Stories in Washington Baseball History

This article was written by Gary Sarnoff

This article was published in the The National Pastime: Monumental Baseball (Washington, DC, 2009)


MOE BERG

One day when the senators were on the road, Al Schacht called Moe Berg in his hotel room to tell him he was with two ladies who wanted to meet him.

“Moe, this is Al. I’ve got a couple young ladies down here in the lobby. I’ve been telling them about you being the ‘Don Juan’ of the team and they’re hollering for you. Can you come right down? I can’t hold them any longer.”

Berg bathed, shaved, put on his best-pressed suit, and went down to the lobby. There was Schacht holding the hands of a nine-year-old and an eleven-year-old.

“They want your autograph, Moe.”

WALTER JOHNSON

When Walter Johnson managed the Senators (from 1929–1932), he would sit by himself in the hotel lobby and read the newspaper. When fans recognized him, they would approach him and tell him of their memories of seeing the Big Train when he pitched. One fan interrupted to tell him, “I saw you pitch your first-ever game thirty-five years ago.” Johnson told the fan he appreciated him sharing his memory, but when the fan walked away Johnson did the math and thirty-five years ago meant he pitched his first game when he was seven years old.

A few minutes later, another fan interrupted the Big Train. “That sure was tough, Walter, to lose a 1–0 game in game seven of the 1925 World Series.” Johnson didn’t have the heart to tell him he lost by a score of 9–7. “It sure was,” he replied with a smile.

WALTER JOHNSON PITCHED THREE SHUTOUTS IN FOUR DAYS!

On Friday, September 4, 1908, Walter Johnson shut out the New York Highlanders on six hits. He started the following day and again shut the New Yorkers on four hits. The following day there was no baseball, due to the Blue Laws prohibiting baseball on Sunday. On Monday the Highlanders were shocked when Washington manager Joe Cantillon announced he was going to start Johnson again. “He’s kidding,” a nervous New York player said. He wasn’t kidding. Johnson hurled a two-hit shutout.

The next day, Tuesday, Johnson overheard Cantillon talking about pitching him again. “Oh no,” Johnson said. “I’m not pitching until Wednesday.”

GRIFFITH’S FIRST HONESTY LESSON IN BASEBALL

While growing up in Vernon County, Missouri, Clark Griffith played baseball with the other kids around the county. Their field was by the hanging tree, and as the boys played, Griffith would peek at the condemned to see if he knew any of them.

The boys played their games with homemade baseballs, but one time they were able to save enough to buy a ball from an older lad. The first time someone batted the ball it went flat, and Griffith and the others spent the rest of the day looking for the dishonest vendor. The next day the crook showed up—swinging from the hanging tree. “That was my first honesty lesson in baseball,” Griffith would often say.

TELEGRAMS

When the Washington Senators returned home after losing game seven of the 1925 World Series, Bucky Harris received a telegram at the train station from Ban Johnson, the President of the American League. Johnson’s telegram criticized the Senators manager for not relieving Walter Johnson, who gave up nine runs on fourteen hits in a 9–7 loss. Harris immediately sent a telegram to the League president to explain that he had no alibis for going down with his best.

Nick Altrock, the comical coach of the Senators, also received a telegram, this one from an angry fan.

“I took your advice and bet fifty dollars on Washington. Please lend me fifty dollars on my seven-jewel watch.”

CLOWNING HAS A PRICE

Clowning could be a dangerous business. Washington coaches Nick Altrock and Al Schacht, both known for their clowning more than for their coaching, used to perform their zany skits before games. One time their act called for Schacht to whip baseballs across the diamond to Altrock. Mixed in with the baseballs was a rubber ball for Schacht to throw, and for Altrock to let it hit him in the head. Before Schacht threw the rubber ball he was to signal to Altrock by tugging his belt. But Altrock thought he saw the sign and took a baseball on the noggin. He was out like a light, and when he came to, he had a big lump on his forehead.

Altrock got even when the two comedians mocked a boxing match, using first-basemen mitts for boxing gloves. During the match Altrock hit Schacht with a right hook that gave him a bloody nose and knocked him on his can. “Now we’re even,” Altrock told him.

CAN HANK GREENBERG HIT? JUST ASK DAVE HARRIS

The Senators arrived a day early in Detroit for their series with the Tigers during the 1933 season. After checking into the hotel, they went to Nevins Field to see the Tigers battle the Athletics. When a rookie first baseman for the Tigers named Hank Greenberg came to the plate, Dave Harris, a reserve outfielder for Washington, said, “This guy couldn’t even hit the ground,” although Greenberg had homered against the Senators twice already earlier that season. Greenberg swung and crushed the ball, and sent it for a long ride beyond the left field fence.

Harris’s teammates turned and looked at him. The Senators outfielder took a swig of his coke, then sat back and said, “I still say this guy can’t hit.”

The next day Greenberg hit two homers against Washington, including a walk-off homer to beat the Nats. That gave him three homers in two games. Not bad for a guy “who couldn’t hit the ground.”

GOSLIN WINS THE 1928 AMERICAN LEAGUE BATTING TITLE

One of baseball’s most colorful umpires was Bill Guthrie. He was known as the “Bull” because of his bowlegged, barrel-chested physique. He was also known as “Dese-Dem-Dose” for his ability to butcher the English language that often left players, coaches, and managers speechless. Most of all, he was known for saying, “it’s either dis or dat.”

Guthrie was the home-plate umpire when Goose Goslin stepped up for his last at-bat of the 1928 season, with the batting title on the line. Goslin was the American League’s leading hitter, leading Heinie Manush by a single point. If Goslin made an out, he would lose his title. Before he knew what happened, he watched two strikes go by to put his title in trouble. Goslin stepped out of the batter’s box and looked at Guthrie. He knew the Bull had a short fuse, and was quick to throw a player out of the game. With this in mind, Goslin decided to start an argument so he would be ejected: he wouldn’t be charged with the at–bat, and his title would be saved.

“Why, those pitches weren’t even close,” Goslin told Guthrie.1

“Listen, wise guy,” Guthrie said, “there is no such thing as close or not close. It’s either dis or dat.”

After hearing this, Goslin acted like he was mad. He began to yell, and he stepped on Guthrie’s big feet. “Okay, are you ready to bat now?” Guthrie asked. “You’re not going to get thrown out of this ballgame no matter what you do, so you might as well get up to that plate. If I wanted to throw you out, I’d throw you clear to Oshkosh. But you’re going to bat, and you better be swinging to. No bases on balls, you hear me?”

Goslin heard him, all right.

He hit the next pitch and lifted a fly ball into rightcenter field. Outfielder Beauty McGowan, knowing if he made the catch Manush would win the title, ran hard, extended his glove hand, but couldn’t get to the ball in time, and when the ball landed on the outfield turf, Goslin won the batting title.

THE SENATORS WON AN AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP?

It is hard for some to believe, but the Washington Senators won three American League pennants—in 1924, 1925, and 1933. After winning the 1933 American League pennant, the Senators bottomed out. From 1934 to 1947 the Nats had just three winning seasons. During the 1948 season, with the Senators heading for 97 losses, the team went to a theater one night to see “The Babe Ruth Story,” starring William Bendix. During one of the scenes, as Miller Huggins is hearing it from Colonel Ruppert about the Yankees’ poor showing in 1925, the Colonel says, “The Washington Senators won the pennant in 1925. Of all teams.” Upon hearing this, the entire Senators team laughed.

BATTER UP!

During August 1933, the Senators were on a thirteengame winning streak, and were in great spirits as they waited for their next train, bound for Detroit. Cronin stepped up to an imaginary plate and held his umbrella like a bat. “Throw something,” he said. Goose Goslin grabbed John Kerr’s hat off his crown and

pitched it. Cronin hit it and the hat landed in someone’s cereal bowl. Suddenly everyone pitched their hats, with Clark Griffith pitching his own, and Dave Harris throwing General Crowder’s. Cronin swung, and in his follow-through he knocked a lamp off a table that hit the floor with a loud crash.

A few minutes later, as the team stood on the platform, Buddy Myer decided to restart the game. He swiped Luke Sewell’s hat, and the Washington catcher responded by pulling Myer’s bowtie off of his collar. Myer looked at this finger and noticed he had cut it. Team trainer Mike Martin, annoyed, had to dig through his luggage to find a bandage for Myer.

A CONVERSATION WITH JOE CRONIN AND SHIRLEY POVICH

Joe Cronin didn’t want to say who his pitcher would be for the first game of the 1933 World Series. Shirley Povich, longtime writer for the Washington Post, kept badgering him for an answer.

Povich: “What’s the dope, Joe?”

Cronin: “Dope, there is no dope. I may start Whitehill. I may start Stewart. I may start Crowder. I will let you know at 1:30 on Tuesday. I told you that the other day, didn’t I?”

Povich: “Yes, Joe, but, no kidding, who do you like at this time?”

Cronin: “I like ’em all, they will all be ready. Drop around and see me Tuesday about 1:29. I’ll have some news for you.”

Povich: “Who is going to pitch the opening game?” Cronin: “Scram, Povich!”

GOSLIN’S MYSTERIOUS ARM INJURY

Goose Goslin was the only outfielder that had the privilege of having his own caddy. In 1928, he had injured

his arm during spring training. While practicing at Plant Field in Tampa one day, Goslin looked beyond right field and noticed a high-school track-and-field team throwing a shot put Intrigued, Goslin wandered over to the high-school field and joined the practice. While trying to throw the shot put as far as he could, he didn’t use the proper form, and the next morning he couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder.

Goslin’s arm injury affected his throwing, but not his hitting, and since the Senators needed his big bat in the lineup, he played every day at his usual position of left field. To compensate for his lame arm, shortstop Bobby Reeves was required to sprint into left field whenever the ball was hit there, and he would take Goslin’s lob, then make the relay throw—thus giving Goslin his own caddy.

Goslin went on to hit .379 to win the American League batting title, but for all the runs he helped produce, he gave them back by his inability to throw, and this allowed other teams to take an extra base whenever Goslin was forced to handle the ball.

How did Goslin cure his arm? After the 1928 season, he met Ed “Strangler” Lewis, the world heavyweight wrestling champion, who had once suffered a similar injury. He told Goslin he cured it by going on a meat-free diet. Goslin thanked him for the advice, did not eat meat for the rest of the year, and, sure enough, the shoulder healed. In 1929, Goslin’s strong arm returned to full strength, and no longer did opposing teams dare to try for an extra base.2

 

Notes

  1. This conversation appears in The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence Ritter (New York: Macmillan, 1966), in the chapter on Goose
  2. But see Cort Vitty, “Goose Goslin,” The Baseball Biography Project, http://bioproj.sabr.org: “In 1929, his stickwork suffered and his arm was definitely not back to ”

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