Fit for Strange Maps, this is just a random (and slightly unsettling) thing I saw on the front page of the Chicago Examiner for June 8, 1908: a map of the 1908 Republican National Convention, held at Chicago Coliseum, in the shape of the face of the eventual nominee, William Howard Taft.
Tenuous baseball connection: Taft, of course, inaugurated the tradition of the president throwing out the first ball on Opening Day.
Somewhat less tenuous Negro league connection: Just a couple of days before this, Taft’s brother, Charles P. Taft, attended a game between the white semipro Gunthers and Rube Foster’s Leland Giants. Bored with the major leagues, Taft had (supposedly) “long cherished a desire to see the famous negro team play ball.” His white beard made him “easily identified” by everyone in the park. He “applauded the negro players frequently,” and when the Lelands had the game safely put away in the sixth (leading 11 to 2), Rube Foster himself came in to pitch, apparently so Taft could see him work. “If that fellow was pitching in a league he would make a sensation,” Taft enthused afterwards.
As the following article from the Chicago Tribune points out, there was probably more going on here than Taft’s keen interest in black baseball. President Roosevelt, also a Republican, had expelled 167 soldiers from the all-black 25th Infantry Regiment* after a series of incidents between the soldiers and white citizens of Brownsville, Texas, and a what turned out to be a false accusation of murder. The consequent outrage on behalf of the wronged soldiers undermined African American support for the Republican Party, and the candidate’s brother’s visit to the Lelands/Gunthers game was part of a concerted effort to mend fences.
Charles P. Taft would own the Cubs for a few years in the mid-1910s.
*-The 25th Infantry moved within a few years to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where it fielded the “Wreckers,” one of the best black baseball teams of the 1910s, featuring future Negro leaguers Dobie Moore, Heavy Johnson, Lemuel Hawkins, Bob Fagan, and Hall of Famer Bullet Rogan.
(click to enlarge)
UPDATE 6/21/2011 Added image of President Taft throwing out the first ball.