The Franchise 1956

1956 Washington Senators
Manager: Chuck Dressen 9th Season (2nd with Washington 112-196-1)
59 W 95 L 1 T 652 RS 924 RA 7th AL 38 GB (New York 97-57)
4.21 RPG (AL = 4.66) 5.33 ERA (AL = 4.16)
.683 DER (8th AL)

All Stars (1) Roy Sievers

Franchise (1901-1956) 3962-4500-102; 8-11 WS

Jack Walsh reported what looked like good news for Washington baseball fans in the August 15, 1956 issue of The Sporting News:

The pessimistic baseball fan in the nation’s capital can’t be blamed for wondering how long the major league franchise will continue to remain here. At the same time, the optimistic sort can visualize a new stadium in the foreseeable future that would revitalize the entire picture.

Just before adjourning, the Senate voted a $10,000 appropriation to a nine-man National Stadium Commission for its study of a site.

No less a figure than the city’s No. 1 citizen, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is heartily endorsing the project.

Interestingly, Clark Griffith had actually opposed the idea of moving the team to a new stadium. His nephew Calvin, however, was all for the plan, and said that his late uncle had changed his mind on the issue before he passed away as well.

Calvin continued to explore all of his options. While continuing to deny rumors that he was looking to move the team, Griffith was looking to move the team. In October he alerted the American League realignment committee that he was looking to move the team to a more profitable city. Griffith named Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Louisville as possible relocation cities. On October 19, the team’s board of directors voted to rejected what Griffith referred to as “attractive offers” from four different cities, the three mentioned with the addition of Minneapolis.

The public story was that the board did not want to go against the wishes of the late Clark Griffith, but the truth was that the vote probably had more to do with the fear of legal action had the team announced a move – particularly a threat from team treasurer and 40 percent stockholder H. Gabriel Murphy to sue if the decision was made to move.

The Senators would stay in Washington for now, but Griffith left the possibility of a move open, saying that there would need to be a new stadium built in order for the team to stay. Murphy resigned from his position in the spring of 1957 and took some parting shots at the majority ownership, calling Calvin Griffith “loose and incompetent” in a letter to the stockholders. Still, Griffith continued to say all of the right things, claiming that he hoped the team would stay in Washington forever.

For the 1956 season, Griffith Stadium got a bit of a face lift, the main change being a shorter home run distance in left field. The fence, which had sat 380 feet from home plate, was moved to 360 feet, further indicating change from the way things were done when the elder Griffith ran the team. Washington had a couple of players who could reach the new fence, and did so. In 1956, the two top single-season home run totals in franchise history added up to the highest team home run total in the history of the franchise, and quadruple the home run output that the team had totaled 12 years before.

Year, HR total
1945 27
1946 60
1947 42
1948 31
1949 81
1950 76
1951 54
1952 50
1953 69
1954 81
1955 80
1956 112

The power surge did little to help the team win, however, and the Nats put together their third consecutive losing season.

Bold = Player new to Washington in 1956

C Clint Courtney .300/.362/.445 5 HR -0.4 BFW 9 WS 4 FRAR 1.9 WARP3
Courtney had his best season at the plate in 1956. He was best known as the first regular catcher to wear glasses, and was often referred to in news reports as the “bespectacled catcher.”

1B/2B Pete Runnels .310/.372/.433 8 HR 1.3 BFW 18 WS 7 FRAR 4.2 WARP3
In the spring, Dressen tried to play Runnels in the outfield, hoping the Herb Plews would be the answer at second base. Runnels didn’t care for the move, and the experiment was abandoned before the season started, partially due to Plews’ struggles. In the early part of the summer, Dressen made another move with regards to Runnels. Pete was moved to first base while Roy Sievers moved from first to the outfield.

2B Herb Plews .270/.337/.375 1 HR -0.3 BFW 5 WS 2 FRAR 0.7 WARP3
Plews came from the Yankee organization in February and got his first shot at the majors right away with Washington. After struggling in the spring, Plews got another chance with the move of Runnels to first base. He took advantage and had a decent rookie season at the age of 28.

SS Jose Valdivielso .236/.318/.333 4 HR 0.5 BFW 4 WS 13 FRAR 1.5 WARP3
The 22-year-old Cuban was in the lineup due to his defense, but Dressen made it his mission to improve Valdivielso’s hitting. “This kid could be all-everything in the American League if he could hit as much as .270” said Dressen, who tried everything including taping the handle of the bat to show Valdivielso where to hold it. He even threatened to find the young player if his hands dropped below the tape line. All of the work didn’t pay off in the batting department, as Valdivielso once again struggled to hit major league pitching. Valdivielso will spend the next couple of years in the minors working on hitting.

3B Eddie Yost .231/.412/.336 11 HR 1.7 BFW 19 WS 30 FRAR 6.8 WARP3
Despite the fact that, at age 29, Yost’s batting average was way down, the frequent walker bested his own mark by working out 151 bases on balls in 1956 – once again leading the AL in that category. Yost was the subject of trade rumors at the end of the season, but nothing materialized.

LF/1B Roy Sievers .253/.370/.467 29 HR 0.9 BFW 20 WS -2 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
For the second consecutive season, Sievers bested his own franchise record for home runs in a single season. He hit 29 in 1956 despite a terrible slump after the All Star Game. He benefited, of course, from a slightly shorter left field fence than in the past at Griffith Stadium, but Shirley Povich was quick to point out that Jim Lemon hit more home runs over the newly shortened fence than did Sievers. He spent the first part of the season as Mickey Vernon’s replacement at first base, but was later moved to the outfield.

CF Karl Olson .246/.305/.329 4 HR -2.3 BFW 3 WS 0 FRAR -0.3 WARP3
CF Whitey Herzog .245/.302/.337 4 HR -3.0 BFW 5 WS -1 FRAR -0.1 WARP3
Olson and Herzog both came to Washington in off season trades and served as a platoon in center field. Neither was terribly impressive, and both were gone from the team within two years. Olson did impress right away. He became the first Nat ever to hit two home runs on opening day. Herzog, of course, went on to be a big part of the history of the franchise, but he did so from the opposing bench in the World Series.

RF Jim Lemon .271/.349/.502 27 HR 1.3 BFW 19 WS 28 FRAR 7.1 WARP3
Lemon originally came to the majors with Cleveland, but played very little from 1950-1954. He was purchased by the Nats in 1954, and finally got a chance as a regular in 1956. Lemon’s season was a mixed bag. On the one hand, he has the second-best single season home run total in franchise history, but on the other hand he set a major league record for strikeouts in a season with 138. On August 31, Lemon hit three home runs in a game against the Yankees to the delight of President Eisenhower who was on hand.

IF Harmon Killebrew .222/.291/.394 5 HR -0.4 BFW 2 FRAR 0.3 WARP3
While Killebrew showed flashes of brilliance, particularly in the power department, 1956 was another season in which he watched much of it from the bench. In June, his bonus-baby status finally allowed him the be sent to the minors, where he was able to play on a regular basis.

SP Chuck Stobbs 15-15 3.60 ERA 1.33 WHIP 1.7 PW 19 WS 8.0 WARP3
During the off season, Chuck Stobbs made some extra money by working as a season ticket salesman for the Washington Senators. Part of his pitch for the 1956 season was that he personally guaranteed a better season. While the team results weren’t great in 1956, Stobbs certainly did his part, having a career season. Stobbs posted personal highs in wins, innings pitched (240), and strikeouts (97).

SP Camilo Pascual 6-18 5.87 ERA 1.50 WHIP -3.1 PW 4 WS 2.8 WARP3
While Pascual’s early-career struggles continued, he seemed to be doing Mickey Mantle a favor. Mantle went deep twice off of Pascual on opening day in Washington, and hit a shot that nearly cleared Yankee stadium and traveled an estimated 600 feet on May 30. Mantle hit at least five of his 52 home runs in 1956 off of Pascual.

SP Dean Stone 5-7 6.27 ERA 1.83 WHIP -2.5 PW 1 WS 0.1 WARP3
Stone was traded to the Red Sox in April of 1957. He bounced around in the majors until he retired after the 1963 season.

SP Bob Wiesler 3-12 6.44 ERA 2.05 WHIP -3.0 PW 0 WS 0.1 WARP3
Wiesler came from the Yankees with very little major league experience. Between 1951 and 1955, Wiesler appeared in 26 games for the Yankees. He exceeded that mark in his first year with the Senators, though he only pitched in seven more major league games after 1956.

SP/RP Pedro Ramos 12-10 5.27 ERA 1.67 WHIP -1.6 PW 7 WS 3.3 WARP3
Ramos’ ERA faltered from his rookie season, but somehow the starter/reliever managed to win 12 games against 10 losses. Though is was probably the worst season of his career with the franchise, it will be the only season in which Ramos wins more games than he loses. He’ll have another winning season with Cleveland in 1963 (9-8), but 1956 and 1963 will be the only winning seasons in Ramos’ 15-year career.

RP Bob Chakales 4-4 4.03 ERA 1.57 WHIP 0.1 PW 7 WS 2.5 WARP3
RP Connie Grob 4-5 7.83 ERA 1.85 WHIP -2.7 PW 0 WS -0.9 WARP3
RP Bud Byerly 2-4 2.96 ERA 1.14 WHIP 0.8 PW 6 WS 2.7 WARP3
RP Bunky Stewart 5-7 5.57 ERA 1.84 WHIP -1.5 PW 3 WS 0.9 WARP3
Of the four main players out of the Senators’ bullpen, only Byerly will be with the team by the spring of 1957.

1956 World Series
The Yankees, behing Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5, restore order to the baseball universe by defeating the Dodgers in seven games. Game 7 will be the last World Series game played at Ebbets Field.


4 Responses to The Franchise 1956

  1. Beau says:

    What does Lemon’s strikeout total have to do with the quality of his season?

  2. Scot says:

    Very little.

    I walk a fine line when I am writing these season capsules. My main source is TSN, which I believe was where I got the info about Lemon’s strikeout total, and that’s how it was presented at the time – a sort of qualifier on his otherwise impressive season.

    I will make no argument that strikeout total is of little consequence, particularly when it come to a hitter with power; but that was not the attitude towards Lemon at the time (nor would it be today in most traditional baseball circles).

    Part of what I want to capture is the statistical evaluation of historical players in context with some of the newer understandings of baseball (as evidenced by my frequent tangents on FRAR or WARP3). On the other hand, the way performance was treated at the time is equally important to the story.

    Perhaps to be more precise I will edit to say this: “Lemon’s season was a mixed bag according to the writers at the time.”

  3. Beau says:

    Sometimes it is difficult to tell what is your opinion and what is lifted from the papers, especially when you talk in past tense.

    And while I agree traditional circles still overemphasize the strikeout, they’re inconsistent. Thome strikes out all the time, and rarely have I heard a peep about it. Meanwhile, Dunn is regularly ripped for clogging up the bases and missing a lot of pitches. Thome is a little bit better than Dunn, but their methods of going about helping the team are similar.

  4. Scot says:

    “Sometimes it is difficult to tell what is your opinion and what is lifted from the papers, especially when you talk in past tense.”

    A fair criticism – someday I will perfect the historical baseball through SABRmetric eyes genre.

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