1938: Nats Swap First Basemen with White Sox

March 14, 2012

Originally posted March 18, 2008

March 17, 1938

Joe Kuhel came up with the Washington Nationals in 1930. By 1931, he had taken over as the every day first baseman, a position that had been held by Joe Judge since 1916. Kuhel had some solid offensive numbers with the Nats, though it is likely that he was held down a bit in that regard by playing his home games in Griffith Stadium. Still, it was Kuhel’s defense that made him a popular player with Clark Griffith. He was widely considered the best fielding first baseman in the league. Kuhel did his talking on the field, known as a quiet man off the field.

Kuhel’s direct opposite might have been Zeke Bonura. Bonura came up with the White Sox in 1934 and immediately hit for power in Comiskey Park. He set a team record for home runs in a season in his rookie year with 27 and knocked in more than 90 RBI’s in each of his first four seasons. Bonura generated interest amongst fans with his bat, but was a headache for management, particularly due to his statuesque play at first. Bonura managed to lead the league in fielding percentage in 1936, largely due to the fact that he didn’t move his feet. As if his “effort” fielding wasn’t bad enough, Bonura further alienated himself from White Sox management by being a problem off the field. Between frequent hold outs he was rumored to have had a romantic interest in the owner’s daughter, which ultimately led to the need for the Sox to trade him before the 1938 season.

The trade went down in the spring of 1938. Both players had been popular with their cities’ respective fans, so the trade wasn’t greeted warmly in either city. Still, both players were able to win the fans over, Bonura with his hitting – 22 home runs in 1938, and Kuhel with his fielding.

Despite the fact that the trade seemed like a win-win, Washington had a young first baseman by the name of Mickey Vernon waiting in the wings, so Bonura’s tenure with the Nats lasted only a year. He was dealt to New York to play with the Giants for the 1939 season. He returned to Washington briefly for the beginning of the 1940 season, but was traded by Griffith once again, this time to the Cubs.

Kuhel showed that he could have some success hitting for power in a different ballpark. He was able to put together some very good seasons for the White Sox, though he too found his way back to Washington. Griffith purchased Kuhel back before the 1944 season. Joe had a couple of good seasons during his second stint with Washington, including what was probably his best season in 1945. The White Sox purchased him back in 1946 and Kuhel finished his playing career there after a few appearances at the age of 41 in 1947. Kuhel returned to the Washington organization as a manager the following year, though he was replaced after two losing seasons.


1934: Rice signs with Cleveland

February 14, 2011

February 13, 1934

While Sam Rice’s playing career seemed to be winding down prior to the 1933 season, the long time Nat was looking to start has managing career. When Walter Johnson was dismissed as manager, Rice thought it might be his time. Clark Griffith went to the much younger Joe Cronin, however. Rice’s disappointment was likely exacerbated by the fact that he was, for the first time in decades, relegated to the bench full time.

After being used for only one pinch-hitting appearance in the 1933 series, the writing was on the wall for Rice. He was released by Washington in January of 1934, but jumped at the opportunity to join long-time teammate Walter Johnson, who was managing in Cleveland.

Rice saw a lot more playing time than he had in 1933. While he only saw 89 plate appearances in his final year in Washington, Rice compiled 367 in Cleveland. The wear and tear of near daily work got to Rice later in the summer, however. After a miserable August in which he batted less that .200, Rice decided to hang up his spikes. As a farewell, he went 3-for-5 in his final game – which just happened to come against his former team.

Lou Gehrig and Concussions

September 8, 2010

Friday September 9, 1938

It is noted in Charlton’s Baseball Chronology that Lou Gehrig played his 2,100 consecutive game on September 9, 1938 against Washington. As was par for the course in Nats-Yankees, games, the Yankees shut out Washington in the game.

That little tidbit reminded me of the recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports in which Gehrig’s career, and its tied to his namesake disease, were discussed. Now, it seems, a link has been discovered between head trauma and ALS (or an ALS-like disease) that would explain the higher than normal rates of ALS among former athletes.

A search of news archives performed by Real Sports turned up at least six instances in Gehrig’s Yankee career in which the Iron Horse was knocked unconscious on the field. In one particularly scary incident, Gehrig was forced to wear teammate Babe Ruth’s cap the next day- several sizes larger- due to the swelling in his head.

The recent research indicates that athletes who “play through the pain” when it comes to head injuries likely make the effects worse. Gehrig, of course, made part of his legend by playing every day.

All of this seems to indicate that head injuries should not be treated the same as other injuries, and that the Twins and Justin Morneau are doing the right thing by delaying his return. There has been a small amount of discontent, most notably in the comments sections of various Twins blogs, with the amount of time it is taking Morneau to get back. It is not too far off base to say those whispers might be a bit louder if the team were not winning. Based on these findings and others, however, it is prudent to err on the side of taking too much time to get back – whether the team suffers or not.

Triple Triples II

July 7, 2010

It has been almost a week since Denard Span became the 29th player in major league baseball history to hit three triples. To put that in perspective, there have been 21 perfect games in major league history, so it is a feat just slightly more common than the perfect game.

The Minnesota/Washington franchise has been involved in five of those games – three times on the “right” side, including Span’s game.

The last time a member of the Minnesota Twins hit three triples in a game was on July 3, 1980 when Ken Landreaux did it against the Texas Rangers.

One of the more recent occurences came at the expense of the Twins. Lance Johnson, then with the Chicago White Sox, hit three triples in a 14-4 win late in the 1995 season.

Interestingly, all three events were home games for the Twins, one at each of the parks the team has called home.

Washington was involved twice, once when Joe Kuhel did it against the White Sox in 1937, and once when the Nats were the victims of Charlie Gehringer and the rest of the Tigers in a 21-5 loss in 1929. Since Gehringer had his three triples at Griffith Stadium, that makes four ballparks in franchise history that have played host to a three-triple game.

1934: Five Consecutive Doubles

June 10, 2010

Saturday June 9, 1934

The defending American League Champion Nationals were having a tough start to the 1934 season.  Heading into June 9, their record was a disappointing 24-24. The 9th marked the second of a three game series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, who after defeating the Nats in 12 innings the day before were also a .500 team at 23-23.

In the second game, Lefty Grove had held the Nats scoreless through seven innings, his team clinging to a 1-0 lead. The defending champs, however, had an answer for him in the eighth. The weapon of choice: the double.

Washington hit six doubles in all in the eighth inning that afternoon, including a league record five-in-a-row. Based on the available data, it appears that Heinie Manush started the string. Joe Cronin, Dave Harris, Fred Schulte, and Joe Kuhel followed.

Washington scored eight in the inning, and Lefty Grove lasted just 1/3 of that inning. Since he was charged with all eight runs, it is a good bet that he gave up most, if not all of the doubles.

The Nats won the game 8-1. Monte Weaver was the winning pitcher – and he also doubled at some point in the game (possibly the sixth double in the eighth inning).

1934: Moe Berg Sets Record

April 21, 2010

April 21, 1934

According to Charlton’s Baseball Chronology, Moe Berg set a record for catchers by playing in his 117th consecutive errorless game.

Berg was a backup catcher for Washington from 1932 to the middle of 1934. He appeared in 141 games as a catcher with the Nats. B-R only seems to have season totals for errors, so it is not clear to me when his streak finally came to an end, though it was sometime between the April 21 game and July 20 of that year, the last game Berg played for Washington. He was released by the Nats and picked up shortly thereafter by Cleveland, where he finished the season. In all, Berg committed just one error with Washington.

The current AL record is held by a familiar player. Mike Redmond has not committed an error since 2005, the year he first joined the Twins. His streak stands at 232 games.

An Excuse and a Link

March 8, 2010

I’ve been buried in the final stages of editing my thesis this weekend, so my creativity is somewhat spent. I should have something new tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a link to Mark Hornbaker’s Q & A with George Case III, son of Nats’ outfielder George Case.

A couple of interesting tidbits:

5. Was your father excited when he was traded back to Washington on March 4, 1947?

Again, I was only 6 but I do remember seeing a letter from Clark Griffith saying “George, I’m bringing you back home.” My dad had been injured most of the year in Cleveland and he was only 31 years old in 1947 but I think he and Mr. Griffith knew that it was just about the end of my dad’s playing career – he wanted to try playing again in 1948 after an operation on his shoulder at Johns Hopkins but the injury and a bad back would result in his retiring from the game he loved. I do think he was very grateful to Mr. Griffith for bringing him back to Washington for what would turn out to be his final season.


7. Do you have any other facts about your father you want to share with the readers?

My dad also was timed in 1943 for circling the bases in 13.5 seconds – that was really a record although Evar Swanson was credited with circling the bases in 13.2 seconds from a running start – my dad’s record time was from a standing start at home plate.