1951 Washington Nationals
Manager: Bucky Harris 24th Season (15th with Washington 1116-1176-20)
62 W 92 L 672 RS 764 RA 7th AL 36.0 GB (New York 98-56)
4.36 RPG (AL = 4.63) 4.49 ERA (AL = 4.12)
.703 DER (4th AL)
All Stars (1) Connie Marrero
Franchise (1901-1951) 3630-4064-97; 8-11 WS
1951 marked the sixth straight season that the Washington Nationals finished with more losses than wins. The last time that had happened was the first 11 years of the franchise’s existence.
The reasons for the streak are numerous, but two numbers stand out when looking at the losing run. From 1947-1951, the Nats finished dead last in AL home runs and slugging percentage in every season but one. The only exception was 1949, the year that the Chicago White Sox had less power but still managed to outscore Washington by almost half a run per game.
In 1951, the Nats finished with just 54 team home runs, 22 fewer than the next to worst AL teams. Some of that surely had to do with Griffith Stadium, but the park factor does not account for all of the power shortage.
When the season ended, Clark Griffith was not too shy to talk about overhauling the team for 1952. “I can’t say publicly which players I want to get rid of but we can’t stand pat any longer. I want to give this city a better ball team and it won’t be for lack of trying.”
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1951
C Mike Guerra .201/.257/.234 1 HR -2.6 BFW 1 WS 4 FRAR -0.9 WARP3
Guerra, a native of Cuba, was originally signed by the Nats and played as a back up during the war years. When the war ended, he was purchased by the Athletics and had his best years in Philadelphia during the 1949 and 1950 seasons. After a rough start with the Red Sox in 1951, he was traded back to the Nats, who had shown interest in reacquiring Guerra in 1950 when it became clear that the pair of Cuban pitchers would be a key to the team’s pitching staff. Bucky Harris refused to learn Spanish, so Guerra also served as an interpreter. Guerra hadn’t endeared himself to Harris in his first stint with the team. In 1937, Harris found out that his catcher had jumped the team when he didn’t show up on the train one day. Upon reacquiring the 38-year-old catcher, Harris said “We can make Guerra happy now, with four other Cubans on the club… We’re the only team with our own built in Spanish quarter and it’s working out all right. I don’t understand the jabbering, but they all seem to be happy” (quoted by Shirley Povich, TSN 5/23/1951).
1B Mickey Vernon .293/.358/.423 9 HR -0.1 BFW 18 WS 24 FRAR 6.5 WARP3
Vernon struggled early in his first full season with Washington since 1948, mostly due to the fact that he was playing on two hurt ankles. As the team fell in the standings later in the summer, Vernon started to surge, and finished with some pretty respectable numbers. It was also noted in The Sporting News that this is the year that Vernon began to take an active role as more of a “holler guy” in the Washington dugout; a role that was quite different for the traditionally quiet Vernon.
2B Cass Michaels .258/.342/.340 4 HR -2.3 BFW 10 WS 24 FRAR 4.3 WARP3
After a miserable spring Michaels was benched for the first few weeks of the season. He responded with a hot bat when he finally got into the lineup. Unfortunately, it didn’t last, and Michaels was traded to the Browns early in the 1952 season.
SS Pete Runnels .278/.354/.337 0 HR -1.5 BFW 8 WS 11 FRAR 2.1 WARP3
SS Sam Dente .238/.302/.275 0 HR -1.2 BFW 4 WS 21 FRAR 2.0 WARP3
After Dente was benched due to a “season-long slump,” the Nats called on Runnels who had spent the early months of the season playing in Chattanooga.
3B Eddie Yost .283/.423/.424 12 HR 1.2 BFW 27 WS 8 FRAR 7.6 WARP3
Yost did not lead the AL in walks in 1951, the only time in the four-year span between 1950 and 1953 that he did not. With that in mind, this is as good a time as any to discuss Yost’s defense. Eddie Yost, quite simply, was a putout machine at third base. In 1951, he played in 152 games and racked up 203 putouts. Here is a comparison between Yost and the other AL teams that year:
NYY 154 G, 144 PO
CLE 155 G, 159 PO
BOS 154 G, 173 PO
CHW 155 G, 184 PO
DET 154 G, 183 PO
PHA 154 G, 161 PO
Yost 152 G, 203 PO
STL 154 G, 200 PO
Most research on putouts at 3B indicate that the distribution is usually pretty random (Bill James has an essay on the subject in Win Shares where he concludes that 3B putouts “don’t bear any identifiable relationship to fielding excellence- good, bad or otherwise), so there is nothing particularly out of place about these numbers. What is remarkable is that this chart looks similar for every season that Yost played as a regular at third base.
The teams are listed (with Yost representing Washington) in order of standing at the end of the season. The number of putouts at 3B seems to go up the lower in the standings one gets, which could be a reason that Yost’s career numbers are so high. Durability is also a factor, and Yost was always among the league leaders in games at third base as well.
I thought about the notion that perhaps there was something about Washington’s pitching staff or the park that could account for high putout totals at third. Perhaps looking at the seasons immediately before and after Yost’s career would be instructive:
1944 WAS 154 G 154 PO
1945 WAS 156 G 170 PO
1946 WAS 155 G 168 PO (Yost 7 G 7 PO)
1959 WAS 154 G 135 PO
1960 WAS 154 G 140 PO
1961 MIN 161 G 133 PO
Doesn’t seem to be a pattern indicating that Washington 3B were more likely to record putouts, but this is tough to compare because Yost’s career with Washington was so long.
Basically, it is hard to explain exactly why he was able to compile so many putouts at third base. While he had a decent reputation as a fielder at the time, most of the new research suggests that Yost was an average third baseman at best.
So, in addition to high walk totals, Yost’s legacy also includes high putout totals. An interesting sidebar to the career of a very unique baseball player.
LF Gil Coan .303/.357/.426 9 HR 1.6 BFW 19 WS 26 FRAR 6.8 WARP3
On April 21 Coan became the last major-leaguer to hit to triples in the same inning. He did so at Griffith Stadium against the Yankees as part of a seven run inning for the Nats. That inning wasn’t enough in the end, however, as Washington fell to the eventual AL champs 8-7. This is Coan’s most active and best major league season.
CF Irv Noren .279/.345/.411 8 HR 1.2 BFW 18 WS 29 FRAR 6.2 WARP3
Noren appeared to be lost for the season when he broke his jaw in late August and was lost for the season, but managed to have a successful follow up to his great rookie season. Still, in an effort to rebuild a team that had become a perennial member of the lower division, the Nats traded Noren in the spring of 1952 to his favorite team growing up, the New York Yankees. Noren stayed in the Bronx from 1953-1956, collecting two World Series rings in the process.
RF Sam Mele .274/.315/.391 5 HR -1.2 BFW 12 WS 16 FRAR 3.5 WARP3
Though he had a decent season in 1951, and was off to a great start in 1952, Mele was among the Nats traded away early in the 1952 season. After bouncing around from team to team for the balance of his playing career, Mele will end up back with the franchise and become a key figure shortly after the move west.
OF Mike McCormick .288/.364/.362 1 HR 0.0 BFW 5 WS 6 FRAR 1.9 WARP3
The Nats sent Bud Stewart to Chicago in the off season and got veteran Mike McCormick in exchange. McCormick, who had played for three World Series teams in the 1940’s, served as a utility outfielder. He got a lot of playing time due to injuries, and actually put together one of his better seasons at the plate. McCormick retired after the season.
SP Connie Marrero 11-9 3.90 ERA 1.44 WHIP 0.3 PW 11 WS 4.0 WARP3
At the age of 39, the junk ball throwing Cuban who was nicknamed “Slow Ball Senor” by Life Magazine had a lot of success against major league hitters. I have found this story a couple of places, credited to sportswriter Bob Addie. It sounds a bit like baseball myths so often do, so it may be one of those stories, but is worth repeating. In a game against the Yankees at Griffith Stadium, Marrero hit what he though to be a single to right field. A young Mickey Mantle had different ideas, however, and threw the older Marrero out at first base. As Mantle returned to the dugout after the inning, Marrero called out “Nice play Mickey, now you pay” and proceeded to strike Mantle out three times in the game.
SP Don Johnson 7-11 3.95 ERA 1.36 WHIP -0.1 PW 7 WS 3.1 WARP3
24-year-old Don Johnson was purchased from the Browns in late May. Prior to that, he had pitched for the Yankees in 1947, and again in 1950, with only minor leagues in between. He had struggled with St. Louis early in the season, but settled in and pitched pretty well for the Nats.
SP Sid Hudson 5-12 5.13 ERA 1.59 WHIP -1.5 PW 3 WS 1.5 WARP3
After experimenting successfully with the underhaned delivery in 1950, Sid Hudson went exclusively to it in 1951. It may or may not be related, but Hudson missed some time that season with back problems, and struggled to his worst season since 1948. Though he started 1952 off looking like he was back in form, Hudson was traded to Boston in the middle of the season for Walt Masterson and Randy Gumpert. Hudson will enjoy his only taste of team success when the Red Sox won 84 games and finished with a winning record in 1953, the only time that happened for a team with Sid Hudson on it. All told Hudson played 10 seasons in Washington. He finished his career as a Nat with a 4.38 ERA (92 ERA+) with 88 wins and 130 losses in 296 games and had a WARP3 of 36.
SP Bob Porterfield 9-8 3.24 ERA 1.22 WHIP 1.3 PW 10 WS 4.3 WARP3
Porterfield came from the Yankees in the mid-season trade that sent Bob Kuzava to New York. Over the previous four seasons he had pitched more than a handful of games for the Yankees, but was never a regular. He got his chance in Washington and pitched very well in 19 starts during the 1951 season, beginning about a four year span in which he was considered the Senators’ ace.
SP Julio Moreno 5-11 4.88 ERA 1.60 WHIP -1.4 PW 3 WS 1.3 WARP3
With all of the success that Clark Griffith found with his other two Cuban pitchers, it should come as no surprise that he tried a third. Though he didn’t find the success that his fellow Cubans did in Washington, Moreno was a solid pitcher for a team that struggled with pitching.
RP Mickey Harris 6-8 3.81 ERA 1.49 WHIP 0.2 PW 5 WS 2.7 WARP3
This is Harris’ most effective season for Washington. He will be claimed on waivers by Cleveland early in the 1952 season.
RP Sandy Consuegra 7-8 4.01 ERA 1.39 WHIP 0.2 PW 8 PW 3.5 WARP3
File this under headlines that you won’t see anymore: in the May 9, 1951 issue of The Sporting News, the headline over a story about Consuegra and Marrero read “Senors “Peetch Gude” for the Senators.” Consuegra pitched about twice as many innings as he had in 1950, and put up slightly better numbers. He is one year away from really taking off as a relief pitcher.
RP Joe Haynes 1-4 4.56 ERA 1.67 WHIP -0.2 PW 2 WS 0.8 WARP3
Though it really wasn’t that great of a season, it is Haynes’ best in a Nats uniform.
RP Tom Ferrick 2-0 2.38 ERA 1.03 WHIP 0.4 PW 4 WS 1.3 WARP3
Ferrick, who came back to finish his career in Washington as part of the Kuzava trade, was very effective in his 22 appearances.
1951 World Series
The “shot heard ’round the world” led to a bit of an anti-climactic series in which the Yankees won (again) by defeating the New York Giants. Ed Lopat pitched to complete games and allowed just a single earned run in the Yankees’ 4-2 series victory.