Why Taft should be a hit for the Nats

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - RON­ALD G. SHAFER Ron­ald G. Shafer is the au­thor of “When the Dodgers Were Bride­grooms.”

Did the Washington Na­tion­als draft the right com­man­der in chief to add to its four Rac­ing Pres­i­dents?

The record is clear. New­comer Wil­liam Howard Taft lit­er­ally (he weighed 330 pounds) was the big­gest base­ball fan of all of Amer­ica’s pres­i­dents, and he pro­moted the game more than any other pres­i­dent.

Taft cre­ated a frenzy at the April 14, 1910, open­ing­day game of the Washington Sen­a­tors when he be­came the first pres­i­dent to throw out the first ball at a ma­jor-league base­ball game.

“Scan all the an­nals of Washington base­ball as you will . . . there will be found no day so al­to­gether glo­ri­ous, no paean of vic­tory chanted by root­ers and fa­nat­ics half so sweet as that wit­nessed yes­ter­day in honor of the open­ing of the sea­son of 1910,” re­ported The Post, which re­ferred to the team not as the Sen­a­tors but as the “Na­tion­als.”

As a record 15,000 fans roared, the ar­ti­cle went on, Taft threw the ball from his front-row seat. “He did it with his good, trusty right arm, and the vir­gin sphere scud­ded across the di­a­mond true as a die to the pitch­ers box where Wal­ter John­son, also the pos­ses­sor of a good, trusty right arm, gath­ered it in.”

John­son blanked the Philadel­phia Ath­let­ics onone hit to win the game. The next day, Taft sent the great pitcher the cer­e­mo­nial base­ball with the pres­i­den­tial sig­na­ture and this in­scrip­tion: “For Wal­ter John­son, with the hope that he may con­tinue to be as for­mi­da­ble as in yes­ter­day’s game.”

Le­gend has it that dur­ing the game when the 6-foot-2-inch Taft stood up in the sev­enth in­ning, fans rose to cre­ate the first sev­enth-in­ning stretch. Le­gend has it wrong. The sev­enth-in­ning stretch had been around for years; The Post’s ar­ti­cle made no men­tion of any such event.

Taft also threw out the first ball at Washington’s open­ing day in 1911. “Pois­ing him­self for a moment, the na­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive swung his arm and hurled the ball straight and true to ‘Dolly’ Gray, the Washington pitcher,” The Post re­ported. Washington beat Bos­ton, 8 to 5.

The pres­i­dent of­ten went to games. In May 1910, he dropped by the ball­park to see Ty Cobb play for the Tigers. In 1912 he rushed over to catch the fi­nal seven in­nings of a loss to the White Sox. Taft missed the first two in­nings, The Post re­ported, be­cause he had to “wait for news from the House, which passed the wool bill over his veto.”

“I like [base­ball] for two rea­sons,” said Taft, who played sec­ond base for his Cincin­nati high­school team. “First, be­cause I en­joy it my­self and sec­ond, be­cause if by the pres­ence of the tem­po­rary first mag­is­trate such a healthy amuse­ment can be en­cour­aged, I want to en­cour­age it.”

The First Fan clearly pre­ferred the big-in­ning style of cur­rent Na­tion­als man­ager Davey John­son over the bunt-for-a-run strat­egy of some skip­pers. “I love the game when there is plenty of slug­ging,” Taft said.

Taft had to skip the fi­nal open­ing day of his pres­i­dency, on April 19, 1912, to deal with fall­out from the April 15 sink­ing of the Ti­tanic. But dur­ing his term he es­tab­lished a tra­di­tion of the pres­i­dent throw­ing out the first ball on open­ing day in Washington, or else­where, that has been con­tin­ued by ev­ery pres­i­dent ex­cept Jimmy Carter since. When the Nats picked Taft to join the Rac­ing Pres­i­dents, they elected the right man.


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