Is baseball’s opening pitch just a shtick?

Players scramble to catch President Franklin D. Roosevelt's pitch at the All-Star game in Washington D.C., July 7, 1937. (Library of Congress)

Players scramble to catch President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pitch at the All-Star game in Washington D.C., July 7, 1937. (Library of Congress)

The New York Times suggests that baseball’s ceremonial first pitch has lost its meaning:

For decades, the honor was extended only a few times a season to a rarefied group that included presidents, mayors and military veterans. These days, it is regarded as a marketing opportunity, a sweetener in sponsorship deals between baseball teams and groups that want a piece of the spotlight.

The rite, now carried out nightly, is handed to actors and reality television stars, sponsors’ representatives and contest winners, and people dressed as animals as well as actual animals.


A capuchin monkey carried the ball out for a San Diego Padres game in September. Twice in the last two seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers have welcomed to the mound Hello Kitty, or, rather, a person dressed as Hello Kitty.

Until the 1970s or so, the opening pitch was thrown from the stands by dignitaries, with players scrambling to catch the ball.

The Times article notes the practice of additional pitches to accommodate more honorees; that’s not exactly what photographer Irving Schlossenberg had in mind in 1940.

As Alan Abbey noted in Schlossenberg’s obituary:

Prior to the war, he was a photographer at the Washington Post. On Opening Day of the 1940 baseball season, Schlossenberg convinced FDR to throw out the Opening Pitch a second time, so he could get a better shot. The resulting wild pitch smashed Schlossenberg’s camera.

Instead of a photo op, Irving Schlossenberg got the short end of the “shtick.”

Here’s a video of FDR throwing the first pitch in 1938:

Adam Soclof is JTA’s Associate Director of Outreach and Partnerships and coordinates presentations and advertising/marketing opportunities for the news agency. A digital archives enthusiast, Adam has authored more than 300 blog posts for The JTA Archive Blog and was responsible for its social media presence and weekly newsletter, This Week in Jewish History. Adam has presented at several conferences in the form of game shows, interactive social media campaigns and Powerpoint presentations. Follow him on Twitter: @hypersem