Bill Holdforth wants to set the record straight.
He is indeed the loyal Washington Senators fan known as Baseball Bill who was so heartbroken after owner Bob Short moved the team to Texas in the 1970s that he helped raise money to defeat Short's run at a Senate seat. And yes, he is the guy who lost his job as an usher at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for carrying a dummy of Short through the stands.
But no, he did not dump his beer on Short that night in Baltimore. "If you knew me, you knew it wasn't me who did it," Holdforth explained. "I'd never waste a beer like that."
Holdforth is something of a legend among old Senators fans. Baseball is returning to the nation's capital after a 33-year absence, and area sports fans continue to rejoice as city leaders debate stadium financing. But such die-hards as Holdforth still remember the heartbreak of losing a team in September 1971. Some let anger get the best of them, and interrupted the Senators' last home game by pouring out of the stands and ripping up the field. Others adopted a kind of bitter zaniness about the whole thing, and few were as comically bitter as Holdforth.
"He was the ultimate fan," said Charlie Brotman, the former public address announcer for the Senators. "He was rather vociferous in his enthusiasm for the team."
In an uptight, political city where many people watch what they say and do, Baseball Bill has been a free-spirited anomaly. He's a former bartender with the wit of a stand-up comic, the girth of Santa Claus and the drinking habits of an "Animal House" character.
He once downed 26 Budweisers in four hours to win a drinking contest at a Capitol Hill bar. To celebrate, he drank at least 10 more. "There's been plenty other nights when I drank a lot more, but no one was counting," said Holdforth, 53, of Forest Heights.
Drinking is not his only passion. Holdforth has loved baseball since age 9, when he was mesmerized by the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates. He can still name the 1960 Pirates ("Bob Oldis, he was the third-string catcher. . . .") and refers to his time as an usher at RFK Stadium during the Senators' last three seasons as the best days of his life.
It was May 1972 when Holdforth and three buddies came face-to-face with the man they blamed for putting an end to 70 years of local baseball history. Several months after the Senators left Washington, Short's new team, the Texas Rangers, came to Baltimore to play the Orioles.
Holdforth was a 21-year-old clerk at the Library of Congress at the time. He had lost his ushering job at RFK the year before, after he and a friend paraded through the aisles carrying a Short dummy they found in right field. "I saw it hanging there, and we had just enough beers in us to make it sound like a good idea," he recalled.
That night in Baltimore, Holdforth and his friends wanted to irritate Short, and they brought their own dummy this time. They stuffed some old copies of the Sporting News into a pair of pants and a white shirt with a tie and wrote "Short stinks" on a small sign.
They were sitting about 20 rows behind Short near the Texas dugout in Section 39, when Holdforth walked over to Short holding the broom-handle effigy. He waved it over Short's head as his friend held up the sign. "We had to do something," Holdforth said. "We couldn't let him get into town without doing something."
Even for a man born on April Fool's Day, Holdforth's stunt was the gag of a lifetime, getting his picture in the papers and cementing his reputation as one of the Senators' most rabid fans. Years later, strangers would come up and congratulate him; one father even had him autograph a baseball for his son.
In 1978, when Short ran for a Minnesota Senate seat, Holdforth and some friends formed the Committee to Keep Bob Short Out of Washington. They held a beer bash at Holdforth's apartment to raise $3,000. "We charged $10 a head, and we had auctions," he said with a chuckle.
The money paid for an ad in the Minneapolis Tribune attacking Short. "Bob Short held our trust for three years, and we were SHORT CHANGED," read the ad, which ran the Sunday before voters headed to the polls.
Short won the primary but lost the election to David F. Durenberger. The night after his victory, Durenberger came into the Hawk 'n' Dove on Capitol Hill, the bar where Holdforth worked, to thank the committee, Holdforth said. "I wasn't the brains behind the operation, that's for sure, because it was fairly successful," he said.
Short's son, Brian, a Minneapolis businessman, said his father did not take the hostility of Senators fans personally. "There was nobody more disappointed about moving the baseball club from Washington, D.C., to Arlington, Texas, than my father," said Brian Short, 54.
He added: "My father moved the Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles, and he received death threats because of that. Having some overweight bartender walk around with a stuffed doll was not the kind of thing that was going to get him very worried."
Holdforth has trouble explaining why he went after Short with such zeal, why he was so hurt by the Senators' departure. His friends said his exploits say more about his love for baseball than his hatred for Short.
"There's old-timers still bitter about the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn," said former committee member Paul E. Meagher, the Hawk 'n' Dove's general manager. "A baseball team is part of your family."