Opening Day, April 14, 1958
Aerial shot of Griffith Stadium. Not taken by me. Notice the odd shape of the wall in center field. When Griffith was built in 1911 to replace the older stadium that burned down the year before, they needed additional land for bleachers. One homeowner, with a lot in dead center field, refused to sell. Or maybe asked for a ridiculous price. The Senators decided instead to have the high indentation in the center field wall.
Another really old shot. This pre-dated my visit by probably 20 years.
Boy, do these shots look ancient. Because they are. Griffith Stadium was only one year older than Fenway Park, but looked about 50 years older. The above shots were not taken by me.
We had a family vacation to Washington DC during April school vacation week. Most states have vacation in March, but Massachusetts and Maine have it in February, the week of Washington’s Birthday, and again in April, the week of Patriot’s Day. Why, you ask? In Massachusetts Patriot’s Day is a holiday because of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. “One if by land, and two if by sea, and I on the opposite shore shall be…” The Boston Marathon is held on Patriot’s Day. Thus the title for Mark Wahlberg’s movie about the 2013 bombing. And why Maine also? When Patriot’s Day was established in the 1800’s Maine was still part of Massachusetts.
Back to 1958. The whole family…my parents, Hubie and Barbara Kelley, older brother Hugh, younger brother Peter and sister Barbara…drove down. I-95 wasn’t around back then, so we were on US Route 1 pretty much the whole way. Pretty slow going. When we gout out of Baltimore my father got on the B-W Parkway, a four-lane expressway with no stop lights. He tromped on it and hit 60 MPH. My mother announced that we were going “a mile a minute” which sounded like jet propulsion.
We visited all the DC stuff…a tour of the White House, the Smithsonian, Ford’s Theatre and the Peterson House across the street, the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the FBI (where I decided I’d like to be an FBI agent) and the Capitol. We rode in a special subway that goes from the Capitol to the Senate Office Building. Dad took us up to the office of US Senator Leverett Saltonstall (D-Mass). My father went in and talked to the Senator for what seemed like an hour, and we sat in the lobby, bored to tears. When Dad finally emerged from Salty’s office he had four front row tickets to Opening Day at DC’s Griffith Stadium, where the Washington Senators were hosting the Boston Red Sox.
Years later (as in 52 years later) my wife Kathy and I were in DC for the Stephen Colbert/Jon Stewart rally. We stayed at the Capital Hilton, and just after checking in we decided to get a bite in the restaurant. It was called Statler’s. I asked the waitperson if this hotel is the same one that used to be called the Statler Hilton, and she said yes, that’s why the restaurant has that name. After lunch I walked into the lobby and saw a corridor heading out to K Street and took a picture. I sent it to my brother Hugh and asked if he recognized it. He did not, so I told him that this is the same corridor where he and I chased Ted Williams out of the hotel.
Here’s the story from 1958: There we were at the Statler Hilton, which turned out to be the same hotel where the Red Sox were staying. Hugh and I were running around the lobby hoping to get an autograph or two…and we did get pitchers Tom Brewer, Frank Sullivan and shortstop Billy Klaus. And then….and then…whom do we see in the middle of the lobby but…Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived. He looked like he was eight feet tall. Of course, I was only 9 at the time and way less than four feet tall. Hugh and I wanted to get a Teddy Ballgame autograph, but he wanted no part of it. That statue of him outside of Gate B at Fenway Park putting a baseball cap on a little kid was someone’s dream, but I’m sure it never actually happened. We wound up chasing Ted down that hallway where he rushed outside and hopped in a cab.
The tickets were Bob Eucker seats…as in front row, 3rd base side. This was my first ballpark other than Fenway. I did not appreciate until years later that you couldn’t just waltz in and get front row Opening Day tickets. Dad, Mom, Hugh and I went. President Eisenhower threw out the first pitch from the front row next to the 1st base dugout. The Red Sox had just traded with the Senators, picking up Pete Runnels, who played 1st base that day and later won the AL Batting Championship for Boston in 1960 and 1962. Back then there were no video boards, no walkup music, no “make some noise” messages. Just a black and white scoreboard. The PA guy only announced batters during the first at-bat. After that you were expected the follow along by scoring the game.
The Senators had been in the American Association in the late 1880’s and moved to the National League in the 1890’s when the NL absorbed the AA. In anticipation of the new American League debuting in 1901, the NL dropped four teams for 1900, and the Senators were one of them. They reappeared as one of the eight charter teams in the new American League. Starting In 1905 the nickname Nationals or Nats became a favorite of writers and fans, but the uniform just had a W and Senators was the official name. Early on they were one of the better MLB teams, winning the World Series in 1924 and appearing again in 1933. But it was downhill from there. Newspaper scribes frequently roasted them: “Washington…first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.” But the Senators won that day, beating the Red Sox, 5-2. Sox right fielder Jackie Jensen hit a 2-run homer. Frank Sullivan, who was nice enough to sign an autograph for us in the Statler lobby, hit a double that day (no DH rule for another 15 years), but also gave a up a dinger and was the losing pitcher.
We had arrived early and they had parked the cars bumper-to-bumper. Meaning that first in was also last out, and it took about an hour to get out of the parking lot. I saved the scorebook (pictured above) but it got moldy over time and the pages are stuck together. Years later, when I started chronicling my Ballpark Tour, my brother handed me our ticket stubs and a couple of “snaps” from a Brownie camera. To take a picture you had to hold it at your waist and look at the subject upside down.
What ever happened to the Washington Senators, you ask? They finished in last place that year, and the next year. In 1960 they finished in 5th place, but still 24 games behind the Yankees. The next year, 1961, they gave up on DC after 85 years and moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul to become the Minnesota Twins. They were immediately replaced by a new expansion Washington Senators, who wound up being even worse than the original Senators. After only 11 seasons they too blew town, and moved to Arlington, Texas where they became the Texas Rangers.