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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at a White House Ceremony Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Little League Baseball

1989-07-07

Welcome to the White House! And we're looking for the person that's in charge of the weather -- a little warm out here -- not for you sluggers. But Doctor Hale and Mr. Keene, my old friend Bill Shea, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer, Gary Carter, Ted Sizemore, Little League players, coaches, officials, and fellow ball fans, welcome again to the White House. For today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Little League baseball.

And in that spirit, let me recall a story about a baseball great. Forty-two years ago, the city of St. Louis held a Yogi Berra Day for its native son and Yankees catcher. And as usual, the noted philosopher proved equal to the occasion. Yogi began his remarks by saying: ``My friends, I want to thank all the people who made this night necessary.'' [Laughter] Well, I want to thank all of you for making this day necessary.

And first, let me salute the more than 4,000 Little Leaguers who are with us here this afternoon. And my special thanks to the seven busloads of Pennsylvanians who came down here today. I hear they've renamed Routes 15 and 83 the ``Williamsport Express.'' Welcome.

And I want to thank Creighton Hale, the president of Little League baseball, and Bill Shea, the president of the Little League Foundation, and such veteran officials as Luke LaPorta, Beverly Gray, John Lindenmuth, Fred Crabtree -- and a special tip of the cap to Jack Lundy. Fifty years ago, Jack sponsored the very first Little League team, and today, he's still contributing to America's love affair with baseball.

For me, this affair has been a lifelong pastime. For like these Little Leaguers, I played baseball when I was a kid and followed the game and memorized those box scores and saved the ball cards. And my favorite player, I've got to admit, was Lou Gehrig, the former first baseman of the New York Yankees. And some time later, I went to college and batted eighth -- you know, the second cleanup hitter. And it was there at Yale University that another Yankee hero had an impact on my life. One day in 1948, Babe Ruth came to present his papers, and I received his papers on Yale's behalf. And I'll never forget that moment. Nor the day, 1 year earlier, when the Babe, then dying of cancer, told the crowd at Yankee Stadium: ``You know, the only real game in the world, I think, is baseball. You've got to start from way down, when you're 6 or 7 years old, and if you try hard enough, you're bound to come out on top.''

My friends, in that unforgettable speech, surrounded by the kids he loved, Babe Ruth defined why Little League baseball has become an American -- indeed, an international -- institution. And it all started -- and, Jack, you'll remember this -- with barely three dozen players and a handful of adult volunteers in Williamsport. Uniforms for all three teams cost at the local store. And that first diamond had bases made out of old feed bags stuffed with straw.

Well, since then the Little League has grown into the world's largest organized youth sports program. And at last count, more than 20 million youngsters have played in Little League, and countless other Americans have served as adult volunteer helpers -- and among them, several people who now live in this house. My four boys played it, I coached it, and Barbara -- back there when tens of thousands of Texas kids were in Little League -- and I'll confess, there were times when I thought Barbara was carpooling every single one of them. [Laughter] And not many nonbaseball players could properly score a baseball game. Well, Barbara Bush did that -- keeping that scorecard on most of the games. She did it to perfection, inning after inning.

And so, you see, like you I know what makes Little League so special. It's a feeling of sportsmanship, generosity, teamwork, a feeling of family -- fathers and daughters and mothers and sons. And around the globe, this feeling is bringing kids of all ages together -- this year alone, more than 2,500,000 players in 33 nations and 750,000 adult volunteers. They're learning or relearning the values of doing unto others and doing your best, and in the process, learning why perhaps nothing is more American than Little League baseball.

Over the next week, I'm going to be in several of those countries for the annual economic summit, and while there, I'm going to have the pleasure of officially helping import to Poland the program which helped produce such Americans as Bill Bradley and Tom Selleck and Discovery astronaut George Nelson. Little League came to Poland only earlier this year, but already it has more than a thousand players. And I know thousands more will come to love the game of champions, champions like two Polish-Americans that I'd like to salute today: Stan Musial, who is here in this audience -- standing over here, one of the greatest hitters who ever lived. And let me also mention my friend Carl Yastrzemski, number 8, Boston Red Sox, who 16 days from now will become the first former Little Leaguer inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So, now I want to consult this handy-size book of statistics. You guys can't live without some book like this. But let me tell you just a little bit about it. I looked it up here coming in here today: Stan Musial -- 3,026 ball games he played in, lifetime batting average -- .331. In 1948 this guy hit .376, 39 home runs -- a great champion. And you want me to look up ``Yaz'' for you? Okay. [Laughter] Here he is. You know when he was born? I've got it right here: August 22, 1939. In 1967 the guy hits .326 with 44 homers. Lifetime -- he played in a total of 3,308 games, 452 home runs. We honor the ``Yaz'' and Stan Musial today, and I'm going to be talking about them all over Poland about 2 or 3 days from now.

``Yaz'' knew -- and so did ``Stan the Man'' and so will those kids in Poland -- how baseball is the most democratic of sports. And of course, it's also the most Republican. [Laughter] For in baseball, in the Little League, all that matters is the size of your heart and of your dreams. And ask these kids about it. Ask any of these youngsters here today.

On the field, some dream of becoming another Mike Schmidt or another Gary Carter -- former Little Leaguers. And others may dazzle them with their glove work -- good field, no hit. Believe me, I'm an expert on that. And still others dream of being big league pitchers like Little League alumni Jim Palmer and Nolan Ryan. And if so, remember Lefty Gomez' secret to pitching success: ``It's easy -- clean living and a fast outfield.'' Of course, a great infield also helps. And ask three other men who were with us: Brooks Robinson and Ted Sizemore and Joe Morgan. And, yes, dreams are the essence of America and of baseball, and Little League can propel those dreams.

But in the end, what matters is how we conduct ourselves off as well as on the field. And that's where Little League really connects by building courage and character. It belts a grand slam home run by doing those two things. That first year of Little League, 1939, future Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy observed: ``Give a boy a bat and a ball and a place to play, and you'll have a good citizen.''

Well, Little League is America's ambassador of good will. And I am truly delighted to salute its golden anniversary. Thank you for coming. And let me leave you with two of the most beautiful words in any language: Play ball!

And now Dr. Hale and Jack Lundy, please step forward. Creighton, please accept this bat on behalf of Little League baseball. And Jack, your bat marks the half-century of service to all that Little League embodies. Thank you all. Fight for your own. Delighted to have you. Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 2:04 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.

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