WASHINGTON _ Teddy Roosevelt's baseball bat. Calvin Coolidge's basketball. Gerald Ford's football jersey.
Those are an eclectic collection of presidential sports memorabilia proving that, as its creator says, presidents played sports as well as politics.
“In our culture, we have come to a point where sports and politics have mixed,” says Frank Ceresi, executive director of collections and curator for the MCI National Sports Gallery.
That's why Ceresi decided to put together the Presidents and Sports exhibit at the MCI National Sports Gallery in Washington. The exhibit's focus, he says, is the sports that presidents played—from their childhood to their days in the White House. The exhibit runs until May 2001.
The 2000 Presidential elections, says Ceresi, created the perfect opportunity to display the athletic interests of the presidents.
The exhibit, Ceresi says, is not a collection of presidents pictured with championship teams or other sports items used for publicity. “I wanted to focus on the sports that were interesting to the individual presidents,” he adds.
And it turns out that almost every well-known sport was a hobby for some of the presidents. The artifacts displayed range from fishing gear to baseball bats. The value of the items, Ceresi says, are priceless. They are on loan from museums, presidential libraries and private collections.
Some of the artifacts on display include:
— A baseball scrapbook kept by Rutherford B. Hayes and his family in 1869. They tracked the Cincinnati Red Stockings—remember, socks were stockings in those days –game by game. The Stockings were baseball's first professional team.
— The earliest known signed baseball by a president, William H. Taft. He signed it and threw it out, as the first pitch of the game, at the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs game in 1910. This started the tradition of presidents pitching the first ball of the baseball season.
— Gerald Ford's commemorative football jersey from the University of Michigan. Ford, often ridiculed for clumsiness as a president, was a star player for the varsity Wolverines football team at the University of Michigan in the late 1930s.
— A black-and-white photo of a young George Bush clad in his baseball uniform while he attended Yale.
— An 1860 Currier and Ives print showing the tall, lanky Abraham Lincoln playing baseball with his political opponents.
–Fishing gear used by Herbert Hoover. And it's no wonder the lures and rods are worn from use. Hoover loved fishing so much he wrote an “Ode to Fishing” that's also on display.
The exhibit took more than a year to bring together, adds curator Ceresi. And more items are coming in through April 2001. Soon the gallery will have a set of “political” baseball cards picturing Grover Cleveland and James Garfield playing the sport and baseball programs from the early to mid-1900s.
“The concept of the whole museum is to make it a fun-filled family activity,” says Ceresi. “And I want people to learn that sports were enjoyed even by the presidents.”
(For more information about the MCI National Sports Gallery go to: http://www.mcicenter.com)