Nats hope to repeat feat of '24 DC baseball champs
And that was before fans could check scores on their smartphones.
This year, President Barack Obama congratulated the Nationals when they clinched a playoff, saying at a campaign event in Virginia, "You guys are looking very good."
The 2012 Nationals will bring considerably more muscle to the postseason than their '24 forebears. This Nats' lineup features four players with at least 22 home runs. The entire Senators team hit 22 home runs, last in the American League, and less than half of Babe Ruth's 46 that year. Only one Senator, Goose Goslin, hit more than three.
Instead, the '24 team generated runs by getting on base, with three regulars hitting at least .324 — outfielders Goslin (.344 with 17 triples and 129 RBIs) and Sam Rice (.334), and first baseman Joe Judge (.324). Goslin, Rice and Walter Johnson were all future Hall of Famers.
But they faced a daunting opponent in the World Series. The New York Giants had won their fourth straight pennant, and their lineup was packed with six future Hall of Famers, including rookie Bill Terry, who later became the last .400 hitter in National League history.
Most fans were pulling for Johnson and the Senators.
"Outside of the most rabid of Giant partisans, fans throughout this country will root for him in unison," predicted The Associated Press.
"All the sentiment of sentimental Washington is built around Johnson," declared The New York Times, adding that the country was rooting for the Senators because they are "young and dashing and enthusiastic. New York is hated because it has won too many pennants and possesses too much money and is too powerful."
But Johnson didn't have his best stuff in the series. He went the distance in a 12-inning, Game 1 loss in Washington's Griffith Stadium, surrendering four runs on 14 hits and six walks. Then he lost game 5 at New York's Polo Grounds, giving up six runs (four earned) on 13 hits, and the Senators fell behind three games to two. Johnson said after the game he would probably retire, and with no scheduled starts remaining, it looked like he'd end his career with two World Series losses.
"Giant bats penned one of the saddest stories ever known to baseball yesterday," the Times reported. "After the name of Walter Johnson they wrote 'finis,' for it was Johnson, before the second greatest crowd of the series, who tried again and failed again. When Johnson's own world's series finally came along he couldn't win a single game . Even for (New York fans) it was a tragic affair and Johnson the most tragic figure that ever stalked through a world's series."
The series returned to Washington for the final two games, and the Senators won Game 6 to tie the series. In the seventh and deciding game, the Senators fell behind 3-1, but tied it in the eighth on a ground ball by player-manager Harris that scooted over third baseman Freddy Lindstrom's head, sending the crowd into delirium. As Washington's fielders trotted out for the top of the ninth, fans continued to cheer when they saw none other than Johnson come in as a relief pitcher.
Things didn't go smoothly for the Big Train. He gave up a one-out triple, putting him in danger of losing his third World Series game. But Johnson got a crucial strikeout and then ended the threat on groundout. When the game went to extra innings, Johnson kept pitching in and out of trouble, working around a leadoff walk in the 10th, two men on base in the 11th and a leadoff single in the 12th.
In the bottom of the 12th, the Senators put runners on first and second with one out. Earl McNeely, an expensive late-season acquisition ($50,000), hit a grounder to third. Incredibly, the ball took a bad hop over Lindstrom's head, just as it did in the eighth inning, and Muddy Ruel raced home from second with the winning run. Fans stormed the field and danced on dugouts, and police had to rescue players from the adoring masses.
Had fate intervened to send those balls careening the Senators' way?
"Perhaps the millions of fans pulling for Washington to win its first World Series championship influenced the usually fickle goddess of luck to give a little lift to the gallant Nationals," wrote famed sportswriter Fred Lieb.
The Giants losing pitcher, Jack Bentley, looked higher than that: "The good Lord just couldn't bear to see a fine fellow like Walter Johnson lose again."
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frederic J. Frommer is the author of the book, "The Washington Nationals 1859 to Today: The Story of Baseball in the Nation's Capital," (2006, Taylor Trade). Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ffrommer
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