Selling one last piece of Griffith Stadium
By Annys Shin,
For the thousands who went to Griffith Stadium to see the Senators, the Redskins or the Homestead Grays, the bronze sign marking the entrance on Georgia Avenue NW was a little-noticed piece of scenery. For Walter Moore, 74, it became a family heirloom when his late stepfather saved it from the wrecking ball 47 years ago.
Now all Moore has to do is find someone who feels the same way.
Hoping to capitalize on surging interest in the Nationals, Moore is seeking a buyer for the 30-by-72-inch sign. The bidding starts at $25,000, a price experts said might be difficult to command in the micro market for Griffith Stadium memorabilia.
The sign was part of a larger collection of Senators, Redskins, and Griffith Stadium artifacts that his stepfather amassed while working as the stadium’s superintendent for more than 40 years. There were rare photos. The locker of Senators’ pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson, which was sent off to Cooperstown. Many of the items were displayed in his mother’s home in Lewisdale until she died seven years ago. Since then, Moore has been selling the collection off bit by bit at yard sales and through newspaper ads. (He doesn’t like computers.)
With the exception of a few items, including a 1950 panoramic photo of the Redskins in front of the U.S. Capitol, the sign “is the last of it,” Moore said.
Moore started working at Griffith Stadium in 1948, the year he got a Social Security card. He was 10 years old. He had been conscripted by his stepfather, James Robinson Ritchie, whom everyone referred to as “Pop Ritchie.” Ritchie was a member of the Griffith family.
Over the years, Moore learned to do a little bit of everything: plumbing, electrical work, touching up the walls with a color aptly named “dark baseball green.” The biggest chore was converting the baseball field into a football field and, in the late summer and early fall, back into a diamond.
During football and baseball season, Moore spent every weekend at Griffith, awash in the aromas of the nearby Wonder Bread bakery. He loved to watch the Homestead Grays. “I’d be one little white face in there among 40,000 black faces,” he said.
In the spring of 1953, he was on hand for Mickey Mantle’s legendary 565-foot home run. He was there again when Ted Williams hit a homer in 1960.
“It was a blessing and a curse,” Moore said of the job. When he showed up at school on Mondays, he could regale his friends with stories from Redskins practice or take a couple buddies to watch games. What he couldn’t do was follow them to the movies or to the beach.
“I always had to work,” he said. “I was resentful at times.”
The money came in handy even after Moore married and began a career as a steamfitter. When he started out, he earned 85 cents an hour. His wife, Mary, who worked for C&P Telephone, earned 95 cents an hour.
His days at the stadium came to an end in 1960. For years, there were rumors the Senators might leave. Moore can still remember hearing Calvin Griffith’s assurances that he would not move the team, only to see the announcement in the newspaper a week later. The Griffiths asked Moore’s stepfather to follow the team to the Twin Cities. “But Pop was too old and too brokenhearted,” Moore said. “He couldn’t bear to go.”
Ritchie retired but never really recovered. He died within a couple years.
On Thursday morning, the Griffith Stadium entrance marker was propped against a fence in Moore’s driveway in Manassas. Made entirely of heavy bronze, it took two men to move it out of Moore’s garage. It has a light green patina, acquired over decades outdoors. The etching, though, is still perfectly crisp: “Griffith Stadium Washington American League Baseball Club.”
After placing a classified ad in The Post, Moore has received three inquiries so far about the sign, a disappointing response.
The entrance marker “is a great piece,” said Hank Thomas, a baseball memorabilia dealer in Arlington and a grandson of Walter Johnson’s.
Signage from Griffith Stadium is rare, he said. Seats, which can sell for a few hundred dollars, are far more common. Moore’s biggest challenge, Thomas said, is the limited size of the potential market. He doesn’t think Moore will get any takers at $25,000.
“Griffith Stadium people willing to spend significant money on stadium artifacts? You’re talking about a handful,” he said.
One potential buyer is Kent Feddeman, 67, who besides former Nats announcer Charlie Brotman is believed to own the largest collection of Nationals and Senators memorabilia. The only problem is that Feddeman is calling it quits. He is selling his entire collection in a pair of online auctions, in November and in March.
“A third of my home was basically a museum, and I had no one to show it to,” said Feddeman, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. Even if there had been more interest, he has been reluctant to open up his home to strangers after two robberies. He has no children to leave it to.
“I’ve had fun collecting it,” he said “but it’s time to move on.”
Moore has tried the Lerner family, the majority owner of the Nationals, who have purchased Senators memorabilia for the new stadium. But they passed.
All hope is not lost, of course, as Nats fans learned Thursday night. A new generation of collectors is being born every season. Moore just needs to be patient, Thomas said. If the team wins the World Series this year, “he could probably get another hundred bucks for it.”