By: Jude Bazerman
WASHINGTON– Throughout the course of United States’ history, countless presidents have had sports related backgrounds. Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan all played college football, while 44th president Barack Obama and 42nd Bill Clinton both had an affinity for basketball. However, no sport has had as great of an impact on the oval office as baseball. Not only was the sport born and bred in the United States, but the game has also been ingrained as America’s national pastime. As a result, most commanders-in-chiefs of the last century have thrown out a ceremonial first pitch while being in office, either to kick off the regular season, World Series, or to serve as a symbol of unity for the country in times of despair.
The tradition of the sitting president throwing out the first pitch before a baseball game started way back when William Howard Taft, the same man who famously got stuck in the White House bathtub, tossed a ball from his seat in the stands to the catcher before the Nationals’ opening day game in 1910. Since then, every single president has thrown out a first pitch during their time in office or after they retired, with the exception of the 45th president, Donald Trump (interestingly, Trump did throw out two known first pitches before his presidency; one in 2006 at Fenway Park, and another in 2004 at TD Bank Field, home of the new Yankees Double A affiliate, the Somerset Patriots). Additionally, it took over 70 years for the sitting president to throw out the first pitch from the pitcher’s mound, thanks to Bill Clinton on opening day in 1993.
A handful of vice presidents have also thrown out first pitches while in their positions of power, including Al Gore, Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney, though their appearances did not draw the same attention as their presidential counterparts. With that being said, not every president’s first pitches went down in the history books, though a few stand out from the rest. For instance, the most notable and recognizable first pitch by a president may very well be George W. Bush’s perfect strike at Yankee Stadium in 2001, less than two months removed from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Not only did Bush’s first pitch start off one of the most iconic World Series of all time, but it also symbolized the United States’ efforts to unify, rebuild, and ultimately triumph over the hardships caused by 9/11. Barack Obama’s first pitch in 2010 at the newly built Nationals Park also grabbed headlines, thanks to the ceremony being the 100th anniversary of Taft kicking off the tradition. In 1989. Ronald Reagan became the first former president to throw out a first pitch outside of the U.S., doing so at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. So far, only one other former president (George W. Bush) has gone international in regards to first pitches, and no sitting president has yet to do so.
Though the tradition came to a halt after Barack Obama left office, current president-elect Joe Biden is slated to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on opening day. However, this won’t be Joe’s first time at the rodeo. In 2009, Biden threw out the first pitch before the Baltimore Orioles’ season opener as Vice President of the United States. The 78-year-old will not only be the oldest president, but he will likely be the first to throw out the first pitch in front of either limited or no fans in the crowd, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, this time-tested American tradition looks to be at the forefront of the baseball world for years to come, as almost all POTUS are welcomed by at least a handful of major league clubs. Additionally, most presidents have had some sort of baseball experiences, making the pitches all the more special for the club, the fans, and the commander-in-chief.