This article was written by Norman Macht
This article was published in the The National Pastime: Monumental Baseball (Washington, DC, 2009)
When Connie Mack began his rookie major league season with the Washington Nationals (aka Statesmen) in 1887, the city was among the smallest in the National League, with a population approaching 200,000. It was also the hottest city Mack had ever known. In the heat of July and August, he recalled, “after a game I would get home utterly fogged out and I hardly ate any supper. All night I would lie in the vestibule trying to get cool. The next day would be the same thing over again.”
Washington was fast becoming electrified in public areas; street lights brightened many sections of town. Horse-drawn streetcars were giving way to electric trolleys. A few hundred “electric speaking telephones” linked the White House and other government offices. Set near a neighborhood of fine homes in a section called Swampoodle, Capitol Park was located at North Capitol Street between F and G Streets, where Union Station and the National Postal Museum now stand. The outfielders had a fine view of the Capitol dome. Beyond the left field fence, B&O railroad cars were shunted about on side tracks. A block away on the opposite side stood the Government Printing Office, whose upper floors afforded an unobstructed view of the action on the field. John Heydler, a future president of the league, began working there in 1888.
Politicians and government employees formed the bulk of the team’s following. One of them was the young leader of the U.S. Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, whose passion for baseball was second only to his music.
The crude little dressing room at Capitol Park offered more facilities than most, such as they were. Connie Mack once described them: “The locker room . . . had no showers or bathing facilities, other than a sort of barrel-like pool sunk in the ground filled with water. The water would stay there for a week without being changed. After a while they outgrew the barrel and put in little individual tin pans. On the other side of the locker room a sink was put in with three or four spigots from which we could fill our pans. I anticipated the shower bath by a number of years by filling my pan up at the sink and pouring its contents over my head and shoulders.”
The infield was well sodded, but grass was sparse in the outfield and foul areas. Outfield fences were decorated with advertisements for beer, tobacco, sporting goods, and public baths. The small, primitive grandstand, little more than bleacher boards, seated about 1,800, the bleachers twice that number. The cranks were boisterous, sometimes riotous. When they took exception to a call by the lone umpire, the police often had to fire their revolvers in the air to restore order.
When Washington first baseman Bill Krieg hit a home run in the third inning of the opening game, “hats, umbrellas, and canes were thrown into the air and the multitude shouted forth their joy in hilarious manner,” was the Morning Republican’s understated report. That was practically the high point of the season. The home team trailed, 6–4, when the rains came in the sixth inning.
Washington’s 46–76 record for the year kept it out of the cellar only because a more inept Indianapolis team lost 89 games.
This article is adapted from Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball, by Norman L. Macht (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).