When the March on Washington canceled two Senators games

September 3, 2013
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(This is about old stuff and history. It might be boring. But I was interested.)

On Monday, Aug. 26, the Washington Senators faced the Minnesota Twins in a doubleheader before 8,078 fans at what was then D.C. Stadium, dropping the first game but winning the second to remain 35 putrid games below .500. That team clearly did not have Senatude.

On August 29, that Thursday, the Senators and Twins played another double-header at D.C. Stadium, this one beginning at 2 in the afternoon.

And in between? Nothing. Just a two-day mid-week break for two teams in the same city.

The cause, as you’ve likely guessed, was neither weather nor infrastructure, but instead the March on Washington, whose 50th anniversary was observed last week. (Yes, I kinda missed it.) And while sports coverage of the anniversary mostly consisted of today’s athletes commenting on Martin Luther King’s legacy, I didn’t know about this 1963 sports angle until receiving a note from my friend Steve.

Turns out the decision to cancel the scheduled games that Tuesday and Wednesday was made more than a week in advance.

“The Nats announced today that, at the request of Washington Police Chief Robert V. Murray, they have called off night games with the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28,” The Post’s Bob Addie reported in mid-August. “The latter date coincides with the civil rights demonstration scheduled for Washington.”

The police chief, Addie reported, had written to James M. Johnston, the team’s chairman of the board, explaining that his department would be under “a severe strain” those two days.

“Chief Murray reminded Johnston that the entire police force will be on duty for the demonstration and that many members of the Traffic Division, normally assigned to handle baseball traffic at D.C. Stadium, will be needed downtown,” Addie wrote.

Both AL President Joe Cronin and Twins president Calvin Griffith (boo hiss) approved the shift, and the new double-header was scheduled for Thursday, originally an off day for both clubs. Still, this was no trifling decision.

“The postponements set something of a precedent,” Addie wrote, “because major league baseball games are seldom called off for any reasons other than weather or power failure.”

Without those regularly scheduled games, The Post needed to find other items to fill its sports pages.

“Doctor Claims Helmet Reduces Head Injuries,” read one large headline at the top of that Wednesday’s section, proving yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.

(“A doctor who used to be a football player at Wayne State University exhibited at a medical convention today a radical new football helmet lining, which, he said, can cut fatalities from injuries on the gridiron 40-50 percent,” began that UPI wire story.)

The next day’s paper brought word of a well-known doctor unable to diagnose the medical status of the Redskins’ star player, proving yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.

“I am in no position to make a guess about [Bobby] Mitchell’s condition,” a Dr. George A. Resta said in that story. “I expect to have all of the data Thursday morning. I may have to run more tests.”

Meanwhile, Addie covered the March itself from a sports perspective. He noted that Redskins quarterback Norm Snead and four teammates worked security during the March for the D.C. National Guard; “that’s the most protection Norm has had this year,” quipped another writer, when he saw Snead surrounded by guardsmen. Addie also remarked on the vacant downtown streets — “as empty as D.C. Stadium when the Senators play Kansas City in a midweek afternoon game.”

As for those Senators, they resumed their season the day after the March ended. Sadly, the two-day break amid much local excitement did not propel the team to late-season greatness. They lost both halves of the Thursday double-header – the combined score was 25-3 – with the rescheduled games attracting a paying crowd of just 2,161. The losing continued into September; the Senators were 3-11 in their first 14 games after the unexpected break.

But the doubleheaders surrounding the March on Washington were certainly among the lowest points of the summer. Minnesota hit five homers in the first doubleheader and 12 in the second; the 17 home runs over four consecutive games set a new Major League record.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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