Opening Day welcomes the new spring baseball season each year, a uniquely America tradition steeped in history and fanfare.
And on this day in history, April 14, 1910, President William Howard Taft became the first U.S. president to throw out the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game.
Taft was first in a long line of presidents to have the honor. Nearly every president since Taft has thrown out the first pitch, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, according to National Geographic. (Biden did throw out the first pitch as Barack Obama’s vice president.)
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William Howard Taft was elected 27th president of the United States (1909-1913) and later became the 10th chief justice of the United States (1921-1930). He’s the only person to have served in both offices, according to Whitehouse.gov.
When it came to baseball, Taft had been drawn to the game even as a boy.
“He loved baseball, and he was a good second baseman and a power hitter,” notes The Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
The groundbreaking MLB first pitch took place in Washington, D.C., ahead of a match-up between two East Coast teams: the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics. The game-starting pitcher was Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators.
Having President Taft throw out the ceremonial first pitch was something that Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith had wanted for several years, according to History.com.
Taft enjoyed baseball as a spectator and had attended a Senators’ baseball game during the 1909 season, according to MLB.com.
Sportswriters became fans of Taft and his enthusiasm for baseball.
Taft’s philosophy of the game offers an interesting perspective.
“I like [baseball] for two reasons,” President Taft reportedly said. “First, because I enjoy it myself and second, because if by the presence of the temporary first magistrate such a healthy amusement can be encouraged, I want to encourage it,” according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum website.
Along with other dignitaries including Vice President James S. Sherman, Taft remained on hand for the whole game, that site notes.
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At the time, Associated Press reporters wrote that “Mr. Taft was as interested as all the rest. He knows baseball thoroughly and is up on all the finer points of the game,” notes the History Channel.
Following the game, sportswriters became fans of Taft and his enthusiasm for baseball, with The Evening Star of D.C. reveling in Taft’s fandom.
“The president was one of the best fans of them all, for he stayed to the very end of the contest, until the last Philadelphian was out, and the victory was stowed away safely in the McAleer bat bag,” that outlet wrote at the time.
Taft was welcomed back for Opening Day in 1911 to throw out the first pitch — but in 1912 he did not appear because of the sinking of the Titanic five days before that game, according to National Geographic.
In 1913, Taft was no longer president. Woodrow Wilson did the honors for Opening Day.
“Distinguished jurist, effective administrator but poor politician, William Howard Taft spent four uncomfortable years in the White House.”
Major League Baseball’s official Opening Day tradition was started by the Cincinnati Reds, who hosted the event from 1876-1989.
“Only twice during this time (1877 and 1966) were they forced to debut on the road due to rain,” notes the Baseball Almanac.
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Today, the tradition is still at the center of America’s favorite pastime.
“Other sports have season openers, but baseball’s Opening Day marks the ceremonial beginning of spring,” says the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Considered by many to be a national holiday, the opening of a big-league baseball season brings with it the hope that this is your team’s year,” it adds.
President Taft had his challenges while leading the United States as commander-in-chief.
“Distinguished jurist, effective administrator but poor politician, William Howard Taft spent four uncomfortable years in the White House,” according to Whitehouse.gov.
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As a man, Taft was “large, jovial [and] conscientious,” according to Whitehouse.gov.
Caught in the “intense battles” between progressives and conservatives, he received “scant credit” for the achievements of his administration, that site notes.
These achievements include signing the first tariff revision since 1897, establishing a postal savings system and forming the Interstate Commerce Commission, among others, according to Whitehousehistory.org.
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