Regrettably, few baseball fans today remember George Washington Case Jr., who qualified as one of the original Senators’ few genuine stars. Playing mostly for Washington from 1937 to 1947, the speedy outfielder led the major leagues in stolen bases five times, played in four All-Star Games and packed it in with a career batting average of .282.
Now it’s possible to become acquainted with his life and times through a DVD called “Around the League” that’s available online. For anyone interested in baseball when it really was the national pastime, the disc is well worth the money ($32.95 from George Case III, 350 Ramsey Road, Yardley, PA 19067) or www.baseballdirect.com.
The elder Case died in 1989, several months before being inducted into RFK Stadium’s Hall of Stars, but his movies and narration on the DVD should re-establish him as one of the District’s premier all-time athletes. The 39-minute disc is introduced and ended by his son.
Case the elder was a home-movie buff who toted an 8mm movie camera around the American League and aimed it at anything interesting the frequently hapless Senators happened to encounter.
For instance, we see President Franklin Roosevelt preparing to make the ceremonial first toss on Opening Day at Griffith Stadium in 1940 and 1941 - and in color yet.
Think about that. Probably you’ve never seen FDR in the pink, so to speak. During his 12 years in the White House, radio was the nation’s primary communications medium, and the president was seen only in black and white in newspaper photos and newsreels.
All of Case’s movies were in color. If the quality doesn’t exactly match that of today’s high-definition TVs, it’s nonetheless more than acceptable for the period.
Case takes us into baseball palaces no longer in existence: the original Yankee Stadium in New York, Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Comiskey Park in Chicago and the Senators’ longtime spring training base, Tinker Field in Orlando, Fla.
The most fascinating venue for local seniors is Griffith Stadium, home to the Senators, Redskins and Homestead Grays of the Negro National League before it was abandoned in favor of RFK (then called D.C. Stadium) in the fall of 1961.
Those of us who grew up sitting in Clark Griffith’s ramshackle playpen will have their memories jogged by sights of the old field and the oh-so-distant bleachers over which Mickey Mantle propelled his famous 565-foot home run in April 1953.
One unfortunately evocative still photo shows Case sliding into third base with nearly empty bleachers looming in the background (as well as a sign advertising Tru-Blu Beer, whatever that was). It’s a reminder that the Senators often played before extremely cozy gatherings during the 51 seasons in which they absorbed beatings in the ballpark at Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW, now the site of Howard University Hospital.
The DVD offers views of Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Joe Cronin, Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Grove, Charlie Gehringer and Luke Appling, et al, when they were young and healthy.
But the most poignant still picture shows a star who was anything but healthy: Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939, when he gave his “luckiest man” speech at Yankee Stadium while dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Ballplayers being the cut-ups they are, there are plenty of light moments, too, some featuring the antics of Senators coaches Nick Altrock and Al Schacht, who formed baseball’s premier comedy act long before Max Patkin ever thought of being funny.
There’s also a peek at Joe Louis and Buddy Baer weighing in before their 1941 heavyweight title fight at Griffith Stadium. (Note: Joe won by disqualification in the seventh.) Other rare scenes show cars driving along the beach at Daytona, catchers trying to throw the ball into a barrel at second base in a pregame contest and spring training in Japan when Case visited there after the war.
These were indeed different times, and Case captured them well. He and his old movies deserve to be hailed and remembered.
• Dick Heller can be reached at .