The Washington Monument and Baseball: Related icons

The Washington Monument and baseball. Is there any connection between the two? As a matter of fact. . .

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2011‑There are two big subjects in the news right now. One, the Washington Monument surveillance has been completed and repairs will soon be underway. Two, baseball playoffs of this 2011 season are winding up, or down, depending on your viewpoint.

The Washington Monument and baseball. Is there any connection between the two? As a matter of fact…

On two occasions, professional baseball catchers have risen to the challenge of attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a window of the 555-foot Washington Monument.

Monumental Stunt #1:

The first attempt took place on August 24, 1894. Catcher Billy “Pop” Schrivner of the Chicago Colts stood beneath the awesome obelisk. Then a baseball, pitched from a window 542 feet above, came hurdling toward him. He watched as that descending sphere swelled from the size of an aspirin to what must have finally looked like a white cannonball. No “fools rush in” type, “Pop” stepped aside and watched the ball hit the hard ground and bounce above his head.

Now Pop pounded his mitt, shrugged his shoulders, and awaited the second drop. Another ball was pitched from the window. That ball the catcher definitely got under. It slammed into his mitt, then bounced to the ground.

Controversy immediately erupted. Some witnesses felt that “Pop” had  held the ball long enough for it to qualify as a good catch. No, others cried, he never had possession of the ball before it bounced from his glove. Unfortunately, before the group could arrive at a consensus, they had to beat a hasty retreat. The police invaded the grounds because no permit for this activity had been secured. Opinions of scattering spectators, of course, remained divided and predictably fell along the lines of their monetary bets.

Most noteworthy to Washington baseball fans. however, is the pitcher on that “ground breaking” occasion: Clark Calvin Griffith. Griffith was at that time the acclaimed hurler of the Chicago Colts and already  had been dubbed “the Old Fox.” He would win 20 games or more in seven straight seasons.

Griffith, in 1912, would go on to become the manager and owner of the Washington Senators as the team played in the stadium bearing his name. How remarkable, then, that the man who would become arguably the most significant individual in Washington baseball history initiated his association by sending a baseball skydiving from the window of the capital city’s tallest structure. 

Monumental Stunt #2 

At 11 a.m. on August 21, 1908, Washington Senators catcher Charles “Gabby” Street stood at the foot of the Washington Monument. Legs wide apart, he was poised (as much as a big lug can be poised) to catch a baseball about to be dropped from a window of this most renowned edifice. He likely hadn’t bothered to calculate it, but the terminal velocity of a ball dropped from such a height is 161 feet per second producing a force equivalent to an object weighing 117 pounds.  (I figured this out on the back of an envelope in a taxi cab.)

No blame can be laid on Gabby for letting that first ball hit the ground beside him and watching it soar skyward. He let the second ball go, too. Ditto the third. And fourth.  In fact, a dozen balls bounced from or buried themselves into the clay. Spectators heckled him asking if he was there to catch or watch. (Only one letter difference.)

Then the “lucky 13” ball came plunging toward the catcher and exploded into his mitt. Gabby pulled the ball to his chest-protector and cradled it like a baby. Success! No doubt about this one! This, then, became the first undisputed catch of a ball dropped from the Washington Monument.

Afterward, many Washington baseball fans joked that Gabby Street had prepared for that monumental feat by catching that season for Senators fastball ace Walter Perry Johnson.


Editor’s Note:  At the top of the Washington Monument, in July of 1989, Vance Garnett proposed to his wife, Geri. They were married on October 7. We wish the couple a happy anniversary as they celebrate 22 years of marriage.  — Jacquie Kubin


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Vance Garnett

Vance Garnett is an eclectic observer of life, politics and sports. 

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