Was President Taft's First Pitch Inspired by a Visit to Rochester?

Was President Taft's First Pitch Inspired by a Visit to Rochester?

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published March 21, 2014 and can be found here.

Rochester's Mayor Hiram Edgerton inspecting a baseball at the opening game, May 7, 1912. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

     The following is a guest post submitted by       Jimmy Combs      .
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Friday, March 18, 1910. 1:55 P.M. -    President Taft, on his way to Rochester from Chicago, makes a quick stop in Buffalo. He steps off the train to greet an exclusive few; the leaders of Buffalo, including their recently elected mayor, Mr. Louis P. Fuhrmann (an avid baseball fan), some newspaper reporters, Mr. George Dietrich, the Chamber of Commerce President of Rochester, and last but not least, Rochester Mayor Hiram H. Edgerton. After a few minutes of smiles and handshakes, Taft who was reportedly exhausted from his stay in Chicago, is ready to get back on the train car where he can sit, and (hopefully leisurely) talk to some new faces, Mr. Dietrich and Mayor Edgerton...

Headline in the Democrat and Chronicle. March 18, 1910.

   Final waves as the train begins to chug towards Rochester at 2:05 PM.

Now the reason for the prominent Rochesterians to meet the President in Buffalo was likely to make sure that the men were on the same page for the planned events of the day and following morning, and for the President to explain any Secret Service related maneuvers. The Chamber of Commerce was hosting a grand dinner for the President and a hundred or so guests, which would explain Mr. Dietrich's train ride. Mayor Edgerton was going to be by Taft's side for most of the scheduled events.

The train would later arrive in Rochester at 3:45 PM. They may have briefly stopped in Batavia. The President's stay in Rochester had a fairly straightforward schedule. It is unlikely it would have taken the entire duration of the train ride (one hour and 45 minutes) to clear any confusion regarding the schedule. So, what else did they talk about?

Perhaps they didn't talk at all? Perhaps Taft, who was so tired, took a nap? But that would've been a little rude. On the contrary, rather than conversing about the boring politics of the day (a looming tariff war with Canada, etc.), it may have been polite for him to spark up a laid-back conversation completely unrelated to politics... perhaps... baseball??

President William Taft arriving in Rochester for his visit to the National GAR Encampment. He is riding from the train station to Hotel Seneca. Taft is in the back seat on the left. Next to him is Mayor Hiram Edgerton. In the front seat are Archibald Butt, the president's personal military aide, and George Dietrich, president of the chamber of commerce. March 18, 1910. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   If not in the train, then maybe during the parade when Edgerton and Taft sat in the back of Taft's car, Olympia. However, the parade lasted only 15 minutes at most. (Dietrich is the one in the middle row with the shiny top hat)

Or, if not during the parade, then possibly at the dinner where the President, Edgerton and Dietrich sat close by.

Anyway, the point is that there were multiple opportunities for Taft, Edgerton, or Dietrich to spark up a conversation on baseball. Taft was a known baseball fan, and Edgerton and Dietrich were at least well aware that Rochester had a good team.

The following is a hypothetical baseball conversation between the men that likely would have occurred during the train ride...

Artist rendering of Taft's meeting with Mayor Edgerton. Taft is on the left. Mayor Edgerton is on the right behind Dietrich. [IMAGE: Jimmy Combs]

    Taft...    So Hiram and George, I saw that the Hustlers (Rochester franchise) won the championship last year.

Dietrich...    Yes that was neat! Yeah, this town really loves baseball.

Taft...    Yes that's for sure. Did you make it to any of the games?

Dietrich opens his mouth but is out-competed by Edgerton's quick response...    Yes, in fact I was a part of the opening game ceremony and threw the first pitch. (May 6, 1909)

Taft...    Really? Splendid! The owner of the Washington Senators, Mr. Clark Griffith, has been trying to get me to do something like that for some time now. How did it go? What did the crowd think of it?

Edgerton...    Ha, well I presumed they enjoyed it, as did I, based on the cheering. They asked me to do it again this year.

Taft...    Golly, then perhaps I should give it a try. Seems like everyone (U.S. mayors) is doing it now.

Edgerton...    Yes do it! You're like the Mayor of all mayors! It would be grand!

Dietrich...    Yeah, but too bad the Senators are garbage. (says jokingly)

Taft continues, pretending as if he did not hear Dietrich...    Yes I agree Hiram, but you see there are two problems. One is that I'm rather large. I just don't want to be mocked as a fat man trying to throw a baseball. Hiram, did you know I weigh as much as a baby elephant? (Hiram tries to hide his smirk. Meanwhile quietly frustrated, Dietrich excuses himself to the facilities.) The bigger problem is security. I know the Secret Service would be nervous about me being in the middle of a field in front of thousands of people... and I'm an easy target if you know what I mean.

(Edgerton gets in a genuine laugh; Taft smiles)

It is important to note that at the time, McKinley's assassination was still a fresh memory, as it happened only 8 1/2 years ago (9/14/1901).

Some examples of other political figures who threw a 'first pitch' prior to Taft's famous pitch of 1910 are: Nashville's Mayor Head (opening game 1902); Duluth's Mayor Cullum (opening day ceremony 1906 according to Zenithcity.com); Winnipeg's Mayor Haven (5/28/1908), The mayor of New Britain, Connecticut (opening day 1908); Japan's Prime Minister (11/22/1908); Philadelphia's Mayor Reyburn (4/12/1909); of course, Rochester's Mayor Edgerton (5/6/1909); Mayor Conzelman of Pekin (5/11/1909); Pittsburg's Mayor Magee at the Forbes Field opening game ceremony (threw from the stands on 6/30/1909); and likely many more mayors from big and small cities threw a true first pitch before the start of the 1910 baseball season.

Artist rendering of Taft's meeting with Mayor Edgerton. Edgerton is positioned slightly behind Taft. [IMAGE: Jimmy Combs]

   After this conversation in Rochester, Taft must have been thinking, "If a 60-something year old mayor of a midsized city can throw the ceremonial first pitch, then why can't I?"

Saturday, March 19, 1910. 9:00 A.M. -    Taft leaves Rochester on his way to Albany. He said he enjoyed his stay in Rochester.

How could he not? All of Rochester was engaged in welcoming him, which was evident during the parade. Taft would return to Rochester the following year (Sept. 1911).

26 days later - April 14th 1910 -    Taft appeared at the start of the Washington Senators' opening game. With 12,226 fans at the park, Taft was handed a baseball, then threw it from his seat to a Senators player.
   The crowd loved it. This moment would go down in history as the beginning of an incredible tradition: every United States President since Taft has thrown at least one ceremonial first pitch (except Jimmy Carter). However, in absolutely no way did Taft throw the first 'first pitch', he just simply made it more popular. But you see, Edgerton made it more popular too.

25 days later - May 9th 1910. 2:30 P.M. -    Mayor Edgerton was destined for the pitchers' plate once again. This time trying to improve from last year's pitch. Recalling the Mayor's 1909 opening game ceremonial 'first pitch', the Post Express reports May 7th 1909:

"The mayor does not field his position any too well, but he has a good, general idea of the direction, in which the plate is situated, and uses a high floater, which is difficult to hit, or even catch."

So this is the Mayor's moment to shine, it all comes down to this...

A record crowd of 16,501 turns out for opening day in Rochester. May 9, 1910.

   16,501 fans are there to witness it, and yes Mr. George Dietrich is proudly one of them. The Union and Advertiser reports,    "Eastern League attendance records, not only in this city, but over the entire circuit, were smashed by the opening day crowd. No less than 16,501 paid to see the performance... Visiting baseball notables say they knew of no Eastern League crowd which reached the proportions of that one. Buffalo gives out an attendance of 15,589 as of figures yesterday. That is the nearest approach to Rochester's record and in view of the fact that Buffalo claims a population of twice that of Rochester, the comparison is much to Rochester's credit, especially as a half holiday was declared in Buffalo by the mayor."

Mayor Edgerton throws the opening pitch in Rochester, May 9, 1910. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

   There's the wind up... and the pitch!

Mayor Edgerton and President Chapin in a little one act skit assisted by Mueller. [Sketch from the D&C by Sterrett]

"With the preliminaries over, Mayor Edgerton walked to the pitchers' box. President Charles T. Chapin (of the Rochester Hustlers) grasped a wagon tongue and Charles White, representing Spalding's house, crouched behind the plate, armed with glove, mask and protector. The Mayor wound up and shot over a high, fast one. President Chapin got a hit last season. Yesterday he turned on the pill and caromed it off the head of Kid Mueller, a Newark pitcher, Mueller feigned a faint. The Newark players brought him around with vigorous applications of their caps."    * * *

About Jimmy Combs:

Jimmy Combs is a 20 year old living in Penfield. He is obsessed with the city of Rochester and wants to help Rochester succeed in a major way, and bring it back to its former glory.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA