Baseball’s First Fan: Abraham Lincoln

Evidence indicates that Abraham Lincoln may have been among baseball’s first fans. And just as enthusiastic as Lincoln were his successors, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.

During the summer of 1859 the Washington Potomacs played, as it was then called “The Game of Baseball,” on the White House lawn. The team was made up of mostly government clerks who had social standing in Washington. Baseball was quickly taking over the town with its popularity.

At about the same time in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln then a young lawyer was in a heated contest for the Republican presidential nomination. According to research done in 1939 by Steve Hannagan for baseball’s Centennial Year celebration, a Republican delegate approached Lincoln during a ball game in which the president-to-be was a player to tell him that the Chicago convention had nominated him.

Said Lincoln to the messenger:

Tell the gentlemen they will have to wait a few minutes until I get my next turn at bat.

As monumental as a bid to be the United States’ sixteenth president may have been, Lincoln was too engrossed in his ball game to forego his turn at the plate.

After end of the Civil War (where soldiers had organized ballgames between fighting), Presidents Johnson and Grant demonstrated the same passion for baseball as Lincoln showed. Johnson became the first president to watch an inter-city Washington game. Then by 1868, crowds as large as 4,000 fans sat on the lawn to take in the games and, on Saturday, listen to the Marine Band that Johnson provided. Later, when Grant assumed office, he continued the tradition by watching the games from the White House south lawn.

For decades, presidents and baseball have been linked. But, as far as historians can tell, only Lincoln put off his advisers so he could get in one more swing.

6 Replies to “Baseball’s First Fan: Abraham Lincoln”

    1. As an old (retired) newspaperman, I do and have written all sorts of stories, and am willing to be at your beck and call. However, right now, please provide an answer/reply to my inquiry about the degree of truth about honest Abe’s request to Doubleday to “keep baseball alive.”

      1. Hi Bill, thanks for your comments. Stern appears to have made this one up. Doing a quick search on, I found no mentions of the incident between 1865 and 1870. Assuming the story was true, I think it would have been widely reported at the time. Earliest mention I found is from the Miami Herald in 1949, with the writer doubting the veracity of Stern’s story.

  1. Is it true, as pioneer sportscaster Bill Stern reported on his radio show and book, that Lincoln while lying on his deathbed after being shot summoned Lt. Abner Doubleday to issue the plea, “Keep baseball alive.”

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