President Donald Trump likes to wear baseball caps adorned with the words “Make America Great Again” across the front. But offered a chance to wear a real major league baseball cap in a real baseball stadium next week, Trump balked.
In yet another break from tradition, Trump declined an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first ball at the Washington Nationals’ opening day game next Monday.
On Tuesday, Politico reported that Trump was “in talks” with the team to toss the first ball, but hours later the White House claimed that Trump had a “scheduling conflict,” without providing any information about why he’s skipping this ritual.
A more likely explanation is that Trump feared that he’d be greeted with a deafening chorus of boos as soon as he stepped into Nationals Park.
Last November, 91 percent of Washington, D.C., voters supported Hillary Clinton over Trump. Voters in the suburban counties outside Washington, D.C., also gave Clinton landslide margins—76 percent in Montgomery County and 89 percent in Prince George’s County in Maryland, and 76 percent in Arlington County and 63 percent in Fairfax County in Virginia.
The Nationals are owned by Theodore Lerner, who primarily contributes to Democratic candidates, although he didn’t directly donate to either Clinton or Trump’s campaigns. Like Trump, he’s a wealthy real-estate developer, but unlike the president, he didn’t inherit his business empire.
In 2015, accepting an award from the Urban Land Institute, Lerner recalled that as a teenager, he worked as an usher at Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators, the Nationals’ predecessor.
“I never could’ve dreamed of owning a baseball team. And I never could’ve imagined over my life that I would build over 200 million square feet of commercial and residential space and that very few people would know my name. I guess I have a different approach to real-estate development than Donald Trump.”
Trump prefers to appear before crowds of loyal followers. Since he took office, his few appearances outside the White House have been highly orchestrated affairs where the audiences are vetted by the president’s operatives.
In addition to the likely boos, Trump might have also been worried that he’d embarrass himself if he couldn’t hurl the ball from the pitchers’ mound to home plate, 60 feet-six inches away, or if he wound up and wildly flung the ball over the catcher’s head into the backstop. Whom could he blame for the humiliation? The groundskeepers for failing to properly manicure the mound? The workers who sew MLB’s baseballs in a sweatshop owned by Rawlings in Turrialba, Costa Rica?
Trump was a good athlete in high school, but typical of the president, his boasts about his prowess undermine his credibility. On April 3, 2013, Trump tweeted that: “I played football and baseball, sorry, but said to be the best baseball player in New York state—ask coach Ted Dobias—said best he ever coached.”
The last time Trump threw out a first pitch was in 2006 at Boston’s Fenway Park before a game between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Photos of that event reveal Trump with an awkward grimace, struggling to look athletic. In the 11 years since then, the 70-year old Trump has gained considerable weight. He doesn’t exercise and he follows a strict diet of unhealthy junk food.
With the exception of Jimmy Carter, every president has tossed the first pitch on opening day at least once during their presidencies since William Howard Taft inaugurated the practice in 1910 at the Washington Senators’ Griffith Park. (There was no Major League team in Washington, D.C., when Carter was president, so he opted to throw out the first ball in the 1979 World Series).
Besides almost surely subjecting himself to an ice-cold reception from the fans, Trump would also risk an uncertain reception from baseball itself. Trump’s trouble with Major League ball was signaled in January when Baltimore Orioles Vice President John Angelos, son of team owner Peter Angelos, said that if it was up to him, he wouldn’t let Trump throw out the first pitch on opening day.
“I know that the administration has taken a lot of criticism for its controversial positions,” he told The Washington Post. “I think more so perhaps for statements made both during the campaign and since the administration came in concerning things that are considered to be problematic from a race, ethnicity, religious, gender, disability [perspective]. People in those communities have been spoken about very negatively by a candidate and now president.”
Traditionally, pro baseball players have been more conservative and cautious, and less outspoken on social and political issues, than their football and basketball counterparts. But in recent decades, MLB has become an international sport, with large numbers of players from Latin America and Asia, making baseball a more racially and politically diverse sport. Trump’s hostile rhetoric toward immigrants, African Americans, and Muslims has also inspired a number of pro baseball players to speak out.
In January, Houston Astros pitcher Collin McHugh criticized Trump after the president attacked civil rights pioneer and congressman John Lewis, claiming that he represented a “crime infested” district in Atlanta that is “in horrible shape and falling apart.” McHugh said, “I live right in the heart of downtown, in District 5. It’s a great place to live. I’ve been there for seven or eight years, I’ve lived in the metro area pretty much my whole life, and I don’t like to see anybody talk bad about it.”
On January 28, Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle condemned Trump’s executive order banning Syrian refugees seeking sanctuary in this country. “These refugees are fleeing civil wars, terrorism, religious persecution, and are thoroughly vetted for 2yrs,” he tweeted. “A refugee ban is a bad idea. ... It feels un-American. And also immoral.”
In February, Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, whose wife is from Iran, told ESPN that he opposed Trump’s proposed travel ban from Muslim-majority nations, “Anytime you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunate,” Fowler said.
On election night, Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy tweeted: “Tonight's result affects me none because I'm rich, white and male. Yet, it'll be a long time until I'm able to sleep peacefully.”
Two months after Trump’s inauguration, McCarthy was back on Twitter poking fun at Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of corporate and Wall Street influence-peddlers. “Was the ‘swamp’ Goldman Sachs itself?” McCarthy tweeted, referring to the powerful investment bank that has provided top officials in Trump’s administration.
At least McCarthy’s sleep—and ours—won’t be disturbed by Trump’s throwing out the season’s first pitch.