He’d been to three games the season before, but William Howard Taft made history 111 years ago Wednesday.
The portly president started a tradition that would continue into the next century when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day game. Now, what appears to be the lone surviving original photo from that day is on the market.
The 4 1/4″ x 5 3/4″ inch image being offered by RMY Auctions is mounted on heavier paper and die cut for publication. It shows Taft’s follow through as he stand in front of his boxed seat in front of red, white and blue bunting draped below him on the wall. The company calls it “one of the most important pieces of baseball history we’ve ever handled.”
The back shows the date the photo was filed to archive (October 3, 1912).
The portly president’s toss from a boxed seat prior to the game against the Athletics on April 14, 1910 bounced just in front of Washington ace Walter Johnson who had him sign it. Johnson then went out and tossed one of his seven career Opening Day shutouts.
Taft’s military aide, Major Archie Butt, had arranged for Taft’s participation in the festivities. Taft would make an encore appearance on Opening Day in 1911 and was set to do so again on April 19, 1912, but did not do so after Butt and 1,516 other passengers had died in the sinking of the Titanic four days earlier. The ceremony went on but Vice President James Sherman filled in. Sherman died later that year.
Taft was no stranger to the ballpark during his time in office, appearing at big league parks at least 14 times, including visits to Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. He often stayed for the entire game.
The Taft photo is one of several hundred in RMY’s April Collectors Auction, which runs through April 24 at RMYAuctions.com.
Topps commemorated the moment in its Turn Back The Clock series on Wednesday, creating an on-demand card of Taft that’s available until early Thursday afternoon.