Special to ESPN Book Club
The following is excerpted from "All Those Mornings At the Post: The 20th Century in Sports from Famed Washington Post Columnist Shirley Povich." Copyright (c) 2005. Reprinted by arrangement with PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
1924: When Senators Were Kings; Seventy Years Ago, It Was Washington's World Series
Note: The Washington Senators won their only World Series in 1924. Shirley Povich covered it ... and wrote about it 70 years later.
The likes of it had never been known before. This was baseball history. The Washington Senators in a World Series. This is not fiction. It happened in 1924. I was there. The Washington Senators vs. the New York Giants of John McGraw, in the seven games of the Fall Classic.
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In America's mind-set, it ranked as one of the great improbables, to be considered with such other unlikelihoods: That we would put a man on the moon.
That Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games would be excelled.
That a chimpanzee's co-star in an old Hollywood film would be elected president of the United States twice.
It was never thought that the Washington Senators, long scoffed at as the American League's patsies, would ever win a pennant, much less a World Series. You remember the World Series, the annual event that would have started tonight, if it hadn't been canceled because of a players' strike.
For most of the years of the century Washington's baseball teams had been the butt of the constant vaudeville joke "Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." But there they were, that October day 70 years ago, winners of the American League pennant and squaring off against the Giants in the first game of the World Series before 35,760 at Griffith Stadium.
I was in the press box, along with 150 other reporters whose desks were a plank in the upper deck behind home plate. As a kid sportswriter for The Washington Post I could be trusted only with doing the play-by-play a no-fail job. My neighbor in the press box, according to the seating plan, was to be, of all people, Babe Ruth. He had signed on to cover the World Series for the Christy Walsh Syndicate. That sort of thing was commonplace for the game's big stars. They would be provided a press box seat, along with a ghostwriter and telegraph operator, and never set their pen to paper.
But minutes before the game, the word had come over the wires that Ruth had suffered an appendicitis and had been rushed to Emergency Hospital. Thus, his ghostwriter also dismissed himself for the day.
When Christy Walsh arrived and was told about Ruth's absence, and why, he bellowed quickly, "Get me an operator!" Walsh took Ruth's seat and began to dictate: "Washington, D.C., October 1, by Babe Ruth, paragraph, quote. As I lie here, in Washington's Emergency Hospital, as a native New Yorker my heart is with the Giants, but as an American Leaguer, it is my duty to root for the Senators." And so it went.
Anyway, it is most proper to relate how the Senators got there, into that World Series.
They got there by looking the vaunted New York Yankees in the eye in the last month of the race and knocking them out of the pennant, won by the Senators by a two-game margin. Remember, these were the Yankees who'd won the last three AL pennants the Yankees of Ruth, Bob Meusel, Joe Dugan, Wally Pipp, Wally Schang and Everett Scott, plus the pitchers Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Bob Shawkey, and Bullet Joe Bush.
They got there under the surprising leadership of the youngest manager in AL history. "Griffith's Folly," it was called, when owner Clark Griffith selected his 26-year-old second baseman, Stanley "Bucky" Harris, as his new manager. It was in the final days of the pennant race that the upstart, astonishing Senators took it to the Yankees, wiping out their league lead by winning 16 of their last 21 games. It was Walter Johnson, who, above all others, was seizing the moment. The Legend kept the Senators alive by throwing a 13-game winning streak at the Damn Yankees and their hopes of a fourth straight pennant.
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The shine was off Johnson's fastball, but not all of it, and he was also relying on a sweeping curve. Ask who, at the age of 36, in his 18th season with the Senators, was the leading pitcher in the American League and the answer is Johnson. He posted a 23-7 record and of course he led the league in strikeouts and ERA, and lent his own .283 batting average to the proceedings.
Unquestionably those 1924 Senators were the class of the league. Teaming with Johnson to give them superb pitching were the veteran left-handers George Mogridge and Tom Zachary. Striving for more depth late in the season Harris divined something about Curly Ogden and claimed him on waivers from the Athletics. Ogden gave Harris eight wins in a row.
That was the year too when the relief pitcher was invented by Harris. For that job he selected the big Texan, right-handed Firpo Marberry, whose delivery included sticking a huge (size 13) shoe into the batter's face, and then letting loose his steaming fastball. Marberry set an AL record by appearing in 50 games.
And those Senators could hit. Four .300-plus swatters the outfielders, Goose Goslin (.344), Sam Rice (.334), Earl McNeely (.334), and on first base the slick Joe Judge (.324). The weakest hitter on the team was Manager Harris himself (.268), but he was not an easy out.
Besides Judge and Harris in the infield were the ex-Yankee shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh and a young grab-everything Ossie Bluege on third. The Senators' catcher, a clever one, was little Muddy Ruel, a .283 hitter and the only big league ballplayer ever known to be admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court of the United States.
A series of challenges came October 1924, with the Senators a World Series team, and now the nation's capital exploded emotionally. Inured to the excitement of presidential inaugurations, calm in the midst of history-making legislation and callous to the fetes for visiting princes and potentates, the population went wild at the approach of the Series. For the pennant winners, a Pennsylvania Avenue parade led to the White House, where both President and Mrs. Coolidge promised to attend the Series opener. They would attend all four home games.