Apr 16, 2011

1946: Opening Day--and a New Beginning

Dot's Diary, Tuesday, April 16, 1946:

Today's news: LEFTY TRUMAN TO TOSS 1st BALL - Then Senators, Red Sox Play Before 30,000:
Opening Day, 1946: Before it could heal the nation, baseball at the close of World War II had some healing of its own to do.

By John Rosengren

On Tuesday, April 16, 1946, the president of the United States lunched with several U.S. senators at the Capital, paused to shake hands with wounded war veterans, then headed to the ballpark. A 65-piece U.S. Army band boomed “Hail to the Chief” when Harry S. Truman entered Griffith Stadium. The ball players–13 of them returning vets–stood at attention in their baggy flannels while the Stars and Stripes rose up the center-field pole and the band played the national anthem.

The photographers trained their bulky cameras on the presidential box, where the commander in chief would honor the game’s great southpaws with his opening toss. Truman caused a moment of consternation by gripping the ball in his right hand. The New York Herald Tribune reported: “He switched the ball to the publicized duke, limbered it up with two short waves of the soupbone, drew it back behind his ear, and fired an overhand delivery about 50 feet into the cluster of players of both sides deploying for the throw.”

Truman’s pitch was the first season-opening delivery by the commander in chief since Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s in April 1941, but opening day was more than a photo op for Truman. When the war ended, the president turned to the national pastime for healing. The Missouri southpaw understood the nation’s faith in the game’s restorative powers.

Back at the ballpark

Washington’s Griffith Stadium had been sold out weeks in advance, and eager fans quickly snatched up the 4,000 bleacher seats and 3,000 standing-room-only passes that went on sale that morning. Some 32,300 men, women, and children filled the seats and spilled into the aisles to watch that afternoon’s game between the hometown Senators and the Boston Red Sox. Across the country, 236,730 fans passed through the turnstiles at eight American and National League parks, the highest inaugural-day attendance in 15 years.
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