Young Woodrow Wilson was playing a form of fantasy baseball in 1871
It comes as no surprise that all recent American presidents were baseball fans growing up. But would you believe the biggest baseball geek to occupy the Oval Office was born more than 150 years ago?
According to an incredible blog post by MLB's official historian John Thorn, it might very well be the truth. Woodrow Wilson, who called the White House home from 1913-21, grew up in Georgia and South Carolina as a passionate player, chronicler and analyzer of the game. He organized his own team at age 13 in 1870 (he played second base) and, in the time-honored tradition of shirking responsibility to focus on more important matters, doodled the team's roster on a page of his geology textbook.
But the most amazing, and prescient, element of his baseball fandom came in 1871, when he conceptualized an entire fantasy version of then-MLB-level National Association. Wilson wrote out detailed boxscores and faux newspaper accounts of games that never actually happened, all while using real players of the day. In one particularly notable game, Wilson envisioned Cap Anson (who was a rookie in 1871 but would go on to have a Hall of Fame career) homering, while starter Cherokee Fisher threw a no-hitter -- a feat which, at the time, had not yet actually happened in professional baseball.
Wilson didn't devise a point system for players' stats nor distribute them to imaginary teams. In that sense, his creation was most similar to text-based baseball sim games like Out of the Park Baseball. Those are complicated enough with a 21st-century computer, and makes it all the more impressive that Wilson used only a pen, paper and his mind. It wasn't exactly "fantasy baseball" as we know it, but it certainly was an incredible baseball fantasy for the future president.