This article was written by Herm Krabbenhoft
This article was published in Fall 2017 Baseball Research Journal
Baseball has been an important and enduring component in the makeup of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America. While his collegiate baseball career at Yale University did not put him on a path to play in the major leagues, contributions to Yale’s diamond accomplishments, in combination with his subsequent success in the business world and service in government, produced an illustrious legacy of awards and honors bearing his name.
George Herbert Walker Bush began the first year of his term as the 41st President of the United States of America on January 20, 1989. Then, just seventy-three days later (on April 3, 1989), he carried out one of the most esteemed traditions for the Chief Executive — throwing the ceremonial first pitch on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.[fn]For a comprehensive list of the Opening Day games in which the sitting President did (or did not) attend and throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the seasons from 1910 through 1992, see: William B. Mead and Paul Dickson, Baseball: The Presidents’ Game (Washington: Farragut Publishing Co., 1993). Mead and Dickson state, “The bulk of this list was compiled by L. Robert Davids, founder of the Society for American Baseball Research.” For information on the Presidents who threw ceremonial first pitches from 1993 through 2009, see: “Ceremonial First Pitch,” en.wikipedia.org (retrieved July 26, 2017). The Wikipedia article carries the forewarning: “This article has multiple issues.” For brief synopses of the connections between baseball and U.S. Presidents from George Washington to Donald Trump, see: John Thorn, “Our Baseball Presidents,” https://ourgame.mlblogs.com, February 26, 2014 (retrieved July 25, 2017) and “Our Baseball Presidents, Part 2,” https://ourgame.mlblogs.com, February 28, 2014 (retrieved July 25, 2017). For an alternative list of Presidents and Baseball from Washington to Trump (with links to “Quotations” and “Attendance”), see “U.S. Presidents & Major League Baseball,” baseball-almanac.com (retrieved July 26, 2017).[/fn] However, unlike his Oval-Office predecessors — dating to April 14, 1910, when President William Howard Taft became the first President to initiate a brand new major-league season by throwing out the ball from a front-row seat in the stands — George H.W. Bush became the very first President to perform that venerable deed by actually hurling the ball from the pitcher’s mound.[fn] As shown in the YouTube video of this historic event, catcher Mickey Tettleton stood at the edge of the dirt in front of the plate (instead of in the catcher’s box behind the plate) to receive the pitch. See: “President Bush Throws Out First Pitch,” https://www.youtube.com, February 11, 2015 uploaded by MLB (retrieved July 1, 2017). It should also be pointed out that President Ronald Reagan was actually the first President to throw a ceremonial first pitch from the pitcher’s mound — at an otherwise “meaningless” end-of-the-regular-season game on Friday afternoon, September 30, 1988, between the fourth-place Chicago Cubs (75–84) and the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates (84–73) at Wrigley Field. As shown in a YouTube video, Reagan, wearing a shiny, blue Cubs jacket, performed the honor, hurling the ball to Cubs catcher Damon Berryhill (who also stood at the edge of the grass in front of the plate). See: “President Reagan Throws Out the First Pitch at a Chicago Cubs Baseball Game on September 30, 1988,” https://www.youtube.com, November 30, 2016 — uploaded by Reagan Library (retrieved July 1, 2017). See also: Alan Solomon, “Tribune Flashback: Sept. 30, 1988 — A Reagan Visit to Wrigley,” articles.chicagotribune.com, June 7, 2004 (retrieved July 15, 2017).[/fn] That day at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, prior to the 1989 season opener between the Orioles and Red Sox, Mr. Bush used his own baseball glove. The first baseman’s mitt — a Rawlings George McQuinn model “Trapper” (also referred to as “The Claw”) — was the very mitt he used while playing on the varsity baseball teams of Yale University in the late 1940s — including the 1947 team that took part in the very first College Baseball World Series, played between the University of California (Berkeley) Golden Bears and the Yale Bulldogs.
Because of the prominence Bush achieved in the history of the United States (and the world), his life is notable — including his collegiate baseball record at Yale. This article presents an in-depth look at his college baseball career, including: (1) a review of Bush’s diamond performances in each of the three years he played for the Elis, including the box score lines for each of the games in which he participated, (2) details for some specific games in which Bush’s performance had significant impact, and (3) brief synopses of related topics such as Bush’s Bulldog teammates who pursued professional careers in baseball.[fn] Some of the information provided in the current article was presented in my previous report — Herman Krabbenhoft, “George Herbert Walker Bush — Iron Man First Sacker at Yale,” Baseball Quarterly Reviews, Volume 4, Number 3, (Fall 1989) 101–15.[/fn]
Yale University was founded in 1701 as the “Collegiate School” in Saybrook, Connecticut, before moving to New Haven in 1716 and being renamed Yale College in 1718 (in recognition of a substantial gift from Elihu Yale). The institution has had an enduring and distinguished association with the sport of baseball. Yale began playing intercollegiate baseball in the 1860s. Series with archrivals Princeton and Harvard commenced in 1868. A number of major league players were Yale men, including Hall of Fame outfielder James Henry “Orator Jim” O’Rourke (Yale Law School 1887, NL 1876–93, 1904) and Craig Breslow (Yale 2002, B.A. molecular biophysics/biochemistry, MLB 2005–17).
George Bush entered Yale University in November 1945, shortly after his honorable discharge (on September 18) from active duty with the United States Naval Reserve (USNR) as a lieutenant, junior grade. He had enlisted in the Navy on June 12, 1942 (his eighteenth birthday), just a few days after his high school graduation from Phillips Academy (better known simply as Andover, the Massachusetts city in which it is located). At Andover he had been the president of his senior class, secretary of the student council, and captain of both the varsity baseball and soccer teams.[fn](a) “Lieutenant Junior Grade George Bush, USNR,” Naval Historical Center, April 6, 2001 (retrieved June 28, 2017); (b) Josh Harper, “A Campus Transformed: UNC During the Second World War,” northcarolinahistory.org (retrieved June 28, 2017); (c) Alanna Kaplan, “‘Poppy’ Bush: ‘He Didn’t Have a Whimpish Bone in His Body,’” Yale Daily News (#15, September 27, 1988) 3.[/fn],[fn](a) ”George H.W. Bush, Early Life and Education,” Wikipedia (references 3 and 4, retrieved July 2, 2017); (b) George Bush (with Victor Gold), Looking Forward — an Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books 1988); (c) Tom Wicker, George Herbert Walker Bush (New York: Viking Press, 2004); (d) Doro Bush Koch, My Father, My President: A Personal Account of the Life of George H. W. Bush (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006); (e) Timothy Naftali, George H.W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989–1993 (New York: Times Books, 2007); (f) George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father (New York: Crown Publishers, 2014); (g) John H. Sununu, The Quiet Man — The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush (New York: Broadside Books, 2015); (h) Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power — The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (New York: Random House, 2015).[/fn]
Bush had already been accepted for enrollment at Yale while a senior at Andover, but decided to join the military because of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Bush reported for active duty on August 5, 1942, at the Navy Pre-Flight Training School at the Horace Williams Airport on the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina. (Other notable people who trained at Horace Williams included Gerald Ford, Ted Williams, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Doc Blanchard, and Otto Graham.) On June 9, 1943, Bush was commissioned as an ensign in the USNR; he was the youngest aviator in the Navy at that time. At the conclusion of his active military service Bush had flown 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Bush commenced his college studies in the Fall of 1945. In addition to his time in the classroom (in an accelerated program that allowed him to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in just two and a half years) Bush also played on Yale’s 1945 varsity soccer team (captained by Francis Brice), which achieved an undefeated record (8–0–2) to win the New England Intercollegiate Soccer League championship. His first collegiate baseball season came in the spring of 1946.
In order to compile the complete record of George H.W. Bush’s Yale baseball career, I obtained batting and fielding statistics for each of the games he played for Yale from 1946 through 1948 by scrutinizing the box scores and game accounts. Yale played 17 collegiate baseball games in 1946, 28 games in 1947, and 31 games in 1948. The following newspapers were examined to obtain the requisite information from the box scores and text descriptions of the games: Yale Daily News, New Haven Evening Register, New Haven Register, New Haven Journal-Courier, The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Washington Post.
Red Rolfe was the coach of the varsity baseball team when Bush arrived. Rolfe had been at the helm since 1943, having taken over from Smoky Joe Wood, who had guided the Eli-nine since 1924. However, after the completion of Yale’s 1945–46 basketball season, Rolfe — who was also the varsity hoops coach — left to return to the pros, joining the New York Yankees as their third base coach and right-hand man to manager Joe McCarthy. Before becoming an Eli, Rolfe, a Dartmouth University alumnus, had guarded the hot corner for the Bronx Bombers (1934–42). So, when the 1946 baseball season commenced, Bush and his teammates had a brand new coach — Ethan Allen, an alumnus of the University of Cincinnati, who had achieved a lifetime .300 batting average during a 13-year major league career (1926–38) as an outfielder (primarily center and left) with six teams (Reds, Giants, Cardinals, Phillies, Cubs, and Browns).
For Yale’s 1946 baseball campaign, 74 candidates turned out for the first practice sessions in early March; twenty-five of the candidates had worn Eli varsity or freshman uniforms in previous years.[fn]“74 Candidates Turn Out For First Baseball Practice Sessions,” Yale News Digest (# 32, March 12, 1946) 1.[/fn] The top men for first base were a trio of discharged service officers — Bill Howe, Vinny Lynch, and George Bush, who had played first base during his high school years at Andover and went by the nickname “Poppy” at Yale.[fn]The origin of “Poppy” as George H.W. Bush’s nickname is described in Looking Forward on page 28 — “[My] grandfather Walker’s sons, i.e. my uncles, called him ‘Pop,’ and started calling me ‘Little Pop’ and ‘Poppy.’ That was all right for a small boy, said my father, but it just wouldn’t do as a nickname that might follow me through life. Dad usually had a good crystal ball, but this time he was wrong.” However, “Poppy” certainly did accompany Bush at Yale, as evidenced by the frequent use of “Poppy” in describing Bush’s performance in the articles published in the Yale Daily News. In a May 31, 1996, article by Woody Anderson for the Hartford Courant, “At the Inaugural Series, A President in the Lineup,” the following items were presented: (a) “[Teammate Jim] Duffus said the nickname Poppy came from Bush’s grandfather. He was a favorite of his grandfather, who was named Poppy, and followed him around. He was known as Poppy’s boy and it was shortened to Poppy. We never heard people say George.” (b) “Art Moher was Yale’s junior shortstop in 1947. He said Bush was a ‘Punch-and-Judy hitter, but an outstanding fielder.’ Moher said, ‘We always said to Poppy, ‘Don’t lose the glove.’” The given first name of one of George H.W. Bush’s great-granddaughters (second daughter of Jenna Bush Hager) is Poppy — in homage.[/fn] Six other men were also vying for the initial sack — Joseph Bower, Kleber Campbell, Russell Candee, Donald Prior, Hugh Sinclair, and Clinton Vose. After a week, the number of candidates had been pared down to 34, including five for first base — Howe, Lynch, Bush, Vose, and Sinclair.[fn]. “Eli Baseball Team Points For Opener With Connecticut,” Yale News Digest (#34, March 19, 1946) 1.[/fn]
Following another two and a half weeks of practice, the tentative starting lineups had been decided by Coach Allen, with Bush and Howe the final two in contention for first-string first-sacker.[fn]“Baseball Team Points For First Game With Connecticut Here Next Week,” Yale News Digest (#39, April 05, 1946) 1.[/fn] On April 12, the starting lineup for Yale’s April-15 season opener versus the University of Connecticut was announced by Coach Allen and Bush had won the job:[fn]“Yale Baseball Team Opens Season Tomorrow Against Connecticut U.,” Yale News Digest (#41, April 12, 1946) 1. Having won the starting first base job for the Bulldogs, George H.W. Bush was following in the footsteps of his father — Prescott Sheldon Bush had been a star first baseman and batted cleanup on the 1917 Yale baseball team: (a) George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father; (b) Mead and Dickson, Baseball: The Presidents’ Game[/fn]
- Mike Stimola (second base)
- Frank “Junie” O’Brien (third base)
- Art “Peewee” Moher (shortstop)
- Harry Reese (left field)
- Bolt Elwell (catcher)
- Bob James (center field)
- Bob Rosensweig (right field)
- George “Poppy” Bush (first base)
- Frank Quinn (pitcher)
One last-minute change was necessitated because Rosensweig went on the sick list; his place was taken by Bob Simpson.
As Yale’s 1946 season proceeded, a total of twenty players, including four pitchers, saw action for the Bulldogs, who played a total of 17 official collegiate games. Table 1 presents the batting records of Yale’s principal players, those who participated in at least eight of Yale’s 17 games. Appendix A (available on the SABR website) provides the game scores and the game-by-game batting and fielding lines achieved by Bush (who typically batted seventh or eighth). Yale also had one unofficial “exhibition” game (not included in Table 1 or Appendix A).[fn]On April 18 Yale played a game versus the Kings Point Merchant Marines. At that time (right after World War II), Kings Point was a training center for the Merchant Marines; it did not become a degree-granting institution (academy) until 1949. Bush was the starting first baseman for the Elis and went 0-for-4; the Bulldogs lost the encounter, 4–3.[/fn]
Table 1. Batting Records of Principal Players on Yale’s 1946 Baseball Team
|Harry Reese||LF, CF||12||36||9||14||10||.389|
|Bob James||CF, LF||17||65||13||24||9||.369|
Let’s also take a close look at a few games, focusing on Bush’s performance. His first time in the batter’s box came in Yale’s first game of the season, versus Connecticut (on April 13). In the bottom of the second inning, with the game scoreless and a runner on second base with two outs, the right-handed batting Bush, wearing number 2, “drilled a single into the hole between short and third” to drive home the initial run of the campaign.[fn]This quotation is taken from the game account written by John J. Leary, Jr. for the New Haven Evening Register, April 14, 1946.[/fn] In his next three plate appearances he collected another single and reached first with a base on balls. The walk started a seventh-inning rally which contributed to the 4–3 Yale victory. After getting the free pass, Bush moved to second on a sacrifice and then — with some daring baserunning — he advanced to third on a ground ball single to short. He subsequently scored the game-tying run.
In the field, Bush handled 16 chances — 15 putouts and one assist — without an error. He participated in a crucial double play to thwart a bases-loaded threat in the fifth. So, the former World War II pilot had an auspicious start to his college baseball career.
Bush’s offensive performance topped that of his UConn counterpart at first base — who went 0-for-4 — cleanup batter Walt Dropo, who would win the American League “Rookie of the Year” Award in 1950 and go on to a 13-year major league career. According to the New Haven Evening Register, “Dropo was, however, the defensive star for the U-Conns.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
In the next game, another home contest, Bush was again the starting first baseman. He got one hit (a single) in three at bats as the Elis routed Brown University, 17–3. With the game well in hand, Coach Ethan Allen decided to take a look at his bench. Among the substitutes he used was Hugh Sinclair, who played the last few innings at first base — his only appearance in the 1946 campaign. Bush was the exclusive first sacker for the remainder of the season.[fn]The only other game in the 1946 season in which Bush did not play in its entirety was the one on May 25 at Holy Cross. Coach Allen elected to pinch hit for Bush in the top of the ninth inning; Bill Howe flied out. Since the Elis were in process of losing the game, they did not have to take the field in the bottom of the ninth.[/fn]
Another 1946 highlight was the rematch with the Cadets of Army played at West Point, where Bush emerged as the hero. In the top of the seventh inning he drove in the sixth Bulldog run with a sharp single (his second hit of the day) to break the tie and give the Blue a 6–5 advantage — the final score — maintaining Yale’s perfect collegiate record.
Bush was not an offensive leader on the 1946 team. Of the twelve players listed in Table 1, Bush ranked ninth in batting average. All but one of Poppy’s hits were singles; his only extra base hit was a double in the game against Dartmouth on April 27. As the season progressed, Bush’s batting average dipped below .200. Going 4-for-11 in the final three games of the year (against bitter perennial foes Princeton and Harvard), Bush upped his batting average from below the Mendoza line to .212 (11-for-52). Even though his batting record was far from pace-setting, his fielding performance was exemplary. Bush committed only two errors in 143 total chances — including 137 putouts and 4 assists — giving him a .986 fielding average. For comparison, the composite fielding average for first basemen among Yale’s opponents was just .970. Thus, the overall performance of George Bush on the baseball diamond in the first year of his collegiate career would probably be rated as “good field, poor hit.”
Other items worth mentioning from Bush’s first collegiate season include the following:
- Bush had one stolen base — in the game against Harvard on June 24.
- Bush started at first base in all 17 of Yale’s collegiate games. He was one of only four players to play in all 17 games.
- The Elis won the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League Championship with a record of 7–1. The other teams in the loop were Pennsylvania University (5–3), Columbia (5–4), Cornell (5–4), Princeton (3–7), and Harvard (2–8). The Bulldogs swept the “Big Three” title with two triumphs over Harvard and two wins against Princeton. Overall, Yale’s varsity baseball team turned in a sterling 14–3 won-lost collegiate record.
During the Fall 1946 semester, Yale again competed in soccer. Bush was among those from the undefeated 1945 season due to return to the team captained by Paul Laurent. However, Bush had come down with malaria and was unable to participate in any of the nine games (in which the Bulldogs compiled a 3–3–3 ledger). Fortunately, Poppy had fully recovered in time for the 1947 baseball season.
Coach Allen utilized a total of 22 players in 1947, eight of them returnees from 1946. Frank “Junie” O’Brien was elected team captain. The Elis compiled a 16–7–1 record overall. Within the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League their W–L–T record was 9–3–0, topping Columbia (7–5–0), Harvard (7-5-0), Princeton (7–5–0), Pennsylvania (6–6–0), Dartmouth (3–9–0), and Cornell (3–9–0) and garnering the Bulldogs the championship for the second consecutive year and an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Yale won its first two NCAA Tournament games against Clemson and New York, becoming the Eastern Region champions and gaining the right to play in the first College World Series, facing the University of California (Berkeley) — winners of the Western Region. The Golden Bears defeated the Bulldogs, two games to none, to earn the College Baseball World Championship. Thus, overall, Yale compiled an 18–9–1 won-lost-tied record for the 1947 campaign. Table 2 presents a listing of the eleven Bulldog players who saw diamond action on a regular basis during the 1947 season. Appendix B presents the line scores for the batting and fielding performances on a game-by-game basis accomplished by Bush, who again batted in the seventh or eighth slots in the batting lineup. Yale also played two exhibition games (not included in Table 2 or Appendix B).[fn]Yale also played two “exhibition” games in 1947. Neither of these exhibition contests was included in the full-season schedule. (1) Against “Equitable” on April 14. Bush was the starting first baseman for the Bulldogs and went 0-for-2; the Elis lost the contest, 3–0. (2) Versus the “Yale Club” (an aggregation of Bulldogs stars of yesteryear) on May 30, against whom Bush produced a 2–2–1–3 batting line, including a home run. Bush’s uncle, Lou Walker, pitched for the alumni team. In a letter to SABR member Norman L. Macht, Bush wrote, “Norm – Lou claims the ‘strike-out’; but the record book shows me homering off him — one of 2 homers I got all year — So much for the ‘K.’” See Appendix J for a copy of the letter.[/fn]
Table 2. Batting Records of Principal Players on Yale’s 1947 Baseball Team.
|Art Moher *||SS||26||97||21||28||16||.289|
|Bob Rosenweig *||CF||25||64||13||17||6||.266|
|George Bush *||1B||28||101||16||21||5||.208|
|Bolt Elwell *||C, LF||25||79||9||14||15||.177|
|George Sulliman *||LF, CF||18||56||9||10||5||.172|
|Frank Quinn *||P||21||44||8||6||4||.136|
|Frank O’Brien *||2B, 3B||21||62||7||7||5||.113|
NOTES: (1) An asterisk after the player’s name indicates that he was also a member on the 1946 Yale baseball team. (2) Complete RBI information was not available for the 5-24-1947 game with Pennsylvania, which Yale won by a 14–4 score.
In the 1947 season opener, on March 29 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bush was again the starting first baseman for the Yale Bulldogs. He batted seventh and in four plate appearances he reached base safely three times — a single, a base on balls, and a hit by pitch. He scored the fifth Eli run, which turned out to be the eventual winning run as the Blue defeated the Cavaliers, 6–4. Bush also handled a dozen fielding chances without an error. So, once again Bush started off the season with a pretty good performance. He continued with a 2-for-4 showing in the next game, a loss to the University of Richmond Spiders, 8–7.
After this solid start, Bush endured a rather lengthy period of difficulty in the batter’s box. During the next six games he went 0-for-18, his batting average plummeting to .125. Offensively, Poppy’s best game of the season was probably the May 24 encounter with Pennsylvania in which he had three hits (all singles) and scored three runs in a 14–4 rout. As in the previous season, his batting average was mired below .200 going into the final three games of the year — against Princeton (two games) and Harvard (one game). He went 4-for-10 to boost his average to .221 as the Elis captured two of those critically important games to emerge as the EIBL champions for the second straight year with a 9–3 record. Princeton and Harvard tied for second place at 7–5.
In the NCAA Eastern Regional Playoffs, Bush went 1-for-4 in each of the two games of the tournament as Yale defeated Clemson University, 7–3, and New York University, 6-4. In the NCAA finals — the very first College World Series (held in Kalamazoo, Michigan) — Bush went hitless in seven trips to the plate as the University of California (Berkeley) won each of the first two games in the best-of-three series. Thus, George Bush turned in a “nothing-to-brag-about” overall .208 collegiate batting average for the 1947 diamond season — 21 hits in 101 official at bats.
There were three games in particular wherein Bush’s performances had significant impact. On April 30, in the battle with Army at West Point, he was presented with a golden opportunity. The Elis were trailing the Cadets, 4–3, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. The Bulldogs had managed to get a couple of runners on base, but Poppy fanned to end the game. Bush and two other Blue infielders had committed three errors in Army’s fourth inning which contributed to all of the Cadets’ runs.
In the very next game, a rematch against Army, Bush again encountered considerable misfortune. He committed two fielding errors (on one play) which contributed to three third-inning runs. Fortunately, the Elis staged a two-run rally to tie the score. But the rally came to an end when Bush stepped into the batter’s box and made the final out of the frame. After three more innings of scoreless baseball, a torrential downpour precluded further action, resulting in a 3–3 tie.
After his struggles against Army, Bush rose to the occasion in the NCAA Regional Championship game against NYU. With Yale trailing 4–1 in the seventh, Bush ignited a rally by leading off with a single and then scoring the first of five runs. The rally catapulted the Elis into the lead and the come-from-behind victory earned them the trip to that first College World Series.
Additional nuggets about Bush’s second baseball season at Yale include the following:
- As shown in Table 2, Poppy’s overall batting average ranked seventh among the eleven Elis who played regularly. He had three extra-base hits, all doubles.
- Bush tied for third in runs scored with 16. He also demonstrated reasonably good stealth on the base paths by swiping a half dozen bases (third on the team behind the 11 and 7 thefts achieved by Gordy Davis and Art Moher, respectively).
- Bush turned in a respectable fielding record in 1947 — 260 putouts, 12 assists, and 8 errors — which gave him a fielding average of .971, eighteen points higher than the composite fielding average (.953) of the first basemen of Eli opponents. The Associated Press account of the NCAA Finals praised Bush’s fielding prowess, reporting that “first sacker George (Poppy) Bush is a fielding artist.”[fn]Hugh Fullerton, Jr., New Haven Evening Register, June 29, 1947.[/fn]
- Bush was the only Eli player to participate in all 28 of Yale’s games and started in every one. In fact, Poppy played every inning of every game. Thus, following the example of the “major league player that as a kid he looked up to the most — Lou Gehrig, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame first baseman,” George Bush built up his own Iron Man credentials.[fn]Paraphrased from Looking Forward by George Bush (with Victor Gold), Bantam Books: New York, 1988, 44.[/fn]
The Yale varsity baseball team of 1948, again coached by Ethan Allen, was composed of a dozen returning lettermen, and a total of 22 players would don the Eli uniform. Bush, again wearing uniform number 2, was again the starting first baseman. Prior to the start of the season, Poppy’s teammates elected him to be their captain.
Table 3 presents the batting performances of the thirteen Eli players who played on a regular basis in the 31 official college games of the 1948 season (including six post-season tournament contests). Appendix C provides the line scores for the batting and fielding performances on a game-by-game basis achieved by George Bush.
Table 3. Batting Records of Principal Players on Yale’s 1948 Baseball Team.
|Dick Tettelbach||CF, LF||18||50||9||19||8||.380|
|Norm Felske *||C||29||103||10||35||16||.340|
|Tom Redden||LF, CF||29||107||19||34||19||.318|
|Art Moher *||SS||31||118||31||35||18||.297|
|George Bush *||1B||31||110||18||27||17||.245|
|Dick Mathews *||2B, 3B||31||112||14||27||24||.241|
|Bob Rosenweig *||CF||13||26||3||5||5||.192|
|Delos Smith||2B, LF||31||106||10||20||6||.189|
|Bob Goodyear||P, RF||18||50||7||9||6||.180|
|Frank Quinn *||P||18||44||6||5||1||.114|
NOTE: An Asterisk after the player’s name indicates that he was also a member on the 1946 and/or 1947 Yale baseball team.
Yale began its defense of the NCAA Eastern Regional crown with an early spring trip to the South where they were scheduled to play six games in eight days. After rain prevented the playing of the first game (against Richmond), the Elis opened the 1948 season against the University of North Carolina. George Bush went 0-for-3 as the Bulldogs and the Tarheels played to a 7–7 draw. However, the Yale captain was on target in the next game, a 9–6 victory over North Carolina State University (at Raleigh) on April 3:
“BUSH’S 3 HITS PACE BLUE IN FIRST TOUR WIN” read the headline in the April 4 edition of the New Haven Register. From the article: “George Bush, husky first baseman, contributed a single, double, and triple to the winner’s attack.” The box score showed Bush scored two runs and batted in three more, and that he had one stolen base.[fn]New Haven Evening Register, April 4, 1948.[/fn] That batting performance was the most impressive in his collegiate career. In his autobiography, Looking Forward, Mr. Bush recalled that after that game, “some scouts approached him as he left the field; however, that was the first and last nibble he ever got from the pros.”[fn]Looking Forward by George Bush (with Victor Gold), 42[/fn]
After getting a single in three at bats in the following game (a 2–0 loss to Wake Forest), Bush hit a four-game slump, going 0-for-11. He rebounded with a robust showing in a 7–0 vanquishment of the University of Connecticut on April 20; he smashed a double and a two-run homer over the left field wall at Yale Field. That home run — the only one in Bush’s career — came off Hy Chapin, a former minor league pitcher with both Easton (1939) and Federalsburg (1941) in the Class D Eastern Shore League.
As the 1948 season progressed, Yale won enough games to gain an invitation to the NCAA Eastern Regional Tournament in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (along with the University of Illinois, North Carolina, and Lafayette). During the “regular” season the Elis had compiled a 17–7–1 record. Within the EIBL, the Bulldogs went 6–3–0, placing them third in the final standings.[fn]. Final standings and records: Dartmouth (7–1–0); Navy (7–2–0); Yale (6–3–0); Army (5–3–0); Cornell (3–4–0); Columbia (3–5–0); Pennsylvania (3–5–0); Princeton (3–6–0); Harvard (2–4–0); Brown (0–6–0). There are a couple of “curiosities” about the 1948 EIBL season. While Dartmouth emerged as the EIBL champion with its 7–1–0 record (it’s only loss being inflicted by Yale), it was not invited to participate in the NCAA Eastern Regional Tournament. Instead, Yale, with a W–L–T record of 6–2–0 — before the NCAA Eastern Regional Tournament commenced — was invited. Here’s the relevant information as reported in the June 9 issue of the New York Times [Dateline — Hamilton, NY, June 8 (AP)], “Yale was named today to represent District 1 at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Eastern baseball tournament at Winston-Salem, N.C., June 15 to 17. Yale, last year’s champion of the four districts, was selected by Prof. Walter Snell of Brown University, NCAA selection committee chairman.” With regard to the selection criteria, I was unable to ascertain precisely what they were. Neither the Ivy League (which replaced the EIBL in 1954), nor Yale University, nor Dartmouth University were able to provide the information. Here’s what is given on Wikipedia (retrieved July 16, 2017): 1947 — In the sub-heading “Field” is this: “The tournament field was determined by regional committees, some of whom held playoffs, while others selected specific conference champions, and still others simply selected their representatives.” 1948 — In the sub-heading “Field” is this: “As with the inaugural tournament, each representative of the eight districts was determined by a mix of selection committees, conference champions, and district playoffs.” While the New York Times article did mention the teams comprising Districts 2 (Rutgers, Navy, Lafayette, and West Virginia), 3 (George Washington, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Alabama), and 4 (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio University, and Western Michigan), the teams making up District 1 with Yale were not given. I was not able to determine who the other District 1 teams were in 1948. So, for 1948, since there were no playoffs for District 1, Yale was simply selected (even though it was not and could not be the EIBL champion). Then, after the Bulldogs had won the NCAA Eastern Regional Tournament, Yale played its final EIBL game — against Harvard — which the Elis lost, giving them its final EIBL W–L–T ledger of 6–3–0, which established the Bulldogs as the third-best team in the EIBL. It is mentioned that the Yale-Harvard game on June 21 was originally scheduled as the annual “reunion game” between the two arch rivals; it was not supposed to be an EIBL game. However, when the originally-scheduled EIBL game between Yale and Harvard was rained out, the reunion game became the EIBL game as well. It should be noted that Dartmouth also had an EIBL game rained out — May 21 versus Army. However, as it turned out, due to various schedule conflicts, that game was not made up. Finally, in a summary of Dartmouth’s 1948 baseball season, Dave Jones wrote for the 1949 Aegis (Dartmouth Yearbook): “Rebounding from a dismal 1947 season, the Dartmouth baseball team recaptured some former glory by winning the Ivy League Championship. Blessed with three veterans and six hustling and willing sophomores, Coach Jeremiah molded a team that won seven of eight games and 13 of 16 over-all with one game ending in a tie. The one loss was at the hands of Yale and the great Frank Quinn. Yale, in turn, lost three league games, but nevertheless represented District 1 in the post-season NCAA tournament — a decision that caused no little consternation among followers of Dartmouth’s baseball fortunes. …En route to Hamilton, NY, to play Colgate [June 09], the Dartmouth nine learned that Yale had been chosen for the NCAA tournament. A severe mental letdown followed [and Dartmouth lost the game, 1–7].”[/fn] In the Eastern Regionals, the Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA College World Series by defeating North Carolina in the opening round (6–1) and sweeping Lafayette twice in the second round (11–2 and 4–3). But the Elis were not able to continue their winning ways in the NCAA Finals in Kalamazoo, losing the three-game series to the Trojans of the University of Southern California, two games to one by scores of 3–1, 8–3, and 9–2.
The 1948 season was a good campaign for George Bush. He compiled a batting average of .245 (27-for-110), a 37 point improvement over his 1947 average. As shown in Table 3, he again ranked seventh among the batting averages assembled by the 13 players regularly used by Coach Ethan Allen.
Some other noteworthy items for Bush during the 1948 baseball season:
- Poppy hit with more power in his final season than he had in his previous two campaigns. He rapped out nine doubles, one triple, and one homer, for a .373 slugging average. One of Poppy’s doubles came in the game against Princeton on June 5. Prior to that game captain Bush met Babe Ruth at home plate. The Bambino presented the final manuscript of The Babe Ruth Story (co-written by George Herman himself and journalist Bob Considine) to Yale University. Ruth addressed the crowd (estimated to be between five and six thousand) saying, “I’ve been to New Haven many, many times over the years, but this is one of the best times.”[fn]Joel Alderman, “Babe Ruth a Part of Yale Field’s Most Historic Moment,” sportzedge.com, June 5, 2013 (retrieved June 28, 2017).[/fn] Bush later recalled his meeting with the world’s all-time most famous baseball player, stating, “Meeting Babe Ruth on Yale Field was a thrill that stays with me till this day. He was cancer-riddled. His voice was more of a croak than a normal voice, but he radiated greatness and I was privileged to have been asked to go out to home plate with him to receive his papers that he donated to Yale.”[fn]Matt Nadel, “A Baseball Interview with President George H.W. Bush,” https://baseballwithmatt.mlblogs.com, November 02, 2014 (retrieved June 28, 2017).[/fn] Teammate Jim Duffus also recalled the Ruth-Bush meeting: “Yet after the ceremony at home plate, Bush insisted the Babe come over to the Yale dugout to meet each player personally. He was real hoarse, but he went up and down the bench whispering, ‘Hiya, kid.’ I’ll never forget that Poppy let us all share the glory.”[fn]Bill Koenig, “Bush Fielded Leadership Role at Yale,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, Volume 1, Number 1 (April 5, 1991) 49.[/fn]
- Bush finished third in runs scored and fourth in runs batted in among his Eli teammates. With regard to hitting near the bottom of the batting order, Bush once joked, “I was kind of the second cleanup.”[fn]M. Charles Bakst, “Talkin’ Baseball for George Bush — Memories of the Babe and the Summer Game Warm the Chill of Winter,” Providence Journal, March 3, 1985.[/fn]
- In the fielding department, Poppy made but two (inconsequential) errors in a total of 270 fielding chances — including 248 putouts and 20 assists — for a glowing .993 fielding average. The composite fielding average of the first sackers on Yale’s 1948 opponents was just .973.
- For the third consecutive year George Bush started all 31 games in the season and with the exception of the last few innings of the game against Duke on April 6, Bush played every inning of every game in 1948. A particularly strong demonstration of his iron man character is shown by the games against Boston College and Amherst on April 22 and 24, respectively. The column headline in the April 24 edition of the Yale Daily News reads, “Bush Doubtful Starter Due To Spike Wound.” As Stan Feur wrote, “There is a question mark in the Yale ranks as to whether Captain George Poppy Bush will be ready to go in today’s fray. The classy fielding first baseman, who has been hammering out some hefty blows of late, has a painful wound received against Boston College.”[fn]Stan Feur, “Bulldog Diamondmen Set to Face Lord Jeffs on Yale Field Today — Bush Doubtful Starter Due to Spike Wound,” Yale Daily News, April 24, 1948.[/fn] Bush played every inning in each of those games.[fn]In that April 6, game against Duke, the Blue Devils had built up a 9–0 lead within the first three innings. With the game’s final outcome (apparently) already decided at such an early point, Yale coach Allen decided to take a good look at his bench and brought in a number of replacements, including a substitute for Bush. Gerry Breen took over for Bush in the fifth and finished with two at bats, no runs, no hits and seven putouts, one assist, and no errors at first base.[/fn]
A pair of 1948 games merit mention since one of baseball’s rarest events took place in each of them:
In the April 24 contest against Amherst, Bush took part in a nifty triple play. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the fourth, the Lord Jeffs put runners on first and second with nobody out. The next batter smashed a line drive over second. The Eli shortstop, Art Moher, snared the shot and stepped on the keystone (to get the first two outs) and then fired to first. However, “the hurried peg was high and wide.” But, Bush — spike wound and all — managed to catch the errant heave and tag the runner as he overslid the bag for the final out of the rally-squelching triple play.[fn]John J. Leary Jr., New Haven Register, April 25, 1948.[/fn]
In the opening game of the NCAA Finals, Yale carried a 1–0 lead into the top of the ninth inning. But the USC Trojans rallied for three runs to take the lead. In the Eli half of the frame, the Bulldogs managed to get their first three batters on to load the bases with nobody out. Most unfortunately (from the Yale perspective), the next batter hit into a game-ending triple play. Had such a cataclysmic ending not occurred, the opportunity to produce a dramatic triumph would have passed to the next batter — Captain George Poppy Bush. One can only imagine how differently things might have transpired.
A. The Statistical Collegiate Baseball Record of George H.W. Bush
With accurate game-by-game statistics in hand for each of the collegiate games played by George “Poppy” Bush during his three years on Yale’s varsity baseball team, one can readily and reliably determine his statistics for each of his seasons and for his entire career. Table 4 presents the complete season-by-season collegiate batting and fielding stats assembled by the 41st President of the United States.
(Click image to enlarge.)
In 76 games, Bush assembled a career fielding average of .983, a lifetime batting average of .224 (59-for-263) with one home run — in sync with the “good-field-no-hit” description given to Poppy by his coach Ethan Allen.[fn]George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father.[/fn] How do my numbers for Bush’s collegiate baseball career compare with the information presented for him elsewhere over the years? The short answer is, “Not well.”
In 1990, the Topps (Chewing Gum) Company produced a baseball card specifically for President George Bush, honoring his unique achievement of being the only US president to play in the College World Series.[fn](a) Joe Orlando, “By George…It’s Complicated — The 1990 Topps George Bush Baseball Card,” psacard.com, July 9, 2013 (retrieved July 26, 2017); (b) “PSA Confirms Two Types of 1990 Topps George Bush Baseball Cards,” psacard.com, July 9, 2013 (retrieved July 26, 2017); (c) Ryan Cracknell, “The Story of the 1990 Topps George Bush Baseball Card,” cardboardconnection.com (retrieved July 26, 2017); (d) Bob Lemke, “1990 George Bush Reprint Created,” boblemkeblogspot.com, February 21, 2013 (retrieved July 26, 2017).[/fn]
The card, which has the exact-same front and back designs as the regular-issue 1990 Topps baseball card set, shows the (supposedly) “Complete Collegiate Batting Record — Yale University” for George Bush, as presented in Figure 1.
(Click image to enlarge.)
As can be seen, no statistics for Bush’s 1946 season are included on the Topps card, and there are numerous differences between my numbers shown in Table 4 and the numbers for Bush’s 1947 and 1948 statistics. See Appendix D (available on SABR.org) for color images of the front and back of the 1990 Topps baseball card of George Bush.
In 1991, an article in the premiere issue of USA Today Baseball Weekly incorrectly stated that Bush was on the Yale baseball team for two years (not three) and compiled a career batting average of .251 (44-for-175) with two homers in 51 games.[fn]Bill Koenig, “Bush Fielded Leadership Role at Yale,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, Volume 1, Number 1, (April 5, 1991) 49. See also: George Vecsey, “Sports of the Times; Keep Moving, Mr. President,” The New York Times (May 13, 1991) — Vecsey wrote that President Bush said this about himself, “Yes, very good fielder, not a very good hitter. Unfortunately, the record is out there. Somebody came up with the figures, .240–.250 range. Just because I batted eighth, that shouldn’t be held against me. No, I wasn’t much of a hitter.”[/fn] The statistics given in the USA Today Baseball Weekly article are identical to those shown on the 1990 Topps baseball card (Figure 1). More recently, in conjunction with Yale’s preparations to celebrate the sesquicentennial season of Eli baseball in 2015, Yale University issued a press release focused on Bush’s Bulldog diamond career.[fn]Steve Lewis, “Former President Recalls Yale Baseball Days,” Yale University Press Release, January 15, 2015. www.yalebulldogs.com (retrieved June 28, 2017.)[/fn] The January 2015 press release incorrectly stated the following:
Bush had a strong three-year career with the Bulldogs, playing only part of the 1946 season in addition to the two historic seasons to follow. Bush was as good a fielder as any on the team, fashioning .976 and .992 fielding percentages in 1947 and 1948. His career batting average was .215 with a season-high .245 in 1948 (statistics may be incomplete). In 1948, Bush also hit one home run, one triple, seven doubles, knocked in 16 runs and scored 17 himself. In 1947, Bush hit .208 with one double, six RBI, and five stolen bases in 29 games played.
Compared to my statistics for Bush’s collegiate baseball performance, there clearly are several discrepancies with the statistics shown on the 1990 Topps baseball card, the 1991 USA Today Baseball Weekly article, and the 2015 Yale press release. All (or most) of the stats included in these sources are apparently “from a fact file [at Yale] that had been around from a long time ago.”[fn]“Baseball Expert Challenges Yale Stats on ‘Poppy’ Bush,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, Volume 1, Number 5, (May 03, 1991) 27. This article is based on a letter (April 18, 1991) from Herman Krabbenhoft to Paul White, Editor, USA Today Baseball Weekly. The major points stated in my letter were published in the article (without a by-line).[/fn] For example, the Yale stats apparently include the May 30, 1947, exhibition game played between the varsity team and the “Yale Club” — an aggregation of Bulldogs players from past years; Poppy produced a 2–2–2–3 batting line in that game, including a home run. The most glaring discrepancy between my statistical record for Bush and Yale’s statistical record is that Yale omits Poppy’s participation in every game of the Eli’s 1946 championship season.
One might wonder how President Bush feels about the research I did on his baseball record at Yale. I sent my findings to the President while he was still in office and was pleased to receive a personal letter on White House stationery from him. Figure 2 is an image of the letter.
(Click image to enlarge.)
B. Poppy’s Teammates Who Played Professional Baseball
In his autobiography, Looking Forward, in response to the rhetorical question, “What brought me to Texas…” Mr. Bush wrote, “The truth? I wish I could have answered, ‘A fat contract to play professional baseball.’”[fn]George Bush (with Victor Gold), Looking Forward, 42.[/fn] While Poppy did not accomplish the dream of making it to the major leagues as a player, nine of his Eli teammates did sign contracts to play minor-league baseball: Dick Manville, Norm Felske, Dick Mathews, Art Moher, Jim Duffus, Frank Quinn, Walt Gathman, Art Fitzgerald, and Dick Tettelbach. Three of these Bulldog alumni made it to the big leagues — Manville, Quinn, and Tettelbach. (Appendix E provides the minor league records achieved by each of these Bush teammates.)
Manville had two trials in the major leagues — one game (two innings) in 1950 with the Boston Braves and eleven games (17 innings) in 1952 with the Chicago Cubs. In neither stint did Manville record a victory or a defeat. After his diamond career, Manville went on to greater success as the co-owner of the Forbes-Manville Furniture Showcase which served retail outlets in the Midwest and Florida.[fn]Rich Marazzi and Len Fiorito, Baseball Players of the 1950s — A Biographical Dictionary of All 1,560 Major Leaguers (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009) 232.[/fn]
Frank “The Arm” Quinn earned a trial with the Boston Red Sox in 1949 — appearing in eight games (all relief assignments) and compiling a 2.86 ERA with no wins or losses. In 1950, after appearing in just one game for the Sox, he was acquired by the Washington Nationals (commonly referred to by the nickname Senators) and sent to their Chattanooga team (Southern Association) where he produced a 1–3 W–L ledger with a 6.30 ERA. While Quinn was on the spring roster of the Senators in 1951 — even appearing on a baseball card (# 276 in the Bowman set) — he saw no more major league action. “Quinn later moved to Los Angeles and became Vice President of First Western Bank and Trust Co. He worked as a bank executive in New York and Miami as well. In his later years, he worked in Florida real estate development.”[fn]. Bill Nowlin, “Frank Quinn,” SABR BioProject, sabr.org (retrieved July 1, 2017).[/fn]
Tettelbach’s excellent minor-league performance eventually earned him a trip to the big leagues, where he made his major-league debut with the Yankees on September 25, 1955. He ended up playing in two games, going hitless in five at bats. Prior to the 1956 season, he was traded (along with Whitey Herzog, Bob Wiesler, Lou Berberet, and Herb Plews) to the Senators (for Mickey McDermott and Bobby Kline). With Washington, he cracked the starting lineup and in his first at bat — on Opening Day (shortly after President Dwight Eisenhower had thrown out the ceremonial first pitch) — he blasted a home run off Don Larsen. However, after 18 games he was batting only .156 and was sent down to Denver, where he batted an unimpressive .250 in 72 contests. Tettelbach made it back to the bigs in the beginning of the 1957 campaign, but batted a paltry .182 in nine games. On May 15 he voluntarily retired from professional baseball. “He went to work for the Copeland Company, a manufacturer of asphalt. He also became a major force in the Connecticut State Golf Association as both a player and official. A six-time Yale Golf Club champion, he served on the Golf Association’s executive committee for 25 years, and was its president in 1991–92.”[fn]Pete Zanardi, “Dick Tettelbach,” SABR BioProject, sabr.org (retrieved July 1, 2017).[/fn]
In addition to three of his teammates making the majors, so did two of Bush’s opponents: the aforementioned Walt Dropo (UConn, 1946) and Jackie Jensen, who played for the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1947 NCAA Finals. Dropo’s major league accomplishments included the 1950 American League RBI crown and the still-standing major league record for “most hits, consecutive — 12” which he accomplished in 1952 while playing with the Detroit Tigers.[fn]Seymour Siwoff, The Elias Book of Baseball Records (New York: Seymour Siwoff, 2017) 384, 412.[/fn] Jensen put together an eleven-year major-league career with the Yankees, Senators, and Red Sox that included three RBI crowns (1955, 1958, and 1959) and the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1958.[fn]. Siwoff, The Elias Book of Baseball Records, 384, 410[/fn]
Another diamond foe from Poppy Bush’s collegiate days who did quite well in baseball was Vin Scully. He played center field for the Fordham Rams in the April 12, 1947, contest against the Yale Bulldogs. Like Bush, he went 0-for-3 in that game. Scully would go on to an illustrious career as a baseball broadcaster, and receive the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award among other accolades. Poppy also crossed paths with George “Sparky” Anderson. Although he would bat a lackluster .218 in his only big-league season (1959 Phillies), Anderson subsequently excelled as a manager, guiding three World Champions (1975 Reds, 1976 Reds, and 1984 Tigers) and earning a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. Anderson was the batboy for the 1948 USC Trojans, Yale’s opponent in the College World Series that year.
C. Baseball Awards and Honors
While the focus of this article deals with the statistical record of Poppy Bush, there are other significant items closely connected to his performance on the diamond that merit inclusion here.
The George H.W. Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award was created by Yale University to honor Yale alumni athletes who, in their lives after Yale, have made significant leadership contributions in the worlds of governance, commerce, science and technology, education, public service, and the arts and media. The award was named for Bush as the living example of one who successfully and selflessly addressed the global leadership demands of his position. Each honoree is chosen by a broadly representative alumni Honors Committee, based upon the candidates’ individual lifetime leadership contributions in their respective fields. All have been graduated for more than 20 years. Emphasizing that athletics is an important component of the Yale undergraduate educational experience, the award has been given biennially beginning in 2001.[fn]“2017 Blue Leadership Ball,” yalebulldogs.com (retrieved July 07, 2017).[/fn] Three of the award recipients played on Yale’s varsity baseball teams:
- James McNerney (1971) received the award in 2007 in recognition of his illustrious career as a senior executive for Proctor & Gamble, General Electric, 3M, and Boeing.
- Stephen D. Greenberg (1970) received the award in 2009 in recognition of his executive-level leadership in the sports and media industries, such as the Los Angeles law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips (specializing in sports and general business law, including agenting for baseball players), Major League Baseball (as deputy commissioner to Fay Vincent), Classic Sports Network (which he cofounded and eventually sold to ESPN), and Allen & Co. (an investment bank). A son of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, Steve also played minor league baseball from 1970 through 1974, compiling a .272–.387–.432 BA–OBP–SLG line with 32 homers in three Triple-A seasons with Denver (American Association) and Spokane (Pacific Coast League).
- James Goodale (1955) was honored in 2015 in recognition of his leadership accomplishments as the vice president and general counsel for the New York Times especially for his principal roles in the “Pentagon Papers” and “Reporter’s Privilege.”
In addition to these three Yale Bulldog diamondeers, Eli hockey alumnus Roland W. Betts (1968) received the prestigious award in 2005. While he did not play baseball for Yale, he was a major investor in the Texas Rangers Baseball Club, 1989–98.
The George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award was created by the National College Baseball Hall of Fame to honor college baseball players who earned a varsity letter in intercollegiate baseball competition and went on to achieve tremendous off-field professional careers.[fn]“New Alumnus Award to Honor Off-Field Accomplishments,” collegebaseballhall.org, October 2, 2014 (retrieved June 28, 2017). See also the following press releases from the College Baseball Hall of Fame for the announcements of the subsequent recipients of the George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award: collegebaseballhall.org, July 20, 2015 (Williams and Brown); October 02, 2015 (Scully); May 9, 2016 (Olerud). For a description of the George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award trophy, a bronze sculpture featuring a baseball cap with a Yale “Y,” an old baseball, and a replica of the first baseman’s mitt used during the college career of Poppy Bush, see: Joel Alderman, “College Baseball Hall of Fame Creates ‘Distinguished Alumnus Award’ for ex-President and Yale Captain, George H.W. Bush, Who Will Be Its First Recipient,” sportzedge.com, October 27 2014 (retrieved June 28, 2017). This article includes a number of interesting tangential items, such as George Bush’s final day as a Yale student-athlete being a “presidential” day — “George H.W. Bush graduated from Yale on June 22, 1948, after taking an accelerated program to get through college in less than three years. One of those receiving honorary degrees from Yale at the time was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. This means that at least two future U.S. presidents were on Yale’s Old Campus that day for the commencement. And, if Barbara Bush had brought her two-year old son, George W. Bush, along, which was highly likely, that would have made three presidents-to-be who were together for the occasion.”[/fn] The initial award was bestowed to George “Poppy” Bush on November 13, 2014. Subsequently, there have been four more recipients of the award:
- U.S. Representative Roger Williams (on August 29, 2015), who previously served as the Texas Secretary of State, played baseball at Texas Christian University and then professionally in the Atlanta Braves organization (1971–73), later returning to TCU as head coach.
- Dr. Bobby Brown (August 29, 2015), who played baseball at Stanford, UCLA, and then Tulane, around Naval Officer Training and medical school, before joining the New York Yankees organization and playing in four World Series during a career spanning parts of eight major-league seasons (1946–52, 1954). Following his career as a cardiologist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Brown served as the president of the American League 1984–94.
- Vin Scully (November 08, 2015), who was an outfielder at Fordham in the late 1940s before becoming the voice of the Dodgers in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles (1950-2016).
- Dr. John Everett Olerud (July 16, 2016), who was an All-American catcher at Washington State University and led the Cougars to the 1965 College World Series and, after balancing medical school and minor league baseball for parts of seven summers (1965–71), pursued a career in dermatology at the University of Washington. He is the father of John Garrett Olerud, who had a 17-year major league career (1989–2005).
George H.W. Bush National College Baseball Hall of Fame will be the name of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. About this latest honor emanating from his collegiate baseball career, President Bush said, “To say I am pleased is an understatement. While my baseball days at Yale hardly measure up to the likes of my boyhood idol Lou Gehrig or Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson or Dave Winfield, I genuinely love the game and am so grateful for this honor, undeserved though it may be.” Construction of the building had been set to begin in late 2014.[fn]George Watson, “College Baseball HOF to be Named for Bush; Construction set for late 2014,” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, lubbockonline.com, November 14, 2013 (retrieved June 28, 2017).[/fn] Funding issues stalled the construction, and although there was a ceremonial groundbreaking in Lubbock, Texas, on June 29, 2015, no actual construction took place. On April 7, 2017, the College Baseball Foundation and the City of Lubbock released statements announcing that the George H.W. Bush College Baseball Hall of Fame would not be built in Lubbock. A week later, Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell stated that Wichita, Kansas, would explore being the home of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.[fn]Daniel McCoy, “Wichita to Swing at Landing College Baseball Hall of Fame,” Wichita Business Journal, April 14, 2017.[/fn] Two months later, on June 20, 2017, a group from Omaha, Nebraska, indicated that it was exploring bringing the College Baseball Hall of Fame to Omaha — where the College Baseball World Series has been played every year since 1950. The Omaha effort is being led by Omaha real estate executive Kyle Peterson, who played in the College World Series (1995 and 1997 with Stanford) as well as in the majors (1999 and 2001 with the Milwaukee Brewers).[fn]Christopher Burbach, “College Baseball Hall of Fame Belongs in Omaha, Group Says,” Omaha World-Herald, June 21, 2017.[/fn]
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, given to individuals who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the US, to world peace or to cultural or other major public or private endeavors. The medal has been awarded to twelve men who played professional baseball. During his term in the White House, President George H.W. Bush granted the honor to Ted Williams in 1991. The Splendid Splinter, the last player to win a batting title with an average over .400, was, like Bush, a decorated pilot, having served in both World War Two (1943–45) and the Korean War (1952–53). In November 2014, Bush was asked, “What was your favorite team growing up?” Bush replied, “The Red Sox. I liked Ted Williams the best.”[fn]. Matt Nadel, “A Baseball Interview with President George H.W. Bush,” https://baseballwithmatt.mlblogs.com, November 2, 2014 (retrieved June 28, 2017).[/fn]
The complete roster of professional baseball players who have been recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is given in Table 5.
Table 5. Professional Baseball Players Who Have Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom
|Moe Berg||Harry Truman||1945|
|Joe DiMaggio||Gerald Ford||1977|
|Jackie Robinson||Ronald Reagan||1984|
|Ted Williams||George H.W. Bush||1991|
|Hank Aaron||George W. Bush||2002|
|Roberto Clemente||George W. Bush||2003|
|Frank Robinson||George W. Bush||2005|
|Buck O’Neill||George W. Bush||2006|
|Stan Musial||Barack Obama||2010|
|Ernie Banks||Barack Obama||2013|
|Yogi Berra||Barack Obama||2015|
|Willie Mays||Barack Obama||2015|
And, while not a former professional baseball player, Vin Scully, who as mentioned above played for Fordham against Poppy Bush’s Yale nine, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2016 in recognition of his baseball broadcasting career. Interestingly, President Obama had previously (in 2010) awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to George H.W. Bush — “for his nearly 70 years of service to his country.” So, Bush and Scully are connected in several ways — each served in the Navy in World War Two before embarking on college; each played in and went 0-for-3 in that Yale-Fordham game; each received the George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award; and each received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Baseball cards have been associated with baseball for well over a century. An ambition for many an aspiring baseball player is having one’s picture on a bonafide baseball card. As mentioned above, Yale’s Frank Quinn received that honor with his 1951 Bowman baseball card. Non-players have also been honored with baseball cards such as MLB Commissioner Ford Frick and NL and AL presidents Warren Giles and Will Harridge, respectively; each of these baseball executives was honored with a Topps baseball card one or more times in the 1956–59 sets. As pointed out previously, George Bush was honored by Topps in 1990 by its issuance of a baseball card — produced specifically for him, but not for sale to the general public — in recognition of his collegiate baseball performance and his becoming president of the USA. Subsequently, numerous other baseball cards honoring George H.W. Bush have been put out by various trading card companies.[fn]A search on eBay.com (July 17, 2017) showed that the following George H.W. Bush baseball cards were available (as well as others): (a) 2003 Upper Deck Cincinnati Reds (#SP14); (b) 2016 Topps First Pitch (#FP-17); (c) 2008 Donruss (#33). Curiously, not listed was the 1990 Topps George Bush card — neither the original, nor (unauthorized) reprints, nor (unauthorized) novelty versions (i.e., reprints with “Topps” removed).[/fn] And, in 2013, Topps produced another 1990 George Bush baseball card that was available to the general public via the 2013 Topps Archives Baseball set.[fn]This George Bush card was “deliberate error” card. Just like the privatelyissued 1990 Topps George Bush baseball card, the front of the publicly available 1990 Topps George Bush (error) card features a picture of George Bush — George W. Bush — not George H.W. Bush. Appendix F provides images of the front and back of the 1990 Topps baseball card of George W. Bush. The picture of “W” is from when he was on Yale’s freshman baseball team. The back of the “W” card (with the same “USA1” number as the original “HW” card) provides the following information for George W. Bush: “HT: 6’0”; WT: 190; BATS: RIGHT; THROWS: RIGHT; BORN: 7-6-48, NEW HAVEN CT.; HOME: CRAWFORD, TX.” The only baseball statistics given on the “W” card are the won-lost and runs-scored and runs-allowed numbers for the Texas Rangers team for the seasons from 1989 through 1998 — i.e., the “Texas Rangers Team Record with George W. Bush as Shareholder.” Also provided is a brief biography: “George W. Bush’s baseball roots date back to his Little League days, when he was coached by his future-president father, collected trading cards, and idolized Willie Mays. After serving as ‘high commissioner’ of a stickball league at Phillips Academy, he attended Yale, where he played on the freshman baseball team, was a rugby union fullback, and a cheerleader.”[/fn],[fn]Ryan Cracknell, “2013 Topps Archives Baseball New Errors Variations Guide,” cardboardconnections.com (retrieved July 17, 2017).[/fn],[fn]Ryan Cracknell, “The Story of the 1990 Topps George Bush Baseball Card,” cardboardconnections.com (retrieved June 28, 2017).[/fn],[fn]Danny Laurel, “2013 Topps Archives Baseball Full Checklist,” sportscardsmagazine.net, May 25, 2013 (retrieved July 17, 2017).[/fn], [fn]As it has developed, just like for George H.W. Bush, there have been a number of other George W. Bush baseball cards issued by various trading card companies. A search on eBay.com (July 17, 2017) showed that the following George W. Bush baseball cards were available (as well as others): (a) 2001 Fleer Platinum (#490); (b) 2011 Topps Allen & Ginter’s (#147); (c) 2004 Upper Deck Milwaukee Brewers (#SP15); (d) 2011 Topps Opening Day (#PFP-7); (e) 2011 Topps Opening Day (#PFP-8). Curiously, not listed was the 1990 Topps George W. Bush card (from the 2013 Topps Archives Baseball card set).[/fn]
Another baseball card honoring George H.W. Bush is the one produced in 1999 for the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (located in College Station, Texas). This card was given out on March 22, 1999, to those persons who visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum for a special exhibit on President Bush and Baseball. Appendix G provides images of the front and back of this baseball card. The front of the card displays a photo of Bush in his Yale baseball uniform (but without a cap), the seal of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in the upper-right corner, and two lines of text at the bottom — “George Bush” and “Yale…First Base.” The back of the card, which also has the seal of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, presents Bush’s statistics, as shown in Table 6, with the heading “George Bush — Yale…First Base,” followed by text describing his prep school and collegiate playing career, and the following: “From 1950 to 1951 Bush played on Shell’s Midland, Texas, softball team.” An article by Kelly Brown about this special card states that Hilton Ladner, one of Bush’s teammates at Shell Oil, told them that Bush was not even an employee of Shell, but that he only wanted to play.[fn]Kelly Brown, “Card Honors Bush’s Baseball Years,” The Bryan-College Station Eagle, May 21, 1999.[/fn] Ladner recalled the day when a tall stranger with a Yankee accent showed up at the practice field to try out for the team. Ladner said, “Well, he was darn good. He could throw and catch and hit. He had what it takes to be a good ballplayer. We knew nothing about his background, but we wanted him on the team.” With regard to the statistics given for Bush on the back of the card, note they are exactly the same as the yearly and total stats from my research as shown in Table 4 and as reported in 1989 in Baseball Quarterly Reviews and in 1991 in USA Today Baseball Weekly.[fn]. Herman Krabbenhoft, “George Herbert Walker Bush — Iron Man First Sacker at Yale,” Baseball Quarterly Reviews, Volume 4, Number 3, (Fall 1989) 101–15[/fn],[fn]“Baseball Expert Challenges Yale Stats on ‘Poppy’ Bush,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, Volume 1, Number 5, Page 27 (May 03, 1991). This article is based on a letter (April 18, 1991) from Herman Krabbenhoft to Paul White, Editor, USA Today Baseball Weekly. The complete yearly and career statistical records for Bush provided in my letter were published in the article (without a by-line).[/fn]
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Table 6: Batting and Fielding Record of George Bush— Presidential Library and Museum Baseball Card: “George Bush—Yale, First Base”
That card issued by the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum states that George H.W. Bush’s baseball career spanned three decades (1940s, 1950s, and 1960s). But the card could have included some diamond events from the 1980s, as well:
- A) As already mentioned, on April 3, 1989, President Bush became the very first President of the USA to throw an Opening Day ceremonial first pitch — from the pitcher’s mound.
- B) July 13, 1984, George Herbert Walker “Poppy” Bush became what we assume to be the first Vice President — and future President — to actively participate in an old timers baseball game — at Mile High Stadium in Denver. He and some of the old timers chanced to meet at the hotel where Bush was staying during the Colorado State Republican Convention.[fn]According to the game’s program/scorecard, the player rosters included several Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers — Luke Appling, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Early Wynn for the American League and Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Orlando Cepeda, Monte Irvin, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Ron Santo, Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, and Billy Williams for the National League.[/fn] One thing led to another, strings were pulled, hoops were jumped through — and before anyone other than a select few knew it, Vice President Bush, wearing a Denver Bears uniform (with number 31 on the back, the number last worn by pitcher Jim Siwy in 1983), was announced as a batter in the fourth inning for the American League team. What follows is a brief composite summary of VP Bush’s participation in the game, derived from several (sometimes disparate) accounts and recollections.[fn]Cody McMillan (an Archives Technician of the National Archives and Records Administration for the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum AV Archives), “Old-Timers Baseball Game VP Appearance Synopsis,” July 13, 2017.[/fn], [fn]Cody McMillan, emails to Herm Krabbenhoft, July 11–14, 2017.[/fn], [fn]Kevin Widlic, “Bush Play Steals Show at Dream,” Denver Post, July 14, 1984.[/fn], [fn]Todd Phipers, “Old-Timers Got Licks,” Denver Post, July 14, 1984[/fn], [fn]Kevin Simpson and Jim Benton, “Players Left a Game Full of Memories,” Rocky Mountain News, July 14, 1984.[/fn], [fn]“Vice President George Bush took the field with the…,” upi.com, July 14, 1984 (retrieved July 12, 2017). See also: “Sports People — Who’s on First?” The New York Times, July 15, 1984.[/fn], [fn]M. Charles Bakst, “Talkin’ Baseball for George Bush — Memories of the Babe and the Summer Game Warm the Chill of Winter,” Providence Journal, March 3, 1985.[/fn], [fn]Thomas Boswell, “A Real Sport: President Bush Has Love Affair with Many Games,” Washington Post, April 01, 1989.[/fn], [fn]Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes: The Way to the White House (New York: Random House, 1992).[/fn], [fn]Doro Bush Koch, My Father, My President: A Personal Account of the Life of George H. W. Bush (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006).[/fn], [fn]George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father.[/fn]
Top of the Fourth Inning (American League at bat):
- Milt Pappas pitching for the National League.
- Moose Skowron singled to right field.
- VP George Bush came up to bat; Warren Spahn replaced Pappas on the mound; Pappas stayed on the field, standing behind the mound. VP Bush popped the ball up behind the mound; Pappas caught the ball and then (purposely) dropped it. VP Bush, who had run to first, was given a Mulligan and called back to the plate. Pappas then went back to the mound to pitch to VP Bush. The first pitch was a (swinging) strike; the second pitch was a ball. On the third pitch, VP Bush hit a ground ball up the middle for a single. Jimmy Piersall was sent in as a pinch runner for VP Bush, but was waved back.
- Earl Battey hit into a fielder’s-choice-force-out, VP Bush being retired at second base.
- Billy Martin hit into a double play to end the inning.
Top of the Fifth Inning (American League at bat):
- VP Bush took the field for the National League, playing first base, replacing Ernie Banks. Pappas was the pitcher.
- Luke Appling hit a single to right field.
- Bobby Richardson hit into a fielder’s-choice-force-out.
- Jose Cardenal doubled to right field, Richardson advancing to third base.
- Minnie Minoso hit the ball to deep center field, getting a triple and batting in Richardson and Cardenal.
- Brooks Robinson grounded to the third baseman, Ron Santo, who threw to VP Bush to retire Robinson.
- Tony Oliva hit a grounder to VP Bush, who fielded the ball and threw to Pappas covering first for the third out.
In the game account published in the Denver Post, Kevin Widlic wrote, “The Vice President later played in the field, where he robbed Tony Oliva of a base hit with a backhanded stop of a hard grounder at first base.” The account also included a quote by Milt Pappas — “He made a terrific play.” Widlic’s article also had the following: “Bush fielded both chances flawlessly in the fifth, the first on a throw from Ron Santo at third, and the second drawing another tingling roar. Oliva smashed a grounder down the first base line, but Bush reacted well, going to his left and knocking the ball down. He recovered and flipped it to Pappas for the inning-ending out.”[fn]. Kevin Widlic, “Bush Play Steals Show at Dream,” Denver Post, July 14, 1984.[/fn]
Kevin Simpson and Jim Benton of the Rocky Mountain News described Bush’s fielding in this way: “In the fifth, Bush, playing first base, produced the most memorable moment of his vice-presidency when he went to his left (what, you thought he could only go to his right?) to back-hand a vicious Tony Oliva grounder, robbing the former Twins star of a sure hit by flipping to pitcher Pappas covering first.”[fn]Simpson and Benton, “Players Left a Game Full of Memories.”[/fn]
In a UPI communication, Jim Burris, the longtime general manager of the Denver Bears commented: “I just couldn’t believe that any politician could look that comfortable out there and have that kind of athletic ability. It was obvious that he had played before. You could just tell, the way he shifted his feet and changed position, depending on whether there were men on base or whether the batter was a left-hander.”[fn]“Vice President George Bush took the field with the…,” upi.com, July 14, 1984 (retrieved July 12, 2017). See also: “Sports People — Who’s on First?” The New York Times, July 15, 1984.[/fn]
In an article pursuant to an interview with George H.W. Bush, seven months after the old-timers game, M. Charles Bakst reported what Vice-President Bush said about his playing first base in that game: “I did have my glasses, and they gave me a mitt, a brand new first-baseman’s mitt. I’m a left hander. Went out there. The first guy grounded out. The shortstop threw him out; I managed to catch the ball all right. We got another guy; somehow there was another out.” And then there was what Bush remembered as an exquisite moment. A batter (whom he thought was Orlando Cepeda) smashed a ball over toward first. Said the revved-up Vice President: “Went to my left. Knocked the ball down. I should have had it clean. And Pappas comes across and covers first and we threw him out and the place was really thrilled with me.”[fn]M. Charles Bakst, “Talkin’ Baseball for George Bush — Memories of the Babe and the Summer Game Warm the Chill of Winter,” Providence Journal, March 3, 1985[/fn]
Yet another account of “THE Fielding Play” was provided by Tom Boswell in an article in the Washington Post, based on his March 1989 interview of President Bush (i.e., nearly five years after the game). Warren Spahn and Bill Dickey had needled Bush into playing in an old-timers game at Denver. As Bush recalled: “When Tony Oliva came up the second baseman kept yelling at me, ‘Get back.’ I said, ‘Back? I’m on the damned grass. Whaddaya want?’ But the second baseman said, ‘Back. This guy can still hit.’ And damn if Oliva didn’t pull one right down the line.” The President’s memory of the play is that he just wishes he had had his McQuinn Trapper: “My excuse on this part is I had a brand new mitt — knocked the ball down — should have had it clean.”[fn]Thomas Boswell, “A Real Sport: President Bush Has Love Affair with Many Games,” Washington Post, April 01, 1989.[/fn]
Some twenty years after the historic old-timers game, Bush’s daughter, Doro Bush Koch, in her 2006 book, My Father, My President: A Personal Account of the Life of George H.W. Bush, wrote that, based on the remembrance of Sean Coffey, the VP’s personal aide at the time (who was watching from the third base side), “Bush put on a glove and headed out to first base, his old position at Yale. ‘The best was yet to come,’ said Sean, because ‘who was up but Orlando Cepeda [sic: should be Tony Oliva], who was known for hitting line drives. Sure enough, he hits a rocket down the right field line. If it had hit somebody in the head, it would have taken their head off. As it was, it looked like it was going into the right field corner for a double — but that was before first baseman Bush jumps to his left. He dives for it, knocks the ball down, gets up, scrambles into foul territory, turns around, and lobs a perfect underhand pitch to the pitcher covering first. Orlando Cepeda [sic: Tony Oliva] is out. Mile High Stadium erupted in cheers.’”[fn]Doro Bush Koch, My Father, My President.[/fn]
And, three decades after the Dream Play in Denver, Bush’s oldest son, George W. Bush, in his 2014 book, 41 — A Portrait of My Father, wrote the following: “Dad held his own in the field as well. Orlando Cepeda [sic: Oliva], a Hall of Fame slugger who played most of his years for the San Francisco Giants, hit a rocket down the first-base line. Dad made a slick play, stabbing the hot shot and tossing the ball to the pitcher to beat Cepeda [sic: Oliva] to the bag. I still remember his look of joy as he jogged back to the dugout.”[fn]George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father[/fn]
At this point, it is appropriate to go back in time a few decades and mention an item from the May 24, 1946, issue of the Yale News Digest about the Bulldogs’ 9–6 victory over Amherst.[fn]“Diamond Squad Tops Amherst, 9–6, for Eighth Straight,” Yale News Digest (#51, May 24, 1946) 1.[/fn] In the “Diamond Dust” sub-section of the article is the following: “Poppy Bush turned in the fielding gem of the year on Don Butler’s smash in the fifth. It would take an entire column to explain how he did it. Suffice to say, he took a two-base hit away from Butler with a backhand grab of a sizzler.”
With respect to Bush’s base hit, here are some of the descriptions of his historic one-baser:
- Kevin Widlic provided two descriptions of the Bush bingle: (a) “Vice President George Bush turned Mile High Stadium upside down and stole the show when he pinch hit and grounded a sharp single to center field during Friday night’s Denver Dream old-timers baseball game.” (b) “Following a swing and a miss, Bush bounced a clean single up the middle.” The Denver Post reporter also included a quote by Milt Pappas: “It was one of the highlights of my career, my life, whatever. I made him a hero.”[fn]Kevin Widlic, “Bush Play Steals Show at Dream,” Denver Post, July 14, 1984.[/fn]
- The Rocky Mountain News team of Kevin Simpson and Jim Benton provided the following account of Bush’s single: “In the fourth, George Bush, a former college player, became the first player ever to pinch hit on two consecutive at bats. On the first, he popped to second base. On the second try, he cracked a 1–1 pitch up the middle for a base hit.”[fn]Simpson and Benton, “Players Left a Game Full of Memories.”[/fn]
- In his February 26, 1985, interview with M. Charles Bakst, Vice President Bush described his base knock as follows: “Pappas grooved one and I hit it. I hadn’t swung a bat in, God, how many years. I hit it crisp, right through the middle for a single. People actually cheered and stuff when I got the single.”[fn]Bakst, “Talkin’ Baseball for George Bush.”[/fn]
- Doro Bush Koch wrote, “Milt Pappas, the great All-Star pitcher, pitched to Dad. Then Dad hit a sharp single to center field and made it to first base.”[fn]Doro Bush Koch, My Father, My President.[/fn] And George W. Bush wrote, “When he came to bat against former Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas, a three-time All-Star who had pitched a no-hitter, he slapped a single into right field. It certainly didn’t hurt that Milt served up a fat fastball for the Vice President to hit.”[fn]George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father.[/fn]
Summing up her father’s opportunity to “play with the superstars,” Doro Bush Koch wrote: “‘A Walter Mitty night for me,’ Dad told one of the interviewers as he came off the field with a smile, referring to James Thurber’s mild-mannered character who dreams of being a fearless hero.”[fn]Doro Bush Koch, My Father, My President.[/fn]
Finally, just recently, a blockbuster consequence of Vice President Bush’s performance in the old timers game has surfaced.[fn]“The Detroit Tigers Once Offered Vice President George H.W. Bush a Playing Contract (for $1) after Seeing Him Play in the 1984 Old Timers Game in Denver,” https://www.reddit.com, July 13, 2017 (retrieved July 26, 2017).[/fn] On July 13, 2017, exactly 34 years after the historic game the following surprising item was posted on the reddit website: “The Detroit Tigers once offered Vice President George H.W. Bush a playing contract (for $1) after seeing him play in the 1984 Old Timers Game in Denver.”
The posting consisted of seven images — correspondence (or copies of correspondence) from August and September, 1984, involving Bobby Brown, the president of the American League, Jim Campbell, the president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Tigers, George Bush, the Vice President of the USA, and Peter Teeley, the press secretary of Vice President Bush. Here, in chronological order, are transcriptions of the letters (images) which were posted on the reddit website; copies of the posted images are shown in Appendix H).
On August 27, 1984, Bobby Brown sent a letter to Jim Campbell saying, “Would you mind having Alice type this on Detroit stationery and send it to my friend George Bush?”; see Figure 3.
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The American League logo in the letterhead is in full red-white-blue color, suggesting that the letter offered in the auction is the original (and not a photocopy). The “Alice” mentioned by Brown was Alice Sloane, who was Jim Campbell’s secretary and right-hand “man” for decades.[fn]Dan Ewald, Jr., Personal communication (telephone conversation) with Herm Krabbenhoft, July 30, 2017.[/fn]
The enclosure referred to by the AL president is the Campbell-to-Bush letter shown in Figure 4A. This version of the letter was written by Brown, not Campbell.
Apparently going along with Bobby Brown’s intended prank, Jim Campbell slightly edited and reformatted the letter to Vice President Bush; see Figure 4B.
(Click image to enlarge.)
(Click image to enlarge.)
The “JAC” certainly means that the letter was seemingly written by James A. Campbell, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Tigers. The “/as” means that the letter was typed by Alice Sloane. However, this letter appears to be a “draft” letter (or a copy of a draft letter) because (a) it is not typed on “Detroit Baseball Club” stationery; and (b) it is not signed. It also does not (yet) have the Zip Code of the White House; see Figure 4A. The major differences between the Figure 4A letter (Brown version) and the Figure 4B letter (Campbell version) are: (1) the first paragraph was divided into three paragraphs; (2) “farm director” was replaced by “Special Assignment Scout”; (3) “scouting report” was changed to “report”; (4) “1st round” was changed for “first round” (5) “Amateur Draft” was changed to “amateur draft”; (6) “uniform baseball contract” was replaced by “Uniform Player’s Contract”; (7) “consideration, and hope” was changed to “consideration. We hope”; and (8) “anticipation and will” was changed to “anticipation. We will”. There were also a few commas added or deleted.
Shown in Figure 5 is the enclosure referred to in the (final?) draft of the Campbell-to-Vice President Bush letter, i.e., the first page of the Uniform Player’s Contract between the Detroit Baseball Club and George Bush.
(Click image to enlarge.)
While Jim Campbell agreed to assist Bobby Brown with this prank, he made sure to cover himself and the Detroit Tigers by (apparently) sending the contract and cover letter to Mr. Peter Teeley, the Press Secretary for Vice President Bush. The letter from Campbell to Teeley is shown in Figure 6. Curiously, it is noted that, while the letter is on Detroit Tigers stationery and signed by Jim Campbell, the White House zip code is still not included.
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What a prank! Was the prank actually pulled off?
I provided scans of the Figure 3 to 6 items to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum and asked if an archivist could please check their holdings for anything related to the prank contract and cover letter. Archivist Micelle Bogart conducted the search, but was unable to locate any pertinent records in the item-level inventory of records from the White House Office of Records Management (WHORM). She also physically searched through the correspondence received by Mr. Bush when he was Vice President, as well as correspondence received when he was President, but was unable to locate anything related to the prank contract. She provided the this caveat: “That does not mean, however, that we do not have the letters somewhere. Also, in case you are not aware, the White House Office of Records Management does not save all correspondence sent to the president or vice president. A random sampling of public mail is kept and eventually makes it to the National Archives. But, we do not have all correspondence ever received. Even if we do not have a copy of these letters in our records, that does not mean the letters were never received at the White House.”[fn]Michelle Bogart (Archivist, George Bush Presidential Library and Museum), Personal communication (emails) to Herm Krabbenhoft, July 28, 2017.[/fn]
I also sent an email to the person who submitted the images to the reddit site (“odor31”), asking about the provenance and authenticity of the letters. I received a prompt reply, stating, “Found them currently up for auction. American Eagle Auction & Appraisal.” Upon googling “American Eagle Auction & Appraisal,” I found the items on EstateSale.com for a “Super Auction” scheduled for August 19 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the following headline: “The Incredible Collection of Detroit Tigers Public Relations Director, Dan Ewald.” The auction “catalog” listed 638 items, including the seven images posted on reddit.
The following overall description was also provided: “The vast majority of this collection came from the extensive collection of former Detroit Tigers Public Relations Director, Dan Ewald. Prior to spending nearly two-decades with the Detroit Tigers, he was a baseball writer for The Detroit News. Ewald is the author of 13 sports books with such luminaries as Sparky [Anderson], Bo Schembechler, Al Kaline, George Kell and Ron Kramer. Throughout his career, he served as Sparky Anderson’s confidante even after the two retired from the game. The prominence of the vast majority of this collection is truly unsurpassed. Many of the items were directly acquired from Sparky Anderson’s and Jim Campbell’s collection and executive office files at the defunct Tigers Stadium. Jim Campbell was the longest serving General Manager in baseball history. He served as an executive, General Manager and President of the Detroit Tigers from 1949–92.”
So at this time, here’s where we are.
- On July 13, 2017, we learned — thanks to the reddit posting by Alex Maki (Auburn Hills, Michigan) that “The Detroit Tigers once offered Vice President George H.W. Bush a playing contract (for $1) after seeing him play in the 1984 Old Timers Game in Denver.”
- It is reasonable to conclude that the items shown in Figures 3–6 are authentic and were obtained by Dan Ewald from Jim Campbell, who received the Bobby Brown letter and enclosure and then generated his letters to Vice President Bush and Peter Teeley and also filled in the first page of the Uniform Player’s Contract.
- It seems, based on the items shown in Figures 3–6, that steps were apparently taken by AL president Bobby Brown and Detroit Tigers president and chief executive officer Jim Campbell to pull a baseball contract prank on Vice President George Bush shortly after he participated in the old-timers game in Denver on July 13, 1984. I had the opportunity on July 31, 2017, to relate all of the information to Dr. Bobby Brown in a telephone conversation with him. I then asked him if he was familiar with any of it. He replied that while he didn’t recall it, it sounded like him, like something he would have done.[fn]Dr. Bobby Brown, MD, Personal communication (telephone conversation) with Herm Krabbenhoft, July 31, 2017.[/fn]
- Subsequently, after I provided copies of Figures 3–6 to Dr. Brown, he wrote a letter to me (dated August 7, 2017) with the following statements: “There is no doubt about the ‘prank.’ I definitely participated to its fullest in the ‘caper.’ I knew all the people involved and all were good friends.”[fn]. Dr. Bobby Brown, MD, Personal communication (letter) to Herm Krabbenhoft, August 7, 2017.[/fn] I called Dr. Brown on August 10, 2017, and asked him if he recalled ever getting any feedback from Vice President Bush about the contract and offer letter. Dr. Brown said that he could not remember getting any feedback, but added that he and George Bush are good, long-time friends who played a lot of tennis together (both as doubles partners and opponents) and that something might have been mentioned then, but he couldn’t remember anything specific.[fn]Dr. Bobby Brown, MD, Personal communication (telephone conversation) with Herm Krabbenhoft, August 10, 2017.[/fn] Thus, we know that the contract offer was legit (albeit a good-natured spoof between good friends).
- It is not known if the letter from Jim Campbell to Peter Teeley (Figure 6) was actually mailed, although it seems reasonable that it was because a “COPY” of the letter (rather than the actual letter) was in the file possessed by Dan Ewald. Likewise, it is not known if Peter Teeley actually received the letter. If the letter was not sent or received, the story is over.
- If, however, the letter (Figure 6) — with the enclosures (Figures 4B and 5) — was sent by Campbell and was received by Teeley, it is not known what Teeley did with the letter and the enclosures. If, using his discretion, Teeley discarded the letter and the enclosures, the story is finished.
- If, however, using his discretion, Teeley gave the enclosures to Vice President Bush (i.e., “placed the letter and contract on his desk”), the story continues.
- No evidence has yet been found to support the possibility that Vice President Bush did receive the Detroit Tigers offer letter (Figure 4B) and contract (Figure 5). So, if Vice President Bush did receive the letter and contract, it is still unknown what his reaction was and what he did or said about it. He could have simply enjoyed the prank and kept it to himself. That certainly is his prerogative. Or, if he did comment on it to Bobby Brown, Jim Campbell, or a family member, it has been kept private and/or forgotten about. George H.W. Bush did not even mention his participation in the July 13, 1984, old timers game in his autobiography. Similarly there has been no mention of such an offer letter and contract in any of the several biographies (and autobiography) of George Herbert Walker Bush included in Reference 5.
- In spite of the lack of a definitive ending to the story, one way or the other, the story is indeed fascinating. Perhaps more sleuthing will eventually come up with the rest of the story.
My research on the collegiate baseball career of George Herbert Walker “Poppy” Bush reveals that he played three seasons (not two) at Yale and assembled a “good-field-poor-hit” performance as a first baseman for the Bulldog-nine — a career fielding average of .983 (not .981) and a career batting average of .224 with one home run in 76 games (not .251 with two homers in 51 games).[fn]George W. Bush, Note to Herm Krabbenhoft, November 15, 1989. In a letter (November 8, 1989) from Herm Krabbenhoft to George W. Bush, Managing General Partner, Texas Rangers Baseball Club, a copy of Baseball Quarterly Reviews (i.e., Reference 3) was provided to Mr. Bush, who replied promptly with the following hand-written note on Texas Rangers stationery: “Dear Herm — Thanks for the BQR’s. I look forward to reading about my Dad. Hopefully you will set the record straight since he claims he was more powerful than Ruth. Yours in baseball, George.” A photocopy of the note is given in Appendix I.[/fn]
While Poppy’s “on-the-field” numbers at Yale did not put him on a path to play major league baseball, his “more-than-just-numbers” contributions to Yale’s diamond accomplishments, in combination with his subsequent success in the business world and service in government, did produce an illustrious legacy of awards and honors bearing his name. And, George Herbert Walker Bush was also the first President of the United States of America to (1) throw a ceremonial Opening Day pitch from the pitcher’s mound, (2) to appear on a bonafide baseball card, and (3) while serving as the Vice President, to have played in a major league old-timers baseball game.
Perhaps the most salient finding that emerged from my research endeavor is that Poppy was the starting first baseman in all 76 games the Elis had from 1946 through 1948 — including the first two College World Series in 1947 and 1948. Such Iron Man consistency is in perfect alignment with one of Poppy’s baseball idols — Hall of Fame first baseman Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig. Furthermore, Bush’s day-in-day-out diamond participation also fit right in with what President Ronald Reagan expounded in his address at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Summing up his administration’s accomplishments and affirming his endorsement and support of the Vice-President to be the next President, Reagan proclaimed, “George [Bush] was there!”[fn]Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana,” August 15, 1988, presidency.ucsb.edu (accessed June 27, 2017).[/fn]
Clearly, baseball has been an important and enduring component in the makeup of the person who became the forty-first President of the United States of America. This was expressed by Mr. Bush in his 1988 autobiography, Looking Forward, in describing his collegiate path: “I was majoring in the ‘dismal science,’ economics, but I didn’t find it dismal at all. I enjoyed the work, studied hard, and did well enough in class to earn Phi Beta Kappa and other honors. Technically my minor was sociology, but only technically. My real minors, as far as my attention span went, were soccer and baseball. Especially baseball.”[fn]George Bush (with Victor Gold), Looking Forward. See also: George W. Bush, 41 — A Portrait of My Father — “My father’s favorite collegiate pursuit took place on spring afternoons at Yale Field. As he later put it, he majored in economics and minored in baseball.”[/fn]
Finally, to close this article, it is appropriate to mention a baseball-related quotation by George Herbert Walker “Poppy” Bush — “Baseball is just the great American pastime. It’s just got everything.” [fn]Baseball Almanac, “President George Bush Baseball Related Quotations,” www.baseball-almanac.com (accessed June 29, 2017).[/fn]
HERM KRABBENHOFT joined SABR 36 years ago. His many and varied accomplishments in baseball research include the following: ultimate grand slam home runs, accurate triple play database [with Jim Smith and Steve Boren], Ted Williams Consecutive-Games-On-Base-Safely record, Cobb (hitter) vs. Ruth (pitcher), accurate RBI totals for Ruth, Gehrig, and Greenberg, accurate records for twentieth century leadoff batters, Zimmerman’s triple crown, Hamilton’s MLB runs-scored record [with Keith Carlson, Dave Newman, and Dixie Tourangeau], comprehensive compilation of Detroit Tigers uniform numbers.
I gratefully thank the following persons for their fantastic cooperation in providing me with helpful information and/or guidance in a timely manner: Joel Alderman, Larry Annis, Michelle Bogart, Dr. Bobby Brown, M.D., Ryan Cracknell, Dan Ewald, Jr., Raelee Frazier, Vince Gennaro, Karl Green, Bruce Hellerstein, Chris Jones, Cassidy Lent, Len Levin, Julia W. Logan, Norman L. Macht, Alex Maki, Cody McMillan, Hanna Q. Parris, Jay Patton, Emily Perdue, Jacob Pomrenke, Paul Rogers, Sam Rubin, Hanna Soltys, Gary Stone, Morgan Swan, and Jim Wohlenhaus. Also, I reiterate my thanks to those persons whose contributions were very helpful to me when I did the bulk of the statistical research in the late 1980s: Jane Antis, Carol Cofrancesco, Dick Gentile, Stephen Newton, Tom Shea, Dick Thompson, Steve Ulrich, and Chuck Yrigoyen.