Although the first game of Major League Baseball this season was already played in Australia, “opening day,” the day that multiple teams play their first game, starts Monday, March 31. But this year, the annual sports event is surrounded by a debate: should baseball’s opening day be a national holiday? Is the start of a baseball season integral enough to our culture to warrant closing the government?
Earlier this week, a White House petition for Major League Baseball’s opening day to become a national holiday reached enough signatures (100,000) to warrant a White House response. The petition, led by Anheuser-Bush and Ozzie Smith, was initiated early this year.
Does anything come of these petitions besides a White House press release? Not really. Is the petition a viral marketing campaign with commercial benefits for Anheuser-Bush, who is the official beer sponsor of Major League Baseball until 2018? Absolutely (while financial information is not disclosed, AdWeek reported that analysts estimate the deal is worth $40 million per season).
But the reason the petition has enough signatures to warrant a White House response lies in the fact that baseball is the oldest professional sport in the U.S., and its opening day has a strong cultural presence in the country. Baseball is the only major American sport that has been professionally for more than 100 years.
It’s basically a holiday in some places already
Opening day is an unofficial “city holiday” in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of baseball’s first professional baseball team. Until 1990, the first MLB pitch of every season took place in the city, at a home Cincinnati Reds game. For the past 95 years, dating back to 1920, Cincinnati has hosted an opening day parade, which runs through the center of town.
It was one of the most famous days in sports history
Often remarked as one of the most important opening day’s in history, Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on opening day on April 15, 1947, of course made him the first black Major League Baseball player. Starting in 2004, MLB began honoring Robinson’s first game with Jackie Robinson Day, which is celebrated on April 15, usually with players wearing Robinson’s number (42).
Presidents are already involved
Since 1910, starting with William Howard Taft, 14 presidents have thrown the first pitch at an opening day game. Besides Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama have all delivered a first pitch at opening day. The only president missing? Jimmy Carter.
Walt Whitman even wrote about it
I’m sure you totally knew because we all read Leaves of Grass and watched Ken Burns’ Baseball with our parents.
So, should the day actually be a holiday? While baseball has deep cultural roots in the country, and is really the first entirely American sport, a holiday is expensive. The government shutdown, which lasted 16 days, last year cost $24 billion. It costs an estimated $100 million to close the federal government for one day for a holiday.
Ok so the cost, combined with the trouble of shutting down the post office and other federal services for a holiday, make the opening day White House petition far from practical, but historically and culturally, there was something to the campaign.