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The coffee/hot tea talk earlier this week was about how you become a fan of a major league baseball team. In many cases, like mine, it’s seeing a team in person for the first time in its home stadium. The special feeling for a kid seeing the green grass, the smells of concessions, the sounds of batting practice. Major leaguers! Just a few feet away. For me, that was the Washington Senators in 1964. The franchise moved and became the Texas Rangers in 1972.
The Senators in 1964 were awful. Managed by Gil Hodges, they lost 100 games and finished 37 games behind the New York Yankees. Chuck Hinton was the team’s best player, a .274 hitter. Don Lock led the team in home runs with 28. Claude Osteen won 15 games, the team’s ace. Their awfulness was reflected in attendance, drawing just over 600,000, last in the American League, into D.C. Stadium, later named RFK.
I was frequently part of that 600,000. My father had business in the Johnson White House and my older brother was a page for Rep. Wright Patman. We lived in the Mayflower Hotel that summer. Mother tried it for a few days, but didn’t like the cramped quarters and the Washington heat so she returned home.
Usually $7-9 would do it for the whole day — public transportation to and from the ballpark, a ticket, something from concessions. Certainly, no trouble in getting a seat. One day a favorite player, Don Blasingame, the Senators’ second baseman, signed my Don Blasingame-autographed Rawlings baseball glove. (I still have that glove.) And remarkably, at 12 years old, no worries or admonishments about crime and criminals while getting around town. On the days the Senators weren’t playing, it was the Smithsonian and other places of history and interest. Always free admission.
Chicago’s Cubs broke their curse last season. Boston’s Red Sox did so as well a few years earlier — long-suffering fans relieved at last. Washington’s frustrations deal with three franchises dating to more than 100 years and its last World Series championship was in 1924 when the legendary Walter “Big Train” Johnson pitched for the team. Why was Washington baseball so perennially bad?
“The teams stunk,” so said longtime Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich. “It’s as simple as that.”
Susan and I went to her first major league game in Arlington, Texas, shortly after we were married to see the Rangers. We saw Jim (Catfish) Hunter and Rich (Goose) Gossage pitch one night for the visiting Yankees. Like their forebears, the Senators, I’ve followed the Rangers since. Twice (2010-2011) they’ve come within a pitch of winning the World Series, but mostly they’ve stumbled in the playoffs. Like their predecessors in the nation’s capital, they’ve stunk a lot, too, though they’ve had some great players — Nolan Ryan, Ivan Rodriguez, Charlie Hough, Ferguson Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Adrian Beltre. (Overall, the Rangers are a .479 team since 1972.)
One favorite anecdote about Washington baseball.
For years, Roy Sievers was the only star the Senators had. In 1957, Sievers led the American League in home runs (42) and RBIs (114) and hit .301. They finished dead last, 43 games behind the Yankees and were dead last in attendance as well. With a career year, Sievers had the notion to ask owner Clark Griffith for a raise in pay.
“Roy,” replied the famously penurious owner, “we finished last with you, and we can finish last without you.”
This weekend, shop Sheridan!
And…there’s the Big Horn Home Builders Association home and garden show at the Holiday Inn Conference Center.