President Taft doesn’t show up too often on the list of presidential firsts, but he brought one tradition to the office that exists to this day: The ceremonial first pitch on Major League baseball’s opening day.
In April 1910, President Taft tossed a ball from the stands to Washington Senators ace Walter Johnson at the request of Senators owner Clark Griffith, who wanted the presidential seal of approval on baseball to cement its position as the national pastime. Not only did Taft toss out the first pitch, he stayed for the whole game—which the Senators won.
Taft showed up again in 1911 to throw out the first pitch and had his vice president do it in 1912. The Senators won all three games.
Woodrow Wilson carried on the tradition the following year, as did the next 10 presidents in a row.
A highlight? Truman throwing out two balls in 1950—one right-handed, one left-handed. A lowlight? FDR hitting a Washington Post camera with his pitch in 1940.
The tradition stayed in Washington, D.C. for more than 60 years, until President Nixon threw out the first pitch at California’s Anaheim Stadium in 1973. President Carter was the first to skip the tradition on Opening Day, although he did toss out the first pitch of Game Seven in the 1979 World Series, just before the Pirates knocked off the Baltimore Orioles.
President George W. Bush brought the tradition back to Washington when the Nationals returned to D.C. in 2005, then did it again at the opening of Nationals Park in 2008.
President Obama threw out the first pitch in 2010—the 100th anniversary of Taft’s toss. It was, in the words of Bob Uecker, just a bit outside. President Obama hasn’t thrown out a first pitch since.