Poor Judge-ment at RFK

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A novelist wouldn't try to make this up. A reporter had requested some information about my grandfather, Joe Judge -- the first baseman for the old Washington Nationals from 1915 to 1932 -- and I was looking at a 1990 letter from the D.C. Armory Board congratulating my family on my grandfather's induction into the Hall of Stars when the call came.

It was the reporter, informing me that RFK Stadium was taking down its Hall of Stars to make room for advertising. The Hall of Stars was a ring of names of Washington sports heroes that had lined the inside of RFK Stadium.

But with the new Nationals set to start play at RFK, the names that evoke our city's proud sports history -- Sonny Jurgensen, Elvin Hayes, Walter Johnson -- were being removed to make way for ads for banks, long-distance phone companies and bars.

The letter, from James Dalrymple, then general manger of the D.C. Armory Board, said, "We are in full agreement that [Joe Judge] deserves the recognition of being inducted into the Hall of Stars. Evidently he was quite a baseball player."

He sure was that, but more important, my grandfather was a role model. He gave everything to Washington, the city he loved.

My grandfather did not try to draw attention to himself. Family, friends and sportswriters all describe him as polite, sober, unassuming, humble. A 1925 article in Baseball magazine described him as "the sheet anchor of the Washington infield."

Joe Judge liked to let his play do the talking. He had a lifetime .298 batting average, 2,352 hits, 433 doubles, 1,034 RBIs, 1,500 double plays and 1,301 assists. His .993 fielding average was the standard for first basemen for 30 years. He hit .385 in the 1924 World Series, the only series Washington ever won. After retiring from baseball, he coached at Georgetown University for 20 years.

I'll never forget the day my grandfather was inducted into the Hall of Stars -- Oct. 21, 1990, during halftime at a Redskins game against the Philadelphia Eagles. I was there with my family. We were all so proud, but none more so than my Aunt Dorothy, Joe Judge's daughter. She received a handsome plaque with a picture of her father and RFK Stadium on it. It still hangs in her house -- for what that is worth.

History, integrity, devotion to place -- I guess none of that sentimental pap is worth much anymore. Not when somebody needs to make a buck.

-- Mark Gauvreau Judge


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