Now, much like the summer, is a depressing time for Nationals fans – baseball is over, the playoffs have ended, not only did the team not sniff the postseason, the outlook for playing in October 2009 looks bleak. But do not despair, Washington baseball fans! Rather, think back to the glory days of the franchise, when they were able to bring the last championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Cue the old timey announcer voice and the brown and white pictures…
It was 1924, and a new prosperity had overtaken America. The post-war economic boom was in full swing, as was prohibition. Gil Hodges was born and Frank Chance died… OK enough of that, you can look up 1924 in wikipedia, on to the World Series.
The 1924 World Series was a matchup between perennial NL champs, the New York Giants and perennial losers, the Washington Senators. At that time, the Senators were sometimes called the Nationals, but they were rarely called good. With two winning records in eight of the previous seasons, they continued to disappoint. They started out the 1924 season as poorly as ever, and were in 6th place (out of 8 teams) in the AL as late as June 16, after 1/3 of the year. They then proceeded to win 10 games in a row, to leapfrog everyone into 1st place. After winning 17 out of 19, they had a poor July and August, and were in 3rd place as late as August 17. But 3rd place was only 3 games behind with about 40 games to go, so they were still in the thick of it. From August 17 on, it was all Washington. On August 28 they started a 4 game series with the first place Yankees, took 3 out of four, took first place and never looked back. They rattled off 30 wins to finish 30-10 in that stretch, and won the pennant by 2 games.
Their best hitter was 23 year old future Hall of Famer Goose Goslin in his second full season. Goslin was a power/speed combo guy, baseball reference compares him to Roberto Clemente, and he led the team with 12 HRs. Another star, was Sam Rice, a speedy contact hitter who had been on the team since 1915 – and didn’t leave until after 1933. He rarely struck out and finished his career 13 hits shy of 3000. BR compares him to Rod Carew, although a modern comparison that comes to mind is Ichiro. At second base was 27 year old player/manager/future HOFer Bucky Harris. He wasn’t a great hitter, but he was a great fielder, and he figured out ways to help the team. He lead the league in being hit by pitches from ’20-’22 and was 2nd in ’23, a total of 66 HBPs in those 4 seasons. Despite being a “boy manager” he was able to lead a team with a strong veteran presence. Beside Rice, there was former Yankee Roger Peckinpaugh, there was 12 year veteran hurler (that’s what they called them in 1924) George Mogridge, and one other guy…
The Big Train, Walter Johnson, was the rock of the rotation. He was the oldest player on the team at 36, was in his 17th full season, and had lost some zip on his fastball. In his prime, he was one of the best strikeout pitchers in history. He is arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, the Sporting News ranked him as the highest pitcher on their list of 100 best players. In 1910, he struck out 313, and in 1912 he fanned 303. His 1910 mark was the highest between 1904 and 1946. He was, from 1921 until 1982, the all time leader in strikeouts, finishing his career with 3509. His career 110 shutouts are still a record, he’s #2 all time in Wins (412), #4 in ERA+ (147), . He lead the league in Wins, Ks and ERA 2 times. In his first MVP season, he went 36-7, has 243 Ks to 38 BBs, 11 shutouts, an ERA of 1.14 and an ERA+ of 259 (#6 all time for a single season). His second MVP season was 11 years later, when he again won the “pitching triple crown”, in 1924.
I recently came across one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard about any one player, in reference to Johnson. Actually, it was in reference to his arm, and the quote was from an opposing hitter, who said, “The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him….every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.” That hitter was Ty Cobb, who had his flaws, but was the best hitter in baseball for a dozen or so of the first two decades of the 20th century.
Another player of note on the Senators was Frederick “Firpo” Marberry, often credited with being the first reliever. While this may not be entirely accurate, calling him the first good reliever may be. He was the first to make 50 relief appearance, first to get 20 saves in a season (retroactively, since saves weren’t counted then) and is still the only pitcher to lead the league in saves 5 times (if those saves were counted). If you were looking for evidence that the youngster Harris wasn’t going to manage by imitating everyone else, Firpo was a revelation.
The Giants were the juggernauts of the NL, winning the pennant 4 years in a row including 1924. They won the World Series over the Yankees in 1921 and 1922, and lost to the Yankees in 1923. The Yankees were very good, but they weren’t the Yankees of the late 20s. The Giants may have been the best team of the first hald of that decade, and, at least according to their pythagorean projections, this team was their best. They had 8, yeah I said 8, future Hall of Famers – Hack Wilson, Frankie Frisch, George Kelly, Travis Jackson, Ross Youngs, Billy Southworth, Bill Terry, Freddie Lindstrom. Terry and Lindstrom barely played during the season, but they were all there. They were all position players. Their pitching was good, but the HOF quality of their lineup showed. They finished first in the NL in runs scored with 5.56, St Louis was second with 4.81, 3/4 of a run less. Their pitching was sound, and they finished 3rd in the league in runs allowed.
The Giants manager was the ubiquitous John McGraw, their 9th Hall of Famer in the dugout (although no longer a player) a tremendous player with the Orioles of the 1890s who is better remembered for his 30 years of managing the Giants. They were in first place on May 23 and never let go, but were tied for first place on Sept 22nd with the Brooklyn Robins (the once and future Dodgers were the Robins from 1914-1931). The Giants won 4 out of their next 5, while the Dodgers lost 2 of 4, and the Giants were on to the World Series.
The World Series
The Series opened up in Griffith Stadium in Washington DC. Calvin Cooledge was there, as was the great Shirley Povich. Walter Johnson was there, too, and he pitched 11 innings while giving up only 2 runs and striking out 12. Unfortunately for him, the Senators were only able to score 2 runs themselves, hence the 11 innings. Finally in the 12th, he gave up 2 runs and 3 singles, leaving the bases loaded. In the bottom of the 12th, the Senators started a comeback. Harris singled to drive in a run, and the Rice singled, but strangely got thrown out trying to advance to second. Had he stayed put, it would have been first and third with one out, tying run at third. In the end, they couldn’t get Harris home, and the Big Train’s first postseason game ended in defeat.
The second game went better for the Nat-ators, at least until the 9th inning. Going in with a 3-1 lead, starting pitcher Tom Zachary had pitched great for 8 innings. But although credited with inventing the reliever, Harris had not yet perfected it. Zachary went out in the 9th, gave up RBI singles to George Kelly and Hack Wilson to lose the lead. Firpo came in and got the final out of the inning. In the bottom of the 9th, Joe Judge walked and advanced on a bunt by light hitting 3B Ossie Bluege. He scored on a double by Peckinpaugh. For some reason in those days, Zachary was awarded the win. Firpo was retroactively credited with a save.
Back in Upper Manhattan, game three was lost not by starting pitching, but by defense. In the second inning, after a Hack Wilson single, 20 year old NY shortstop Travis Jackson reached on a grounder to third, after an error receiving the ball by Judge at 1B. Backup Giants catcher Hank Gowdy singled to bring Wilson home and advance Jackson to third. A wild pitch by starter Firpo Marberry (who had closed out the game before) to the next batter, pitcher Hugh McQuillan, allowed Jackson to score. Another unearned run crossed in the 6th to bring the Giants lead to 5-2. The Senators had an opportunity in the 9th down 6-3, they loaded the bases thanks to a single by Harris, a bunt single by Goslin and another single by Judge. There must have been some nervousness in NYC when they brought in stud reliever Jonnard and he issued a bases loaded walk. After that one batter, he was replaced with Mule Watson, who got Senators’ infielder Ralph Miller to pop up to third and catcher Muddy Ruel to ground out.
Up 2 games to 1 on their home turf, the Giants must have felt good with Virgil Barnes, their top pitcher as the games’ starter. Another unearned run in the bottom of the first inning must have caused further consternation by Washington fans. But in the top of the third Goslin hit a 3 run HR, plating Earl McNeely and Harris, who clearly wasn’t checking any notebooks as he was standing on second. Goslin had another RBI with a single in the 5th to bring the lead to 5-1. Washington starter Mondridge, who won 16 games that year, pitched well until getting into trouble in the 8th. Winning 7-2, he let 2 on, which brought Firpo back in. He gave up an RBI single before getting out of the inning, gave up another run in the 9th, but got a save and the Senators won 7-4.
The series was now tied 2-2, and the Giants were in trouble. In their final home game of the series, they would have to face Walter Johnson. At this point, Johnson was already the all time strikeout leader, and had 377 career wins. But he wasn’t at his best. Maybe it was the 12 innings he pitched 4 days earlier. Regardless, he pitched well enough in today’s terms. Despite only striking out 3 all game, and giving up 10 hits in the first 7 innings, he still only gave up 3 ERs, and entered the 8th behind 3-2, still with a chance to comeback. But he started the inning with a walk then gave up a single. Hack Wilson tried to bunt, but another error instead left the bases loaded. A sac fly scored a run but gave some hope, and a groundout left 2 outs with runners on 1st and 2nd. But the next 2 batters singled, and the inning ended with the Giants up 6-2. A walk was all the Senators could muster in the 9th. Although they left New York down 3 games to 2, they were going home.
The return to Washington meant the Senators had to win, and they sent out their second best starter of the season, Tom Zachary. Zachary was 15-9 that year and he had an ERA of 2.75. He started off shaky, giving up an RBI single to George Kelly, but was improved from then on. Both teams were held scoreless after that, until the bottom of the 5th when manager Bucky Harris singled, knocking in 2 runners. Over the next 4 innings, Zachary only let up 2 singles and the Sena-Nats won, evening up the series at 3 games a piece.
According to Mr. Povich, Bucky Harris, in further proof of his experimental nature, started righty Curly Odgen simply to get John McGraw to start a lefty heavy lineup. After two batters (resulting in a strikeout then a walk), Harris replaced Ogden with the old lefty Mogridge. It worked at least to keep Irish Muesel out of the lineup, and both teams were held scoreless until Harris hit his second home run of the Series, one more than he hit all season, to give Washington a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 4th. It wasn’t to last, as Mogridge gave up a walk then a single in the 6th. He was pulled for ace reliever Firpo, who gave up only one hit. Unfortunately, first he yielded a sac fly which allowed Youngs to score. After that, the single, then 2 ground balls that ended up being errors allowed the Giants to take a 3-1 lead.
Giants pitcher Virgil Barnes pitched well enough to get the win, and in the bottom of the 8th, he looked like he might get it. Despite loading the bases, he was 1 out away from getting out of the inning until Bucky Harris got to the plate. He singled to left field and brought 2 home before Sam Rice grounded out to end the inning. The great sportswriter Shirley Povich could probably sound amazing ordering from a menu, so I’ll just give you his take on what happened next
Now Harris needed a new pitcher going into the ninth and the crowd was clamoring, “We Want Johnson!” When Johnson strode to the mound the stadium was in an uproar… However, when Frisch tripled with one out in the top of the ninth, it was ominous. Here Harris ordered an intentional walk to Ross Youngs. Now, with Johnson facing Kelly, a long fly could beat him. He disposed of Kelly on three wicked fastball strikes, got Meusel on an inning-ending groundball, and it was extra innings.
In the bottom of the 9th, Washington got 2 runners on, but with 1 out, first and third, Ralph Miller grounded into a double play. Fast forward to the top of the 11th, Johnson let a runner get to second with one out, facing the 2, 3 and 4 hitters. But the Big Train struck out Frisch, again intentionally walked Youngs, and again struck out Kelly. In the bottom of the inning, Goslin hit a double bringing his WS average to .344 and his slugging .656. The men behind him couldn’t bring him home, and it went to the 12th.
The 12th inning
Walter Johnson wasn’t perfect in the 12th either, but after giving up a leadoff single, he got the next three batters out and they went to the home half of the inning. Washington’s Ralph Miller, who had 2 hits in 15 ABs during the regular season after not playing since 1921, got up for the 11th time that World Series. He grounded out to Frisch at second. Next up was the catcher Ruel, who had a long career as a defensive catcher. His career average was .275, but his slugging was only .332, and he immediately popped up to the catcher. But Gowdy stepped on his own mask while making the catch and the ball squirted out, giving Ruel a second chance whereupon he doubled down the left field line.
Walter Johnson stayed in to bat, and this wasn’t such a crazy decision. He hit .283 that season, and could get himself a win with a hit. This time he hit a grounder to the shortstop, who made an error and left runners on first and second, still only one out. Despite the errors that the Senators had made during the series, 12 total including 4 in game 7, the Giants had only made 4 errors before that inning causing 2 unearned runs. 2 New York errors in that inning spelled trouble, and allowed the Washington lineup to turn over in the 12th.
Earl McNeely, the leadoff hitter, came to bat with runners on first and second, one out. He was the starting CF in his rookie season. He hit .330 that season, but was only 5 for 26 during the WS at that point. He hit a ball to the left side, and all Baseball Reference says is that McNeely doubled to left. But Povich gives the home field advantage some credit, as the ball looked like a double play ball to third. Instead, it skipped off something, possibly a pebble, and bounced over 18 year old Freddie Lindstrom’s head. Ruel came around from second to score, and Washington had won its first World Series.
Walter Johnson also won his first World Series at the age of 36 despite being the best pitcher in the game for a decade. In that game, he also got his first postseason W. Once again I’ll turn to Shirley Povich to describe what happened from there:
In Griffith Stadium the crowd catapulted out of the stands to thrash onto the field and to dance on the dugout roofs, refusing to leave the park until long after nightfall. The next day, of course, it was up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House for the World Series champions, the streets lined by tens of thousands. The city’s joy was best expressed, perhaps, by the enthusiasm of the men on the hook-and-ladder float of the Cherrydale, Va., Fire Department, which flaunted a huge banner that read: “Let Cherrydale Burn.”
Perhaps one day soon there will be celebration running down Pennsylvania Ave, with Hook & Ladder (the Silver Spring, MD beer served at Nationals Park) in tow. Until then, you can always remember 1924.