Saturday, February 6, 2016

Illinoisan, Actor, President... Sportscaster??

When I was in third or fourth grade, my parents bought me a placemat  for the kitchen table which depicted all of the Presidents of the United States, in order all the way from George Washington and his wooden teeth to Bill Clinton and his dubious morals.  I might have only been 10 years old, but I knew what was up.

Eating three meals a day at that kitchen table, it was only a matter of time before I memorized all of the POTUS, their tenure and got pretty damn close to knowing all of their Vice Presidents as well.  From there, I helped convince my family to take a trip to D.C. so I could see the White House, dressed up as James Madison for a school book report and played Gerald Ford in a class play.

What can I say, I've always been a bit of a history nerd.

Several years later, as my fascination with baseball was truly beginning to bloom, I saw that there was a notable overlap in these two interests of mine:

No - that isn't some remarkably coincidental name - that's the man that Don Henley once referred to as the "tired old man that we elected king" in full baseball regalia with a beautiful blue sky, fluffy clouds and a white picket fence.  What could possibly be more 'Murica than that?

While Ronnie never played baseball professionally, he (of course) was a Hollywood actor before he was a Washington D.C. politician.  One of the many roles he played on the silver screen was that of Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander in the biopic "The Winning Team," which told the life story of the old-timey hurler.

Image courtesy of


This flick is still on my long, long, looooooooooong list of movies to catch up - however, I don't think I'll be able to just absent-mindedly be able to conjure this one up on Netflix.

Reagan portrays "Ol' Pete" from his emergence with the Phillies, his permanently scarring days spent in the trenches of WWI through his heroic appearance with the Cardinals in the 1926 World Series.  The card in question depicts Reagan/Alexander as a member of the minor circuit Galesburg Boosters of the Illinois-Missouri League, who he pitched for in 1909.

Of course, "Alexander the Great" also ranks as one of the top pitchers in Cubs franchise history as well, taking the mound for the Northsiders from 1918-25.  A Reagan-Cubs connection?  Displayed on a baseball card too?  That's awfully nifty to me; but, it gets even better (more on that later).

All of that said, you can't tell any of that from the front of the card.  For all the unsuspecting collector knows, the man who would become our 40th Commander in Chief had a career as a moundsman too.

The back offers no clarification either; although, it does offer a little cartoon in the style of the Topps cards of the 1950's describing Reagan's time spent as a sportscaster.  That's right, before he was the man running our country, before he was a A-list actor, he had the pleasure of calling baseball games on the radio from 1933 through 1936.

In fact, it was during Spring Training at Catalina Island that Ronnie was inspired to travel approximately 70 miles north for a chance at a Hollywood screen test.  As history shows, he made the grade and the rest is history.

Catalina Island... that should sound pretty familiar to Cubs fans.  Why?  Because Catalina was the location of their annual Spring Training camp from the 1920's to the early 50's.  Wait a minute....

Image courtesy of the Des Moines Register

Ronald Reagan, the very same man who demanded that Mr. Gorbachev tear down a certain Wall, called play-by-play for my Chicago Cubs?!  How cool is that?

Even long after his days calling action on the diamond for Chicago, he maintained a rooting interest in the club - Reagan was a founding member of the Emil Verban Society, which was essentially a Cubs fan club fromed by a group of Washington elite and named after an obscure Cub.  Membership in this society has also included such luminaries as Hillary Clinton, John Paul Stevens and Dick Cheney, amongst others.

The Illinois-born prez even took time during office to come to Wrigley and toss out the ceremonial first pitch in September of 1988.  In fact, after he reprised his days imitating Grover Cleveland Alexander, Reagan came up to the booth and called some of the action with Harry Caray:

A fact which this card from the 2011 edition of Topps Opening Day celebrates.  As you can plainly see, I had to lift the image from COMC; so, if anyone has a spare copy lying around...

Speaking of cards, back to the card that can be found at the top of this post, that oddball comes from a 1991 edition of RBI (Regional Baseball Index) Baseball Card Price Guide.  Much like Topps Magazine, Baseball Card Magazine and SI For Kids, RBI included a panel of cards within the bindings of it's publication in order to entice buyers.  I miss the days when this was more commonplace.

I found the oddball at the LCS by my place of employment way back in October and I knew I had to have this in my collection.  Much like I hoard cards of anyone whose ever played for, managed and coached for the Cubs, I also collect cards of all of their broadcasters as well.  For guys like Steve Stone, Harry Caray, Bob Brenly and Jack Brickhouse, it's not too difficult to find baseball themed trading cards to include.   Not so for Reagan; thus, this was a must buy  especially at the price of 25 cents!

 Reagan's esteemed Cubs broadcasting brethren

But, I know you're wondering, "Tony, why are you just now blogging about this fascinating find when you made this discovery four long months ago?"  Well anonymous (and entirely fictional) captive reader, I'm glad you asked.

On this very day, 105 years ago, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born into this world in the tiny town of Tampico, IL.  This just seemed liked the natural segue for showing off this card... well, that and the fact that I entirely forgot about it until last week and his upcoming birthday was a serendipitous coincidence.

Without getting too political here, I will say that I definitely lean much more to the left than I do the right.  Accordingly, my political views and his didn't necessarily "line up" (baseball pun!).  That being stated, I believe that any man who held the nation's highest office deserves my respect.   Additionally, as I've mentioned countless times before, I'm a giant history nerd and Presidential history has been a favorite topic since I acquired that placemat way back when.

The original is long-gone, but I do believe this is the same one.
Image courtesy of Pink Underbelly

Therefore, this Cubs/baseball/American history/presidential mash up is one of my favorite bits of trivia in the history of forever.

In conclusion, happy 105th Mr. Reagan (yes, I realize he's not around anymore)!  Cubs broadcaster. A-List Hollywood actor and President of the United States... what a life, huh?


  1. I had that exact same placemat when I was a young lad. I still remember being the first kid in my second grade class to memorize all the presidents, in order. I think it was in large part thanks to that placemat.

  2. I didn't know Reagan did play-by-play for the Cubs. I need to find one of those Opening Day cards for my collection.

  3. Neat card and a very neat post!

  4. Cool card. I have the Opening Day but sorry, just the one. Great storytelling.

  5. Tell me you took a Chevy Chase pratfall when you played Gerald Ford.