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by Ray Robinson

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Peanuts, Popcorn, and American Presidents

In the winter of 1909, the manager of the Washington Senators, Clark Griffith, who went from professional trapping in Clear Creek, Missouri, to a lifetime as a baseball man, proved why he was entitled to his nickname of the “Old Fox.” Manipulating his eclectic political connections in Washington, D.C., Griffith coaxed the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Washington’s League Park on April 10, 1910.

A jolly fellow, who could have been a doppelganger for the silent-screen comedian Fatty Arbuckle, Taft was so delighted with the invitation that come Opening Day he stayed for the whole nine innings. The legendary right-hander Walter Johnson pitched a one-hitter that afternoon, beating the Philadelphia Athletics 3-0 as an overflow crowd of fifteen thousand looked on.

Griffith may not have known it at the moment, but President Taft’s opening-day pitch inaugurated an annual baseball tradition. And it didn’t matter what political party the president belonged to. By 1920, when Taft had taken a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, he found himself on a train headed for Chicago, where New York’s Commerce High School baseball team was en route to play Chicago’s Lane Tech High School in an intercity championship game. Among the excited Commerce kids on the train was a seventeen-year-old, dimpled first baseman named Lou Gehrig. With his interest in baseball now a matter of record, Taft asked to see the Commerce boys. He greeted each of them ebulliently, including Gehrig.

“I’m looking forward to see all of you play,” Taft told the boys. What he saw, among other things, was a ninth-inning home run with the bases loaded by Gehrig, whose name was promptly misspelled as “Gherrig” in the New York Times the next day.

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