WASHINGTON, October 26, 2011 — Speaking of the World Series …
Back in 1924, the Washington Senators entered that World Series with the lowest number of home runs ever for a pennant-winning ball club. The entire team had accrued a paltry 22 homers for the season, so it was especially galling when one considers that the Washington ball club could look across home plate at the New York Giants dugout and see George “High Pockets” Kelly.
That first baseman had set a National League record during the season by hitting seven homers in six consecutive games. He then wrapped up the season with a total of 21, just one zinger shy of the entire Washington team’s output. It’s worth noting, too, that a man sitting out the 1924 Series had pounded out more home runs than the Washington team and Kelly put together. Babe Ruth ended the season with 46 homers, twice the number plus two of the Senators tally.
People from all walks of fame packed the seats for this Series. By far, the celebrities were there to root for Washington, hoping to see these perennial losers rack up their first World Series championship.
President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady sat in the flag-draped section behind the Washington dugout. The president, not a baseball fan, resembled a mannequin throughout the games. Beside him, however, sat a real baseball fan, his wife Grace. She could be seen jumping up and down during the many exciting moments of that sensational Series. She even kept a scorecard throughout the games, something only ardent fans knew how to do.
Why was this lovely, feminine lady so knowledgeable about the manly sport of baseball? Grace had been the scorekeeper for her baseball team at Vassar, the school which had organized the first ladies ball club in America. What an odd coincidence that it should be a future First Lady’s ball club.
In the stands, down the first base line sat beloved humorist Will Rogers, a friend of the Senators great pitcher Walter Johnson. And with him was Mr. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” himself, George M. Cohan.
Some say Babe Ruth was present in the press box, some say he wasn’t. He was supposed to be writing a syndicated column about the Series, but it would, of course, be ghost written for him.
In attendance, too, was the great “Georgia Peach,” Ty Cobb, who came to cheer on Walter Johnson, one of his few friends.
In the press box sat a young reporter named Shirley Povich, hardly a celebrity at that time. This was, in fact, the 19-year-old’s first World Series. Povich, however, would go on to cover 60 World Series during his 75 years of filing stories with The Washington Post.
What a year it was, that 1924. A gallon of gas was 21 cents, a postage stamp for a letter was two cents, a new car cost $398. But then, the average annual salary was only $1,475.
One might expect some tie-ins between capital city baseball and U.S. presidents. After all, they resided in the same town. But no one would have expected that the year Washington won its only World Series championship, it would also be a link to four U.S. presidents. Of the four, one would be elected, one would die, and two would be born.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, was elected to his one full term of office after having served in place of Warren G. Harding who died suddenly in office. That same year, the country mourned the passing of its 28th president, Woodrow Wilson. A huge baseball fan, going back to his days at Princeton, Wilson had lived on S Street in the capital city after his presidency. He often parked his Rolls-Royce down the foul lines of Griffith Stadium to watch ballgames. A special player was assigned to protect the high-polished classic auto from wayward foul balls.
This same year, two future presidents were born. The 39th president, Jimmy Carter, was born in Plains, Georgia. Carter happens to be the only U.S. president, since the day in 1910 that William Howard Taft inaugurated the tradition of throwing out a ball, who never made a ceremonial toss of a ball.
The country’s 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, was born that year in Milton, Massachusetts. Bush went on to play first base as captain of the Yale baseball team. Both men are alive and active today, one recently building community houses and the other parachuting out of airplanes.
But back to Washington’s only World Series championship. While all experts place Washington’s 1924 contest in the top 25 greatest World Series of all time, many list it in the top ten. The credit goes to the great Walter Johnson who had lost two previous games in the Series. Then, with the seventh game tied in the ninth inning, manager Bucky Harris gave the call to the strapping big fellow from Kansas.
Johnson’s job was to come into a tie game in the ninth inning and produce a win for Washington. He asked the 28-year-old Harris if he was putting him in the game out of sentiment and favoritism. No, Bucky assured him: “You’re the best there is, Walter. We go with you.”
I could detail every play, every blade of grass on the field, every pebble down the third-base line. But for purposes here, after several providential circumstances, Washington won its only World Series in the bottom half of the 12th inning. Catcher “Muddy” Ruel scampered home with the winning run as big Walter Johnson let out a farm boy’s hoop and holler from second base. Walter “Big Train” Johnson would be named the American League MVP.
When you read this, the World Series of 2011 is approaching its end. If the Texas Rangers, who lead 3-2 games at this writing, should pull it off, one might give a hand to the Rangers and a nod to the seed from which they sprouted, the old Washington Senators.
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance calls himself a” lover of all things Washington.”
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