Lansing — Former President George H.W. Bush’s love of baseball brought him to Michigan on several occasions and once prompted a one-day contract offer from the Detroit Tigers.
Bush, who died late Friday at the age of 94, played baseball for Yale University and competed in the first two College World Series games, which were held on the campus of Western Michigan University in 1947 and 1948
University of California’s Jackie Jensen, who would go on to “be one of the greatest sluggers the Boston Red Sox ever had,” crushed a home run off Yale “that’s still rolling in Kalamazoo,” Bush recalled more than 40 years after the game.
“So we lost both times,” the then-president said in remarks to the Wichita State University team that won the NCAA baseball tournament in 1989.
In 1984, Robert Brown, president of Major League Baseball’s American League, saw Bush play in an “Old Timers Game” in Colorado. At age 60, Bush played with former Major League stars, reportedly hit a single and made a diving defensive play on a hard-hit ground ball down the first base line to throw out the hitter.
Brown encouraged the Detroit Tigers to offer the then-vice president a one-day contract for the 1985 season, along with a $1 signing bonus.
“This will tickle the hell out of him,” Brown wrote in an August 1984 letter to Tigers executive Jim Campbell, according to archival documents posted online last year.
Campbell sent the contract offer to Bush’s assistant and press secretary in September, noting that Brown “said the vice president handled himself admirably for an old second baseman out of Yale.”
“Bobby also said that they were kidding the vice president and Bobby promised he would do his best to get him a contract with a Major League Club,” Campbell wrote. “This is where I come into the picture.”
It’s unclear whether the contract ever reached Bush’s desk, but the next month, the vice president had a front-row seat to Detroit’s 1984 World Championship win over the San Diego Padres. Bush sat beside legendary Tiger George Kell, who tossed out the ceremonial first pitch at old Tiger Stadium, in the deciding Game 5.
Kell was a moderate Democrat who had helped Bill Clinton win election as governor in his home state of Arkansas. Clinton would go on to defeat Bush, a moderate conservative Republican, in the 1992 general election to become the country’s 42nd president.
Thirty-three years after watching the World Series at Tiger Stadium, Bush cheered on as his son — former President George W. Bush — tossed out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, which the Astros eventually won in seven games.
Former Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, who was traded to the Astros earlier in 2017 and helped propel the team to the championship, caught the ceremonial pitch. Early Saturday, he tweeted out a photo of him standing beside both former presidents.
“#RIP 41,” Verlander wrote.