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Senators Grille   

Baseballtown, D.C.
The ballgame ain't over even after the last team is out

By Theodore Fischer, Sidewalk

Ancient baseball. The Potomac Base-ball Club, organized in 1859, played home games in the White Lot on the Ellipse near the White House, where, after the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson watched the National Athletic Club play. D.C.'s first enclosed park, the Olympic Grounds (17th and S streets N.W.), was the 500-seat home of the Washington Olympics in 1872 and 1873 and the Washington Nationals in 1874. Capitol Park, on the Senate side of the Capitol grounds on what is now the site of the Taft Memorial (Capitol Avenue between F and G streets), was the home of an early National League incarnation of the Senators from 1886 to 1889.

In 1892 the Senators played at National Park at the Boundary (Seventh Street and Florida Avenue N.W.), later the site of Griffith Stadium. After being ousted from the National League (for lousy attendance) in 1899, the Senators joined the new American League and played at American League Park (14th Street and Bladensburg Road N.E.), where E. Lawrence Phillips, using a megaphone, became baseball's first public-address announcer.

Griffith Stadium. In 1903 the Senators moved back to National Park (and played some games at American League Park), which was destroyed by a fire in 1911 and replaced by the stadium that would be renamed after Senators player and owner Clark Griffith. The Senators were perennial doormats ("Washington: first in war, first in peace, last in the American League"), but they had moments in the sun. On April 14, 1910, President William Howard Taft inaugurated a baseball tradition by throwing out the first ball of the season. The Senators won their only World Series in 1924 (against the New York Giants), near the end of the career of their greatest player, Walter Johnson. Johnson was a right-hander who won 417 games (second on baseball's career list) between 1907 and 1927 and still holds the career shutouts record (110). A memorial to Johnson from Griffith Stadium is now located at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda (6400 Rock Spring Rd.).

Griffith Stadium was also the site of what some say is the longest home run: Mickey Mantle's homer went an estimated 565 feet on April 17, 1953, and landed in the back yard at 434 Oakdale St. N.W. (the house is now boarded up). The Senators (along with at various times the Potomacs, Pilots, Elite Giants, Washington Homestead Grays and Black Senators, all of the Negro leagues) occupied the stadium until the end of the 1960 season, when the Griffith family transformed the Senators into the Minnesota Twins. The stadium was demolished in 1965, and since 1971, the site has been occupied by the Howard University Hospital. No marker indicates that the stadium ever existed.

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. After one season at Griffith Stadium, a Washington Senators expansion team and a memorial to Clark Griffith were transplanted to brand-new District of Columbia Stadium for the 1962 season. President John F. Kennedy threw out the first ball at the stadium that would be renamed after his brother. After 10 nondescript seasons, owner Bob Short spirited the team off to Arlington, Texas. The team's most memorable moment occurred on Sept. 30, 1971, when angry fans swarmed onto the field, ripped up the bases, tore up the turf and forced the Senators to forfeit the last major-league game ever played in the District.

See also: Baseball bars and memorabilia

 
Theodore Fischer, 1801 August Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20902, Tel: 301-593-9797, Fax: 301-593-9798, email: tfischer11@hotmail.com