A look back at the last World Series for D.C.

A look back at the last World Series for D.C.
October 27, 2013, 10:45 am
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2013 marks 80 years since a Washington baseball team was in the World Series. In 1933 the Senators fell to the New York Giants and since D.C. has seen teams come and go, with only one of them making the playoffs. 

Given it has been eight decades since D.C. was in the Fall Classic, it seems like a good time to look back. We asked Frederic Frommer, author of 'You Gotta Have Heart,' about that 1933 series. Frommer is well-versed in the history of baseball in D.C. after writing the book on the sport's history in the city.

CSNwashington: It has now been 80 years since D.C. has hosted a World Series, what happened last time a Washington team played in the Fall Classic?

Frederic Frommer: In 1933, the Washington Senators squared off against the New York Giants for the second time in a decade. In 1924, the Senators had defeated the Giants in seven games to claim Washington’s only World Series championship. This time around, the Senators were favored to beat the Giants again. The Nats lost the first two games in New York, then came back home and defeated the Giants at Griffith Stadium, 4-0, behind Earl Whitehill’s complete game shutout, to narrow the lead to two games to one. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was among the 25,727 fans in attendance, as rain and the Depression conspired to keep the attendance down. The next day, Hall-of-Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell pitched all 11 innings to lead the Giants to a 2-1 victory, his second win in the series. The Giants wrapped up the series the following afternoon, when another Hall-of-Famer, Mel Ott, hit a home run in the top of the 10th to pace New York’s 4-3 victory.

CSN: What was that 1933 regular season like for the Senators?

FF: The Senators were a dominant team that year. They posted a baseball-best .651 winning percentage, and finished seven games ahead of the New York Yankees, who had won the American League pennant the previous year. Washington’s potent offense featured four regulars who hit over .300, and two others who hit .295 or better. Veteran outfielder Heinie Manush led the team with a .336 average and 17 triples, and player-manager Joe Cronin, who played shortstop, hit .309 with 118 RBIs on just five home runs. Whitehill won 22 games and posted a 3.33 ERA. The Senators averaged less than 6,000 fans a game that season, but that was still good enough for second place in the American League in 1933. When the team clinched the pennant against the St. Louis Browns, Cronin was "besieged in the clubhouse by a hero-worshiping throng of thousands of fans of both sexes gone mildly mad," the Washington Post reported at the time. To escape, Cronin bolted out of the clubhouse back onto the field, then sprinted to a door in the outfield wall to get out of the ballpark.

CSN: I understand the Senators had a new manager that year, why did they get rid of Walter Johnson?

FF: Senators owner Clark Griffith, who had success with a young player-manager named Bucky Harris when the team won its only other pennants in 1924-25, decided to take a similar route in 1933. He hired Cronin, just 26, as player-manager, after firing Walter Johnson. Johnson, better known for his days as a Hall-of-Fame pitcher, had done a good job as manager – in four seasons as Washington skipper, he posted a .570 winning percentage. But the team didn’t win any pennants under Johnson, who was considered too much of a “nice guy” to motivate the team.

CSN: How did hiring Joe Cronin work out for Washington?

FF: The move paid immediate dividends with the ’33 pennant. “Cronin has been credited with imparting something akin to college-boy spirit to the Senators,” The Associated Press reported that year. The following year, Cronin literally became part of the Washington baseball family, when he married Griffith’s niece and adopted daughter, Mildred Robertson. But on the field, the Senators tanked in 1934, falling to a seventh-place finish in the eight-team league, 34 games out of first place. And after the season, Griffith traded Cronin, his star player-manager and son-in-law, to the Boston Red Sox for $250,000 ($4.4 million in today’s dollars), and an inconsequential player. Cronin would lead the Sox to the 1946 pennant – their first since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees – while the Senators would never again play in the World Series. Ironically, when the expansion Senators moved to Texas in 1971, Cronin was the American League president. “As an old Washington player, this is very sad, indeed, but there was no feasible alternative,” he said when making the announcement at 11:30 p.m.

CSN: Let's talk about the current team, what do you think they need to take care of this offseason to still be playing this time next year?

FF: The team itself is in good shape – while the Nats should add a good starter and some left-handed relief help, the nucleus is there for a good season. I think that 2013 was just one of those down years that happen sometimes, especially after a great season (it sure wasn’t as bad as the Senators’ 1934 drop-off, when they won 33 fewer games than 1933!) The Nats showed the rest of baseball what they were capable of with their strong showing in the last month of the 2012 season.

For more information on Frommer's book about the history of baseball in Washington, check out the page for 'You Gotta Have Heart' on Amazon.com.