Taft Starts First-Pitch Tradition in 1910 Season

Article excerpt

Byline: Dick Heller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"The game of base ball is a clean, straight game, and it summons to its presence everybody who enjoys clean, straight athletics."

- President William Howard Taft, 1910

Everybody knew the nation's 27th president loved the national pastime. He played it as a much slimmer youth in Cincinnati and thoroughly enjoyed his first unofficial appearance at a Washington Senators game the previous season. So it was no surprise when William Howard Taft decided to attend the team's opening game on the afternoon of April 14, 1910.

Probably the game came as a welcome respite. The genial, 300-pound Taft did not have the charisma or enjoy the popularity of his dynamic predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. A year into Taft's presidency, progressive Republicans were calling for Teddy to ignore the two-term tradition and run again in 1912. (He did so as an independent after Taft was nominated again by the GOP, and the resulting split vote put Woodrow Wilson in the White House.)

That morning Taft had been booed and hissed by suffragettes seeking the vote for women. The Washington Post reported that the president's face turned red, but he told the group, "Now my dear ladies, you must show yourself equal to self-government by [practicing] that degree of restraint without which self-government is impossible."

Then the president and his retinue proceeded to American League Park (later Griffith Stadium) at Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW, where he was greeted by American League president Ban Johnson, who had privately invited him to throw out the first ball.

Though the Post had reported that "the opening will not be attended by any ceremony," a throng of photographers were on hand to record Taft's opening pitch. In addition, this was the first opener at which movies were made, enabling fans at theaters across the country to watch Taft inaugurate one of baseball's great traditions.

Arising from an extra-large seat imported to contain his bulk, the president tossed the horsehide to Walter Johnson, the Senators' starting pitcher. It was a poor throw, but Johnson bent down and caught it. Then he hurled a one-hitter to defeat the Philadelphia Athletics 3-0, the first of many Opening Day victories in a 21-year career that produced 417 victories for arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball history.

In fact, Johnson almost had a no-hitter 10 years before he actually did pitch the first of two in his career. Many in the overflow crowd of 15,000 were standing behind ropes in the outfield, and a routine fly ball by Frank "Home Run" Baker of the A's dropped for a double when the outfielder tripped over a fan's feet. …