As we await Game 3 tonight at Nationals Stadium…
Wow. What a start. The underdog Nationals have won the first two games of the World Series. So far, playing in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park (f/k/a Enron Field) has not worked out for the Astros.
Not a good sign for Houston. The last 18 times a team has won the first two games, it has gone on to win the Series 17 times.
But Kansas City fans know it can happen. In 1985, the Series started in KC, and the Royals lost the first two games to the Cardinals. The teams then split the next two in St. Louis. Down 3-1, the Royals roared back to win the third in St. Louis and Games 6 and 7 back home. So no sure thing yet for the Nationals.
As for my druthers, I’m hoping that the Nationals keep winning and take their first World Series.
When the two teams meet tonight, it will be the first MLB World Series game in Washington, D.C. since 1933.
But it was not the Nationals franchise back in 1933. There have been three teams in DC, the first two in the American League and the third in the National League.
1. Washington Senators (a/k/a Nationals and Nats) (AL; 1901-1960); relocated in 1961 to become the Minnesota Twins
2. Washington Senators – New Expansion Team (AL; 1961-1971); relocated in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers
3. Montreal Expos (NL; 1969-2004); relocated in 2005 to become the Washington Nationals
First Pitches by Presidents: With the proximity to the nation’s capital, and with baseball being the “National Pastime,” the teams have often called on the sitting president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
From William Howard Taft to Barack Obama, each president sometime during his term has thrown out the first pitch for one or more significant games. Most of these occasions have been opening day in Washington. When the city did not have a team (1972-2004), the president sometimes traveled to other cities for an opener, often to nearby Baltimore.
Click here for a video showing the presidents throwing out the first pitch (2:41). I’m a Democrat, but must admit that George W. Bush shows the best form. The presidents make a good mix for a pitching staff – five southpaws (including the ambidextrous Harry Truman and Gerald Ford). As noted in the video, President Trump has so far declined to participate.
Washington and the World Series: The opportunity for a presidential first pitch in a Washington World Series has been limited. In the early years, they played so poorly (e.g., 38-133 in 1904) that baseball writer and humorist Charles Dryden, borrowing from the eulogy of George Washington, wrote this famous line: “Washington – first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”
In the fifties, when I was growing up as a baseball fan, the Senators often occupied the cellar. Dryden’s line resurfaced as a punch line about the team. This was no doubt helped along by the musical and movie Damn Yankees, based on the book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. The story line is that the devil negotiates to help the Senators win the pennant, a far-fetched notion in real life.
The Senators did not need the help of the devil to win their pennants in 1924 and 1925. They had the great Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson. Without Johnson (and presumably without the help of the devil), Washington surprisingly won a pennant in 1933. In the World Series for those three years, the president came to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
1924 World Series – Calvin Coolidge: President Calvin Coolidge attended many Senators games, but his wife Grace was the enthusiastic fan. Bucky Harris, manager of the Senators, said she “was the most rabid fan I ever knew in the White House.” When Harris was married in 1926, the president and first lady attended the wedding.
Below, Coolidge and his wife, “The First Lady of Baseball.” Coolidge threw out the first pitch in Game 1 and then returned to do the same as the Series went to Games 6 and 7. The Senators beat the Giants for their only World Series title in DC. Click here for a fun video featuring the famous “Coolidge Luck” as part of the success of the Senators (4:35).
The 1924 Senators are believed to be the first title-winning professional team to be invited to the White House. It likely helped that they were in the same city. And that the First Lady of Baseball lived in the house.
1925 World Series – Calvin Coolidge: The Senators and the president were back the next year, but the Pittsburgh Pirates won the Series, four games to three.
1933 World Series – Franklin D. Roosevelt: FDR threw out the first pitch to open eight seasons of Senators baseball (1933 to 1941, missing 1939 and the years of WWII). He was also on hand for Game 3 of the 1933 World Series (below). The Senators lost the Series to the Giants in five games.
In January of 1942, as the war got underway, Roosevelt issued his “Green Light Letter” to announce that baseball should go on as scheduled. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going…everybody will work longer hours…they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before. Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.” [How times have changed on time and cost.]
Vice President Harry Truman was scheduled to throw out the 1945 opening day pitch on behalf of Roosevelt. A week before the game, Roosevelt died. Truman had to decline to attend the game, sending a hand-written note to the Senators owner, Clark Griffith: “We must postpone it now. I’m in it up to my neck and must think of my terrible responsibilities for some days to come.”
For the next seven years of his presidency, Truman threw out the first pitch to open the season in Washington.
1948 – The Other World Series: The postseason for the Negro Leagues has been called the Negro World Series, the Colored World Series (in the 1920s) and the Negro League World Series. The contemporary black newspapers simply called it the World Series. In 1948, a Negro League team, the Homestead Grays, played the majority of its games in Washington and won this World Series.
The Homestead Grays started playing in the Negro Leagues in 1912, moving from Homestead to nearby Pittsburgh in the 1920s. In the 1940s, they started playing a good portion of their home games in Washington and were often referred to as the Washington Homestead Grays. The Grays met the Birmingham Black Barons in the 1948 World Series. President Harry Truman did not throw out a first pitch, but it was not his fault. None of the Series games were played in DC.
It was not uncommon for the Negro League World Series to be played in various cities. Stadiums were not always available in the home venues. Game 1 in 1948 was played where the teams knew they would get good attendance – Blues Stadium in Kansas City, the home of the Monarchs. Game 4 was played in New Orleans. Games 2, 3 and 5 were played at Rickwood Field in Birmingham. The Grays won the Series in five games.
This was the final World Series for the Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson had joined the Dodgers the year before, and the young black talent would be looking to play in the major leagues. Case in point, one of the players for Birmingham in 1948 was 17-year-old Willie Mays who signed two years later with the New York Giants.
The Twins and Rangers: The two teams that deserted Washington have been to the World Series in their new cities. The Twins have been three times (1965, 1987 and 1991). They called upon a favorite son, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, to throw out a first pitch in the 1965 World Series.
The Rangers have been to the World Series twice (2010 and 2011). Former president George W. Bush did the honors in Game 4 in Arlington at the 2010 World Series. Alongside was his father, President George H. W. Bush. The younger Bush once had an ownership interest in the Rangers and was the managing general partner from 1989 to 1994.
1994 World Series (Not) – Montreal Expos: As noted above, the current Washington Nationals franchise got its start as the Montreal Expos. During the 36 seasons in Canada, the Expos never won a pennant. In 1994, the one time they were playing the best baseball in the major leagues, the season abruptly ended on August 12. Labor negotiations between the owners and players had failed, and the postseason was cancelled.
When play stopped, Montreal had a six game lead over its nearest opponent in the National League. Its record of 74-40 was 3.5 games better than the top AL team, the Yankees (70-43). As for the first pitches in an imaginary Expos/Yankees World Series, it would have been Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Canada and President Bill Clinton in the U.S.
Walmart once marketed a cap for diehard Expos fans wanting to celebrate the World Series that could have been. The “What If” cap has a 1994 World Series logo on the side.
2019 World Series: – As you watch tonight’s game at Nationals Park, be on the lookout for…
1. The Ceremonial First Pitch. I’m not sure who is doing this tonight, but it will be hard to top the first pitch of Game 2 in Houston. Please see this video of Simone Biles.
It will not be President Donald Trump. He has announced that he will attend Game 5 on Sunday (which will not be played if the Nats sweep in four games). Trump said he will not throw out the first pitch. He joked that it was because he would be required to wear a bulletproof vest. “I’ll look too heavy. I don’t like that.” The vest has been the protocol since George W. Bush wore one when throwing out the first pitch at the World Series a month after 9/11. Some say Trump is wary of being booed, as happened to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2006.
But a more important reason might be the thousands of sharks that will be in the stadium. President Trump is well known to have a phobia about sharks (click here). More on that…
2. The Baby Sharks. As reported in the last Hot Stove, the fans in Washington have turned outfielder Gerardo Parra’s walk-up song into a National’s anthem. There will be toy sharks and costumes throughout the stadium and singing of the catchy song (check it out here). The players will join in with shark motions, and you will see a shark on the dugout screen.
3. The Dugout Dance. Be on the lookout after a Nationals homer (if they hit one). Check out this clip from Game 2 (tap screen for sound).
4. The Ring of Honor. On the façade behind home plate, the names of Hall of Famers connected to Washington are displayed, including players from the Senators, Expos and Grays. There are six Hall of Fame Grays in the Ring of Honor. A statue of the Grays Josh Gibson stands near the center field gate.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Country Music: Between the playoff games, Rita and I have been watching the Ken Burns series on country music. So I thought it might be fun to combine some baseball with country music. [Click on the song titles to listen to the music.]
I’ll start with a couple of country songs with a baseball theme:
“Cheap Seats” by Alabama. Fans at a minor league game where “we like our beer flat.”
“The Greatest” by Kenny Rogers. A little boy with a fantasy of baseball success.
The next selection is by professional baseball player/country music star Charley Pride. He played several years in the Negro Leagues and the minors before moving full time into his music career. He has had 30 #1 hits on the country charts, the biggest being “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”
His first team in the Negro Leagues was the Memphis Red Sox (photo above). In 2008, Pride and 29 other living former Negro League players were “drafted” by the major league teams to recognize their baseball achievements and historical relevance. Pride was a regular at spring training with the Texas Rangers, and so it was not a surprise that he was the Rangers pick.
Next up, Loretta Lynn, connected to baseball (somewhat indirectly) through sportswriter George Vecsey. Although George is known to many Hot Stove readers for his coverage of the Mets and other sports, he has also been a co-writer of several autobiographies. One of these was Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter. The book was also the basis for the 1980 movie that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture. Sissy Spacek played Loretta Lynn and won the Oscar for best actress.
I asked George to pick one of his favorites for this post. Here it is, “You’re Lookin’ at Country.”
For the final selection, I’m leaving baseball to give a shout-out to a movie now showing locally at the Glenwood and Rio: Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. The film is in an extended run, and the buzz is correct – it’s a terrific documentary.
Ronstadt is famous for singing in many genres, and country music is part of that versatility. Several of her singles have been in the Top 10 on the country charts (e.g., “When Will I Be Loved,” “Blue Bayou” and “Love is a Rose.”). In 1987, she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris to produce Trio, the Grammy-winning country album of the year.
Here is Linda’s cover of a Hank Williams classic: “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” . The backup singer is Emmylou Harris.