A while back I wrote about Benjamin Harrison attending a New York Gorhams game in 1891, which appears to be the only instance of a sitting U.S. president watching a professional all-black baseball team play.
Harrison saw the Gorhams defeat the Cape May, N.J., club, a team of white semipros. Some 41 years later, a sitting vice president saw the Hilldale Club face the Washington Pilots, both black teams, in Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C. On May 19, 1932, Charles Curtis, second-in-command to Herbert Hoover, threw out the first pitch for the opening game of the East-West Colored Baseball League.
The Post notes that as Curtis made the toss, he faced “a battery of newsreels and cameras,” so it’s possible that footage exists of this event somewhere. Here’s a photo from the New York Amsterdam News (no doubt better images also exist somewhere):
(New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1932, p. 12)
In 1936 Sherman Minton, a Democratic senator from Indiana (and later Supreme Court justice) threw out the first ball for the Washington Elite Giants’ home opener against the Newark Eagles. And in 1941 another senator, James Mead (D-New York), opened the season for the Homestead Grays (by then D.C.’s home team). Aside from them, I’ve found a few big-city mayors and some municipal judges who performed this task for various black professional teams, but Curtis (who was also a former Senate Majority Leader) appears to have been the highest-ranking U.S. politician to observe a Negro league game.
Charles Curtis, by the way, was the first vice president with Native American ancestry; he was an enrolled member of the Kaw Nation, and grew up on the Kaw Reservation in Kansas in the 1860s. A jockey during his youth on the plains, he retained an interest in sports of all kinds through his career as a lawyer and politician. Curtis’s ceremonial duties as VP included opening the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He was also the last vice president to wear facial hair during his term of office.
The VP’s toss, according to the Post, “nicely clear[ed] a a barrier of funereal-looking floral pieces, whose significance did not strike home until the ball game began to go to the Philadelphia team.” The day’s gloomy implications would eventually go much deeper. The Hoover Administration would be swept away by the electorate that November. The Washington Pilots’ abject loss that May 19 afternoon prefigured their own demise after a single season of existence, although they managed to outlive the East-West League, which folded in June. The Pilots also survived the untimely death of their player-manager, Frank Warfield, while on a road trip to Pittsburgh in July.
The presence of Charles Curtis at a Washington Pilots game brought together a doomed administration, a doomed league, a doomed team, and a doomed player, all in the shadow of the Great Depression. (The administration was a bit more deserving of its fate than the others, of course.)