By Joel Alderman
Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, who was captain of Yale’s 1948 baseball team, will be the initial recipient of an annual award to bear his name and which has been established by the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Preparations are underway for the George H. W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award, to be given for the first time this Nov. 13th, when it will be presented to Mr. Bush himself.
Unfortunately, the 90-year old President Bush is not expected to be able to attend the ceremony, which will take place in his home city of Houston, Tex. Mike Gustafson, president and CEO of the NCB Hall of Fame, said a private ceremony will be held in his office that afternoon.
However, the formal award banquet will be that evening at Minute Maid Park. The trophy will be accepted on President Bush’s behalf by George Prescott Bush, his grandson. The younger Bush is the son of Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, and the second son of G.H.W.
In announcing the award recently, Gustafson said “President Bush is truly an excellent example of what this award is designed to embody, and we are thrilled to present the first award to him and to have it bear his name going forward.”
The impressive trophy and a celebrated sculptor
The bronze trophy, which has just been cast, depicts a cap with a Yale “Y,” an old baseball, and a replica of the first baseman’s mitt used during the college career of “Poppy” Bush. The trophy was designed by Garland Weeks, a Fellow of the National Sculpture Society and a noted sculptor for over 40 years.
A new recipient will be chosen each year, and all will receive a replica of the trophy. Anyone who has ever earned a varsity letter in college baseball will be eligible for the Bush Award.
“There are many college baseball players who enjoyed tremendous professional careers far removed from the baseball diamond,” Gustafson added. “Many of these men credit their involvement in the game for some of their later successes. We are proud to honor their accomplishments in this way.”
Bush’s famous and not-so-famous pictures taken at Yale Field
A photo of a terminally ill Babe Ruth and the Yale baseball captain, accepting Ruth’s bound autobiography on behalf of the university’s library, was taken at Yale Field on June 5, 1948. The picture has been included in countless newspaper and magazine articles and is still closely identified with President Bush.
However,there are three other lesser known pictures of the then future president standing on the same field as the one showing him with Ruth, only taken 62 years later. The occasion was when he was fulfilling a desire to return to his “field of dreams” and meet with the Yale team of 2001.
Bush was nearly 77 at the time, three generations older than any of those Bulldog’ players. It was an indication of how important it was to him to connect his college baseball past with the present.
He was back on the Yale campus to attend and speak at an Alumni Leadership Convocation to celebrate Yale’s tercentennial (300th) anniversary celebration.
The former first baseman took the opportunity to meet with the Yale team and fulfill a wish to revisit the ballpark in which he had so often played.
On April 20, 2001, Thomas Beckett, who has been Yale’s Athletic Director since 1994, helped pave the way. For security purposes, the appearance was unannounced and a surprise to those who were there.
No game was going on at that time, but players were on the field for a routine practice. Members of the Secret Service were watching for any potential incidents.
Who took the picture and how it came to happen
The media was not on hand, yet three hastily arranged pictures of Mr. Bush were taken on the field that afternoon. Until now, they have been seen only by a relatively small segment of the public, compared to that illustrious one with Babe Ruth taken in 1948.
The New Haven Ravens, of the Double-A Eastern League, also were using Yale Field for home games in 2001. One of the Ravens’ front office employees was a 1995 graduate of Yale, Sam Rubin, now the Assistant Director of Sports Publicity at Yale. He later wrote Baseball in New Haven (Arcadia Publishing; 2003) in which another of the pictures taken in 2001 is included.
“Mr. Beckett saw I had a camera and asked me to take a photo of him with President Bush,” Rubin explained. “I had a photo taken of me with President Bush as well.
“At some point, President Bush came over to the grandstand along third base, where a number of Ravens’ staffers had gathered, and we took the group photo that appears in my book, Baseball in New Haven.”
Mr. Bush, who is now 90 years of age, has not been back to the historic Yale Field since then. It is unlikely that he ever will be there again, making those pictures all the more treasured.
A showing of Bush’s strong feelings for college baseball
The desire to visit the grounds where he played while at Yale was a vivid indication of how much the college baseball experience has meant to him through the years.
The field, formerly an apple orchard, was used for Yale baseball starting in the 1880s, well before the present grandstand took the place of the original one in 1928. It is across the street from the Yale Bowl, which is now marking its 100th anniversary.
Bush said he enjoyed watching football games in the Bowl, but it was at the baseball park where his childhood family nickname of “Poppy” was adopted by his teammates, fellow students, fans and sports writers.
Barbara Bush went to the games there, and even kept score
It is also the place where, he told the Yale Daily News (May 28, 1989), his wife, Barbara, would “keep the score card for every inning of every home game.”
She also reportedly brought their infant son to some of the games. He was George W. Bush, another future U.S. President, who had been born at Grace-New Haven Community Hospital (now Yale-New Haven Hospital) on July 6, 1946.
Family members often came out to Yale Field to see Poppy play, especially in 1948. In her book, The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, Kitty Kelley writes:
“George’s Uncle Herbie, who idolized his nephew and held him up as a model to his two sons, attended every baseball game George played from the middle of February to the end of June. The entire Bush-Walker family turned out on June 5, 1948, for the big Princeton game in New Haven, and the Bambino himself presented the transcript of his autobiography, The Babe Ruth Story, to the captain of the Yale baseball team for the Yale Library . . . The ceremony was one of his last public appearances.”
Where the three lived during Poppy’s student days
The Bush’s first quarters in New Haven, was an apartment on Chapel Street near Dwight Street (Barbara Bush; A Memoir; Macmillan 1995). Soon after, in February 1946, they moved into a large mansion type house at 281 Edwards Street that had been divided into apartments. They lived on the second floor, according to a 1988 Life Magazine article (cited by Carolyn Wyman, New Haven Register, Sept. 27, 1992).
The Edwards Street address appears on the birth certificate of George W., who was born on July 6, 1946.
That fall they took occupancy of a Yale-owned building at 37 Hillhouse Avenue, and were one of about 12 student- families residing there. In 1946 the Victorian style building, built in 1866, had been converted into apartments for married Yale students, and the configuration remained that way until 1957. It was known as the Graves-Gilman House and is now used by the Yale Department of Economics.
“You had to have at least one child to get to live there. One family had twins, so there were 40 people in that one house,” George H. W. once told his college paper.
“Good Glove, No Hit”
He was considered a natural first baseman. His idol was Lou Gehrig, who also played that position and also went to an Ivy League college (Columbia).
One of his teammates, Frank “Junie” O’Brien, told the Yale Daily News that he was “so sure-gloved all the infielders knew that if they threw the ball anywhere near him, he was going to pull it in.”
He threw left and batted right, unusual for a first baseman. He was described by his coach, former major-leaguer Ethan Allen, as “Good Glove, No Hit.” His average at the plate was only about .250, yet his fielding and leadership kept him in the lineup.
Big day at the plate against North Carolina State
Perhaps his best day at the plate was on April 3, 1948, when the Bulldogs were on a southern trip during spring break. They stopped in Raleigh, N.C., to face North Carolina State. Yale scored five runs in the first inning and coasted to a 9-6 win.
The next day in The New York Times it was stated that “George Bush, first baseman, made three of the ten Yale hits, collecting a single, double and triple.”
Key role in a triple play
As a testament to his fielding ability, Poppy was on the back end of a triple play, due in part to his alertness.
On Saturday afternoon of April 24, 1948, before 1,500 at Yale Field, the Bulldogs were leading Amherst 1-0 going into the fourth inning. The visitors put the first two batters on base on a walk and a single. After the next batter faked a bunt, what happened next was described this way by John J. Leary, Jr. in the New Haven Register (April 25, 1948)
“Cotton Smith, Eli second sacker, immediately deployed closer to first base as Poppy Bush moved in for the expected sacrifice. Shortstop Art Moher switched from his usual deep position and took a spot about four feet from second base, where he was ideally situated to lunge to his left for (Leon) Waskiewicz’ s low liner, step on second (to double up on the runner who had left the base) and throw to first to complete a triple play.
“But it was not that easy. Art executed the twin-killing perfectly, but his hurried throw to Bush at first was high and wide, pulling the Eli captain off the bag.
“Umpire Johnny King rightly ruled (the runner who had left first base) safe, but in his haste to beat the ball, the Amherst shortstop over slid the bag. Bush quickly applied the tag before he could get back. Thus the Elis halted an incipient Amherst uprising with an unusual triple play.”
Yale went on to squeak out a 4-3 win over the Lord Jeffs. Without Poppy’s alert role to save the triple play, the outcome of the game may have been different.
The glove on the trophy and our previous Bush articles
The “claw” first baseman’s mitt depicted on the new Bush trophy is a story unto itself and will be the subject of another article to follow soon. Meanwhile, for those who may have missed them, here are links to our previous Sportzedge articles about George H. W:
1. The last time Yale had a chance at a national title (April 17, 1913)
2. Babe Ruth a part of Yale Field’s most historic moment (June 5, 1913)
4. Yale baseball team dedicates season to George H. W. Bush (Feb. 25, 2014)
His final day as a Yale student-athlete was a “presidential” day
George H. W. Bush graduated from Yale on June 22, 1948, after taking an accelerated program to get through college in less than three years. One of those receiving honorary degrees from Yale at the time was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. This means at least two future U.S. presidents were on Yale’s Old Campus that day for the commencement. And if Barbara Bush had brought her two-year old son, George W. Bush, along, which was highly likely, that would have made three presidents-to-be who were there together for the occasion.
Final thoughts about the College Hall of Fame and President Bush the first
The National College Baseball Hall of Fame was founded in 2004 and is based in Lubbock, Texas. It is dedicated to recognizing and preserving the history of college baseball. A Hall of Fame building currently under construction will also be named after President Bush the first..
The Hall already recognizes the Shortstop of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year. These are among numerous annual awards it bestows upon college players, coaches and umpires.
The latest, and probably the most prestigious, will be the George H. W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Its namesake has earned his place, not only in the history of our country, but in the annals of the great game of college baseball.