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Nov 11

Baseball in Washington D.C. – The political and military connection

2012 has certainly been an exciting year for Washington baseball fans and players – it has been a long time coming!

All of Washington should be very excited by the play of The Nationals this year.  While the outcome of the St. Louis Cardinals divisional series is not what Washington baseball fans wanted, the fact is that the Nationals are the FIRST Washington team to be in a post season series since 1933.  And, in my opinion, even better days are ahead!

I wanted to take to this opportunity with the World Series and Major League Baseball’s recent tribute to our veterans to comment on the long-standing political and military connection to major league baseball in Washington DC.  And with Veteran’s Day approaching, what better time than now to say thank you!

Obviously, the 1924 World Champion Washington Senators and the American League pennant winners in 1925 and 1933 are a source of pride to Washington DC baseball fans, even though a LONG TIME AGO!

But what about the years between 1933 and 2012?

My father began his major league career in 1937 in Washington and many of his teammates were with the Senators in 1933 – Buddy Myer, Cecil Travis and Goose Goslin to name several. And Ossie Bluege and Nick Altrock were coaches, Altrock who had been the comedy partner of Al Schacht, “The Clown Prince of Baseball” would be associated with the Washington Senators for 42years!  Ossie Bluege would take over as the Senators manager in 1943 succeeding long-time Washington favorite, Bucky Harris , “The Boy Wonder” from the 1924 World Championship team.

Well, in 1940, the WWII years were close at hand and of course, December 7, 1941 would bring the United States into the Second World War and for the next four years, our country would be at war with HUGE sacrifices! Major League Baseball would be very much a part of “the war effort”.  And, the Washington Senators (also known as the Nats) would be greatly affected by military call-ups!  Cecil Travis, would later have his feet frozen while fighting in The Battle of the Bulge, Buddy Lewis would “fly the hump” in Burma, Bert Shepard would have his leg partially amputated by German doctors in a POW camp and Elmer Gedeon, a Washington Senators player in 1939, would make the ultimate sacrifice as one of only two major league players to lose their life in WWII.

Other Washington players would be called to military service – Mickey Vernon, Dutch Leonard, Walter Masterson, Jake Early, Al Evans, Ray Scarborough, Stan Spence, Sherry Robertson, nephew of Clark Griffith, Jerry Priddy, Milo Candini and Zeke Bonura.  However, major league baseball would continue to be played as President Roosevelt issued his so called “Green Light” to Commissioner of Baseball Judge Landis in 1943. ..”I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going…” I know that my father believed that Washington Senator’s owner Clark Griffith had quite a bit of influence on FDR’s decision!  Each spring, Mr. Griffith would present a season pass to Roosevelt at the White House and for many years, FDR would throw out the ceremonial “first ball” at Griffith Stadium.

In addition to the Washington players, there would be numerous future Hall of Famers who would serve their country – Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Bobby Doerr, Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn to name a few!  All of these great players and many more are featured IN COLOR “in their prime” in our DVD “Ballfield to Battlefield and Back, From FDR to JFK” – details available on our website – www.timelessbaseball.com

The “war years” were obviously not the same caliber of baseball as before WWII but it was still major league baseball and in 1943 and 1945, the Washington Senators would finish in second place in the American League – certainly not “First in War, First in Peace and Last in the American League”

The “expansion” Washington Senators were “born” in 1961 after Calvin Griffith, Clark Griffith’s adopted son, took the “original” Washington Senators to Minnesota becoming the Minnesota Twins.  And we will not discuss in detail, the “expansion” Washington Senators leaving after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers.  This article, after all, is about the history of Washington DC baseball and the excitement of baseball once again in our Nation’s Capital!

There is still a connection of major league baseball to our military and the political life of the United States in 2012.  While we are not engaged in a world war, we are currently engaged on the battlefield in Afghanistan and baseball is still a welcome relief for thousands of our servicemen just as it was during WWII.  And, with the recent success of the Washington Nationals, our political leaders are once again attending major league baseball games in the city.

Major League Baseball will return to Washington in 2013 – remember the empty feeling from 1972-2005?  Right now there is obvious disappointment, but “hope springs eternal and just wait till next year.”

It is definitely an exciting time to be a baseball fan in Washington DC and, I believe, with Veterans Day 2012, it is also a perfect time to say thank you to our veterans for their service to the United States of America!