Baseball is as American as the presidency itself (although the
reverse cannot always be said), and many a ball fan has
occupied the White House.
Surprisingly, the greatest White House baseball enthusiast of all
time was not to be found among our chief executives but rather
among our first ladies.
The spouse in question is Grace Goodhue Coolidge, the
charmingly effervescent wife of dour Silent Cal. Known for
decades as "The First Lady of Baseball," she was a fixture at
Opening Days, the World Series, ordinary games at Fenway
(and in her era there were many "ordinary" games at said park),
and camped in front of her radio at home—tuned to any game
within broadcast range.
"I venture to say," she wrote to a close friend in the 1950s, "that
not one of you cares a hoot about baseball but to me it is my
very life"—and she meant it.
But first a bit about her husband. Calvin wasn't exactly a fan
himself, being unathletic and tightly focused on law and
government. True, in his childhood he noted that "my ball game
often interfered with my filling of the wood box. I have been taken
out of bed to do penance for such derelictions."
But by the time he had reached Ludlow, Vermont's Black River
Academy he was fast becoming blasé concerning the National
Pastime. "Games did not interest me much though I had some
skill with a bat," he recalled. Regarding his Amherst years, he
noted that while the school "won its share of trophies on the
diamond . . . In those events I was only I was only an observer . .
." On the eve of the 1990 American League playoffs his son
John (a loyal if somewhat skeptical Red Sox fan) recalled that as
for playing ball with his father, he would have "nothing more than
a catch. He [Calvin] was not at all athletically inclined."
But Grace was Cal's direct opposite in baseball as in so many
other fields. There is some controversy over when—and why—
Grace Coolidge acquired such an abiding interest in the game.
Some say she was so smitten from her youth, and was a
scorekeeper at the University of Vermont. If that is the case she
may have been presumed to have been a fan of Northampton's
ill-fated Connecticut State League team, the Meadowlarks, when
her husband was mayor of that city. No record of such an
interest exists, however.
Others hold that she turned to the national pastime to salve the
grief resulting from son Calvin Jr.'s tragic death in July, 1924.
John Coolidge has clarified matters: "I don't think she was
interested in baseball at all when my father was Governor of
Massachusetts. A friend of the family would take [brother] Cal
and me to Fenway. My mother and father never went. If her
interest came from the time of Cal's death, it was purely
coincidental. It was only after they got into the White house that
she became interested. There was no interest when my father
In any case, during the Roaring Twenties, the First Lady could
be regularly seen at Washington's Griffith Stadium, often
chatting with Senators players (the Coolidges attended the
wedding of Senators "Boy Wonder" manager Bucky Harris in
October, 1926—of course, Harris had married the daughter of
an administration official, Alien Property Custodian Howard
Sutherland, former West Virginia United States senator) and
keeping hubby Calvin from bolting the park after perfunctorily
performing his duties as ceremonial first-ball tosser.
In Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt. Jr.’s memoirs there is an interesting
passage. TR Jr. was leaving the administration to run for
governor of New York, and Mrs. Roosevelt—who, oddly enough
was named Eleanor—visited the White House to bid farewell to
First Lady Grace Coolidge. Mrs. Roosevelt wrote:
I made an appointment to say good-by to Mrs. Coolidge at
five o'clock on Tuesday. All afternoon I had been packing
china and lost track of the time. Suddenly I remembered
and took my head out of a barrel full of excelsior to find it
was quarter to five. I rushed upstairs, brushed off the
worst of the dust, and hurried to the White House. I was
shown at once into the Red Room, where Mrs. Coolidge
was sitting, handsome and charming as she always was.
As I came in she looked up and said, “Oh, Mrs. Roosevelt!
Isn't it perfectly wonderful about Washington!”
“Washington?” I murmured vaguely.
“Yes," said Mrs. Coolidge. “Isn't it too exciting?”
What could she mean? George Washington? No. The
state of Washington? Again, no. Washington, D.C.? More
likely, but still baffling. I must have looked completely
blank, for Mrs. Coolidge said, “Why, don't you read the
“I thought I did—” I began.
“Well then, don't you know that the Senators beat the Red
“She used to come to games,” Bucky Harris recalled, “and sit
right by the Senators' dugout. She came to the games with Cal
and stayed there when the President would leave early, and
then she'd come to other games alone.
“All the Washington players knew her and spoke to her. She was
the most rabid fan I ever knew in the White House.”
Let's detour—but not too far—from Grace—to the 1924
Washington Senators and her husband Calvin.
Now, in 1924 the Coolidge luck manifested itself in matters
baseball. As anyone who’s seen the musical “Damn Yankees”
knows, the phrases “Washington Senators” and “winning
baseball” weren’t exactly synonymous. But in 1924—and again
in 1925—the usually woeful Senators won the American League
pennant. They had a pretty good team—centered upon the
great pitcher Walter Johnson. Walter Johnson—the major
league leader in shutouts (6) and the American League leader
in victories (23), ERA (2.72), and strikeouts (158).
But they also had some other fine players included Hall of Fall
outfielder Goose Goslin, the American League leader in RBI
(129) and triples (17); another Hall of Fame outfielder Sam
Rice, #3 in the American League in stolen bases (24) and #4 in
in triples (14). And two very good pitchers: Firpo Marberry, one
of the very first relief pitchers. He led the majors that year in
saves with 15, and Tom Zachary, who was second to Johnson in
the American League in ERA (2.75). And with the exception of
their third outfielder position, Washington featured a strong
lineup in the other starting positions as well: catcher Muddy
Ruel, first baseball Joe Judge, their playing-manager, second
baseman Bucky Harris, shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, and third
baseman Ossie Bluege.
When the Senators had returned to an ebullient Washington
after clinching the 1924 American League pennant at Boston’s
Fenway Park, Coolidge greeted them with unusually light-
As the head of an enterprise which transacts some
business and maintains a considerable staff in this town, I
have a double satisfaction in welcoming home the
victorious Washington Baseball Team. First, you bring the
laurels from one of the hardest fought contests in all the
history of the national game. Second, I feel hopeful that
with this happy result now assured it will be possible for
the people of Washington gradually to resume interest in
the ordinary concerns of life. So long as we could be
satisfied with a prompt report of the score by innings, a
reasonable attention to business was still possible. But
when the entire population reached the point of requiring
the game to be described play by play, I began to doubt
whether the highest efficiency was being promoted. I
contemplated action of a vigorously disciplinary character,
but the out come makes it impossible. As a result we are a
somewhat demoralized community but exceedingly happy
It may be that at some time in the past a baseball pennant
has gone to as widely popular a winner as your team is
today. If so, it was in some year when I was not watching
the score by innings. Tuesday morning, when I had
finished reading details of the decisive battle of Boston
and turned to the affairs of government, I found on top of
everything else on my desk a telegram which I shall read
to you. Whether or not I shall be able to act on its advice,
many will agree that it presents a correct, constructive,
and statesmanlike program for dealing with the present
emergency. I have received worse suggestions on more
important affairs. It is from a true and thoughtful friend of
the people, Congressman John F. Miller, of Seattle. He
“Respectfully suggest it is your patriotic duty to call
special session of Congress beginning Saturday,
October 4th, so the members of Congress may
have an opportunity to sneak out and see Walter
Johnson make baseball history. Cannot speak for
New York delegation, but hereby pledge all others
to root for Washington, and serve without pay or
Mr. Miller has such judgment and his sense of public
psychology is so accurate that I do not need to say what
party he represents.
The Washington team won because it deserved to win. It
had fought gamely, year after year, for a place at the
front; never discouraged, always sure that better things
were ahead. Now it appears to have annexed the whole
country, with the enthusiastic approval of nearly all
concerned. Aside from two or three groups of earnest
young men who were willing to accept the championship,
the whole country seems agreed that precisely the right
thing has happened. That is a real compliment to the fine
spirit, the clean play, the good sportsmanship that brought
your victory. These have always been characteristics of
the work of the Washington team. They have earned for it
the affection of the “home town” constituency and the
regard of baseball followers throughout the country. Clean
sport crowned with victory is a most wholesome sight. I
trust it will always be representative of America.
You have come home to receive the plaudits of your city,
and to prepare for the greater competition of the World
Series. We are all agreed, at least in theory, to the
sentiment, “May the best team win.” But I want to add that
your fellow townsmen of Washington do not need to be
told which they regard as the best team. They hold firm
convictions about it. And in that full confidence in which
the President is privileged to speak when only the public is
listening, I may say that I have my opinion about it. I hope
the results of the World Series will show we all are right. I
know it will show a continuation of clean sport.
Manager Harris, I am directed by a group of your
Washington fellow citizens to present to you for the Club
this loving cup. It is a symbol of deep and genuine
sentiment. It is committed to you and your team mates in
testimony of the feelings that all Washington has for you.
With it go the heartiest congratulations on victory already
won, and every wish for your success in the contest which
is still ahead of you.
There is a place both present and future in America for
true, clean sport. We do not rank it above business, the
occupations of our lives, and we do not look with approval
upon those who, not being concerned in its performance,
spend all their thought, energy and time upon its
observance. We recognize, however, that there is
something more in life than the grinding routine of daily
toil, that we can develop a better manhood and
womanhood, a more attractive youth, and a wiser maturity,
by rounding out our existence with a wholesome interest in
To those who devote themselves to this enterprise in a
professional way and by throwing their whole being into it
raise it to the level of an art, the country owes a debt of
gratitude. They furnish us with amusement, with an
outside interest, oftentimes in the open air, that quicken
the step, refreshes the mind, rejuvenates, and restores
us. We pitch with the pitchers, we go to bat with the
batters, and make a home run with the hard hitters. The
training, the energy, the intelligence which these men
lavish upon their profession ought to be an inspiration for
a like effort in every walk of life. They are a great band,
these armored knights of the bat and ball. They are held
up to a high standard of honor on the field, which they
have seldom betrayed. While baseball remains our
national game our national tastes will be on a higher level
and our national ideals on a firmer foundation. By bringing
the baseball pennant to Washington, you have made the
National Capital more truly the center of worthy and
honorable national aspirations.
During the first game of the 1924 World Series against John
McGraw's New York Giants, the president, never one to idle time
on entertainments, suddenly stood up to leave. Washington had
never been in a World Series before. The immortal Walter
Johnson was on the mound. It was the ninth inning, the score
knotted at 2-2. Grace Coolidge sputtered, "Where do you think
you're going? You sit down," as she grabbed his coat tails.
The chief executive sat right back down.
Grace even succeeded in getting Calvin to remain through all
twelve innings of Washington's exciting seventh game victory. A
photo of the first couple taken as the winning run scored shows
Cal unusually animated and Grace looking like the cat that ate
Clark Griffith then brought winning pitcher Walter Johnson to the
Coolidges' box. The president displayed customary restraint.
"Nice work," he twanged, "I'm glad you won.” But Mrs. Coolidge
had no qualms about the events. "Nor did she just cheer," noted
The Sporting News, "She jumped up and down on both feet,
waved her arms, called out to Johnson. . . . The picture of
sedateness on her arrival, she left as rumpled, as tired, and as
happy as the thousands of other fans."
Meanwhile, Senators owner Clark “The Old Fox” Griffith was
becoming similarly unhinged. Normally when a president would
leave the game, Griffith would escort him out of the park. On this
occasion, he completely forgot about the First Couple and left
them to find their way out by themselves.
In Game Five of the 1925 World Series, however, Cal escaped
from Griffith Stadium in the third inning, with Pittsburgh leading
Washington 2-1. But Grace stood her ground and remained.
The Senators rewarded her by tying the contest on right fielder
Joe (not Bucky) Harris' home run. The home team ultimately lost
6-3, but the First Lady hung on to the end, cheering loudly as
usual, and scoring every play.
When Grace could not get out to a game, she employed that
newfangled device, the radio, to pull one in, either at 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue or aboard the Mayflower, the presidential
yacht. If nothing was available over the airwaves, she would
saunter over to the White House telegraph room to learn the
Her interest in radio play-by-play continued for the rest of her
life, well past television's advent. "She always listened to the
radio, never on television," recalled John Coolidge, "She liked to
visualize it—said the TV picture was somewhat limited. Of
course, television was less advanced back then. She never
owned a television. A friend lent her one, but she preferred the
radio. She liked to keep busy, she liked to knit during those
"Time is not wasted while I listen in on the ball game for I put it
on the chair seats," she somewhat defensively noted, referring
to some exquisite needlework she had done for her family.
Her passion for the sport intensified after leaving the White
House and after her husband's death in 1933. American League
president Will Harridge never forgot the First Lady who so
enthusiastically cheered on the Senators. At the beginning of
each season his circuit bestowed an exceedingly thoughtful gift
Every spring Mrs. Coolidge would receive a tasteful,
monogrammed leather handbag from Harridge. It would be
outfitted with special compartments to hold both her season
pass and an American League schedule. She made sure she
got full use from each year's gift.
During the Second World War she opened her home to a
WAVEs training at nearby Smith College. On occasion they
would find that she had dozed off during a ball game. But if they
ventured to turn the radio off, she would awake with a start and
switch the broadcast back on.
After World War II her baseball interest hit its peak. In November
1948 we hear of her attending a baseball father-and-son
banquet at Northampton's Edwards Congregational Church.
Philadelphia A's right-hander Joe Coleman, a Massachusetts
boy, was guest speaker. Mrs. Coolidge not only kept busy by
asking the most perceptive questions, she also supplied the
answers. When a lad stumped the pitcher by asking if there had
ever been a World Series triple play, the former First Lady
whispered out to Coleman, "Bill Wambsganss, Cleveland
infielder in the 1920 World Series," recalling the famed
Red Sox Fan
Although an avid Red Sox fan, Grace had other concerns as
well. "She hoped for a Subway Series, but the Braves went to
Milwaukee," recalls John Coolidge. "Lou Perini gave her a pass,
but she never went much."
She would tune into Red Barber and Connie Desmond on
Brooklyn Dodger broadcasts, where she learned that for a mere
quarter and a Post cereal boxtop, she could obtain a genuine
Red Barber 1948 baseball guide. Grace received not only the
guide, but a personal letter from the Old Redhead.
"It means a great deal to us to know of your interest in baseball
in general and the Brooklyn broadcast in particular," Barber
wrote, "Bob Considine and other Washington writers have told
me of your very real interest in baseball and that when you went
to the baseball park you went for nine innings or more, if
necessary." Grace was so thrilled she wrote to her son about it.
Grace would inform others as well. “She’d tell me about some of
the plays she had heard on the radio,” recalled Red Sox
manager Joe Cronin. “We had a day for her to help out a home
for deaf children a couple of years back. She was unable to
attend that game since she wasn’t feeling that well.”
"They'd trek over to Boston," recalled John Coolidge. “There
were three of them, a friend, Mrs. [Florence B.] Adams, a retired
MD [Dr. Joseph D. Collins] and they’d take off at the drop of a
hat, either for a day game or they’d stay over. They’d do this
several times a year.
"This was before the days of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
They'd take some local road, say, Route 2. To go from
Northampton to Boston there was no through road."
"The press always looked to see if she was on hand for the big
game in Boston," noted her biographer Ishbel Ross, "and she
usually was." One of her particular admirers was the
aforementioned Bob Considine. Once on seeing her delight at a
game, he decided her countenance was "somewhere beyond
the expression of the Mona Lisa and short of an outright guffaw."
Cleared she enjoyed herself at a game.
In one trip to Fenway in July 1949, Mrs. Adams was beaned by a
foul ball as the trio sat near the Red Sox dugout. A good sized
lump was raised, but no serious damage was done.
Earlier that year she had made some news by picking both
Boston clubs to win their respective pennants. "You may have
heard over the radio," she wrote to John Coolidge, "that I had
picked the red Sox and the Braves to win pennants this year.
[Former Senators righthander] Bump Hadley had quite a spiel
about it on his broadcast Friday night and mentioned the fact
that he went to Mercersburg [Academy] with you and Calvin [Jr.]
. . . The game is tied up now so I shall have to stop and listen . .
And at an advanced age Grace was taking even longer baseball
jaunts. The American League supplied her with World Series
tickets, and she traveled to New York in 1949 (where she met up
with Herbert Hoover) and to Philadelphia in 1950. When she
could no longer attend in person, the American League sent her
"amazing arrangements of flowers."
And the former Washington fan still followed events along the
Potomac, showing some chagrin with the newly-elected
President Eisenhower. "I think the President is making a
mistake,” she wrote to friends in April 1953, "in not postponing
his vacation for a day in order to throw out the first ball."
It was when she would no longer travel to the shadow of the Big
Green Monster that her closest friends knew she was beginning
to fade. She admitted—like a true Coolidge—that he feared
dying in a public place because of the publicity it would generate.
When death finally took Grace Coolidge in July 1957, Boston
Globe headlines termed her “Long Active Red Sox Fan.”
That she was.