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Baseball's ceremonial first pitch dates back to the 1800s

Presidents, dignitaries, celebrities and people being honored in their communities participate in the long-standing custom.

WASHINGTON — One of the most treasured aspects of baseball happens before the umpire calls, “Play Ball!” and the game officially begins.

THE QUESTION

How did the ceremonial first pitch get started?

SOURCES

WHAT WE FOUND

Accounts of special guests throwing out a ceremonial “first ball” date back to the 1890s–like this account of President William McKinley–then governor of Ohio–tossing the ball from the stands to the diamond in 1892.

Credit: Library of Congress

It’s America’s pastime after all, and America’s presidents have partaken in ceremonial first pitches for more than a century.

Here’s a photo of William Howard Taft at National Park tossing the ball from the stands on Opening Day in 1910–the first presidential pitch in the Majors. Archived Sports Illustrated reports say it was an effort to boost attendance–and it worked.

Credit: Library of Congress

Nearly every president since then has participated on Opening Day and even to start games throughout the season.

Presidents Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter are the only two presidents in the last century to not have thrown a first pitch in a Major League Baseball game during their terms. 

Joe Biden has yet to do the honors since his 2021 inauguration.

George W. Bush famously threw out a first pitch weeks after September 11. The White House called it a signal of Americans’ day-to-day resilience. 

RELATED: The Nats home opener looks dry now thanks to a later start time

You don’t have to win the White House to play the role -- you don’t even have to be any good at baseball.

For a tradition that isn’t even outlined in the MLB’s official rules, the first pitch has certainly made a lasting impact on America’s game.

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