The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No, President Trump did not just break a 100-year-old first-pitch tradition

President Trump, will not appear at Nats Park next week. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/pool)

When news broke Tuesday morning that President Trump might throw out the first pitch at next week’s Nationals home opener, a great many local Trump opponents reacted with dismay. Some said they would boycott the opener. Others wrote directly to the Nats to object. Some fans said this would overshadow the game, or overshadow the pregame honors for Max Scherzer, or inappropriately insert politics into sport. Still others said they would start saving their voices to ensure maximally loud boos.

Within a few hours, the White House let it be known that Trump would not, in fact, throw out the first pitch at next week’s Nats home opener. And then the criticism changed: “How could Trump dishonor a 100-year old baseball tradition like this,” many people asked. (Just look at my Twitter feed, where this complaint has poured in for 24 hours.)

Well, I hereby give this narrative four Bruce Allens. It isn’t true. It’s news that is fake. Trump is not breaking a 100-year-old baseball tradition.

Trump declines Nationals’ invitation to throw out first pitch on Opening Day

This is a mostly nonpolitical space, and I’d like to respect that, but let’s not just ignore history. Please recall: In 2009, then-President Obama was invited to throw out the first pitch before the Nats home opener against the Phillies, a game everyone from Philadelphia was also invited to attend. Obama declined. From The Post:

President Obama has turned down an invitation to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the home opener of the Washington Nationals against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said today that Obama, who returned from an eight-day overseas trip this week and is planning to leave for Mexico and Trinidad next week, would not be doing the honors.

Military members instead did the honors at Nats Park that year, while The Post reported that the only prominent member of the administration in attendance was Jill Biden. Vice President Biden did throw out the first pitch for the Orioles at their home opener that month, but I don’t think the tradition everyone is so worked up about involves vice presidents visiting Baltimore. And Obama — wearing a White Sox cap — did throw out the first pitch for the Nats the following year. Still, if the inviolable tradition is “the president must throw out the first pitch at the Nats home opener at some point during his term,” then Trump clearly has not broken it just yet.

(So long as his term continues until next April, I guess. No, that question will not be debated here. Nonpolitical space, remember?)

Obama, in fact, only threw out one Nats first pitch during his eight years in office. His predecessor, George W. Bush — who also happened to be a former baseball team owner — threw out all sorts of first pitches, including in Washington. But after his 2005 pitch at RFK Stadium, he didn’t bless the Nats again until 2008, when the new stadium opened.

“It’s not possible with his schedule,” a spokeswoman said in 2007, when Bush was invited but declined. “He’s got various meetings during the day, a meeting earlier in the morning. … It just wasn’t going to work out.”

The Post noted in 2007 that Bush’s absence “was the last item in a little roundup story from Nats spring training camp. No one thought it was a big deal.” And The Post also noted that while presidential first pitches had once been an annual tradition in Washington, they would likely be more irregular events in the 21st century.

Is the Nationals’ window to win a World Series closing? It depends who you ask.

Heck, they were already irregular by the end of the last century. Bill Clinton did first-pitch honors several times, including in Baltimore. Ditto for the elder George Bush. But Ronald Reagan, according to Baseball Almanac, did not throw out a first pitch until April 1984 — his fourth chance. (He was scheduled to throw out a first pitch in 1981, but was sidelined by injuries suffered in an assassination attempt.) Jimmy Carter, according to the site, never threw out a first pitch while in office.

And before that, of course, baseball was gone from Washington for decades. In fact, the last president to throw out a first pitch in Washington in his first post-election spring was Richard Nixon — in 1969. That was 48 years ago! That’s almost half the length of this supposed 100-year-old tradition!

So the best way to quickly summarize this: President Trump on Monday is not doing something that presidents have occasionally done. And yet…

SB Nation: “President Donald Trump declines to throw Nationals first pitch, breaking century-old tradition.”

Yahoo: “Trump breaks 107-year-old Opening Day first pitch presidential tradition” “President Donald Trump is breaking with a 107-year tradition by declining to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day.” “President Trump will not throw out the first pitch on Monday at the Washington Nationals’ home opener, becoming only the second U.S. president in 107 years to skip what has become an American ritual.”

Marie Claire:

CBC Sports:

Daily Wire: “There is speculation that Trump may have refused the offer because he might get booed, since the tradition has been kept by presidents for over 100 years.”

Sheesh. Please put such concerns about baseball history to bed. If Trump leaves office without ever having thrown an Opening Day first pitch? Then feel free to mourn baseball’s poor neglected traditions. In the meantime, let’s all agree about this: The next time a president throws a first pitch in Washington, no one will write about it as wonderfully as The Washington Post did the first time that happened.

Here’s the start of that story from 1910:

Such a sun-kissed, victory-blessed, roaring, rollicking, rousing Opening Day for the Nationals.
Scan all the annals of Washington baseball as you will — go back to the very inception of the national game — there will be found no day so altogether glorious, no paean of victory chanted by rooters and fanatics half so sweet as that witnessed yesterday in honor of the opening of the season of 1910.
Walter Johnson and President Taft were the twinkling luminaries of the day — the “star performers,” if you will — placing administrative sanction upon the auspicious union of official Washington and baseballistic Washington for the coming summer.

Annual paeans of victory? That sounds like a 107-year old tradition worth keeping.