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Apr 03

My Almost Unbelievable Story

As the 2012 American League’s baseball season swings into action, just the thought of all the excitement brings back so many of my fondest memories of Griffith Stadium. My almost unbelievable baseball story should commence by saying that as a kid, I was a baseball nut. I loved watching the Washington Senators play and every chance that I got to see them play at home, I would hop on the streetcar; make a transfer at Seventh and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, and head uptown from our small apartment in Southeast to Griffith Stadium.

Gayle Devers once said, “Remember all things are possible for those who believe.” As a kid, I believed and was able to turn my dream into the greatest job in the world! You see, I was the visiting teams’ batboy for the Washington Senators during the 1953 and 1954 seasons.

My almost unbelievable luck in becoming a batboy had its incubus while I was home alone one day in 1952 watching a game on television. It was game seven of the 1952 World Series between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. As I watched, I saw a Yankee batboy retrieve Mickey Mantle’s bat after he hit a home run in the sixth inning. I would like to be a batboy for the Washington Senators, I thought

I knew that Clark C. Griffith owned the Senators, so I picked up the telephone book and began my search for Mr. Griffith. Sure enough, there it was as plain as day – Clark C. Griffith.

I dialed the number and none other than Mr. Griffith answered. I told him my name and said that I would like to become a batboy for the Washington Senators. Mr. Griffith, in a most polite voice, told me that he did not hire batboys, but that Mr. Fred Baxter did. He then gave me Mr. Baxter’s home telephone number.

I immediately called and spoke with Mr. Baxter, telling him that Mr. Griffith gave me his name and phone number, and went on to explain that I would like to become a batboy for the Senators. The events that took place after that phone conversation were enough to excite any baseball fan; imagine walking into an empty, yet amazingly beautiful Griffith Stadium in January 1953; passing row after row of pay telephones, isolated concession stands, and sniffing the aroma of fresh baking bread as I made my way to the Senators’ clubhouse. Well after one real bummer and heartbreak trip—along with a couple of positive interviews, my luck returned and I was hired as the visiting team’s batboy.

While at the stadium and after receiving word that the scheduled Opening Day ceremonies and game were cancelled due to rain, I left the visiting team clubhouse for home; however, I did not head directly to the gate and out of the stadium. I made an immediate detour to the left, up the steps into the stands, past the grandstand and box seats, and walked onto the ball field.

The infield was covered with tarps to protect it from the inclement weather. Nevertheless, the view of the entire stadium was spectacular! I marveled at the brilliant green grass in the outfield, the huge poles with lights for night baseball, the manually operated scoreboard in right center field, distances from home plate boldly inscribed on outfield walls, the grandstands, bleachers, premium box seats, the announcers’ radio and TV boxes, pitchers’ bull pen and, of course, two dugouts. There in left field, hovering high above the bleachers, was “Mr. Boh” (the National Bohemian Beer sign). Later I learned that it was fifty-six feet tall. It was destined to become a part of baseball history as photos with it in the background took their place in all sorts of record books.

I had seen all of these sights before. However, that day they projected for me a different feeling and meaning. As a batboy, I had grown much closer to the sport I loved and of which I very much wanted to be part.

Perhaps, my greatest thrill ever took place on Thursday, April 16, 1953, when I trotted onto the field wearing the uniform of the New York Yankees and in company of such greats as Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin, Gene Woodling, Ed Lopat, Vic Raschi, and manager Casey Stengel. Yes, Opening Day had finally arrived and seated in the stands was President Eisenhower and a number of other dignitaries.

What a great and exciting day for me! As I polished the players’ spikes and dreamed about that day, I remember thinking nothing could top the thrill of my very first Opening Day as a batboy. Boy was I about to be proven wrong!

*Jack L. Hayes is the author of the recently-released book, Baseball’s Finest Moments is offered on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.

  • cyclonus5150

    I’m dying to hear some more details about Griffith. I know these things are mundane to most but I want to know what game day was like – what kinds of food did they sell and did they have a lot of concession stands? What was it like to walk up to and into the stadium? From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks like there were a ton of buildings you had to enter prior to geting into the actual stadium. Something like an amusement park, no? Were there sports bars and activities outside and around the stadium? Were there hat and t-shirt vendors outside? How much were tickets? Did they do special promotions?

    • Jack L. Hayes

      I have attempted to answer each of your questions in a one-by-one manner, see below:
      “I’m dying to hear some more details about Griffith. I know these things are mundane to most but “I want to know what game day was like.” Game day was great fun—that was—after my clubhouse chores (ensuring the clubhouse was clean, towels in place, drink cooler and snack boxes filled, etc.) were done. My boss, Isadore Siegel, was just great to work for and once my chores were completed, he would let me go on the field with the team during batting practice. Players in those days were just great! My fondest memories must include receiving batting lessons from Ted Williams, bunting tips from Phil Rizzuto, having fun and playing catch with Satchel Paige. Then there were many others who treated this kid just fantastic including Casey Stengel, Mickey Vernon, Gene Verble, Vern Stephens, Jim Piersall, and Nellie Fox. Oh, I could go on forever!
      As for the field, imagine what it was like to be in the same outfield where Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and dozens of other immortal stars played. After the game, the other batboy and I picked up towels, emptied trash, and swept the clubhouse. We also had to make certain that the dugout was clear and no team items left behind. The biggest job, cleaning and polishing every player’s spikes and properly placing them in front of their lockers, took a great deal of time as at least twenty-five pairs were involved.

      “What kinds of food did they sell and did they have a lot of concession stands?” Food consisted of mostly hot dogs and peanuts. As for the number of concession stands, I don’t remember, but I don’t think there were many. However, vendors were always passing throughout the stands selling their items.

      “What was it like to walk up to and into the stadium?” Without question, my greatest memory of walking up and into the stadium took place on that Saturday in January 1953, when I went to the Senators’ clubhouse to meet with Mr. Baxter regarding a batboy job. As I said in my book, the word excited could not come close to describing just how I felt. I was told to enter through a particular gate that was unlocked and once inside, the stadium was empty and a ghostlike silence loomed throughout as I made my way to the locker room. As I walked I could see that magnificent playing field and not a person in sight. There were rows of pay telephones and a number of empty concession stands. One of the most memorable things was the strong odor of baking bread. (I knew this smell because we lived in a small apartment above Sam’s Bakery in the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue S.E.) I would later discover that that great smell was coming from a nearby bakery. (FYI, I devoted Chapter 3 of my book to “The Marvels of Griffith Stadium” and it includes a number of stadium characteristics and a few interesting bits of history.)

      “Were there sports bars and activities outside and around the stadium?” There was nothing like the sports bars we know today. There may have been a neighborhood bar or two near the stadium, but I don’t remember seeing any. Keep in mind that during the early ‘50s, a number of businesses and even schools throughout D.C. were segregated until a court ruling in 1954. Also, in the early ‘50s, very few bars or even families had one of those black and white small screen televisions that was packaged inside of an enormous console. (In those days, the picture tube was huge and the TV components consisted of a variety of somewhat good size tube and electronic board sizes.) The one place that I visited occasionally after I became a batboy was a “greasy-spoon” restaurant in close proximity to the entry gates. It was fairly common for a player or two to ask me to run an errand and pick up some type of sandwich for them. Naturally, such a run usually meant that the player would give me a small tip ranging anywhere from 25 cents up to a dollar.

      “Were there hat and t-shirt vendors outside? How much were tickets? Did they do special promotions?” I don’t remember seeing vendors on the streets, but there were a few inside of the stadium selling caps, scorecards, Senators pennants, photo books, etc. Tickets in those days were $2.50 for box seats, $1.25/1.50 grandstands, bleachers were once 60 cents and later 75 cents.
      Promotions for kids like me before my batboy days was to join Bob Wolf’s Knot-Hole Gang. Each kid who joined this group received a membership card along with the ability to attend a few promotional Senators’ baseball games free of charge. Sometimes, school patrol kids could get in free and well as some school baseball teams during various promotions. I had other money-saving arrangements as well. Bleacher tickets cost only seventy-five cents, and practically every kid around D.C., knew that by the seventh inning—more likely than not—they would be able to sneak down from the bleachers into the grandstands for a better view, or if really lucky, into an empty box seat close to the visiting team’s dugout.

      Cyclonus, hopefully I have satisfactorily answered your questions. I have only mentioned a few highlights of my experiences at Griffith Stadium and I shall always remember and cherish every moment that I spent there.
      Jack Hayes

      • cyclonus5150

        Jack – This was more than I could have ever hoped for in terms of a response. I’m going to grab your book and dig into chapter 3. I guess for me the truly romantic allure of Griffith is a baseball experience that seems to have been all about the game. Today’s fan experience is so incredibly distracted by a cornucopia of foods, drinks, souvenirs and amenities. While I love all of these things – they’ve all I’ve ever known – there is certainly a part of me that would give anything to go back in time to watch the Senators play the Red Sox at Griffith Stadium on a beautiful Washington spring afternoon.

        It absolutely blows me away that a place with so many incredible memories – a field of legends – simply doesn’t exist anymore. Gone without a trace. It was just as important as Fenway or Wrigley, in my opinion.

        Thanks so much for sharing.

        • Jack L. Hayes

          My pleasure! Glad you enjoyed my response. Since you mentioned buying my book and you also commented about wishing to have seen a game with the Senators playing the Red Sox, I hope you enjoy Chapter 12 (Ted Williams). I believe that I saw and grew to respect the Ted Williams that few others got to see. I think this chapter will also assist you in helping to better understand why Ted’s relationship with the press was less than positive, especially as it relates to the Most Valuable Player Award voting which took place during the 1942 and 1947 seasons.