Nats hope to repeat feat of ‘24 DC baseball champs

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“Base ball in the National Capital no longer is a national game,” declared the now-defunct Washington Evening Star. “It is a disease, a flaming epidemic, and if something doesn’t happen soon to ease the strain on the faithful fans half the population of the District of Columbia will be dead of heart failure.”

Something did happen soon _ the Senators (aka Nationals) clinched the city’s first pennant by defeating the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park on Sept. 29, the second-to-last game of the season. The Boston crowd, caught up in the excitement of the popular team, gave the Senators a homestyle celebration. Hundreds of fans mobbed the Washington players, and thousands more cheered from the stands, tossing straw hats into the air and waving handkerchiefs.

“The champions are not Washington’s alone,” wrote sportswriter John B. Keller. “They belong to the country, as typified in its National Capital, and the entire Nation insists upon sharing with Washington the joy and pride that follows the Griffmen.” That nickname was a tribute to team owner Griffith. Sportswriters also called the team “Bucks,” for player-manager Bucky Harris.

When the Senators returned to Washington, 100,000 people honored them on a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue featuring mounted policeman, a U.S. Cavalry Band and red-coated members of the Washington Riding and Hunt Club. At the Ellipse near the White House, President Calvin Coolidge told the victorious players that they had “made the national capital more truly the center of worthy and honorable national aspirations.”

He also joked that the city’s productivity had suffered because of the Senators’ success: “When the entire population reached the point of requiring the game to be described play by play, I began to doubt whether the highest efficiency was being promoted.”

And that was before fans could check scores on their smartphones.

This year, President Barack Obama congratulated the Nationals when they clinched a playoff, saying at a campaign event in Virginia, “You guys are looking very good.”

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The 2012 Nationals will bring considerably more muscle to the postseason than their ‘24 forebears. This Nats’ lineup features four players with at least 22 home runs. The entire Senators team hit 22 home runs, last in the American League, and less than half of Babe Ruth’s 46 that year. Only one Senator, Goose Goslin, hit more than three.

Instead, the ‘24 team generated runs by getting on base, with three regulars hitting at least .324 _ outfielders Goslin (.344 with 17 triples and 129 RBIs) and Sam Rice (.334), and first baseman Joe Judge (.324). Goslin, Rice and Walter Johnson were all future Hall of Famers.

But they faced a daunting opponent in the World Series. The New York Giants had won their fourth straight pennant, and their lineup was packed with six future Hall of Famers, including rookie Bill Terry, who later became the last .400 hitter in National League history.

Most fans were pulling for Johnson and the Senators.

“Outside of the most rabid of Giant partisans, fans throughout this country will root for him in unison,” predicted The Associated Press.

“All the sentiment of sentimental Washington is built around Johnson,” declared The New York Times, adding that the country was rooting for the Senators because they are “young and dashing and enthusiastic. New York is hated because it has won too many pennants and possesses too much money and is too powerful.”

But Johnson didn’t have his best stuff in the series. He went the distance in a 12-inning, Game 1 loss in Washington’s Griffith Stadium, surrendering four runs on 14 hits and six walks. Then he lost game 5 at New York’s Polo Grounds, giving up six runs (four earned) on 13 hits, and the Senators fell behind three games to two. Johnson said after the game he would probably retire, and with no scheduled starts remaining, it looked like he’d end his career with two World Series losses.

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