The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum presents Conversation 744-016, which took place on June 30, 1972.>>CLIFFORD EVANS: This is Clifford Evans at the White House, talking with President Nixon. Mr. President, the other day I asked you a baseball question and we were interrupted. I asked you to name the greatest players in baseball. Can you tell me how you arrived at your conclusions?>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, first, I had found out that in trying to answer your question — you recall, I said, yes, I’d do it, I’d get it to you then. It was about as hard a task as I’d ever undertaken. Uh, to select a team of nine was just too hard for me to do. So what happen was, that Sunday, after this conference on Thursday, I was at Camp David with David Eisenhower, who is a great baseball fan, and, uh, we took off some of the record books and the rest. We decided to start in the year 1925, which was the year when I was twelve years old and first began to read sports pages avidly and follow baseball. And we took it up to present time, and we broke it down into the postwar period and the prewar period, and did National League and American League teams for both periods. Then, I found it was hard to even get nine there and so I agreed to pick a team rather than just the best nine. A, a team always carries two catchers so I picked two catchers for each team. A team always carries at least five pitchers — more than five pitchers — but I picked five starting pitchers and one reliever for each team. And after, the manager.
I still didn’t get in all the people I thought were great, but, uh, I did pick the stars that I either had seen in person or that I had seen on television or that I had followed in the sports pages. So consequently, if I left somebody off — and I’m sure I have left somebody off — it’s because I didn’t happen to follow them. Uh, as it was, it was one of the most enjoyable things that I’ve done, because we had, uh, a fine afternoon with rain, that afternoon at Camp David, and we couldn’t go outside. So we pored over these, uh, numbers and these, uh, names and, uh, all the fascinating stories of the great men of baseball, uh, for two or three hours. And then after that, I dictated in the dictaphone, dictated the story that I’ve given to you, which you’re welcome to use.>>CLIFFORD EVANS: I have it here and it’s actually a fascinating list. There’s one category, Mr. President, that you included, that you addressed yourself to: the “Most Courageous Baseball Player.”>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, the most courageous baseball player has got to be Lou Gehrig, I mean. Of course, his, his courage has been made immortal by the motion picture about him, which brings tears to your eyes even when you see it the second time, and I have seen it twice. And, uh, that, also that — But what I was thinking: in Yankee Stadium when he played his last game and said, uh, that, uh, the, this was the greatest moment of his life and the whole stadium virtually broke down in tears. Also, I have another connection with Lou Gehrig that I’m very proud of: his wife writes me from time to time and I made a very hard decision with regard to the, uh, war in Vietnam. She wrote a letter and said that she admired the courage that, uh, I had demonstrated. I’m not trying to talk in saying that but, it was — to have Mrs. Lou Gehrig write a note of that sort to me meant a great deal to me.>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Oh, I —
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: The other one, of course, that I, eh, the other, the other one that I did add in my story that, that appealed to me a great deal was Red Schoendienst. Because the best arm of modern time. Here was a great second basemen, uh, tuberculosis having struck him down, yet he came back to play again and, of course, to manage again. That meant a great deal to me because, uh, my older brother died of tuberculosis when I was in, uh, uh, my second year of college. And he had it for five years and so that left a mark on my family, on our family. And, uh, to see a man get tuberculosis and then come back and play again in the big leagues, I thought that demonstrated courage at its highest. Now there are many other courageous things in baseball, but, uh, it’s in, in my own memory, Gehrig and Schoendienst top the list.>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Do you have time for one more question?
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Sure, sure>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Uh, as America’s number one sports fan, is there one event, one moment, which to you is most exciting in all the sports events that you’ve seen over the years?>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, let me limit it first to baseball because, uh, if I go back to football, then I think of last quarter passes and all that sort of thing. And I, uh, really haven’t had time to collect my thoughts. But in terms of baseball, uh, I think perhaps the event that was most exciting was one that I did not see in person, uh, but one that I did follow, of course, through the communications medium. Uh, and, uh, that was the home run, uh, in which the Pirates, uh, won the World Series in, in the seventh game. Uh, I, um…
[snaps fingers]>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Mazeroski
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Uh, yeah, Bill Mazeroski. Uh, I later talked to the owner of the Pirates, uh, about that home run and, uh, I said, uh, uh, I asked him what his energy was.
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: [unintelligible]
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: He said you just can’t imagine the effect on the stadium. He said it was so awesome because the Pirates hadn’t won — They, they not only had not won a pennant, but they hadn’t won a World Series for perhaps a generation. But he said, going clear back to the days of Pie Traynor, they had some great teams. Uh. But he said the whole stadium — the Pirates’ stadium — stood up and simply cheered for five minutes after Mazeroski hit that grand slam and won the World Series for them. So, uh, that had to be a great moment. The one that is very close to it, is also one that I did not see but read about. And that was, uh, uh, Thomson’s home run, uh, which did not win a World Series, uh, but which won the pennant for the Giants over the Dodgers. When the Giants, uh, came into August, twelve games or fourteen games out of first place. Put on a terrific streak. Caught the Dodgers at the end of the season, and then, uh, Bobby Thomson, uh, clobbered again a grand slammer, uh, to beat the Dodgers and put the Giants over the top. Ah, I think it’s,it’s the grand slam that wins the big game. That has to be the most exciting thing in baseball.>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Thank you, Mr. President. Clifford Evans, Washington Correspondent, RKO General, broadcasting at the White House.>>PRESIDENT NIXON: [unintelligible]
>>RONALD ZIEGLER [?]: Thank you, sir.>>CLIFFORD EVANS: I was, uh —
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Those are not the only stories so that he [unintelligible]
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: I saw Larsen pitch that perfect one.>>PRESIDENT NIXON: You saw the “perfect game?”
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Yeah [unintelligible]
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Of course, I think I mentioned in the story:>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Yeah
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: I did see, uh, the breaking of the strike out record.
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Oh, oh>>PRESIDENT NIXON: I was there.
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: Yes
>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Oh, you know, I — by the Dodgers’ stadium.
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: [unintelligible] Sandy Koufax>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Sandy Koufax. And I remember one thing in particular that day. As he neared or at, had fourteen, uh, a batter was up and, uh, uh, and, uh, he had two strikes out. And, and the batter hit a slow roller down the third base line, and everyone in the stadium was like this [gestures]
>>CLIFFORD EVANS: [laughs]>>PRESIDENT NIXON: Out, out, out. Because otherwise he would’ve been out and it would not have been a strike out. The ball just trickled foul, and then struck him out next pitch.>>NARRATOR: For more information, please visit www.NixonLibrary.gov