It’s not about the Baltimore Orioles per se, but this is literally one of my favorite recurring columns that I pen every year. It’s probably redundant if you go back and look at previous years. But it incorporates two of my most cherished things in life, civics and sports.
Today is President’s Day, which means it’s a federal holiday. And obviously the Presidency has a very unique link to Major League Baseball. That of course being the President throwing out the first pitch at games. Also known as the “Presidential First Pitch.”
The tradition began in 1910 with President William Howard Taft throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day for the Washington Senators as they began the season against the Philadelphia Athletics. Obviously Washington DC became the most likely venue for a President to throw out the first ball, and it usually happened on Opening Day. President Taft would also return the following year to do the honors again, in what would quickly become a tradition.
In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson became the first President to throw out the first pitch outside of Washington DC, when he did the honors at Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl in the World Series. His successor, Warren G. Harding, would also travel outside of the capital to throw out a first pitch, doing so on Opening Day in 1923 at Yankee Stadium.
Pretty much every President up to and including President Obama threw out a first pitch somewhere. One highlight I always like to throw in (no pun intended) is Opening Day, 1940, at Griffith Stadium in Washington. President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived on the scene to throw out the first pitch, and apparently hit a Washington Post camera in doing so. I’m not sure why I always work that into this column, but I do. It’s kind of a tradition – embrace it! Of course back in those days the President (or any person throwing out the first pitch) would sit in the front row of the grandstand by the dugout and throw the ball to the catcher on the field. President Ronald Reagan actually began the tradition of throwing from the mound.
When the Senators left after the 1972 season, Baltimore became the most likely destination to host the Presidential First Pitch. President Jimmy Carter came to Memorial Stadium in game seven of the World Series in 1979 to do the honors, and President Reagan came on Opening Day 1984 and 1986.
Memorial Stadium also hosted President George H.W. Bush on Opening Day 1989. The final season at Memorial Stadium brought Vice-President Dan Quayle to town on Opening Day, but the following year President Bush was back in town to throw out the first ball in the inaugural game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. President Bill Clinton would come to Camden Yards in 1993 and 1996, both on Opening Day.
I do find it sad that the President throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day is a tradition that seems to have subsided in recent years. President Donald Trump was the first President in a line dating back to Taft not to throw out the first pitch anywhere. Every other President has done it at least once – and most of them have only done it once at that. Invariably, that’s probably due to baseball being absent from Washington DC for so long.
Which brings me to the present, where America currently has a new Commander-In-Chief, President Joe Biden. (Who incidentally came to Baltimore as Vice-President and threw out the first ball on Opening Day one year.) My hope is that the Washington Nationals invite him to do the honors this year. I always close this column with the same point: regardless of party affiliation or anything else, I think that the President of the United States should throw out the first ball in Washington DC on Opening Day every year.