Presidents on the Bump: A History of Presidential First Pitches

Who would be the ace of a Presidential Pitching Staff?

This is an interesting Presidential election year, so it seems appropriate to turn our non-partisan eyes to some presidential first pitches to see how they fare on the nastiness scale.

Important note: This is *not* political. We respect everybody to have their point of view. Just like professional teams themselves, we will not let politics or emotions get in the way of our unbiased analysis. The only politically relevant note said here will be; Please make sure to VOTE! Don’t care for whom you pull the lever, fill in the circle, or touch the pad, just make sure you do so. Thanks.


The History


Ceremonial first pitches have been around for almost as long as baseball itself. One can find accounts of mayors, famous people, and other important folks throwing the ball into the diamond at the start of the game. For a large part of the 20th century, first pitches weren’t actually thrown from the bump; They were mostly thrown from the stands onto the field, and it wasn’t until 1988 when President Ronald Reagan starting throwing the ball while standing in the field of play.

There are reports of future President William McKinley throwing out a pitch at a minor league game in 1892 (he became President in 1897), but he never threw one while in office. President William Howard Taft actually started the tradition on April 14, 1910. From the stands, he threw the first pitch to Washington Senators’ pitcher Walter Johnson. Given President Taft’s size (300+ lbs), one would also assume he holds the record for most hot dogs eaten at a game by a President, but he actually doesn’t. Who does hold the record? We’ll check back in later with the answer. There is no known footage of Taft’s first pitch, and since GIFs didn’t exist back then I doubt we’ll ever find some.

Since that first Presidential First Pitch, every President has, during his term, thrown at least one pitch on Opening Day, at an All-Star game, or during the World Series. That is, except for President Donald Trump, who has not yet thrown a Presidential First Pitch during his time in office.


The Team


We could spend our time talking about the significance of a President throwing the first pitch, or drown on and on going in-depth on each President himself, but we’re not gonna do that. Instead, in classic Pitcher List style, we’re gonna break em’ down Nastiest Pitches style. That’s right. Not only that, but we’re going to build out a pitching staff as if we’re in the World Series facing the Dodgers or the Rays, complete with a five-man rotation, a bullpen, and a taxi squad just in case any of our guys end up having to quarantine for 14 days during the series.


The Pitching Coach


Franklin D. Roosevelt




KOBE! Yes, I know FDR battled Polio for most of his life, but… I couldn’t help but think this pitch looked more like a three-point shot than a first pitch. It shouldn’t be surprising that the President with the longest tenure, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, has thrown the most Presidential First Pitches at 11. If we include pitches post-presidency, President George W. Bush ties Roosevelt’s mark. He’s not the best athlete, but with his experience throwing out so many pitches, he’s a perfect fit as the coach of the squad. Other notable reasons why he’s the best fit for the job are that he wrote the Green Light letter, which allowed baseball to continue during WWII, and also ended prohibition. Everyone knows that pitchers love chicken and beer – well, FDR would be the perfect player’s coach!


The Rotation


These guys have the best pure stuff of the group. When you need innings in big spots or a guy who can go on short rest, these are the five you want to turn to.


George W. Bush’s Changeup




The GOAT of presidential first pitches is clearly the ace of our staff. Who can forget President George W. Bush’s first pitch in Yankee Stadium after 9/11? It’s the most iconic first pitch in the history of Baseball (yes, more iconic than 50 Cent), and for those of us who remember seeing it live it’s a moment we will never forget. The story goes that Derek Jeter told him he needed to throw it from the mound and that he better throw a strike or else he’d be booed out of the stadium. Well, he sure delivered. Jorge Posada was supposed to be the catcher for the pitch but Roger Clemens wanted extra warm-up time, leaving Todd Greene to be Bush’s batterymate for the pitch.

I would have liked to see a little more pronation of the forearm to get some of that Devin Williams style nastiness, but Williams doesn’t wear a bulletproof vest on the mound so we’ll give W a pass.

W. actually holds a few Presidential First Pitch milestones. He was the first President to throw an opening day pitch in Cincinnati (2006), the traditional home of the first baseball game of the season. He also holds a distinction with President Warren G. Harding; they have both thrown out Presidential First Pitches AND owned baseball teams prior to their terms. Albeit, President Harding owned a minor league team in Ohio while President Bush owned the Texas Rangers.


Donald Trump’s Fastball




The only sitting president to have not thrown a pitch while in office since President Taft, Private Citizen Trump actually threw this pitch in 2004. We’re going to cheat a bit and include it anyway because the pitch itself is actually rather impressive. Sure, his short-arm mechanics lead to the pitch bouncing short of the plate, but he puts some oomph into it and we get some nice floof out of his iconic hair as a result. I would have liked to see him take a pause once he toed the rubber, maybe take an extra breath or two, and get some more extension in that arm. Otherwise, it’s a solid pitch. Huge props to the catcher for the great frame, he almost fools us into thinking it’s a strike. Okay, not really.

In typical Trump fashion, he actually landed his helicopter in center field prior to throwing out his pitch, and as far as we know he is the only human being to ever accomplish that feat. Exit polls won’t factor this in!




Jimmy Carter’s Slider




President Jimmy Carter pushed it to the limit, waiting until Game 7 of the 1979 World Series to throw out his only Presidential First Pitch while in office. President Carter and President Trump are the only presidents since President Taft to have not thrown an Opening Day first pitch. We couldn’t find footage of President Carter’s Game Seven pitch, though here is one he threw in Atlanta in 1995. Do 72-year-old former Presidents get the high strike call? Given the calls other Atlanta pitcher’s got that year, we are sure he would have.

He’s actually got pretty good form and gets good extension with his arm, drives his body off the rubber, and gets it to home plate with ease. There’s even a hint of right-to-left movement, and I’m guessing he tried his best to impersonate a Gerrit Cole slider here. I’d feel pretty good with JC starting Game 3 of the World Series.


Gerald Ford’s Fastballs




President Gerald Ford threw two Presidential First Pitches at the 1976 All-Star Game, one with his left hand and one with his right. He and President Harry Truman are the only two Presidents to throw a Presidential First Pitch with each of their hands, making them the only ambidextrous Presidential First Pitches to date. Should former Vice President Joe Biden win the election this year, there is no word on the status of his ambidexterity.

The last ambidextrous pitcher in the MLB was Pat Venditte, but Ford could give him a run for his money. He delivers two perfect strikes from the modified Presidential rubber and, as our #4 starter, he should be able to pitch on short rest basically whenever we need him. In a World Series, he becomes super valuable, so long as he keeps slinging this heat.


Lyndon B. Johnson’s Curveball




Here’s a guy who has thrown a baseball before! President Lyndon B. Johnson is the president that bested President Taft in the eating department, eating four hot dogs after throwing out a Presidential First Pitch in 1964. It is unknown what condiments were on the dogs, or if he dipped them in his drink a la Joey Chestnut.

This pitch from 1965 shows some solid arm action and a good amount of vertical drop. Given that he’s our 5th starter, he’ll likely remain in a relief role during our playoff run which should work well for a guy who’s likely got a killer fastball to go along with this deadly 12-6 filth.


The Bullpen


Since we don’t have a true lefty in our rotation, we’ve gotta carry a bunch of them in the ‘pen. Luckily for us, we have plenty of options to choose from.


Barack Obama’s Curveball




President Obama is actually the last sitting President to throw a Presidential First Pitch, as all of the pitches thrown since 2010 have been by the Bush duo. Obama’s pitch on April 5, 2010 was to celebrate 100 years of Presidential First Pitches. To bookend it properly, it was at a Washington Nationals game, just like the first one by President Taft. This pitch is from 2009, and it’s both impressive and cringey at the same time. The jog? Really Barack? I thought this guy was an athlete? I hope he doesn’t have to cover first anytime soon. This is probably the goofiest looking Presidential First Pitch in history, but there’s no denying that this curveball would strike out plenty of batters. Obama is a smart guy, and with that filthy breaking stuff, I’m sure he’d be a quick adopter of the Blake Snell Blueprint. And since he’s in our ‘pen, we won’t be disappointed when he only lasts three innings.


Bill Clinton’s Eephus




President Bill Clinton is a perfect fit for this team as long as our uniforms aren’t blue, otherwise, things could get messy. He’d be the perfect guy to bring in after Trump’s heat. Clinton’s five Presidential First Pitches took place in four cities; Baltimore (2), Cleveland, New York, and San Francisco. In 1994, he helped open the new Jacobs (now Progressive) Field. He threw his pitch alongside Ohio Governor George Voinovich and Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller. President Clinton managed to throw the only strike. Yep, President Clinton, on opening day, outperformed the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter on an Opening Day.


Herbert Hoover’s Slider




President Herbert Hoover totaled eight Presidential First Pitches; six while in office and two additional ones, in 1959 and 1961, for the New York Yankees Old-Timer’s Game. He gives it a good effort in this 1931 pitch, and with his Presidential First Pitch volume, I’d feel confident throwing him out there for the three-batter minimum. It’s a shame this pitch didn’t fix the Great Depression, though.


Harry Truman’s Changeup




The only other ambidextrous hurler on our squad, President Truman is yet another southpaw in our loaded bullpen. He’d be extremely intimidating to hitters given his track record in office; if Cody Bellinger hit a bomb off him, he’d be sure to drop one right back on Bellinger, and that’s not a bomb anyone wants to see ever again.


John F. Kennedy’s Curveball




One thing that keeps sticking out in these old pitches is that the players are trying to catch the ball as if it’s a bunch of bridesmaids trying to catch the bouquet at a wedding. President John F. Kennedy looks like he’s thrown a ball once or twice in his life, and he’s smart to lob this one in there so as to not throw out his arm. I can see middle relief written all over him.


Calvin Coolidge’s Fastball




President Calvin Coolidge was not much of a baseball fan, but he did throw out six Presidential First Pitches during his time in office. His wife was actually a baseball fan and she would keep score during games. “Silent Cal” makes a great addition to the back end of the bullpen based on the name alone. There is a story that alleges that Coolidge was so quiet at a dinner once, that an attendee said to him “Mr. President, I bet I can make you say more than two words.” Cal replied, “You lose.” And sure enough, she did lose the bet. If he could come in and silence bats in the 8th inning, I’m all for Calvin Coolidge winning the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award.


George H.W. Bush’s Fastball




Following Reagan, President George H. W. Bush wasn’t an actor but did play baseball for Yale, with his teams twice making the College World Series. In 1989 he made the first official Presidential First Pitch from the mound, sporting his first baseman’s mitt from 1948 when he was the Yale Team Captain. We should remember here that he was throwing with a bulletproof vest on. Then again so does every President when they were on the bump. We can certainly see why Yale had him at first base.

Despite the errant throw, H.W. would be the closer for our squad simply due to his baseball past. He’s got good form, good velocity, and at 6-foot-2 he’s one of the tallest presidents in history. Tall pitchers generally have nasty stuff, so Bush has the measurables in place. Coach him up a bit and we’ve got a scary back end to our ‘pen.


The Taxi Squad


These guys simply aren’t up to snuff. They’re either disinterested, have terrible form, or simply unathletic. Luckily for us, they’re paid to keep us out of nuclear war, not throw a baseball, so at least they’ve all succeeded in one way or another.


Woodrow Wilson’s Changeup




The first known footage of a Presidential First Pitch is this clip of President Woodrow Wilson. This took place at National Park, home of the Washington Senators, on opening day in 1915. It’s among the worst we’ve ever seen, and there’s a clear lack of effort on the President’s part. Given Wilson’s… umm… troubled history, I don’t think we’d want to root for a team that he’s a part of, so he’s an easy demotion to our taxi squad.


Richard Nixon’s Fastball




President Richard Nixon wanted the Presidential Seal placed on his box area for one of his Presidential First Pitches. The seal had the word President spelled incorrectly. Seems fitting given his scandalous tenure in office. This pitch is very curiously cut, and I’m not entirely believing that he threw a perfect pitch with that monstrosity of a windup. Has Nixon ever thrown a ball in his life? Going full windmill with a Charles Barkley-esque hesitation seems like a terrible way to throw a baseball. This has five-run inning written all over it.


Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Fastball




President Dwight D. Eisenhower actually brought his glove to the ballpark for this Presidential First Pitch, but the form is not very good. I really would have liked to see what these guys could have done had they been given the chance to pitch from the rubber, but I don’t think Ike would have done much better even with that chance. Eisenhower threw out seven Presidential First Pitches in his day, so he was at least good enough to keep getting asked to do it again, but for our purposes, I wouldn’t want him facing off against a guy like Randy Arozarena.


Ronald Reagan’s Changeup




As we mentioned earlier, this was the first-ever Presidential First Pitch from the field of play. It’s not a great one, but President Reagan was never a baseball player – he only played one in a movie. In 1952, he starred in the movie “The Winning Way” as pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. He also once played a role in a movie calling a Cubs game as a Des Moines sportscaster. Clearly, neither role helped him actually learn how to throw a strike.

President Reagan has a good windup and some good energy, but the execution looks more like Aroldis Chapman throwing at the head of Mike Brosseau. Ronnie, you better hope you don’t face Mike in these playoffs, or else he’s gonna take you deep. I would say President Reagan’s 1952 and 1988 performance show why he left acting to become a horse riding civil servant.


The Finale




We already established that President Bush Sr. is the closer of our squad, and this is a big reason why. H.W. and son are a part of the most recent Presidential First Pitch, which took place during the 2017 World Series. Bush Sr. would pass nearly a year later, and this was one of his final public appearances before his health took a turn for the worse. It was his son who technically threw this pitch (for a strike, no less), but Sr. was close by and even went on to give the “Play Ball!” call. Is it just getting too hard to schedule a Presidential First Pitch or has the cultural significance of baseball eroding to the point of first pitch apathy? We hope not, but if the last Presidential First Pitch is a father and son sharing baseball together, we can live with that. Rest in peace, H.W.



Mat Kovach

Despite being an Indians fan in the late 70's I grew to love baseball. I started throwing spitballs when I was 10 and have been fascinated with competitive shenanigans in baseball ever since.

One response to “Presidents on the Bump: A History of Presidential First Pitches”

  1. Benny the Jet says:

    I’m truly amazed at how many of these guys have zero clue how to throw a ball. Huge props to GW Bush for actually looking like he had an ounce of athletic ability.

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