May 25

Remembering Joe Judge on his Birthday

*Remembering Brooklyn born Joseph Ignatius JudgeJoe Judge” on his 119th birthday. When Joe was a young boy his family moved to the Upper East Side of New York. When Joe was 12 years-old he enjoyed playing baseball. One day while playing shortstop Joe was noticed by a local mailman Bud Hannah. Bud took some interest in Joe, enough so that he realized Joe who batted and threw left-handed would probably be better off playing first base. Bud surprised Joe with a brand new first base glove. As the saying goes the rest is history. Or should I say D.C. Baseball History.

When Joe Judge was only 18 years-old Clark Griffith bought his contract from the Boston Red Sox. Joe will go on to play for the next 18 seasons for the Senators. During his days in Washington Joe Judge was known as greatest fielding first baseman to ever play in the American League. I’m not just saying that because he led all American League first basemen in fielding eight times, I’m saying it because that is what the AP reported on December 4, 1930, in the Reading Eagle. The title of the story was Joe Judge Leads American League First Basemen in Fielding for Eighth Time. In the story the AP reported that Joe Judge was officially recognized as the greatest fielding first baseman of All American League History.

Joe could hit also, from 1920 to 1930, Joe batted .300 or better nine times. When it comes to Washington D.C. Baseball History Joe Judge is right up there with Sam Rice and Walter Johnson.

To commemorate this wonderful player on his birthday I have invited Joe Judge’s grandson Mark Judge to do a Q & A interview. Besides being one of Joe Judge’s grandsons Mark is also the author of the book Damn Senators.

MH – How long did it take for you to write the book Damn Senators?

MJ – I think it was about a year. It started as an article in the Washington City Paper, which I sent to Peter Collier, who is a huge baseball fan and at the time was the editor at Encounter Books, who published the book.

MH – Do you think the Washington Nationals should do more to honor players like Joe Judge at Nationals Park?

MJ – Of course! I think they need to do a Joe Judge bobblehead. I was happy to see Harmon Killebrew and Walter Johnson and some other Nats going up on the inside ring of the stadium. I think Joe Judge should be up there also. I mean, this is a man who gave 40 years to Washington baseball – as a Nat from 1915 to 1932 and then as a baseball coach for twenty years at Georgetown University.

MH – Can you tell my readers about the day “October 21, 1990” your grandfather was inducted into Washington’s Ring of Fame?

MJ – A great day. The City Paper article I had written about him had just been published. Because of it, I was the only one of the grandchildren who got to go to the ceremony – there weren’t enough tickets for everyone, but because I had done this article I got a pass. The game was against the Eagles and we got to sit right down on the field. I remember hearing the crowd getting louder and louder as they went through grandpa’s stats, and how it reached a high pitch when they said he played in the 1924 World Series. The other athletes inducted that day were John Riggins, Joe Theisman and Elvin Hayes. I was in DC sports heaven.

MH – Washington Senators teammates, do you know who your grandfather’s closest friends were?

MJ – I know that he lived next to Sam Rice in Petworth when he first came to Washington, and that he was friends with Walter Johnson. I think he was friends with all his teammates. I don’t know if some friendships were closer than others, but my researched indicated that he was with Walter Johnson a lot – they were both similar personalities.

MH – In your book “Damn Senators” you mention that your grandfather passed away a year before you were born. I was wondering how old you were when you started to realize that your grandfather was one of if not the best first baseman in baseball during the 1920’s.

MJ – I was born in 1964. I knew growing up in DC because I would get asked about it – you know, you go to the doctor or get a job and are filling out paperwork, and the person says, “Are you related to Joe Judge?” I worked in a bar in Glover Park in the 1980s, and the owner was an old-timer and Nats fanatic. I simply could not get fired from this job because he loved Joe Judge so much. He literally talked about him every time I saw him.

MH – I know the saying “Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League” really burns you up. Can you explain to my readers why the saying bothers you so much?

MJ – It’s a lazy and dumb cliche, made to make the person who utters it look wise. The Senators were never as bad as that, in attendance or otherwise. They were good, or at least not dreadful, for entire decades!

MH – I know you personally don’t like the New York Yankees. I was hoping you could share with us a story you like to tell about a game where your grandfather has something to do with the Great Bambino getting knocked out cold at Griffith Stadium in 1924.

MJ – It was on July 5. My grandfather hit a foul ball, and Babe Ruth ran into a wall chasing it down. Knocked himself out cold. The picture is in Damn Senators. It’s funny, but only because Ruth was not seriously hurt. I do dislike the Yankees, but I don’t want to see any of them hurt! Also, what irks me more are Yankee fans that are not from New York. You know, you’re in the supermarket and see I guy from Bethesda with Yankees gear on. Come on.

MH – Do you know if your grandfather, who grew up in Brooklyn, got any extra joy beating the Bronx Bombers to win the American League pennant in 1924 and 1925.

MJ – Actually, what I learned was that he liked going to New York because it was where he grew up. He made it a point to see Bud Hannah, the mailman who had given him his first, first baseman’s mitt.

MH – Do you think it was harder for players to make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame in the early 40’s? I ask this, because when your grandfather retired from baseball in 1934 he held the following defensive American League Records for career games at first base (2,056), putouts (19,021), assists (1,284), total chances (20,444), double plays (1,476) and fielding percentage (.993), and led all AL first basemen in fielding average eight times, at the time was a record. He was also very productive with the bat as he was ranked in the top ten in the American League with hits (2,328), doubles (431), games played (2,129), triples (158) and at bats (7,786), and ninth in walks (958). I believe if a player in today’s baseball ended his career ranked so high in all of these categories he would make the Hall of Fame.

MJ – He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period! But he wasn’t a big, colorful character who played for a New York team, and he wrote – or rather his son, my father – wrote a piece critical of the Hall of Fame that was published in Sports Illustrated. But he should be in there. The stats speak for themselves.

MH – I’m not sure if most Washington baseball fans know your grandfather’s baseball days were not over in the nation’s capital when his major league career ended. Can you tell us a little bit about his baseball career after his playing days were over?

MJ – He coached at Georgetown University for 20 years – he’s in the Georgetown Sports Hall of Fame. He absolutely loved it. But they had a mandatory retirement age, which he reached in 1959. It broke his heart to leave because he loved it. He sent several players from there to the majors.

MH – Mark, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview about you and your grandfather on his birthday.  Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?

MJ – My favorite quote about Joe Judge came from Sam Rice after my grandfather’s passing” “There was no play he couldn’t make.” Happy birthday gramps!

Click on this link to see how Joe Judge ranked all-time in Washington hitting records.

I want to thank Mark Judge for doing this interview.

*This story was originally posted on May 25, 2011.