Dwight Eisenhower was a teenager in the first decade of the 20th century, just about the time professional baseball was becoming popular. Like many boys of that time, he had his favorite player, and he wanted to emulate that player’s career. For young Eisenhower, it was Honus Wagner, the shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

At Abilene High School, the future general and president played center field. His older brother played first base on the same team. Following high school Eisenhower sought and gained an appointment to West Point. While at West Point he played varsity football until he was sidelined by a knee injury. He also tried out for the baseball team. He didn’t make that squad. Years later Eisenhower said not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments he had ever faced. However, he never lost his interest in the game and his boyhood hero.

In 1954, shortly before his Wagner passed away, the then-president of the United States was in touch with the Hall of Famer. In a letter dated Feb. 17, 1954, and addressed to Mr. Honus Wagner of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, the president wrote:

“I have been told that you will celebrate your birthday on February twenty-fourth, and I hope you will accept my warmest congratulations. Realization that you now count your years at the four score mark reminds me, with something of a shock, that it is fifty years ago that I used to follow your batting average with the keenest interest. I venture to say that your name and the records you established are as well known to the boys of today as they were to me, and that, I think, must prove that you are truly one of baseball’s immortal heroes.”

In an interesting story shared by Eisenhower after he had become president, he recounted a conversation he had decades earlier with a boyhood friend. According to this story, he and a friend were chatting about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Young Eisenhower made it clear that he wanted to play professional baseball. His friend made it equally clear that he wanted to be the president of the United States. In concluding the story, Eisenhower noted that as it turned out, neither of them got what they had hoped for.

Mike McGough is an Eisenhower Society board trustee.

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