“The nation’s number-one baseball fan” – this is how reporter Cliff Evans referred to President Nixon in 1972 and it’s a description he lived up to throughout his life. From attending his first in-person major league baseball game as a young law student in 1936 to his post-presidency work arbitrating the Major League Umpire Association’s labor dispute in 1985, Richard Nixon’s connection to baseball went well beyond the ceremonial first pitch.
As Hall of Fame sportswriter Dick Young put it, “This isn’t a guy that shows up at season openers to take bows and get his picture in the paper and has to have his Secretary of State tell him where first base is. This man knows baseball.” In the 1960s, a group of prominent Major League baseball players even tried to convince Nixon to become the next commissioner of Major League baseball.
In a convergence of politics and baseball, Vice President Nixon became one of Jackie Robinson’s most venerable admirers when he advocated for civil rights as Vice President in the 1950s. During the 1960 campaign, Robinson supported and campaigned for the Nixon-Lodge ticket on grounds that Vice President Nixon had a stronger record on civil rights than Senator John F. Kennedy.
During Nixon’s post-presidential years he wrote personal letters to some of his favorite players including Yankees pitcher Dave Righetti on his Fourth of July no-hitter, which the President witnessed in-person, Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry with words of encouragement on a 1986 hitting slump, and a congratulatory letter to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on his Major League-record seventh no-hitter.
Nixon was genuine in using his love for baseball to connect with the American people. As he expressed in a 1987 New York Mets post-game show interview, “I thought it was a great privilege to throw it [the ceremonial first pitch] out, but what I prefer to do is not go there as a celebrity to throw out the ball and get the cheers or the boos or whatever the politician gets but I like to be in the stands. To be there with the people.”