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Taft legacy went far beyond tub

For The Madera Tribune

Former U.S. President William Taft.


History has not been very friendly to William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United States. Today he is best remembered for getting stuck in the White House bathtub. A serious look at Taft, however, reveals that he left much more of a legacy for Americans than his dilemma in the lavatory. His love affair with professional baseball gave the nation two traditions that should have overshadowed his weight problem.

President Taft’s favorite major league team was the Washington Senators. That’s why he was at Griffith Stadium on April 14, 1910. Taft’s team was playing the Philadelphia Athletics, so the President slipped away from his desk to attend the game. As things turned out, he changed baseball forever.

As the game was about to begin, umpire Billy Evans walked over to the President’s box and handed Taft a baseball with the request that he throw it over home plate. With great relish, the President threw the ball to the catcher, and since that time, every United States President except Jimmy Carter has started a baseball season by throwing out the first ball at the first game. This, however, was just the beginning. Before Taft left the ballpark that day he established yet another baseball tradition.

As the game wore on, the President grew increasingly uneasy in his tiny wooden chair. Finally, he could bear it no longer. Seeking some relief, he stood up to stretch, and thinking that he was preparing to leave, the spectators rose to their feet to show their respect. When Taft returned to his seat to watch the conclusion of the game, the people did the same.

The next day, as the newspapers recorded both the “opening pitch” by the President and his prolonged stretch, which had occurred in the seventh inning, baseball promoters immediately saw an opportunity. If it was good for the President, it was good for the game, so in a popular twist in time, baseball fans still take a seventh inning stretch, and the President still throws out the first pitch. It’s too bad William Howard Taft doesn’t get credit for setting these precedents. Perhaps then folks would forget about his private-privy experience.

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