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From (Ron) Washington to (Jermaine) Van Buren, baseball's presidential name game

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Published in Baseball
Friday, 22 May 2020 11:19

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 2006, I had dinner at the White House.

Former President George W. Bush is a huge and knowledgeable baseball fan. He owned the Texas Rangers from 1989 to '94. I was living in Dallas then, so I saw him quite often at the ballpark. So, on this night, through columnist George Will, a devout lover of the game, Mr. Bush arranged baseball night for 17 people at the White House. We ate in the private residence.

The full "On this date ..." archive

This is not political. I am not political. I can name all the Triple Crown winners; I can't name all the presidents. I am hopeless. I like Mitt Romney just because of his first name. And I like George H. W. Bush because he played first base for Yale, and like Rickey Henderson, he was the rare position player who batted right-handed and threw left-handed.

Dinner at the White House was the coolest night. It began with the delightful Mrs. Bush, the most gracious host you could possibly imagine, giving us a personal guided tour of a portion of the White House, including the Lincoln Bedroom. We walked past a room that, a presidential aide whispered to us, was "where the president watches baseball.'' Then we had the most perfect meal ever, which included Angus Beef Triple Play and Field of Greens.

During dinner, 17 people who loved the game, including Orel Hershiser, Harold Reynolds, Jon Miller, Mark Grace and Derrek Lee, talked about the game. We told stories, but the best part was, the President of the United States had plenty of stories from his days as the owner of the Rangers.

He also repeated the story of the first-ball ceremony before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. The President asked Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter if he had any first-ball advice. Jeter told him he didn't need to throw from the top of the mound, anywhere on the dirt would do. And he told the president, "don't bounce it, this is New York. They will boo you.'' The President said he was about as nervous as he had ever been in his life, but he went to the mound and threw an athletic-looking strike. The emotionally charged crowd roared its approval. It was a stunningly powerful moment less than two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The president then took us into the Oval Office, which was an experience like none other. When the night ended, we met the president and Mrs. Bush at the elevator for handshakes and hugs. Mrs. Bush, so wonderful, so kind, said to me, "It's so good to see you again, Tony.''

In honor of that unforgettable night, here is the All-Presidential, 25-man roster (24 presidents named).

C: Gary Carter, Russ Nixon
1B: Von Hayes, Reggie Jefferson
2B: Josh Harrison, Homer Bush
3B: John Kennedy, Scotti Madison
SS: Ron Washington
OF: Craig Monroe, Lou Clinton
OF: Willie Wilson, Dan Ford
OF: Michael Taylor, Brian Buchanan
Rotation: Randy Johnson, Billy Pierce, Reggie Cleveland, Babe Adams, Mudcat Grant
Bullpen: Grant Jackson, J.J. Hoover, Brad Lincoln, Jermaine Van Buren, Len Whitehouse

Other baseball notes for May 22

  • In 1938, Ted Lyons won his 200th game. He did not play a sport at Baylor. He played the trombone. A fight broke out at a football game. He joined in. His trombone was crushed. The Baylor baseball coach knew Lyons was a great athlete, a good high school baseball player, so he persuaded him to play baseball. Now he is in the Hall of Fame.

  • In 1981, Billy Gardner replaced Johnny Goryl as the manager of the Twins. Gardner was hilarious, and he was married to a beauty queen. But he roomed with his pitching coach Johnny Podres at home during the season. "Imagine being married to Miss Connecticut,'' Gardner said, laughing, "and waking up every day and the first thing you see is Pod's head.''

  • In 1992, Felipe Alou was named manager of the Expos. He had managed for years in the minor leagues, winter ball. But that year, in a face-to-face conversation, I called him, without malice, "a rookie manager.'' He put his hand gently on my shoulder and said softly and respectfully, "I am NOT a rookie manager.''

  • In 1943, Tommy John was born. He won 288 games, an all-time great guy with a great sense of humor. When asked what part of the competition makes him "burn inside,'' John said, "The only thing that makes me burn inside is Szechuan food.''

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