A euphoric fallout drifted across the country, saturating the baseball community. League officials loved owners, owners loved managers, managers spoke highly of players, and Casey Stengel talked pleasantly to a photographer. It was a time of year when even the Kansas City fans, enjoying a heady sniff of major league baseball without yet having to swallow a performance by the Athletics, dreamt of finishing seventh.
Expert opinion prevailed that Cleveland would retain its American League pennant and meet Milwaukee in the World Series. In Las Vegas, where the prophets back their predictions with hard cash, the odds were out and went like this:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
If it's any comfort, Las Vegas last year picked the winning Indians and Giants to finish second and fourth respectively.
THE FIRST PITCH
Having learned his lesson in 1953 when he came near missing the event in favor of golf, Dwight Eisenhower once more opened the baseball season. Standing in the flag-draped Presidential box in Washington, Ike faced the cameras and assembled ballplayers, pounded his glove and lobbed a pitch to Infielder Pete Runnells.
The first first-ball pitcher was a portly right-hander from Cincinnati named William Howard Taft, who threw from under a tall silk hat his first time out. The year was 1910, and Taft opened the baseball season at the request of Ban Johnson, president of the American League. Johnson thought the Presidential appearance would give a lift to sagging attendance, and it did. Twelve thousand fans—a record Washington turnout—were on hand to cheer Taft and the baseball Senators. Although Taft's ample girth was not prohibitive for a pitcher, as Fred Fitzsimmons and Hugh Casey later proved in competition, he was wild. Having shed his gray kid gloves, he wound up and let fly towards Catcher Gabby Street, who was waiting at home plate. To everyone's surprise, the ball sailed off to starboard and into the glove of Pitcher Walter Johnson, who was observing the event from the mound.
Two years later an enterprising pitcher named Clark Griffith took over the management of the Washington club. He asked Taft to repeat the opening-pitch ceremony, and the President obliged with a performance that showed marked improvement in his control.
Clark Griffith has observed 44 first pitches by eight White House hurlers and 11 by Vice Presidents summoned from the bull pen when the President was unavailable. Of these, Griffith rates austere Woodrow Wilson as the most genuine ball fan. During the closing years of his life, when he was crippled by a stroke, Wilson frequently drove to the ball park and watched the game from the tonneau of his car parked near the right-field fence. Griffith generally sent an idle player out that way to protect Wilson from errant fly balls.