Nats Win! Washington Baseball for New Generations. It’s 1924 Again

Nats Win! Washington Baseball for New Generations. It’s 1924 Again

The great­est thing about the 2019 Nats is that base­ball is again span­ning the gen­er­a­tions in Washington.

Think about it. New York, Philadel­phia, Boston, Chica­go ben­e­fit from six gen­er­a­tions of unin­ter­rupt­ed base­ball. Pitts­burgh, St. Louis, Cleve­land, Detroit—the list goes on. Atlanta, Los Ange­les and Hous­ton have had half a cen­tu­ry or more to build a fol­low­ing: fathers and sons, par­ents and kids. Alas, Wash­ing­ton was with­out base­ball thir­ty-four years. In 1971, the expan­sion Sen­a­tors left for Texas; in 2005, the Mon­tre­al Expos became the Nation­als. A beau­ti­ful ball­park revived a decrepit area of the city, which now resem­bles Wrigleyville in Chicago.

For 33 years, aging fans of the old Nats were unable to take sons and daugh­ters out to the ball game. Now the old spir­it is back—with the ulti­mate boost for gen­er­a­tions to come. The improb­a­ble Nats have won the World Series. (And that’s the sec­ond great­est thing about 2019.)

Why baseball is unique

It’s a fun­ny old game. Foot­ball, bas­ket­ball can be excit­ing, at least when the score is close. By com­par­i­son they are repet­i­tive exer­cis­es, and a clock decides when a game is over. “Pass, run, pass, punt,” a foot­ball fan once com­plained of the rote play-by-play he sees often. “Most­ly, you know what’s com­ing. Or you can surmise.”

Not base­ball. Here there is no clock. Games fin­ish after nine innings—or more (the record is 33) if the score is tied. You nev­er know what’s com­ing. Weird things happen—things nobody’s seen before. The 2019 Nats proved that, didn’t they?

Who­ev­er saw a World Series short­stop like Trea Turn­er beat out a throw, only to be called out for inter­fer­ence and run­ning out­side the des­ig­nat­ed lane? To see his man­ag­er thrown out of an elim­i­na­tion game for his irate reac­tion? No, we nev­er saw any­thing like it. But next year, we’ll see some­thing new again.

A lot was dif­fer­ent in 2019. Did any­body expect a team that lost thir­ty-one of its first fifty games to make the play­offs? Who thought the road team would win all sev­en games? Who believed that a post-sea­son team, fac­ing elim­i­na­tion in five games, would come back to win all five? Is it con­ceiv­able to ral­ly to take the lead three times in the eighth inning, twice in the sev­enth? To rack up most of your runs in the late innings? Unbelievable.

Nats World Championships: both in the top ten

In terms of excite­ment, both Wash­ing­ton World Series wins loom large.  Chris Lan­ders of ranked all forty occur­rences of Game 7 over 115 years. In base­ball his­to­ry, this is an excel­lent if arguable list­ing. (By the way, Lan­ders’ num­ber one is Pirates-Yan­kees in 1960. That was the only one to end in a walk-off home run. Nobody saw that before or since, either.)

To my delight, Lan­ders ranks Washington’s Game 7 World Series vic­to­ries as #5 and #8 out of forty. The com­par­isons between them are uncan­ny. Here are his summaries:

Ranking 5th: 1924, Washington Senators 4, New York Giants 3

“Four games in this Series were decid­ed by one run, and Game 7 was the tight­est of them all. It is still the longest Game 7 in World Series his­to­ry at 12 innings. After sev­en­teen years in Wash­ing­ton, the only thing miss­ing from Wal­ter John­son‘s ster­ling resume was a World Series title. He’d strug­gled in his first two starts of the Series, but when the Sen­a­tors ral­lied to tie the game with two runs in the bot­tom of the eighth, the Big Train got anoth­er chance—and he made sure he took advan­tage of it. Com­ing out of the bullpen to start the ninth, John­son threw four shutout innings, keep­ing the Giants at bay. Earl McNeely final­ly end­ed it with a walk-off dou­ble to left.”

World Cham­pi­ons, 1924. Front row: Tom Zachary, Red Har­grave, Joe Mar­ti­na, Joe Judge, Wal­ter John­son, Bucky Har­ris, Sam Rice, Earl McNeely, Goose Goslin. Sec­ond row: Al Schacht, Ralph Miller, Mule Shirley, Ossie Bluege, Allan Rus­sell, Mud­dy Ruel, Ben­ny Tate, Nick Altrock. Third Row: Mike Mar­tin (train­er), Nemo Lei­bold, Roger Peck­in­paugh, Curly Ogden, George Mogridge, Fred Mar­ber­ry, Tom Tay­lor, Paul Zah­nis­er, Byron Speece. (Pub­lic domain / Library of Congress)

That was an amaz­ing game for its quirks of fate, as men­tioned in my pre­vi­ous piece, “God is a Nats Fan.” Trail­ing 3-1 in the eighth, a Bucky Har­ris  grounder hit a peb­ble, and bounced over the Giants’ Fred­die Lind­strom, scor­ing two and tying the game. In the 12th inning, after “Bar­ney” John­son set the Giants down for four innings, McNeely hit anoth­er grounder to third that took anoth­er bad hop for a dou­ble. Mud­dy Ruel scored the win­ning run. On its 90th anniver­sary, the Library of Con­gress post­ed rare footage of this game online.

Chris Lan­ders continues…

Ranking 8th: 2019, Washington Nationals 6, Houston Astros 2

“The final score wound up look­ing fair­ly innocu­ous. There were no walk-off hero­ics. The ninth inning was large­ly free of sus­pense. But years from now, I have a hunch that I’ll still be telling any­one who will lis­ten about how Wash­ing­ton lost Bryce Harp­er only to exor­cise its post-sea­son demons. About how Juan Soto turned the World Series into his own back­yard and then took over the world. How Max Scherz­er couldn’t even put a shirt over his head two days pri­or, then ground through five innings against pos­si­bly the best offense ever. About how one of the most improb­a­ble ral­lies in post-sea­son his­to­ry was punc­tu­at­ed by two grown pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes [Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton] pre­tend­ing to dri­ve sports cars the way you did in your bed­room when you were seven.”

Nats Mean­der­ings, by Ryan Ritz. (Kevin Kelly)
Max Scherz­er as the new Bar­ney? Like John­son nine­ty-five years ago, he labored all the way. In the first inning we heard him grunt with every pitch—not some­thing you usu­al­ly hear until late innings. Fre­quent­ly falling behind, his for­mi­da­ble slid­er often missed. Not your usu­al Max. But he hung in, kept us close for five innings. And then—again like 1924—another start­ing pitch­er came on in relief to save the day. In 1924 John­son set down New York for four innings. In 2019, Patrick Corbin shut down Hous­ton for three.

Close comparisons

• The 1924 Nats lost 26 of their first fifty games (.480) and were sixth in an eight-team league. 2019’s Nats lost 31 of their first fifty games (.380) and were fourth in a five-team division.

• The 1924 Nats then went 68-36 (.653), fin­ish­ing only two games up on the Yan­kees. In 2019 the Nats then went 74-38 (.661), fin­ish­ing four games behind the Braves but tak­ing the Wild Card from the Brewers.

• In post-sea­son 1924, the 4 Nats were 4-3, and twice avoid­ed elim­i­na­tion. For post-sea­son 2019, the Nats were 12-5, and avoid­ed elim­i­na­tion five times.

• Count­ing the post-sea­son, the ’24 Sen­a­tors were 96-55 (.571), the 2019 Nation­als 105-74 (.587).

• In the World Series, the 1924 Nats scored 26 runs, eigh­teen (69%) in the fifth inning or lat­er. The 2019 Nats scored 33 runs, 27 (82%) in the fifth inning or later.

What do we make of all this? Both teams were under­dogs from the get-go. Ear­ly on, the 1924 Sen­a­tors were lead­ing only Cleve­land and Philadel­phia; the 2019 Nation­als were lead­ing only Mia­mi. Near­ing the fin­ish in 1924, experts were pre­dict­ing the Yan­kees, even the Tigers, would beat Wash­ing­ton to the pen­nant. The mighty Giants were heavy favorites in the World Series. In 2019, the 106-win Dodgers looked cer­tain to win the pen­nant, and the World Series would like­ly go to them, or the 103-win Yan­kees, or the 107-win Astros.


Three 1924 pitch­ers, John­son, Tom Zachary and  George Mogridge, were the big game win­ners.  Nats bats back then were led by the great Goose Goslin, notably in Game 4, who went 4-for-4 with a home run, three sin­gles and four RBIs. John­son, along with Sen­a­tors bat­ters Har­ris, Goslin, Joe Judge, Heinie Manush and Sam Rice, are all in the Base­ball Hall of Fame. “Mr. Clutch” awards went to Har­ris, Mud­dy Ruel and Earl McNeely. Except for John­son, most are only remem­bered in the his­to­ry books. It’s nine­ty-five years ago, for heaven’s sake!

Ryan and dad Matt at Game 3. (Pho­to by Erin Ritz via Kevin Kelly)

Now kids have their own heroes. Scherz­er, Stephen Stras­burg, Patrick Corbin and Ani­bal Sanchez were a potent quar­tet of start­ing pitch­ers, before and after the sea­son. Juan Soto and Antho­ny Ren­don must togeth­er be the pow­er­house equiv­a­lents of Judge and Goslin. Guys who starred in the clutch—Eaton, Kurt Suzu­ki, Ryan Zim­mer­man and above all the now-almost-immor­tal Howie Kendrick, will for­ev­er be remembered.

Lest we for­get: gen­er­al man­ag­er Mike Riz­zo, man­ag­er Mar­tinez. And two of the best coach­es a team could have, Paul Men­hart (pitch­ing) and Kevin Long (hit­ting). Bob Car­pen­ter and F.P. San­tan­ge­lo were our faith­ful announc­ers all year. (Why don’t the big net­works hire home broad­cast­ers who know the teams best? Let’s fix this!)

The future is Ryan’s

Sev­en-year-old Ryan Ritz, DC res­i­dent and already a vet­er­an Nats fan, stood up in the midst of Game 7: “I’m going to bed. Every time I stay up, they lose.” Ryan and his fam­i­ly had the luck to attend Game 3—and lose they did.

On Wednes­day night Ryan tod­dled off just before Antho­ny Ren­don hit that first momen­tum-chang­ing home run. Fol­lowed by Howie’s tremen­dous dri­ve that clanged against the right-field foul post and put us ahead for keeps.

Ryan, take it from some­one who’s been watch­ing and griev­ing over Wash­ing­ton base­ball so long you can’t imag­ine. Don’t do that again! Any­thing can hap­pen. It’s base­ball. Game on!

5 thoughts on “Nats Win! Washington Baseball for New Generations. It’s 1924 Again

  1. Jim Mack (via email): “What’s your take on Alex Bregman’s hold­ing his bat aloft after one of his home runs, and car­ry­ing it with him to first base after the last one?”

    Jim: Every­body thought it was bush-league. Juan Soto gave it to him back, doing the same thing when he hit his HR, but Juan is young and full of pep. Both Breg­man and his man­ag­er lat­er apol­o­gized, and Juan was rebuked by his.

    Base­ball has so many unwrit­ten rules because it’s so old. You don’t do on-field dis­plays when you hit one out. You don’t step on the pitcher’s mound when you trot by on the way to the dugout, and so on. Sad­ly, many tra­di­tions are van­ish­ing. Once a pitch­er being relieved would wait for his relief, hand him the ball and pat him on the back–now they just slink off. Once broad­cast­ers nev­er said the words “no hit­ter” until it was in the books. Mel Allen would pan a cam­era at the score­board and say, “that’s all you have to see.” Now most of them blab about no hit­ters as ear­ly as the fourth inning. even start­ed flash­ing “no hit­ter” in red on the score by mid-game. No class.

  2. Richard Munro (via email): “In base­ball any­thing can hap­pen.” The ball is too small and the field is too big to con­trol it 100% and you have to get all 27 outs. It is a unique and beau­ti­ful game. It is liv­ing chess as Jacques Barzun called it.

  3. Yes indeed, that’s the next wor­ry. @MarkZuckerman reports that one day after the big win, “Asdrubal Cabr­era, Bri­an Dozi­er, Jere­my Hel­lick­son, Daniel Hud­son, Howie Kendrick, Ger­ar­do Par­ra, Antho­ny Ren­don, Fer­nan­do Rod­ney and Jon­ny Ven­ters all became free agents. Can’t nego­ti­ate with oth­er clubs for anoth­er 5 days, though. Wel­come back to real­i­ty.” The cur­rent active ros­ter (1Nov19) is decimated.

    Mark also says the Nation­als have declined the $4 mil­lion mutu­al option next sea­son for LH slug­ger Matt Adams (who was bare­ly used, but could have been help­ful at 1B against RH pitch­ers). “They’ll owe a $1 mil­lion buy­out and he too becomes a free agent, though he could still re-sign with them.” Hope he does.

    We don’t have to like the things free agency has done. All too often, no soon­er does a guy build a fol­low­ing than he’s lured away by beck­on­ing dol­lars. Still, play­ers like Ren­don, Stras­burg (who has an opt-out in his con­tact) and Kendrick are low-key guys, not show-offs, and seem to enjoy our fans and their team­mates. Hope­ful­ly they’ll con­sid­er that fac­tor, as well as the mon­ey. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

  4. Ren­don reminds very much of the young Ernie Banks, who led the Nation­al League in HRs one year as a short­stop! I trem­ble at the pos­si­bil­i­ty that free agency will start break­ing up this team as ear­ly as next week. But, for now, I am enjoy­ing the ride!

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