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Examiner
  • Michael Devine: Truman never threw a curve

  • Harry S. Truman liked baseball, but his wife Bess loved it.



    “She is the baseball fan in our family,” Truman wrote August A. Busch Jr., president of the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1966, “but I enjoy the games too.”

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  • Harry S. Truman liked baseball, but his wife Bess loved it.
    “She is the baseball fan in our family,” Truman wrote August A. Busch Jr., president of the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1966, “but I enjoy the games too.”
    This distinction probably dated back to Truman’s youth. His eyeglasses prevented him from playing baseball as a boy. In contrast, the young Bess Wallace was an exceptional all-around athlete who specialized in playing the “hot corner” – third base. According to family lore, she was on her way home from a tennis match one day (Bess was also recognized as the best high school tennis player in Independence) when she passed the sandlot where her neighborhood baseball team was losing to a team from another neighborhood. Her brother Frank Wallace asked for her help, so she put down her tennis racket, picked up a bat – and belted a pinch-hit, grand slam to win the game.
    Harry Truman’s youth did not include such heroics on the baseball diamond, but he did serve as an umpire on occasion. The other boys respected his trustworthy nature, and did not regard his poor eyesight as a disqualification. Later in life, Truman reportedly said he learned at an early age that poor vision was common among umpires.
    As an adult, Harry Truman followed the fortunes of the minor league teams that played in Kansas City. Until the mid-1950s, the nearest major league teams were across the state in St. Louis. The mighty Cardinals won nine National League pennants and six World Series between 1926 and 1946. Their American League rivals, the Browns, were usually hapless. As a vice presidential candidate in 1944, Senator Truman took time out from the campaign to attend the all-St. Louis World Series of that year, in which the Cardinals defeated the Browns in six games.
    As president of the United States, Truman never missed a chance to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, marking the beginning of the Major League Baseball season. Every April from 1946 to 1952, he was on hand at Griffith Stadium in Washington, usually with Mrs. Truman beside him in the stands. Although he was an ambidextrous hurler, the president typically threw out the ball left-handed.
    When the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955, Mr. Truman was invited to throw out the first pitch at Municipal Stadium. Truman celebrated the occasion by throwing out two baseballs: one right-handed and the other as a southpaw. In the years that followed, he and Mrs. Truman attended a number of Athletics games. Photographs show them sitting in the front row, the former president with a broad grin and the former first lady carefully marking her scorecard.
    While rooting for the Athletics, Truman never lost his old affection for their cross-state peers, the Cardinals.
    “Nothing would please me more than to see the Cardinals win the pennant in the National League and the Athletics in the American,” he informed Busch in 1957. “Then we’d have to call out the National Guard to keep things quiet.” (Truman’s vision became a reality when the Kansas City Royals faced the Cardinals in the “I-70” World Series of 1985.)
    Page 2 of 2 - In honor of the upcoming All-Star Game in Kansas City, the Truman Library’s museum is featuring a small exhibit of documents and artifacts relating to the Trumans and baseball. Also at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, archivist Randy Sowell, who contributed to this article, will offer a special presentation at the Library entitled “Truman and Baseball: A Presidential Pastime.”

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