President McKinley enjoys baseball while on vacation

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

A news story appeared in the New York Times on June 23, 1899, describing activities President McKinley participated in while on vacation the day before in Adams, Massachusetts. The story reported the following:

“This afternoon the President’s party drove to Howland Park to see a baseball game between the North Adams and the Williams College team, the son of W.B. Plunkett, the President’s host, being pitcher for the latter club …

“General Leonard Wood, Governor General of Santiago Province, arrived here this afternoon and made one of the party. General Wood remained at the ball grounds about an hour and a half, then returned to Mr. Plunkett’s residence where he and the President had a long conference after which General Wood left on the 6 o’clock train for New York.”

The news story does little to indicate whether President McKinley was a true baseball fan or not. This article will trace McKinley’s involvement with baseball from his youth to when he became president.

“Baseball: The President’s Game” by William B. Mead and Paul Dickson, reports on the president’s participation and love of the game. The book does not mention McKinley playing the game of rounders, which was the game from which baseball evolved, or baseball itself as a young boy, soldier or as a young man living in Canton.

The earliest indication of McKinley attending baseball games comes from the obituary of veteran baseball player Paul Hines that appeared in the New York Times. Hines played for the Washington Nationals of the National League in 1886 and 1887. The obituary mentions that Hines was a favorite ballplayer of Congressman William McKinley. When Hines retired from baseball, McKinley found him a job at the Department of Agriculture.

McKinley, while governor of Ohio, attended the opening day game of the Toledo Black Pirates and the Columbus Reds of the Western League in Columbus on April 16, 1892. The Omaha Daily Bee on April 17, 1892, reported on the pre-game festivities, including Gov.McKinley’s participation.

“The Western Championship season opened here today under favorable auspices in spite of the cold and threatening weather. There was a parade of the Columbus and Toledo Clubs with a band concert before the game and Governor McKinley threw the ball into the diamond,” the article stated.

The first pitch of the baseball season today is the equivalent of when McKinley threw the baseball into the diamond. Baseball historians have stated that McKinley had been the highest government official, to date, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch or its equivalent.

McKinley invited the Washington Nationals baseball team to visit the White House on April 16, 1897, before the start of their season. Nationals manager Gus Schmetz greeted the president and remembered that then Gov. McKinley had thrown the ball into the diamond when he managed Columbus in 1892. Columbus then won the Western League championship in 1892. Schmetz, perhaps thinking that McKinley was a good luck charm, invited the president to throw out the first pitch at the Nationals opener on April 22.

McKinley smiled at Schmetz and remembered the opening day at Columbus. He said that if he was free on April 22, he would be delighted to throw out the first pitch.

The Nationals, not hearing anything from McKinley to the contrary, anticipated his attendance at the game. A presidential box was constructed and draped with bunting. A large crowd was anticipated with over one hundred members of the House and Senate in attendance because of McKinley coming to the game. The opening day ceremonies started and the president was not in attendance to throw out the first pitch. The crowd was disappointed with the president’s no-show. McKinley never gave a reason for not attending.

McKinley lost his chance to be in the history books as the first president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game. Fellow Ohio President William Howard Taft became the first president to throw out the first pitch on April 14, 1910.

Patrick Finan of Cortland is the retired former library director of the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.