April 14, 1910, began badly for President William Howard Taft. His address to a suffragists' convention had bombed, perhaps because the corpulent leader had insulted his female audience.
"The theory that Hottentots or any other uneducated, altogether unintelligent class is fitted for self-government at once or to take part in government is a theory that I wholly dissent from," Taft said, using a now-offensive term to describe nomadic peoples of southwest Africa.
With their hisses still burning in his ears, Taft departed the gathering for the Washington Senators' afternoon opener against the Athletics at National Park.
Just before the game, he was handed a ball. After slowly hoisting his 300-plus pounds out of a front-row seat, he threw it to Senators starter Walter Johnson.
A tradition was born.
Both literally and figuratively, Taft was a huge baseball fan. In fact, at the moment when he initiated the ritual of the presidential first pitch, his older brother owned two major-league clubs.
And though he tried mightily to conceal it, one of the teams Charles P. Taft controlled was the Phillies.
The historical link between presidential families and baseball might soon be renewed. Last week, the brother of another president, Jeb Bush, somehow summoned the energy to mount a $1.3 billion bid for the Florida Marlins.
Had he looked carefully at Taft's Philadelphia experience, Bush might have had second thoughts.
Gaunt and austere, Charles P. Taft was a stark contrast to his famous and famously good-natured younger brother. With his stiff collars and bushy Vandyke, he radiated a Victorian severity.
His Philadelphia interlude began in 1909 with the death of Israel Durham, a bricklayer-turned-politician and another in a long line of truly awful Phillies owners.
Durham's partners wanted to sell, and the most ardent bidder was Horace Fogel, a glad-handing, cigar-chomping sportswriter.
"Horace yearns for publicity like an actress lady," one contemporary wrote, "and is generally sliding into print feet first."
Fogel, another colleague noted, also had "the reputation of a poker player who was always willing to bet the house on the next card."
Predictably, Fogel was willing to bet the house on the Phillies deal. One problem - he didn't have a house. What he had was a scheme.
He'd seen this same scenario four years earlier in Chicago. A flamboyant sportswriter, Charles Murphy, wanted to buy the Cubs in 1905. Needing financing, Murphy turned to Taft, a former boss who also was a politically connected lawyer and newspaper publisher.
Taft wrote the check and ceded control to Murphy, whom the Inquirer in 1914 described as "ever a thorn in the flesh of the national pastime."
It's not clear if Fogel contacted Murphy about his Phillies plan or whether, as some suggest, it was the Chicago sportswriter who planted the idea with both his Philadelphia colleague and Taft.
In any event, Taft's arm didn't have to be twisted. The Cubs had been a superb investment. From 1906 to 1908, they won three pennants and two World Series. In 1908, they outdrew every team in baseball save the New York Giants.
While a second team in his portfolio might have made sense, league rules prohibited it. Still, stipulating anonymity, the president's brother backed Fogel.
With the wealthy Ohioan providing most of the $350,000, Fogel bought the Phillies. The sale didn't pass the smell test. Few believed a ne'er-do-well sportswriter making maybe $35 a week had that kind of cash.
"There are others connected with the new deal who, for some reason or other, do not care to reveal themselves at this time," the Inquirer noted immediately after the sale.
The links among Murphy, Fogel, and Taft soon made the "who" obvious. Before long, the name of the president's brother was appearing in Philadelphia headlines.
Fogel steadfastly denied any connection. His demurrals weren't helped when, in 1910, Taft's heiress wife, Annie Siddons, purchased the Broad and Lehigh ballpark where the Phillies played for $250,000.
"That," Fogel explained, "was simply a real estate investment."
His fellow NL owners knew the truth, though, and they waited for an opportunity to use it against Fogel.
That moment arose during the 1910 World Series, when Reds manager Clark Griffith and Phillies manager Red Dooin worked out an eight-player trade.
Fogel reportedly "went ballistic," demanding the deal be killed. He accused Reds owner Garry Herrmann of tampering and of bypassing both him and baseball's reserve clause.
Herrmann returned fire, implying that he had dirt on the Phils owner and threatening to "fight Fogel till the hot place is a skating rink."
The Phillies' nominal owner backed away from the controversy, action some believe was ordered by either Murphy or Taft.
By 1912, the Phillies, 12 games over .500 the year Fogel bought them, finished 30½ games behind the Giants. Despite that substantial gap, Fogel claimed the Giants wouldn't have won without the aid of crooked umpires.
The accusation gave the NL a reason to rid itself of Fogel, who was banned from baseball.
A year later, his brother having lost a bid for reelection, Taft sold the Phillies, two years before they won the franchise's first pennant.
But the Phillies-Taft connection hadn't ended.
The Tafts retained the ballpark, leasing it to the Phillies until the team departed for Shibe Park in 1938.
Then, in 1981, when the Carpenter family was selling the team, another flamboyant promoter without much cash was interested. The $30 million deal to a group headed by Bill Giles was saved only by the involvement of Taft Broadcasting, the same Cincinnati communications company that Charles P. Taft's newspapers had launched.
Six years later, choosing profit over sentimentality, Taft sold its Phillies stake for $24.1 million.
Somewhere, if that perpetually sour face were capable of accommodating one, there must have been a smile behind Charles B. Taft's Vandyke.