Washington, DC

Presidential Ceremonial First Pitches


President John F. Kennedy, in office less than three months, throws out the first pitch of the 1961 baseball season.Photo byRobert L. Knudsen

By Andrew C. Sharp

On March 30 at Nationals Park, we’ll find out if Joe Biden joins the list of Presidents who have opened the baseball season with a ceremonial first pitch. The tradition stretches back over a century.

On April 14, 1910, President William Howard Taft took a seat in the wooden stands of the ballpark that preceded what later became known as Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. After a bell rang, Taft got up and threw out a ceremonial pitch at the Senators’ home opener. Later in the same game, Taft rose from his seat, giving his ample body a comfortable stretch.  Following the president, the crowd stood too, and the Seventh Inning Stretch was born. Or so the story goes. 

Taft had attended a mid-season Senators game in 1909 and tossed another Opening Day pitch in 1911. He missed 1912 because a close adviser had died in the sinking of the Titanic days before.

Clark Griffith, in his first year as manager in Washington and the team’s largest stockholder, recognized the value of having a president attend Senators’ games. Midway through 1912, Griffith asked Taft if he’d throw out a ceremonial pitch again. The president, seeking re-election, gladly did. The Senators finished second that season, but Taft finished third in the fall presidential contest.

Before the start of the 1913 season, Griffith persuaded the new president, Woodrow Wilson, to follow Taft’s example and attend the opener to make the ceremonial pitch. Griffith soon would establish a presidential box behind the third-base dugout. He began going to the White House with great fanfare before each season to personally present the president with a golden pass.

Every president who followed Taft and Wilson threw out one or more season-opening pitches in D.C. as long as an American League team remained there, although the Senators opened several times on the road.

Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the record for most presidential first pitches. He went eight-for-nine beginning in 1933, his first year in office. He missed only 1939, when the Senators opened in Philadelphia. During his term, he also threw out the first pitch at World Series games in 1933 (the last for the Senators) and 1936 and at the 1937 All-Star Game, held in Washington.

“I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat,” Roosevelt told his fellow Americans in a 1933 radio speech. “What I seek is the highest possible batting average, not only for myself, but for my team.”

President Dwight D, Eisenhower tossed out seven opening-day pitches. The World War II hero grew up playing baseball and was a solid player. Eisenhower admitted years later that while he was at West Point he had been paid to play semi-professional baseball one summer under an assumed name. 

The original American League Senators left for Minnesota after 1960, but the presidential openers remained in D.C. The expansion team had Opening Day in the A.L. to itself for 10 of the 11 seasons it remained in Washington, 1965 being the exception. Three other A.L. teams played that day.

John F. Kennedy was the last president to throw out a first pitch at Griffith Stadium -- for the expansion franchise in 1961. He did the same at the first game in the new D.C. Stadium and again on April 8, 1963 (I was in the crowd).

In 1969, at the renamed Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Richard M. Nixon was the last president to make a season-opening pitch in D.C. for an A.L. game. Nixon threw ceremonial pitches to members of each team to start the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, the first ever played at night.

With the expansion Senators having left for Texas, Nixon threw out a first pitch on the Left Coast in April 1973, before an Angels’ game in Anaheim. The first-pitch practice continued off and on (mostly off) with Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton doing it at least once in various locations.

When baseball returned to Washington in 2005, so did the Presidential Opener, albeit after the new Nationals’ first road trip.

President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch – from the mound, unlike all the throws at the Senators’ openers at Griffith and RFK stadiums. Bush also did it in 2008 for the first game at brand-new Nationals Park. As a former owner of the Rangers, Bush clearly knew the game. He has thrown out numerous ceremonial first pitches at different ballparks both before and after he was president.

On the 100th anniversary of Taft’s first pitch, Barack Obama did the honors from the field at Nationals Park on Opening Day in 2010. Although he wore a Nationals warmup jacket, he didn't hide his true allegiance: he wore a White Sox cap.

Donald Trump didn’t throw out an Opening Day first pitch, although he had thrown out a first pitch at a Red Sox game in 2006 at Fenway Park. Trump’s one appearance as president at Nationals Park came in Game 5 of the 2019 World Series. Many in the crowd booed when Trump’s image appeared on the video board.

Biden didn’t throw out a season-opening pitch in 2021 or 2022. As vice president, he did it on Opening Day in 2009 at Baltimore’s Orioles Park at Camden Yards.

Andrew C. Sharp is a retired daily newspaper journalist and a SABR member who has written several dozen BioProject essays and Games Project stories as well as the team ownership histories of the original and expansion A.L. franchises. He blogs about D.C baseball at WashingtonBaseballHistory.com

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