On this President’s Day, with the help of Mike Fenton who is a member of one of the many Facebook groups I am in, I present to you a team of players with last names of United States presidents. One is an exception because his full first name is that of a president. He is the first of our pitchers, Grover Cleveland Alexander, who pitched with the Phillies, Cubs and Cardinals until 1928. Another president, Ronald Reagan played Alexander in the movie ‘The Winning Team.” Reagan could broadcast for our Presidential team, as he called Cubs games in the late thirties.
Alexander is not the only Hall of Famer on the Presidential pitching staff. We have lefty Ed “Whitey” Ford, the great Yankee lefthander. No lefty in his league was better when he was at his best. Our two other Hall of Fame pitchers are Randy and Walter Johnson. Randy is well known to modern fans, but Walter may not be. He was “The Big Train,” who pitched for the Senators from 1907 to 1925. He feared throwing inside pitches lest he kill somebody. For that reason Ty Cobb crowded the plate and got hit after hit off the kindly Kansan. If I didn’t already have enough broadcasters for the team Johnson would be one, since he broadcast Senators games on radio in 1939 and had a pleasant voice to listen to.
Since an All-Star team can have more pitchers than normal, we have more beyond our 4 Presidential Hall of Famers. We have Jim Mudcat Grant, best known for his role on the 1965 Twins who almost beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Also, Ian Kennedy who is still active is on the team. Since Mike Lincoln was 17-30 with a 5.33 in 11 years he’ll only come in if we’re losing by 10 or more runs. We have Al Jackson, the little lefty who came to fame on the Amazin’ Mets in their early years. We also have Larry Jackson who beat the Mets in their very first meaningful game on April 11, 1962. He was an All-Star 5 times over between the Cardinals and Cubs. He’s our one Presidential name who became a politician, serving in the Idaho legislature not less than 4 times and took a shot at running for governor. Earl Wilson is one of our pitchers. He pitched a no-hitter in 1962 for Boston, led the league in wins in 1967 with the Tigers and a year later won a World Series ring with them.
Bullet Joe Bush can’t be left out, since he’s considered the first man to throw the forkball. He was on 3 World Series winners-the Philadelphia Athletics in 1913, the Red Sox in 1918 and the 1923 Yankees. In 1916 he won 15 games for an Athletics team that won 36 all year long, ending at 36-117, .235 which is even worse than the 40-120 1962 Mets.
Billy Pierce is another Presidential All-Star. 7 times he was selected to the All-Star team during his career of almost 20 years. He pitched in the 1959 World Series for the White Sox and 3 years later for the Giants. Both times he came up on the losing side. We also have Reggie Cleveland, one of the Red Sox pitchers in the 1975 World Series which they lost to the Reds. Our last pitcher is Charles Benjamin “Babe” Adams, who pitched for the 1909 and 1925 World Series winners, the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first rookie to start and win game 7 of a World Series, which he did in 1909. The only other would be John Lackey in 2002.
Our main catcher is Hall of Famer Gary Carter, the catcher for the Mets’ World Series winners of 1986. His backup is Cliff Johnson, best known for his power hitting with the Astros and Yankees.
The presidential infield is its weak spot, especially at the bat. Nick Johnson is our first baseman. He never blossomed as a Yankee behind Don Mattingly. We have our choice at second base: Tony Taylor (Phillies, Tigers,) John Kennedy (red Sox Pilots,) who could play third also, plus Josh Harrison of the Pirates and Homer Bush, a one-time Yankee. Our shortstop is Howard Johnson, one of 3 1986 Mets on this presidential team. At third base we have Charlie Hayes, who caught the final out of game 6 of the 1996 World Series for the Yankees.
By comparison the presidential outfield is a powerful bunch. Just for starters, there are Shoeless Joe Jackson and Reggie Jackson. They need no introduction to most fans. One man I knew had a golden retriever called Jackson. I asked, “Is that for Reggie?” He said “No, Shoeless Joe.” The movie “Field of Dreams,” and the movie “Eight Men Out,” keep the legend of Shoeless Joe alive. Then there’s Joe Carter, the second man to end a World Series with a walkoff home run. He did that for Toronto in 1993. We can’t leave out Lewis Robert Hack Wilson, the Hall of Famer who drove in 191 runs for the Cubs in 1930. He could have been an All-Star except there was no All-Star game until 1933 and his career was on the decline by then. He was once arrested during prohibition for drinking and had to pay a $1.00 fine. Don’t today’s drinkers wish they could get off with a $1.00 fine. Writer Shirley Povich of the Washington Post said he was “Built like a beer keg and not wholly unfamiliar with its contents.” Lines like that didn’t endear him with either William Veeck SR or William Wrigley, Cubs executives and his manager Joe McCarthy, later of Yankee fame had to protect his star from the two execs. After baseball and a divorce, he declined fast, and died at age 48. Ford C. Frick, then president of the National League paid for his funeral since nobody else would.
Among our utility outfielders are William Mookie Wilson, of ’86 Mets fame, and Claudelle Washington who broke in at 19 in 1974 on the World Series winning Oakland A’s. at 20 he was an All-Star. That wouldn’t happen again until 1984. He was a Brave by then, and had played in their losing NLCS effort in 1982. In his career, facing Nolan Ryan he struck out 39 times, which is more than any other hitter did against Ryan between 1966 and 1993.
Other outfielders with presidential names but less distinction are: Von Hayes (Phillies,) Lou Clinton (Red Sox,) Otis Nixon (Braves,) Glen Wilson, Willie Wilson and Dan Ford. Ford is known, if at all for hitting the first home run in the renovated Yankee Stadium in 1976. Our manager is former Mets and Nationals manager Davy Johnson. Our coach is Ron Washington, former manager of the Texas Rangers. Broadcasting for the Presidential All-Stars are Ernie Johnson and his son Ernie JR., with Kevin Kennedy of ESPN on color commentary. And lest we forget, the team’s bat girl is none other than Tonya Harding.
After that self-indulgent bit of fun, it’s back to the usual birthdays. Johnny Cueto is 30 today. After a career with the Reds and half a season as a hired gun for the Royals with a World Series ring to show, he has joined the Giants until 2021. There he will be at best a number 2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner who will start on Opening Day for the third year in a row.
Russell Martin is 33 today. He’s been an All-Star 4 times-twice as a Dodger, once as a Yankee, once as a Blue Jay. This past April 3, before an exhibition game in Montreal his dad played the Canadian national anthem on his saxophone.
The Penguin is 68 today. Not the Penguin from Batman, but Ron Cey of the Dodgers. Wearing Dodger Blue he was an All-Star 6 times, and his team won the 1981 World Series over the Yankees after losing in 1974 to Oakland, 1977 and 1978 to the Yankees. Cey got another chance in the 1984 NLCS when his Cubs lost in 5 to the Padres.