Opening Day 1910: President Taft Throws Out the First Pitch


Opening Day of the major league baseball season used to be held in Washington D.C. not Japan and the first United States President to throw out the ceremonial first pitch was William Howard Taft on April 14, 1910. The 27th President began a tradition that continued for 60 years until the Washington Senators moved to Texas in 1972. It resumed when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington D.C. and became the Nationals in 2005.

What is interesting is that Taft was not the first President who was asked to throw out the first pitch. He was the first to accept and actually show up on Opening Day to do it.

Before Taft Senators owner Clark Griffith had tried to talk other Presidents into attending opening day, but without success. When asked to attend a game Grover Cleveland is quoted as saying ‘What do you imagine the American people would think of me if I wasted my time at a ballgame?’ Theodore Roosevelt was given a gold pass to attend games and never used it.

It seemed as though Griffith had finally gotten his man in President William McKinley. A special Presidential box was built for the Opening Day ceremony and first pitch, but McKinley never showed.

None of this stopped Griffith from pursuing Taft. Griffith knew that baseball’s popularity was starting to lag and needed something to elevate it above other sports. His reasoning was that getting a President to attend a game would validate baseball as America’s true national pastime. The fact that a President attending a Senators game would draw much needed fan interest and publicity for the team wasn’t lost on Griffith either.

Fortunately Taft was a baseball fan and open to the idea of throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day. A special box was erected for the over 300 pound President (legend has it he once got stuck in the White House bathtub), his wife and staff. And, unlike McKinley, Taft showed up to the relief of Griffith and the 12,226 fans in attendance.

The Senators were to play the Boston Red Sox and Walter Johnson was scheduled to pitch for Washington. Before the game Washington manager Jimmy McAleer asked Johnson to do the honor of catching the first pitch. But the shy star declined so catcher Gabby Street was scheduled to take his place. Not wanting Johnson to miss out on Opening Day history McAleer told Taft about his pitchers reluctance to catch the President’s toss.

So from his box, Taft turned his robust frame and tossed the ball to Johnson who was standing near the pitcher’s mound instead of Street. Johnson caught the ball and was happy he did. The next day he sent it to the White House where Taft autographed it for him. It was the first of many Presidential autographs Johnson would get.

As for the game, Johnson got over his jitters of catching the first pitch and threw an Opening Day one-hitter to defeat Boston 3-0.  Taft stayed for the entire game, just as Griffith hoped he would. For the President it was a much needed break as he had just come from being booed at the annual Suffragists convention. The only downside to the day was when Secretary of the Senate Charles Bennett was hit in the head by a foul ball. Bennett took the blow, shook it off and returned to watching the game.

Thus, Clark Griffith accomplished everything that he hoped. Taft showed, the press and fans loved it, baseball got its ‘official’ stamp as the national pastime and the Senators won.

And the Opening Day tradition of having an incumbent President throw out the ceremonial first pitch was born.