- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

On the last day, hope and desperation swirled through Washington like the October breeze that forced men to don double-breasted topcoats and tug down their fedoras under bright sun. 

Past the Navy Yard, where 7,000 men in a double line four blocks long camped out at 10 p.m. a few days earlier to apply for 500 jobs as laborers. Pay started at 43 cents per hour when nearly a quarter of the country sat unemployed. Nearby, in the forgotten grit off South Capitol Street, where a celebration drenched in beer and shaving cream would rage almost 79 years later, sat Schindler Peanut Products and Isadore Kobler’s grocery and an undertaker’s office, interspersed with a lumberyard, coal yard and Standard Oil’s fuel plant.

Through the pages of the city’s six daily newspapers that preached recovery and spoke of the Great Depression in the past tense: “We’re doing our part Gathering momentum with each succeeding day America is going places again.” Advertisements for porterhouse steaks and ankle-length coats made of 48 seal pelts and 11-tube radios that snatched broadcasts from Europe reclined next to tales of work camps in the Midwest to house a million homeless and men drinking poison or shooting their families, then themselves after losing jobs.

“A new hope,” Rev. James E. Freeman, the bishop of Washington, wrote, “is evident in the hearts of the people.”

And across town, amid the scatter of Stadium Lunch and vacant storefronts and the Home Plate Filling Station, the hope and desperation swept up against James W. Craig. Off Georgia Avenue, a few steps from U Street to the south on land that would become Howard University Hospital decades later, the guardian of the gate for employees and players at Griffith Stadium had a mission.

Down three games to one to the New York Giants in the World Series, the Washington Senators were in a fix Oct. 7, 1933. That didn’t stop boys from donning white coats to try and sneak past Craig. No luck. A man showed up with two bottles of liniment he insisted Senators trainer Mike Martin sent for. Not true. Another hefted a wash basin, allegedly on order from the Senators’ clubhouse. Craig turned him away, too.

In the outfield stands, a U.S. Army band played “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” American flags fluttered from the second level of grandstands. But on the last day a Major League Baseball postseason game would be played in Washington for almost eight decades, only the temporary wedge-shaped bleachers in center field that held around 800 fans for $1.10 each were full.

Scalpers unloaded tickets bearing Senators owner Clark Griffith’s facsimile signature at a loss. Three bucks for a box seat, the price of two dinners in front of Maxim Lowe’s Famous Shoreham Orchestra at the tony Shoreham Hotel overlooking Rock Creek Park.

“This will go down in the annals of scalping,” one reporter wrote in the Washington Herald, “as one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall the gentle guild which earns its coffee and cakes buying low and selling high.”

Three hundred and fifty policemen eyed the crowd. Prohibition would end in December. Concern about the nation’s whiskey supply — 18 million gallons — loomed. Would there be enough? Three-point-two-percent beer, the only alcohol 26-year-old Senators manager and shortstop Joe Cronin drank, already was legal. Pabst Blue Ribbon insisted its brew “soothes jaded nerves, develops fresh energy and helps build a sound, healthy body.” But Griffith Stadium remained as dry as the afternoon. That was a good thing for home plate umpire Charley Moran.

After a close call at first base the night before, Moran ejected Senators outfielder Heinie Manush in the sixth inning of the Giants‘ eventual 11-inning win. The first ejection in World Series history enraged Manush and the crowd. Soda bottles showered the field. Manush had to be restrained from attacking Moran, compared to a battleship pursuing a tugboat. Manush succeeded in snapping the umpire’s black bow tie back against his throat.

From the stands, a “well-known gambler” shouted at Moran: “We’ll get you for that!”

And a woman of “unmistakable culture, breeding and fashion” sitting near President Franklin Delano Roosevelt added: “Oh, kill the umpire!”

So, a phalanx of grumbling officers protected Moran as the 28,454 fans (extra stands increased capacity to 35,743) waited for the Senators and President Roosevelt to emerge. Regarded as a good-luck charm after throwing out the first pitch in Game 3, the president told 100 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America visiting him in the White House’s Red Parlor the day before that he would attend Game 5. Then the president threw an arm around Babe Ruth, on hand along with Walter Johnson, and recalled when Ruth upstaged a campaign stop in Binghamton, N.Y., in 1920. No one knew which team the New York-born president supported, but the Senators figured they needed all the help they could muster.

The police kept busy. Pickpockets relieved Edgar Greever of $90 and George Wyncoop of $53 in the stands. Capt. William E. Holmes’ first precinct men shut down 11th and Pennsylvania Avenue as fans gathered by the electronic scoreboard on the side of the Washington Star building with 11 loudspeakers for the National Broadcasting Company’s play-by-play. And the police arrested a man named Robert Alexander, his home separated from Griffith Stadium by a brisk walk.

Two days earlier, Lawrence Zimmerman took his son, Lawrence Jr., to Game 3. His 37-year-old wife, Louise, stayed at their bakery on 17th Street. As she worked alone in the front room, Alexander came in and demanded money at knifepoint. She refused. So, Alexander jumped the counter and slashed her throat.

A baker in back of the shop, Rudolph Wehner, hit Alexander in the arm with a rolling pin and chased him into the street along with John Reynolds, a cab driver. In Alexander’s haste to exit, he lost a shoe. That helped police catch him, as Louise Zimmerman lay in Emergency Hospital breathing from a metal tube in her throat.

Katsuji Debuchi, the Japanese ambassador and baseball aficionado, arrived at Griffith Stadium with a pair of field glasses. Sen. James Hamilton Lewis and Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner came, too. The blue pigeon that spent much of Game 3 pecking its way through the infield, undisturbed by shouts or baseball, showed up. Some Giants regarded the pigeon as a “bird of ill omen.”

Red-capped ushers, with nothing else to do, swung Giants bats in front of their dugout. Then, an hour before the 1:15 p.m. first pitch, the flag, bunting and green cushions were removed from the president’s box. The game was never among his 14 appointments that day, dominated instead by a White House conference to find a solution to Pennsylvania’s violent coal strike.

While the Senators sat in their clubhouse, the president dedicated a statue to labor icon Samuel Gompers at 10th and Massachusetts Avenue. The president’s 1,050-word speech hinted at the country’s deep-seated problems. He railed against workers who were “hotheads who think results can be attained by noise or violence” and employers who “prefer government by a privileged class.”

Small help-wanted sections choked among the mess of hopeful advertisements touting “prosperity month” in that day’s newspapers. Pastry cook. Salesman at Economy Fish Market. Two wide-awake men to sell beer. Tenor and bass soloists for a church choir. Cafe cashier in exchange for two meals per day.

Everything filtered through race. Jewish. White. Colored. Filipino. Irish. Domestic help. Apartments. The vacant waitress job at 5522 Connecticut Avenue. White only.

Preparations for fox hunting season commenced in Warrenton. At the Geneva disarmament conference, diplomat Henry Morgenthau Sr. predicted war in Europe within a year. Nazi Germany refused to join the League of Nations in ensuring equal rights for Jews. Dr. A.A. Stockdale readied to deliver his sermon at the National Congregational Church the next evening on “the devil’s playground in Washington.”

White House Coffee. Four pounds of Jonathan apples for 19 cents. Little Orphan Annie comic strips. Congress beer. Cigarettes to keep husbands from yelling at wives. Cigarettes to steady the nerves of air mail pilots. Cigarettes for 99 cents per carton. Ash cans and electric banjo clocks and spending our way out of the depression.

As Cronin, batting cleanup, popped out to Mel Ott on the first pitch of the second inning, the president lunched with Clark Howell, the corruption-chasing, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution.

Cronin lived by himself at Wardman Park Hotel. Autograph and photo requests were awkward. He didn’t smoke or stay out late. He didn’t like to speak about himself, allowing, “I’m just a young fellow playing shortstop.” Women swooned over the youngster from San Francisco who once wanted to be a quarterback. The anxiety during spring training in Biloxi, Miss., over Cronin’s appointment as manager transformed to plaudits as “baseball’s boy wonder.”

Desperate to end a series-long slump at the plate, the Senators dumped a pile of bats in front the dugout. Each player used the first one he touched.

That couldn’t help the Senators as the game slipped into the 10th inning. The 24-year-old Ott, already with 176 career home runs, came up with two men out. Reliever Jack Russell, summoned after starter General Crowder fizzled, threw low, sweeping curveballs. Ott hammered one to center field.

“The triple detonation,” Grantland Rice wrote, “that sounded like the death knell of doom to 28,000 fans came in the 10th inning.”

The ball nicked center fielder Fred Schulte’s glove as he stabbed for it, then tumbled headfirst over the fence and into the stands. Umpire Charles Pfirman initially called a ground-rule double. Ott remained at second base as the Giants protested, the umpires, including the reviled Moran, met and changed the ruling to a home run.

In the bottom of the 10th, Manush retreated to the clubhouse after he lined out to second for the inning’s second out. A radio blasted play-by-play. Cronin singled. Schulte walked. Up came first baseman Joe Kuehl, trailing 4-3.

“Strike three. Kuehl is out,” the radio screamed. “The Giants win.”

“Turn that thing off,” Manush barked to a clubhouse attendant.

The Giants whooped and snake-danced and player-manager Bill Terry shouted: “What do you think of that?” as they clattered to their clubhouse. The Griffmen, the Griffs, the Good Ship Griff, the Nats, the Capitol Clubmen were finished, felled by the mighty Gothamites.

Griffith, the Sage of 16th Street to local scribes, strode through the Senators’ quiet clubhouse straight to Cronin. They shook hands.

“There’s a bigger and better season coming,” Cronin said.

“We’ll be there again before long,” Griffith said, “and it’s going to be a different story.”

The next day Cronin hid out in a downtown movie theater with a hat pulled low as radioman Walter Winchell crowed about his marital possibilities. The Maryland State Police fined outfielder Goose Goslin $11.45 for not staying inside the white lines on Baltimore-Washington Boulevard. A cartoon pictured a hapless Crowder pulling the rest of the Senators away from the pennant. And the Washington Star mourned: “all was wrong with the world. There was no sunshine, no happiness anywhere.”

Almost 79 years later, the last day’s sunshine returned.

Sources for this story include the archives of EveryWeek Magazine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Press, Washington Daily News, Washington Herald, Washington Star and Washington Times, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, National Archives, 1933 Washington City Directory, The Social List of Washington, 1933 ed., Hopkins and Baist Atlas, 1931-32 ed., Omni Shoreham Hotel: A brief history, BaseballAlmanac.com and BaseballLibrary.com.