Shortly after Richard M. Nixon's presidential and gubernatorial defeats in 1960 and 1962, representatives of organized baseball and its fledgling union of players approached the lifelong fan with job offers.
Would the former vice president consider becoming baseball commissioner or union chief, the two competing groups wanted to know. Nixon, while tempted, declined both offers.
"Gentlemen, I'm flattered, but I can't accept," Nixon reportedly told the players. "I have other things in mind."
Even after winning the presidency in 1968, Nixon continued his love affair with baseball, which is the focus of an exhibit that opened Monday at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace: "America's Presidents and America's Pastime." Former Commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth, hamburger magnate Carl N. Karcher and 100 local Little Leaguers were in attendance.
The exhibit, with more than 100 baseball artifacts collected by Nixon and other 20th-Century presidents, will be on display until Aug. 2.
"One thing we (Presidents) had in common is that we all had the sad duty to root for the Washington Senators," Nixon told the crowd in a telephone call from his New Jersey office. The Senators, whose two incarnations fled to Minnesota in 1961 and Texas in 1972, won only three American League pennants and one World Series in 71 seasons in the capital and often finished last.
"Only Calvin Coolidge had the honor to watch a Senator team that won a World Series (in 1924) and he wasn't much of a fan," Nixon said. "When he went to throw out the first ball, he would always leave after the first inning. . . . But I always stay until the last pitch because in baseball, as in life and as in politics, you never know what might happen."
Ueberroth, who was commissioner from 1984 to 1989, said he has been impressed with the former President's grasp of baseball.
"He could play (baseball) trivia with every adult and child in this room," Ueberroth said.
Among the exhibits are the first baseman's mitt used by Yale University's George Bush in the 1947 and 1948 College World Series, a softball used by Jimmy Carter during a 1976 game against the press, baseballs autographed by World Series winners that visited the White House, a letter Nixon sent to console slumping slugger Darryl Strawberry in 1989, and a letter Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote in 1942 urging Major League baseball to continue despite the outbreak of World War II.
"The exhibit's cool," said Mark Adams, an 11-year-old Little Leaguer from Yorba Linda. "If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't know that George Bush played baseball. I also like all of the autographed baseballs."