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Bush Host Baseball Hall of Famers at White House Luncheon

Aired March 30, 2001 - 11:43 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are looking at a live picture from the White House. Talk about a baseball fan's dream. Guess you can do this when you're president of the United States to kick off the baseball season.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Summon the legends.

KAGAN: Absolutely. President Bush holding a luncheon today with baseball legends -- so many: Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Earl Weaver at the White House today. This is the president's way of kicking off the baseball season, which does get underway coming up this week. And he just made a list of who's who.

FRAZIER: And it looks like they're gathering for a group photo; and what a picture that's going to be.

KAGAN: Absolutely.

FRAZIER: Rollie Fingers there with the wax mustache.

KAGAN: Rollie fingers, George Brett to the right, of the Royals. We will be watching this -- Major Garrett, we're also going to have him come along in the next few minutes or so, or maybe in the next half hour -- our White House correspondent, and I think he's trying to rival President Bush as biggest baseball fan ever.

We had him on earlier. He told us that, in addition to this baseball luncheon, he told us that President and Mrs. Bush are going to start a new tradition at the White House and start hosting tee-ball games on the south lawn of the White House grounds.

FRAZIER: And they better watch out, too, and protect the windows of the White House.

KAGAN: I think we have Major with us right now -- Major?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, how are you Daryn; how are you Stephen?

KAGAN: Are you in just total nirvana right now?

GARRETT: Oh, yes, this is the best photo-op I've ever seen, covering the White House for the past 15 months, I'll you. And that tee-ball arrangement is going to be on the south lawn of the White House grounds. Stephen, what I gather is they'll probably have the batting facing the mall instead of facing the White House. So if there are any stray fly balls, they will go toward the Washington Monument and not up toward the White House itself. So the windows, I trust, will be very well protected.

But those are 5- to 8-year-old kids; boys and girls. They'll be drawn from leagues around the Washington, D.C. area. They haven't exactly formalized the schedule. First games could begin as early as April; have actual base paths, a little grandstand for the kids. Clearly the president wants to put his thumbprint around -- or at least his arms around the national pastime in ways his predecessors have not.

Of course, the president a former owner of a major league baseball team, the Texas Rangers. For you baseball historians, you remember before they were the Texas Rangers they were the dearly departed, and lamented in their departure, Washington Senators.

KAGAN: Some of the names -- some of the faces we've been able to see on our monitor: Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda.

Major, give us an idea of who you've spotted there.

GARRETT: Well, you mentioned Rollie Fingers; I watched him growing up in San Diego, played for the San Diego Padres; Dave Winfield is here, also Buck O'Neil, who is a great Negro Leagues baseball player. He is here; he is the president of the Negro League Baseball Association. He's a huge figure in Major League Baseball -- not Major League Baseball, but Negro League Baseball. So Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Stan Musial.

Dominant forces in the game both in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s. Really an amazing array of baseball talent here at the White House -- Nolan Ryan you see right there...

KAGAN: Kirby Puckett.

GARRETT: Kirby Puckett...

FRAZIER: There's Phil Rizzuto going by.

GARRETT: That's right.

FRAZIER: And look who's at the microphone there, Major: Yogi Berra. If anybody were going to have something good to say, you know it would have to be Yogi.

GARRETT: You know, we asked...

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States and Mrs. Bush...

KAGAN: Let's go ahead and listen in.

ANNOUNCER ... accompanied by the vice president. BUSH: Well, thank you very much. Laura and I are delighted to welcome you all to the people's house. The vice president is delighted to welcome you to the people's house, too.


BUSH: This is an exciting day for my administration and all the baseball fans that live here in Washington.

I first want to thank the commissioner for coming. Mr. Commissioner, it's good to see you again, sir. You're doing a great job in shepherding our national pastime through some pretty tough times, and I appreciate your leadership and I appreciate your friendship.

Speaking about Wisconsin, I'm glad to see my Cabinet secretary is here. Thank you for coming, Tommy, and Mel Martinez, as well. I appreciate you all being here.

We've got some huge baseball fans here. Billy Crystal, I'm honored you're here. I appreciate the movie you are making. I'm looking forward to maybe getting to see it here in the White House. If you would let us do that it would be such an honor

I don't know if Costas is here yet.

BOB COSTAS, ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: I'm here, Mr. President.

BUSH: Where is he?


COSTAS: Sometimes it's hard to see you, Mr. President.


BUSH: Representing all the traditionalists in America?


BUSH: Secretary Abraham, I'm sorry, a Detroit Tiger fan. Congressman Baldwin, his district is the hall of fame.

I also want to thank Jane. It's good to see you again. I remember coming up to the induction ceremony, where my friend Nolan Ryan got inducted.

Your hospitality was great, and Dale (ph), thank you for thinking of this.

One of the great things about living here is that you don't have to sign up for a baseball fantasy camp...


BUSH: ... to meet your heroes. It turns out they come here. And I want to thank the players, the former players, the managers and the wives who are here. I think we're going to have a great day.

There's some familiar faces here, but none more beloved than Yogi Berra. Yogi has been an inspiration to me...



BUSH: ... not only because of his baseball skills, but, of course, for the enduring mark he left on the English language.


BUSH: Some of the press corps, here, even think he might be my speech writer.


BUSH: I don't know if you know, Yogi, but I quoted you when I went to the Congress the other day to deliver my budget address. I'm relieved you made it; we were afraid you might have taken the wrong fork.


BUSH: And, of course, big Texas, here, and Ruth (ph), thank you all for coming. Friends of ours who remind us of some glorious days we had in baseball.

The reason I like to keep Nolan around is, he is a reminder that when we got done with the Sammy Sosa trade, there was still some talent left in the Rangers.


BUSH: But along with Nolan, we've got people like Sandy Koufax and Bunning and Ford and Gibson and Marichal, some of the greatest arms in the history of the game.

Seeing all the pitchers here brings to mind Lefty Gomez's definition of a complete picture. They asked Lefty once to share a secret. He said, "It's easy: clean living and a fast outfield."


BUSH: And we had some pretty fast outfielders behind us, too.

I'm sorry that Ted Williams couldn't be here today. At one time I had the opportunity to watch a batting practice at an all-star game, sitting right behind Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. For a baseball fanatic it was an unbelievable moment.

It might sound funny to you, but at that moment, I said, "Well, gosh, all three of us has something in common." We wanted to be big league stars. One of us peaked a little early.


BUSH: I know that we all join together in wishing Ted the very best, as he struggles to overcome his illness.

Five decades of baseball are represented here in the White House. From Bob Feller to Duke Snyder to Dave Winfield to Robin Yount.

I'm just a little biased toward those of you who played back in the '50s. It was my prime as a baseball card collector in the '50s.

Monte Irwin is here. And I remember very clearly seeing him at the first baseball game I ever went to. He was standing in the Polo Grounds, I might add, on grass.

Monte, you probably didn't see me, because I was up in the stands with my Uncle Buck. But I'll never forget. And as I recall, Red Schoendienst was there, as well.

And gentlemen, if you're as half as excited to be at the White House as I was that afternoon, I'm really glad to repay the favor.

Everyone who loves baseball can remember the first time he saw the inside of a real major league park with real big league players. It stays with you forever: the greenness of the grass, the sight of major leaguers in uniform, the sound of big league swing meeting a big league pitch.

And when you're a kid and you actually meet one of your baseball heroes or get an autograph on a ball, that's a big deal too, it means a lot. Each one of the stars who are here have been a part of that. Each one has given that gift to millions of children for generations.

And speaking for all of the millions of boys and girls, I say, "Thank you."

When I was growing up, there were the Mantle kids, like Crystal and Costas and they were the Mays kids. You think that with Mickey Mantle coming from Oklahoma, which was next door to where I was raised, that I'd have been a Mantle kid. But no, for some reason, I was a Mays kid. And I really proud of it, by the way.

Years later when I went to work with the Rangers, I got to meet both of those players, and got to meet a lot of other good folks, like Nolan Ryan. And I began to appreciate what the life of a famous ball player is like; what a responsibility it is when so many youngsters look up to you. So much is expected of you, whether you're in uniform or not in uniform.

It isn't always easy to be worthy of a kid's devotion or a teammate's trust. But the folks behind us, tried. They were successful. And that's what made them great.

Baseball isn't just in the stats, but, of course, that's part of it. It isn't just the money. It really isn't who makes the Hall of Fame. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of a Willie Mays or the determination of a Hank Aaron or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a Kaline or a Morgan, the grave of a DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, of the heroism of Lou Gherig.

My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost. What every else changes, even if the same nine innings run longer and the fly balls farther, and the grass isn't always grass like it should be, those values are still what makes the boys and girls into fans, and players into legends.

In a small way, maybe we can help to preserve the best of baseball right here in the house that Washington built. After we moved in, I pointed out to a great baseball fan, the first lady, that we've got a pretty good size backyard here.


BUSH: And maybe with the help of some groundskeepers, we could play ball on the South Lawn. She agreed, just so long as I wasn't one of the players.


BUSH: So for the next four seasons, we're going to invite kids here from the area to play tee ball on the South Lawn of the White House.


BUSH: And so, my congratulations are to not only the new crop of inductees to the hall of fame, Winfield, Puckett, to the family of Hilton Smith and Bill Mazeroski, but congratulations to the hall of famers who've made the game what it is. It is such an honor for us to welcome you here. Thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy the lunch, as much as I know I'm going to. God bless.


KAGAN: Listening to President Bush at the White House, as he hosts probably what will be one of his favorite lunches of his administration, at least to date so far. He gathered Hall of Famers from all around the country and the world to join him in anticipation of the upcoming baseball season which kicks off Sunday by the way.

Let's listen in a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our collection in Cooperstown has 165,000 objects in it and two million documents. And each piece tells the story of baseball, which is an important part of the American story. And on two levels, I think, the American story: the national level and the personal level. Baseball reflects American society, and in some ways has served to shape it.

We treasure our collection and its meaning to America. And great tradition of our collection is to have each president sign a baseball. Every president since President Taft has signed a ball. And the first signature on this ball -- thank you, Dale -- is President Gerald Ford's.

And Mr. President, we would be honored if you would sign this ball so we can take it back to Cooperstown...

BUSH: Well, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... for our collection.

BUSH: Thank you, Jane. Saved the sweet spot for me.


BUSH: Big Reggie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, Mr. President, we have a smaller gift as an expression of our appreciation to you and Mrs. Bush for having us today. And it's a bat signed by all the members of the Hall of Fame who are here today.

BUSH: Oh, thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.

BUSH: It's a great thing.

KAGAN: A great gift for President Bush, getting a bat signed by all the members of the Hall of Fame present with him today at the White House.

About to talk to Yogi Berra who he said was his inspiration and perhaps helping him as a speechwriter. A little bit of humor there from the president.

We also have Major Garrett standing by at White House.

Major, this was definitely a topic that the president is very enthusiastic about, baseball and the future of the game?

GARRETT: He's very enthusiastic about it, Daryn.

It's very interesting in those remarks. You know, the president's talked a lot about changing the tone here in Washington. I don't think there is any baseball fan who did not understand the president's point in those remarks.

Trying to change the tone of baseball. Reminding younger players now, who maybe don't give as much back to the fans as the president think they ought to.

Holding up these Hall of Famers as an example of not only class, of dignity, of performance, but also being regular -- adherence to the baseball's commitment to fans. Signing autographs, being close to the fans. There is a sense now of the skyrocketing salaries of Major League baseball. There is worries later on this year that there could be another work stoppage, more labor hassles within Major League baseball.

The president telling those younger player, Look at these older Hall of Famers. Look at the example that they've set for you. Listen to my words as a former owner, as a big fan of Major League Baseball. You owe something to the fans. You owe something to this country. You owe something to this sport.

So I think it's pretty safe to say that not only is the president at least trying to change the tone here in Washington, but also throughout Major League Baseball.

KAGAN: Major Garrett at the White House, thank you very much.

All this anticipation of opening day for baseball, which by the way is on Sunday. The first game will be played in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The first time a Major League baseball game will be played on the island. It will be the Toronto Blue Jays versus the Texas Rangers.



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