The Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper and All Star Games

What is the only day of the year when no game of any professional sport takes place in the United States?

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2012 – Patriotism is alive! Independence Day and baseball in the nation’s capital. At Nationals Park the Nationals hit four homeruns. That’s four on the Fourth, forsooth!   

As if that were not enough, the next night brought a marvelous 9th-inning rally, as the Nats chalked up another win to sweep the Giants. This prompted a phone call from my friend, “Boots,” in Delaware, asking, “Don’t you guys ever lose?”  It’s been quite a while since anyone posed this question to a Washington baseball fan. 

Now the only thing standing between that sweep of the Giants and this Tuesday’s July 10th All-Star Game was a series with the last-place Colorado Rockies. No huge worry there, right?

In the first game, however, the bottom row of the scoreboard displayed a string of gargantuan goose eggs. Meanwhile, the visiting Rockies rang up five runs. Then, the final inning opens with Ryan Zimmerman pounding a ball into the bleachers, followed by two more solid hits putting two runners on base with no outs.

It looked like the Nats were about to do it again. They just might pull another genie out of the bottle or another rabbit out of a hat or, another cliché out of the lexicon. Could it be Yogi Berra’s “it’s déjà vu all over again” all over again?

I think to myself, wait till Boots sees this.   

“But no!” as sports fans and columnists say, “It was not to be.” The first-place team is taken down by the last.  Well, it does happen. 

The following day saw the Nationals return to their true form. So the Nats and Rockies stand one-one. As for Sunday’s rubber game, I don’t much care how it bounces. I’m already all ready for the Midsummer Classic with Washington’s Bryce Harper breaking a record just by swinging a bat: youngest player ever to play in the All-Star Game. 

The All-Star Game will take place Tuesday in Kansas City, and among the Washington players will be rookie Bryce Harper. At 19 years old, Harper will become the youngest player ever to appear in an All-Star Game.   

The annual All-Star Game was launched in 1933. If that year resounds for Washington baseball historians, it’s because that year, ‘33, the capital city won its third (and last) American League pennant. Thirty-three is also the number of years Washington was denied a baseball team (but we won’t mention that, I’m not bitter).

That Midsummer Classic has taken place in the nation’s capital four times: 1937 and 1956, in Griffith Stadium; 1962, in D. C. Stadium; and 1969, in RFK Memorial Stadium. 

Thus far this season, the Nationals have played 81 games. Its standing of 49 wins and, yes, 33 losses represents a winning percentage of around .600. To elder Washingtonians, this is astounding, especially when one considers that teams with a comparable percentage have, in the past decade, marched into the playoffs. Insert dream sequence here: Washington in the playoffs, Washington with a percentage of .600.

I feel like playing my “West Side Story” soundtrack and singing, Could it be, yes it could, something’s coming, something good….

Four homers on the Fourth. I’m still thinking about that. After all, the Washington club has never been famous for producing home runs.

Many readers won’t remember good old Griffith Stadium. Some fine baseball was played there.  I’ll not apologize for any of those teams or players. They provided excitement mixed with a keen sense of home. Sometimes it happened because of how they played, and sometimes because of how they didn’t play.

Still, as the hit song in “Damn Yankees,” the musical about the Senators, says: “(You’ve Gotta Have) Heart.” Well, “Heart” they had, homeruns they didn’t.  

On four separate occasions, the season total of the Washington ballclub’s homer runs at home was one. Think of it: four seasons, four home runs at home.

Even in 1924, when Washington won an American League pennant, it waltzed into the World Series with just 22 home runs. (Babe Ruth hit double that Washington team total.) To this day, it remains, the lowest number of homers for a pennant-winning ballclub. To top it off, only one of those 22 homers took place in Griffith Stadium for the home fans to witness and cheer.

For years the field’s dimensions were daunting; its right-center field formidable. In right field towered a 31-foot high wall, a 41-foot scoreboard, and an advertisement fake beer bottle of National Bohemian Beer which stood 56 feet above the field. In half a century of major-league play, a meager 2,112 home runs were hit in this venue. That’s about 42 home runs a year at Griffith Stadium for all major-league teams playing there combined. Not exactly a superfluity of round-trippers.

This season the Washington Nationals enjoy a plethora of strong hitters capable of slamming home runs. Manager Davey Johnson says, in fact, that he’s never coached a club with such strong hitters at all three bases.

The day following this year’s 83rd All-Star Game will provide opportunity for a great trivia question. I have enjoyed stumping many a sports aficionado with the following one.

Question:  What is the only day of the year when no game of any professional sport takes place in the United States?

Answer:    The day following baseball’s All-Star Game.

Enjoy the game, sports fans; and for you sports widows, enjoy the day off, after.

Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance has shared his life experiences and knowledge of D.C. with the Washington Historical Society, the Kiwanis clubs of the Washington area, and on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show.”

 


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Vance Garnett

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

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