Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Final Words--Talking Washington Senators Baseball With Phil Wood

In Today's final installment of Talking Washington Senators Baseball With Phil Wood, we pick up the conversation talking about the influence Ted Williams had on many of his players during his Inaugural Season of Managing The Washington Senators in 1969.

“Obviously Ted got results in ’69 with certain guys. Unser, Hank Allen, Brinkman, he cut down on Hondo’s strikeouts and added to his walks. But what I think happened beyond that was when Short traded Ken McMullen (Senators Starting 3rd Baseman) to The Angels in 1970 for Aurelio Rodriquez and (Rick) Reichardt, Ted understood that if there was to be a Team Captain of The Senators, it was to be McMullen.

And while he (Ted Williams) respected what Rodriguez could do defensively, he didn’t feel McMullen was that far behind him defensively. I think that was the beginning of when Ted started to lose interest (in managing). Of course the later deals, especially the deal after the season for (Denny) McLain with The Tigers hurt the most. But I really look at that deal with The Angels being the beginning of the end. They, (The Senators), I think were leaderless as guys on the field.”

(Former Senators Pitcher) Jim Hannan also told me McMullen was the leader of the team. (SBF)

He was, absolutely. And I will tell you the type of guy that Mac was. In ’98 when they had that reunion of the ’69 Senators in Northern Virginia, the night before that breakfast get together, they (the sponsors) had a dinner for the players and their wives. I was invited. What they did (that evening) was have a wireless mic and they passed it around the room. Everyone stood up and told a story. One of the other guys signing at the (adjoining) baseball card show that weekend was Warren Spahn. So, the mic comes to Spahn and Spahn stands up and says: ‘When I was with The Braves and the guys didn’t produce we use to threaten them by saying we were going to trade them to Washington. The Senators were sorry and The American League….’ He went on and on, ripping the club, the league and the players. And McMullen leans over and says: ‘you know what, when this thing is over with, I am going to kick Spahn’s ass. He’s got a lot of nerve to come to an event like this and say those things. I don’t care how old he is, I will take him outside and kick his ass.’”

“I remember saying back: ‘I think you could get arrested for that, you might want to think that through.’ But the point is that he (McMullen) was so steamed about it 30 years after he had played his last game as a Senator. He still cared about the team.”

“That club in ’69 got a lot of additional attention from the media, not just locally, but nationally. And they responded to the challenge, 86 & 76. Again, think about it, 30 years later (in 1998) we have a celebration about a team that finished 4th! I mean it was exciting. And I felt all along that Short under reported some of his crowds because originally when the season ended, they announced the attendance at 940,000 (in ’69). Then two weeks later claimed it as 918,000 (breaking 1 Million at the gate was a Big Thing back then—many other teams did not reach that mark). There were times when I was there and I would look around and believe there has got to be 25,000 people here and they would announce the crowd at 13.000. I really think that Short bought The Senators because he knew their lease was expiring after the ’71 season. He had moved The Lakers out of his own hometown (from Minneapolis to Los Angeles) and he knew what the market was for the number of cities that wanted a Major League Team. He must have also thought that he could move this team and Major League Baseball would replace it with a third team here. He also thought: ‘I could move this club and baseball will put a third team here. They know they can’t afford not to have a club in Washington.’ Then of course, baseball thought differently. Of course, baseball used DC for years, until they reached a point where there was no place else to go.”

Do you remember your feelings when The Senators moved to Dallas-Ft. Worth? (SBF)

“I was in college (at Austin Peay University) in Tennessee when they played their last game on September 30th of ’71. Of course it was not on television down there. On the late news I heard that the game had turned into a forfeit because fans had rushed onto the field. Then, the following day when I saw film footage. At that point I thought, if I were there, would I have done that? Yeah, I would have done that. Yeah, I would have.”

“Also, look at the newspapers of that time (early 70’s). You read ‘Foreman Says He Will Buy Padres and Move Them Here’. Earl Foreman who was later involved with The Major Indoor Soccer League and The American Basketball Association. Anyway, of course, that didn’t happen. There was that false start in 1974 with The Padres. (San Diego was all but sold to the owners of Giant Food, but Ray Kroc—McDonald’s Owner—swooped in and kept the Padres in San Diego). It’s actually kind of ironic when you go back to those days and all the talk about The Padres leaving town to come to Washington. And in the end, it was their expansion twin—The Montreal Expos—that ended up leaving Canada and coming here.”

I remember walking in a Drug Fair Store in Alexandria in late 1973 with my Mom and ran into the father of one of my best friends. He was giddy over The Washington Star Story claiming The Padres were coming to Washington. ‘The Padres are moving here and we are going to have a team again!!’ He was so excited and so was I. (SBF)

“I remember my Dad coming into my room, having finished college, but had not moved out of the house yet. He said: ‘San Diego is moving and here it is’ (handing Phil The Sports Page). Across the top of The Sports Page they had individual headshots of all the players on The Padres. I knew they had just picked up Willie McCovey from The Giants and I remembered Willie in The 1969 All-Star Game (at RFK) hitting two home runs, including one where he was bailing out. He swung the bat and hit it over the right field fence. Now, I want THAT GUY ON MY CLUB!! (Laughing).”

Did you ever see that uniform The Danzansky’s put together for Washington’s New Team? (SBF)

“The W with The Star?” (Yeah, it was an odd uniform. SBF)

“Yes, it was. The thing is that the name they planned on using was Eagles because there were so many supposed negative connotations attached to Senators. Like What?! They won three World Series, they were pretty good for a while. Then in the ‘50’s, they got bad. Senators to me was a perfect name. Still is. Of course Senators is the name Bud Selig wanted to put on The Expos (when they moved to DC in 2005).”

I really wanted The Senators name too. It’s a great part of baseball history. As you know, Nationals was chosen to appease then Mayor (Anthony) Williams. (SBF)

“Nationals is the name that Bill Collins (Virginia Baseball Group) was going to use.”

And the perfect spot for the new stadium was The Pentagon City spot. You would have had all the Monuments just over the outfield wall, across The Potomac River. You could not have asked for a better spot, but Arlington County didn’t want it. (SBF)
Back to The Senators, you mentioned that Ted Williams coached these guys that collectively, as a team, were not that good, but he got the most out of them. Yet, many of them went on to have careers as coaches in the game. Is that success because of Ted Williams, or were these players better than advertised? (SBF)

“I can tell you this. Dick Bosman, who is now the Organizational Pitching Coach for Tampa, was a Big League Coach for The White Sox, The Orioles and The Rangers. He’ll tell you that Ted had a lot to do with the way he teaches pitching (today). Bosman spent a lot of time with Ted and he became one of Ted’s favorites. He talked to Ted about when you were batting, if the first pitch was a fastball on the inside part of the plate, what would that tell you about the next pitch? Ted went over a zillion scenarios based on who’s on base and where they are on base, pitching counts, things like that.”

“And Bosman will tell you, he learned more about pitching from Ted than from what anybody might have learned from him about hitting. Ted really knew what he was talking about when it came to pitching. Williams was in love with the slider and Dick was a sinker/slider guy. Dick was probably a guy that topped out at 85 or 86 MPH on the gun.”

“What was so funny about Williams was that Ted wanted Joe Coleman (another top Senators Young Pitching Star) to throw his slider more. Joe didn’t want to throw it. Once he got to The Tigers (in the Denny McLain Trade), he threw his slider more and won 20 games twice was basically, the ace, if not the ace for that staff (in Detroit).”

“But Bosman became a pitching coach off that staff. Jackie Brown became a pitching coach. Jim Shellenback became a pitching coach. There were a couple of others (Darold Knowles—SBF). Knowles, sure. Dick would tell you and probably anybody else on that club that Ted’s approach to the game was terrific. And the other guy that doesn’t get enough credit is Nellie Fox (Hall Of Famer). Fox had a lot of impact on those hitters. Mickey Vernon passed away on September 24th, then Eddie Brinkman on September 30th. And here’s a guy in Brinkman that went from a .188 hitter to a .260 hitter, and Eddie, before the reception they had (For Former Senators) before The Opener in 2005, where Mickey and Hondo and a lot of other guys were there said: ‘You know what, stuff that Mickey told me in ’61 & ‘62 was the exact same stuff that Ted told me in ’69. I was 20 and 21 Years Old when Mickey was telling me and I wasn’t mature enough. I still saw myself as a home run hitter, because I hit home runs in high school. I swung from the end of the bat and Mickey said to use a fatter bat and choke up and spray the ball around, you are not going to be a power hitter in The Major Leagues--and he was right, of course—but I was too dumb to know that.’”

So what was special about Nellie Fox? (SBF)

Fox was the guy, in the days before real bench coaches, Nellie and Ted would go over strategies. Nellie had seen it all. There were times when Ted would become somewhat focused on one aspect of the game and the game itself would get away from him, but it never got away from Nellie. There were a lot of guys on the club that would have preferred Nellie to be the Manager and Ted to be The Hitting Coach. Another thing interesting about Nellie is that if you go to Nellie Fox’ Grave, Nellie played in The Major Leagues with The Athletics, The White Sox and The Colt ‘45s. Well, on his headstone there are crossed bats with the lettering Chicago White Sox and Washington Senators. His widow, Joann said that Nellie’s years coaching in Washington from 1968 through 1971 were the happiest of his life.”

Mickey Vernon has passed away. Eddie Brinkman has passed away. Now Sid Hudson (Senators Pitching Coach under Ted Williams and long time Senator) all in a very short period of time. Many baseball fans of today might not even know who they are. Should something be done to save that heritage and history of the game that is slowly going away? Whether that comes from The Nationals or someone else at Nationals Park. (SBF)

“I would like to see The Nationals do something. Obviously, they have got the statues going up (Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard—next spring). And while I have no gripe with any of the three players, they need to think about, down the road, adding some more players to it. And Vernon would be a guy I would add to it. But as far as History of The Game In Washington, over the years, I have put together what I think might be the best collection of Washington Baseball Memorabilia on the planet. I’ve got the bats, the uniforms worn by a lot of significant players. My earliest one is Sam Rice’s uniform (Hall of Famer) from 1926. I’ve got Vernon’s uniform and (Roy) Sievers and (Bob) Porterfield and (Eddie) Yost. (Pedro) Ramos, (Camilo) Pascual and (Harmon) Killebrew and Hondo—a few others. I got about 30 of them. George Case from 1941. I have historic caps and a ball that was used in the ’24 World Series, a lot of paper items. Really, stuff that I have accumulated for the last 40 years. And I didn’t accumulate it to scatter to the wind.”

“I know that when the ballpark (Nationals Park) was originally envisioned, they envisioned an area that would be museum type facility. Now it did not happen this year, and I didn’t expect it to happen in year one because there were other priorities. But I think down the road that’s something they might do. It could be a thing of value in terms of using it as some type of fundraiser for The Nationals Dream Foundation, things like that. It’s the kind of thing I couldn’t afford to give them, obviously, but whether it would be a long term loan they would like to flat out buy it from me, those things certainly could be talked about.”

Mark Lerner has said he would like to build some type of Washington Baseball Hall of Fame. I know they have talked to The Baseball Hall of Fame on a very general level asking for their assistance—getting some help from The Hall to get started, but nothing is set in stone. Most of the work so far has only dealt with the various Sport Magazine Pictures, Reprinted Baseball Cards and Other Photos that hang throughout Nationals Park. (SBF)

“Most of those pictures have mistakes in them. There are mistakes in the text. There are picture hangings on both levels of the Press Box where there are factual errors. That was essentially the quick way of doing something, to have something on the walls when the stadium opened up. But what is interesting, is that I have had a good relationship with The Hall Of Fame for years. I have done some consulting for them. Someone from The Nationals called them up and said this is what we want to do—what can you loan us. And they said, you are talking to the wrong people. When we want something we borrow it from Phil.”

I have this picture of Hondo in a pinstripe jersey with Red Cap and Curly “W”, did they ever wear those uniforms in a real Major League Game. I don’t recall that. (SBF)

“The Pinstripes are actually blue, but ’68 is when they first went to the Red Cap and Red Socks and a Red Undershirt. But, it was essentially the same jersey they had worn in ’67. A lot of people think they had gone to a Phillies type look, but the appliqué, The Senators Script and Number On The Back were still Red With Navy Trim. I have a ’68 Uniform at home that was worn by a pitcher who had one of those ‘Moonlight’ Graham careers (One Game)—Gerry Schoen. He was number 19. Later, they (The Team) took the number 1 off and moved over the 9. Williams wore it during Spring Training in ’69. If you ever see a copy of The Washington Post Baseball Preview, an insert they would put out every year, it shows Ted on the cover. He’s kind of giving one of those “Superman” poses and he is wearing that pinstripe uniform. In fact, they dropped the pinstripe because Williams was coming to town and went to that Boston Creamy White.”

In the old days—did you call The Senators—The Nationals, or maybe even The Griffs (after long time owner Clark Griffith)? (SBF)

"People always called them Senators and Senators became their official nickname in ’57. The Nationals had been their Official Nickname prior to that, but everyone called them Senators anyway. You look at the old baseball cards, for instance in 1941. The Senators cards from that year just have the players name on the front. On the back, some of them say Senators and some of them say Nationals.”

I remember early on in my childhood, I always called them The Senators. My Dad use to call them The Nats. (SBF)

“To me, you can get Nats out of SeNATors, just like on your jersey you are wearing today. Perhaps you have heard this story how a change in the official name to Senators from Nationals came about. Zang Auerbach, who was a brother of “Red” (The Long Time And Famous Boston Celtics Basketball Coach and DC Native) was a local artist who had designed The Boston Celtic and The Notre Dame Fighting Irishman—he was asked to come up with a logo for the Washington Baseball Team. And Charlie Brotman was the P.R. Guy for the baseball team (Charlie was also The P.A. Announcer for The Senators at RFK Stadium). Zang said fine, but tell me what’s a National? What does a National look like? Charlie said he didn’t know. Zang responded—Senator, I could do an Old Time Senator. Charlie Brotman said, well OK, from now on we are The Washington Senators. So Charlie Brotman changed the nickname. It’s that simple. And just like the patch on the sleeve of your jacket, that’s the Mr. Senator Logo which Zang Auerbach came up with.”

And with that final comment, Talking Washington Senators Baseball With Phil Wood concluded. Honesty, I could have chatted with Phil all day and all night and not been bored. In many respects, we share a passion, but we both had other business and family obligations to attend to. And in the 45 minutes Phil and I talked about The Senators, we barely scraped the history books. Hopefully Phil Wood will be nice enough to come back again to share some of his many insights into Major League Baseball and Washington in particular. He is a wealth of information.

Many Thanks To Phil Wood For Sharing An Afternoon With Me.


Anonymous said...

Great interview. Thank you Phil Wood and SBF.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you and Mr. Wood for a great series of pieces!

Anonymous said...

Whoops, did I just type "Woods" or "Wood"? Anyway, really enjoyed the articles and would love to see a local HOF facility as discussed in the last installment.

Anonymous said...

This was great! Thanks again SBF for the wonderful Nationals coverage...

P.S. Did you see the comments in WPNJ, when they broke the news about the new jerseys monday? Everyone said... "Thanks for nothing, Nats320 broke that news 2 weeks ago"!!! lol.

Section 138 said...

For those of us that weren't around during the Senators days, this was truly awesome. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

That was great, thanks for writing this! If you want to read a little more about the Senators, check out this recent story about the 1924 championship squad.


Anonymous said...

my dad & i went many washington bb games in 40's, enjoyed yost, vernon, clyde volmer, sherry robertson, spence, case, kuhl, materson, porterfield, j jensen, i noren, paschal, hefner, nagy plus too many more to list.they may have been 1st in war & last in al but we loved them.

Edward J. Cunningham said...

I'm trying to answer a trivia question about who was the real-life inspiration for the Mr. Senator logo that Zack Auerbach. Anybody have a clue?