Richard Nixon's All-Time All-Star Teams
In 1972 while running for reelection, United States President Richard Nixon composed his selections for his All-Time All-Star Teams. The list was comprised of four teams, one for each league in the pre-World War II and another for the post-war era. In 1992, Nixon made a second selection of All-Star Teams.
Nixon's All-Star teams came out of a question by RKO General Broadcasting reporter Cliff Evans at the end of a June 22, 1972 press conference. Evans asked the president to name his favorite baseball players. Nixon quickly named a few players, but stopped when faced with the prospect picking between legendary players. Pressing the issue, Evans asked in a follow-up question, "Mr. President, as the nation’s number-one baseball fan, would you be willing to name your all-time baseball team?" The honorary member of the Baseball Writers' Association readily replied "Yes."
Nixon began to make his team selections on the following Sunday at the Presidential retreat, Camp David. To aid him he enlisted the help of his son-in-law David Eisenhower, the namesake of the compound and former staffer with the Washington Senators, which had just moved to Texas becoming the Rangers. Nixon wrote that, "We sat down together and began to study the record books for the purpose of compiling a list of stars which would stand up under the scrutiny such a selection would receive from the sports writers and baseball fans throughout the country." While most of the work was done at Camp David, Nixon continued to revise his selections upon returning to Washington.
Once Nixon had finalized his teams, White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler distributed the list through the Associated Press with the president's name on the byline for publication in the Sunday papers on July 2. Nixon, shortly before the release, conducted a short, exclusive interview with Evans and credited for the idea in the accompying article that went with the selections.
Instead of producing a single all-time all-star team roster, Nixon selected a pre-war and post-war team for each league as he "found it impossible to limit the team to nine men." He also decided to only select player that played after 1925, the year he started to follow baseball and stopped at 1970 to give his evaluations some perspective.
- † indicates active in 1972
Nixon admitted that some of his selections, were sentimental. Arky Vaughan was on the pre-war National League team because they went to Fullerton High School together. Dick Groat, roomed with Nixon's younger brother, Ed, at Duke University and was a reserve on the National League's post-war team. American League pitcher Bobo Newsom was a pre-war selection because he pitched well while playing for most of his career on poor hitting teams. Negro League legend Satchel Paige made his way onto the pre-war AL team even though he debuted after the war since he was unable to play in the major leagues due to the color line. Harmon Killebrew was on the post-war team because his strong hitting made up for his weak fielding.
In addition to his all-star teams Nixon made some personal observations of the all-time greats that he watched play, nameing his all-time "bests:"
- Best Hitter: Ted Williams
- Best Pitcher: Sandy Koufax
- Best Infielder: Brooks Robinson
- Best Outfielder: Joe DiMaggio
- Best Base-Runner: Maury Wills
- Best All-Around Athlete: Jackie Robinson
- Most Courageous Player: Lou Gehrig
On Ted Williams, Nixon said that had it not been for the five years he lost to serving in the military he would go down as one the three greatest hitters of all-time with Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. Joe DiMaggio "made all the difficult plays look easy" in the outfield, Maury Wills "drove pitchers out of their minds with his fantastic ability to go down to second", and Brooks Robinson "made almost impossible plays in a spectacular fashion." On Sandy Koufax, Nixon cited his record breaking performance at the first game of the World Series in 1963 when he struck out 15 batters. "On that day no pitcher in baseball history could have surpassed him," the president wrote. Jackie Robinson was the "best all-round athlete" for career at UCLA, where he starred in football, basketball, and track and field. Lou Gehrig was "baseball's Mr. Profile in Courage," with Red Schoendienst coming in a close second for returning to star form after a bout with tuberculosis.
Nixon called it "one of the hardest assignments I have ever undertaken" and in his concluding sentence, he declared, "If some smart reporter asks me to name an all-star football team, the answer will be a flat NO!"
Nixon's selections were generally met positively, many of the papers in the big league cities ran the the article on a full page. Of the papers that did not publish the list the most notable was Sports Illustrated, which called it one of the "super all-time all-star publicity ploys."
Some of the chosen players expressed their gratitude on being selected by President Nixon. Ted Williams told The Associated Press that "I'm tickled to death to be named with all those great players," while Hank Aaron stated that "He [Nixon] knows more about baseball than some of the people in the game...All I can say is that I'm quite honored." Joe Medwick wrote a letter thanking for selecting not only him, but also his former teammate Arky Vaughan who was in Medwick's words "a great team man." Jackie Robinson's reaction was mixed, upon learning of his being named "best all-round athlete" he said that "I'm honored that he thought of me that way." However, a week later, a Sports Illustrated article had Robinson questioning the president's expertise by asking "how many games has Nixon actually seen?" Post-war National League manager, Walter Alston, said, "I'd be the last one in the world to argue with the president of the United States."
Many of the deceased players' families also expressed their thanks. Red Rolfe's widow called her husband's selection a "wonderful addition" to his baseball honors. Herb Pennock's daughter thanked Nixon for including her father, and excluding her father-in-law, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, whose omission gave her another point in her favor in a family debate with her husband over the ability of their fathers. Nixon playfully wrote back that he made a mistake in the elder Collins off his list, leveling the playing field. In light of recieving these letters, Nixon had the White House staff produce a special pamphlet, which was sent a copy to all of his selectees or their next-of-kin.
The reviews of the sports press was mixed. A writer for The Birmingham News remarked that "Richard Milhous Nixon finally convinced me Sunday he's a baseball fan," and that his picks were "excellent." Other writers, while not seeing eye-to-eye on some of the selections were appreciative of the President's effort. Bob Broeg of The Sporting News approved of Nixon's decision not to include players from before his time stating that "no one could or should try to pass judgment on players they never saw in action and that all sportswriters should heed Nixon's example." Still there were sportswriters who disagreed with the selections . Some questioned the merits of the endeavor stating that it is impossible to compare players of different eras to one another. Others wondered why there was a need for four all-star teams, rather than one. Finally, some disagreed with the individual selections themselves. Most of the disagreement came over the placement of Nellie Fox, Bobo Newsom and Satchel Paige. The most prominant critic was the New York Times Red Smith, who claimed the piece was poorly-written and "cliché-ridden," and also questioned some of Nixon's selections.
The selections did manage to capture the nation's attention and were met with numerious tough-and-cheek teams and parodies in news papers. The Youngstown Vindicator published a list of the all-time greatest Polish players. The Washington Evening Star's Tom Dowling made a satirical list of his presidential all-star team, often adopting some of the Nixon's language. The infield included Abraham Lincoln at first, Ted "Boom Boom" Roosevelt, and Harry "the Hat" Truman because "You need a scrappy little hustler on any all-star team." The starting pitcher was "Big" Lyn Johnson because he "struck out the whole Senate in a single afternoon with his famous Gulf of Tonkin pitch." Dowling called the selection of his starter "the toughest challenge I have ever faced," because presidents "can pitch -- fast balls, spit balls, bean balls, sinkers, sliders, curve balls, spit balls, bean balls, you name it. These guys can all move the stuff around pretty good." The Gary Post-Tribune, in similar spoof, with Nixon as a pitcher who "possesses a great curve ball and has licked early control problems."
In 1992, Nixon made another selection of his All-Star Teams.