Archive for February 6th, 2011

One hundred years ago in Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Wilson Reagan began an improbable road to the presidency that culminated in one of the most successful political careers in American history. Admittedly, I have a profound admiration for the Gipper, but The Captain’s Blog likes to steer clear of politics, so this centennial tribute will focus on Reagan’s strong link to the great American past time of baseball.

Before calling the shots as commander-in-chief, Ronald Reagan did play-by-play reenactments for the Cubs.

Although Reagan’s pre-political background as a movie actor is widely known, not many people realize that his first entertainment career was in radio, most notably as the reenactment voice of the Chicago Cubs on Iowa’s WHO during the early-to-mid 1930s. In this role, Dutch Reagan, as he was known to listeners, would receive game updates via telegraph and then, accompanied by sound effects, bring the action to life with a vivid description of the details. In one famous instance, the telegraph feed went down in the ninth inning of a tight ballgame, forcing Reagan to improvise on the spot. With no updates forthcoming, Reagan anxiously described the action as Augie Galan battled Dizzy Dean in an epic batter/pitcher confrontation. Foul ball after foul ball was broadcast to the audience until the telegraph messages finally resumed. Even at an early age, the comfort and ease with which Reagan worked a microphone was evident.

Curly started typing. I clutched at the slip. It said: ‘Galan popped out on the first pitch’. Not in my game he didn’t. He popped out after practically making a career of foul balls”. – Ronald Reagan, excerpted from his 1965 autobiography “Where’s the Rest of Me?”

Reagan left radio behind for the bright lights of Hollywood, but his baseball reenactment days were far from over. In 1952, Reagan starred alongside Doris Day in “The Winning Team”, a movie about pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who balanced a Hall of Famer career and alcoholism. Although not as famous as his portrayal of George Gipp in the classic “Knute Rockne All American”, a role that included the “win one for the Gipper” line that would give the future President one of his more endearing nicknames, Reagan’s performance as Alexander was well received.

Reagan portayed Hall of Famer Pete "Grover Cleveland" Alexander in the 1952 film, "The Winning Team".

Unfortunately for Reagan, his love of the game was not matched by his ability to play it. In his trademark self deprecating manner, he once admitted that a fear of the ball prevented him from hitting and ensured that he was always the last boy chosen in every game. In this one regard, Reagan likely wasn’t being modest. In 1938, he injured his Achilles tendon during a celebrity baseball game, and then, in 1949, upped the ante at a charity event by breaking his leg in a collision at first base with fellow actor George Tobias. In addition to a damaged ego, the latter injury not only cost the actor a $100,000 salary for an upcoming film, but also forced him to use crutches or a cane for almost an entire year. After the accident, Reagan didn’t play much baseball.


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