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old dude, all hair, swell new teeth

15 April 2005

besbol is back in DC!!!

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My family hath dwelt in and around Washington DC (I escaped) since shortly after the Civil War / War Between the States (1861 - 1865, the North won).

Naturally the most important thing that has ever happened in Washington DC is baseball, o besbol en Español.

My Grampa Charley used to take me to Griffith Stadium to watch the Washington Senators play. We had seats right above the Senators' dugout, and that was the first (and only) place and time I watched men chewing tobacco and spitting the brown tobacco juice in long parabolas out onto the field.

In quite recent years, the big "smokeless" tobacco companies -- chewing tobacco and snuff -- have hired major-league baseball players to visit high school baseball teams to give them baseball tips, and introduce them to chewing tobacco, which is much healthier for teenage athletes than smoking. I think maybe they don't do that anymore, but I could be wrong.

The baseball card believed to be the most valuable in existence, Honus Wagner 1909-1911, is so precious because it was issued by Piedmont Cigarettes ("The Cigarette of Quality"). Wagner didn't smoke and didn't want his image associated with smoking, so he sued the tobacco company and got them to stop issuing the card. It's called "The Mona Lisa of Baseball Cards" and recently sold for $1,100,000 on e-Bay.

I haven't been able to contact my brother the last few days, and I suspect the reason is that he has taken his sleeping bag and now lives under the bleachers in Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, because, for the first time since 30 September 1971,


A new team, The Washington Nationals, elbowed the ghosts of the Senators out of the way yesterday to play its first home game at RFK, and President George W. Bush Jr. threw the first ball from the pitcher's mound, just as President William Howard Taft used to do from 1909 to 1913. I saw it on TV and I think President George W. Bush Jr. did a very fine job throwing the baseball the 60 feet 6 inches from the mound to home plate.

This somewhat odd distance is actually a printer's error. When the first official baseball rule book was sent in longhand to the printer in the 19th Century, the printer misread "60 ft 0 in" and thought it said "60 ft 6 in," and printed up 5000 booklets, and so it's been officially 60' 6" ever since.

Ya need that in metric? Ya can't have that in metric. This Sacred Distance is unconvertible from English to metric.

The Senators ... well ... they sucked, really. I loved them, but I'm sorry to say, they sucked. The Senators won the World Series once, in 1924.

Before and after that, they lost so relentlessly that their only other high moment was not on the field, but on Broadway, with the pretty darn good musical "Damn Yankees," about an old fat married guy who lives in Bethesda and loves the Senators and watches every game on TV, but it drives him so crazy that the Yankees always beat the Senators that he sells his soul to The Devil, just like Paganini didn't, and the Devil changes him into Shoeless Joe from Hannibal MO, the greatest pitcher who ever lived, and Shoeless Joe leads the Senators to ... well, you can rent the video (starring Tab Hunter). Couple of years ago the show was revived on Broadway and it packed the theater bigtime because in this new version, the young hunky pumped buff stud muffin lox actors portraying the Washington Senators sing a big song while largely wet and nude in the shower. (I don't think they displayed their Linguiças.)

Though they rarely won the World Series, the Senators actually did have some spectacular players. Christy Mathewson ("The Big Train") and Walter Johnson are regularly regarded as among the greatest pitchers who ever played Caucasian ball (before African-Americans were allowed to play in the Major Leagues -- cf. Leroy Satchel Paige, who began pitching in the Negro League sometime around 1477 AD). And just before the Senators vanished, their last manager was Ted Williams, who was not chopped liver.

Oh! WE WON our first home game yesterday 5-3 against the Arizona Diamondbacks!

The Washington Senators were owned by Clark and Calvin Griffith, I forget which was Pere and which Fils. The Griffiths pioneered finding baseball players from Sudamerica and the Caribbean, because they could pay them almost nothing.

One day in the 1950s Fils was down in Havana scouting for new besbol slaves, and a young law student who didn't want to be a lawyer or ever have anything to do with icky politics, all he wanted to do was play besbol en los Estados Unidas, showed Señor Griffith his pitching skills. Señor Griffith thought he was a sucky pitcher and didn't hire him.

This devastated and insulted the young Cuban hopeful, who immediately became a Communist guerrilla and ran into the mountains and become Fidel Castro. So the whole Cuba thing is Clark or Calvin Griffith's fault. Would it have killed the cheap old bastard to hire Castro and pay him $30 a month for a few years? Maybe Fidel would have become a better pitcher for the Senators. Because of Señor Griffith, the Earth almost got blowed up by thermonuclear weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.


Blogger SteveHeath said...

I used to have a copy of National Lampoon that detailed the Senators only undefeated season.

I'd pay good money for that issue, as well as original 1964 High School Yearbook from Keefauver High.

Blogger SteveHeath said...

My own history with the non-Lampoon version of those Senators began in 1969 when I attended my first MLB game at that RFK, during a three month hiatus in Silver Spring while my father attended some FBI-based training for city police cops.

I was nine years old and awed, being as I had spent the previous couple years learning MLB at my home in Dallas TX. My fledgling education came via the greatest Xmas present I had received to date - a (likely) $10 transistor radio with AN EARPHONE.

SO I could be in bed at proper hour of 10pm or so, and still listen to the Houston Astros radio feed.

Another intriguing aspect to this night was the Nats' opponent - the New York freaking Yankees.

Now a Texas boy could know plenty about the Yankees, on accounta the only books in the local library about baseball in the late sixties were about this Yankee or that - Ruth, Gehrig, Larsen, Mantle, Joltin' Joe

But in September of 1969, the Yankees were in the exact middle of a desultory 11 year stretch where they would not make the playoffs (1965-75). Not since 1921 had the Yankees endured such a run of futility, but the 1965 sale of the team by long time ownership into the corporate clutches of CBS Television left the former MLB flagship adrift without a competent hand on the tiller.

The Bronx Bombers would be restored to competitive health a few years later when The Boss took over from CBS, but as I entered the cozy confines of RFK that September evening, they pretty much blew as badly as the perennial second-division Nats.

In 1969, The Mick had just retired four months earlier to the shock of NYY fans natiowide. That left a leadership void that would be filled for a year or two by who?

Why Joe Pepitone, of course!

The long haired anti-Vietnam war Pepitone was a guaranteed standing BOO! from fans nationwide who were accustomed to looking at their baseball heroes through the same rosy glasses they viewed guys like Boston's Ted Williams.

Williams 22 year MLB career actually spanned 25 years (1939-1963) due to his twice removing his Red Sox uniform for U.S. Air Force fighter pilot togs.

REAL baseball heroes put military service in front of a silly pasttime like baseball and Pepitone's departure from the traditional norm assured his career might be productive (it was for about eight seasons) but he would never be a fan favorite.

Despite their lack of memorable diamond kings, that bunch of Yankees did prevail against my new found 'team' - the Senators - but that set the stage for what would become a now 37 year love affair with The Great Game of Baseball.

Fate continued to conspire in favor of nine year old Stevie when just two years later, in Oct 1971, Senators owner Robert Short announced he was leaving D.C. since the locals would not build him a fresh baseball stadium, nor would they attend games at RFK in sufficient number.

His destination?

Arlington TX, between Dallas (Hi there, 11 year old Stevie!) and Ft Worth.

I got to see the Texas Rangers initial game in 1972 and hundreds in years following, mostly in Arlington, but others in Houston, Anaheim and now St Petersburg FL.

When I was in D.C. in summer 2002 helping the Marijuana Policy Project collect signatures for another ill-fated D.C. effort, I got to ride that Metro out to see RFK.

It's pretty much buried in the Southeast corner of the District and until last week hosted nothing more notable than Major League Soccer games catering primarily to DC area Hispanics and Europeans. (The NFL Redskins abandoned RFK in the early 90s).

The parking lot was being used that Saturday morning by a large, but very low-budget flea market, catering to the equally low-budget neighorhood population base.

I'm pleased as punch that D.C. has baseball again, and am also intrigued by the fairly competitive team they inherited from the now defunct Montreal franchise.

I've been trying to attract My Sainted Mother to this weblog, Bob, since she is a big fan of good writing and diverse thought and she's no stranger to some of your better essays I've shared with her in past years.

If I can lure her in with the attraction of this Topic here, she's invited to share her own memories of Stevie's first MLB game in RFK, and even better, his first game in Turnpike Stadium when the Senators first became the Rangers.


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