Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame

March 27, 1981

The President. Gentlemen, go ahead with your coffee and all, but I know that time is getting by and we have a few remarks.

I'm delighted -- well, I can't tell you how thrilled to have you all here. And over there at the other table is a ballplayer who is delighted to be here, Vice President George Bush, and he did play. But I want to tell you, you span the years for me, and all these young gentlemen here that are growing up as ballplayers. It's a delight to have all of you here.

The nostalgia is bubbling within me, and I may have to be dragged out of here because of all the stories that are coming up in my mind. Baseball -- I had to finally confess over here, no, I didn't play when I was young. I went down the football path. But I did play in a way, as Bob Lemon well knows, I was old Grover Cleveland Alexander, and I've been very proud of that. It was a wonderful experience.

There were quite a few ballplayers, including Bob Lemon, who were on the set for that picture. And I remember one day when they wanted some shots of me pitching, but kind of close up -- so, they wanted me to throw past the camera, and they had a fellow back there -- well, Al Lyons, one of the ballplayers that was there, was going to catch the ball back there and then toss it back over the camera to me. And the cam was getting these close shots for use wherever they could use them. And he was on one side of the camera, and my control wasn't all that it should be at one point, and I threw it on the other side of the camera. And he speared it with his left hand with no glove on. He was a left-hander, and after he brought the ball to me, and he said, ``Alex, I'm sorry I had to catch your blazer bare-handed.'' [Laughter] He didn't suffer any pain, I am sure of it.

But I remember we had a fellow that I'm sure some of you know and remember, Metkovitch. And Metkovitch, during the day's shooting, would memorize everyone's lines. And then if we were on location and get in the bus to go back in from location, he would now play all the scenes for us on the bus. [Laughter] So, thinking about this, one day, on the process screen, an umpire behind him, he was at the plate, and they wanted a shot of a ballplayer at the plate. And the director said, ``There are no lines, but you'll know what to say.'' He said, ``The umpire's going to call it a strike,'' and he said, `` You don't think it's a strike. So, do what you do in a ballgame when you think it's a bad call.'' And extroverted Metkovitch, who was so happy to play all the scenes, was standing up at the plate and if you looked closely, you could see that the bat was beginning to shake a little bit -- [laughter] -- and the ball came by on an after play and the umpire bellowed out, ``Strike one!'' And Metkovitch lowered the bat and he says, ``Gee, that was no strike.'' [Laughter] The picture wasn't a comedy, so we could't leave it in.

But you know, I've always been sorry about one thing. Alex is in the Hall of Fame and deservedly so. Everyone knows that great 1926 World Series, when he had won two games, received the greatest ovation anyone's ever received, and then was called on in the 7th inning with the bases loaded, no one out, and one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball at the plate. And he came in and saved the game. The tragedy that I've always regretted is that the studio was unwilling to reveal in the picture, was afraid to reveal what I think was the best kept secret in sports.

A bad habit of Alex's was widely heralded and took something away from his luster. But they wouldn't let us use the actual word of what was behind, maybe, his bad habit. Alex was an epileptic. And when he was arrested and picked up for being drunk in a gutter, as he once was, he wasn't at all. But he would rather take that than admit to the disease that plagued him all his life.

But he also, early in his baseball career, was hit in the head going from first base down to second on a throw from second; they caught him right in the head. And he was out of baseball for a while, and they didn't know whether forever, because he had double vision. And he kept experimenting, trying to find out if there wasn't some way that he could pitch. And he went to a minor league club and asked for a tryout, and the manager got up at the plate and said, ``Well, go on out on the mound and throw me a few.'' Alex broke three of his ribs on the first pitch. [Laughter] His experiment had been that he thought that if he closed one eye and threw, he'd only -- [laughter] -- and the friend that was with him when they were thrown out of the ballpark said, `` What happened?'' And he said, ``I closed the wrong eye.'' [Laughter]

But there are men in this room that were playing when I was broadcasting, and I promised to say something here to a great Cub fan that we have at the table that would make him feel good. I was broadcasting the Cubs when the only mathematical possibility -- and Billy Herman will remember this very well -- that the Cubs had of winning the pennant was to win the last 21 games of the season. And they did. And I was so imbued with baseball by that time that I know you're not supposed to talk about a no-hitter while it's going on because you'll jinx them. So, there I was, a broadcaster, and never mentioned once in the 21 games -- and I was getting as uptight as they were -- and never mentioned the fact that they were at 16, they were at 17, and that they hadn't lost a game, because I was afraid I'd jinx them. But anyway, they did it and it's still in the record books.

What isn't in the record books is Billy Jurges staying at the plate, I think, the longest of any ballplayer in the history of the game. I was doing the games by telegraphic report, and the fellow on the other side of a window with a little slit underneath, the headphones on, getting the dot-and-dash Morse code from the ballpark, would type out the play. And the paper would come through to me -- it would say, ``S1C.'' Well, you're not going to sell any Wheaties yelling ``S1C!'' [Laughter] So, I'd say, ``And so-and-so comes out of the wind-up, here's the pitch, and it's a called strike, breaking over the outside corner to so-and-so, who'd rather have a ball someplace else and so forth and backed out there.''

Well, I saw him start to type, and I started -- Dizzy Dean was on the mound -- and I started the ball on the way to the plate -- or him in the wind-up and he, Curly, the fellow on the other side, was shaking his head, and I thought he just -- maybe it was a miraculous play or something. But when the slip came through it said, ``The wire's gone dead.'' Well, I had the ball on the way to the plate. [Laughter] And I figured real quick, I could say we'll tell them what had happened and then play transcribed music. But in those days there were at least seven or eight other fellows that were doing the same ballgame. I didn't want to lose the audience.

So, I thought real quick, ``There's one thing that doesn't get in the score book,'' so I had Billy foul one off. And I looked at Curly, and Curly just went like this; so I had him foul another one. And I had him foul one back at third base and described the fight betwen the two kids that were trying to get the ball. [Laughter] Then I had him foul one that just missed being a home run, about a foot and a half. And I did set a world record for successive fouls or for someone standing there, except that no one keeps records of that kind. And I was beginning to sweat, when Curly sat up straight and started typing, and he was nodding his head, ``Yes.'' And the slip came through the window, and I could hardly talk for laughing, because it said, ``Jurges popped out on the first ball pitch.'' [Laughter]

But those were wonderful days, not only playing the part, but some of you here, I think, will -- I'm going to tell another story here that has been confirmed for me by Waite Hoyt. Those of you who played when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, know that Brooklynese have a tendency to refer to someone by the name of Earl as ``oil.'' But if they want a quart of oil in the car, they say, ``Give me a quart of earl.'' And Waite was sliding into second. And he twisted his ankle. And instead of getting up, he was lying there, and there was a deep hush over the whole ballpark. And then a Brooklyn voice was heard above all that silence and said, ``Gee, Hurt is hoyt.'' [Laughter]

But, I can't take any more time doing this or we'd be here all day. They tell me that I'm supposed to go out there in front of the door to the Blue Room, and because I haven't been able to say hello to all of you in here and, as I say, there are many of you that were playing when I broadcast in those telegraphic report games, and not only recreated but -- as I just told you -- now and then created some of the ballgame. But I understand that we're going to have a chance outside here -- kind of a line where I can say hello and goodby at the same time to each one of you.

And now I'm going to present -- the Commissioner has something here that I think should be said. Commissioner, come on up here.

Mr. Kuhn.(Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of the American Baseball Association) Okay, fine. I just wanted to take a moment on behalf of all of us gathered here together to thank the President for his great kindness in having us all here today.

I'm going to borrow a line from the man I talked to yesterday who's sitting here in the room, Mr. President, Bob Howsam. When Bob and I were talking, I said, ``I'll see you there tomorrow, won't I?'' And Bob's a member of our executive council from the Cincinnati Reds sitting over here, and he said, ``Commissioner, I will never be so proud or so old that I won't be thrilled to set foot in the White House and say hello to the President of the United States.'' And I think on behalf of us all, I can say we're very thrilled to be here, to be with you, to share with you some anecdotes about the game of baseball.

I want to just do one little thing that I found. I want to say to the President on behalf of baseball that I think we have contributed mightily to the President's situation here in Washington, because he was a Cubs fan, as you can tell. And I've got an article I found in the Chicago Tribune which plainly indicates that baseball has prepared him for his career here. It says, ``For four years, Ronald Reagan broadcast games of the Cubs and in the process became that rarest of nature's noblemen,'' Dave Broder, ``a Cub fan. Nothing before or since those four years has prepared him more fully to face with fortitude the travails of the Oval Office. As a Cub fan, he learned that virtue will not necessarily prevail over chicanery, that swift failure follows closely on the heels of even the most modest success, that the world mocks those who are pure in heart, but slow of foot. But'' -- and here's the good news, Mr. President -- ``but that the bitterest disappointment will soon yield to the hope and promise of a new season.''

We thank you from the bottoms of our heart for your kindness and generosity here today.

Mr. Stack. I'm Ed Stack, the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I have a couple presentations I'd like to make.

Before the luncheon, the President greeted the commissioner and myself in the Oval Office and was very gracious to sign our historic Presidential baseball, which we have on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He added his signature to the baseballs that have been signed by all the Presidents since William Howard Taft. And tomorrow morning, it'll be on display in Cooperstown for the millions of visitors to see when they come through the shrine.

Also, we presented the President with a lifetime gold pass to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and we hope that he will use it many times in the future.

I'd like to ask the President to accept from us a couple gifts. The first gift that we have to present is something that Billy Martin sent from Oakland. Bill heard about the luncheon and asked that I present this to the President. And if he could open it and show the audience, I think he'll enjoy it.

[The President was presented with an Oakland A's team jacket.]

The President. Hey, look, Ma, I made the team! [Laughter] I hope he hasn't got this too big. [Laughter] A little big.

Well, I thank him very much. I thank all of you.

Mr. Stack. The veterans' committee of the Hall of Fame met recently in Tampa, Florida, to elect new members to the Hall of Fame: Johnny Mize, who's in the room today, was elected just a couple weeks ago. At the meeting, the veterans' committee wrestled with other candidates, the many candidates to the Hall of Fame. President Reagan's name came up, because we all knew that he was a baseball player in the movie ``Grover Cleveland Alexander.'' But he didn't make it on this go around. So, the veterans' committee asked me to arrange for the Hall of Fame to present to the President today a remembrance from the Hall of Fame.

[Mr. Stack presented the President with a painting.]

It's Grover Cleveland Alexander.

The President. Hey!

Mr. Kuhn. And on the back we have an inscription of what it's all about.

The President. Oh, believe me, I'm delighted to have this. This is just wonderful. I never had more fun or enjoyed anything more in my life than when we were making that picture. And I remember Nancy and I -- we were engaged and waiting for the picture to end to get married. And she came out on the set one day, and I said, ``How would you like to have a baseball autographed by all these fellows that are -- all these ballplayers?'' And, oh, she thought that would be great. And I started out, and I looked back, and there were tears in her eyes, and she was standing there. And I said, ``What?'' And she said, ``Can't I go get them?'' [Laughter]

Well, I'm more pleased -- delighted to have this. Thank you very much.

Mr. Kuhn. I'd like to make just one announcement. The Baseball Hall of Famers who are here, after the receiving line, if you could remain for a minute, we will have a group photograph. I'm pleased to announce that this is the largest assembled group of Hall of Famers that ever been in one place together at any time.

The President. See you all outside.

Note: The President spoke at 12:57 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.