William Howard Taft invented—unintentionally—the seventh inning stretch, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to continue Major League Baseball during World War II, and George W. Bush skyrocketed American morale after the 9/11 attacks when he threw out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series.
Baseball pulsates through the presidency, indeed, whether it’s Ronald Reagan sitting in the dugout of an Orioles game or Harry Truman being the first president to attend a night game.
It all started with Benjamin Harrison in 1892.
On the eve of the Republican National Convention—which took place in Minneapolis from June 7-10, 1892—Harrison churned through his presidential duties, despite tension surrounding the possibility of not being selected to represent the party in the upcoming election. The Washington Post reported, “If the President was worried about the turn of affairs at Minneapolis he failed to let that worriment be detected by any one who conversed with him. Secretary [of Agriculture] Rusk, upon leaving the White House, said that Mr. Harrison was not at all disturbed by the rumors that had emanated from the convention city but was, on the contrary, in the best of spirits and had spent a very pleasant day.”
After an inquiry by [Secretary of State John] Foster about attending the Cincinnati-Washington baseball game at Boundary Field, President Harrison acquiesced. Foster’s baseball fandom manifested in restlessness—the Cabinet member “paced up and down the big stone port of the White House, now and then glancing at his watch, fearful that he would be too late to see the first game,” reported the Post. The Reds beat the Senators 7-4.
It was the first presidential visit to a major league game.
Harrison lost the 1892 presidential election to Grover Cleveland. Had the political winds shifted in the Democratic Party, Harrison might have faced a baseball fan—Senator David B. Hill of New York ran for the nomination. A Post profile of Hill on June 5, 1892 described the senator’s nighttime activities as a combination of work and play. “Night is Hill’s favorite time for work, and he manages to do considerable after he is through with callers. That is the general programme [sic] of the New York Senator’s days. He varies them by going to the theater, of which he is more than fond, and he has patronized the Washington theaters continually. Then he is a baseball crank, it must be confessed, and finds time to get out to hurrah for the diamond kings very often.”
When Cleveland resigned his post as New York Governor, Hill, a former New York governor, earned the ire of some quarters for holding dual offices. On April 7, 1892, the New York Times declared, “He showed a contempt for common decency in holding the office of Governor for ten months after his term in the Senate began, and he left his seat in that body vacant for more than a month after the season of Congress opened. He used that time in carrying out the infamous scheme for stealing a majority in the State Senate, and afterward secured the elevation of his most subservient and useful tool in the performance to the bench of the Court of Appeals, thus putting a dark stain upon the judiciary of the State. Since he took his oath as Senator he has hardly spent two consecutive days in the Senate, and has taken no useful part in any of its proceedings. He showed himself intent only upon selfish political schemes of his own. He tried to bully a committee of the House into making a report favorable to retaining one of his devoted henchmen in the seat to which he was plainly not entitled. Then he went off on a trip to the South, the sole object of which was to drum up delegates for himself to the Democratic National Convention. That hunt was a dismal failure and only resulted in exposing to the Southern people his lack of principle and courage and turning them against him.”
Harrison’s presidency included appointing four justices of the United States Supreme Court, admitting six states to the union, and codifying the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Land Revision Act. While Harrison’s ignition of presidential attendance at professional baseball games began a ballpark tradition, the sports world enjoyed other landmark events in 1892, including the playing of the first basketball game, the founding of the Liverpool Football Club, and the creating of the Stanley Cup—thanks to a proposal by Lord Stanley of Preston.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 7, 2016.