«

»

Apr 07

1969 in Washington, D.C. – A Special, Memorable Opening Day

Forty-four years ago today, the baseball season began anew in Washington, as the Senators hosted the New York Yankees.

A sports backwater since the 1940′s, when Slingin’ Sammy Baugh led the Redskins to championships and the 1945 Senators came up a hair short in a tight pennant race, the nation’s capital claimed the spotlight on one day only — baseball’s Opening Day.

In Washington, these games held the honorable title of “Presidential Opener” because it was a given that the President of the United States would be on hand to throw not one, but three ceremonial first pitches. By 1969, the tradition had continued for nearly 60 years.

By tradition, only one game could start before the Presidential Opener — the game in Cincinnati. The Reds received that honor because they were baseball’s first professional team, beginning play, legend has it, in 1869.

Unlike today, when the nation’s leader strides to the mound to throw a pitch, in a display of…something, the President used to throw the pitches from his ceremonial box seat into a crowd of waiting players from both teams.

In 1969, the Presidential Opener in Washington was more meaningful than other years because of something old

President Nixon throwing out the first ball on opening day of the 1969 baseball season between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees at RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library

and many things new. The old was Major League Baseball, celebrating its centennial. The new was the Senators’ iconic manager, Ted Williams, poised to skipper his first game ever; Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, widely thought to be a puppet of the owners, Senators’ owner Robert E. Short, and President Richard Nixon, inaugurated in January. Of the three men surrounding Nixon in his honorary box sheet, the only non-rookie was New York Yankees’ manager Ralph Houk.

The city of Washington marked this day with celebrations and pageantry. The morning began with a parade as the entire city rejoiced. More than 45,000 fans packed RFK Stadium.

The newspapers offered coverage far more extensive than today. Every section, even the then-named “Women’s Section” (now called “Style”) had baseball relatedheadline articles. The game almost took a back seat to all the other festivities.

Eventually, President Nixon made his three ceremonial pitches into the crowd of Senators and Yankees. Washington utility man, Hank Allen, caught two. The president autographed both. Williams’ friend and bench coach Joe Camacho caught the other ball.

After the game Allen told The Washington Post’s Richard Minot, Jr., “I kept one and gave the other one to my mother.”

Eventually, the game began. Presumed Senators’ ace Camilo Pascual, who returned to Washington via trade with the Minnesota Twins on December 3, 1966, along with Bernie Allen (the Senators sent pitcher Ron Kline to the Twins), started the game. It marked his fifth Presidential Opener as he threw the first real pitches in D.C. in 1956, 1957, 1960, and 1968 as well.

WiT. Williams looking on from the Senators’ dugout, the game unraveled into an embarrassment for Teddy Ballgame’s team. Pascual lasted only into the 3rd inning, as the Yankees, playing without Mickey Mantle for the first time since 1951, pounded the Washington righty.

Jerry Kenney and rookie Bobby Murcer hit home runs as Pascual left the game trailing 4-0. Bob Humphreys and Dick Bosman relieved and the nervous Senators collapsed behind them. Four unearned runs later, the Senators trailed, 8-0.

With Yankees’ ace Mel Stottlemyre on the mound, the game looked like a laugher for New York. In addition to being one of the best pitchers in the American League, Stottlemyre had won nine of his last 10 decisions against the Senators.

Then, something happened, a hint of the magic to come for Williams and his battlin’ Senators. Somehow, Washington started to bang Stottlemyre around. Del Unser and Tim Cullen each had three hits.

Each time Washington rallied, though, the Yankee’s all-star wriggled out of the jam with little to no damage. After 8 innings, New York led 8-2. Bosman, Casey Cox, and Dennis Higgins provided 5 1/3 innings of shutout relief, but the hitters couldn’t make the game closer.

One unforgettable highlight remained. Despite the nation being at war in Vietnam and civil unrest in many places in America, especially college campuses, 1969 was a different, slower time than today. Nixon, an avid baseball fan, stayed at the game. Like the other fans who stayed, he knew Frank Howard was the second batter in the bottom of the 9th.

Howard delivered. He hit a towering home run to straight away centerfield, scoring himself and Ed Stroud. The crowd roared. Nixon turned to two young boys sitting next to him and said, “Aren’t you glad we stayed.”

Stottlemyre settled down and finished a complete game 8-4 win. Still, the game felt different than other Senators’ opening day losses, this being their seventh consecutive defeat. Unlike past years, when the Senators lost with nary a whimper, this team battled. They got 14 hits off an elite pitcher and played excellent, crisp, smart baseball after their nerves settles.

While a loss, the game served notice that, under Williams, this Senators team intended to battle every game, every pitch. Williams vowed no one would call his club pushovers in 1969. They proved their combative manager right the very next game two days later, a 9-6 win.

New York Yankees 8, Washington Senators 4

Day

Game Played on Monday, April 7, 1969 (D) at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium

NY  A    0  2  2    4  0  0    0  0  0  -   8  9  0
WAS A    0  0  0    0  1  0    0  1  2  -   4 14  2
BATTING
New York Yankees             AB   R   H RBI      BB  SO      PO   A
Clarke 2b                     5   1   1   1       0   1       1   6
Kenney cf                     5   1   2   1       0   0       1   0
Murcer 3b                     5   2   2   3       0   2       0   4
White lf                      4   1   0   0       1   1       4   0
Pepitone 1b                   4   0   1   0       0   0      13   1
Tresh ss                      3   0   1   1       0   0       0   0
  Michael ss                  1   0   0   0       0   0       1   2
Robinson rf                   3   1   0   0       1   1       1   0
Gibbs c                       4   1   2   1       0   0       5   0
Stottlemyre p                 3   1   0   0       1   1       1   3
Totals                       37   8   9   7       3   6      27  16
BATTING - 
2B: Pepitone (1,off Pascual); Kenney (1,off Cox); Gibbs (1,off Cox).
HR: Kenney (1,3rd inning off Pascual 0 on 1 out); Murcer (1,3rd inning off
Pascual 0 on 1 out).
Team LOB: 5.
BASERUNNING - 
SB: White 2 (2,2nd base off Pascual/Casanova,3rd base off Pascual/Casanova);
Robinson (1,2nd base off Pascual/Casanova).
Washington Senators          AB   R   H RBI      BB  SO      PO   A
Unser cf                      5   1   3   0       0   0       7   0
Stroud rf                     5   1   2   0       0   0       1   0
Howard lf                     5   1   1   2       0   1       1   0
Epstein 1b                    4   0   1   1       1   0       7   0
McMullen 3b                   4   0   0   0       0   1       3   1
  Higgins p                   0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  H. Allen ph                 1   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
Cullen 2b                     4   1   3   0       1   0       2   2
Brinkman ss                   5   0   2   0       0   1       0   2
Casanova c                    4   0   1   1       0   0       6   0
Pascual p                     0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Humphreys p                 1   0   0   0       0   0       0   1
  Bosman p                    1   0   0   0       0   1       0   0
  Holman ph                   1   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Cox p                       0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  B. Allen ph,3b              1   0   1   0       0   0       0   0
Totals                       41   4  14   4       2   4      27   6
FIELDING - 
E: Stroud (1), Cullen (1).
BATTING - 
2B: Unser (1,off Stottlemyre); Brinkman (1,off Stottlemyre).
HR: Howard (1,9th inning off Stottlemyre 1 on 0 out).
Team LOB: 12.
PITCHING
New York Yankees             IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stottlemyre W(1-0)            9    14   4   4   2   4   1  43
Washington Senators          IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Pascual L(0-1)                2.2   5   4   4   1   0   2  14
Humphreys                     1     2   4   0   1   0   0   7
Bosman                        2.1   0   0   0   0   2   0   7
Cox                           2     2   0   0   1   3   0   9
Higgins                       1     0   0   0   0   1   0   3
Totals                        9     9   8   4   3   6   2  40
WP: Bosman (1).
Umpires: HP - Jim Honochick, 1B - Hank Soar, 2B - Frank Umont, 3B - Bill Haller,
LF - Ron Luciano
Time of Game: 2:47   Attendance: 45,113
The Box Score used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "www.retrosheet.org".

Steve Walker is the author of the  book, “A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators” available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/AzaNta or direct from the publisher, Pocol Press: http://bit.ly/y51taI.

  • Steve

    William Y. – thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed the article. I absolutely love the ’69 Nats team. Nearly every one of them was dismissed as a failure in baseball at some point in their careers, but all of them persevered, had some good moments, and lasted long enough in the game to earn pensions. Nearly all of them also went on to great success on other teams, as coaches, or in business. Tim Cullen, Darold Knowles, and Mike Epstein helped the A’s win championships. Del Unser was the hero of the 1980 play-offs for the Phillies. Ed Brinkman’s injury in the ’72 ALCS was the factor that kept the Tigers out of the Series. Joe Coleman pitched one of the best playoff games ever that season. Jim French and Jim Hannan became successful businessmen and Hannan was instrumental in forming the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. Dave Baldwin became a renaissance man and author. Dick Bosman trains the Tamp Bay minor league pitchers, many of whom now excel in the Show.

    What a special, wonderful, unique club of men! We in DC should be proud to claim all of them, not just Frank Howard and Teddy Ballgame, as our own, our sports heroes!