Calvin Coolidge liked baseball so-so. But First Lady Grace Coolidge was a enthusiastic fan!
Coolidge the Indifferent Sport
Calvin Coolidge was always a hard fellow to figure, unless, of course, you were a New Englander. Then he was easy to understand: Except for politics, he was not a joiner. And even in politics, his “joining” at best, was at arm’s length.
He was a man with no hobbies. He neither enjoyed nor played any particular sport as boy-to-man. There is no record of him being on any team. There is also no record of him enjoying or playing any “solitary” pastime, such as hunting or golf or horseback riding. His interest in fishing came much later in his life, and even then, it was mild.
He was also not a man of games. He collected nothing; not stamps or coins or cigar silks. He did not play chess, checkers or cards, at least not with any regularity. Nor did he sing, dance, play an instrument, play-act or draw.
He read his newspaper regularly. That was about it.
Mrs. Coolidge, Baseball, and Politics
By the mid-nineteen-teens, women were becoming more and more involved in politics, and some of that was the “social” end of politics. Even the more austere menfolk (Coolidge being among that group) were beginning to recognize that their wives had some social-political value.
Grace Coolidge (1879-1957) was a good looking woman. She was stylish. She had a terrific personality. She made friends easily, where Coolidge was diffident. As he advanced in state office, he had occasion to bring his wife to various functions, and began to recognize that she was indeed an asset.
Also by the nineteen-teens, baseball had become the National Sport. Grace’s knowledge of baseball was an automatic entree into the man’s world of social conversation – especially in a state like Massachusetts, where the Boston Red Sox dominated. Grace knew wherein she spoke. Both the Coolidge sons played on local teams, and she had played catch or pitched the ball to them in the yard. She knew the rules of the game. She could keep the box-scores. She followed the sporting pages. She knew the players and their statistics. She could share the heartbreak with the men, when the Sox traded Babe Ruth, their best pitcher, to the New York Yankees, who were determined to make him their best batter.
The First Lady and Baseball
President William Howard Taft had enjoyed baseball, and began the time-honored custom of throwing out the first pitch on opening day. Woodrow Wilson had loved baseball as a youth, and even managed his college team. Warren Harding continued the baseball tradition.
With First Lady Coolidge, only one thing changed. The Washington Senators were the “home team,” and politics mandated that her allegiance needed to be switched from the Red Sox (although that would only be temporary). She was quoted as saying, “I venture to say that not one of you gives a hoot about baseball, but to me, it is my very life.”
Whether he liked it or not (and his interest was only lukewarm), Calvin Coolidge was tasked with becoming a fan. It wasn’t always easy. The White House Historical Association tells of the time the POTUS and Missus went to a World Series game. The score was tied at the bottom of the ninth inning, and President Coolidge rose and declared that he was ready to go home. Mrs. Coolidge yanked his coat tails and insisted that he sit right down. She wasn’t leaving.
The Coolidges and Pop Culture
The Roaring 1920s, known for bootleg whiskey and flappers, can be credited with the boom in what today would be called pop-culture. There were movies, radio, phonograph recordings, vaudeville, magazines, sports of all kinds, and particularly baseball, all of which produced people who were catapulted to fame.
Calvin and Grace Coolidge neither roared nor flapped, but in their own ways, were also catapulted to fame. They occupied the White House. And all the ancillary stars of stage, screen, radio, song, sport – and baseball – found their way to the White House to shake hands with the unflappable President, and his charming First Lady.
Frequently, the cream of the celebrities were invited to stay for lunch. A few for dinner. People like Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson and Will Rogers were delighted to have their photographs taken with the President, and/or the First Lady, and the POTUS did not seem to mind that the photos usually turned up in the newspaper headlines the following day. That included Babe Ruth. He showed up too. One surmises that Mrs. C. forgave him for his apostasy of leaving Boston.
The Faithful Mrs. Coolidge
President Coolidge (1872-1933) did not live that long after his term in office. Five years after retiring as Chief executive, he died. He was only sixty.
Mrs. Coolidge, however, lived for another quarter century. She stayed on in Northampton, MA, still taking her daily hour-long walk in the parks or streets. She was frequently seen knitting on her favorite park bench. Everyone knew her.
Mrs. C. managed to forge a quiet but pleasant life for herself. She spent time with her married son and his growing family. She went to Europe. She flew in an airplane. She compiled a series of essays into a “memoir” of sorts. And she continued her long love affair with baseball.
Every year, practically until her death in 1957, she went to Boston for a Red Sox game – or two or three. She kept up with all the players and all their statistics. There is even a story of a time that she was among a crowded audience when an obscure question about an obscure baseball player was asked, and no one knew the answer. Except one person. Mrs. Coolidge. And she was right!
Anthony, Carl Sferrazza –First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990
Boller, Paul F., Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981
Foster, Feather Schwartz – The First Ladies – Sourcebooks, 2011
Wikander, Lawrence & Ferrell, Robert (eds) – Grace Coolidge, An Autobiography, 1992, High Plains