Atlanta, GA

Jimmy Carter Was a True Baseball Fan

Rabid Braves fan Jimmy Carter invited Hank Aaron to visit him in the White House.Photo byWhite House press office

By Dan Schlossberg Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, loved baseball almost as much as he loved his country. A photogenic politician who vaulted from Governor of Georgia to the White House in 1976, Carter not only attended games in Atlanta as an ardent fan of the Braves but also played soft-pitch softball in his native Plains. He pitched for a team of Secret Service agents, while brother Billy pitched for a team of White House reporters. Braves fan Jimmy Carter, then Governor of Georgia, interrupts an interview by Dan Schlossberg (far left) to greet Hank Aaron in the Atlanta clubhouse in 1973. During the Summer of ‘76, those softball games seemed to attract bigger crowds than the Braves games in downtown Atlanta, Carter once joked. “One of the biggest events in our town’s history was when the entire Braves team came down to visit us,” Carter wrote in the book Turner Field: Rarest of Diamonds. "Mama particularly enjoyed having a long discussion with Bobby Cox about baseball strategy and tactics.” By then, Miss Lillian had become an avid fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to her famous son. That happened after Earl and Lillian, who vacationed in a different major-league city every summer, saw Jackie Robinson play in his rookie year of 1947. “During her final years,” Carter recalled, “she watched or listened to West Coast games on special TV and radio systems and often called Tommy Lasorda personally to criticize his management decisions.” Sorting her belongings after she died, Carter actually found a complete Dodgers uniform in her closet. Carter’s three most memorable moments of Braves baseball occurred several years apart. On April 8, 1974, he witnessed the Hank Aaron home run that broke Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record, then presented him with a new Georgia license plate that read HR 715. In 1992, Carter was present when third-string catcher Francisco Cabrera clouted a two-run, ninth-inning single that won a 3-2 game and gave the Braves the NL pennant over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Four years later, he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day for the Braves as they began their defense of the 1995 World Championship — fulfilling a pledge made by Ted Turner nearly two decades earlier. Despite a winter of practicing the pitch, it was timed at only 48 miles an hour, even slower than a Phil Niekro knuckleball, although it was a perfect strike. Carter’s favorite was the Cabrera game. Pittsburgh was cruising behind Doug Drabek, who nursed a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth in Game 7. But the Braves pushed across three runs, the last crossing in the form of gimpy Sid Bream, the slowest runner in the National League. “To me,” Carter said, “the heart-stopping winning play was typical of the spirit, courage, and ability of the Braves’ teams over the years.” He was right: the Braves of that era won 14 consecutive division titles, a record that remains unchallenged in baseball history. Though beset with economic challenges during his single term in office, the one-time peanut farmer deserves credit for the Camp David Accords, ending years of hostility in the Middle East, and for his subsequent Habit for Humanity home-building project. His smile could light up any room. Jimmy Carter will be missed both by the baseball world and by the world in general. Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ met Jimmy Carter when he was covering Hank Aaron’s home run title chase. Dan now writes for, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Memories & Dreams. His email is

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