a Texas Rangers baseball game in Dallas

    Barbara Bush throws the ceremonial first pitch of a Texas Rangers baseball game, May 5, 1989.

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  • William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton play catch in the Rose Garden

    William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton play catch in the Rose Garden, April 3, 1994.

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  • Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripken autographs a baseball bat for President Clinton

    Cal Ripken, Jr. autographs a bat for President Clinton after Ripken breaks the consecutive game streak, September 6, 1995.

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  • George W. Bush presents Angel Tavarez with a baseball

    George W. Bush presents Angel Tavarez with a baseball after the opening game of the 2008 Tee Ball on the South Lawn, June 30, 2008.

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  • George W. Bush and Laura Bush host “Tee Ball on the South Lawn"

    In 2001, George W. Bush and Laura Bush hosted “Tee Ball on the South Lawn.”

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  • President Obama Throws Out First Pitch at Nationals Opening Day

    President Barack Obama throws out the ceremonial first pitch on the opening day of the 2010 season at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

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Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was such a fan that he received numerous honorary memberships from many teams on the East Coast. Chester Arthur remarked, “Good ball players make good citizens,” and Grover Cleveland was the first to invite a championship team—the 1886 Chicago White Stockings—to the White House. Benjamin Harrison was the first sitting President to attend a big league game: the Cincinnati Reds pitted against the Washington Senators in 1892.

The sport’s popularity grew in the 20th century. Teddy Roosevelt attended games, but it was William Howard Taft who began the tradition of tossing out the first pitch in 1910—a tradition that carries on today.

Some Presidents, like Harry Truman, studied the game so intently that they were considered experts. This was certainly the case with Richard Nixon, whose love and knowledge of the game resulted in an offer to become head of the Major League Players Union in the 1960s. Rather than accept, he chose to continue on in his political career but he remained an avid follower of the game. As young men, Dwight D. Eisenhower excelled at baseball in his hometown of Abilene, Kansas, and George Bush was the captain of the Yale baseball team during his college years.

Important events from our Nation’s past are also intertwined with the history of baseball. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis grew concerned about proceeding with the 1942 baseball season. President Roosevelt promptly responded to Landis’ inquiry with the “Green Light Letter,” giving baseball his approval to proceed and acknowledging the value of the game in time of war. Landis’s signed copy of Roosevelt’s Green Light Letter is now at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Baseball is forever bound to the American presidency. Whether meeting All-Stars in the Oval Office or relaxing in the stands with their fellow citizens, our Presidents have confirmed baseball as our national pastime.

Opening Day for the 2013 baseball season was Sunday March 31, so we’ve put together this gallery of baseball-related photos, documents, and artifacts from the holdings of the 13 Presidential Libraries of the National Archives.

This summary of Presidential baseball history was compiled by James Kratsas, Deputy Director at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

For more information visit: http://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/

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