For most Americans, William Howard Taft is not the first chief executive to leap to mind as we celebrate Presidents’ Day. But we baseball fans owe him homage for starting one of our country’s most enduring traditions: the president throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the season.
From a specially built box at National Park (later and better known as Griffith Stadium), Taft tossed the old horsehide out to Walter Johnson to mark the beginning of the 1910 season as the Washington Senators hosted the Philadelphia Athletics.
Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of how the tradition evolved, and it’s ready-made for trivia questions. (E.g., who was the second vice president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch? Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, 1959. The first was Taft’s VP, James Sherman, in 1912.)
Over at Baseball Almanac, there’s a great summary of how the tradition began. Clark Griffith had asked both William McKinely and Grover Cleveland to do the honors but they turned him down. It took a baseball fan like Taft, who at 300 pounds was only slightly heavier than C.C. Sabathia, to do the honors.
The Senators won 3-0, and Taft came back to open the 1911 season. A tradition was born.
Taft had plenty of troubles to manage in his administration, but he had the good sense to take in a baseball game every now and then. For that, we salute him.