A Brief History of the Ceremonial First Pitch Thrown By U.S. Presidents

President Donald Trump recently announced that he was going to throw the first pitch at a New York Yankees game in August. An hour before Opening Day on July 23, he claimed that Randy Levine, president of the Yankees ball club, is a "great friend of" his, and that he asked him to throw the first pitch before the August 15 game.

Days later, on July 26, Trump walked back his previous statement and said that he was unable to due to his "strong focus on the China Virus." This announcement surprised the Yankees staff, who said that there was no invitation extended to Trump, CNN reported.

According to The New York Times, Trump seemed to make this announcement amid irritation with Dr. Anthony Fauci being invited to throw the Opening Day first pitch at the Washington Nationals game agains the Yankees.

The outlet also reported that the Yankees never invited Trump to throw out the first pitch in the Bronx and that the president had a conflict on his schedule for the 15th.

Because of my strong focus on the China Virus, including scheduled meetings on Vaccines, our economy and much else, I won’t be able to be in New York to throw out the opening pitch for the @Yankees on August 15th. We will make it later in the season!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2020

Trump has yet to throw out a first pitch, breaking the longstanding tradition of the United States president, which could be more unusual than cardboard cutouts in the stands this season. He is also the only modern president to never throw out a first pitch, even though he has been invited in the past, as per Time mgazine.

George H.W. Bush throws out the first pitch before the Texas Rangers Opening Day game against the Chicago White Sox at The Ballpark in Arlington on April 3, 2000. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

According to the Omaha Daily Bee, the tradition of throwing a first pitch dates back to 1890. At the time, mayors, governors, and other notable figures were given the honor of throwing the first pitch.

Today, a notable person (celebrity, former baseball player, athlete) does the honors, and sometimes if the game or a team is sponsored by a big company (especially when there are giveaways at the gates), an executive may throw out the first pitch.

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump catches a baseball thrown by former New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera on the South Lawn of the White House on July 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Getty/Drew Angerer

The first sitting president to throw a first pitch at a baseball game was William Howard Taft in 1910, at the Washington Senators Opening Day that April. Sports Illustrated reported that the American League President, Ban Johnson, thought the president's appearance would boost attendance at the baseball games. A record turnout at the time, 12,000 fans, came to Opening Day to cheer on Taft.

That day, Taft allegedly started what would be come the Seventh-Inning Stretch. Legend has it, MLB.com reported, that when Taft stood up at the beginning of the seventh inning to stretch his legs, crowds didn't want to be disrespectful and joined in. The Senators won the game that day, a seventh-inning stretch became common practice, and ballparks have been implementing it ever since.

ESPN noted that Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the records for most presidential first pitches thrown while in office, totaling at 11. Jimmy Carter had never thrown out a first pitch while in office, but he did after he served his presidency.

Perhaps most memorable first pitches thrown by a president was in 2001 by George W. Bush. During the third game of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, Bush participated in the ceremony that took place six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Bush wore a bulletproof vest under a New York Fire Department pullover and approached the mound to deliver a perfect strike over home plate.

It was the first time a president threw a first pitch at a World Series game since 1979, when Jimmy Carter did so (after his time as president), ESPN noted. Aside from Bush, five other presidents threw out first pitches at World Series games while in office: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, FDR and Dwight Eisenhower.

Like Trump, Carter is the only president to never throw an Opening Day first pitch while in office (Carter eventually did after he left office).

Trump previously threw the first pitch at a minor league game in New Jersey in 2004, where his helicopter landed in centerfield and he delivered a fastball strike at the mound. Whether or not he will break the century-long tradition remains to be seen.