1953 Washington Nationals
Manager: Bucky Harris 26th Season (17th with Washington 1270-1328-23)
76 W 76 L 687 RS 614 RA 5th AL 23.5 GB (New York 99-52)
4.52 RPG (AL = 4.46) 3.66 ERA (AL = 3.99)
.719 DER (2nd AL)
All Stars (1) Mickey Vernon
Franchise (1901-1953) 3784-4216-100; 8-11 WS
Clark Griffith and Bucky Harris were not nearly as busy in the off season between 1952 and 1953, figuring to improve on last season’s .500 record with a few key additions and hoping that other players might simply improve. While a few players did have great seasons (Mickey Vernon, Bob Porterfield), the team was basically running in place. While the numbers looked better than 1952, the end result was another .500 season.
Off the field, Clark Griffith turned 84 years old in 1953, and it was becoming clear that his adopted son Calvin was starting to take more and more responsibility in the day-to-day goings on of the franchise. After the 1953 season, it was announced that the St. Louis Browns would be moving east to play in Baltimore. That move, along with the Braves move from Boston to Milwaukee, were the first franchise relocations in major league baseball since the turn of the century.
The Griffiths had more than just a passing interest in the Browns move to Baltimore. A new team so close meant that there would be more competition for baseball money in the area. The Griffiths were very publicly wary of having Bill Veeck to compete with, worried that his promotions might lure “fringe” baseball fans away from Washington. Fortunately for the Griffiths, Veeck did not make the move with the franchise. Still, the shape of baseball in the area was going to change, and the eyes of many owners were on the Braves, who were the first team to move to make a move towards the previously untapped western market.
While all this was going on, the Nats moved closer to finally playing their first black player. In 1953, a Cuban player by the name of Angel Scull was having a terrific year in Charleston, and was expected to join the Nats for spring training and beyond in 1954 and become the first black player to wear a Washington uniform.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1953
C Ed Fitz Gerald .250/.299/.326 3 HR -0.8 BFW 6 WS 11 FRAR 1.0 WARP3
The Pittsburgh Pirates purchased Fitz Gerald from Sacramento at the end of the 1947 season. Fitz had impressed in the PCL with a .363 batting average and looked to be the starting catcher for the Bucs for years to come. After struggling a bit as a regular in 1948, Fitz was relegated to bench duty when Pittsburgh acquired Clyde McCullough. He became the number three catcher in the middle of the 1951 season when the Pirates brought in Joe Garagiola. After starting yet another season deep on the depth chart, Fitz Gerald finally got his wish, and was sold to the Washington Nationals. Initially, he was to be a temporary fill in while Mickey Grasso’s finger injury healed, but Fitz impressed so much that he was quickly named the starting catcher despite his defensive inferiority to Grasso. Though he slumped a bit to close out the season, Fitz returned in 1954 as the regular catcher.
1B Mickey Vernon .337/.403/.518 15 HR 3.0 BFW 29 WS 23 FRAR 9.5 WARP3
At the age of 35, Vernon clinched his second AL batting title on the last day of the season. After he made an out late in the game, Vernon stood at .337, just percentage points better than Al Rosen. Once word arrived to the team that Rosen’s day was done with Vernon still in the lead, Nat runners started to mysteriously make some poor base running mistakes, running into outs and getting picked off bases. Vernon did not bat again, and the title was his.
Controversy aside, 1953 was easily Vernon’s best season since 1946, the year he won his other batting title. He went to his third All Star Game, and finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting, behind Al Rosen and Yogi Berra.
2B Wayne Terwilliger .252/.343/.347 4 HR 1.1 BFW 15 WS 43 FRAR 6.2 WARP3
Bucky Harris, a former second baseman himself, loved Wayne Terwilliger, who was acquired from Brooklyn in the off season. “Wayne Terwilliger has made our infield” Harris told the Sporting News, “He’s making all the plays around second base, helping Pete Runnels play short stop and steadying the whole situation around the bag. And there’s nobody I’d rather see make good that Wayne Terwilliger.” Though a light hitter, the statistics indicate that Terwilliger’s reputation as a glove man was earned. He also was known for his bat control, and hit second in the lineup for his bunting and hit-and-run skills.
SS Pete Runnels .257/.347/.321 2 HR -2.1 BFW 12 WS 15 FRAR 2.5 WARP3
The manager’s comments above indicate that Runnels needed all the guidance he could get on the field. During one summer stretch, when the Nats had lost 13 of 16 games, Shirley Povich placed the blame for at least four of those losses squarely on the fielding of Runnels. Harris continued to stick with him, however, despite the fact that Runnels was also slumping at the plate.
3B Eddie Yost .272/.403/.395 9 HR 1.2 BFW 24 WS 12 FRAR 6.1 WARP3
Another season, another AL-leading walk total for Eddie Yost. From 1950-1953, Yost compiled 519 walks and 624 base hits. During that same time span, he hasn’t missed a single game for the Nats, a streak of 658 consecutive games played – a streak that will not end until 1955. When asked how he compiled so many walks, Yost replied: “Beats me. I’m not a dangerous slugger like Ruth and Williams. I lead off and almost never get walked intentionally. Then I’m not a little guy like Stanky nor a notorious foul ball hitter like Appling used to be. I don’t even knowingly try to get walks, but I still get them.”
LF Clyde Vollmer .260/.342/.392 11 HR -0.5 BFW 12 WS 14 FRAR 3.1 WARP3
Vollmer, who had been traded to the Red Sox in 1950, returned from Boston early in the 1953 season. He was acquired to fill in for Gil Coan, who fractured his ankle in the first month of the season. Vollmer, who was let go by the Red Sox due to his age, didn’t have great success hitting in 1953, and was replaced when Coan returned later in the season.
CF Jim Busby .312/.358/.415 6 HR 1.4 BFW 25 WS 35 FRAR 7.3 WARP3
Busby had his best season at the plate in 1953. He recorded career highs in AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS+ (110).
RF Jackie Jensen .266/.357/.408 10 HR -0.5 BFW 17 WS 2 FRAR 3.4 WARP3
Harris had high hopes for Jensen, and even installed him into the cleanup role before the season started. Though he broke out of an early season slump, Jensen never really lived up to the high expectations. Following the season, the Nats traded Jensen to the Red Sox. It was in Boston that he broke out as a hitting star and won the league MVP award in 1958.
SP Bob Porterfield 22-10 3.35 ERA 1.24 WHIP 3.3 PW 21 WS 7.8 WARP3
If there was an AL Cy Young awarded in 1953 it would have likely gone to Bob Porterfield. An entry by JG Taylor Spink in a September issue of The Sporting News, however, illustrates a misconception:
Ervin Coolidge (Bob) Porterfield, right hander with the Washington club, was a so-so pitcher in 1952. The record book shows 13 won and 14 lost. But an earned-run rating of 2.73 belied the marks.
This season, Porterfield has been among the elite both in performance and weekly averages…
Without giving Mr. Spink too much of the Fire Joe Morgan treatment, it would be actually pretty easy to make the argument that Porterfield had a better season in 1952. He had a lower ERA and ERA+ in 1952, and had fewers home runs per nine innings and more strikeouts per nine innings. That he had fewer wins in 1952 was more a function of an offense that scores .7 fewer runs per game.
SP Spec Shea 12-7 3.94 ERA 1.37 WHIP -0.3 PW 7 WS 1.6 WARP3
Shea didn’t make his first start of the season until about three weeks in due to a sore shoulder, but once he got going he had an incredible stretch in which he pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings. During the month of June, the buzz aroung Washington was that Shea had supplanted Porterfield as the number one starter on the team. During the off season, Shea served as a manager of a barnstorming team made up of major league players that played exhibition games in the Northeast. Though Shea still has two more seasons in a Washington uniform, this is his last effective season pitching.
SP Connie Marrero 8-7 3.03 ERA 1.22 WHIP 1.1 PW 10 WS 3.3 WARP3
Though Marrero’s age was listed as 38 on the roster, coventional wisdom said he was into his 40’s (B-R lists him at 41 in 1953). He only pitched once a week due to his age, but remained effective.
SP Walt Masterson 10-12 3.63 ERA 1.24 WHIP 0.3 PW 8 WS 3.1 WARP3
Masterson had good numbers in 1953, but was the forgotten man on the pitching staff due to the success of Porterfield and Shea along with Marrero’s popularity. This was his last year playing in a Washington uniform, though he would return to the club as a pitching coach. His career line with Washington: 11 seasons, 62-88 3.98 ERA (97 ERA+) 25.7 WARP3.
SP Chuck Stobbs 11-8 3.29 ERA 1.24 WHIP 1.3 PW 10 WS 4.0 WARP3
Stobbs came in an off season trade with the White Sox. Another pitcher who had a good season but was overshadowed, Stobbs is probably best remembered for giving up the longest home run in the history of Griffith Stadium in April of 1953.
RP Sonny Dixon 5-8 3.75 ERA 1.28 WHIP 0.3 PW 6 WS 2.7 WARP3
Early in the season rookie Sonny Dixon’s performance had Washington reporters recalling Firpo Marberry, the first great reliever in team history. Dixon actually came up as a starter, but his performance was so bad that he was sent to the bullpen, where he flourished.
RP Al Sima 2-3 3.42 ERA 1.38 WHIP 0.1 PW 3 WS 1.3 WARP3
Sima had a few years of experience pitching out of the Washington bullpen in 1950-1951, but this was his busiest season in a Nats uniform. Washington will lose him to the White Sox in the 1953 Rule V Draft
RP Jerry Lane 1-4 4.92 ERA 1.41 WHIP -0.4 PW 1 WS 0.5 WARP3
This was the rookie’s only season with Washington, and the only year in which he appeared in more than eight major league games.
1953 World Series
Another year, another Yankee World Series win. This time it was a 4-2 victory over what is widely considered the best of the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers teams.