1923 Washington Nationals
Manager: Donie Bush 1st Season (1st with Washington 75-78-2)
75 W 78 L 2 T 720 RS 747 RA 4th AL 23.5 GB (New York 98-54)
4.65 RPG (AL = 4.78) 3.98 ERA (AL = 3.98)
.674 DER (7th AL)
Franchise (1901-1923) 1527-1890-63
With Clyde Milan out as manager, Clark Griffith named Donie Bush to be the 11th manager of the Washington Nationals. Bush had a long playing career in Detroit, where he was the lead off man, batting in front of Ty Cobb. The Indianapolis native was pulled of waivers by the Nats late in the 1921 season. He was a player/assistant coach under Milan, and was named his successor at the age of 34.
Donie Bush from baseballlibrary.com
Bush had a temper, and that showed on several occasions during the 1923 season. On May 23 he was suspended for an argument he had with the home plate umpire in a game. Late in the season, Bush got into it with one of his own players, Sam Rice. When Bush did not appreciate Rice’s effort on a fly ball in the second game of a Labor Day double-header, he let it be known very publicly. Rice, by this time a star player, argued back and was promptly suspended by the manager.
Whether is was solely due to the fourth place finish, or some of the on-the-field issues had something to do with it, Bush only lasted one season as manager.
On of the team’s problems was a lack of power hitting. While the rest of baseball was adjusting to the new era of the home run, it seemed that Washington was headed in the opposite direction.
Team HR/AL Rank by year
1919 24/6th (T)
1921 42/5th (T)
1922 45/4th (T)
The 1923 team was also dead last in team slugging percentage.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1923
C Muddy Ruel .316/.394/.383 0 HR 3.1 BFW 23 WS 43 FRAR 7.9 WARP3
Griffith sent three players, the most notable of which was Howie Shanks, the the Red Sox in exchange for Muddy Ruel and pitcher Allen Russell. At 5’9″ 150 lbs, Ruel was small, even for the 1920’s. He was durable, however, and had been the everyday catcher for the past two seasons in Boston. Ruel was one of the better hitting catchers in the league, and immediately made an impact in Washington by having his best offensive season. Prior to his time with Washington, Ruel was behind the plate when Ray Chapman died on the field after he was hit by a Carl Mays pitch. Ruel would hold down the catching duties in Washington for the bulk of the rest of the decade.
Muddy Ruel from thedeadballera.com
1B Joe Judge .314/.406/.417 2 HR 1.7 BFW 17 WS 2 FRAR 3.9 WARP3
Judge is a great example of how fielding stats can be difficult to interpret. By 1923, he was already considered one of the finest fielding first basemen in baseball. His reputation as a good fielder was confirmed by very high fielding percentages, particularly from 1921 on. His FRAR numbers, however, tell a different story.
Joe Judge FRAR vs Fielding PCT
1916 6 .986
1917 8 .988
1918 9 .985
1919 2 .988
1920 6 .992
1921 5 .996
1922 3 .996
1923 2 .993
The FRAR numbers indicate that Judge probably didn’t have a lot of range at first. Still, the reputation was that he had good hands, and the fielding percentage seems to confirm that. Interestingly, Judge turns a corner in 1924 and his FRAR jumps significantly from his previous career levels.
2B Bucky Harris .282/.358/.382 2 HR 2.1 BFW 18 WS 24 FRAR 5.3 WARP3
Harris’ offense improved a little from the previous year, but defense was still his strength. Once again, his defense was respected enough to gather MVP consideration.
SS Roger Peckinpaugh .264/.340/.320 2 HR 2.0 BFW 17 WS 51 FRAR 6.8 WARP3
Similar to his double play partner, Peckinpaugh’s value came mostly from his defense. He did improve marginally on his numbers from his first season with Washington. Also, like Harris, Peckinpaugh recieved a few MVP votes.
3B Ossie Bluege .245/.343/.338 2 HR 0.3 BFW 10 WS 15 FRAR 2.7 WARP3
In hopes of ending the revolving door that had been the Nats’ third base position for several years, Griffith converted a 22-year-old shortstop to third base. Bluege (pronounced Blu-ghy) played 104 games at third, and would hold down the job for more than a decade. Bluege was never a star, but he was consistent. He reportedly didn’t smoke or drink, two qualities that likely endeared him to teammate Walter Johnson. Bluege was a solid glove at third, and completed what was known as one of the best defensive infields of the era. Bluege moonlighted as a successful accountant in the off season.
LF Goose Goslin .300/.347/.453 9 HR 0.1 BFW 21 WS 5 FRAR 4.5 WARP3
Goslin’s second full year as a regular looked a lot like his first. His bat would explode in 1924, when he started putting up the numbers that would one day earn him a place in the Hall of Fame.
CF Nemo Leibold .305/.408/.381 1 HR 0.4 BFW 13 WS 4 FRAR 3.0 WARP3
Leibold came to the Nationals mid-season after he was waived by the Red Sox. Prior to his time in Boston, Leibold was a member of the Chicago White Sox, where he won a World Series in 1917, and lost a famous World Series in 1919 (he was not among those accused of throwing the series). His real name was Harry, but the 5’7″ 157 lb earned the nickname “Nemo” based on the comic strip character Little Nemo. The lefty platooned most of the season with…
Leibold from baseballlibrary.com
CF Joe Evans .263/.313/.320 0 HR -2.3 BFW 6 WS 3 FRAR 0.4 WARP3
Evans, most notably, was a member of the 1920 Cleveland World Series team. He came to Washington in a trade for Frank Bower, and left as a free agent immediately after the season.
RF Sam Rice .316/.381/.450 3 HR 1.6 BFW 24 WS 18 FRAR 7.2 WARP3
At the age of 33, Rice may have had his finest season in 1923. He had career highs in a number of offensive categories, though he would surpass most of them later in his career. Rice’s 7.2 WARP3 stands as the highest in his career. Though most careers wind down at Rice’s age, he still had a number of very good seasons ahead of him.
SP Walter Johnson 17-12 3.48 ERA 1.29 WHIP 1.4 PW 17 WS 7.2 WARP3
In 1923, the Big Train matched the lowest ERA+ of his career to that point (109). He was 21 years old and lost 25 games the last time it was that low in 1909. Still, his ERA was a half-run better than league average, and he won 17 games for a sub-.500 team. At 35, it seemed that Johnson passed a different career milestone on a daily basis. On May 2, Johnson earned his 100th career shutout at the first Sunday game at Yankee Stadium. On July 22 Johnson struck out his 3,000th man, and on September 17 he earned two victories in a double-header.
SP George Mogridge 13-13 3.11 ERA 1.35 WHIP 2.0 PW 14 WS 6.1 WARP3
On August 15th against the White Sox, Mogridge became the only pitcher to ever steal home in an extra-inning game. Mogridge’s numbers were once again better than Johnson’s, but he still took a back seat to the Washington legend.
SP Tom Zachary 10-16 4.49 ERA 1.63 WHIP -1.6 PW 6 WS 2.0 WARP3
Zachary had a rough 1923, but would rebound the following year.
SP Paul Zahniser 9-10 3.86 ERA 1.57 WHIP -0.8 PW 7 WS 1.4 WARP3
At the age of 26, Zahniser made his major league debut in 1923. It was also his best season. He stuck around in Washington through 1924, then spent two years in Boston with the Red Sox before he went back to the minors. He pitched one more major league inning, for the Reds in 1929.
RP Allen Russell 10-7 3.03 ERA 1.40 WHIP 1.2 PW 13 WS 4.6 WARP3
Russell came from Boston in the same trade that brought Ruel. It is hard to imagine that Griffith could have predicted that he would have gotten a career year out of the 29-year-old, but that is exactly what happened. Russell would stay with Washington for two more seasons, but never would approach his numbers of 1923.
1923 World Series
The Yankees finally won a World Series after several tries. They defeated the cross-town Giants in six games. Babe Ruth batted .368/.566/1.000 in the series with three home runs.