To President Richard M. Nixon, “Baseball’s Number One Fan.”
Featured at the Nixon Presidential Library’s “Play Ball: Presidents and Baseball” exhibit is a gift President Nixon received from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie K. Kuhn. On July 22, 1969, the President hosted an all-star baseball reception celebrating the 100th anniversary of baseball in the East Room of the White House prior to the All-Star game to be played at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium the next day.
Speaking to the players that represented the best of Major League Baseball, President Nixon expressed his awe for being in the “presence of people who have made the team and are the champions.”
The President, graced by the presence of such venerable sports men, also took the time to show off his baseball knowledge. He recalled his memories of such teams as the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, who during the World Series of that same year had in Game 4 of the series overcome an 8-0 deficit against the Chicago cubs to win 10-8. That game alone taught the President to never leave in the middle of the game, because you never knew what could happen in baseball.
He recalled, in particular, his memories of the ’31 series where a rookie farm boy from Oklahoma, Pepper Martin stole bases without fail against one of the greatest catchers of all time, Mickey Cochrane. Memories like these made a lasting impression on President Nixon, “because you remember those days more than you remember the present days.”
The President paid tribute to the owners and to the people who helped run the league:
I want to pay tribute too, before going to the players, to the owners and those who run the league and to those who have the toughest job of all. I of course refer to the umpires, and to men like Bowie Kuhn–and I have known many commissioners through the years-who have given to this game in the minds of millions of fans who never see it except on television or hear about it on radio or read about it in the newspapers, have given to it a credibility that is beyond reproach. Baseball is great because anything can happen through the ninth inning. It is great also because everybody knows it is an honest game. And it is great, too, because the men who play it and the men who are in it–and I should say now looking at the owner of the Mets,2 the women who are in it–that as far as baseball is concerned, those who are in baseball are people we can look up to, that our young people look up to. I think that is something we are all very proud of.
And finally, President Nixon paid tribute to those who continued to make baseball the great pastime of American sports, the players:
I want to say to all the baseball players who are here and all of the former baseball players, that I am proud to be in your company. I am one of your fans, and even though I didn’t make the team, I am with you in spirit and I am going to be delighted to meet each and every one of you here today.
At the end of his remarks, Commissioner Kuhn presented President Nixon with a gold trophy inscribed to “Baseball’s Number One Fan.”
I came here today, among other things, to make a presentation to the President, and when you see what the presentation is you will see why I felt it desirable to talk about what a wonderful baseball fan the President is. I had planned to make a somewhat elaborate statement, with the President’s permission, about what a fine fan he is. But I think after what we have heard today, I am not going to say another word. I don’t think another word is necessary to demonstrate to all of us here in this room, indeed to all America, that I have standing at my left America’s number one baseball fan.