PHILADELPHIA. — Mickey Vernon saw life and death as a Washington Senator — literally.
The former Senators batting star and nearby Delaware County native, who threw out the first pitch before last night’s Phillies-Nationals game at Citizens Bank Park, was telling stories of his days playing for Washington when he dropped this little tale of woe that took place at Griffith Stadium sometime in the 1940s:
“Do you know who Sherry Robertson was”? asked the 86-year-old Vernon as he sat in the Phillies dugout, holding court. “Sherry was in the [Senators owner Clark] Griffith family. He was a third baseman. One night he had to come in on a ground ball and didn’t get a good hold on it, so he got it with his whole fist and just let it go.
“[The throw] sailed over my head and one-hopped into the box seats,” Vernon said. “A guy sitting there was looking down, and it hit him right there [on the head] and he died on the way to the hospital.”
Here is the cosmic twist to that story — Sherry Robertson was born in Montreal.
That is a part of Washington’s baseball past, which will be connected with Washington baseball present — the relocated Montreal Expos — on April14 at the home opener at RFK Stadium, when Vernon and a host of other former Senators will take the field at their old positions as part of the festivities.
“I have been invited,” Vernon said. “I guess there will be a few others, too. I understand they are going to have an old-timer from each position.”
Vernon — who wore a No.3 Senators uniform, the number he wore in many of his 20 major league seasons, as he threw out the first pitch last night — will be taking his place at first base, where he was a seven-time All-Star and set many career American League fielding records. He is looking forward to coming back and is optimistic about the success of baseball this time around in Washington.
“I think it is a good idea,” said Vernon, who played for the Senators from 1939 to 1948 and again from 1950 to 1955 and then managed the second incarnation of the Senators from 1961 into the 1963 season. “The population has increased since I was there. I think with the new subway system [that opened in 1976] they have and all the access to Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland, they will draw some people. But then in two years, they will have to win. It seems that way. The novelty wears off and you have to win.”
They didn’t win much when Vernon played in Washington, but he was a winner, a two-time batting champion (.353 in 1946 and .337 in 1953) who had a career .286 average and 2,495 hits in 2,409 games. He doesn’t regret his time as a Senator and has fond memories of Washington, such as eating at the root beer stand on Georgia Avenue that eventually became Marriott’s Hot Shoppes.
“That was one of our favorites because it was cheap — not cheap, but good and reasonable,” Vernon said, bringing up something the players of his day had to consider.
Those days as a major leaguer were captured by Vernon on 8mm home movies with a camera he received from the Chester, Pa., Kiwanis Club in 1946. They sat in Vernon’s basement until recently, when, with the help of a friend, they were put together by Comcast SportsNet as a three-part series. And those movies may be the only chance you get to see any Washington baseball on local cable television this year.