Tag Archives: Washington Senators

How many major league ballplayers died serving their country in World War II?

On this Memorial Day, I awoke early, wondering how many major league baseball players lost their lives in the service of their country. The son of a World War II veteran, I was most curious about that conflict, and a Google search quickly pointed me to the Baseball in Wartime site.

The site reveals that only two men with major league experience died in WWII, Elmer Gedeon of the Washington Senators and Harry O’Neill,  who played just one game with the Philadelphia Athletics.

The site has a long list of minor league players who gave their lives in the European and Pacific theaters, and it has long lists of pro baseball players of all levels who served in the military throughout U.S. history.

The site is well worth a visit for anyone who loves America and its national pastime.

On Presidents’ Day, a tip of the cap to William Howard Taft for starting the ‘first pitch’ tradition

Baseball Hall of Fame photo of William Howard Taft following through

For most Americans, William Howard Taft is not the first chief executive to leap to mind as we celebrate Presidents’ Day. But we baseball fans owe him homage for starting one of our country’s most enduring traditions: the president throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the season.

From a specially built box at National Park (later and better known as Griffith Stadium), Taft tossed the old horsehide out to Walter Johnson to mark the beginning of the 1910 season as the Washington Senators hosted the Philadelphia Athletics.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of how the tradition evolved, and it’s ready-made for trivia questions. (E.g., who was the second vice president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch? Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, 1959. The first was Taft’s VP, James Sherman, in 1912.)

Over at Baseball Almanac, there’s a great summary of how the tradition began. Clark Griffith had asked both William McKinely and Grover Cleveland to do the honors but they turned him down. It took a baseball fan like Taft, who at 300 pounds was only slightly heavier than C.C. Sabathia, to do the honors.

The Senators won 3-0, and Taft came back to open the 1911 season. A tradition was born.

Taft had plenty of troubles to manage in his administration, but he had the good sense to take in a baseball game every now and then. For that, we salute him.

Missing the Washington Senators

A national touring production of “Damn Yankees” is swinging by the Modesto area, and the news dredged up some unexpected pleasant memories. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Senators, and I think I know why.

Growing up an Indians fan in the 60s, I knew that if I went to a game at Cleveland Stadium, the odds were always better for a Tribe win if the Senators were in town. But it goes deeper than that.

With the Nationals in our nation’s capitol, the Senators take on a patina of old-timey cool. There are two ex-Senators clubs, of course: the Twins and Rangers, each created when the original teams fled the District for greener (as in money) pastures.

The franchise that is now the Twins was the one on which “Damn Yankees” is based. Even though I was born before they headed to the Twin Cities, I have no memory of that club. But the Texas-bound Rangers that formed as an expansion team in ’61 I knew well, and that team seemed damned to an eternity of being “last in the Amerian League,” as the saying goes.

I’ve just looked over the Washington Nationals roster, and I don’t find enough recognizable talent to project anything more than a mediocre team in 2012. I’d like for the Nationals to succeed, though, and break that ancient curse.

For Oscar night, a list of my favorite baseball movies

Oscar takes center  stage tonight at the annual Academy Awards, and this is a good time to reveal my list of favorite baseball movies. The list is just that: my favorites, influenced as much by sentiment and personal experience as it is by objective judgments on quality film-making.

A few ground rules: It contains movies that primarily focus on baseball, which leaves out “Mr. Destiny” and a few other favorites in which baseball is featured but doesn’t dominate. And the list contains movies that I’ve actually seen at the theatre, on television, on cable, or on DVD or tape. That leaves out a few good ones that I still have on my “must see” list like “Bang the Drum Slowly.”

“Lights, camera, batter up!”

1. Field of Dreams: Unquestionably my favorite. This movie conveys the transcendent magic of the game as it explores the role the sport plays in family relationships, particularly those of father and son. I love the book on which the movie is based (“Shoeless Joe”), but I love the movie even more. It is baseball perfection on film.

2. A League of Their Own: This highly entertaining tale of women’s professional baseball shows an amazing reverence for the game. It evokes an era long gone is splendid style.

3. The Natural: Another superb period piece, a story of “what might have been” and of redemption. Robert Redford, Wilford Brimley and the rest of the cast are superb.

4. For Love of the Game: Even with its “chick flick” aspects, it’s still a great baseball story. “For Love” gets inside the head of the pitcher (“clear the mechanism”) better than any movie I’ve ever seen.

5. Pride of the Yankees: Gary Cooper is perfect as Lou Gehrig. This is the best of its generation of baseball biographies, marked by triumph and tragedy and an always-supportive spouse who keeps the scrapbook up to date.

6. Major League: The top all-out comedy on my list, I can’t help but love this movie, a fantasy about the Cleveland Indians winning the pennant. Bonus: It was filmed at Milwaukee County Stadium with Bob Uecker as the broadcaster.

7. The Rookie: This is a modern take on the plucky-player-overcomes-obstacles-and-the-odds to find success as a big leaguer, even if only for a brief time. Who among us doesn’t cling to the hope that given a chance, we’d make the team?

8. The Stratton Story: A great career cut down by a hunting accident, only to spur a great comeback.

9. The Winning Team: A great career derailed by alchoholism, only to spur a great comeback.

10. Bull Durham: I know this movie is tops for many fans. I like it well enough, but it didn’t move me.

11. Angels in the Outfield: Corny I know, but I still liked it. I’m still kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to be a crowd extra when the movie was filmed at the Oakland Coliseum.

12. Fear Strikes Out: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen this bio on Jimmy Piersall, whose temper and inner demons tormented him. I watched this one with my dad, who told me about some of the crazy antics he’d seen from Piersall.

13. It Happens Every Spring: A bit on the obscure side, this film is about a magic formula that makes the ball avoid wood and hop over the bat. Bonus: A black and white film whose producers were so obsessed with realism that they painted the ball field grass green to make it more believable on screen. This was one of my dad’s favorites.

14. Mr. Baseball: I expected little from this movie about Tom Selleck as a washed up big leaguer making a go of it in Japan. It was surprisingly good.

15. The Sandlot: A nice yarn about a bunch of kids playing the game the way all kids play it, squeezing in a game wherever they can, hoping they don’t lose the ball.

16. Damn Yankees: This is one of the first baseball movies I ever saw, and I can’t recall liking it a whole lot. It did plant the seed of loathing the Yankees. While I’d never sell my soul in exchange for a Washington Senators’ pennant, I’m much more vulnerable when it comes to the Indians.

A tip of the cap to Lou Piniella

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In a graceful move, Lou Piniella has announced he’ll retire after wrapping up the season with the Chicago Cubs. Piniella has distinguished himself as someone who excelled as a player and a manager, a combination that is uncommon if not rare.

I’ve followed Piniella’s career for a long time, dating back to when I picked up his first Topps rookie card* in 1964 and then as he moved briefly into the Indians’ organization as a top prospect who was ultimately dealt away for better times elsewhere. He managed for the Yankees and in Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Petersburg and for the Cubs.

Winning a World Series with the Reds was certainly a career highlight, and he had his most successful playing years with the Yankees. In both roles, he brought competitive fire to the field daily. Thanks, Lou, for all you’ve done for the game.

*Amazingly, Piniella appeared on Topps rookie cards for the Senators, Indians and Seattle Pilots, which also is a rarity.

Baseball and Black Friday

This is Black Friday, when millions of bargain-crazed Americans head to the malls to shop for deeply discounted merchandise. The only purchases I’ve made today have been on behalf of my son: at the doctor’s office, the pharmacy and – in a weak moment – an online gaming site.

If you’re a baseball fan and a fan of baseball caps, the Major League Baseball site is running a sale at the MLB.com Shop. I’m not buying anything there today, but this orange-billed San Francisco Giants cap did catch my eye.

I also stumbled onto a link to one of what the site describes as several recordings of classic baseball games on radio that you can buy. The one in the Giants’ area was of a game against the Astros at Enron Field. That park carried that name for so short a time that I’m amazed there was time to find a classic there. I’ll be poking around to find more classic broadcasts available on the site.

I’d love to dredge up some old Cleveland Indians’ broadcasts from the 1960s, when the team was usually terrible. Imagine reliving thrills from 1967 as the Tribe and Washington Senators battled for seventh place in the American League! Seriously, I’d love to hear random games from the past, if only to recall so many fine old players like Ken McMullen and Sonny Siebert or to hear announcers like Jimmy Dudley on WERE in Cleveland or Ray Lane and Ernie Harwell on WJR in Detroit.

Can a fantasy sports team wreck your love of baseball?

Late in tonight’s ballgame between the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays, slugging Carlos Pena came up with two men on and a chance to break a scoreless tie and give the Rays the victory. I was listening to the game on the car radio on  my way home from work, and I faced a deep philosophical choice.

Carlos Pena

Carlos Pena

Do I pull for Pena, one of the stalwarts on one of my fantasy baseball teams? Or do I root for the A’s, a team I’ve followed as my “home team” for most of the past two decades?

I stuck with the A’s, who – amazingly – retired Pena, pushed the game into extra innings and won it in the 11th with a rare outburst of four runs.

I’m a casual fantasy player, and oddly I seem to fare worst in baseball, the sport I played the most and know the best. Maybe that somehow underscores the tussle in my psyche between pulling for a real team versus a fake one. Or maybe I just suck at fantasy baseball.

I do wonder how the ballplayers react when a fan at a road game comes up and says: “Dude, I’ve got you on my fantasy team. You gotta start hitting.”

What cheek.

When I was a kid – and I’m just old enough to remember the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators as expansion teams – I could recite the starting lineups of the American League teams. I had a fair knowledge of the National League lineups, too. With 30 teams in the leagues today, and with players changing uniforms multiple times over a career, it’s awfully tough to keep track. (Fernando Tatis is still playing, and he’s a Met???)

But trolling the fantasy baseball stats helps me know who’s where in real time, better than the stacks of Topps baseball cards I used to sort meticulously team by team. Managing fantasy hockey teams has certainly deepened my knowledge of the stars and muckers of that great sport, and for that I’m grateful. In fact, it was the EA Sports NHL video games that really helped me get a handle on the players and teams when my interest in hockey surged back full-tilt.

Is fantasy baseball pure and true? No, not even close. But how can anything that brings you a deeper understanding and appreciation for a sport be bad?