Archive for April 5th, 2010

William H. Taft becomes the first president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day.

This afternoon, President Barrack Obama extended a 100-year presidential tradition by throwing out a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day. Dressed in a Nationals jacket and White Sox cap, the left-handed President Obama stepped atop the mound and lobbed a soft toss that would have been high and outside to a right-handed batter (see video after the jump). After delegating the honor to Vice President Biden last year, President Obama picked up a presidential baton that dates back to the administration of William Taft.

The very first presidential ceremonial pitch was thrown by President William Taft on Opening Day, April 14, 1910. In fact, the ambidextrous Taft threw out two pitches, one with each arm. Obviously, President Taft didn’t want to be accused of leaning left or right. The hefty Taft also didn’t take the pitcher’s mound to deliver the pitch. Instead, he hurled the pitch from his field side seat, a tradition that would remain prevalent for most of the 20th century, into the waiting glove of Senators’ legendary pitcher Walter Johnson. The shy Johnson at first begged off the honor, but eventually acquiesced. In fact, according to press accounts, he was hand picked by the president, who eventually returned the ball to the Big Train with the following inscription:

For Walter Johnson. with the hope that he may continue to be as formidable as in yesterday’s game.  – William H. Taft

President Taft needn’t have worried. Although the Senators would finish in the second division again, Johnson, who was just starting to embark on perhaps the greatest pitching career in the history of the game, would go on to have a stellar season.

Baseball wasn’t a novelty to William Taft. He was an avid fan of the game and attended many during his presidency (14 in total). He also became the first President to attend a game outside of Washington, attending games in Pittsburgh and later Chicago during the 1909 season. President Taft was such a baseball fan that after leaving office, he was strongly pursued to fill the office of a one-man baseball commissioner after the 1918 season. At the time, baseball was ruled by a three-man tribunal system that had stirred up considerable controversy, not the least of which involved player-owner relations. Who knows, had President Taft taken the consolidated position as sole baseball executive, perhaps the Black Sox scandal could have been averted?

In many regards, President Taft’s first pitch put the presidential seal of approval on baseball’s status as the American pastime. Even though baseball teams had been invited to the White House as far back as the Andrew Johnson administration, and Benjamin Harrison had become the first president to attend a game back in 1892, Washington Senators’ owner Clark Griffith had actively sought the presidential stamp for years before Taft. Grover Cleveland famously turned down a first pitch invite out of fear of being portrayed as a slacker, while William McKinley accepted an invitation, but simply never bothered to show up.


Read Full Post »

Tommy John pitched for the Yankees in all or parts of seven season. He is the last Yankee to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons (1979 and 1980).

Tommy John is a borderline Hall of Fame pitcher, but mention his name and undoubtedly what will pop into most baseball fans’ minds is the surgery that now bears his name. Unlike Lou Gehrig, John has not been able to overcome the shadow of his medical-related namesake. Then again, that’s probably how it should be. After all, when Dr. Frank Jobe experimented on his left elbow on September 25, 1974, he not only added 164 victories to John’s career record, but probably added hundreds more to various pitchers throughout the game.

Sadly, the reason Tommy John is on my mind is not because of his Yankee career, nor the many career saving surgeries done in his name, but because of the untimely passing of his youngest son, Taylor Simmons John, who died on March 9, 2010. I happened to be at Steinbrenner Field and was saddened to hear the news when a moment of silence was announced before an exhibition game against the Orioles. Since then, however, I haven’t seen a single mention of this tragic event.

Unfortunately, Tommy John has been no stranger to tragedy. In 1981, just after the end of the strike and 7 shutout innings in his first game back, John’s other son, Travis, then two years old, fell from a third-floor window at the family’s New Jersey home. Travis plunged almost 40 feet. The impact was so severe that the young boy swallowed his tongue and then lapsed into a coma. He wouldn’t emerge from that coma until nearly three weeks later. Once again, the Johns were at the mercy of another miracle doctor, this time Dr. Fred Epstein, who would later serve as director of NYU medical center.

Thankfully, Travis made a full recovery and walked out of the hospital on September 13. The next day, his dad recorded a complete game shutout against Milwaukee.

Tommy John was traded from the Yankees in the middle of the 1982 season, but returned to the Bronx for the last four years of his career. Always fondly remembered by Yankee fans, the John family has also fondly remembered New York for the support and prayers offered during their time of need.

Tommy with his wife Sally and son Taylor during an ALS fundraiser in 2005.

Taylor John was a teachers’ assistant in Lake Forest, Illinois as well as an accomplished Broadway singer. He was also a regular singing the national anthem in ballparks around the country. According to press accounts in his hometown, he died as the result of a seizure and heart failure because of an overdose of prescription drugs. 

It would be nice if the Yankees hold another moment of silence on Opening Day, and even nicer if they invited Tommy John to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Almost 30 years ago, Yankee fans were able to console the John family during a difficult time. It would nice if they had the chance do the same once again.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes things can get magnified on Opening Day, not to mention when the opener is played at Fenway Park. Still, most of the conclusions that can be drawn are usually very basic and already widely known. For example, after yesterday’s loss to the Red Sox, we learned that Nick Johnson works the count, Arod hits the ball harder than anyone in the game, Curtis Granderson can hit right handers, Nick Swisher can get lost in the outfield and Brett Gardner is fast. Again, nothing groundbreaking and clearly no reason to panic.

Is Chan Ho Park another Latroy Hawins?

Having said that, the Yankees can’t be too happy with the bullpen. Chan Ho Park, in particular, promises to elicit groans, as his career AL ERA of 5.79 will attest. For some reason, it seems as if Park has been handed the 7th inning role, so we could see more nights like this one before a reshuffle is made. Unfortunately, the Park experiment eerily resembles one that was tried with Latroy Hawkins back in 2008, although at least Park wisely steered clear of any revered uniform numbers. How long will Park’s leash be? I can only hope it wont be as long as 41 innings this time around.

Damaso Marte didn’t distinguish himself with his one batter appearance, but some of his blame can be shared by Jorge Posada (more on that in a moment), whose passed ball allowed the go ahead run to score. Still, you’d like to think that your lefty out of the pen can come near the plate, but we’ll chalk that up to Marte’s cranky shoulder.

The biggest disappointment from the night, unfortunately, has to be Joba’s performance. With any other pitcher, a 1 run stint from a reliever in the early going would be completely overlooked, but Joba has become a lightning rod whose every outing will draw scrutiny. At some point, that has to really wear on Joba, which makes me wonder if he wouldn’t be better off starting down in Scranton. If the Yankees remain committed to using Joba in the pen, however, they can’t overreact to each outing like the media and fans surely will. Joba can’t keep pitching while looking over his shoulder, so the Yankees have to figure out whether the carrot might not be more effective than the stick.

As for Posada, sadly, it has become clear that Jorge’s catching skills have deteriorated. Because his bat is so good, and the alternatives are less than inspiring, there is every reason to keep letting him squat behind the plate. Once Jesus Montero or Austine Romine is ready, however, the Yankees will need to convince Posada that his future is as DH. I’d hate to be the one who has to tell him.

Key Stats

Chan Ho Park (NL): 1,548IP, 3.99 ERA, 1.346 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
Chan Ho Park (AL): 380IP, 5.79 ERA, 1.610 WHIP, 6.6 K/9

LaTroy Hawkins (NL): 278IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.180 WHIP, 6.8 K/9
LaTroy Hawkins (AL): 919IP, 5.04 ERA, 1.515 WHIP, 5.7 K/9

Read Full Post »