Begging your presidential pardon, but where's the win?

Bill Tanton

April 06, 1993|By Bill Tanton

I'm starting to wonder about these presidential appearances at sports events.

They haven't helped my teams much over the years -- including yesterday, when President Clinton threw out the ceremonial first ball before the Orioles opened the season with a 7-4 loss to Texas.

Nobody is blaming Bill Clinton. Nobody is saying it's his fault the Rangers hit those four home runs and put a damper on the start of an Orioles season that holds so much promise.

But when I look back, I have to wonder.

The first time a president attended a sports event I was covering was Jan. 2, 1961. Orange Bowl. Miami. Navy, with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino, vs. Missouri.

I was a kid sportswriter covering Navy. The president was John F. Kennedy. Elected only two months before, he was actually a couple weeks short of inauguration.

When the youthful and handsome Kennedy fairly sprinted up the aisle through the stands, spectators stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of him, blocking our view from the press box.

"What's the matter with those rubbernecks?" complained Bill Fuchs, a Washington Star sportswriter with a wry sense of humor. "Haven't they ever seen a Catholic president before?"

Kennedy was the country's first Catholic president.

Kennedy was also a Navy veteran. I figured his presence could only help the Mids. Navy lost the game, 21-14. Bellino was held to 8 yards on four carries.

A year and a half later, the All-Star baseball game was being played in Washington in what was then known as D.C. Stadium and is now Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Shortly before game time, I opened a door, looking for the American League clubhouse. I found myself in a tunnel under the stands. In a flash, several limousines pulled up. Out of one stepped Jack Kennedy, buttoning his suit coat and smiling. We were face-to-face.

"How are you?" said JFK, friendly as could be. With his New England accent, it sounded like "Hawaii." No wonder I was stuck for an answer.

Though Kennedy was from an American League town, Boston, and I, from Baltimore, was pulling for the AL, the National League won the game that day, 3-1.

Unlike yesterday, when Oriole Park at Camden Yards was swimming with security people, there wasn't a single one in my path at that All-Star Game until a bunch of them popped out of those limos. Since then, Kennedy has been assassinated, Ronald Reagan was shot on a Washington street and Squeaky Fromme, in San Francisco, was arrested as she was preparing to shoot Gerald Ford.

In 1969 there was another All-Star Game in Washington and then-President Nixon held a pre-game White House reception for the press.

I stood in the receiving line to meet Nixon. When I got to him, I was flabbergasted.

"Bill," he said, "what a wonderful summer you must be having covering Brooks and Frank and Boog and the rest of the great Orioles. If I could have any other job, I'd be a sportswriter."

"Want to swap?" Washington writer Mo Siegel asked Nixon.

A member of the White House press corps told me not to get a big head because the president knew my name. "He studies pictures and names before things like this," he said -- though I wish he hadn't.

The American League lost the game, of course, 9-3.

The first presidential visit to Baltimore came Oct. 17, 1979, for the seventh game of a World Series between the Orioles and Pirates. Jimmy Carter held the office. By then, security measures were extensive.

Carter was relaxed and shook hands with players in the Orioles clubhouse. We were all surprised to see how short Carter is.

The Orioles lost that big, big game, 4-1.

President Reagan came to Memorial Stadium for the first game of the '83 World Series, Orioles vs. Phillies. It was the only game the Phils won in that Series.

Reagan was back here for the Opening Game in '84 (Chicago 5, Orioles 2) and again in '86 (Cleveland 6, Orioles 4). By then security was so tight you couldn't get near The Big Guy.

George Bush threw out the ceremonial first ball here in '89 and the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 5-4. Bush was back last year to help christen Camden Yards and, lo and behold, the Orioles, behind Rick Sutcliffe, beat the Indians, 2-0.

Was our luck changing? Not really.

Lefty Clinton, wearing a black and orange Orioles jacket, brown trousers and brown suede shoes, strode to the mound just before game time and lobbed one to Chris Hoiles to help kick off the '93 season.

Clinton is 0-1. So are the Orioles.

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