May 12, 1951

May 11, 2014

Washington 5, Boston 4

Saturday May 12, 1951
Griffith Stadium

Top Play
The Nats had a 4-3 lead when Walt Dropo stepped to the plate for the Sox in the top of the 7th inning. There were runners at first and second base with two outs. Dropo singled off of Connie Marrero, scoring Bordreau from second to tie the game.

Gil Coan WAS 0.33: 3-for-5, 3 2B, Walk off sacrifice fly
Connie Marrero WAS 0.17: 9 IP 10 H 4 ER 7 BB 2 K, 1-for-3, BB and scored game winning run
Ed Yost WAS 0.13 2-for-4, 2B, RBI

Worst WPA
Chuck Stobbs BOS -0.30 3.2 IP, 8 H 4 RA 1 BB
Same Dente WAS -0.26 0-for-4, 2 GDP
Lou Bordreau BOS -0.14 0-for-3, 2 BB, E

Connie Marrero took matters into his own hands in the bottom of the ninth inning. After drawing a lead off walk from pitcher Mickey McDermott, Marrero made it to second on an attempted pick off throw by Boston catcher Matt Batts, and took third on a sacrifice bunt by Eddie Yost. He scored on Gil Coan’s sacrifice fly.

Ted Williams went 0-for-3 in the game, dropping his season batting average to .224. By the end of the season, it was up to .318, still low for Williams.

The win improved the Nats’ record to 13-7. The team was coming off a string on 5 straight seasons with a record below .500 (many well below .500). The team won 7 of their first 8 games, and there may have been some optimism around DC. This game marked the end of the positivity. They dropped four straight games immediately following the walk off win against Boston. Overall, they lost 25 of their next 30 games on the way to a 92-loss season.



May 5, 1959

May 4, 2014

Senators 8, White Sox 3
Comiskey Park

Big Play: In the bottom of the 6th inning, with his team trailing 4-1, Chicago’s Sherm Lollar hit a two-run home run to left field off of Senators pitcher Chuck Stobbs.

Top WPA:
Jim Lemon WAS 0.21 2-for-3, HR
Sherm Lollar CHI 0.16 2-for-4, HR
Ed Fitz Gerald WAS 0.14 2-for-3, SH, RBI Single

Worst WPA:
Billy Pierce CHI -0.19 3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K
5 Players Tied -0.09

I was curious about Ed Fitz Gerald’s sacrifice hit. It came in the ninth inning when his team was up 8-3. That seems like something that would have ruffled some feathers. I couldn’t find anything about it in the game stories I found, nor is there any news about any brush backs or scuffles in the month following. Fitz Gerald was traded to Cleveland before May was over.

The Washington home runs in this game, Lemon, Allison, and Killebrew, are the seeds of the team that had so much success in Minnesota.





Clint Courtney vs. Billy Martin

March 9, 2014

Part of why I like digging through old newspapers to research baseball history is that a find so many interesting rabbit trails to explore along the way. Among the things I found about the spring of 1956 was a blurb in The Sporting News in which Don Gutteridge named the five current players he likened to the original Gashouse Gang. It turns out there was a significant history between two of the five named players.

Courtney and Martin first got into it in 1952 when Courtney was a catcher for the St. Louis Browns. In the second inning of a game on July 12, Courtney slid spikes high into Martin at second base to break up a potential double play. Yankee players were also upset with a spikes high slide by Courtney at Yogi Berra in the sixth inning. The Yankees had enough, and Martin had his revenge in the eighth inning Courtney attempted a delayed steal of second base. Martin received the ball before Courtney reached the base, and proceeded to plant the ball between the catcher’s eyes.

After the ensuing brawl, Courtney claimed that it was the fact that his glasses broke that caused him to react in anger. He charged at the Yankee second baseman, who promptly threw his glove away and landed two rights to Courtney’s jaw. Benches cleared into what was described as a “quite interesting” brawl by reporter Dan Daniel. Three umpires hit the dirt in the melee. Despite the fact that by all accounts Martin was the only participant who landed a punch, Courtney was the only player ejected from the game. He was later suspended for three games and fined $100.

It took less than a year before the rematch. On April 28, 1953, Courtney found himself on the defensive when Gil McDougald slid hard into home and knocked the ball out of Courtney’s hand in the top of the tenth inning. The fiery catcher responded with a spikes-high slide into second in an attempt to stretch a single into a double in the bottom of the same inning. Courtney lamented after the game that it was shortstop Phil Rizzuto covering second.* The slide once again touched off a bench-clearing brawl.

*Courtney’s words as quoted in The Sporting News: “I’m sorry it happened – particularly sorry it was Rizzuto I ran into instead of that —– —— Martin.” I can’t tell from the scan exactly how many blanks the author left for the expletives.

Rather than being “interesting” like the first brawl, this one got particularly nasty. Umpire Bill Summers (one of the umpires involved in round one) said it was the most fist-swinging he had seen in his 20 years. It was reported that there were separate brawls all over the field. Courtney accused the Yankees of teaming up, with a few holding him while others got their shots in. When it was all over, a total of six players were punished with fines totaling $850, including $250 for Courtney, who, according to AL president Will Harridge, violated “all rules of sportsmanship.”

For more on “Scrap Iron” Courtney read Rory Costello’s biography at SABR Bioproject.

Spring Training Notes, 1956

March 8, 2014

Orlando, Florida

The Senators opened camp in 1956 coming off of a miserable 53-101 season. There might have been some hope that 1956 would look different, but it was the hope of the “wait ’til next year” variety that all fans feel in the spring when their favorite team is still undefeated.

Calvin Uses Technology

There was some buzz surrounding the team for an innovative use of television during the winter months. January marked the start of the 15-minute “Washington Nationals Show”* that aired every Sunday evening. The first episode showed highlights of Walter Johnson and the 1925 World Series. Later episodes included interviews with current and former players, discussions about the Hall of Fame, and a feature on the show Damn Yankees. The show was such a success that other clubs planned to copy it in their own markets.

*even though the team’s name was formally changed to Senators in 1955

Dressen Second Guesses Reporters

Manager Chuck Dressen, fresh off his first season managing the Nats, made some waves when he invited two of the reporters to manage opposite teams during an intra-squad scrimmage early in the spring. Burton Hawkins of the Washington Evening Star and Bob Addie of The Washington Post were required by Dressen to wear the uniform and coach at 3rd base. Addie’s report included a base running snafu* for which he took the blame. Addie’s team won, with the reporter claiming his best decision was having Ernie Oravetz deliver a pinch single with the bases loaded.

*His exact words: “one of my men singled into a double play!”

Four Eyes

The Sporting News included a blurb about 1956 spring training stating that glasses had become common for ballplayers league wide, but particularly for the Senators, who proudly boasted six bespectacled players. The six were pictured, with glasses and giant grins.

Get Off My Lawn!

White Sox coach and original member of the “Gashouse Gang” member Don Gutteridge mused about today’s players, claiming only five players in the league in 1956 had the “spirit” of the original gang. Among the players he listed was Senators catcher Clint Courtney (specs and all). Also on the list was Billy Martin and Hank Bauer of the Yankees, Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals, and Nellie Fox of Gutteridge’s own White Sox.


Wednesday June 17, 1959 (Take Two)

January 30, 2012


Senators 7, Athletics 2

Neither the Senators nor the Athletics figured to have much impact on the 1959 pennant race by the middle of June. Washington had lingered around the .500 mark until the last week in May when a 1-4 record on a five-game homestand against the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the latter of which swept three games by a total run tally of 25-2, dropped them to 21-26, 6.5 games out of first place.

By the time the A’s came into town in mid-June, Cookie Lavagetto’s men had a 3-8 record in the month, dropping the overall record to 24-34. The Seantors hoped an 8-5 win in the first game of the series was a sign of things to come.

Camilo Pascual took the ball for the second game of the series at Griffith Stadium. Though he allowed eight hits, the A’s managed only two runs in the game. The Senators fell behind early, but a fourth inning triple by Hal Naragon plated Jim Lemon to even the score. Naragon later came home on a Reno Bertoia single to give Washington a 2-1 lead. Bob Allison’s two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning made the score 4-1, and Bertoia capped off the 7-2 win with a two-run shot of his own in the bottom of the eighth.

Washington completed the sweep the next day, and were able to climb back to two games under .500 by the time the A’s returned to D.C. on July 17. The A’s took three out of four in that series, starting the ‘Nats on a landslide in which at one point they lost 18 games in a row and totaled 2-24 over the course of a month of baseball. They finished the season in last place, 31 games out of first.

Elmer Valo

November 16, 2010

When Elmer Valo joined the Washington Senators in 1959, he was already a veteran of 19 baseball seasons. Though he spent his first 15 seasons with the Philadelphia/Kansas City A’s, by the time he was signed as a free agent by the Nats in May of 1960 he had spent the previous five seasons playing for six different teams in seven different cities.

It seemed that his major league career was over in 1959. After the Czechoslovakia native seemed to get no interest from major league teams in the offseason, he began the year as player-manager for the Seattle Raniers. He caught the eye of many during his short stint in the Pacific Northwest, including famous Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich who noted in a May roundup that Valo was leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting with a .340 average.

The Senators snatched him up when the 40-year-old became available after appearing just eight times for the New York Yankees before being cut when the rosters reduced in the early part of the season. The Sporting News report indicated that Washington was interested in Valo primarily as a pinch-hitter, which turned out to be an understatement. To make room for Valo, the team sent young first baseman Don Mincher to Charleston, though manager Cookie Lavagetto insisted that Mincher had a future as a major league player.

While he appeared in 76 games for the Nats that season, Valo started in a single game. By the end of the season, he had compiled all of 20 innings in the outfield. Of his 85 plate appearances, 75 came as a pinch-hitter. When combined with the seven pinch-hitting plate appearances with the Yankees, Valo still holds the single-season American League record with 82 pinch-hitting appearances.

Valo made the move with the franchise to Minnesota. He appeared in 33 games (all as a pinch hitter) before he was released in June. Valo was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies for the rest of the season before retiring at the age of 41.

In 108 games with the franchise, Valo made just the one start. His batting line was .240/.372/.292 thanks to a patient eye at the plate.

1954: Harmon Killebrew’s Debut

June 21, 2010

Wednesday June 23, 1954

Take it away, Shirley Povich:

At long last, the Senators have taken the ice-cold plunge into the bonus baby market, in contrast to their refusal for years to dip even a gingerly toe into the heavy-money waters. Their prize, or what they hope to be such, is Harmon Killebrew, 17-year-old wonder boy from Payette, Idaho.

Clark Griffith, who separated himself from $30,000 to sign Killebrew, a semi-pro infielder from the Idaho-Oregon Border League, had a special sort of inspiration, perhaps. The last semi-pro the Washington club signed from the state of Idaho was in 1907, and he answered to the name of Walter Johnson.

The much hyped “bonus-baby” made his first appearance in a major league game as a pinch-runner. With the Nats down 5-1 in the fifth inning, Clyde Vollmer pinch-hit for the pitcher Chuck Stobbs. Vollmer was hit by a pitch, forcing Pete Runnels home with the team’s second run. Enter Killebrew as the runner at first base. He advanced to second on a wild pitch, but was stranded there.

Because of his bonus-baby status, Killebrew had to remain with the major league team, but he didn’t see much actio that first year. His next appearance was July 18. He made two more appearances in the month of July, both as a pinch-runner. He scored his first major league run on July 27th.