1949 Washington Nationals
Manager: Joe Kuhel 2nd Season (2nd with Washington 106-201-1)
50 W 104 L 584 RS 868 RA 8th AL 47.0 GB (New York 97-57-1)
3.79 RPG (AL = 4.67) 5.10 ERA (AL = 4.20)
.695 DER (7th AL)
All Stars (1) Eddie Robinson
Franchise (1901-1949) 3501-3885-96; 8-11 WS
Shirley Povich summed up the 1949 season in a September 21, 1949 column in The Sporting News.
For the first time in 38 years since he moved in to Washington, Clark Griffith is a highly-embarrassed man. Things may have been worse with him, but his best friends can’t remember when.
There’s a rising clamor against the Griffith regime in this American League city. That’s understandable. After two successive seventh-place finishes, the Senators are now a horrible eighth, with little prospect they will emerge from the cellar.
In the point of victories, it’s the worst Washington club since 1909 and on all counts it is also qualified for that negative superlative. It had won only 10 of 50 games through September 13. Worst of all, there is dim prospect of improvement next season.
Never were the Nats’ fortunes at such low ebb. Griffith is in no position to hold out any promise to Washington fans, except that he won’t quit trying. The club is solvent enough, financially, but its fledgling farm system has produced nothing of importance, and the Washington owner does not know where his next good ballplayer will come from.
As badly as the season ended, it looked at the beginning as though Washington may be a contender. After a 1-7 start, the Nats rebounded and found themselves at 24-19 after play on June 3. It didn’t last long, however, and by the All Star break Washington was 33-42, 16 games out of first place. The tailspin continued and the team claimed their home in last place by the end of August.
Just hours after the season ended, Clark Griffith announced that Joe Kuhel’s contract would not be renewed, and that Washington would be looking for a new manager for the 1950 season.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1949
C Al Evans .271/.369/.346 2 HR -1.1 BFW 9 WS 5 FRAR 2.2 WARP3
1949 was the 32-year-old catcher’s busiest season in the majors. He appeared in 109 games, the only season in which he played in more than 100.
1B Eddie Robinson .294/.381/.459 18 HR 1.0 BFW 18 WS 0 FRAR 4.9 WARP3
Robinson came to Washington in the deal that sent Mickey Vernon and Early Wynn to Cleveland, and was essentially supposed to replace Vernon at first. Robinson had a good year for the World Series Champions in 1948, but was more than happy to leave Cleveland due to differences with manager Lou Boudreau. In comparison, Vernon’s numbers in 1949 with Cleveland: .291/.357/.443 18 HR 34 FRAR 8.0 WARP3. Though Robinson’s offense was slightly better than Vernon’s, it was in the field that Vernon distinguished himself. While Robinson garnered MVP votes (he finished 18th in the AL) and made the All Star team, it was ultimately Vernon who would be the long-term solution at first base for the Nats. Robinson went on to have his best years with the White Sox in 1951 and 1952. He bounced around the American League until retiring at the age of 36 following the 1956 season. By the time Robinson’s career was over, he had played for seven of the eight American League teams, including stints with the A’s in both Philadelphia (1953) and Kansas City (1956).
2B Al Kozar .269/.321/.357 4 HR -1.4 BFW 6 WS 9 FRAR 1.7 WARP3
Kozar was expected to improve on his rookie numbers, but didn’t significantly. Feeling that Kozar’s promise might have been a bit overstated, Griffith unloaded him in 1950. He played 20 games with the White Sox before his major league career was over.
SS Sam Dente .273/.309/.332 1 HR -2.5 BFW 8 WS 35 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
Griffith sent relief pitcher Tom Ferrick, infielder John Sullivan, and $25,000 to the Browns in exchange for Dente. It was a reunion of sorts for Dente and his double play partner Kozar, who had played together in the Red Sox organization in the mid-1940’s. Dente was initially a fan favorite in Washington, but as the team started struggling Dente’s numbers went south as did his popularity.
3B Eddie Yost .253/.383/.391 9 HR 0.7 BFW 15 WS 14 FRAR 4.6 WARP3
Yost broke his leg on June 9th, and his time out of the Washington lineup coincided with a significant drop in the standings. At 22, he may have been the best hitter on the team. Yost’s ability to draw walks started to emerge in 1949. He drew 91 free passes in 531 plate appearances.
LF Bud Stewart .284/.368/.425 8 HR -0.3 BFW 13 WS -1 FRAR 2.7 WARP3
The 33-year-old’s numbers were pretty consistent with his performance a year earlier. He emerged as a fan favorite in Washington, well loved because of his reputation for hustling on every play.
CF Clyde Vollmer .253/.335/.391 14 HR -0.8 BFW 11 WS 17 FRAR 3.7 WARP3
Griffith sent Cardin Gillenwater to Cincinnati in exchange for the 27-year-old. Vollmer made a splash in his major league debut in 1942 when he hit the first pitch he saw over the fence. Fast start aside, Vollmer did not get much playing time in the majors until the trade to Washington. He was a regular in the outfield in 1949 after spending most of his time in 1948 destroying International League pitching. Vollmer’s Washington career was short lived, as he was sold early on in the 1950 season to Boston, where he had the best years of his career.
RF Buddy Lewis .245/.355/.366 3 HR -0.3 BFW 6 WS 10 FRAR 2.3 WARP3
Clark Griffith’s ability to woo (and a $16,000 salary) convinced the 32-year-old Lewis to put on a Washington uniform for one more year after missing all of 1948. After initially earning the starting job out of spring training, Lewis struggled and was relegated to the bench for the final months of the season, though he did bat .400 as a pinch hitter. Though it was reported that Griffith considered Lewis an important part of the team, the contract sent to Lewis for the 1950 season included a drastic cut in salary. Lewis claimed that was not the reason he retired, and cited “tired legs” when he announced that his career was over in February of 1950. Career stats (11 seasons, all with Washington): .297/.368/.420 110 OPS+ 71 HR 55.1 WARP3.
UT Sherry Robertson .251/.329/.401 11 HR -0.6 BFW 9 WS 8 FRAR 2.6 WARP3
Though Griffith’s nephew had been with the team for seven seasons by 1949, this was his busiest year. Through the first six, Washington fans had not been kind to Robertson, who was routinely booed in his rare appearances. That all changed in 1949, however, as a two-week stretch in late summer in which Robertson improved his batting average by 20 points won the fans over. According to The Sporting News, Robertson was neck-and-neck with Eddie Robinson when to came to the race for most popular Nat. Robertson ended 1940 with 420 plate appearances, more than 100 more than his second best season.
OF Gil Coan .218/.278/.307 3 HR -3.1 BFW 2 WS 1 FRAR -0.7 WARP3
Coan was a highly regarded rookie when he came to Washington in 1946 at the age of 24. His first season could only be tagged as a flop. After playing regularly in 1948, Coan was determined to shed that label in 1949. He got off to great start, and was considered one of Washington’s best hitters in the early months of the season. Unfortunately for Coan, his production fell sharply as the season went on, and he finished with worse numbers than he did the year before.
SP Sid Hudson 8-17 4.22 ERA 1.56 WHIP 0.2 PW 10 WS 5.8 WARP3
Most of Sid Hudson’s 1949 numbers indicated he was about a league-average starter. He win-loss record was more a reflection of the poor offensive support he got throughout the season. When asked about his team’s poor performance late in the season, Hudson said “What’s the use of worrying yourself to death about it?, you go out and do your best and what happens simply happens.”
SP Ray Scarborough 13-11 4.60 ERA 1.46 WHIP -0.7 PW 9 WS 4.7 WARP3
Almost a year to the day after his start set the Boston Red Sox back in their 1948 pennant hopes, Scarborough did it again, this time with a four-hitter in a 2-1 victory over the Sox on September 28. The loss dropped Boston back into a first place tie with the Yankees, ultimately a race that the Sox would lose by one game four days later. Scarborough was traded to the White Sox in the middle of the 1950 season, ending his seven years in Washington.
SP Paul Calvert 6-17 5.43 ERA 1.62 WHIP -2.6 PW 3 WS 2.2 WARP3
Calvert had seen some major league time with the Cleveland Indians, but had only started four games between 1942 and 1945. After playing with Toronto in the International League, the Nats signed Calvert to be a starting pitcher. The French-Canadian was considered an odd player because he liked talk about current events and philosophy as much as he liked to talk about baseball. Calvert’s performance in 1949 was such that Griffith let him go at the end of the season.
SP Mickey Harris 2-12 5.16 ERA 1.60 WHIP -1.0 PW 3 WS 2.2 WARP3
The lefty came from Boston in a mid-season trade that also brought Sam Mele to Washington. To acquire the two players, Griffith sent Walt Masterson to the Red Sox. Harris will last a few seasons in Washington, mostly as a relief pitcher.
SP Dick Weik 3-12 5.38 ERA 1.90 WHIP -1.4 PW 2 WS 2.3 WARP3
Weik was a prospect that had an impressive fastball that he had trouble controlling. Still, the raw materials he possessed made him an attractive prospect, and Griffith was able to trade him to Cleveland in the middle of the 1950 season to get Mickey Vernon back in Washington. Weik was with Cleveland for half a season and pitched only 26 innings before he was traded to Detroit where he pitched fewer than 40 innings in two seasons. Vernon, on the other hand, was one of the top first basemen in the league and stuck with Washington through the 1955 season.
SP Mickey Haefner 5-5 4.42 ERA 1.51 WHIP 0.0 PW 5 WS 2.5 WARP3
Haefner was one of the more reliable starters on the team, and was therefore an asset to be traded in 1950.
RP Dick Welteroth 2-5 7.36 ERA 2.06 WHIP -2.1 PW 0 WS -0.2 WARP3
RP Joe Haynes 2-9 6.26 ERA 1.67 WHIP -2.1 PW 0 WS 0.4 WARP3
RP Lloyd Hittle 5-7 4.21 ERA 1.65 WHIP -0.3 PW 5 WS 2.4 WARP3
Griffith re acquired his adopted son-in-law Haynes after the 1948 season. Just two years removed from his best season in the majors in 1947, Haynes was a member of one of the worst collections of relief pitchers in the league.
1949 World Series
After an exciting AL pennant race, Casey Stengel’s New York Yankees proved that their dynasty was not over with a 4-1 victory over the Dodgers in the World Series.