Listen, I don’t like Donald Trump either. Setting aside the fact that he’s a deplorable human being who brags about committing sexual assault, he’s a willfully ignorant narcissist who’s largely made a joke out of our electoral process. He won the nomination of his party by slinging school yard taunts and playing on the worst xenophobic and racist impulses among the least educated and refined of our populace. He’s neither prepared the job he holds, nor does he respect the basic civic institutions of our democracy. His grasp on reality is so tenuous I question his ability to be employed whatsoever, let alone his qualifications for the most important public office in the most consequential and powerful country in the world.
You probably either wholehearedly agree with that characterization or wildly disagree with it. I don’t particularly care which. This is America. You’re entitled to your opinion.
But since this is America, let me state one principle that should be sacred: the President of the United States should throw out the first pitch in Washington DC on Opening Day. I don’t care about the party and I don’t care about the policies. Some things should transcend politics.
Washington DC doesn’t have a lot of baseball traditions. There are no retired numbers on the façade of the upper deck (other than 42), and the pennants flying above the scoreboard are very lonely. Most of DC baseball history is littered with losing and misery. When Broadway wanted produce a musical about a terrible professional baseball team, they chose the Washington Senators.
DC baseball may not have a tradition of winning, but we have an unseverable connection between the Presidency and baseball. The first President to attend a professional baseball game, Benjamin Harrison, saw the Senators lose to the Reds (of course) in 1892. It was at a Senators game in 1910 the tradition of the first pitch was born. William Howard Taft became the first President to throw out the “first ball” on Opening Day. He did it again the next year. President Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition, throwing out the first ball on Senators Opening Day three times. The next nine Presidents all threw out the first ball on Opening Day in Washington DC, combining to do it 40 times. When professional baseball came back to DC in 2005, President George W. Bush was on the mound. He was there again when the Nationals opened their new stadium in 2008. President Obama threw out the first pitch in 2010 (albeit wearing the wrong hat).
When it was leaked Tuesday morning that the Lerners intended to invite President Trump to throw out the first pitch next Monday, the reaction on social media was predictably negative, ranging from mild disapproval to outright anger. I get it. Lest you think I’m a fan of Trump, I direct your attention to the first paragraph above.
The problem is there is no credible argument not to invite him, unless you intend to kill this DC baseball tradition altogether. Some argued that Opening Day is meant to be a happy occasion that shouldn’t be interrupted by such unpleasantries like protests and political animosity. This is a paper thin argument, likely covering a dislike of the personality involved. Most people making this argument probably wouldn’t be doing so had the election swung the other way, and they probably didn’t make it 7 years ago when President Obama was invited to Nats Park. It’s fine, I suppose, to argue politicians should stay away from ceremonial sporting events altogether. But I won’t entertain that argument if it was only discovered this morning.
Others argued that the Lerners should respect the values of their fans, who voted overwhelmingly against then-candidate Trump. Washington DC as a city voted 96% for Hillary Clinton and every neighboring county voted the same way, although not to those numbers. The problem here: Washington DC always votes Democrat, and always overwhelming so. Applying a popularlity test before a President is invited to Opening Day elminates 50% of our Presidents.
The most common objection, though, were those who said they weren’t opposed to a President, even a Republican, from throwing out a first pitch, just this President. There’s something–indeed many things–that are so uniquely distasteful about him. He’s an outlier. I am sympathetic to this argument. See above. However, this line of thought can be applied to any President (think Nixon or the anger toward Bush 43 after the Iraq War). As politics coarsen and the lines of political division harden, this problem will only get worse. You don’t like this guy? You probably won’t like the next guy either.
The biggest problem, however, is taking a purely ceremonial, non-partisan job, and disqualifying the applicant for purely partisan reasons. Throwing out a first pitch is the least political thing a President can do. It’s one of the few places he can be a fan and we can forget about the policies he may or not be pursuing. Objecting to the President because you don’t like him takes a non-political activity and makes it political.
It’s hard to escape the unprecedented unpleasantness of our current national political dynamic. The sitting President, especially a locally unpopular one, throwing out the first pitch would have–for only a minute–been a symbol that some things are not as abnormal as they might seem. Baseball survived through World War I, World War II, and Watergate. Presidents of both parties were there to throw out first pitches both before and after.
You may think locking Donald Trump out of Opening Day keeps baseball’s sacred day from becoming political. But locking him out because of his politics does the opposite. You may not like him, but the Lerners were right to invite him. This is Washington DC’s greatest baseball tradition and it should be kept alive at all costs.
DC may be a swamp. But turning Opening Day into a political litmus test would only make it swampier.