Sports

Back Then

The 1947 Spiders were a team to be reckoned with. Guided by coach Mac Pitt — “the ‘Silver Fox’ of Richmond College,” according to the 1948 yearbook — they set a program record for wins that stood until 1972 and were champions of Virginia for the eighth time in 12 years.

But the most memorable game they played takes on signficance only with hindsight. That’s because it featured a future U.S. president.

The Spiders opened the 1947 season March 31 at home versus a traveling Yale University squad that was swinging south to avoid the early spring chill of New Haven, Connecticut. The Bulldogs’ team captain was a player to worry about.

“One of the finest fielding first basemen in collegiate circles,” read the team’s spring preview. “Plays the bag like a major leaguer ... not overly effective as a hitter, but he does hit a long ball and often enough to cause trouble.” It also noted something not unusual for the times, that he was a veteran, a Navy flier during World War II who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had a wife and an infant son.

The day’s score card lists him as George Bush. We know him today as George H.W. Bush, the 41st president.

The box score records that the future commander in chief batted seventh, came up to the plate four times, and hit two singles. On the defensive side, he was responsible for 12 put-outs and one assist.

The Spiders were in control for much of the game, getting on the board with a run in the third inning and then exploding for five runs in the fifth. They took a 7-1 lead into the seventh when Yale started to chip away.

Spider relief pitcher Leo Garrett gave up a run in the eighth and three more in the ninth, but then Pitt switched to Bill Finney, who “saved the day,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote. He struck out Yale’s relief catcher with the tying and winning runs on base.

I would say that I didn't have a bad day. I was never a great batter. The team did all right. We hung in there.

The final score was 8-7. Yale had stranded eight runners (Bush twice, apparently) to Richmond’s three. Spider starting pitcher Bob Kilpatrick got the win and led the team with two RBIs. He even stole a base.

In its game recap the next day, the Richmond Times-Dispatch printed a photo of Bush catching a throw to first as Spider second baseman Jack Null dove back to the bag.

Now 93, the former president doesn’t remember this particular game from 70 years ago, but he recalled that the team “had a long season that year,” he said through a spokesperson. “Looking at the card, I would say that I didn’t have a bad day. I was never a great batter. The team did all right. We hung in there. That is really all that matters — the team.”

ScorecardThe Spiders reeled off wins in their next nine games on the way to the program’s first 20-win season. Pitt, then in his 13th season, continued coaching until 1971. During alumni weekend in 1967, the University renamed Millhiser Field to Pitt Field in his honor.

Forty-five years after his plate appearances, Bush returned to campus to compete in another Richmond athletic venue, the Robins Center. It was the site of the 1992 town hall-style presidential debate with Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot.