The presidential first pitch tradition on MLB Opening Day dates back to 1910, when President William Howard Taft threw the pitch for the Washington Nationals, then known as the Washington Senators. This year, President Donald Trump declined an invitation to throw out the first pitch for the Nats on Monday, skipping a ritual that former President Barack Obama once said was one of the most stressful tasks a president faces.
While we won’t be able to compare President Trump’s first pitch to other Commander-in-Chiefs who have made the first toss on Opening Day, we can take a look back at some of the more memorable ones. In an excerpt from the new commemorative photography book, Obama: The Historic Presidency of Barack Obama, 2,920 Days, by former Associated Press editor and photojournalist Mark Greenberg, Bob Tewksbury gives us the professional ballplayer’s view on the presidential pitching prowess—or lack thereof.
The following is excerpted from Obama: The Historic Presidency of Barack Obama by Mark Greenberg. Copyright © 2016 by Mark Greenberg. Used by permission of Mark Greenberg, Sterling Publishing. All rights reserved.
#5. Barack Obama
April 5, 2010
"He looked like he could have used some mental skills coaching before he took the mound—my, did he looked scared. Okay… not all bashing. I love his loyalty to the South Side of Chicago, donning the White Sox cap when he got to the mound. But then things get interesting again. If he were pitching a game the president would have committed no fewer than four or five balks before throwing a pitch! When he finally starts his delivery to throw the pitch, his lower half actually looks pretty good…until…he breaks his hands and his arm. Ugh, his arm! It looks like it’d been injected with Novocain. It simply doesn’t function. It’s almost as if it’s not even part of his body. In fairness I think he did a remarkable job just getting it close to the plate. But in the big leagues it ain’t about “close” Mr. President. I can and did throw a pitch just like you did—but for a strike: It was called the 'Eephus pitch.'"
#4. John F. Kennedy
April 10, 1961
"Okay so he threw it from the stands, but still enough to show a good arm action: Despite his famous back troubles, you can tell this man was an athlete."
#3. Jimmy Carter
October 28, 1995
"Wow. He threw the ball harder than I did! Then he gets a hug from Jane Fonda…really! All things considered, a pretty good outing."
#2. George H.W. Bush
April 3, 1989
"Reminded me of Jim Kaat. Bush senior, a former captain and first baseman of Yale University’s baseball team played in two College World Series so he’s no stranger to the game—work fast and throw strikes. Love it!."
#1. George W. Bush
October 30, 2001
"No pressure: This was only game three of a World Series at Yankee Stadium and just six weeks after 9/11. But talk about body language! ‘W’ walked to the mound like he was Nolan Ryan and, despite allegedly wearing a bulletproof vest and the distraction of an accompanying Secret Service agent dressed as an umpire, proceeded to throw an effortless strike with total conviction! Very impressive! Without question the best of all time."
Tewksbury was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1981 and spent 13 seasons in the mahor leagues with six teams: the Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, Rangers, Padres and Twins. A 1992 All-Star with 110 career victories, Bob was notorious for his Eephus pitch. In one 1998 game, Tewksbury, pitching for the Twins, resorted to lobbing balls at Cardinals’ slugger Mark McGwire, and it worked: the major league home-run leader could only laugh as he grounded out and popped up on the 44-mph pitches.