An exhaustive look at the relationship between the chief executive of the United States and baseball.
A young John Adams played a precursor of baseball called “one old cat.” Theodore Roosevelt had no use for the game, preferring football. Young Donald Trump was skilled enough to merit visits from scouts for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox. From George Washington to Barack Obama, baseball and its antecedents have coexisted with the highest political office in the land. Smith (English/Univ. of Rochester), a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush and the author of Voices of the Game (1987) and George H.W. Bush: Character at the Core (2014), among other books, chronicles the relationship in considerable detail. The author provides many interesting stories and anecdotes. Legendary Washington Senators pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson once missed a no-hitter when a line drive hit the secretary of the Senate—who was standing behind outfield ropes frequently deployed at the time for sold-out games—and fell in for a hit. First lady Grace Coolidge was an avid fan of the game. In 1934, three New York City major league teams imposed a five-year radio ban, afraid that few would pay to attend a ballgame when they could hear it for free. Ronald Reagan and legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully lived on the same street in Pacific Palisades, California. Yet these contributions are compromised by several of Smith’s stylistic idiosyncrasies, including repeated use of the first-person, extensive quotes, references to his own text (“as chapter five will show,” “as noted earlier,” etc.), and awkward directives to readers. Furthermore, the book is simply too long: Smith seemingly details every pennant race and World Series from William Howard Taft to Obama, no matter the connection to the president in office at the time.
Informative and amusing, but readers hoping for a brisk and engaging history of the relationship between baseball and the presidency will be disappointed.