D.C. baseball is hotter than it’s been in 74 years, as evidenced by lengthy stories over the past seven days in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that John B. Odell, a curator from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, arrived in Washington this week toting artifacts from the last time Washington baseball mattered so dearly to a national audience.
“It’s been a long time since baseball has been big in Washington,” Odell observed, as he showed his valuables to a group of Post sports staffers Monday morning.
This trip was a combined endeavor of the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball, meant to promote both the proximity of Cooperstown to D.C. (just six hours and one stoplight from the Beltway!) and the upcoming postseason broadcasts on Fox, TBS and the MLB Network. And as Odell donned white gloves and unzipped his bag of goodies, my many trips through The Post archives felt a whole lot more immediate. (Though few things are cooler than the “Cronin Eludes Mob of Women in Chase After Nats Clinch Pennant” headline this paper ran in ’33).
The first object was the glove used by Bucky Harris in the 1924 World Series. The Senators second baseman and player-manager somehow used that meaty slab of a mitt to set a host of World Series defensive records, including those for the most assists in a Series game, and in a Series as a whole.
His glove is displayed in Coopertown’s Modern World Series exhibit, and it bears as much resemblance to the leather used by Danny Espinosa as Davey Johnson does to a horned toad.
Next up was a watch fob, the championship pendant awarded to members of that 1924 world title-winning outfit. The World Series ring wasn’t always a staple of post-title celebrations, Odell explained; some champions chose a watch, or a lapel pin, or various other sorts of 1920s bling.
The Senators’ 1924 jewelry showed the Capitol Dome flanked by a pair of eagles, resting atop two crossed baseball bats. In the middle of those bats was a baseball, with a diamond plopped in its center. The Hall of Fame’s watch fob came from then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. (Commissioners annually receive a World Series ring, or lapel pin, or watch fob, and then by tradition donate it to the Hall of Fame).
The final item in the bag of goodies was the ball that Franklin Delano Roosevelt tossed out before Game 3 of the 1933 World Series, Washington’s last playoff series. Back then, Odell explained, National League teams used a ball with black and red laces, while AL teams used a blue-and-red laced ball that was thought to be livelier.
The return to D.C. and its AL park would help the Senators, went the thinking, who had lost the first two games in the Polo Grounds. And indeed, Washington won 4-0 in Game 3, scoring more runs than it had in the first two games combined. (Alas, the Nats would go down in extra innings in Game 4 and Game 5, ending Washington’s playoff history for well more than a half-century.)
FDR’s first pitch was fielded by outfielder Heinie Manush, who apparently commemorated the occasion with some scribbles on the ball. “The ball for the start of the 1933 World Series,” he wrote, in all capital letters.
“Franklin Rossvelt 1933 World Series,” he also scribbled.
And let this be a warning to Jayson Werth, or Bryce Harper, or whichever outfielder might one day field a celebratory playoff first pitch at Nationals Park: ask someone how to spell the dignitary’s name.
(In addition to the above treasures, the Hall of Fame has a host of items from the early days of these Nationals, including the jersey worn by Brad Wilkerson during Washington’s first post-Montreal base hit, the ball hit by Termel Sledge for Washington’s first post-Montreal home run, the bat used by Vinny Castilla for the Nats’ first hit in RFK Stadium, and the cap worn by Mike Bacsik when he served up Barry Bonds’s record-breaking home run. Whatever playoff mementos this postseason produces will be a good deal more beloved by D.C. fans.)