An All-Star Tribute to America’s Greatest Game – and to its greatest Presidential fan

by Dr. Ed DeVries

Tomorrow the 89th All-Star game will be played in our nation’s capitol. What better way to commemorate the occasion than to tell the story of our 40th President’s lifelong career with the national past-time. The story of Ronald Reagan and Chicago Cubs Baseball.

On February 6, 1911, just west of Chicago, in Tampico, Illinois, life-long Cubs fan, Ronald Wilson Reagan, began an improbable road to the presidency. The rest as they say, is history.

Like most Americans, I have a profound admiration for President Reagan. But what most Americans do not know is that before calling the shots as commander-in-chief, Ronald Reagan did play-by-play as a radio announcer for the Cubs.

While the President’s pre-political background as a movie actor is widely known, not many people realize that his first entertainment career was in radio, most notably as the reenactment voice of the Chicago Cubs on Iowa’s WHO-radio during the early-to-mid 1930s. In this role, “Dutch” Reagan, as he was known to listeners, would receive game updates via telegraph and then, accompanied by sound effects, bring the action to life with a vivid description of the details.

Even at an early age, the comfort and ease with which Reagan worked the microphone was evident.

In one famous instance, the telegraph feed went down in the ninth inning of a tight ballgame. Not wanting to lose his audience, Reagan began to improvise on the spot. With no updates forthcoming, Reagan anxiously described the action as Augie Galan battled Dizzy Dean in an epic batter/pitcher duel. Foul ball, after foul ball, after foul ball was broadcast to the audience for six minutes until the telegraph messages finally resumed.

In his 1965 autobiography, “Where’s the Rest of Me?,” Reagan would recount the game: When the telegraph resumed, “…it read, ‘Galan popped out on the first pitch.’ Not in my game he didn’t. He popped out after practically making a career of foul balls.”

Leaving radio behind for the bright lights of Hollywood, Reagan’s baseball reenactment days were far from over.

In 1952, Reagan starred alongside Doris Day in “The Winning Team”, a movie about pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who balanced a Hall of Famer career and drunkeness.

Unfortunately for Reagan, his love of the game was greater than his ability to play it. In his trademark self deprecating manner, he once admitted that a fear of the ball prevented him from hitting and ensured that he was always the last boy chosen in every game.

In this one regard, Reagan wasn’t being modest. In 1938, he injured his Achilles tendon during a celebrity baseball game, and then, in 1949, upped the ante at a charity event by breaking his leg in a collision at first base with fellow actor George Tobias.

In addition to a damaged ego, the latter injury cost the actor a $100,000 salary for an upcoming film and also forced him to use crutches for almost an entire year.

In a letter dated September 22, 1949 to Eureka College alumni president Tressie Masocco, Reagan made it known that: “…for the record though – I wasn’t sliding into first. I was beating out a bunt and the first baseman blocked me off the bag. Well everything is an experience – now I am qualified to play an invalid if ever the script calls for such.” –

After the accident, Reagan didn’t play much baseball.

As Governor of California, and then as President of the United States, Reagan used the office to advance his fondness for the game.

Shortly after his innauguration, on March 28, 1981; he hosted 32 members of the Hall of Fame at a White House luncheon.  Greats like Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson and Bill Dickey spent the afternoon talking baseball with the President, and according to most accounts, it was Reagan who was in awe. Joe DiMaggio would later say that, “I think the President enjoyed this visit even more that we did.”

When the then 70-year-old Reagan greeted former Chicago White Sox shortstop Luke Appling who was 74, he said “I knew I’d find someone my age here.”

During his presidency, Reagan performed the typical ceremonial duties that had become expected of a commander-in-chief, mainly, throwing out ceremonial first pitches. My wife and her father were onhand in 1986 when he threw out the first pitch before that year’s Orioles home opener. And I skipped school on September 30, 1988 to see the President toss out the first two pitches at Wrigley Field to open a contest between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In addition to congratulatory calls to the World Series winners, the President also kept tabs on individual players’ milestones. Often, he would follow up a particular accomplishment with a presidential phone call. In one such instance, the President called Pete Rose after he set the National League record for most hits on August 10, 1981. Unfortunately, breaking the record was easier than getting the President on the line. “I waited 19 years for this,” Rose stated amid several classic one liners that left the assembled media in stitches, “I guess I can wait a few more minutes.”

Four years later, when Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record, an on-field phone call from President Reagan went much more smoothly, although the irony of the words wouldn’t be understood until several years later. “Your reputation and legacy are secure,” Reagan told Rose. Unfortunately, the future wouldn’t be as kind to Rose as it would be for the President.

Perhaps of most significance to Yankees fans, was that one of President Reagan’s final official acts was to pardon Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner, who had been convicted in 1974 of making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon.

Back to that aforementioned day in 1988, the President returned to his roots as a Cubs’ radio broadcaster by joining hall-of-fame broadcaster Harry Caray and Steve Stone behind the mic at Wrigley Field. Harry Caray said that, “You could tell he was an old radio guy. He never once looked at the television monitor.”

Before calling the play-by-play for almost two innings, Reagan quipped, “You know in a few months I’m going to be out of work and I thought I might as well audition.” Harry replied by telling him that the job was his whenever he wanted it.

After leaving office and before succumbing to the tragic debilitation of Alzheimer’s disease, President Reagan had the opportunity to reprise his role as a baseball announcer once again during the 1989 All Star Game in Anaheim. During his time in the booth with Vin Scully, Reagan called the shots on back-to-back homeruns by Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs.

Toward the end of his life, its reported that the President told Gaylord Perry, his long-time friend, who, over a 21-year Cy-Young award wining career, had pitched for the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, and the Kansas City Royals that:  “I just know its an ugly rumor that you and I are the only two people left alive who saw Abner Doubleday throw out the first pitch.”

He also said that, “This is really more fun than being President. I really do love baseball and I wish we could do this on the lawn every day.”

  • Visit www.dixieheritage.net for a free copy of Dr. Ed’s book The Truth About the Confederate Battle Flag.
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