Postseason baseball: Uniting the political divide since 1931

It was 1931, the Great Depression was well underway, and in Philadelphia, the Athletics and the Cardinals were playing Game 3 of the World Series. Future Hall of Famers Lefty Grove and Burleigh Grimes had been dueling for some time when a security detail arrived in front of the A’s dugout. Herbert Hoover had reached Shibe Park.

Joe Williams, covering the game for the New York World Telegram, captured the scene:

The crowd back of the dugout recognizes the President and there is a pattering of palms and Mr. Hoover waves a gray, soft hat at mechanical intervals, and smiles his greetings. An official box has been set aside for the visitors from Washington. Grove and Grimes, who have paused in deference to the President’s entrance, go back to their mysteriously silent labors.

And then something happens. Some one boos. Or it may be a whole section which surrenders to this spontaneous, angry impulse. In any event, the boos rise from the stands and break with unmistakable vehemence around your ears. They grow in volume and pretty soon it seems almost everybody in the park is booing. Booing what? It doesn’t take long to get the answer. They are booing the President of the United States.

With the arrival of postseason baseball once again and times in America not as troubled as they were in 1931 but somewhere in the same vicinity these days, maybe this scene could repeat itself. For better or for worse, baseball has had a way of uniting the political divide over the years, particularly come playoff time.

Sometimes the moments are happier. When Woodrow Wilson arrived during the middle of the seventh inning in a 1918 World Series game, the crowd spontaneously began singing the Star Spangled Banner, patriotism perhaps abounding with World War I in its waning days. Wilson had been having Francis Scott Key’s effort played at military functions for two years, and while it wouldn’t become the national anthem until 1931, the instance has traditionally been credited as the first time the song was played at a baseball game.

More recently, the 10th anniversary passed for the attacks of September 11, 2001, bringing to mind a moment from the World Series that year. George W. Bush, his popularity at a higher point than it had ever been or would be again, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. The former Texas Rangers owner tossed a strike, perhaps the result of genetics from his father who pitched for Yale or a bit of inspiration from Ronald Reagan, who once played Grover Cleveland Alexander in a film. The crowd gave a standing ovation, and an autographed 2011 Topps Allen and Ginter card of the event sold on eBay for $1,393.88.

It’s certainly the best reception a Republican throwing out a ceremonial pitch during wartime ever got in New York. Just ask Billy Graham, who was scratched from first pitch duties at Shea Stadium in the 1969 World Series because of controversy around the Vietnam War and Graham’s connection to Richard Nixon. A disinterested Casey Stengel had to stand in, and I just hope the boos were at a minimum for the Old Perfessor.

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