President Obama made his first ceremonial pitch as President last night in St. Louis at the 2009 MLB All-Star Game. He received some boos from the Cardinals faithful and has received some mixed reviews on his pitching motion. So where does his throw rank in the annals of Presidential tosses? Check out this completely unscientific ranking to find out.
10. George H.W. Bush, 1986 (NLCS, New York Mets vs. Houston Astros)
He wasn't President yet, but this was a ceremonial pitch so bad that it composed the entire first chapter of Richard Ben Cramer's "What It Takes." The ball went about only 55 feet before weakly dribbling in the dirt. It didn't cost Bush, who was team captain of his baseball team at Yale, the 1988 election, but it sure didn't help with his "wimpy" image at the time.
9. Warren G. Harding, 1921 (New York Yankees vs. Washington Senators.
Harding's toss, his first as President, ended with a Senators' loss, the first time they had done so with a President throwing out the first pitch. A fitting start to what is considered to be easily one of the worst Presidencies of all time.
8. Richard Nixon, 1973 (Kansas City Royals vs. California Angels)
As the drama of Watergate was just beginning to unfold, Nixon appropriately took the ceremony of the opening day first pitch outside the Beltway to his home state of California and became the first president to make the first pitch outside of Washington, D.C. He could have saved the American taxpayer a lot of money in congressional hearings and a little money in airplane fuel by staying there.
7. Barack Obama, 2009 (All-Star Game)
Mr. President, I hate to say it, but that throw was the weakest thing I've seen since you made the mistake of stepping inside a bowling alley. Yes, as ESPN.com's Bill Simmons wrote on his Twitter, you were probably "wearing a bulletproof vest the size of Dustin Pedroia." But no President should ever repeat the mistakes of Oct. 8, 1986 (the elder Bush's awful toss which was, in part, hurt by the bulletproof vest and jacket he was wearing). Without assists from Albert Pujols and the cameraman, it would have been even worse. However, you do get extra points for repping Southside baseball in the heart of Card Country. Now stop trying to prove to Joe Sixpack that you're cool and get to fixing this economy already.
6. Gerald Ford, 1976 (All-Star Game)
On the year of the nation's bicentennial, the former University of Michigan football player Ford, as Obama did 33 years later, threw out the first pitch at the Midsummer Classic. Two actually. One to Johnny Bench and one to Thurman Munson. It was a minor miracle that no one was killed, and that's good enough to merit placement on this list.
5. Bill Clinton, 1993 (Texas Rangers vs. Baltimore Orioles)
In what might have been the highlight of his first year serving as Commander-In-Chief, Clinton was the first President to successfully get the ball from the pitcher's mound to the catcher at home. Then again, no one ever accused the 42nd President of not having the stuff to make it to home plate. Clinton also showed remarkable candor given his troubles at the time. According to writer Steve Wulf, who covered the first pitch for Sports Illustrated, someone yelled at Clinton, "Are you going to play today, Mr. President?" Clinton responded, "I've taken enough positions this week."
4. Ronald Reagan, 1988 (Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs)
This was the last ceremonial pitch for the Gip as President. He wasn't a ballplayer, but he played one in the movies (Cubs pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander). Reagan, who was born in nearby Tampico, grew up in Dixon and broadcast Cubs games for an Iowa radio station early in his career, sat in with the announcing booth for one-and-a-half innings after his pitch. The nation's grandfatherly President had come home. Politics aside, isn't that what baseball is all about?
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 (Boston Red Sox vs. Senators)
Yes, his throw was errant, but it ended up hitting a Washington Post camera. Shades of Roy Hobbs shattering the press box with a foul liner in "The Natural," Mox hitting the mascot with the football in "Varsity Blues," and Kenny Powers taking out Reg Mackworthy's eye in "Eastbound & Down." Tip of the fedora, Mr. President.
2. William Howard Taft, 1910 (Philadelphia Athletics vs. Senators)
The pitch that started the whole tradition has to be pretty high up on the list, right? Taft was also known to be a huge (in every sense) baseball fan, being the first President to watch a game outside of Washington and attending 14 games during his Presidency. His spectating and eating remain an inspiration to sports fans the country over to this day. Besides, as any Yankees fan from the David Wells era can tell you, one of life's most sublime pleasures is watching a fat man throw a baseball. I only wish there were video.
1. George W. Bush (2001 World Series, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Yankees)
Well, he's got to be at the top of some list, right? From the AP report at the time: "Bush received a thunderous cheer as he strode to the mound from the Yankees' dugout, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with 'FDNY,' a tribute to the New York City Fire Department. He stood on the pitcher's mound and scanned the upper reaches of a sellout crowd of more than 57,000, then gave a thumbs-up sign. With flashbulbs popping and dozens of flags waving, Bush lingered on the mound for a moment, seeming to relish the moment. Then, with a quick windup, he threw the ball just off the center of the plate, a strike, to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene, and walked off the mound to chants of 'U-S-A, U-S-A.'"
In Texas, they call that pitchin'. If you don't get chills every time after reading, hearing or watching this, I'm not sure you're really a baseball fan OR an American. For a city and nation shaken by terrorism a month earlier, in the midst of quite possibly the best World Series ever played, it was an undeniably great moment (even if such moments would be scarce in the subsequent years of Mr. Bush's Presidency). Maybe a pitch by itself isn't enough to get a country back on its feet, but isn't it pretty to think so?