1954 Washington Nationals
Manager: Bucky Harris 27th Season (18th with Washington 1336-1416-24)
66 W 88 L 1 T 632 RS 680 RA 6th AL 45 GB (Cleveland 111-43-2)
4.08 RPG (AL = 4.19) 3.84 ERA (AL = 3.72)
.704 DER (6th AL)
All Stars (3) Bob Porterfield, Dean Stone, Mickey Vernon
Franchise (1901-1954) 3850-4304-101; 8-11 WS
After Washington got off to a slow start in 1954, there were rumors that Clark Griffith would not renew Bucky Harris’ contract to manage the team. Though the rumors were denied by all involved, they proved to be true when it was announced that Harris was out at the end of the season.
Bucky Harris had managed 18 seasons with Washington for a grand total of 2,776 games. He went on to finish his managing career with the Detroit Tigers, then became general manager of the Boston Red Sox from 1959-1960. His time officially in baseball ended when he was appointed as a special assistant for the expansion Washington franchise in 1961. Harris died on his 81st birthday in 1977.
1954 was also the year that the Nats finally employed their first black ballplayer. Though speculation was that it would be Angel Scull who would take the historical position and that he would do so on opening day. A horrible spring that may have been caused by injuries meant that Scull would never make the majors, and the first black player, Carlos Paula, did not take the field until much later in the season. Still, Clark Griffith hoped to mold Paula into a regular outfielder, thinking that a black ballplayer might help him to win fans among the DC area’s 400,000 African-American residents.
A couple of other major stories happened off the field. The first was the persistent rumors that the team might be moving west, strengthened by the fact that the team was now competing in its own market with the Baltimore Orioles. The second was the major story that the Griffiths had separated themselves from $30,000 to sign a 17-year-old “wonder boy” from Idaho, the same state that brought the team Walter Johnson almost 50 years before. Bonus baby Harmon Killebrew joined the team in 1954. In nine games he batted .308/.400/.385 with no home runs.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1954
C Ed Fitz Gerald .289/.349/.386 4 HR -0.6 BFW 9 WS 1 FRAR 1.8 WARP3
Harris brought in Joe Tipton, a long time backup catcher (most recently with Cleveland), to spring training in hopes that he would win the job from Ed Fitz Gerald. That didn’t happen, and Fitz went on the have his finest season so far with the bat, though his defense still left a lot to be desired.
1B Mickey Vernon .290/.357/.492 20 HR 1.4 BFW 24 WS -4 FRAR 4.9 WARP3
At the age of 36 Vernon wasn’t quite the defender that he had been in his prime, but he could still swing the bat. Last year’s batting champion didn’t compete for that title in 1954, but he did set a record with 20 home runs, the most by a left-handed batter in franchise history. Vernon also made his fourth All Star Game, and hit he 2,000 career hit on September 2.
2B Wayne Terwilliger .208/.282/.270 3 HR -0.6 BFW 4 WS 22 FRAR 1.4 WARP3
Though his defense at short stop was still valuable, Terwilliger didn’t hit a lick in 1954, and was sold during the off season. Twig would, of course, return to the organization as a coach.
Twig (1954) .208/.282/.270 55 OPS+
Punto (2007) .210/.291/.271 52 OPS+
SS Pete Runnels .268/.368/.383 3 HR 0.3 BFW 18 WS 12 FRAR 4.2 WARP3
Coming out of the off seasons, the biggest concern for Bucky Harris was his short stop. After Runnels got off to a slow start both at the plate and in the field, Harris was very vocal with the front office about the need for another alternative. Then, sometime in early May, something clicked and Runnels went on a tear, bringing his average up quite rapidly. By mid-season, Harris was proclaiming Runnels as one of the few bright spots on the team, a huge turn around in just a few months time.
3B Eddie Yost .256/.405/.380 11 HR 2.2 BFW 23 WS 12 FRAR 6.0 WARP3
Yost walked more than 100 times for the fifth consecutive season and ran his consecutive games played streak to 813. His 11 HR was pretty typical for him, though it is notable that he hit at least one home run in every park he played in. It is difficult to know what kind of power Yost would have produced had he not played his home games staring at the large left-field wall in Griffith Stadium. It is telling, however, that in his first season with Detroit (1959), Yost hit a career high 21 home runs.
LF Roy Sievers .232/.331/.446 24 HR 1.3 BFW 16 WS 22 FRAR 5.9 WARP3
The St. Louis native was signed by his home town Browns as an amateur and made an immediate impact when he made the majors winning the 1949 Rookie of the Year award. Things turned south for Sievers, however, who battled injuries for the next couple of seasons, including a separated shoulder that required surgery and looked like it might end his promising career. When the Browns moved east to Baltimore after the 1953 season, Sievers became expendable, and he was traded to Washington in exchange for Gil Coan. Though Sievers was struggling in the field in 1953 due to his shoulder problems, he managed to hit eight home runs in very part time work, five of which came off of Nats pitchers. What impressed the organization that most, however, was the two of the shots landed in the infamously deep left field bleachers in Washington. The only question surrounding Sievers was could he play in the field, particularly in left where Harris wanted him. Sievers proved that he had healed enough to do so, and had his best season at the plate since his rookie season.
CF Jim Busby .298/.342/.389 7 HR 0.4 BFW 22 WS 36 FRAR 7.2 WARP3
In the April 21 issue of The Sporting News, Calvin Griffith didn’t offer Washington fans much security in the fact that he was a competent baseball executive:
“Mantle is a good ballplayer, but probably the most overrated man in baseball,” Calvin said. “He isn’t as good as Jim Busby of our own club.”
“If Mantle were playing for anyone but the Yankees, you’d hardly hear of him. The Yankee publicists and New York sportswriters have given him a tremendous build up.”
“On the other hand, if Busby were playing for the Yanks, they’d be calling him ‘another Tris Speaker.’ “
Both Griffiths talked up Busby huge in the papers all season, so it was of no surprise that he was traded to the White Sox early in the 1955 season. Griffith got three players in the deal, though only Clint Courtney stuck around longer than a year. Though the package Washington received was nowhere near the “Tris Speaker” level, it was a steal for Busby, whose best seasons were behind him.
RF Tom Umphlett .219/.255/.269 1 HR -3.0 BFW 2 WS 5 FRAR -1.2 WARP3
Umphlett came from the Red Sox where he had a decent season in his rookie campaign. His numbers in 1954 would just get worse in 1955 and he never returned to the majors.
SP Bob Porterfield 13-15 3.32 ERA 1.34 WHIP 0.5 PW 13 WS 5.0 WARP3
Despite the fact that 1954 was likely Porterfield’s worst in a Washington uniform, it was the only year in which he made the All Star team. His shutout total fell from a league-leading nine in 1953 to just two in 1954. One of them came in a 1-0 victory over the White Sox on May 4. The game winning run scored in the bottom of the ninth when Roy Sievers drew a bases loaded walk. Porterfield was the only right-handed pitcher among Washington’s regular starters in 1954.
SP Mickey McDermott 7-15 3.44 ERA 1.44 WHIP 0.2 PW 9 WS 3.7 WARP3
McDermott had a very good 1953 season in a Red Sox uniform, and was used as bait for Boston to get Jackie Jensen from Griffith. While McDermott never achieved the level of success he had in 1953, Jensen blew up for the Red Sox and became one of the American League’s best hitters in the latter part of the 1950’s.
SP Chuck Stobbs 11-11 4.10 ERA 1.41 WHIP -0.8 PW 8 WS 3.3 WARP3
Stobbs’ numbers were pretty bad in 1954, but his record made him look a lot better to management. At the end of the season, he was touted as a “solid” pitcher though his ERA+ was only 87. Stobbs will rebound in a couple of years an return to his 1953 form.
SP Johnny Schmitz 11-8 2.91 ERA 1.30 WHIP 1.3 PW 14 WS 5.2 WARP3
Schmitz was claimed off of waiver early in the 1953 season. He came from the Yankees but was most notably a very solid starting pitcher for the Cubs in the latter half of the 1940’s, including a season in 1948 that earned him MVP votes despite the fact that he was pitching for a last place team. Schmitz pitched pretty well to close out the 1953 season, but only had a 2-7 record to show for it. In 1954, he pitched better and his record caught up.
SP Dean Stone 12-10 3.22 ERA 1.29 WHIP 0.5 PW 11 WS 4.2 WARP3
Prior to 1954, Stone was best known for throwing two no-hitter for Chattanooga in the 1953 season. The 6’4″ Stone had a very good rookie year with Washington, and was the winning pitcher in the 1954 All Star Game despite throwing only two pitches and failing to record an out. He never again reached the level of success that he had in his rookie season.
RP Camilo Pascual 4-7 4.22 ERA 1.57 WHIP -0.8 PW 4 WS 1.8 WARP3
Carlos Pascual pitched two games for the Nats in 1950, but his contribution to the club was far greater than his 17 innings pitches with four earned runs. He recommended that Griffith and Harris take a look at his little brother, Camilo. The younger brother joined the team in 1954 at the age of 20 and pitched primarily out of the bullpen. In his first year, Camilo walked 61 men and struck out 60. The next time he will allow more walks than strikeouts will be at the tail end of his career in 1969.
RP Bunky Stewart 0-2 7.64 ERA 1.86 WHIP -1.2 PW 0 WS -1.2 WARP3
Stewart had made a few appearances with the club in both the 1952 and 1953 seasons, but wasn’t a regular until 1954. Though his numbers were pretty bad, he got another chance in 1955.
RP Gus Keriazakos 2-3 3.77 ERA 1.49 WHIP -0.2 PW 2 WS 0.9 WARP3
This is the only major league season for Keriazakos in which his ERA wasn’t above 12. Needless to say, he didn’t last long.
RP Spec Shea 2-9 6.18 ERA 1.84 WHIP -2.9 PW 0 WS -1.1 WARP3
RP Connie Marrero 3-6 4.75 ERA 1.45 WHIP -1.1 PW 1 WS 0.5 WARP3
Shea (33) and Marrero (42) both were winding down their careers with seasons to forget. Marrero did not return to the majors in 1955. Shea pitched one more season, and probably pitched well enough to forget about the horrible season he had in 1954.
1954 World Series
The New York Giants upset the Cleveland Indians who had set an American League record for wins in a season with 111. Though the Giants won in a sweep, the series is famous today for “the catch” that Willie Mays made in center field of the Polo Grounds.