by Spencer Howard
Fall means it is time for “America’s pastime” playoffs! Herbert Hoover was a fan of baseball throughout his life; as President he had the traditional honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch to open the season for the Washington Senators, and he attended other games when he had the time. He even made a trip to Philadelphia to attend Game 5 of the 1929 World Series.
After his Presidency, Hoover continued to attend baseball games on occasion, and for many years received complimentary season passes from both the American League and the National League. Hoover considered baseball to be more than just a game; it was also an important component of American culture and values. He served for over 25 years as the chairman of the Boy’s Clubs of America, and when he gave speeches about issues concerning youth, he described baseball as superb vehicle for teaching children sportsmanship, a work ethic, and good morals. In a 1955 statement to a baseball executive he even said, “Next to religion baseball has a greater impact on our American way of life than any other American institution.”
This quote was widely publicized, and in 1956 the Cincinnati Reds organization asked Hoover’s permission to have it painted on a large brick wall at the end of the right field grandstand. Mr. Hoover apparently did not think that the quote was quite the right message, so he gave the Reds permission to choose from four similar statements excerpted from speeches he had given:
The greatest moral training, except for religious faith, comes from sportsmanship. And Baseball has had a greater impact on our American life than other American sports institutions.
The rigid volunteer rules of right and wrong in sports are second only to religious faith in moral training – and Baseball is the greatest of American sports.
Next to religion, sportsmanship is the greatest teacher of morals, and Baseball has given this greatest moral influence to our American way of life.
In the land of sportsmanship there are moral precepts second only to those of religious faith – and Baseball is in such a land.
The Reds chose to use the second of the four authorized quotes and sent Mr. Hoover a photo of the results.
It is unknown how long Hoover’s quote stayed on the wall, but certainly by the early 1960s the Reds used the space for paid advertising. Hoover’s musings on morals gave way to messages for banks, beer, and life insurance.