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History of baseball in D.C.
09/29/2004 4:52 PM ET
When the first professional baseball games were played in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., the enduring symbol of freedom in America - the Statue of Liberty - was still two years away from being dedicated. There were 38 states in the Union and what would become the State of Oklahoma had yet to be settled. More than seven decades had passed since Washington, D.C. became the capital of the United States and baseball was quickly evolving into the National Pastime.

A Washington team was admitted to the National League in 1885 and played during the League's 10th professional season in 1886. Washington played 12 years in the National League - 1886-89 and 1892-99 - but was part of a four-team contraction in 1900 as the National League went from 12 franchises to eight.

Later that same year, former Western League president Ban Johnson was organizing a second Major League to compete with the National League and announced plans to include a franchise in the nation's capital. The new League was called the American League and began play in 1901.

This Washington franchise was awarded to James Manning and Detroit businessman Fred Postal. Manning retired later that year and Tom Loftus replaced him as the club's primary executive. The Senators finished in sixth place in 1901 with a 61-72 mark and would eventually be sold to an ownership group including Thomas C. Noyes, Benjamin Minor and Harry Rapley, among others.

The first of two individual tragedies struck the organization in only its third season as the Senators lost a key figure when future Hall of Fame outfielder Ed Delahanty was tragically killed in July 1903 when he was swept over Niagara Falls. Delahanty was the reigning American League batting champion and his sudden death took its toll on the team as the Senators finished the campaign with a 43-94 mark.

While it took 12 years before the Senators finished a season with a winning record, the signing of 20-year-old pitcher Walter Johnson in 1907 would signify a key moment in the franchise's history. Under first-year manager, Clark Griffith, the 1912 Washington Club posted a 91-61 mark and ended up in second place, 14 games behind the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Johnson appeared in a remarkable 50 games that year - 37 as a starter - and went 33-12 with a league-leading 1.39 ERA and 303 strikeouts. The following year he was even better as he led the Senators to their second consecutive 90-win season. "Big Train" went 36-7 with 11 shutouts and a 1.14 ERA, which still stands today as one of the lowest ERAs by a starting pitcher in a single season.

In 1912, 40-year-old team president Thomas C. Noyes fell ill to pneumonia and eventually succumbed to the disease. Noyes had been instrumental in the franchise's improvements since he took over and was replaced as team president by Minor, a prominent Washington attorney. Minor, unable to devote the necessary time to the club, subsequently sold the controlling interest to Griffith and Philadelphia businessman William Richardson in 192x.

Following a 75-78 season in 1923, Griffith made a controversial decision by appointing 27-year-old second baseman Stanley "Bucky" Harris as field manager. Harris was the fifth manager in the previous five seasons for the Senators, but he guided one of the great reversals in baseball history as the Senators in 1924 won more games than ever before, 92, and captured their first American League pennant.

In the 1924 World Series, the Senators took on famed manager John McGraw and the New York Giants. The Series was one of the closest in history as four games were decided by a single run, including the deciding Game Seven. On the strength of Walter Johnson's four innings of relief pitching - on two days' rest - and the Series clinching hit by Earl McNeeley in the bottom of the 12th inning, the Senators won their first and only World Series Championship.

United States President Calvin Coolidge, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch on three occasions during the Series, paid tribute to the hometown victors immediately following the victory:

"I have only the heartiest praise to bestow upon the individual players of both teams. Naturally, in Washington, we were pleased to see Walter Johnson finish the final game, pitching for our home team.

"Everybody was pleased to see him come back at the close of the last game. The three contests I witnessed maintained throughout a high degree of skill, and every evidence of high-class sportsmanship which will bring to every observer an increased respect and confidence in our national game."

The following year, Harris once again led the Senators to a record regular season finish as they posted 96 wins and clinched a second-straight American League pennant. Their second trip to the World Series was just as close but this time they came up short in a seven-game Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Senators had a 7-6 lead entering the bottom of the eighth in Game Seven, but could not hold it as the Pirates scored three runs in the inning off Johnson and held on to clinch the Series victory.

Johnson concluded his amazing 21-year playing career with Senators in 1927 with career totals of 417-279, a 2.36 ERA, 3,508 strikeouts and a Major League record 110 shutouts. He was among the first class of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, in 1936.

The "Big Train" was not gone from the Washington scene long as Griffith brought him back to replace Harris as the Senators' manager in 1929. Despite posting three straight 90-win seasons, Johnson was removed from his post after the 1932 season and replaced by Joe Cronin, the team's 26-year-old shortstop.

Cronin's first season with the Senators produced the franchise's best regular season mark ever at 99-53 and its third American League pennant. Washington again faced the New York Giants in the Fall Classic but fell in five games to a team led by the pitching of Carl Hubbell (20 IP, 0 ER) and the hitting of Mel Ott, who clinched the Series for New York with a 10th inning homer in Game Five.

The Senators franchise then fell on hard times. Washington's victory total dropped to 66 in 1934 and the team posted only two more winning seasons over the next 25 years. Calvin Griffith, who became team president after his father's death in 1955, was granted permission to seek relocation in September 1960, and an announcement was made in October 1960 that the Senators were being moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

At that time, the American League announced plans to expand by two teams for the 1961 season. One team would be located in Los Angeles and the other in Washington, D.C.

An expansion draft was conducted in Boston on December 10, 1960 and the Senators selected the following players at $75,000 each:

Pitchers: Pete Burnside, Dick Donovan, Rudy Hernandez, Ed Hobaugh, Johnny Klippstein, Hector Maestri, Carl Mathias, Bobby Shantz, Dave Sisler, Tom Sturdivant and Hal Woodeshick.

Catchers: Pete Daley, Dutch Dotterer and Gene Green.

Infielders: Chester Boak, Bob Johnson, Billy Klaus, Dale Long, Jim Mahoney, John Schaive, Coot Veal and Bud Zipfel.

Outfielders: Joe Hicks, Chuck Hinton, Marty Keough, Jim King, Willie Tasby and Gene Woodling.

The expansion Senators fared no better than their predecessors, as they lost at least 100 games in each of their first four seasons. In 1964, the Senators acquired five players in a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Claude Osteen. One of those five players was slugging outfielder and the 1960 National League Rookie of the Year, Frank Howard.

An imposing presence at 6-7, 250 lbs., Howard brought a much-needed offensive punch to the Senators lineup and the Senators win total increased in each of his first three seasons in Washington. After struggling again in 1968, new team president Robert Short brought in Hall of Fame outfielder Ted Williams as the new manager of the Senators.

Howard and his teammates responded to the "Splendid Splinter" during his rookie managerial campaign as Washington's win total improved 21 games to 86 in 1969. It was also Howard's best year in the Majors, as he batted .296 with 48 home runs, 111 RBI and 111 runs scored and finished fourth in the balloting for American League Most Valuable Player.

Unfortunately, the team was unable to build upon their success in 1969. The Senators lost 92 games in 1970 and 96 in 1971. On September 21, 1971, owners approved the transfer of the Washington franchise to Arlington, Texas where it became the Texas Rangers.

After 71 years in the American League and nearly 100 since the debut of professional baseball in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., hosted its final regular season on September 30, 1971 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The Senators-New York Yankees game was never finished as fans stormed the field and a forfeit was declared in favor of the Yankees.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.