Sunday, March 01, 2015

There's a reason it's called the National Pastime

I recently bought a book called Baseball: The Presidents' Game by William B. Mean and Paul Dickson. The book is about what the title says - a history of the baseball activities of each POTUS - and is full of photos of presidents attending games, posing with players, and having teams over at the White House. (Incidentally, did you know that the first president to have a baseball team over to the White House was Andrew Johnson? Or that he was the first one to dub baseball "Our Nation's Game?")

I purchased the book to aid me in my DC Baseball Tours project and because I'm simply interested in the way baseball is intertwined in our nation's history and development. No other sport can say that because no other sport was around when our nation was founded. Baseball and America grew up together. They are childhood friends who have managed to stay in touch, even though America hangs out more with football now. But those two met in college. They don't have the same bond as the duo that was there for each other when soldiers were freezing to death at Valley Forge or the North and South were trying to go through a messy divorce. Heck, baseball is so much a part of our soul as a country that it exists outside the logic of our legal system. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled in Federal Baseball Club v National League that baseball was a game and not a business, so teams were not participating in interstate commerce and not subject to antitrust laws, a ruling that was upheld half a century later in Flood v Kuhn. While the game that Washington played with his troops at Valley Forge was an early form of baseball and hence is different than the game we love, in our hearts we know that it was still baseball.

We've had 43 presidents (FYI - Cleveland served two separate terms, which is why we say Obama is #44.) The National League was formed in 1876 and the American League in 1901. The Federal League existed from 1914 to 1915 and the American Association existed as a major league from 1882-1891. The National Association, which isn't recognized as a major league by Major League Baseball even though it was the first professional league, existed from 1871-1875. I could go through all the teams and pick a favorite for each president as they existed in his time, but since 17 presidents existed before professional baseball was played, I'm going to use current MLB teams to represent what teams each president would root for based on his hometown.

While putting this list together, I was thinking about how weird it must be to live in a place without a team within 150 miles of you, or to be at the edge of several teams' markets. Like Syracuse. Are they Yankees fans? Pirates? Even Detroit isn't that far.

George Washington, 1789-1797 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

John Adams, 1797-1801 Boston Red Sox (Boston native)

Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809 Washington Nationals (Virginia native, though he didn't think highly of games played with balls, believing them to be too violent for the body.)

James Madison, 1809-1817 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

James Monroe, 1817-1825 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829 Boston Red Sox (Boston native)

Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837 Atlanta Braves (A Tennessee founder from the Carolinas)

Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841 New York Yankees (From a NY village called Kinderhook)

William Henry Harrison, 1841 Cincinnati Reds (Though he grew up in Virginia, he was assigned to Ohio as an 18 year old in the Army)

John Tyler, 1841-1845 Washington Nationals (Although being from Richmond he could have grown up a Barves fan, being attracted to politics gives the edge to the Nationals.)

James Knox Polk, 1845-1849 Atlanta Braves (He grew up in North Carolina but represented Tennessee.)

Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850 Washington Nationals (Virginia native)

Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853 New York Yankees (Could be Pirates, Red Sox, or Mets, even, as he's from a town near Syracuse. Admittedly I picked the Yankees because he was such a bad president.)

Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857 Boston Red Sox (From New Hampshire)

James Buchanan, 1857-1861 Philadelphia Phillies (From Lancaster area)

Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865 Chicago White Sox (I think Abe would have sided more with the working class side of town.)

Andrew Johnson, 1865-1869 Atlanta Braves (From Carolinas, moved to Tennessee on foot, spent his professional years there.)

Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-1877 Cincinnati Reds (From Cincy area. In 1869, Grant welcomed the first professional baseball team to the White House, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.)

Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 1877-1881 Cincinnati Reds (Known Red Stockings fan Hayes and his son kept a journal following the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.)

James Abram Garfield, 1881 Cleveland Indians (Cleveland area native)

Chester Alan Arthur, 1881-1885 New York Yankees (From Upstate New York)

Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889, 1893-1897 New York Yankees (From all over NY, father was from Connecticut.)

Benjamin Harrison, 1889-1893 Cincinnati Reds (A known Reds fan who was the first to attend an MLB game, an NL contest in DC in which the Reds defeated the Washington Senators 7-4.)

William McKinley, 1897-1901 Cleveland Indians (From NE Ohio)

Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909 New York Yankees (He was from a Manhattan family of means and married a NYC socialite, hence the choice for Yankees. In reality, he wasn't a big baseball fan.)

William Howard Taft, 1909-1913 Cincinnati Reds (A known Cincinnati baseball fan who was the first to thrown out a first pitch.)

Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921 Atlanta Braves (He grew up in the South. Wilson may be considered the first fantasy baseball player, he was so obsessed with stats.)

Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1921-1923 Cleveland Indians (From just above Columbus, he's in territory that is not without its share of Reds fans.)

Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929 New York Yankees One of the worst presidents in history, he grew up in New England, but saw a bunch of Yankees games in DC. Probably was a bandwagon Senators fan, too.)

Herbert Clark Hoover, 1929-1933 Tough to call. (Hoover was a terrible president but a huge baseball fan. He grew up all over the country but judging from his attendance records as president, he could have been a Philadelphia A's fan, although they booed him mercilessly at one game. Maybe he would have been a Nats fan.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945 New York Giants (FDR loved baseball and the Giants. I guess he'd be a Mets fan today.)

Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953 St. Louis Cardinals (Truman attended more games as POTUS (16) than any other, all in Washington. He could have been a Nationals fan, but he grew up in Independence.)

Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953-1961 Kansas City Royals (I know that Kansas City is in Missouri, but it's the closest team to the place in Kansas where Ike was from. Ike may have played semi-pro ball in a Kansas league before attending West Point.)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1961-1963 Boston Red Sox (The quintessential New Englander. Although he liked football more than baseball.)

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-1969 Houston Astros (Doesn't seem to be much of a baseball fan.)

Richard Milhous Nixon, 1969-1974 Los Angeles Angels (Tricky dick was a big baseball fan who grew up in the Anaheim area. He attended a few Angels games as POTUS.)

Gerald Rudolph Ford, 1974-1977 Detroit Tigers (He was raised in Grand Rapids.)

James Earl Carter, Jr., 1977-1981 Atlanta Braves (He's frequently seen at Barves games.)

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1981-1989 Chicago Cubs (He was born in Illinois and called Cubs games on the radio in the thirties.)

George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993 Houston Astros (A staple behind home plate when he was healthy.)

William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001 St. Louis Cardinals (That's a shame.)

George Walker Bush, 2001-2009 Houston Astros (Rangers ownership aside.)

Barack Hussein Obama, 2009-2017 Chicago White Sox


If you know of any president who was actually a fan of a team and I got it wrong, let me know. A lot of this is just imagination.

1 comment:

Gordon Warnock said...

I love this post, just stumbles across it from a blogger search on baseball blogs!
Would it be alright if I reposted it on my personal baseball blog (a mini blog). www.microleaguememories.com

And I can tell you from personal experience that most natives of Syracuse are pretty much Yankee fans as they used to have a Double A affiliate team there not too long ago. There are also alot of Red Sox and Mets fans as well.
Thanks
Gordon