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Exhibit to Open for 'Baseball's No. 1 Fan'

September 19, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

If President Nixon were still alive, "he would have been glued to the set every night" watching the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, a former aide said.

So to honor the efforts of the Cardinal and Cub sluggers, and the late president's lifelong love of baseball, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace will open an exhibit of the national pastime's memorabilia today.

"We're doing it because President Nixon loved it, and we had some items that were precious to him," said John H. Taylor, a Nixon aide from 1980 to 1990 and the library's executive director.

"He loved the personal heroic aspects of the sport. He admired players for how they dealt with the challenges of the game," and felt that baseball parallels politics in those ways, Taylor said.

"He would have loved the McGwire-Sosa thing. The happiest I ever saw him was in 1983 at Yankee Stadium when he saw his first no-hitter," Taylor said. It was pitched by New York left-hander Dave Righetti on July 4.

Among the items on display are balls autographed by Yankee teams from 1949 to 1960--a Christmas gift from manager Casey Stengel--a trophy from then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn proclaiming Nixon "baseball's No. 1 fan," an autographed ball from the 1929 World Series, a 1969 Mets World Championship ring and correspondence between Nixon and Roger Maris in 1985, while Maris was battling the lymphatic cancer that killed him. Also displayed is a letter Nixon wrote Maris' widow a week after he died, lauding the legacy of Maris' home-run record and the example of his unflinching battle against the disease.

McGwire's parents in Mission Viejo donated an autographed All-Star Game ball and a replica of the 1989 World Series trophy won while their son played for Oakland, among other items. And Sammy Sosa donated an autographed jersey, a cap and a home-run ball he hit in batting practice the night he hit his 63rd home run in San Diego on Wednesday.

The exhibit will run through Nov. 1. Today and Sunday, Dodgers organist Nancy Bea Hefley will perform in the lobby at 1 p.m. Opening weekend admission is free for all Little Leaguers, and anyone who brings an Angel ticket stub or Power Angels Home Run card. Otherwise, admission through Sunday is one cent for each home run hit by Sosa and McGwire.

The library, 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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