The Franchise 1955

1955 Washington Senators
Manager: Chuck Dressen 8th Season (1st with Washington 53-101)
53 W 101 L 598 RS 789 RA 8th AL 43 GB (New York 96-58)
3.88 RPG (AL = 4.44) 4.62 ERA (AL = 3.96)
.689 DER (8th AL)

All Stars (1) Mickey Vernon

Franchise (1901-1955) 3903-4405-101; 8-11 WS

1955 was a year of big change for a franchise that had remained relatively the same for almost 50 years. It started when longtime manager Bucky Harris was replaced following the 1954 season. Not only was the man who had managed more games in Washington than any other gone, but his replacement did not fit the typical mold of a Griffith manager. Since Clark himself lead the club from 1912-1920, every single manager had, at one time, been a player for the franchise. Chuck Dressen was a player, but had never made his way to Washington during his playing career.

Dressen didn’t fit the mold of the typical Washington manager in two other ways. First, he was described as “brash and cocky” by the media, a far cry from the usually calm Harris. Secondly, he was well paid, reportedly earning over $40,000 from the stingy Griffiths, no doubt due to the fact that he was just a year removed from leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to an NL pennant.

The hiring of Dressen signaled a top-down change in the way the club was operated. Calvin Griffith took over a lot more control of the team from his uncle, and it was clear to fans that decisions were being made in a different way. One of the changes Calvin made was more symbolic than anything, but the official nickname of the team, at long last, became “Senators” after years of being called that by just about everybody.

The new-look Senators limped their way to one of the worst seasons in franchise history. While change was happening, it wasn’t for the better on the field. Established players like Vernon and Porterfield were traded away in an off season effort to rebuild the team with younger prospects.

Perhaps the biggest signal of change, however, occurred on October 7. That is the day that Clark Griffith, a Washington institution, passed away just short of his 87th birthday. Griffith had been involved with Washington baseball in one way or another since 1912.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, construction began on what was formerly farm land in Bloomington, Minnesota. The hopes of the Twin Cities area was that if they built a ballpark that was ready for a major league team, their chances of landing an existing franchise would be greater.

Bold = Player new to Washington in 1955

C Ed Fitz Gerald .237/.317/.309 4 HR -1.3 BFW 4 WS 2 FRAR 0.2 WARP3
C Clint Courtney .298/.349/.391 2 HR -0.5 BFW 7 WS 3 FRAR 1.5 WARP3
Washington acquired Courtney in June in a trade that sent Jim Busby back to the White Sox. From then on Courtney served as a platoon partner for Fitz Gerald and a late-inning lefty off the bench for the Nats.

1B Mickey Vernon .301/.384/.452 14 HR 1.0 BFW 21 WS -9 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
At the age of 37, Vernon turned in another All Star season and was credited with keeping Washington afloat in the summer months. Unfortunately for Vernon, he became a victim of his own success when Clark Griffith, and later Calvin, decided it was time to rebuild. Vernon was one of the few pieces that was of value on the trade market, and the Griffiths took advantage by building a nine-player trade with the Boston Red Sox. Though the deal was consummated after the death of the elder Griffith, it was widely reported that he was the mastermind behind it. Though the four players that Washington sent to Boston didn’t pan out particularly well, neither did the young players that were added. For better or worse, Vernon’s time with Washington came to an end. After a pretty successful season with the Sox in 1956, Vernon began to show his age. He played into his 40’s, but was clearly well past his prime. He finally retired as a player in at the age of 42 in 1960. In 14 seasons with Washington, Vernon hit .288/.358/.428 with 121 home runs and 63.4 WARP3. Vernon went on to become the first manager of the expansion Washington franchise in 1961, and lasted in that role until the beginning of the 1963 season, when he was let go after two losing seasons and a poor start in a third.

2B Pete Runnels .284/.353/.344 2 HR 0.7 BFW 14 WS 28 FRAR 4.7 WARP3
Runnels made the move from short stop to second base in 1955, and put up the numbers that Washington fans had come to expect.

SS Jose Valdivielso .221/.277/.316 2 HR 0.1 BFW 6 WS 28 FRAR 2.6 WARP3
The young Cuban short stop was not expected to be a part of the Washington club for a few years, but his play in Charlotte combined with the team’s need meant an early call to the 21-year-old. Dressen’s glowing endorsement: “at last we have a shortstop who can make all the plays.”

3B Eddie Yost .243/.407/.371 7 HR 1.1 BFW 16 WS 0 FRAR 3.6 WARP3
In early May, Yost contracted tonsillitis and was running a fever of about 102. He came in for one play on May 11 to extend his consecutive games streak, but took a pass on doing the same for the May 12 game, ending his streak at 838 consecutive games played. It was a wise decision. Yost battled illness and injury for the better part of two months, and was labeled as “virtually useless” by The Sporting News in May and June, but still managed to have a decent season. Though Yost was the subject of more than a few trade rumors at the end of the season, Dressen stood by his word, that Yost was the one untouchable player on the team.

LF Roy Sievers .271/.364/.489 25 HR 1.3 BFW 20 WS -3 FRAR 4.6 WARP3
Dressen put Sievers in the clean up role early in the season thanks to his 24 HR 102 RBI season in 1954. Benched early due to a hitting slump, Sievers eventually emerged and broke his own franchise record for home runs in a season.

CF Tom Umphlett .217/.271/.266 2 HR -2.5 BFW 1 WS 8 FRAR 0.4 WARP3
Another poor showing for Umphlett meant that he was thrown in to the deal that sent Vernon to the Red Sox. He didn’t play another game in the majors after the trade.

RF Carlos Paula .299/.332/.447 6 HR -0.2 BFW 10 WS -3 FRAR 1.6 WARP3
The Jim Busby deal cleared the way for the first black player in franchise history to finally become a regular in 1955. Carlos had a good season, but struggled mightily in 1956 and never saw the majors after that.

OF Ernie Oravetz .270/.336/.297 0 HR -1.6 BFW 4 WS 0 FRAR 0.2 WARP3
The rookie switch-hitter from Pennsylvania was a solid option off the bench in 1955, but it was really his only season of note in the majors.

IF Harmon Killebrew .200/.281/.363 4 HR -0.1 BFW 1 WS -2 FRAR -0.2 WARP3
The rules required that Killebrew, a “bonus baby” signing from 1954, remain with the major league team for at least two years. That meant a lot of watching and very little playing time for the kid from Idaho, who was very open about the fact that he would rather have been playing in the minors. Still, the youngster managed to hit his first major league home run, and wowed the fans with the mammoth shot at Griffith Stadium.

SP Bob Porterfield 10-17 4.45 ERA 1.41 WHIP -1.8 PW 5 WS 3.0 WARP3
The 31-year-old Porterfield had his worst season in a Washington uniform, and was among the veterans traded to Boston in the Mickey Vernon deal. After pitching very well in his first two seasons with the Nats, Porterfield had struggled in his last two. He played four more years in the majors before retiring, and 1952-1953 remained far and away his best seasons.

SP Dean Stone 6-13 4.15 ERA 1.63 WHIP -1.2 PW 6 WS 2.9 WARP3
After a very good performance in his rookie season, Stone came back to earth in his sophomore season, and his performance would continue to go downhill from there.

SP Johnny Schmidtz 7-10 3.71 ERA 1.46 WHIP 0.4 PW 8 WS 4.9 WARP3
Schmidtz didn’t pitch as well as he had a year before, but was still one of the few reliable pitchers on the staff.

SP Mickey McDermott 10-10 3.75 ERA 1.54 WHIP 1.0 PW 10 WS 5.5 WARP3
McDermott somehow managed to post a .500 record with a horrible team, and was promptly shipped away for prospects. Among the players that came from the Yankees in the deal was Whitey Herzog.

RP Pedro Ramos 5-11 3.88 ERA 1.23 WHIP -0.3 PW 6 WS 3.4 WARP3
The Cuban had a very good rookie season, primarily coming out of the bullpen. A speedy runner, Ramos was often used as a pinch-runner late in games during his career.

RP Bob Chakales 2-3 5.27 ERA 1.46 WHIP -0.9 PW 1 WS 0.3 WARP3
Chakales came from the White Sox in June as a part of the Busby trade.

RP Camilo Pascual 2-12 6.14 ERA 1.77 WHIP -3.0 PW 0 WS 0.8 WARP3
RP Ted Abernathy 5-9 5.96 ERA 1.70 WHIP -2.9 PW 0 WS 0.5 WARP3
RP Chuck Stobbs 4-14 5.00 ERA 1.61 WHIP -2.0 PW 3 WS 2.2 WARP3
All three of these relievers were tried at one time or another as a starter in the rotation, but none of them stuck. Pascual had a rough year, and is still a few years away from breaking out. Abernathy was used sparingly over the next four years before he was released. He went on to have a pretty good major league career as a reliever, pitching 14 seasons for seven different teams. Stobbs had a good season as a starter in 1956.

1955 World Series
At long last Brooklyn had a championship. After five unsuccessful attempts, the “Bums” finally beat the Yankees in the World Series. Interestingly, the ’55 team is considered one of the weaker of the Boys of Summer teams.


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