April 14, 1910: William Howard Taft begins the presidential tradition of throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day in Washington. Taft watched as Walter Johnson, who five years earlier was playing semi-pro ball in Weiser, pitched a one-hit shutout to lead the Senators past the Philadelphia A’s, 3-0. According to History.com, Taft and the others in the presidential party—which included Vice President James S. Sherman—stayed for the entire game, even after a line drive by the Athletics’ Frank “Home Run” Baker bounced off Secretary of the Senate Charles G. Bennett’s head.
Harding liked it so much he threw out the first pitch again on Opening Day in 1911. He skipped the ceremonial throw in 1912 due to the sinking of the Titanic. Harding’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, threw out the first pitch four times. And so the tradition continued. The first controversial president to throw out the first pitch was Herbert Hoover in 1931, who was greeted by a mix of cheers and boos. Those in the crowd opposed to Prohibition chanted, “We want beer!”
In 1993, Bill Clinton became the first president to throw successfully from the rubber on the mound to the catcher. The most emotional first pitch came in Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, when President George W. Bush delivered a strike at Yankee Stadium as New York City was healing after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. President Barack Obama participated in several first pitch ceremonies, including in 2010, marking the 100th anniversary of Taft’s first pitch. Obama was the last of 18 conseutive presidents to throw out a first pitch.
Joe Biden threw out a first pitch on Opening Day in Baltimore in 2009 while serving as Obama’s vice president, but he declined an invitation to deliver the ceremonial first ball last year in Washington. President Donald Trump never threw out a first pitch during his presidency, but he did once have a helicopter on the field at a minor league game, and he emerged to deliver a throw.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)