Tuesday, July 20, 2004

For quite a few decades, Sports Illustrated was my favorite magazine. Nowadays, though, SI ranks about as far down my reading list as Martha Stewart Living, Family Handyman and Arthritis Today.

The reason, in case you can’t guess, is the shafting SI gave us in the hastily conceived and badly executed “tribute” to Washington, D.C., that ended its yearlong series on each of the 50 states in connection with the magazine’s impending 50th anniversary.

I didn’t mind so much that SI gave the District one page, compared with the six it allotted each state, because that’s the managing editor’s prerogative. And it was merely unfortunate Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing were said to have played at “Springarn” High School (it’s “Spingarn”) because mistakes have a way of sneaking into print on little cat’s feet.

But I nearly swallowed my press card when SI anointed as the District’s “Greatest Moment” the Redskins’ 26-3 victory over the Cowboys in the NFC title game Dec.31, 1972.

Sure that was a great moment, even if George Allen’s Over the Hill Gang lost the subsequent Super Bowl VII to Miami’s unbeaten Dolphins. But the Greatest Moment? The choice couldn’t have been much worse if SI had selected the Redskins’ 73-0 loss to the Bears in the 1940 NFL championship. After all, that was a truly monumental licking.

Actually, the Greatest Moment in the District’s sports history is a no-brainer: The Senators’ 12-inning, 4-3 victory over the Giants in Game7 of the 1924 World Series at Griffith Stadium. The 80th anniversary of that triumph is coming up, so few eyewitnesses remain on this mortal coil. But even written accounts should convey the drama and pathos that accompanied it.

Although the “original” Senators and their expansion successors labored in American League vineyards for 71 years, the only World Series they won was in 1924. Other pennants followed in 1925 and 1933, but those editions of the so-called Fall Classic brought only disappointment. And for too many of their other seasons, the Senators finished far down in what used to be called, in baseball’s bad old days, the second division.

In the golden autumn of 1924, however, it all came together marvelously as the Senators scuttled Babe Ruth’s Yankees to win the pennant and then faced John McGraw’s imperious Giants in the Series. Walter Johnson, the Senators’ flame-throwing all-time ace, had won 23 games at age 37, but he lost his first two Series starts to the Giants as all baseball fans outside of Gotham mourned.

Now, though, it was Game7, on Oct.10, and Boy Wonder manager Bucky Harris was summoning Johnson from the bullpen for his and the Senators’ last chance. The Big Train shut out the Giants from the ninth through the 12th innings, and it was then that fate intervened. Muddy Ruel got a life when the Giants’ catcher stumbled over his mask while poised to catch a foul popup. Thus reprieved, Ruel doubled. Moments later, Earl McNeely’s routine grounder hit a pebble and bounced over the third baseman’s head as Ruel lumbered home. For once at least, the Senators were masters of all they surveyed as joyous fans snake-danced along Pennsylvania Avenue until dawn.

Obviously the editors of Sports Illustrated, those whippersnappers, had no knowledge or appreciation of D.C.’s shining moment in the sun. True, the Redskins later won two NFL championships and three Super Bowls, and even the Bullets/Wizards have an NBA title in the bag. But until the Redskins moved down from Boston in 1937, the Senators were pretty much it locally, for better or usually worse. Too often they were a lousy club, but at least they were our lousy club.

These days, of course, the Redskins dwarf everything and everybody else in these parts, even those good football and basketball teams at the University of Maryland. But for anyone with a sense of sporting history hereabouts, time should not diminish the glory that was the 1924 Senators. Or as Muddy Ruel could have said to himself as he rounded third base with the winning run, feats do your thing.

Nice going, Sports Illustrated. Does anybody have the address for subscribing to ESPN the Magazine?

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