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Play Ball, Mr. President!

In honor of Opening Day for the 2013 baseball season, 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. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

And you can read about even more baseball history in the National Archives in our new, free eBook!

Dwight D. Eisenhower gets ready to throw out the first baseball of the season at a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. To the right of Eisenhower are Senators manager Bucky Harris and Yankees manager Casey Stengel. 4/13/54.

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, DC. As President, Lincoln is said to have played baseball on the White House lawn.

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.

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

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’s 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.

In honor of Opening Day for the 2013 baseball season, 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.

Play ball!

Herbert Hoover throws out the baseball on opening day. President Hoover is accompanied by his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, and members of his Cabinet. 4/15/29.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s World War II “Green Light Letter” to Commissioner (and District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois) Kenesaw M. Landis. 1/15/42.

Harry S. Truman throws out the first ball of the 1947 baseball season at Washington's Griffith Stadium. Fleet Admiral William Leahy, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, Washington Senators manager Ossie Bluege, and New York Yankees manager Bucky Harris look on. 4/18/47.

Lyndon B. Johnson throws out the first baseball at the opening day game between the Washington Senators and New York Yankees. Senator John Pastore and Senator Edmund Muskie are on LBJ’s right, and Postmaster General Lawrence O’Brien can be seen behind LBJ’s coat. Senator Margaret Chase Smith is behind LBJ. 4/10/67

This 1935 baseball pass (number 1) gave Franklin D. Roosevelt admission to all the parks of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. The pass was presented to President Roosevelt at the White House on April 13, 1935, by Ford Frick, President of the National Baseball League, and American League player Clark Griffith.

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

Richard Nixon at the Washington Senators versus the New York Yankees baseball game on Opening Day. 4/6/69.

This New York Mets World Champions 1969 set was presented to Richard Nixon. It contains a diamond ring and gold charms, Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets passes for the President and Mrs. Nixon from the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, and official baseballs from the American and National League autographed by the players of both teams.

Gerald R. Ford walks with Darrell Johnson, manager of the Boston Red Sox, and George "Sparky" Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati Reds, before the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 7/13/76.

Ronald Reagan was a WHO Radio Announcer in Des Moines, Iowa. Ca. 1934. As part of his broadcasts he would call Chicago Cubs and White Sox games.

President Reagan in the press box with Harry Caray during a Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. 9/30/88.

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

First Ladies have also had the honor of tossing out ceremonial first pitches. Barbara Bush throws the ceremonial first pitch of a Texas Rangers baseball game in Dallas. 5/5/89.

William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton play catch in the Rose Garden. They are practicing for upcoming opening pitch ceremonies that both of them will participate in. 4/3/94.

Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripken autographs a baseball bat for President Clinton after Ripken broke the consecutive game streak at 2,131 games. 9/6/95.

George W. Bush presents Angel Tavarez of the Cramer Hill Little League Red Sox from Camden, New Jersey, with a baseball after the opening game of the 2008 Tee Ball on the South Lawn. Roberto Clemente, Jr., and Dugout the Little League mascot joined President Bush on the field. 6/30/08.

In 2001, George W. Bush and Laura Bush hosted “Tee Ball on the South Lawn.” This player from the Cramer Hill Little League Red Sox of Camden, New Jersey, was photographed after playing with his teammates against the Jose M. Rodriguez Little League Angels of Manati, Puerto Rico.

 

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