Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 8, 2004
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Reagan and Baseball

I thought I'd take a quick look at some of the 40th president's baseball connections:

*Straight out of college in 1932, Reagan got a job with radio station WOC in Des Moines, Iowa; within a year, following the station's merger with WHO, Reagan was installed as the station's broadcaster for Chicago Cubs games, a job he would hold for five seasons, until he landed his first Hollywood job in 1937. You have to recall that, in those days, the technology didn't exist to broadcast games live from the ballpark to a coast-to-coast or even a regional audience. So, Reagan wasn't the Cubs broadcaster - just the broadcaster for Des Moines and the surrounding area reached by WHO. But to people who lived there, he was the voice of the Cubs for those years.

What that meant was, Reagan would sit in front of a ticker reeling off the play-by-play and re-creating the game as it was happening. Imagine doing this by watching the play-by-play on the internet and you get the idea. I recall Bob Costas doing a demonstration on the pregame show for the NBC Game of the Week back in the 80s showing what this process was like; among other things, the broadcaster would click two sticks together to make a bat-hitting-ball sound, and play a tape of canned crowd noise. Once, the tape jammed and Reagan just improvised the batter fouling off pitch after pitch until they fixed the feed.

Reagan often said that his biggest baseball thrill was the last month of the 1935 pennant race. It's not hard to see why. Reagan was a 24-year-old broadcaster that season, and the Cubs were chasing the defending World Champion Cardinals of "Gashouse Gang" fame. On the morning of September 3, 1935, the Cubs stood in third place, 2.5 games behind the Cardinals (but 5 back in the loss column). The Cards would go on to have a fine stretch run, going 17-11. But what the Cubs did the rest of the way was remarkable, winning 21 straight, including three straight (culminating with a doubleheader sweep that kicked off by beating 28-game-winner Dizzy Dean) from the Cards to clinch the pennant before dropping the final two games to St. Louis.

*Reagan was born in 1911. Of course, this means that even without the Alzheimer's, at 93 he was too young to remember a Cubs world championship (they lost to the Tigers in the 1935 Series, including three 1-run games). What baseball players were born in 1911? You could look it up; the better-known names on the list:

Hank Greenberg
Joe "Ducky Wucky" Medwick
Frank McCormick
Walter Alston
Denny Galehouse
Van Lingle Mungo

What do these guys have in common? Well, among other things, other than Galehouse (who died in 1998), all of them were dead by the time Reagan left the White House in 1989.

*Last December, I panned Reagan's performance in the Grover Cleveland Alexander biopic The Winning Team:

You may remember that shortly after Alexander died, Hollywood rushed out a movie of his life called "The Winning Team," starring Reagan as Alexander and Doris Day as his wife. It was just awful. The movie had a few dramatic high points, but they made little enough attempt to capture the real Alexander. And Reagan – put aside your politics for a minute and just think acting – gave what had to be the worst performance of his acting career: adept at playing the genial Everyman and the B-movie hero, Reagan was completely out of his league trying to portray a morose, moody alcoholic. Only Reagan’s political career kept the movie from disappearing into complete obscurity, but the butchering of Alexander’s life story left him less well known today than Crash Davis and Moonlight Graham.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:22 AM | Baseball 2004 • | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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