“Cal Griffith About Ready to Shift Nats to California; Los Angeles, San Francisco After Team for Next Season,” The Post’s A1 headline read in early October of 1956.
“Calvin Griffith, president of the Washington Baseball Club, has disclosed that he ‘has under consideration’ a plan to move the franchise to California, probably Los Angeles, for the 1957 season,” the story began.
And it got worse for Washington baseball fans before it got better.
“The danger of losing the Washington Baseball Club became acute last night when Calvin Griffith, president of the Nationals, announced he has received ‘two very attractive offers — and in writing — from San Francisco and Louisville,” The Post’s Bob Addie reported on A1 later that month.
“Griffith, who appeared to be in high spirits over the new turn in events, said both offers would be submitted to the board of directors at a regularly scheduled meeting Friday afternoon.”
The Nats could have beaten the Giants in moving to the Bay Area? News to me.
With the Giants again in the World Series, Fred Frommer, the chronicler of Washington baseball history, sent along that nugget, along with this relevant passage from his book, You Gotta Have Heart. Bear in mind that Calvin Griffith was in the spotlight because of the death of his uncle, Clark Griffith, about a year before.
In October 1956, after another disastrous year in which the Senators finished seventh and drew just 432,000 fans, Griffith told reporters that he was considering moving the team to either Los Angeles or San Francisco.
At the time, there was no Major League Baseball on the West Coast. Gabriel Murphy, Clark Griffith’s accommodating partner, now turned on Calvin Griffith. Murphy, who owned 40 percent of the team’s stock, threatened to sue Griffith to prevent a move.
“I am shocked and saddened to learn that those who succeeded to Mr. Griffith’s position would try to erase his efforts within fifty-eight days after the Washington baseball fans erected a monument to his memory,” Murphy said. “The Senators must remain in Washington. I feel, as others in baseball, that our club is not merely a local representative. This is a national baseball team. It belongs to the nation as does the city itself.”
In the end, the team’s board of directors considered bids from four cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Louisville — before deciding to stay put.
“We’re happy to remain here, and I hope we stay here the rest of our lives,” Griffith said.
Addie Griffith called the news wonderful. “Clark loved this city, and I know he never would have left Washington,” she said. Clark Griffith had opposed any discussion of moving the team.
But Murphy said the damage had been done. “The attempt to move the franchise to the West Coast seriously impaired the value of the club’s most priceless asset—the wholehearted support and confidence of the Washington fans,” he commented in announcing that he was quitting his salaried job of board treasurer and director in early 1957, while retaining his stock in the team.
The Senators wound up remaining in Washington until after the 1960 season, when they left for Minnesota, three years after the Dodgers and Giants had moved from New York to California. And as Frommer wrote, the intervening years were not a time of civic baseball happiness.
Addie published a long and fascinating interview with Calvin Griffith in October of 1957, excerpted here:
There is still no assurance that some day Calvin and the brood of which he is the nominal head will not pull up stakes and leave Washington. You may be sure of one thing, and that is the Griffith family will not sell its majority stock under any circumstances.
There have been well-founded rumors that Bill Veeck is angling for the Washington franchise and has sufficient money behind him to make an eye-popping offer.
“We absolutely will not sell,” Calvin said yesterday. “Consider it this way — baseball is not a hobby with us, it is our living. Maybe some of us would get rich, but what would happen to the others? They’d be lucky to realize a few thousand dollars from a sale, and they wouldn’t get that much because they own only token shares. The family already has discussed the possibility of selling but turned it down.”
Apparently a municipal stadium here is not about to settle Calvin’s problems.
“Is it a municipal stadium?” he asks. “It is in name, but consider some of the ramifications. In the first place, the proposed site at the National Guard Armory is not to our liking. The bulk of our attendance is drawn from Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Arlington, Alexandra, etc., outside of Washington, of course. The Armory site is too far for all these people….
“We have been asked frequently about this new bonanza — the pay-as-you-go television. My research, such as it has been, has disclosed that such a system, which would be handled through the telephone company, would take three to four years to be put into operation.
“At the moment, the visiting clubs are squawking about their receipts from playing at Griffith Stadium — and I can’t blame them. Baltimore got only $9000 last year. The Orioles will do better this season because they got something like $6000 for opening day alone. But Boston, Detroit and several other clubs have lost money coming here. How long can this situation exist?
“Owning our own stadium we have been able to make a living through rentals, etc. You can imagine our reluctance to pay $260,000 a year to use a so-called municipal stadium.
“Frankly, I don’t know what will come of all this. At the moment, I would rule out any possibility of our leaving Washington for another year. But I couldn’t make this a hard and fast statement. Will we stay or will we go? Your guess is as good as mine.”