Calvin Coolidge was the only American president (so far) born on the Fourth of July. So what better time to bring some attention to Silent Cal?
Earlier this week, the Washington Nationals announced that the nation's 30th president has been added to the lineup as the sixth Racing President. His first race will be Friday night. He joins a roster that already includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft, who took the field for the first time in 2013.
Baseball is America's national pastime. So naturally the country's presidents have had a close relationship to the game.
Abraham Lincoln had a baseball field, called the White Lot, built on the White House grounds. Chester A. Arthur was the first Chief Executive to welcome a professional team to the White House when the Cleveland Forest Cities from the National Association stopped by on April 13, 1883. And on June 6, 1892, Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting president to attend a Major League game.
But the closest relationship between America's presidents and its national game is the first pitch. William Howard Taft threw out the first presidential first pitch on April 14, 1910, in the first MLB game of the season, between the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics. (Washington won, 3-0.) Taft was a huge baseball fan, attending 14 games during his four years in the White House. Legend has it he created the seventh-inning stretch when he stood up in the middle of the seventh inning during one of those games.
SABR’s 45th annual convention ended Saturday with a range of fabulous opportunities for people who sleep, eat, and breathe baseball.
The day began with an instant highlight: a White Sox player panel, moderated by Dan Migala and featuring former White Sox players Ron Kittle, Carlos May, and Mike Huff. The players shared fun anecdotes about their years together in Chicago. Kittle recalled how satisfying it was to crush a home run off the roof of a stadium. Huff shared memories his first career game appearance, as a defensive replacement, and his first at-bat in the bigs, which was a single. Huff also talked about being asked to mentor Michael Jordan when Jordan briefly played in the White Sox organization. Kittle’s great sense of humor added the kinds of jokes and insights only a player could share. For me, it was great seeing Migala moderate another panel. I loved seeing him talk analytics at the SABR Analytics conference last March.
The 2015 SABR Annual Convention continued Saturday with yet another day filled with hilarious panels and research presentations that were equal parts info-packed and entertaining.
One highlight was a panel featuring two Negro Leagues players, Al Spearman and Ernie Westfield, moderated by SABR Negro Leagues Committee chair member Larry Lester. The three presenters went back and forth sharing stories of what it meant to play in the Negro Leagues and how they battled through adversity along the way. They told the crowd of baseball fans how they feel that if players like speedster Cool Papa Bell and slugger Josh Gibson were given the chance to play in the major leagues with white players, they would have been truly be able to showcase their talents.
On Thursday night, tons of baseball fans in attendance at SABR 45 flocked into the Palmer House Grand Ballroom to see a concert performance by the Baseball Project. The group got together in 2007, and was founded by two members of famous rock band R.E.M.
The group writes and performs songs that are all baseball-themed, such as “Box Scores,” and “Stuff.” In fact, “Stuff” was being debuted at the SABR 45 concert, and this crowd was an appropriate first audience.
Can you guess what “stuff” is? The song title is the nickname used by pitchers for =what they illegally put on the ball to make it move unpredictably, making it more difficult for the batter to hit. This “stuff” can range from Vaseline to pine tar to a thumbtack. Apparently, the members of the group had asked a former major league pitcher how many pitchers doctor the ball like this. They were shocked to hear him estimate that 90 percent of pitchers do just that.
My visit to Chicago for the 2015 SABR Convention couldn’t be complete without a visit to the legendary Wrigley Field for a Cubs game. And on Thursday, I did just that.
To make it extra special, I was lucky enough to go on the field before the game. It was amazing experience to stand on the dirt behind home plate in what many consider the cathedral of MLB stadiums. As my Nikes shifted in the dirt, I could imagine Babe Ruth calling his shot in the 1932 World Series just feet away from where I was standing.
Yesterday was the first official day of the 2015 SABR Convention. Since there was an afternoon ballgame to attend, the morning only featured one panel. It focused on broadcasters, featured current Cubs voices Len Kasper, Ron Coomer, and Jim Deshaies, and was moderated by Curt Smith.
Smith posed many questions to the panelists and got them talking about their favorite Cubs season, Kris Bryant’s arrival to the Windy City, and how previous Chicago broadcaster greats influenced them as professionals and the city of Chicago as a whole. In between their comments, Smith added fun anecdotes of his own that added to the attendees’ enjoyment of the panel.