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When people think of President Herbert Hoover and baseball, many recall the famous story from 1930, when Babe Ruth signed a contract that paid him $80,000 a year. When Ruth was asked if he thought he deserved to be making more money than President Hoover, he said, “'Why not? I had a better year than he did.” Yet Hoover’s enduring delight in baseball deserves to be remembered as more than the punch line of a humorous story.1

“I grew up on sandlot baseball, swimming holes, and fishing with worms,” Hoover remembered. As president, Hoover checked out the sports pages of his daily newspaper first, and throughout his life he encouraged children to build their character and learn about teamwork through sports. He played baseball as a child in Iowa and Oregon, and was a shortstop on Stanford University’s baseball team until he dislocated his finger, bringing his playing career to an end. However, he served as business manager for the team.2

President Hoover throwing out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.

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Hoover became the nation’s number one baseball fan in 1929 and took the responsibility seriously, throwing out the traditional first pitch at Griffith Stadium on all four Washington Senators’ opening days while he resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He also attended the fifth and final game of 1929 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics.

President Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover at the final game of the World Series at Shibe Park, Philadelphia, October 14, 1929.

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On October 14, President and Mrs. Hoover and party arrived at North Philadelphia Station at 1:00 p.m. on a special car attached to the Baltimore and Ohio train and headed to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. When the Athletics’ Bing Miller doubled in the bottom of the ninth to score Al Simmons and give Philadelphia the game and the world championship, some thought they noticed a lack of enthusiasm from the president. Columnist Damon Runyon wrote: “I strongly suspect President Hoover of Chicago sympathy, possibly due to the fact that the Cubs trained out yonder in his California sunshine.” (The Cubs then trained for the upcoming season on owner William Wrigley Jr.’s Santa Catalina Island off Los Angeles). Hoover’s impression of impartiality was deliberate; after the game he asked Philadelphia Mayor Harry Mackey, “I think I maintained neutrality pretty well, don’t you, Mr. Mayor?” Agriculture Secretary Arthur Hyde, who was also at the game, defended Hoover, telling reporters: “The President had to restrain himself. His constituents about him were divided in their cheering and . . . the President could not display an overenthusiastic countenance.” 3

President Hoover with Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon on his right on the opening day of the baseball season, April 14, 1930.

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On October 1, 1930, Hoover was present at Shibe Park for the first game of 1930 World Series between the Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals. Ignoring the chill weather that forced many fans to swaddle themselves in winter garments, the president did not use a topcoat and sat in a plain brown business suit. A band played “Hail to the Chief” when Hoover arrived, prompting longtime Senators’ coach and sometime syndicated columnist Nick Altrock to quip, “It didn’t hail, but it was cold enough to snow.” 4

When Hoover returned to Philadelphia for the third game of the 1931 Cardinals vs. Athletics World Series, the nation was overwhelmed by economic depression. “Although I like baseball,” Hoover noted in his memoirs, “I kept this engagement only because I felt that my presence at a sporting event might be a gesture of reassurance to a country suffering from a severe attack of ‘jitters.’ ”

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The president may have come to regret his decision. Hoover’s ceremonial first pitch missed Philadelphia catcher Mickey Cochrane but was deftly hauled down by home plate umpire Albert “Dolly” Stark. “I was not able to work up much enthusiasm for the ball game,” Hoover recalled, “and in the midst of it I was handed a note informing me of the sudden death of Senator Dwight Morrow . . . his death was a great loss to the country and to me.”

As Hoover left Shibe Park he received polite applause from the crowd of 32,295, but was also met with “a resounding chorus of boos . . . the president of the United States was accorded the bird, or razzberry.” Many spectators, longing for a repeal of Prohibition, also began chanting “We want beer!” “Perhaps,” columnist Westbrook Pegler mused, “Philadelphia is tired of whiskey and gin.” 5

The Hoovers with Washington Senators star pitcher Walter Johnson on opening day of the baseball season, April 14, 1931.

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One unpleasant game experience was far from enough to diminish Hoover’s enthusiasm for baseball. At a press conference on his 87th birthday in 1961, Hoover said he was “the oldest living baseball fan,” ever since he had started playing the game as a ten-year old in 1884. Asked about the current contest between New York Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, Hoover said: “I am for anybody who can bat a home run—in baseball or anything else.” 6

In retirement at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, Hoover enjoyed watching baseball games on television. He was disappointed when both the Yankees and Mets did not play on August 10, 1964, his 90th birthday. His long-time associate Neil MacNeil observed, “If there were any game being televised either in the afternoon or evening, you could bet he’d be watching,” 7

Footnotes & Resources

  1. Dave Anderson, “Baseball Finance Sets a Gall Standard,” New York Times, February 11, 1990.
  2. http://www.hooverassociation.org/newsevents/hooverball/hooverball_history.php, accessed April 4, 2016; Glen Jeansonne, Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker 1928-1933 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 369, 371.
  3. “Hoover Praises Cubs and Macks,” Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier, October 15, 1929; Damon Runyon, “President Turns Out to be Chicago Rooter,” Springfield (Mass.) Republican, October 15, 1929; “Describes Hoover at Game,” New York Times, October 15, 1929.
  4. Nick Altrock, “Herb on Time,” Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier, October 2, 1930; “Notes on World Series,” Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier, October 2, 1930.
  5. Herbert Hoover, Memoirs, Volume 3: The Great Depression, 1929-1941 (Macmillan, 1951-52), 86, 88; “Hoover Puts Over Wild Pitch,” Washington Post, October 6, 1931; “Hoover Booed by World Series Fans,” Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), October 6, 1931; Westbrook Pegler, “Nimble Umpire Leaps High and Fields President’s Wild Pitch, Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), October 6, 1931.
  6. “Hoover Disputes Idea of Soft U.S.,” Dallas (Texas) Morning News, August 10, 1961.
  7. “Hoover Cheery On Birthday, But Misses Baseball,” Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, August 11, 1964.

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