Curt Smith, of Gates, recently released his 17th book, “The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House.”
“The Presidents and the Pastime” draws on Smith’s background as a former White House presidential speechwriter to chronicle the relationship between baseball and the U.S. presidency.
The book starts in the Revolutionary War with each side playing a form of baseball, then charts how it became America’s pastime in the 19th century with presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson playing “town ball” or giving employees time off to watch.
Each chapter depicts a president’s special relationship to the pastime. William Howard Taft coined the presidential rite of throwing the Opening Day first pitch in 1910. For Woodrow Wilson, baseball supplied a refuge from strokes that ultimately took his life. Warren Harding drank bourbon in the White House with Babe Ruth while backing Prohibition. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who adorns the book’s cover, saved baseball in World War II. Harry Truman threw the first ball left-, right- and both-handed. Dwight Eisenhower sent a letter to Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe after Yogi Berra thrashed Newk in the 1956 World Series. John F. Kennedy, 43, met Stan Musial, 39, in 1960, and told him “they tell me you’re too old to play baseball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we’ll fool ’em.”
Richard Nixon inhaled baseball. Jimmy Carter learned the game from his mother and baseball savant, Miss Lillian. Ronald Reagan aired baseball on radio that he never saw, later playing Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander on film.
George H.W. Bush idolized Lou Gehrig, befriended Ted Williams and played, coached and watched the game. Bill Clinton grew up in Arkansas listening to Cardinals voice Harry Caray. George W. Bush he threw a perfect strike in the World Series at Yankee Stadium in the wake of 9/11. Barack Obama took the mound at the Nationals’ D.C. park to throw out the first ball, revealing in his glove a hometown White Sox cap he put on to show how all politics is local. Before becoming president, Donald Trump often performed the first-pitch rite.
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