Dan Quayle played Milwaukee last year for the Brewers' home opener, and he made quite a nice toss from the mound to catcher B.J. Surhoff. Afterward the vice-president mentioned to Milwaukee pitcher Chris Bosio that he might sec him again in Baltimore in October—for the World Series. Said Bosio, "I'm not voting for him, no matter what." In his defense, Quayle may have just been anticipating realignment.
Hillary Rodham Clinton would not have been the first First Lady to throw out a first ball, by the way. Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush have all done it. Catcher Mike Scioscia, now with the San Diego Padres, remembers Mrs. Reagan giving him a hug after he caught her as a Los Angeles Dodger at the '88 World Series. He also remembers forgetting about the glove he autographed that night for a team official. "My mother-in-law visited the Reagan Library," says Scioscia, "and she saw the glove. I never thought I'd be part of a presidential display case."
Politicians have long been a staple of the first ball ceremony, whether it be JFK's grandfather, Boston mayor John (Honey Fitz) Fitzgerald, at Fenway Park (1912) or Harris County (Texas) commissioner Squatty Lyons at the Astrodome (1990). Long before Dwight Gooden, a Dr. K threw out a first ball: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, at the 1975 All-Star Game in Milwaukee. Some pols have even earned the honor. Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan threw out the first pitch of 1981's second season at Yankee Stadium after he helped settle the baseball strike.
But for the most part the political first ball is a rather hollow gesture. And sometimes a politician can get in the way. In 1984 the Cleveland Indians wanted to honor Mike Garcia, a pitching hero from the '54 club who was suffering from a kidney ailment. A presidential candidate happened to be in town, and his campaign stall" asked that he be part of the ceremony. After Garcia threw the ball to the candidate, reporters covering the campaign nearly trampled the frail ex-pitcher. His catcher? Jesse Jackson.
Generally the first ball thrower can be classified as one of five species: politician, military person, celebrity, average Joe (or Jo) and stuntman (or stuntwoman or stuntelephant). You have already read enough about the pol, and we will not linger long on our Few Good Men and Women. One military honor is worth noting. To his credit, Richard Nixon had a Vietnam War POW substitute for him in the Senators' 1971 opener. (To his discredit, Nixon let son-in-law David Eisenhower do the honors in 1970.)
As for the celebrity, well, there are several subspecies. Closest to home is, of course, the baseball star, such as Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or the star of stars, Joe DiMaggio. Call him the Yankee Flipper. Joe D did the Florida Marlins' opener on Monday, the Yankee openers in '63, '82 and '92, the Oriole opener in '81, the San Francisco Giant opener in '85, the Kingdome opener in '78 and World Series games in '76, '77, '78 and '81.
Occasionally the honoree is a real old-timer. In 1982 the Red Sox had 92-year-old Smoky Joe Wood throw out the first ball. Unfortunately Wood had to throw with his left hand because his right arm was still sore from the 1912 season. And occasionally the old-timer will keep his legend alive. Tim Flannery, the former Padre infielder, recalls that Jimmy Piersall threw out the first ball at the 1974 Babe Ruth World Series in Mattoon, Ill. "He came out," says Flannery, "and threw the first pitch over the backstop and into the parking lot. On purpose. I just thought to myself, Wow, all those stories are true."
Stars from other sports have been known to throw out first balls: Seles, Eric Lindros, Walter Payton. In the glory days of Da Bears, coach Mike Ditka was given Opening Day nods by both the White Sox and the Cubs. Joe Girardi was his Cub catcher, and after Ditka threw the baseball, Girardi threw Ditka a football he had hidden behind his back. "He didn't know it was coming," says Girardi, "but he caught it. I think he got a kick out of it."
There are also men and women of letters, as opposed to men and women who have lettered. Distinguished author and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel threw out the first ball before an '86 World Series game at Shea Stadium. Horror of horrors, Stephen King has been asked to perform the first rites at Fenway Park, but he has refused, holding out for an Opening Day assignment. In 1968 the Yankees asked the great poet and baseball fan Marianne Moore to throw out the season's first ball, which the octogenarian did with flair, tilting back her trademark tricornered hat. She threw a strike to backup catcher Frank Fernandez, who then planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. Someone up there must have appreciated his gallantry, because Fernandez, a .170 hitter in '68, hit the game-winning homer that day.
Loosely qualifying in the literary category are sportswriters, whose first pitches have fortunately been few and far between. Before Game 6 of the 1992 American League Championship Series in Toronto, Neil MacCarl, the longtime baseball writer for The Toronto Star, took the mound. Perhaps because he bore the burden of all scribes on his right shoulder, MacCarl bounced the pitch 15 feet in front of him and watched it roll to the plate.