April 14, 2015

It Happened on April 14th

President Taft -- not really a athlete.

William Howard Taft Throws First Presidential Pitch, 1910

William Howard Taft was the President who started the tradition of throwing out the first Presidential Pitch of the season. He did it on April 14, 1910, and since then every President except Carter has continued the tradition.

Taft weighed over 300 pounds, so I think it's safe to assume he wasn't an athletic man. Still, in those days they did it from the front row, so at least he didn't have to walk down onto the field. It may have been even trickier for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who threw out eight Opening Day Pitches and still managed to conceal his handicap.

Not every President was able to participate in every Opening Day, of course. Woodrow Wilson only threw out three pitches during his eight years. He declined in 1914 because of the Veracruz Incident, missed two years because of World War I, another year because he was attending the Paris Peace Conference, and his last year because of his stroke. Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the other hand, blew off Opening Day in 1953 in order to play golf. (The game was rained out, so he got to throw out the first pitch at the rescheduled game.)

If you're wondering who the first person ever was to throw out a ceremonial Opening Day pitch, that would be Okuma Shigenobu, former Prime Minister of Japan. He did it in 1908.

Oh, and don't be too hard on poor Jimmy Carter. Here's a picture of him throwing out the Opening Day pitch for the Atlantic Braves in 1983. He probably had more time on his hands then.

Noah Webster: the reason Americans spell funny.

First American Dictionary Published, 1828

The lexicographer was Noah Webster, who had already received some fame from his previous publications of readers and spelling books. His The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language (subsequently called The American Spelling Book and then The Elementary Spelling Book) was particularly successful -- his royalties of a half-cent per book generated enough income to support him.

Webster's earlier books had instituted the practice of adopting American spellings for certain words -- honor instead of honour, defense instead of defence, center instead of centre, and so forth. Webster maintained these spellings in his new book, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, as well as including new American words that had never appeared in any dictionary: skunk and squash, for example.

It's a good thing he was getting royalties from his speller, because his new venture certainly didn't pan out very well. The first printing of his dictionary sold only 2500 copies. He mortgaged his home in order to publish another edition, and he was never out of debt after that. Although Webster's dictionary ultimately became one of the most important books in the American experience, Webster never saw its success. He died in 1843, while still working on an appendix to the second edition.

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