1924 Washington Nationals
Manager: Bucky Harris 1st Season (1st with Washington 92-62-2; 4-3 WS)
92 W 62 L 2 T 755 RS 613 RA 1st AL 2.0 GA (New York 89-63-1)
4.84 RPG (AL = 4.98) 3.34 ERA (AL = 4.23)
.710 DER (1st AL)
Franchise (1901-1924) 1619-1952-65, 4-3 WS
“Washington first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.”
The unofficial team motto fit perfectly for the first 23 years of Washington Nationals baseball, but 1924 was the year that it all changed.
Since Clark Griffith had retired as active manager of the Washington American League club in 1920, he had a difficult time filling his old job. Three different managers in three years, for one reason or another, didn’t fit the bill. In 1924, Griffith finally found his manager.
Griffith looked to the team’s captain from the previous season to fill the managerial vacancy in February of 1924. It was a surprise move in baseball circles. Player/manager Bucky Harris was only 27-years-old. The media was quick to refer to his age, calling him the “boy-wonder” and worse.
Harris was well liked by the team, however, and quickly won over the media. Though the Nats had added very few new parts in the off season, things seemed to all come together in 1924. Walter Johnson, off of two sub-par years, turned in another MVP performance. Fellow starting pitchers Tom Zachary, George Mogridge, and later Curly Ogden all turned in good performances that provided pitching depth, something the franchise had lacked in its earlier years. If, for some reason, a starter had a rough outing, Harris turned to rookie Firpo Marberry for some very reliable relief. The pitching staff, helped by the league’s best defense, allowed a full run less per game than the league average.
Offensively, Washington was below league average in run production, but they scored enough to allow their pitching staff to win 92 games. Goose Goslin had his best season so far, and guys like Muddy Ruel, Joe Judge, and Sam Rice were very consistent performers.
Harris seemed to be a natural for the manager’s post. He handled his pitching staff, particularly Marberry, very well; and on his watch one of the worst defenses in the league became the best. He was not afraid to make the unpopular move, and did so with the full backing of Griffith.
The new manager and his team had a 24-26 record heading into play on June 17. Though they were only 4.5 games out of first, there were four teams between them and the league-leading Yankees. On Tuesday June 17, Washington defeated Chicago 12-6. The win seemed ordinary at the time, but it started a winning streak for the Nats. After winning five in a row, Harris and the Senators traveled to New York for a four-game series with the defending World Series champions. Three days and four wins later, the Nats found themselves in an unfamiliar place: first in the AL.
From June 17 on, Washington went 68-36 to finish the season with 92 wins, including a huge late-August series in New York in which they won three out of four. Washington held a two-game lead over New York with four left to play. The Nats had four games left in Boston, while New York had four scheduled in Philadelphia.
Washington dropped the first game to Boston 2-1. The loss broke Walter Johnson’s 13-game winning streak and Sam Rice’s 31-game hit streak, and the Nats lost a game in the standings thanks to New York’s 7-1 victory over Philadelphia.
The next day, Washington came from behind early to defeat Boston 7-5, while New York dropped a close game to Philadelphia. The two game lead with two to play meant that, at worst, Washington had clinched a tie for the pennant.
The Nation’s Capitol celebrated the very next day. With a rain-out in Philadelphia, the Nats needed a win in Boston to clinch, and got just that. After 24 years, Washington was finally going to see a World Series.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1924
C Muddy Ruel .283/.370/.331 0 HR 1.9 BFW 17 WS 50 FRAR 6.8 WARP3
Ruel played in 149 games in 1924, 147 of which he caught; a remarkable number for a catcher. Only three members of the ’24 team appeared in more games (Goslin, Rice, and Peckinpaugh). A lot of catchers had good offensive seasons in 1924, but Ruel remained among the best thanks to his excellent work behind the plate.
1B Joe Judge .324/.393/.450 3 HR 0.5 BFW 19 WS 27 FRAR 6.9 WARP3
Here is Joe Judge’s defensive chart that I posted in the Franchise 1923, with the next few years of his career added:
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
1924 27 .994
1925 15 .993
1926 21 .994
Joe Judge had a reputation as a very good defender for the years leading up to 1924, but this is the first year, according to the numbers, that he lived up to the billing. As a team, the Nats went from seventh in AL defensive efficiency in 1923 to first in 1924 with the same starting players, and Judge’s improvement likely played a big part in that.
2B Bucky Harris .268/.344/.358 1 HR -1.9 BFW 13 WS 22 FRAR 3.8 WARP3
Harris’ first year as a major league manager was probably one of his worst as a regular player.
SS Roger Peckinpaugh .272/.360/.340 2 HR 1.5 BFW 22 WS 63 FRAR 8.3 WARP3
At the age of 33 Peckinpaugh had the second highest WARP3 total of his career, only bested by his 1919 effort with New York (9.2). Statistically, this was he best defensive season, and he was easily the most valuable defensive shortstop in the league.
3B Ossie Bluege .281/.358/.353 2 HR -1.4 BFW 9 WS 11 FRAR 2.3 WARP3
Bluege’s offensive numbers in 1924 were pretty spot on with his career averages. These would be the numbers that Washington would expect out of the third baseman for many years to come. His defense, on the other hand, would improve quite a bit starting in 1925.
LF Goose Goslin .344/.421/.516 12 HR 2.8 BFW 29 WS 17 FRAR 8.2 WARP3
This was Goslin’s breakout season. On August 28 against the Yankees, Goslin became the second player in franchise history to hit for the cycle. He did it in an 11-6 victory over the defending AL champs, part of a late-season series in which the Nats took three out of four from New York to gain first place for what turned out to be the rest of the season. Goslin’s 12 home runs in 1924 represent the most in a single season in franchise history. The 23-year-old will play at a very high level for years to come.
CF Nemo Leibold .293/.398/.350 0 HR -0.1 BFW 8 WS 10 FRAR 2.3 WARP3
CF Earl McNeely .330/.355/.425 0 HR -0.2 BFW 6 WS 6 FRAR 1.4 WARP3
Leibold held down center field for the bulk of the season. McNeely was with Sacramento of the PCL until August, when Griffith sent three players and cash to get him. Washington fans weren’t happy with the deal, in part because fan favorite Wid Matthews was sent to Sacramento. McNeely played most of the rest of the season, and would win the fans over in the World Series.
RF Sam Rice .334/.382/.443 1 HR 0.4 BFW 24 WS 18 FRAR 6.2 WARP3
Rice had a 31-game hitting streak that occurred mostly in September. His play down the stretch was a key reason that the Nats were able to hold off the Yankees.
SP Walter Johnson 23-7 2.72 ERA 1.12 WHIP 4.9 PW 29 WS 9.5 WARP3
After several seasons that were below the legend’s standards, Walter Johnson returned to form in 1924. He led the league in almost every pitching category including wins (23), ERA (2.72), WHIP (1.12), K/9 (5.12), Shutouts (6), and K/W (2.05). About the same time that Sam Rice was in the midst of his 31-game hitting streak, Johnson had a streak of his own: 13 straight wins. The streak came late in the season and, like Rice, Johnson’s play was a key factor in the eventual pennant victory for the Nats. Johnson won the 1924 MVP award, the second of his career. While is 1924 numbers don’t approach the numbers he put up in 1913, they are almost as impressive considering the hitter-friendly era and the fact that Johnson, at age 36, was the 8th oldest player in the American League.
SP Tom Zachary 15-9 2.75 ERA 1.24 WHIP 3.7 PW 21 WS 6.6 WARP3
One of the major differences between 1924 and the many other years in which Walter Johnson had spectacular numbers was the presence of a dependable starting staff aside from Johnson. Tom Zachary is an example of a teammate that Johnson didn’t have in most of his previous seasons. Zachary had a career year in 1924, and capped it off with a great World Series performance.
SP George Mogridge 16-11 3.76 ERA 1.31 WHIP 1.0 PW 14 WS 3.7 WARP3
1924 was probably Mogridge’s worst season in Washington, but he was still above league average. The 35-year-old was second in team innings pitched to Walter Johnson. In June of 1925, Mogridge will be traded to the St. Louis Browns with Pinky Hargrave in exchange for Hank Severeid. He will finish his career in 1926 and 1927 by pitching with Boston in the National League.
SP Curly Ogden 9-5 2.75 ERA 1.24 WHIP 2.4 PW 12 WS 3.6 WARP3
Ogden came to Washington in May when he was purchased from the Philadelphia A’s. He had passable numbers in Philly, but came mostly out of the bullpen and had very few innings pitched in his two plus seasons under Connie Mack. Harris immediately used him as a starter and he added even more depth to the pitching staff. Curly would never match his career year, and spent the bulk of the next two seasons coming out of the bullpen for the Nats.
RP Firpo Marberry 11-12 3.09 ERA 1.33 WHIP 1.7 PW 17 WS 4.3 WARP3
Marberry joined the team in August 1923 and pitched in a handful of games towards the end of the season, but 1924 was his first full season in the majors. He appeared in 50 games, most in the AL and though the save was years away from becoming an official stat, Marberry led the league in that category with 15 (teammate Allen Russell was 2nd with 8). Frederick Marberry earned the nickname “Firpo” because he looked like the famous boxer Luis Firpo.
Marberry’s role on the 1924 team is often overlooked, but the fact is that the reliever was one of the more valuable members of the team. Far from the “one-inning closer” of today, Marberry averaged four innings per appearance (including the 15 games he started, six of which were complete games). Because bullpen roles were not created yet, Bucky Harris was free to be innovative and use Marberry when the team needed him most. With play-by-play data currently not available for the 1924 season, it is difficult to really judge how well he was used, but a small sample of the most important games of the year, including the post season, indicate that Marberry was used in all kinds of situations, and, more often than not, the outcome for Washington was a good one.
RP Allen Russell 5-1 4.37 ERA 1.56 WHIP -0.2 PW 6 WS 0.7 WARP3
Russell’s production fell off from the previous year, and so did his innings. The emergence of Firpo Marberry as the best reliever in baseball made innings difficult to come by.