Did President Theodore Roosevelt Like Baseball?

In every home game of the MLB team called Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, there is always a promotional event held during the middle of the fourth inning of the games. This promotional event is popularly called the Presidents Race, wherein mascots that bear likenesses to seven former Presidents of the United States would race around the field. The presidents that have appeared in the race are:

  • George Washington
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • William Howard Taft
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Herbert Hoover

Out of those seven presidents, only Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt are recurring mascots in the race. William Howard Taft began racing in 2013 but was retired in 2016, Calvin Coolidge only ran in the 2015 season home games, and Herbert Hoover only participated in the 2016 season games.

In the Presidents Race, there is a running gag that Theodore Roosevelt would never win a game because of unfortunate but funny circumstances. Although the “Teddy” mascot has won a few games throughout the years, many Washington Nationals fans know the mascot to be a constant loser in races. Why is the Roosevelt mascot constantly losing in the Presidents Race? Does it have anything to do with history? The short answer is: Yes. But there needs to be an explanation why Roosevelt is treated that way in every Nationals home game. So, to learn more, here are some details about Roosevelt’s relationship with baseball.

Did Roosevelt Dislike Baseball?

Washington Nationals game

From the time Roosevelt became president of the United States up to the 2000s, there is no solid evidence that supports the claim that Roosevelt disliked baseball, but it is believed to be true by many citizens as Roosevelt did not appear or rarely appeared in baseball games held in Washington, DC during his five-year tenure as US president.

The World Series, which is a very popular event within the world of baseball that is attended by thousands of people, was ignored by Roosevelt every single time it was held. According to news reports in 1906, the year where a World Series was held, Roosevelt did not attend baseball games because he did not have an interest in the sport at all.

Many influential people encouraged and invited Roosevelt to watch a game, and one of those people included American League founder Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson, who is said to have been the one that tried the hardest to get Roosevelt to go to a baseball game. Johnson had a motive for inviting Roosevelt, as he intended to seek help from the president to make the American League or AL bigger.

Ban Johnson’s “Golden Pass”

When Johnson was able to set up meetings with Roosevelt, he gave the president a “Golden Pass,” which allowed Roosevelt to have complete access to the American League stadium (now the location for the hospital of Howard University) and be able to invite other people to come with him to games. As its name already suggests, the Golden Pass was a ticket that was laced in gold and was contained within a luxurious case. Unfortunately, Ban Johnson was unable to persuade Roosevelt to go to a baseball game using the Golden Pass.

Roosevelt’s Eyesight

Besides the Golden Pass, Johnson also once shared one of his conversations with Roosevelt, which revealed that Roosevelt would have liked to try to play baseball when he was a kid, but he was unable to due to poor eyesight since he won’t be able to see where the ball is going and where he needs to pitch it or hit it with a bat. Many historians believe that Roosevelt may have tried to play baseball before, but because of his poor eyesight, he was pretty much bad at the sport.

In a research study conducted in the 2010s, it was revealed that Theodore Roosevelt may have also been afraid of the sport, particularly the speedy baseball that can sometimes hit you hard it can cause bruises. The study was conducted by Ryan Swanson, a University of New Mexico Sports historian, who stated that Roosevelt feared nothing except a “baseball being thrown in the dark.” During Roosevelt’s tenure as US president, there wasn’t enough protective gear for baseball players back then, so getting hit by a baseball can be quite painful.

The Presidents Race

Presidents Race mascots visiting US president Joe Biden

Because of Roosevelt’s “historical” dislike of baseball, many fans, players, and executives of the sport have also developed a humorous dislike of the US president. To keep the “dislike” gag going, the owners and sponsors of the Washington Nationals created an event in 2006 called The Presidents Race, wherein the fourth racer and mascot, Teddy Roosevelt, could not win a single race.

The organizers of the said event have set up many funny reasons for the Teddy mascot losing games, which includes the mascot constantly tripping, getting confused about where the race starts or ends, and attempting to post a tweet on Twitter while racing. The Teddy mascot would also get disqualified sometimes for breaking the rules of the race or by simply cheating. There were also instances where he seemed to have won the race but would eventually get disqualified for doing something ridiculous.

The first time that the Teddy mascot won in the Presidents Race was on October 3, 2012, which also serves as the final day of the 2012 regular season. In the race, Roosevelt was able to break his 525-race losing streak. The Teddy mascot won two more times in 2017 and 2019. Unfortunately, the Presidents Race wasn’t held in 2020 due to the pandemic and because of the shortened season, where the Washington Nationals struggled and missed the playoffs. But it is expected that the Presidents Race will return in the near future since it is a favorite pastime among Nationals fans and even those that like to watch MLB games.

As evident through reading this article, the running gag of Roosevelt’s losing streak in the famous Presidents Race stemmed from a little piece of history where Theodore Roosevelt was unable to attend baseball games. Although it is still unclear if Roosevelt really disliked baseball, the one fact that remains true today is that Roosevelt became an icon in the sport, but only as a memorable mascot that is constantly losing but is also constantly cheered on by many baseball fans.