Opinion: With no baseball, a look back at Nixon's All-Stars
July 20, 2020
During a normal Major League Baseball season, by mid-July fans would be anticipating the annual All-Star Game. But in 2020, COVID-19, the great killjoy, has forced the game's cancellation, the first time since 1945 when World War II travel restrictions interfered and no players were selected. Baseball bugs that would have cast their 2020 ballots, and would be looking forward to watching the All-Star Game, are plum out of luck.
Back during President Richard Nixon's White House years, sports writers and baseball officials considered the president the nation's most well-informed and devoted fan. Journalist Dick Young, who covered New York baseball for more than five decades, said Nixon wasn't just a guy who showed up at season openers to take bows and get his picture in the newspaper. Nixon, Young said, "knows baseball."
So profound was Nixon's baseball knowledge that when his political career appeared over – he had lost the 1960 squeaker presidential election to John F. Kennedy and then lost by a landslide in his 1962 bid for California's governorship to incumbent Pat Brown – professional players urged him to consider the MLB's commissioner post.
The Players Association lobbied hard for Nixon, spearheaded by future Hall of Famers that included the Cleveland Indians' Bob Feller, and two Philadelphia Phillies – Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning. Nixon, at the time a Wall Street lawyer, declined.
Instead, baseball soon entered the Marvin Miller-led era. Miller, a tough former U.S. Steelworkers Union labor expert, helped abolish baseball's reserve clause which, in turn, ushered players into an era of continuously escalating salaries.
In 1972, after Nixon's first post-Watergate press conference and in an effort to lighten the assembled crowd's somber mood, a reporter asked if "the nation's number one fan" would submit his all-time baseball team, a daunting challenge. A few days later and with help from son-in-law David Eisenhower, Nixon broke up his choices into the National and American Leagues and by the players' era: the Early Era, 1925-1945; the Modern Era, 1945-1970; the Yankees' Era, 1925-1959, and the Expansion Era, 1960-1991. Nixon's selections were a mix of baseball's most famous, and the games' outstanding but less well-known players.
For example, from the Early Era, Nixon picked American League superstars Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, but also stars whose prominence had faded, such as Herb Pennock, Bobo Newsom and Harry Heilmann. From the National League's Early Era, Nixon tapped the same mixture of historic favorites as well as worthy, but less familiar players: Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby and Carl Hubbell are instantly recognizable, while Arky Vaughan, Pie Traynor and "Ducky" Medwick's talents have faded from most fans' memories.
As Chief Executive, Nixon, attended 11 games – 9 in D.C. and one each in Atlanta and Cincinnati. At a July 1969 game between the Detroit Tigers and his hometown Senators, Nixon saw a triple-play, an event every fan hopes to witness personally. Earlier in 1969, Nixon persevered through a 13-inning night game between the Senators and the Oakland Athletics.
Later, Nixon said he never left a game before the last pitch "because in baseball, as in life and especially in politics, you never know what will happen."
Nixon may have been referring to his resurrection from the politically moribund. After his 1962 loss to Brown, Nixon told about 100 reporters standing outside the Beverly Hills Hotel that "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference..." Six years later, Nixon returned with a roar. In November 1968, voters elected Nixon as the 37th U.S. president.
Nixon gave dozens more press conferences during his abbreviated five-year presidency, and he got kicked around in most of them.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for Baseball Research and an Internet Baseball Writers Association Member. Contact him at [email protected]
Since this piece was written, Major League Baseball has announced a 60-game season beginning this Thursday, July 23; however, fans will have to watch on their screens, not in the stadium for now.