George H. W. Bush always had a special connection to baseball

Former United States president George H.W. Bush has died, his spokesperson Jim McGrath announced on Friday. He was 94.

He leaves behind a remarkable legacy as a celebrated World War II combat pilot, Republican congressman, vice president, and the 41st president of the United States, which he claimed after defeating Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. He was the son of a senator, and his own son, George W. Bush, followed in his footsteps all the way to the White House as the 43rd president in US history.

Not to be overlooked though in his 94 well lived years is the special connection George H. W. Bush always had with the game of baseball. After all, not every president has kept a first baseman’s mitt in his desk drawer at the Oval Office. It wasn’t just any old mitt either, it was the same mitt Bush wore four decades earlier as a player on the Yale varsity baseball team.

That guaranteed baseball would never be far from him. Not that it ever really strayed. For a time, it was actually in the family. George W. Bush served as the controlling owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 until 1998, when he began his run for the office in 2000.

There are countless stories that intertwine George H.W. Bush, his family, his legacy and our beloved baseball. Here are just a few that have left an indelible mark on our national pastime.

Babe Ruth meets George Bush in a landmark photo taken on June 5, 1948. (AP)
Babe Ruth meets George Bush in a landmark photo taken on June 5, 1948. (AP)

Iconic photo with Babe Ruth

No one present knew it at the time, but the afternoon of June 5, 1948, two American icons met on a pristine baseball field in New Haven, Connecticut. In a ceremony that drew thousands to Yale Field, Babe Ruth, his famed bulk now gaunt and ravaged from cancer, his voice a gravelly rasp, handed the manuscript to his autobiography to the Yale Elis’ first baseman … a rangy war hero by the name of George Herbert Walker Bush. On the day the folk legend and the combat pilot met, Ruth was two months from dying, and Bush was four decades from ascending to the presidency of the United States.

The stirring photo serves as a landmark moment not just in baseball or sports, but American culture. It connects generations. It brings history to life.

Played in first two college World Series

Affectionately known by his teammates as “Poppy” back in his playing days, Bush was a sure-handed first baseman who was a key part of a history-making Yale baseball team.

The Bulldogs made consecutive trips to Kalamazoo, Mich., to play in the College World Series, first in 1947 against California and then in 1948 against Southern California. The first appearance marked the first time that the college baseball championship was known as the College Baseball World Series.

Yale lost both series, falling to California in two straight in 1947, before dropping two of three to USC in 1948. The Bulldogs have not since returned to the College World Series.

Asked many decades later what he took from his days playing baseball, Bush said, “The importance of teamwork, and working hard together towards a common goal.” It was a mentality that would serve him well navigating the friendless world of Washington, D.C.

Played against Vin Scully

Babe Ruth wasn’t the only baseball legend George H.W. Bush crossed paths with during his formative years. In 1947, he shared the field with a man who would become the golden voice of baseball for nearly seven decades, a young Fordham outfielder named Vin Scully.

Here’s the boxscore to prove it.

Though neither got a hit that day, the encounter gave baseball’s greatest storyteller quite a story to tell.

History of first pitches

From the All-Star game, to the World Series, to his old home ballpark at Yale, George H.W. Bush was involved in countless first pitch ceremonies.

None measured up though to his final one, which came alongside son George W. Bush before Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. It was the last time the entire Bush family was together at a baseball game. The family matriarch, Barbara, died on April 17.

That Bush finally got to see his beloved Astros win a World Series only makes the occasion that much more memorable.

Bush remained a fixture at Astros games in 2018 when his health permitted. He loved the game. The game loved him back, and will miss his always pleasant and passionate presence.

Jay Busbee was a contributor to this story.

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