Their Last Game, Conclusion

At five, on the day of the Senators’ final game, September 30, as JP instructed him, Bobby waited for him at the corner of 49th and Mass near the Esso. Right on time, Bobby saw the van slow, and JP said loudly out the open window, “Come on, buddy, let’s hit it. This may be the only pro team you get to see, and I couldn’t let you miss this.”

Bobby noted JP was dressed in his chinos and a yellow button down, but he wore Tretorn sneakers. The Senators’ departure disillusioned Bobby unlike anything he had known. But being with JP may take some of the sting away.

The van chugged down Massachusetts Avenue and through Rock Creek Park. They came out of the park and on to Independence Avenue, and Bobby saw the Washington Monument and The Smithsonian and The Capitol, part of everyone’s Washington. When they passed The Capitol, the city seemed alien to Bobby.

“That’s the Library of Congress,” JP said, as they waited for the light at 1st and Independence. “Our great-grandfather supervised a work crew who built it.” “And dad,” JP said, as they waited for a light at East Capitol and 3rd St., “grew up in the next block.”

They were stopped at a light near a large park when JP said, “That’s Lincoln Park. Dad told me there was a great movie theater there – The Carolina – were you could go on a Saturday, and take in a double or triple feature. All for a quarter or something.”

They continued up East Capitol, and JP said, “Holy Comforter is on the right; dad was baptized, received his first communion, confirmed and graduated from eighth grade there.”

They turned left before RFK, and JP said, “That’s Eastern High. When dad was a senior at Jesuit he hit a homer in the top of the ninth to beat Eastern in the city title game.”

As Bobby learned about his family history and their connections to the city in which he was born and raised but didn’t know, Bobby realized how limited his world had been until that summer.

JP parked the van, and they walked to the stadium, and heard the crowd chant, “We want Short; we want Short; we want Short.” The brothers reached their seats in the right field corner.

RFK

RFK Stadium.

Voices buzzed, and people moved through the aisles carrying signs that said things like, “Good riddance, Bob Short,” and “Thanks for the memories,” and “Frank Howard, will you marry me?”

Bobby marveled as JP rested his feet on the seat in front of him and sipped his beer and ate peanuts, tossing the shells aside and watched the game. It surprised Bobby when JP spoke in the sixth inning.”Holy s***,” he said, “Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Get a load of those tits.”

Bobby started to smile and look up, but he suddenly felt he shouldn’t be in on the joke. He knew Morganna was a stripper, who snuck up on and kissed celebrities. Big as volleyballs, her breasts bounced in her tight, short dress as she ran on to the field to kiss the Senators’ best player Frank Howard, standing at the plate.

Frank Howard

Frank Howard.

But Bobby believed Hondo, as he was known, didn’t want anything to do with Morganna, but Bobby watched him bend his massive body reluctantly, awkwardly to receive her kiss. After Morganna left, Bobby saw Hondo hit a majestic homer to left center that gave the Senators the lead.

At the end of the eighth inning, fans surged to the stadium’s railings. As it did during Redskins’ games, the stands bounced and swayed and pitched like they might collapse, and the people again chanted, “We want Short; we want Short; we want Short.

As if someone had given them a signal, when ninth inning began, people went over the railings, and JP said to Bobby, “Let’s go.”

Bobby saw others run in all directions, and he wanted to run around like them, but he followed JP, who headed down the fist base line. Converging from all sides, it felt as if people were swallowing Bobby. He felt clammy, and his heart was running all of the sudden, and he panicked he could lose JP.

The crowd’s momentum carried and jostled Bobby from side to side along the first base line, and two guys ran through and knocked him down. More people bumped and kicked against Bobby as if they were stubbing their toes.

When he didn’t feel anyone else hitting him, Bobby stood and turned and saw JP, trying to elbow past four other men, as they race walked down the first base line, but the men grabbed JP from behind, and holding him from all sides, the men stretched out JP above the ground as if he were a human battering ram.

Bobby ran and knocked the man who held JP’s right leg off his brother, but the man Bobby knocked down got up and pushed Bobby back into one of the other men holding JP, and that man said, “What the f***, buddy.”

Bobby stepped back and away, and the men, who had been holding JP dropped him and punched and pushed and elbowed each other.

Bobby saw JP wanted the first base bag. Bobby sensed JP’s experience lining the fields at Friendship served him well, as he loosed the base from the ground, and Bobby saw JP stand and come toward him with the base under his arm. “We’ve gotta run,” JP said.

Bobby struggled to keep up with JP, who held the bag close to his chest, and took two or three steps at a time, and he didn’t stop until he reached his van. Back in the parking lot, Bobby’s stance mirrored his brother’s: bent over, hands on knees, sucking air.

The base lay at JP’s feet, and Bobby looked at JP and felt they felt the same thing: that they couldn’t believe they had gotten away with it. Bobby watched JP stretch and shake out his bad knee, and he rose to his full height. And his brother smiled and raised the base high over his head.

With a depth of wonder and affection and gratitude he hadn’t experienced, Bobby beheld his big brother, who, like his hero Muhammad Ali, shuffled his feet, his prize held aloft.

Advertisements
Standard

Their Last Game, Chapter Five

Two weeks later, Bobby sat in his unlit basement and watched the Senators-Indians game. At three- thirty just as the ninth inning was about to begin, Bobby saw JP walk in with an open Budweiser and stand over Bobby’s chair and say, “Watching the Senators?”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like they’re playing The Tribe. Is that Sam McDowell?”

“Yeah.”

“Sudden Sam, he’s something. How’s he doing?”

Sam McDowell

Sudden Sam McDowell

“Pitching a shutout. The Senators have two hits.” Bobby thought the sunlight seemed weaker in the black and white pictures, and the players seemed smaller and the late afternoon shadows seemed grayer. He watched the Senators’ second baseman Bernie Allen flail away at and swing under an incoming fastball.

“High gas,” JP said, “no way Bernie Allen is going to catch up with that.” Bobby noticed JP’s tired eyes, and brown smudges covered his white t-shirt.

“How was your job?” Bobby said.

JP’s not going to college was a touchy subject around the house. His dad seemed angrier about it than his mom, who believed JP would come around in time. Bobby didn’t know what to think, just not to bring it up.

“I’m learning a lot,” JP said, “about working for a living. The guys I work with don’t make it into Spring Valley that often.” Bobby turned to pay better attention to JP, who looked far away beyond the TV and took a healthy swig of beer.

JP appeared to snap out of it and looked at Bobby and said, “Did you know dad worked his way through Georgetown playing piano at The Carlton?”

Bobby had a difficult time seeing his dad doing something like that. “Nope,” he said at last. “What’s the Carlton? Where is it?”

“It’s a swanky hotel on 16th St. near Dad’s office. And get this: he once saw Howard Hughes there.” Bobby kind of nodded, and opened his mouth, but didn’t hear any words come out of him. He had heard the name Howard Hughes, but didn’t want to let on he didn’t know how significant that meeting was.

“He was pretty good,” JP said, “and those swells tipped well, and he made a lot of money. More than enough to pay his tuition and some left over to take mom out to a nice restaurant from time to time. His buddies envied him.”

“They couldn’t treat their girlfriends as well as dad. But dad had to work; granddaddy lost so much money at the track.” Bobby wanted to know about how and why granddaddy lost the money, but thought better about asking.

“He’ll tell you,” JP said, “he learned more about living at The Carlton than he did at Georgetown. I’ll go to college some day, but I want to find out how the world works.” Bobby heard Warner Wolf recapping the game, and Bobby got up and turned off the TV.

Warner Wolf

Warner Wolf

He didn’t know why JP told him these things, but he was glad he did. JP said, “I’ve got to let you know something, which may be hard for you to take, but I’m going to move out on my own, but don’t worry; we’ll still see a lot of each other.”

He knew JP had his reasons, but it was going to take some time before Bobby understood them. “And tomorrow,” JP said, “I’m going to buy a VW van. If you’re lucky, I’ll take you for a ride. Listen, buddy, I’m going to get out of these duds and hit the shower.”

Before JP left the room, Bobby felt JP place his hand on his back and smile at him in a way that told Bobby nothing could ever come between brothers.

Standard

Their Last Game, Chapter Two

shirley povich

Legendary “Washington Post” sportswriter Shirley Povich.

Bobby sat at the kitchen table the next morning at seven, and read about the Washington Senators in Shirley Povich’s column in the “Washington Post,” which even a kid could understand.

He thought a lot about the Senators’ planned move to Texas at the end of the season, but the red scratches above his knuckles concerned Bobby more.

His mom had bought the story about hitting his hand on a fence, but he suspected his dad only went along with it not to upset her.

Bobby heard the front door, and JP walked into the kitchen returning from a Friday night out. He was nineteen and had taken off from school to work construction.

6’4”, with a broad chest, and thick, muscular arms, he wore chinos, and brown Weejuns, and his receding black hair fell in ringlets over the collar of his crisp, French blue button down, and thick, long sideburns encroached upon his cheeks.

Bobby watched JP walk to the refrigerator and take out a half gallon can of Hawaiian Punch and rummage through a drawer and find a can opener and open the can. His brother stepped over to the cupboard and reached in and pulled down a glass and poured the drink unsteadily into it.

Some juice spilled on to the counter, and Bobby watched JP wipe the spill with a sponge on the counter and take a long drink of the juice and turn to Bobby and say, “How’s the boy?”

JP forced himself to be still and his eyes wandered away from Bobby, and his thick speech made Bobby wonder if JP was drunk. Bobby said, “Not bad.” And Bobby watched JP take another long drink, and slam his glass back to the counter, which startled Bobby.

Bobby clenched and unclenched his hand, and JP smiled and said, “What’s going on with your hand?”

“I punched this kid Harrison Bentley, and scratched my hand on his braces.”

“Did this Bentley kid get in any shots on you?”

“No.”

“Why the face?”

“I don’t want mom to know.”

“She won’t figure it out unless this kid squeals on you. Will he?”

“He’s too afraid of me.”

“You have nothing to worry about.”

“What about dad?”

“It won’t upset him if you’re fighting, if the kid had it coming, and he doesn’t want mom to know her angel is fighting.” His brother smiled and laughed, and said, “I’m going to hit it, buddy. Don’t sweat this thing.”

“Alright. Thanks,” Bobby said. Even if his brother’s words seemed to run together too quickly, Bobby still heard what he meant. And he watched his brother try to keep his balance as he left the room.

Standard

Joe Judge Deserves To Be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame

joe judge

“That other WashingtonMonument” as Mel Allen once called him, Joe Judge, during his playing days. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

March 11, 1963, while shoveling snow outside his Chevy Chase, DC home, former Washington Senators’ first baseman Joe Judge died of a heart attack. He was 68.

Judge, who hit .385 during the 1924 World Series when the Senators won Washington’s only Major League Championship, died believing baseball’s Hall of Fame had unfairly passed him over for election into the hall.

Judge’s grandson and local writer Mark Judge has argued for more than a decade Judge belongs in the hall. I had erroneously assumed Mark’s understandable devotion to his grandfather clouded his judgment. But having investigated Judge’s record, I’m convinced Mark is correct.

I have my own biases however. Mark’s older brother Mike is a good friend from Georgetown Prep. And Judge later coached players on the Georgetown baseball team dear to me: my Uncle Bill Byrd and good family friend Jim Castiglia, who also played in the NFL for Washington.

A clear-eyed look at Judge’s numbers, however, makes his case for the hall.

More than 80 years after his 1934 retirement, with 2,352 hits, Judge currently ranks 134th among Major League Baseball’s (MLB) all-time hit leaders. That’s more hits than Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra respectively.

In 20 years, Judge hit .298 and higher than .300 9 times, with his best season coming in 1930 when Judge hit .326 and had a .919 OPS, both career highs.

Also, Judge only struck out 478 times in his career. By comparison, Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter in MLB history, struck out 709 times in 19 seasons. Judge struck out 6% of his at-bats, which is the 96th best strikeout percentage in MLB history.

Among Minnesota Twins’ all-time franchise leaders (the Senators moved to Minnesota in 1960) Judge also ranks in the top five in Games Played, At Bats, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Triples, Total Bases and Walks. Judge’s company in these categories includes: Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and Judge’s teammate Sam Rice.

As good as he was offensively, Judge was better defensively. The anchor of the legendary double play combination Peck (Roger Peckinpaugh) to Harris (Bucky) to Judge, he was arguably the best defensive first baseman of his era. Judge’s .993 fielding percentage stood as a record for first baseman for 30 years after his retirement.

And he’s in the top 25 among first baseman in MLB history in putouts, assists, and double plays turned. These numbers are especially remarkable when you consider first baseman’s mitts then weren’t as large as they are today, and at 5’ 8”, Judge was an undersized first baseman.

Judge’s defensive prowess was most evident July 1, 1920 in Fenway Park. His teammate Walter “the Big Train” Johnson, arguably the best pitcher in MLB history, was one out away from his only no-hitter. Boston right fielder Hall of Famer Harry Hooper drilled a ball, which hooked over the first bag and had double written all over it.

Playing deep, Judge dove and snared the ball with a backhanded stab and flipped the ball to the covering Johnson. He caught Judge’s toss with his bare hand and beat Hooper to the bag, securing his no-hitter. Judge, according to several accounts, erupted into a war dance, and the much bigger Johnson jumped on his back.

His all-around play garnered Judge consideration in the MVP voting in 1922, 1923, 1926, and 1928. If Baseball’s Veterans Committee compares Judge’s numbers against players from his era, who are currently in the hall, they’ll conclude Judge belongs in their company.

Consider how he stacks up against outfielders Hooper and Kiki Cuyler.

Hooper finished with more hits than Judge, but he hit more doubles and RBIs, and his batting average was 17 points higher than Hooper’s .281. And Hooper’s banal .966 fielding percentage was 27 points lower than Judge’s.

Cuyler, whose Pirates defeated Judge’s Senators in 7 games for the 1925 title, hit .321, 23 points higher than Judge. And he hit more homers and drove in more runs while Judge had more hits and doubles. Cuyler’s prosaic .972 fielding percentage, however, was 21 points lower than Judge’s.

Acknowledging Judge was a better all-around ballplayer than some of his contemporaries already in the hall, will, I hope, convince the Veterans Committee finally to punch Judge’s ticket to Cooperstown, where he has long belonged.

 

 

 

Standard

My Uncle, Blue Moon Odom, and The ’69 All- Star Game

unclebillandhisgals

Uncle Bill stands with my Aunt Peg and his daughters at a photo taken at my cousin John’s wedding. A wonderful woman, Aunt Peg was often a baseball widow.

News Washington will host the 2018 Major League Baseball All- Star game recalls July 1969, the last time the game was played here. My Uncle Bill, cousin Chris and I had box seats at RFK for that game, still one of my life’s great thrills.

I was 9 then and devoted to the Washington Senators. Ted Williams managed the ’69 Senators, which largely explains why they went 86-76 that season, enjoying their best record in their all-too-brief- 11 year run here.

Roughly coinciding with my first 11 years, the Senators’ run here ended September 30, 1971. When the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers, it was one of the toughest blows I endured during my childhood.

I listened to each Senators game on a transistor radio, typically nodding off somewhere around the 6th inning. The next morning I retrieved THE WASHINGTON POST from our porch and, and kneeling in our hallway, I read the recap of the previous night’s game.

Going to any Senators’ game was thrilling, but going to an All- Star game elevated my enthusiasm to another level. It was the first and so far the last time I sat in box seats. They were by far the coolest things that 9 year old ever experienced.

The game was scheduled for a Tuesday night, but it rained buckets, and all we could do was watch it rain. The game postponed, we were back Wednesday for the last All- Star game played during the day.

Sitting in those seats and watching players in the blindingly full sunshine, it felt almost as if we were in a balcony watching a movie. There was something surreal and dreamlike about the experience because watching a game from box seats was novel to me.

I recall some things: my hero from the Senators Frank Howard hit a homer and so did Johnny Bench. I remember the National League won, but I went on line to learn the final score: 9-3. One moment from watching the game stands out, however.

Uncle Bill nudged and directed me to look at the right field bullpen where Blue Moon Odom warmed. He pitched on three ‘70’s A’s championship teams, and going into the break that season, Blue Moon was 14 -3 with a 2.41 era.

You don’t want to miss him, my Uncle’s gesture said. He knew any kid wanted to be able tell their friends they saw a guy named Blue Moon, and the A’s garish green shirts, yellow pants, and white shoes would make a lasting impression. But Uncle Bill also wanted me to know about the numbers behind the colorful nickname and uniform.

I had forgotten how Blue Moon fared that day, and discovered on line he gave up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Recalling that doesn’t diminish the connection I felt to my Uncle at that moment or the warm memory of it that abides.

Although I was grateful to my Uncle for taking me to the game then, I appreciate more now how special and rare and appropriate it was Uncle Bill took me to the game. He was my dad’s older brother, and spent his career with the state department. We only saw him and his family sporadically in between postings overseas.

It was especially fortuitous Uncle Bill was here that summer because he was perfect guide and companion with whom to go to any baseball game, but especially an All- Star game. In the 30’s and 40’s, Uncle Bill was an outstanding middle infielder, who was the Captain of the Georgetown Prep Varsity and played Varsity baseball at Georgetown and semi-professionally.

As a fan, he appreciated good players, teams, and plays across generations. What he saw on the ball field he recalled 30, 40, 50 years later as if in the moment. No one loved going to a ball game more than Uncle Bill.

He remained astonished at a great throw, amazing catch, disputed call and a blown chance, and grateful to be among the crowds that witnessed them. I have happily inherited these capacities from Uncle Bill.

If I’m lucky enough to be a Nats Park for the 2018 All- Star game, I’ll recall a man, who once got me the best seats in town for a once in a Blue Moon game.

Standard