Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Every Presidential First Pitch Ever

When President Obama was interviewed by ESPN during the Cuba exhibition game, he admitted that the most stressful thing he has ever done as president was throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game. Maybe that explains why he's on pace to do it the fewest times ever by a two-term president.

It has now been over six years since a president threw out the first pitch—the longest drought ever. Given that Opening Day is by far the most common occasion for a presidential first pitch, we can now safely say—barring a surprise appearance at the All-Star Game or World Series this year—that Obama will have tossed out the first ball just twice in his eight years in office. That's the fewest times since Jimmy Carter's one, and it pales in comparison with, say, George H.W. Bush's seven—in just one term, and despite the fact that there was no team in Washington at the time! It's strong evidence for the open secret that Obama, though he enjoys his sports, simply isn't much of a baseball fan.

The presidential first pitch is, in many ways, the epitome of this blog: the ultimate and purest form of politics and baseball intersecting. While there are lots of partial sources online for researching presidential first pitches, none was completely accurate or comprehensive. Therefore, I set about to compile all the information I could find on the topic and independently cross-checked and confirmed all the reported first pitches. The result is this definitive list of times the president has kicked off a major-league baseball game, including their dates, locations, and circumstances.

The president throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day was an annual tradition for decades at Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators before their relocation. It started in 1910 with William Howard Taft and continued almost every year thereafter, pausing most notably during World War I and World War II. Nevertheless, Franklin D. Roosevelt is the president who has thrown out the most first pitches, at 11.

After the Senators left DC for good, presidential first pitches obviously became rarer, as they had to coincide with presidential trips. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford made efforts to go to the All-Star Game and throw out the first ball. Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush, and Bill Clinton made the trip up I-95 to Baltimore a few times on Opening Day. George W. Bush accomplished the impressive feat of throwing out the first pitch in six different ballparks, including his famous strike at Yankee Stadium after 9/11.

The team that has seen the most presidential first pitches was obviously the original Washington Senators; the current Minnesota Twins franchise has witnessed it 44 times. The Yankees, the Senators' constant rival over the decades, are in second place, with 18. The Rays, Astros, Mets, Marlins, Padres, and Rockies have yet to be treated to one.

Republicans have been much friendlier to the national pastime, throwing 47 of the 83 first pitches. Democrats are stuck at only 36 in large part because the last three Democratic presidents, dating back 40 years, have only tossed the first ball six times. Despite Major League Baseball's return to Washington in 2005 in the form of the Washington Nationals, the old tradition of the president throwing out the first pitch every Opening Day has not been revived. If you ask me, it's long past time for us to resume the tradition.