Now here sits Bertram R. Abramson, 99 years old, lifelong lover of baseball — especially Washington baseball — wearing his new Nationals hat and talking about the time he saw his hometown team play in the World Series.
“Game One, 1924,” he says. “Walter Johnson pitched for the Senators. It was a good game, very well-played.”
He remembers much of the detail like it was yesterday, even though it was more than 32,000 yesterdays ago, on Oct. 4, 1924, when Abramson sat in the aisle at old Griffith Stadium and watched the very first World Series game played in Washington.
President Calvin Coolidge threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The men in the grandstand wore suits and straw hats. The Senators (or the Nationals, if you preferred — the team didn’t have an official nickname then) lost the game to the New York Giants; but they ultimately won the World Series.
No Washington team has won a World Series championship in the 88 years since.
No Washington team has played in the major league postseason at all since the 1933 World Series, which the Senators lost. But the city’s 79-year playoff dry spell finally ends Sunday, when the Nationals begin the best-of-five National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I expect good things out of this team,” says Abramson, who watches almost every game at home. “Washington has never had a team like this.”
Not even in 1924, when the roster was loaded with future Hall of Famers and won it all? “Not even in ’24,” the semi-retired accountant says.
No team sport celebrates and cherishes its past quite like baseball, and Washington is a city that’s obsessed with history — especially its own.
So there is something almost mystical about talking old-time Washington baseball with fans like Abramson, who personally witnessed World Series history. Not that there are many fans like Abramson still living, says Henry W. Thomas, the grandson of the great Walter Johnson.
“He’s gotta be one of the last who was there in 1924,” Thomas says. “Just do the math: You’d have to have been at least 8 to remember anything, and it was 88 years ago. So you’re at least 96 years old.”
Thomas hasn’t met the 99-year-old Abramson — yet. But, he says, “I became pretty good friends with Shirley Povich,” the late, legendary Washington Post sports columnist. “And whenever I was with him, I could never escape the feeling that it was some kind of time travel for me. He’d bring up something that happened in 1924, and I’d just go: Wow! Gosh!”
Abramson remembers plenty about that team, along with his personal history here. His memory is “sharp as a tack,” says his niece, Lynne Filderman, who marvels that her uncle can recite his phone number from the 1920s.
“Sure,” Abramson says, when prompted. “It’s North-5542.” He has long been formally retired, but he still does the books for his son Eddie’s accounting firm, logging on to a computer every day in his home office.
On the eve of the postseason, Abramson sits at the kitchen table in his eighth-floor condominium in Bethesda. (His developer son, Jeffrey, built the luxury high-rise.) He looks over the 1924 World Series Game 1 box score; Washington’s lineup is nothing but last names — McNeely, Harris, Rice, Goslin, Judge, Bluege, Peckinpaugh, Ruel — so Abramson pulls all the first names from memory.
“ ‘Peck’ to Harris to Judge, that was the double play: Roger Peckinpaugh, Bucky Harris and Joe Judge.”
They were the starting shortstop, second baseman and first baseman.
He retrieves his own unwritten scouting reports — mostly about batters who couldn’t hit for power.
He once had his own souvenirs from the game, but they’re long lost to the landfill of history.
“I was a great saver,” he says. “My wife was a great thrower-outer.” All he has left is his late brother Irving’s shellacked ball bearing the signatures of some old Senators and a few other baseball greats, including Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
He discusses the pitchers, who were not listed on the box score, save for Johnson, who threw all 12 innings in the 4-3 Game 1 loss to the New York Giants.
An aside: “I saw Walter Johnson knock a home run.” When Stephen Strasburg hit a home run this year, Abramson told everybody that he’d seen a hard-throwing Washington ace do the same thing, more than 80 years earlier. “But it wasn’t at the World Series.”
Abramson was 11 during the ’24 Series, when he walked three-quarters of a mile from his family’s house on Seventh Street NW to Griffith Stadium, where Howard University Hospital was later built. He stood in his usual spot outside the stadium, near the tree to the left of the park’s turnstiles, where he often met friends before going in.
“I did what I always did,” he says. “I’d ask a man to take me in: ‘Mister, will you bring me in?’ It didn’t cost them anything; it was 12-and-under free. So I walked in with somebody.”
He didn’t have a seat — “I sat on the steps” — and he didn’t stay for all 12 innings. He had to get home, he recalls, because his parents didn’t know he was at the game.
“And it’s not like he had a cellphone to call them,” adds his son, Eddie.
It was the only World Series game Abramson would get to attend. The park was overcrowded, so kids weren’t allowed in free to the other World Series games at Griffith Stadium.
The team returned to the Series the following year, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Abramson didn’t attend any of those games. And he didn’t go in 1933, either, when the Senators lost to the Giants in five games: Though he’d gone to baseball’s very first All-Star Game that year in Chicago, by October, Abramson was too busy working at Northeast Department Store, which his family had opened on Eighth and H streets NE. So he listened to the games on a crystal set radio.
Abramson got older, started a family, became a certified public accountant, worked and lived around Washington and continued to follow baseball from afar, even as the Senators were either lousy or leaving, which they did, twice.
When the Washington Nationals arrived, Abramson became keenly interested in the game again. He watched the games and followed the team, even through the horrible fits of losing. A few years ago, the family (three children, five grandchildren, two great-grandkids) treated Abramson and his wife, Frances, to a game at Nationals Park for their wedding anniversary.
It was the first time she’d ever been to a game, and she became increasingly interested in the team. “This year, when they got good, my mom really started following them,” Eddie Abramson says.
Bert and Frances, 91, who have been married 70 years, watched all the games together, “though she usually falls asleep,” her husband says. “She wakes up every five minutes and asks me what she missed.”
The Nationals surged.
Then, she was hospitalized with a stroke. Missed some games. “She was upset that the TV in rehab didn’t get the Nationals,” Eddie says.
She’s likely coming home just in time for the playoffs. She’d like to see what her husband saw in 1924.
So would Bert, one of the few Washingtonians who remembers what it feels like to call his team a World Series champion.
“It’s just fantastic,” he says.
Now here he sits with a request for his 100th birthday, which lands just days after the 2012 World Series: Let history repeat.