While Ronald Reagan was known more for his time playing football, he had a lengthy history with the game of baseball as well. Reagan's father, John, had played on a team in Bennet, Iowa in 1898. Ronald Reagan himself worked as a sports announcer for WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa during the 1930s. He would call Chicago Cubs games, but rather than being at the game, he would recreate the action from nothing but a slip of paper typed by a telegraph operator who was transcribing plays sent by Morse code. On June 7, 1934, with the Cubs and the Cardinals tied 0-0 in the ninth inning, with Billy Jurges at-bat and Dizzy Dean out on the mound, the line went dead. Rather than lose his audience, Reagan improvised a streak of foul balls that lasted nearly twelve minutes until the wire came back. He would share this humorous anecdote with audiences for decades to come.
As a sports announcer, Ronald Reagan decried segregation in the game. At the opening of the Champions of American Sport exhibit in June 1981, he said, "And I'm proud that I was one of those in the sports-reporting fraternity who continually editorialized against that rule, that baseball was for Caucasian gentlemen only. And finally, thanks to Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, baseball became truly the American sport."
Charcoal portrait of Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleaveland Alexander. Costume worn by Ronald Reagan in the movie Winning Team
Ronald Reagan owed a debt to baseball for his Hollywood movie career. In 1937 he had persuaded his radio bosses to send him to California to cover the Cubs' spring training, and while there took a screen test for Warner Bros. studios. One of his best-known movie roles was in the 1952 film The Winning Team with Doris Day, where he played real-life baseball star Grover Cleveland Alexander, known as "Alexander the Great." Ronald Reagan portrayed Alexander's struggles with epilepsy, alcoholism, and his triumphant return to pitching, leading to a victory in the 1926 World Series. Later while he was President, Reagan was given his old costume from the movie as a present. He noted it in his diary on May 12, 1988: "received a gift the Baseball jersey I wore as Alex the Great in the movie."
President Reagan throwing out the first pitch during a baseball game between the Athletics and the Dodgers with two Pony League Teams from Glen Burnie, Maryland looking on. President Reagan in a photo opportunity and receiving gifts with Tommy Lasorda the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers with his wife Jane Lasorda in the Oval Office. President Reagan eating a hotdog in the dugout with Bowie Kuhn and Edward Bennett Williams while attending opening day game of 1984 Baseball Season at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.
Ronald Reagan was still involved with the world of baseball as president. Like most who hold the office, he threw out ceremonial first pitches and congratulated World Series champions. Reagan met with old-time players in the Oval Office and Little Leagues on the South Lawn. He signed proclamations for National Amateur Baseball Month and Harmon Killebrew Day. As First Lady of United States, Nancy Reagan was able to call on Major League baseball for support for her "Just Say No" campaign.
Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, often told baseball anecdotes in his speeches and used baseball metaphors to describe politics. He once said, "Baseball of course is our national pastime, that is if you discount political campaigning." Toward the end of his presidency, Reagan made one last stop at Wrigley Field, September 30, 1988. He threw out the first pitch then called the game in the broadcast booth alongside legendary announcer Harry Caray, saying, "You know in a few months I'm going to be out of work and I thought I might as well audition."