Bush never lost a love for baseball
Late ex-president had ties to Astros, Rangers
After he became president of the USA in 1989, George H.W. Bush kept a prized possession in his Oval Office desk drawer: the first baseman’s mitt he wore playing for the Yale varsity more than 40 years before.
President Bush, who died Friday at 94, kept the mitt oiled and pliant. He was a sportsman through and through who enjoyed outdoor pursuits from golf to fishing to tennis to sky diving even into his 90s. But baseball was perhaps his favorite pastime, and as long as that mitt was ready for a catch, he still felt like a ballplayer.
After he left public office, Bush and his wife, Barbara, were fixtures at Astros games in Houston. She would keep a score book; he would sign autographs for fans and greet players and coaches with handshakes and words of encouragement. They were also connected to the Rangers when their oldest son, George W. Bush, was managing general partner of the team from 1989 to 1994.
The father and son were part of the pregame festivities before Game 5 of the 2017 World Series in Houston when the Astros played the Dodgers. Houston would win that game 13-12 and then capture its first World Series title in Game 6 in Los Angeles.
Occasionally Bush would recount his memories of Yale advancing to the first two NCAA-sanctioned national baseball championships in 1947 and 1948, held at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. Bush was the captain and first baseman, an expert fielder and average hitter.
“A lot of us on the team were (World War II) veterans and we had come back from the war, so maybe that made it a little less apprehensive,” Bush told Sports Illustrated in 2007. “On the other hand, it didn’t deduct from our enthusiasm and our desire to win, which we did not do.”
Yale advanced to the final both years but lost to California in 1947 and to Southern California in 1948. The experience was enriching for Bush, who as Yale captain met Babe Ruth near the end of the Hall of Famer’s life and whose coach was former major leaguer Ethan Allen.
“I know in politics, it helps to be competitive and it helps to learn about sportsmanship and practice sportsmanship,” Bush said. “So I found that my modest baseball career at Yale was extraordinarily helpful to me when I got into politics or got out into life in business.”
Bush never lost the baseball bug. In the summer of 1984 at 60 he played in an old-timers game with former major league stars when he was vice president to President Ronald Reagan. Bush hit a single into left-center field off of Milt Pappas, but his more impressive feat came on defense.
Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda hit a hard ground ball down the first-base line. Bush dived to his left, knocked the ball down, picked it up and threw out Cepeda. The old mitt had made the play, and not so many years later as president, George H.W. Bush could open his desk drawer and relive the moment.
Yale captain and first baseman George H.W. Bush met Babe Ruth during the 1948 NCAA baseball championships.
George H.W. Bush was the first baseman and captain of the Yale baseball team in 1947 and 1948. Yale advanced to the national championship game both years.