Aug 18

The Night the Lights Went Out at Griffith Stadium

This Date In Washington Baseball History – August 18, 1942

On December 8, 1941, prompted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States formally entered World War II.  Soon afterward, many prominent major league and minor league baseball players either enlisted or were drafted into the United States Armed Forces. Faced with losing many of the star players on all teams, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and asked the President if the major leagues should suspended their operations for the duration of the War.

On January 15, 1942, in his famous “Green Light Letter” to Commissioner Landis, President Roosevelt wrote that he felt it would be in the best interests of the country that baseball continue. The President’s reasoning was that after days of hard work to support the War effort, workers needed to take their minds off work, and the recreation that baseball provided could be obtained at an affordable cost. The games continued.

On the night of August 18, 1942, a crowd of approximately 6,000 gathered at Griffith Stadium to watch the Washington Nationals play the Philadelphia Athletics. Neither team was going anywhere in the 1942 pennant race. The Nats occupied seventh place in the A.L. standings with a record of 46-65 – 29 games behind the first-place Yankees. The A’s brought up the rear at 45-76 – 35 games out of the top spot. Philadelphia manager Connie Mack sent Phil Marchildon, a right hander with a record of 13-10 to the mound.  Washington manager Bucky Harris countered with Venezuelan right hander Alex Carrasquel, who entered the contest at 5-4.

The A’s drew first blood in the top of the first inning when right fielder Elmer Valo (who would later become a pinch-hitting specialist for the 1960 Senators) doubled and scored on a single by third baseman Buddy Blair.  The Nats tied the score in the sixth inning when Ellis Clary beat out a bunt, was sacrificed to second by Carrasquel, and scored on George Case’s single to left field.

Carrasquel retired the A’s in the seventh and the Nats went to work in their half. Bruce Campbell opened the inning with a single and Mickey Vernon drew a base on balls off Marchildon. Catcher Jake Early fouled off an attempted sacrifice bunt. Suddenly, the sound of air raid sirens filled the air. A few moments later, the city of Washington was in totAl Darkness. According to the Washington Post’s Shirley Povich, “Not a match flickered, or a cigarette glowed. All lights were doused within a minute of the original scream of sirens.”

The crowd settled in and waited through the blackout. Impromptu barbershop quartets broke into song throughout the park and later, popular recordings were played over the P.A. system.

Approximately 45 minutes after the initial warning, air raid sirens, which Povich described as “sounding like a herd of moo-cows,” gave the all-clear. The stadium lights went on, and after another wait of five minutes for the players to get loose, the game resumed. Early was successful on his second sacrifice attempt and Marchildon walked Nats shortstop John Sullivan to load the bases.  Clary stepped to the plate and delivered a single to left that scored Campbell with the go-ahead run. Vernon tried to score from second but was thrown out at the plate on left fielder Bob Johnson’s accurate throw to Philadelphia catcher Hal Wagner.

Thanks to a sparkling double play that was started by Vernon, Carrasquel was able to pitch out of a first-and-third, no out situation in the eighth. After Mike Kreevich struck out, Valo ripped a sharp ground ball down the first base line. Vernon grabbed the ball, stepped on first for the second out and threw home to catcher Early, who blocked the plate and tagged Dee Miles for the third out. In the ninth, Carrasquel escaped a similar situation by retiring Eric McNair on a line drive to shortstop Sullivan and striking out “Crash” Davis for the final out. The Nats had recorded a 2-1 win.

Blackout drills would become regular occurrences for District residents through the remainder of the War. Fortunately, future blackouts would be nothing more than drills.