Sunday, November 02, 2008

Talking Washington Senators Baseball With Phil Wood

Over the next four days I will be working virtually around the clock on The Presidential Election, so there might not be much time to moderate or answer the comments, but I will do my best to stay abreast of everything

We were just talking baseball, specifically about The Washington Senators. Two guys, just sitting down and swapping stories about our long departed and lost teams we both grew up with in the Nation's Capital. Yeah, those Senators might not have been too good, some would say horrible, but that did not take away the many fond memories. We were both kids way back then, it was baseball. So, it had to be fun.

And it was.

Phil Wood has eight years on me, so he also had the experience of attending ball games at Old Griffith Stadium--now the site of Howard University Hospital. Many of my experiences at DC & RFK Stadium are well documented here on Nats320, but now I had an opportunity to share my passion with someone just as caring. Phil, outside of his sports broadcasting career, is also a noted Historian on the Professional Game in DC.

When Mr. Wood and I met 10 Days ago over an extended lunch in Arlington, Virginia there were two topics. Number One was the status of Our Washington Nationals. Both Parts of that interview posted up earlier this past week. Starting today and extending over the next few days will be Phil Wood's remembrances of his Beloved Washington Senators--both versions--The Original Nats, now The Minnesota Twins and The Expansion Senators, now The Texas Rangers.

Chatting over lunch, we were talking about a relative of mine that played Major League Baseball in the early 1950. That Former Big Leaguer still alive and living in Tennessee, which immediately peaked Phil Wood's interest and reminded him of a Tennessee Baseball story of his own--with a Washington angle.

And that's where we Begin--Talking Washington Senators Baseball With Phil Wood.

“When I was in college at Austin Peay University (Clarksville, Tennessee), there was this guy in town named Hod Lisenbee. I knew who he was and I knew he had pitched in The Big Leagues and had broken in with The Senators in 1927—his rookie year was Walter Johnson’s last year. He was retired and lived outside of town in a little area called Swango. And if the weather was good, he was usually out on his front porch. So, I went out there one day and just basically walked up and introduced myself and asked: ‘What can you tell me about Walter Johnson?’ I was probably 20 at that time.”

“He says—have a seat—and he talked about pitching with The Senators in ’27 and with Johnson. And how Johnson even then threw harder than anyone else on the club. How he (Johnson) was a wonderful fellow. We talked about his career (Lisenbee). He pitched in The Big Leagues for a number of years. He later went to the Minor Leagues as a Coach and a Manager. Then, during World War II, he came back to The Big Leagues as a pitcher in his 40’s with The Cincinnati Reds. But I have always remembered this comment he made: ‘I could still get it up there (reach the plate on his pitches) and that’s just about all they were looking for back then!” (Both of us absolutely busting out laughing).

“He was just an old farmer, lovely fellow. Of course both George Sherrill & Jamie Walker (of The Current Baltimore Orioles) both went to Austin Peay as well. So they were my go to guys with The Orioles this past year.”

Do you recall your first game at Griffith Stadium? (SBF)

“My very first game at Griffith Stadium was back in 1956. My Dad had actually taken me before when I was completely oblivious of what was going on around me. But, in ’56, I was five years old. I had my own glove and my own bat and we went there. I just remember how green everything was. The seats were green. The (outfield) wall was green. The grass was green. And if I raised my hand a man would bring me an ice cream sandwich (chuckling). This is where I want to be!! This has got to be the greatest place around!!”

“And that really kind of started things (Phil’s love of baseball). When I was seven or eight years old, we subscribed to The Washington Star, it was the afternoon paper. But my Dad would bring home the morning sports page from The Washington Post from his work. So, I was reading Shirley Povich, Bob Addie, Mo Siegel and all of the local sports columnists, who were all very baseball savvy guys. Then when I discovered The Sporting News, which in those days—was all baseball—it was like (throwing up his hands in gesture) What More Do I Need!! It had Minor League Box Scores, everything about baseball. Of course, I was born in The District. We lived in The District until I was school age, then we moved to Fairfax County. But back then; there was The Senators that played in The American League. Then, there was The National League which might as well have been France (The Country).”

(Still Laughing) “Really, it was like somewhere out there far, far away. I had the baseball cards and saw words like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but then again, it might as well have been in Europe. The National League was some place else. There was no connection to that league. We never saw their teams back then. And when you grow up with a bad club, in the 50’s The Senators were terrible; you don’t tend to put so much weight on winning. My Dad was a huge baseball fan. He had played baseball in High School. He had played baseball in The Navy. He had even coached baseball and really loved the game. And was the guy for whom just the experience of going to the ballpark was its own reward. So, I tend to view things the same way.”

“You went to the ball game and you had a good time whether they won or lost. And if The Senators actually won, it was like getting two for one. There was the ballpark experience and there is a Senators Victory!! What is not to love about that!!

“I remember in 1959 going to a game when The Senators were losing late. This particular game had kind of dragged on. It was a school night, and we just never did this—we left early. We got out to the car, turned on the car radio just in time to hear Lenny Green hit a home run to win the game for The Senators. A two run homer in the bottom of the 9th inning. My Dad looked at me and said: ‘We are never leaving early again.’ And we never did after that (shaking his head back and forth recalling the feeling). We learned our lesson the hard way.”

“Also, right around that time during the off-season, my Dad worked in electrical construction. And in the off-season back then, ballplayers actually had to work jobs. Sometimes I would go to work with my Dad, if I was off from school for something. So we were on a construction job once and Steve Korcheck who was a 3rd string catcher for The Senators and played at GW University—in fact a great college football player—but about a .150 hitter in baseball, was there. He worked for a flooring company during the off-season. And he was on this job and I met Steve Korcheck. I was like: ‘Oh My God! Steve Korcheck!!’ Honestly, if it had been Ted Williams I would not have been more thrilled.”

“That to me was exciting. I came to understand at a very young age, with only 16 teams back then, Major League Players are a pretty select group. There were 200 players in each league and all of these Minor Leagues thrown in. I use to think that the Minor Leagues were the coolest thing ever. All of these small towns had professional teams and ballparks. We went to visit my Aunt & Uncle in Winston-Salem, North Carolina once. The Winston-Salem Redbirds were home. Von McDaniel, who was Lindy McDaniels brother, was playing for Winston-Salem. Again, really, Disneyland could not have been any better for me. I was hooked.”

Were you old enough to remember The Original Senators moving to Minnesota? (“Oh yeah!”) Did you feel you had lost your team? (SBF)

“This is very interesting, because it happened very fast toward the end of the (1960) season. There were rumors about a move during the season, but I was nine years old when it happened. Now I might be a little off on this, but it seemed almost instantaneous that These Senators are moving to Minnesota, but there is going to be a new team called The Senators here next year. The American League is going to add two teams and one of them will be the New Senators (The Los Angeles Angels was the other). But not only that, but Mickey Vernon was going to be the Manager. Well, Mickey Vernon was my Dad’s Favorite Player. He was so pumped up about that, that I was pumped about that as well.”

“So, while I had grown quite fond of players like (Harmon) Killebrew, (Bobby) Allison, (Jim) Lemon and (Camilo) Pascual, when the new team came in, there were some guys I had heard of—Gene Woodling was on that (Expansion) Club. I knew he had been around for a while, was a .300 hitter. In fact, in the Expansion Draft, they drafted Bobby Shantz from The Yankees. I knew that Shantz had been an American League Most Valuable Player—this was cool. Then, like the very next day, they (New Senators) traded Shantz to Pittsburgh and got three guys for him. They got Bennie Daniels, Harry Bright and R.C. Stevens. R.C. Stevens was a first baseman that wasn’t much of a hitter and didn’t finish out the year. But, in terms of pitchers, Bennie Daniels was a guy who ended up winning 12 games for The Senators in ’61 and Harry Bright played third base. He had some power. He was an older guy and what was interesting about Harry Bright is that Harry Bright, at the age of 30 or 31, had already managed in The Minor Leagues. He was like 26 (years of age) in The Pirates Farm System and was a Player/Manager.”

“But, when you look at the other guys on that ’61 Club, Pete Daley was the catcher. Danny O’Connell, signed as a Free Agent. (Was Chuck Hinton on that team? SBF) Chuck Hinton was actually drafted from The Orioles and started that season in The Minor Leagues. He just tore up The Minors and they brought him up to the parent club. He wasn’t there Opening Day, but he was there later that first season.”

“Going to games in ’61 was fun, particularly when the season started, after 60 Games, The Expansion Team was 30-30. They played .500 ball. And I remember talking to my Dad and Dad saying: ‘This club is better than the club that left.’ Because in the standings after 60 games, The Twins were actually behind The Senators. Then, The Senators went to Boston for a four game series against The Red Sox. All the games were on television. In all four games, they had a lead after seven innings and lost all four. The stunner was they were leading The Red Sox 12-5 and The Red Sox are batting with two outs in the 9th inning. And The Red Sox scored 8 runs and won the game 13-12. The Big Blow was a Grand Slam by Jim Pagliaroni. I am watching the game with my Dad on our Black and White RCA (TV). It was just like our mouths were both hanging open. ‘They got to get this guy out! They got to get this guy out!’ They couldn’t get anybody out. So, they went from 30-30 to 30 wins and 71 losses the rest of the way. It was pretty dismal from that point on.”

“The thing about it is it almost really didn’t matter (that The Original Senators went to Minnesota). There was no interruption. The Old Club left and The New Club came. Yeah, they were losers, but were Our Losers. Plus, I thought the ’61 & ’62 Senators Uniform was pretty snazzy. The Tiffany Style block letters on front were nice. So, I felt like my Dad. Mickey Vernon is here so everything is fine.”

Of course, the Expansion Senators played their first season at Old Griffith Stadium, but in 1962, they moved into what was then called the ultra modern and sleek, DC Stadium. President John F. Kennedy threw out the first pitch. The Very Ballpark that was so well received, two All Star Games were held there in the 1960's and five other National League Cities built virtual identical multi-purpose stadiums. Atlanta, St.Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would all follow the DC Stadium Model. When we pick up with part two of Talking Washington Senators Baseball With Phil Wood tomorrow, Phil describes his first feelings upon walking into DC Stadium as we continue chatting about those Expansion Senators.


Anonymous said...

I remember watching the game on TV that horrible Sunday in June, 1961 when the Senators had a 12-5 lead, two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the 9th inning, and somehow managed to lose the game, 13-12. THEY NEVER GOT THE 3rd OUT! That memory is nearly as horribly gut-wrenching today as it was almost 48 years ago, but no matter how bad, it's still a memory of our beloved Senators. Curse you, Jim Pagliaroni!

Anonymous said...

I was born in 1961 so I don't remember the old Senators, just the new ones. It still hurt when they left. My brother, who was 14 when the first team left, had to go through the pain twice. I'm glad we have the Nats and I love them. I just can't stand the red hats. That goes back to 1968 when I first saw them. And for those about to blister me over my choic of color, I disclaim any signifigance to any political party based on my color of choice for my teams baseball hat.