Skip to main content

Obama will take to mound for presidential tradition

By Bill Caiaccio, CNN
  • President will throw out first pitch at Phillies-Nationals game
  • William Howard Taft was first president to throw Opening Day pitch
  • Sometimes, president's other responsibilities interfere with tradition

(CNN) -- A presidential tradition that dates 100 years will continue Monday: President Obama will throw out the first pitch before the Washington Nationals take on the Philadelphia Phillies.

John Odell, curator of history and research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, said President William Howard Taft was the first to throw an Opening Day pitch in Washington in 1910.

"Washington has been the historic place for presidential first pitches," he said.

When there was no baseball team in Washington, it sometimes went to other places such as Baltimore, Maryland, or Cincinnati, Ohio, long host to the first baseball game each season. "President Nixon went to his home state of California," Odell said.

Presidential pitching styles can vary, with some better than others.

"President Dwight Eisenhower may have been the best," Odell said. "It was rumored he played for a semi-pro team while at West Point."

When members of the White House press corps asked questions, Odell said, "they were told not to look into it any further."

Presidents Truman and Ford threw out first pitches both right- and left-handed. Odell said President George W. Bush "had particularly good form."

Presidents have not always thrown the first pitch from the mound. In fact, that tradition didn't start until recently. It used to be that a first toss was thrown from the box seats, as Taft did in 1910.

Although this tradition goes back a century, sometimes a president can't make Opening Day because he's just too busy. In 1912, Taft couldn't throw out the first pitch because the Titanic had just sunk.

"President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a regular habit during his early years in office," Odell said, "but during the war years, he didn't."

Many times, when the president is otherwise engaged, he sends the vice president or a member of his Cabinet. President Carter never threw out an Opening Day pitch while he was in office, Odell said. "Carter once told a friend the demands of the White House and the presidency were too busy by coincidence during those times."

Carter later threw the first pitch for a World Series game after he was out of office.

"A first pitch says a lot about how a president ought to behave," Odell said. "we want him to take the job seriously but not so seriously that he can't take a few hours to come out and be a regular guy like the rest of us and enjoy our national pastime."

As for Obama, he has a history of throwing out first pitches. He did it at a Chicago White Sox game in 2005, while he was a U.S. senator, and again at last year's All-Star game in St. Louis, Missouri.

Obama "needs to work on his form," Odell said, "but he's had plenty of time to do that, and we'll see how he does this year."