April 10, 1961: Washington Senators defeated in first game of expansion era

This article was written by Richard Cuicchi

Coot Veal (TRADING CARD DB)When the 1960 season ended, Washington Senators fans had good reason to be optimistic about the team for the following season. The Senators narrowly missed out on a fourth-place finish, which would have been their highest since 1946. Losing 11 of their last 12 games of the season scotched hopes for the higher finish. The Senators’ roster included a core of young players who seemed to be on the verge of a breakout season. However, the team that suited up for Opening Day of the 1961 season was not the same one that ended the prior season; it wasn’t different by just a few players, but by the entire team.

This situation came about over the winter when Senators owner Calvin Griffith moved the franchise to Minneapolis-St. Paul, as part of the American League’s expansion to 10 teams for the 1961 season. A new Senators franchise, whose ownership group was led by Pete Quesada, took the place of Griffith’s. Los Angeles, already home to the National League Dodgers, would become the home for the 10th franchise as well.

The Griffith family had been entrenched in the franchise since 1912, when Calvin Griffith’s stepfather Clark Griffith first took over the club as manager and later became president in 1920. The baseball community was largely surprised by Griffith’s defection from Washington, as well as the timeframe the American League set to implement its 10-team league.1 Griffith was lured to Minneapolis-St. Paul by offers of lucrative radio and TV rights, a guarantee for annual attendance close to a million, and a new ballpark with low rentals and concessions profits.2

Former Air Force General Elwood “Pete” Quesada won the bid for ownership of the new Senators franchise in November 1960. A World War II Air Force planner who later became the chief of the Federal Aviation Agency,3 Quesada had been a baseball fan practically all his life, but had no experience in the business of baseball.4

The team’s first course of business was to hire a field staff and build a roster. Former Washington Senators first baseman Mickey Vernon was hired as the manager. He had spent the 1960 season as a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates after a 20-year playing career.

At the American League expansion draft in Boston on December 14, 1960, the Senators got their two most wanted players, Bobby Shantz (second pick from the pitcher pool) from the New York Yankees and Willie Tasby (first pick from the outfielder pool) from the Boston Red Sox.5 Other key veterans selected by the Senators included outfielder Gene Woodling, first baseman Dale Long, outfielder Marty Keough, and pitchers Dave Sisler, Dick Donovan, Hal Woodeshick, and Tom Sturdivant. Altogether, the Senators selected 28 players that included a mix of players past their prime years and prospects with little or no major-league experience.6 Shantz would never play for the Senators; he was dealt shortly after the draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates for three players.

Vernon took an approach in spring training that every starting job was up for grabs. He realized that the new Senators roster would lack power and have to rely on speed, hit-and-run plays, and solid defense to win games. He also knew he would have to be patient with his new team.7

The Senators had the best spring-training exhibition-game record of all the American League teams in 1961, so there was hope that the team would be competitive.8 However, the lineup the Senators put on the field for Opening Day contained only two players, outfielders Woodling and Tasby, who had been regular starters (over 500 at-bats) in 1960.

Opening Day came on April 10 with the type of fanfare expected for a new franchise. Attendance by many dignitaries and entertainment by several bands were part of the festive occasion. The Senators were pitted against the Chicago White Sox in the only major-league game scheduled that day. A crowd of 26,725 showed up at Griffith Stadium, including recently inaugurated President John F. Kennedy, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Every president before him since William Howard Taft in 1910 had participated in an Opening Day ceremony.9 Kennedy spiritedly got into the pregame act and whizzed his official pitch among the gathered Senators and White Sox players, with White Sox outfielder Jim Rivera snagging the throw. White Sox manager Al Lopez offered his assessment of the president’s throw: “I’d say the President is sneaky fast. He can really fire that thing.”10

Donovan got the starting pitcher nod from Vernon. The 33-year-old right-hander had been a member of the White Sox pitching staff of manager Lopez the year before and was miffed at Lopez for limiting his innings throughout the season. Donovan had remarked during spring training about the possibility of drawing the Senators’ Opening Day starting assignment, “I want to win for Washington, but I also want to show Al Lopez he should have used me more last year.”11

The dean of the White Sox staff, 40-year-old Early Wynn, was Donovan’s opponent on the mound. He was only 16 wins shy of achieving the 300-win milestone. He had made his major-league debut with the original Senators in 1939.

The Senators jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Woodling’s triple that scored Coot Veal and Keough, both of whom had singled. White Sox first baseman Roy Sievers, the all-time home-run leader of the Senators, hit a 410-foot solo home run in the top of the second.

In the bottom of the second inning, the Senators pushed across another run on Billy Klaus’s sacrifice fly that scored Pete Daley. Then in the third, the White Sox got their second run on back-to-back doubles by Floyd Robinson and Luis Aparicio, cutting the Senators’ lead to 3-2.

The Senators held the lead behind Donovan’s pitching until the top of the seventh, when Jim Landis hit a triple and scored on a double error by first baseman Long. Long mishandled pinch-hitter Earl Torgeson’s groundball and then threw wildly to Donovan, who went to cover first base.

In the eighth inning, Donovan gave up another unearned run initiated when Minnie Miñoso was hit by a pitch. Miñoso stole second and wound up on third base as catcher Daley’s throw went into center field. Sievers’ sacrifice fly scored Miñoso for a final score of 4-3.

Donovan pitched a complete game, yielding six hits and two walks. However, the jittery Senators fielders made four errors and became his nemesis as much as the White Sox hitters.

Wynn was relieved after two innings and was followed by Russ Kemmerer and Frank Baumann who held the Senators scoreless. Bauman picked up the win. White Sox pitchers gave up nine hits, including Keough’s three singles.

The Senators wound up winning only 61 games in 1961, tying the Kansas City A’s for last place. Vernon had been correct in his early assessment of the Senators’ power potential. They finished as one of the bottom two teams in the AL in runs scored and slugging percentage. They played in a new ballpark in 1963, but the change in venue didn’t help their results. The new franchise wouldn’t post a winning season until 1969, and three years later it would move again, to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to become the Texas Rangers. The original Senators franchise that became the Minnesota Twins attained a World Series berth in 1965.



In addition to the sources in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:

Addie, Bob. “Late-Inning Errors Spoil Six-Hitter by Donovan,” Washington Post, April 11, 1961: C11.

Kates, Maxwell, and Bill Nowlin. Time for Expansion Baseball (Phoenix: SABR, 2018), 52.



1 Dan Daniel, “Frick ‘Disturbed’ by A.L. Decision to Expand for ’61,” The Sporting News, November 2, 1960: 4.

2 Shirley Povich, “Cal Promised ‘World with a Fence Around It,’” The Sporting News, November 2, 1960: 4.

3 In 1967 the Federal Aviation Agency became the Cabinet-level Federal Aviation Administration.

4 Shirley Povich, “‘Dream Come True,’ Beams New Nat Boss,” The Sporting News, November 23, 1960: 3.

5 Shirley Povich, “Beaming Nats Land ‘Most Wanted Pair’ – Shantz and Tasby,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1960: 5.

6 Hy Hurwitz, “New Clubs Pleased at $4 Million Picks,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1960: 3.

7 Shirley Povich, “Mickey Using ‘Soft Sell’ on Nats Players,” The Sporting News, April 5, 1961: 3.

8 Bob Addie, “New Nats Begin New Era Today,” Washington Post, April 10, 1961: A13.

9 Ibid.

10 Shirley Povich, “Kennedy Sets Presidential Mark with Fireball Pitch,” The Sporting News, April 19, 1961: 3.

11 Shirley Povich, “Donovan Aching to ‘Show Lopez’ in Nats’ Opener,” The Sporting News, March 1, 1961: 11.

Additional Stats

Chicago White Sox 4
Washington Senators 3

Griffith Stadium
Washington, DC


Box Score + PBP:

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