Baseball and Presidents

For a frivolous interlude, some random musings on baseball’s connections to presidents.

Of course, presidents have been known to throw out ceremonial first pitches on Opening Day and, more recently, at All-Star games. And, one president has been credited with inadvertently instituting the tradition of the seventh-inning stretch. But, there are more connections than that.

Some musings after the jump.

Let’s start with namesakes. You’re probably thinking I’ll be stumped with Barack Obama. Not quite – just takes a little imagination. To wit, I give you the tandem of Marv Rackley and Bama Rowell. Both were National Leaguers whose careers overlapped slightly, most relevantly on Opening Day, 1947, when both appeared in Rackley’s career debut, which was, more famously, also the career debut of one Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Some more namesakes:

How many more can you get?

It’s been said that Democrats win the White House when the NL wins the World Series, and Republicans win when the AL wins the series. Actually, that has held for the past four elections, in all but one election from 1940 to 1976, and in all three of the 1920s election. The one notable departure was the Reagan/GH Bush/Clinton period. Here’s the table.



Any other patterns that anyone can divine?

Finally, HOFer Jim Bunning has been famously successful in both baseball and politics. Any others that anyone is aware of? Or, any others that you think would make (or would have made) good politicians?



Baseball and Presidents — 78 Comments

  1. Vinegar Bend Mizell served in the House of Representatives from NC. Not a HOFer, but won 13 games three times and 14 twice over seven years. Was 13-5 for Pittsburgh in 1960, but got bombed by the Yankees in the Series.

      • John Tener is a lot more interesting than just a short time player and one term congressman. He was mostly a pitcher (61 games), but hit well enough to play another 14 games in the field. Not that he did either very well. He lasted only one term in the House because he had been elected governor of PA, in 1910. Before the end of his term in the state house he also became the National League President. (1914-1918) While most of his life was in and around Pittsburgh, he later held an executive position with the Phillies.

  2. I put Ulysses into the search engine at just to see how many players were named after our 18th president post Civil War.

    The first name listed is probably the most interesting: Ulysses Franklin Grant, Born August 1, 1865 (Lee surrendered to Grant in April, 1865). Born in Pittsfield, MA. According to his HOF plaque, he is considered the greatest black baseball player of the 19th century.

    Of course there was also Ulysses Simpson Grant McGlynn (known as Stoney McGlynn). Born in 1872 (during Grant’s 1st term) in Lancaster, PA. Pitched for the Cardinals from 1906-1908.

    And a guy with maybe the most funny nickname (looking back) ever. Lil Stoner, whose real name was Ulysses Simpson Grant Stoner, who mostly pitched for the Tigers in the 20s. He wasn’t born until 1899 and in, of all places, Bowie, Texas (is there a cavalry post there or were his parents just carpetbaggers??)

    There were a couple others, but those are the most interesting

  3. Putting in Abraham Lincoln as a search returns:

    Abraham Lincoln Bailey (aka Sweetbread Bailey). Born 1895 in Joliet, IL. Played for the Cubs post WWI.

    Abraham Lincoln Wade (aka Ham Wade). Born 1879 in Spring City, PA. Pitched one game for the Giants in 1907.

    Abraham Lincoln Wolstenhome. Born March 4, 1861 (the 16th President was inaugurated on that very same day) in Philadelphia, PA. Had 11 At bats for the Philadelphia Quakers of the NL in 1883.

  4. Assuming I counted correctly, nineteen players have had the first name George and the middle name Washington. The only one to make an All-Star team was George Washington Case. Case made two all-star teams, drew MVP votes in four seasons, scored over 100 runs 4 times, and led the league in stolen bases 6 times (also caught stealing 4 times).

  5. Former AL pitcher from the 40s and 50s Tommy Byrne was mayor of Wake Forest, NC from 1973 to 1987. He led the league in walks 3 times and in hit-batsmen five times. He holds the record for most walks in a game with 16. On the credit side in 1955 he was the only LH pitcher with a complete game against the Dodgers (WS game 2).

  6. Actually using most presidents’ full names as a search at picks up at least one player for almost everyone.(OK, not everyone, no Millard Fillmore namesakes, however, there are two players named after Franklin Pierce) Interesting enough, Theodore Roosevelt only came back with one hit, and it was a recent player. Ted Lilly’s full name is Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.

    • Tennessee native Tommy Bridges has two presidents’ names in his moniker, Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges. The Davis, though, is from his mother’s family name, not in tribute to Jefferson Davis.

      In the SABR Bio of Tommy Bridges, it mentions that Billy Rogell was a Detroit city concilman in the early 1950s.

    • Franklin Roosevelt also had just one hit, FDR Weiand, better known as Ted (what else?) Weiand, a pitcher for the 1958 and 1960 Reds. Total of 6.1 IP, with 3 HR allowed.

      At least the homers were memorable – one was a grand slam by Jimmie Coker with a tie score in the 8th inning; another was a walk-off 2-run job good for a cool 0.910 WPA for Bob Skinner, as the Bucs scored 6 in the 9th for a 6-5 win.

    • And of course, former President GHW Bush played first base for Yale, where his head coach was Smokey Joe Wood who played MLB when Wood(row) Wilson was President.

      • Not on point, but in a book Larry Ritter published there’s a photo of Babe Ruth, two months before his death, presenting a copy of his autobiography to the Yale captain and future president. (Tried in vain to twist this into some coincidence of presidential names, but it’s hard to argue they were both named after Washington . . .)

  7. Martin Van Buren Walker started one game for the’28 Phillies. He faced either 5 or 6 batters (his player page says 6 but the box score says 5) and failed to retire a single one. He walked 3 and gave up 2 hits, allowing 4 runs, 2 of which were earned. That’s the only game he ever pitched in.

    • About as effective as his namesake president who, like Herbert Hoover, was adamant that, depression notwitshstanding, businessmen should solve their own problems. Van Buren and Hoover suffered the same fate when seeking re-election.

  8. And I tried the currency people who aren’t presidents. Benjamin Franklin has several namesakes, the best player of them was Benjamin Franklin Houser, a dead ball era 1st baseman for the Braves. As for Alexander Hamilton, as far as I could tell, he doesn’t have any namesakes.

  9. Of course the all time named after a president has to be Cal McLish aka Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish. Yes, that really was his full name.

  10. Doug…you’ve been on fire this week. Thanks for keepin us busy with something good to read.

    I’ve got to admit, I’m as liberal-blue as you can get, but George W. Bush’s ceremonial first pitch (the one I always see shown on TV) was a rocket. He even nailed the delivery. Best presidential arm ever?

    Other notable sports figures to be politicians: Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent, ex-Redskins QB Heath Shuler and basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley.

  11. During Steve Garvey’s career, there was a lot of talk about him going into politics after his baseball career…but then his ex-wife wrote that tell-all book…

  12. Walter Johnson, whose father-in-law was a member of Congress, ran for a seat in Maryland in 1940 but lost.

    “Joseph W. Martin, Jr., before he was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955, recruited Johnson to run for Congress. “He was an utterly inexperienced speaker,” Martin later said. “I got some of my boys to write two master speeches for him – one for the farmers of his district and the other for the industrial areas. Alas, he got the two confused. He addressed the farmers on industrial problems, and the businessmen on farm problems.”.””

  13. Some others I’ve found not yet mentioned:

    HOFer Ben Taylor’s full name was Benjamin Harrison Taylor. He was a Negro Leaguer, so he isn’t very well-known, but his HOF profile describes him as “a productive lefty-swinging, line-drive hitter who regularly batted over .300. His leadership skills were such that he eventually became a well-regarded player-manager. Renowned for his teaching abilities, Taylor was instrumental in the development of Hall of Famer Buck Leonard.”

    There have been at least 7 minor leagues named John Adams, although the closest John Adams in the Majors is 1910s catcher Bert Adams (full name John Bertram Adams), although Bert had a particularly awful career with the Indians and Phillies.

    4 namesakes of “Father of the Constitution” James Madison have played in the majors.

    5 Andrew Jackson namesakes have played in MLB, although interestingly they all preferred to be known as “Andy”.

    Finally, current Indians pitcher Zach McAllister’s full name is Zachary Taylor McAllister.

  14. George P. Bush played for Nashua in 1902. No, not the son of the govenor of Florida.

    Gerald Ford (R-MI) was born Leslie King; Leslie Kingston Burke played for Detroit in the 1920s.

    Calvin Coolidge Ermer (b. 1923) managed the Twins in the late 1960s.

    And Tommy Bridges, who pitched for the Tigers in 4 World Series in the 1930s-40s, was Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges, taking in two presidents (if you recognize the Confederacy).

  15. Sorry to get off baseball, but let me mention Gerald Ford who played
    center for the University of Michigan football team.

    He was also a pretty good golfer.

    The reason I mention him is that he took a pounding from Chevy Chase the
    first season of SNL.

    Chase portrayed him as a someone who had difficulties walking.

    The truth is that he was a great athlete.

  16. Ronald Reagan broadcast Chicago Cubs games from a studio in Des Moines, Iowa.

    He would receive telegraph updates and recreate the game based on these.

    One time in 1934 during a game against the Cardinals the telegraph malfunctioned.

    Here is what happened in the words of President Reagan…

    “There were several other stations broadcasting that game and I knew I’d lose my audience if I told them we’d lost our telegraph connections so I took a chance. I had (Billy) Jurges hit another foul. Then I had him foul one that only missed being a homerun by a foot. I had him foul one back in the stands and took up some time describing the two lads that got in a fight over the ball. I kept on having him foul balls until I was setting a record for a ballplayer hitting successive foul balls and I was getting more than a little scared. Just then my operator started typing. When he passed me the paper I started to giggle – it said: ‘Jurges popped out on the first ball pitched.’”

  17. Some across the pond representation: of recent Prime Ministers I’ve found minor league careers for David Cameron, Gordon Brown, John Major, James Callaghan and Harold Wilson, but surprisigly no Margaret Thatcher. We have some baseball related names though in Arthur Balfour and Alec Douglas-Home, although it’s actually pronounced “Hyoom”.

  18. The President with the shortest turn in office, William Henry Harrison, has one namesake – kind of. Billy Geer, an 1870s-1880s SS, has the birthname George Harrison Geer. Apparently he knew that there would be a famous Beatle by that name in the future, and figured he might avoid confusion if he were known as William Henry Harrison Geer.

    Harrison’s (the former President) successor was John Tyler, and there has been one “John Tyler” who pops up in baseball-reference’s search engine, John “Johnnie” Anthony Tyler, who posted a 165 OPS+ in 13 games (53 PAs) for the 1935 Braves (and was 1 for 6 the prior year).

    I get nothing really relevant for Tyler’s successor (though I wonder why Polk brings up Foulke in the bbref search), but there are three Zachary Taylor’s, Z.H. Taylor (who played a few games in 1874), Zachary Taylor Shafer (who split time between 3 teams in the 1884 UA when he was 17 and attempted a comeback in 1890 in the AA at the ripe old age of 23), and Zachary Taylor McAllister (who is currently in the process of creating his legend as he threw 125 innings for Cleveland last year).

    Someone above (Brent) looked for an Alexander Hamilton reference, so I searched for an Aaron Burr reference and found the only person to play MLB with the last name Burr was named … Alexander Thomson (Tom) Burr. He was a 1914 NY Yankees version of Moonlight Graham. And at this point in time I like to remind everyone that Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton … while Burr was Vice President of the US. And that was in 1804, only a little over 200 years ago – can you imagine the sitting Vice President 200 years later shooting someone? Oh wait, he did :) At least Cheney was on a quail hunt though.

    • John Tyler had sixteen children. Not a typo.

      At least we know he was proficient at something.

      That puts his TFRAP at 14.106 (Total Fertility Rate Above Replacement)
      based on 2011 statistics.

    • There was also an Isaac Burr Butler, a pitcher for for the 1902 Orioles. Aaron’s aim was evidently better than Isaac’s, who yielded 168 hits and 103 runs in only 116 innings. His SO/BB ratio was 0.29, though he allowed zero wild pitches.

  19. There are 3 Woodrow Wilson namesakes in there, the best being Woody Williams (1938-45). Woody Paige on ESPN was named after his dad who was named for President Wilson.

    Warren Spahn’s SABR biography begins… “Named after both President Warren G. Harding and his own father, Warren Edward Spahn was born in Buffalo, New York, on April 23, 1921.”

  20. Here’s a strange one….Max Venable, a player I definitely remember…his real name is William McKinley Venable. Anyway, it’s a bit strange…Venable was born 56 years after McKinely was assassinated. And he’s from California so there’s no connection to McKinely’s birth state of Ohio. Not sure why he was named after the former President.

  21. Let’s not forget the umpires. In the AL from 1946 to 1965 there was an umpire named William (Bill) McKinley. Yankee OF Hank Bauer once got into an argument with him and shouted “They shot the wrong McKinley”. Needless to say it was an automatic ejection.

  22. It may be blasphemy to post this on a baseball site, but in 1965, when the nation’s top guy was Lyndon Johnson, and his veep was Hubert Humphrey, the starting quarterback for the Cardinals was Charley Johnson, backed up by Buddy Humphrey.

  23. Searching for James Earl (for Carter) yields cameo big-leaguer Jim Kennedy (James Earl Kennedy), older brother of Junior, who was a semi-regular for the Reds during the Carter administration.

    Others focused on presidential first and/or middle names:

    – George Walker, pitcher for the ’88 Orioles (that’s 1888).
    – William Jefferson Sowders, another pitcher who debuted in 1888.
    – George Herbert Gerken, a ’20s OF better known as Pickles.
    – Ronald Wilson, a ’70s minor-leaguer.
    – Harold Baines.
    – Three pitchers named John Fitzgerald, all of whom served brief terms.
    – Minor-leaguer Dwight Davis.
    – Harold Delano Wynegar, better known as Butch.
    – William Howard Sharp, ChiSox OF of the ’70s, born in Ohio.
    – James Abrams, minor-leaguer.
    – Lotsa guys named William Henry, including Willie Davis, Big Bill Dinneen, and Wee Willie Keeler.

      • Stratton and George Washington were teammates on the 1935 and 1936 White Sox.

        Reynolds, George Washington Case and Thomas Jefferson Jordan were teammates on the 1946 Indians.

  24. As for World Series and presidents, since Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, they’ve won the World Series whenever they played in it under a Democratic president (1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009) but lost when playing under a Repulican president (1976, 1981, 2001). This is fate’s curse upon George for making illegal campaign contributions to Nixon’s reelection campaign.

  25. I thought I might go ahead and peruse the list of signees to the Declaration of Independence, without which, this “little” experiment in democracy may
    never have taken root.

    Lyman Hall, Physician and Minister from Georgia.
    Lyman Bostock, September 23, 1978 was a sad day.

    John Hart, Landowner from New Jersey,
    John Hart, GM, front office executive,

    Richard Henry Lee, Plantation owner from Virginia.
    Richard aka William aka Bill…Bill Lee, The Spaceman.

    Caesar Rodney, Plantation owner and Soldier from Delaware.
    Fernando Rodney, modern day relief specialist
    Cesar Geronimo, slick fielding centerfielder with the Big Red Machine.

    Thomas Stone, Lawyer from Maryland.
    George Stone, pitcher from the 69 Mets.

    John Morton, Farmer from Pennsylvania.
    Carl Morton, Pitcher with the Expos.

    • The better George Stone played for the StL. Browns 1905-1910, (after getting 2 PA for the Red Sox in 1903.) His best year was 1906. He led the league in all 3 slash categories and OPS+, but the only counting statistic he led in was TB. I would guess that nobody has ever done that before or since. He was 29 that year. He had 8.5 WAR, more than a 1/3 of his 24.4 career total. With only 3665 PA that is about 4 per year, a pretty good average.

  26. There were several Oswalds in the minors, no Lee Harveys at all. Also a bunch of Rubys in the minors but I could not find an instance of a Ruby picking off an Oswald baserunner.

    A few Booths played in the 18th century, no John Wilkes come up at all.

    No luck with Charles Guiteau or Leon Czoglosz.

    I guess these guys dont inspire many baby names for some reason

  27. Chester Arthur has 3 namesakes, two who played only in 1906, and the third only in 1911 plus a single game in 1912. The combined line of this trio: 22 games, 8 for 57, 4 runs, 1 2B, 2 SB, 6 BB, 9 SO, .140/.212/.158

  28. Haven’t seen my favorite president yet, Harry Truman. Unfortunately Harry Truman comes up blank in baseball-ref, and no Trumans ever made the bigs. In the minors Truman was a first but never a last, and mostly from players born before he took office.

    • A guy by the name of Truman Clevenger pitched in the AL from 1954 to 1962. He was better known by his nickname Tex.

  29. Thomas Jefferson Bridges faced George Washington in the latter’s 2nd major league game on April 18, 1935. Washington doubled, scored and whiffed in 5 trips as Bridges went the distance for a 5-4 win.

    Thomas Jefferson Bridges would later face George Washington Case in many Tigers/Senators games from 1937 to 1943. Bridges needed to be careful with the speedy Case who led in the AL in stolen bases in 5 of those 7 seasons.

    In 1946, George Washington Case and Thomas Jefferson Jordan were Cleveland Indians teammates. On July 14th, Case homered and Jordan delivered a pinch-hit RBI single, but the Indians still lost to the Red Sox and fireballer William Henry Harrison Zuber, attested as faster than Bob Feller by (among others) his manager Joe Cronin and former Yankees teammate Spud Chandler.

  30. I was surprised Obama had such a weak ass arm. I’m also pretty sure I played some pickup games with him at a court near Harvard Law School back in the late 80s.

    • I love the part about a love letter from the ballplayer’s fiancee being delivered to the White House by mistake. And, then being redirected back to the ballplayer in a manila envelope.

  31. After serving many terms as “The Mayor” and the resident affable contributor on MLB Network, Sean Casey seems poised for a future run at the White House. Incidentally, there’s currently a Canadian member of Parliament who shares his name, as well as the Lord Mayor of Cork in the 1960s.

  32. Since every election has a winner and a loser (and because I’m such a junkie for this) I add: Al Smith (D, loser 1928) and two All Star Al Smiths; Al the outfielder, 1953-1964, who finished third in MVP voting in 1957) and Alfred John Smith, Pitcher, 1934-1945 AS, 1943.
    And, William Jennings Bryan (three time loser, 1896-1908) who had William Jennings Bryan Harris (1920-28), William Jennings Bryan Patterson (1921), and the Hall of Famer William Jennings Bryan (Babe) Herman.

    • Did the Senator from Kansas ever go to business school? There was a Robert Dolemba who played 15 games in rookie league ball in the 1950s.

      Herbert Humphrey played for the Braves organization just before WWII. Kyle Goldwater played some independent ball in the ’00s in the Frontier and Atlantic Leagues. There were 21 hits for John Anderson, and going back to the primaries, a Gary Hart (and a Gary Hartsock).

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