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 was vice-president."
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) and keeping hubby Calvin
from bolting the park after perfunctorily performing his duties
as ceremonial first-ball tosser.
"She used to come to games," 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."
During the first game of the 1924 World Series which
featured the local Senators versus 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
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 the canary.
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, Clark 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, 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 latest scores.
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 like 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
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 upon her.
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 righthander 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 unassisted triple-killing.
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
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
she feared dying in a public place because of the publicity it
When death finally took Grace Coolidge in July 1957, Boston
Globe headlines termed her “Long Active Red Sox Fan.”
That she was.
Silent Cal was noted for
“Coolidge Luck,” so its no great
surprise to note that the
normally hapless Washington
Senators won two of their three
pennants while Cal resided on
When in 1924 the Senators
captured their first pennant and
returned home they were met
by a huge throng of fans—led
by none other than Cal himself.
He was positively voluble.
“As the head of an enterprise
which transacts some business
and maintains a considerable
staff in this town,” he told the
crowd, “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 the
history of the national game.
Second, I feel hopeful that, with
the happy result now assured, it
will be possible for the people of
Washington gradually to resume
interest in the ordinary concerns
"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 outcome
makes it impossible. As a result,
we are a somewhat demoralized
happy over it."
He concluded: "We pitch with
the pitchers, we go to bat with
the batters and we make a home
run with the hard hitters. The
training, the energy, the
intelligence which these men
lavish upon their craft ought to
be an inspiration 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
"While baseball remains our
national game, our national
tastes will be on a higher level
and our ideals on a firmer