They called it "Griffith's folly," when the late Clark Griffith suddenly announced in 1924 that he was selecting his young second basement Stanley Raymond (Bucky) Harris, as the Washington Senators' new manager. There was a wide reaction that Griffith must already be in his dotage to chance ruining a good young infielder by saddling him with the manager's job.
At the time, Harris was not even a distinguished baliplayer, but on Tuesday when he died in Washington on his 81st birthday. Bucky was as famous as the game would allow. Bestowed on him had been membership in the game's most exclusive society baseball's Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., and the enduring accolade of boy wonder manager of the Senators. To the city that had been the butt of baseball jokes for decades - First in peace, first in was and etc. - he had brought its first American League peannant. And then, right away, another.
When he upped the 27-year-old Harris to manager of his team, making him the youngest manager in the majors, Griffith, then must have divined a special quality in the fellow. The Senators' owners' explanation was short. He said, "I've been watching him for five years, and he's a tiger."
It was exactly five years before in 1919, when Griffith first laid happy eyes on Harris. He was personally scouting the minors for a second baseman. This was a Buffalo. It Griffith was going to pay $5,000 for an infielder, the price they were putting on Harris, he wasn't going to entrust the assessment of the fellow to any scout.
His man, Griffith learned, was under double pressure that day. Harris knew that Griffith was in the park. Harris also was playing with a finger on his throwing hand that had been broken in three places the day before. He had it taped to his little finger to help him grip a bat. Nevertheless young Harris had a six-for-six day at bat in a doubleheader. Griffith bought him that night.
The tiger in the 156-pound Bucky Harris often surfaced. On the opening day in spring training in 1924 he told the Senators, "O.K., guys, here are a couple of rules. I'll take all the pop flies. So stay out of my way. And I'll handle most of the relays."
They all knew that pop flies can be tricky. And that only a guy with a strong arm and accuracy should call for the relays. Harris was taking all of them off the spot in these two departments. He didn't bother to add that he was the best man at catching those difficult popups, or that he had the best arm of any relay man on the club.
He never had any idea he would be managing the 1924 Senators as the successor to Denie Bush, who tasted one year in the job. Actually Griffith was sore at Harris during that winter of 1923-24 and had fined him for playing pro basketball against orders. Bucky was rated one of the best basketball players in his native Pennsylvania, often played against the Original Celtics, and sometimes got as much as $30 per game.
In March of 1924 Harris was in Tampa waiting for spring training to start. He received a letter from Griffith asking if he wanted the job as manager of the Washington team, and requesting a speedy answer as others, including Kid Gleason, were being considered.
Harris raced to the nearest phone to contact Griffith. "I want the job," he blurted out. But he was talking into a poor connection and Griffith was not hearing him. On his end, Harris was hearing Griffith loudly and clearly cursed all the telephone poles from Washington to Tampa. In dismay Harris also heard the frustrated Griffith hang up.
Then the eager Harris dashed off to the nearest telegraph office and wired Griffith: "I'll take that job and win Washington's first American League pennant." Then he gave a $20 bill to the Western Union clerk and said "Send this telegram right away and repeat it every hour for the next four hours."
The Senators' finest hours under Harris were in the 1924 World Series. Remembered for wining the decisive seventh game were Walter Johnson, with his gorgeous relief pitching from the ninth through the 12th innings, and Earl McNeely, with his famous "pebble hit" that drove in the decisive run in the bottom of the 12th.
But Bucky Harris fans also remember he had something to do with it. To recap, he put the Senators in the lead in that seventh game with his second home run of the series. And now it was the eighth inning, with the Senators trailing the Giants, 3-1, and needing some desperate heroics to stay above. Two were out with the bases full, and the issue was strictly up to the next batter. The next batter was manager Harris who would determine whether the team was alive or dead. Bucky met the issue and also the ball, striking a single into left field that brought Nemo Leibold and Muddy Ruel home to tie the score. The Senators were not dead.
Without that hit, no 12th inning, no World Series championship for Washington, no parade up Pennsylvania Avenue, no reception for the Senators at President Coolidge's White House. As Mr. Griffith said, Bucky was a tiger.