“To be honest, we didn’t even think about the championship,” Durant said Tuesday night in an interview with the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps. “If we’d gone to the White House, we’d have had the trophy there, we’d have reminisced about what we did in the past. But this was about learning, and inspiring youth, and it was amazing.”
“The White House is a great honor, but there are some other circumstances that we felt uncomfortable going,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said Monday. “We’re not going to politicize anything. We’re going to hang out with some kids, and take them to the African American Museum, and hopefully teach them some things we learned along the way, and life lessons, and hopefully give them some great memories.”
In 1963, the Boston Celtics became the first NBA champions to visit the White House, upon an invitation from President John F. Kennedy, a Massachusetts native. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first Super Bowl champions to be so honored in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter waved a Terrible Towel at a ceremony inside the White House. Eleven years later, the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins broke the ice for the NHL as guests of President George H. W. Bush. As one might guess, the history of White House visits by baseball teams dates back much farther.
On Aug. 30, 1865, President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Washington Nationals and Brooklyn Atlantics, two amateur clubs, into his home. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant, an Ohio native, hosted the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first pro team. And while celebratory visits by championship squads have only become common since the 1980s, the 1924 Washington Senators are generally believed to be the first title-winning professional team to visit the White House. It couldn’t have been more convenient.
“President Coolidge took time off from his official duties yesterday to shake hands with each member of the Nationals to congratulate them on winning their second American league pennant and pose with them for pictures on the White House’s lawn,” The Washington Post reported Sept. 29, 1925, one day after the defending World Series champions clinched their second consecutive American League title with a win over Cleveland. The visit to the White House was actually the second in 13 months for most members of the team.
On Sept. 5, 1924, Coolidge welcomed the team to the White House on an off day. The Senators were up two games on the Yankees in the American League standings and preparing for a three-game set against the Red Sox before embarking on a 20-game road trip to close the regular season. During that visit, Coolidge signed a baseball for Nats pitcher Walter Johnson.
“While President Coolidge has not, perhaps, shown as great a fondness for baseball as some of his predecessors, that he has the welfare of the Nationals at heart was demonstrated yesterday when, at his request, Manager Stanley Harris and the whole team visited the White House,” The Post’s Frank H. Young reported. “The chief executive not only shook hands with all of the players, but told them that he was mighty proud of the showing the Nationals have made to date and was confident they would keep up their good work and return to the Capital in October for the world’s series. Needless to say he was assured by one and all that his hopes in regard to the baseball ‘olympics’ would be fulfilled.”
The Senators kept up the good work, going 14-6 on their road trip and clinching the pennant on the penultimate day of the regular season with a 4-2 win at Boston. Grace Coolidge, a bigger baseball fan than her husband, was the first to receive the news at the White House.
“Immediately after hearing the news, C. Bascom Slemp, secretary to the President, telegraphed his congratulations to Manager ‘Bucky’ Harris,” The Post reported. ” ‘Heartiest congratulations to you and your team for your great work in bringing Washington its first pennant,’ the telegram read. ‘We of Washington are proud of you and behind you. On to the world’s championship.’ ”
After a 13-1 loss in the meaningless regular season finale, the Senators arrived at Union Station by train on the morning of Oct. 1 and were welcomed by hundreds of fans. An estimated crowd of 100,000 lined the parade route that ended at The Ellipse, where Coolidge addressed the team and presented Harris with a silver cup.
“As the head of an enterprise which transacts some business and maintains a considerable staff in this town, I have a double satisfaction in welcoming home the victorious Washington baseball team,” Coolidge said. “First, you bring the laurels from one of the hardest-fought contests in all the history of the national game. Second, I feel hopeful that with this happy result now assured it will be possible for the people of Washington gradually to resume interest in the ordinary concerns of life. So long as we could be satisfied with a prompt report of the score by innings, a reasonable attention to business was still possible. But when the entire population reached the point of requiring the game to be described play by play, I began to doubt whether the highest efficiency was being promoted.”
Coolidge read aloud a telegram he received from Rep. John F. Miller of Seattle after the Nats won the pennant: “Respectfully suggest it is your patriotic duty to call special session of Congress beginning Saturday October 4, so the members of Congress may have an opportunity to sneak out and see Walter Johnson make baseball history. Cannot speak for the New York delegation, but hereby pledge all others to root for Washington and serve without pay or traveling expenses.”
“Mr. Miller has such judgment and his sense of public psychology is so accurate that I do not need to say what party he represents,” Coolidge said of his fellow Republican.
Coolidge attended Games 1, 6 and 7 of the 1924 World Series against the New York Giants at Griffith Stadium. After Washington clinched its only world title with a thrilling 4-3, 12-inning win in the deciding game, Coolidge issued a statement congratulating both teams.
“Of course I am not speaking as an expert or as a historian of baseball, but I do not recollect a more exciting world’s series than that which has finished this afternoon,” he said. “The championship was not won until the twelfth inning of the last game. This shows how evenly the teams were matched. I have only the heartiest of praise to bestow upon the individual players of both teams.”
In 2010, the New York Times reported that the Senators’ 1924 championship prompted “a flood of letters from fans” imploring Coolidge to honor the team, but the Nats weren’t invited back to the White House until 11 months later. Coolidge, who won the 1924 presidential election by a landslide, wasn’t a good-luck charm for the Nats the second time around. Shortly after their 1925 visit to the White House, the team blew a three-games-to-one lead in the World Series against the Pirates.
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