A President Behind Home Plate

Who Is That Masked Man? A Future President? Ask Chevy Chase.

Future President Gerald Ford plays baseball in 1949

No, It’s not Donald Trump. Trump did play baseball in college. But behind home plate is a career politician who later became President.

Maybe a closer look will help.

Close-up of President Ford 1949 playing catcher in a softball gameWhen catching a ball it usually helps to have your eyes open. We’ll pardon you if you didn’t recognize Chevy Chase’s favorite comedic target when starring on Saturday Night Live,  President Gerald Ford.

The 1949 photograph comes from the UPI archive. We see Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford crouching behind home plate. In the batters box Representative Glenn R. Davis of Wisconsin demonstrates how to execute a bunt improperly by gripping and exposing his right fingers around the bat directly into the path of the ball so he can break his fingers.

Contrary to popular belief, Gerald Ford was very athletic and was not clumsy or simpleminded. In 1934 Ford was named the Most Valuable Player of the University of Michigan’s football team.

Why and when did people begin thinking Ford was awkward?

Probably when President Ford fell down a few steps disembarking Airforce One in Vienna on June 1, 1975. He also stumbled a few more times on the trip. Unfortunately for Ford, network TV was there to capture the airplane moment and show it nationally.

Then, Chevy Chase capitalized on the event and began portraying Gerald Ford in comedic sketches on SNL, as absent-minded, uncoordinated, constantly falling down and being prone to accidents. Though Chase neither looked or sounded like Ford, people began to believe that Chase’s characterization was how Ford was in real life!

For a year, week after week, Chase satirized President Ford on late night TV.

Finally, Ford and Chase met each other at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner on March 25, 1976.

At the dinner in front of 1000 people at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Chase performed his Gerald Ford routine as President Ford sat at the dais and laughed at his impersonator.

Afterwards, Ford got up to speak and said, “Mr. Chevy Chase, you’re a very, very funny suburb.”

Three weeks after the dinner, Ford appeared on SNL via two taped segments done at the White House earlier in the week.  In the opening skit, as President Ford, Chase trips and falls.  Viewers next saw President’s Ford on screen saying those famous opening words, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.”

Later in the show during the Weekend Update news segment, Chase said his usual, I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.” A few minutes later Ford appeared again and delivered his other line “I’m Gerald Ford, you’re not.”

For comparison to Chevy Chase’s SNL Ford satire, here is a very short portion of the actual 1976 Ford-Carter Presidential debate. Ford does not come off very well on this question.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam Quiz:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.