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Former President Recalls Yale Baseball Days

President Bush as a Yale baseball player (Yale Archives)
President Bush as a Yale baseball player (Yale Archives)

The Bulldogs Will Celebrate 150 Seasons In 2015

Photo Gallery: Bush and Yale Baseball

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Former President George H.W. Bush '48 kept his old Yale baseball glove in an Oval Office desk drawer during his four years in the White House.

Being elected the 41st President of the United States in 1988 was the pinnacle of Bush's long list of accomplishments, which included two terms as Vice President under Ronald Reagan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Chief of the U.S. Liason Office in China, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Ambassador to the United Nations.

But before Bush ever became a political icon, he was a first baseman for Yale.

Affectionately known by his teammates as "Poppy" back in his playing days, the lanky Bulldogs' first baseman played in arguably the most memorable period of Yale baseball's 150-year existence.

From 1946 to 1948, the Elis made two College World Series appearances, received a visit from a baseball legend, and watched one of their own become an American icon.

Bush, the 1948 team captain, shook hands with Yankee legend Babe Ruth on June 5, 1948, at Yale Field, as the "Bambino" donated the manuscript of his book "The Babe Ruth Story" to the Yale Library. After the ceremony, Yale defeated Princeton, 14-2, and Bush had a hit and a run scored in the victory.

The moment shared between Bush and Ruth has proven to be a landmark meeting between two historic figures and different eras of American history, one near the end of his life and one on his way to the top. Ruth, it happens, was also on record for saying that Yale Field, which was only 20 years old at the time, was, "the finest playing surface in the world."

Besides meeting Ruth, Bush recalled his former coach and teammates while sharing other fond memories of his days wearing No. 2 for the Bulldogs.

"I guess playing in the first two College World Series also stands out as being special," said Bush in an exchange of emailed questions and answers. "We had a wonderful coach in Ethan Allen and some terrific pitching in Frank Quinn and Walt Gratham. I can't say I contributed much on offense, but it was a heck of a ride nonetheless."

Bush played at nearly the half-way mark of Yale baseball's 150 years, a time when the Bulldogs were a national power behind the arms of Quinn and Gratham and the managing of Allen, a former .300 hitter in the major leagues.  

The Bulldogs would take two trips to Kalamazoo, Mich., to play in the College World Series, first in 1947 against California and then in 1948 against Southern California. It was the first time that the college baseball championship was known as the College Baseball World Series.

California beat Yale, 17-4 and then 8-7, needing only two games to win the 1947 series. Against USC the following season, the Trojans won the first game, 3-1, while Yale took game two, 8-3. Bush was 1-for-5 with one run batted in and 12 putouts in the victory.

The Trojans won the series in the finale on June 26, 1948, by a 9-2 score. Bush was 1-for-4 with a double in the last game of the series.

Bush had a strong, three-year career with the Bulldogs, playing only part of the 1946 season in addition to the two historic seasons to follow.

Bush was as good a fielder as any on the team, fashioning .976 and .992 fielding percentages in 1947 and 1948. His nifty work at first base helped the Bulldogs to lead the nation with a .971 fielding percentage in 1947.

Though better known for his fielding as a left-handed thrower, the future President actually hit from the right side of the plate. His career batting average was .215 with a season-high .245 in 1948 (statistics may be incomplete). In 1948, Bush also hit one home run, one triple, seven doubles, knocked in 16 runs, and scored 17 himself.

In 1947, Bush hit .208 with one double, six RBI, and five stolen bases in 29 games played.

When asked what he most takes away from his baseball days at Yale, Bush said, "The importance of teamwork, and working hard together towards a common goal."

It has now been 67 years since the 90-year old Bush has played collegiate sports, which has proved to be a significant period of time in the evolvement of college athletics. Regardless of the changes that have taken place since the late 1940s, Bush thinks the original concepts of a student-athlete hold firm today.

"I still believe the vast majority of student-athletes in college sports today take their studies seriously, even as the amount of money being dedicated to sports programs today boggles the mind," said the former President.

As Yale baseball prepares to celebrate its 150th season and all of the players and coaches who developed this historic program, the Bulldogs look to their past to find direction for their future. Bush offers simple advice for each ballplayer who wears Bulldog Blue.

"I am not big on giving free advice for the simple reason that it's usually viewed as being worth what was paid for it," said Bush before recalling advice he received years back.

He added, "That said, I would encourage each and every young man who might attend Yale and play ball to do the same things my mother (Dorothy) taught me a million years ago: do your best, share credit, focus on the team. It's not fancy, but it worked for me."

 

Filed by Steve Lewis, Yale Sports Publicity Assistant