You can’t hit what you can’t see.
On April 26, 1901 at Philadelphia’s Columbia Park, 10,547 fans witnessed Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics making their American League debut, losing to the Senators, 5-1. The Western League had been renamed the American League in 1900 by league president Ban Johnson and declared itself the second major league in 1901. Philadelphia’s new franchise, led by Mack, had been created to compete with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies.
President Warren G. Harding threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Washington Senators game held on April 13, 1921, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Washington ended up losing to the Red Sox, 6-3, making this the first time in six Opening Days contests the Senators have lost with the President of the United States throwing out the first pitch.
On November 17, 1960, ownership of the American League’s new expansion team was awarded to Elvin Quesada, a Washington native and head of the Federal Aviation Administration. The new expansion Senators replaced the old team, which had moved to Minnesota to become the Twins.
Free agent Nolan Ryan signed with the Texas Rangers on December 7, 1988, making him the first major leaguer to play for all four original expansion teams. (The Rangers organization had played their first 11 seasons as the Senators in Washington, D.C.) Ryan first broke into the big leagues with the Mets in 1966, then went to the Angels in a trade in 1972 before signing with the Astros, who were originally known as the Colt .45s.
Nicknamed “The Freshest Man On Earth,” Walter Arlington Latham was born March 15, 1860 in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Latham’s father served as a bugler for the Union Army in the American Civil War, and at the conclusion of the war, young Arlie became interested in baseball when soldiers returning from the battlefield brought the game home with them.
By the time he was fourteen, Latham had become good enough to play with the General Worth nine, a local team in Stoneham, Massachusetts, where the family had moved. Latham started out as a catcher, but later took up playing third base to avoid getting beat up behind the plate. In 1877, Latham played with the Pittsfield, Massachusetts club as their third baseman, and then in 1879, he made his professional debut in minor league baseball with Springfield in the National Association.
Twenty-year-old Latham made his Major League debut on July 5, 1880 with the Buffalo Bisons of the National League, becoming the first man from New Hampshire to play in the majors. He then played for the Philadelphia Athletics of the National Association in 1881, then the Philadelphia Phillies of the League Alliance in 1882.
Latham then joined the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1883. He stayed in St. Louis through the 1889 season, during which time the Browns won four consecutive pennants (1885-1888) in the American Association. Latham led the AA in runs scored with 152 during the 1886 season. He also batted .316 and stole 142 bases, then tacked on another 12 stolen bases in the playoffs. Adding to a reputation as an excellent base stealer, in 1887, Latham stole 129 bases, and he also led the league in stolen bases with 109 during the 1888 season.
In 1890, Latham jumped to the Chicago Pirates of the Players’ League. Later that year, in July, he returned to the NL with the Cincinnati Reds, where he served as a utility player and coach. Latham played for Cincinnati through 1895, then was traded to the Browns after the 1895 season. The Browns then released Latham after the 1896 season. Latham bounced around the minors for a few years before winding up with the Washington Senators in 1899. He later made four appearances for the New York Giants in 1909 at age 49.
Personality-wise, Arlie Latham was considered one of the funniest players in baseball. I’m not sure exactly how he earned the nickname “The Freshest Man on Earth,” but Latham was well-known for playing practical jokes. According to one account, the existence of the third base coach’s box is thanks to Latham. He would taunt opposing players third base coach, taking advantage of the lack of a coach’s box by running up and down the third base line yelling insults at the pitcher while he was in the middle of his windup.
His tendency to shout and gesticulate, not only as a coach, but also as a player, earned Latham the unofficial title of “the father of ‘chatter’.” The implication, of course, being that the practice of infield chatter that exists to this day had begun with Arlie Latham.
Latham finished his playing career with 742 stolen bases in seventeen professional seasons with a .269 batting average, .334 OBP, and .341 slugging. Latham died on November 29, 1952 at the age of 92 in Garden City, New York. He is buried in Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale, New York.
On April 26, 1931, with Lyn Lary as the runner on first base and two out in the inning, Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig hit a home run at Griffith Stadium. The homer cleared the centerfield fence, but then bounced back into the hands of Senators centerfielder Harry Rice. Lary, thinking the ball had been caught, returned to the dugout without ever crossing home plate. Gehrig, who had been running the bases with his head down, did not notice what happened and ended up getting called out for passing a runner on the base paths.
The incident ended up costing Gehrig the home run crown, as he and Babe Ruth finished the season tied with 46 homers a piece.
The New York Highlanders (later known as the Yankees) played their first game in as a New York City team on April 22, 1903. The Highlanders lost their opener to Washington, 3-1, at Hilltop Park in front of 11,950 fans. Pitcher Jack Chesbro took the loss, but he would finish the season with a 21-15 record (.583) and an ERA of 2.77.
On April 9, 1962, President John F. Kennedy waited out a rain delay and threw the ceremonial first pitch to open up Washington’s new $23 million D.C. Stadium for its inaugural baseball season. The stadium had initially opened the previous fall for Redskins football on October 1, 1961. More than 44,000 fans attended the Senators’ Opening Day in April as they defeated the Detroit Tigers, 4-1.
I have been on a bit of a musical kick lately, no doubt due partly to having seen The Book of Mormon performed a couple weeks ago. And so long as I have been in the mood to take in musicals, I figured it was about time that I sit down and watch Damn Yankees!
The film was created in 1958, based on the 1955 Broadway musical Damn Yankees! The protagonist of the tale is a man named Joe Boyd, an older gentleman when the movie begins, and a deeply devoted Washington Senators fan. Unfortunately for Joe, the Senators are not very good. One evening, having witnessed yet another loss by his beloved team, Joe rashly declares that he would sell his soul to the devil to see his team beat the Yankees. His declaration is heard by a man called Applegate, who tells Joe that not only can he make this wish happen, he can also arrange for Joe himself to be the team’s hero. All for the low, low price of one soul, of course. Joe, however, manages to arrange an “escape clause,” through which he would be able to exit the contract and return to his current life on September 24th.
This means, however, that Joe must leave his wife, Meg, behind for the duration. While Joe sings his heartfelt goodbye to Meg, Applegate works his magic and transforms Joe into a 22-year-old version of himself, calling him Joe Hardy (in addition to playing baseball, Joe will now be solving mysteries with his brother Frank!) and telling folks that Joe is from Hannibal, Missouri.
Joe and Applegate arrive at the Senators’ next practice, where Joe puts on an impressive show, especially with his bat. Joe is signed to a contract with the team. Meanwhile, sportswriter Gloria Thorpe nicknames him “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo,” and she expresses her determination to bring Joe a lot of publicity.
Joe leads the Senators on a long winning streak and becomes a hero. He misses his wife terribly, however, and finally goes and convinces Meg to take in Joe Hardy as a boarder. Applegate is concerned that this turn of events could ruin his plans, however, so he summons his demonic right-hand girl, Lola. Lola was once known as the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island, until she sold her soul to Applegate for youth and beauty. Applegate orders her to make Joe forget his wife, a task Lola is certain she can carry out. She receives quite a surprise, however, when she discovers that Joe loves his wife so much that he does not fall for Lola’s attempts at seduction.
Coming upon the end of the season, the Senators are on the verge of overtaking the Yankees. The sportswriter Gloria Thorpe, meanwhile, returns from Hannibal, Missouri, where no residents remember anybody named Joe Hardy, and she confronts Applegate about Joe’s real identity. Applegate implies that Joe is actually Shifty McCoy, a corrupt minor leaguer playing under a different name. Word gets out, and headlines erupt, accusing Joe of being Shifty. Joe is now required to meet with the baseball commissioner for a hearing or else get thrown out of baseball. The meeting just happens to fall on September 24th, the day he is scheduled to make his request to switch back to being Joe Boyd.
At the hearing, Meg and her friends arrive as material witnesses, testifying to Joe’s honesty and falsely claiming he grew up with them in Hannibal. The commissioner acquits Joe, but as the celebrations ensue, midnight strikes and Joe realizes he has missed his chance to escape from his deal with Applegate.
We learn that Applegate has planned for the Senators to lose the pennant to the Yankees on the last day of the season, resulting in thousands of heart attacks, nervous breakdowns, and suicides of Senators fans and Yankee-haters all over the country. However, Lola is now firmly on Joe’s side, and she lets Joe know she’s drugged Applegate so that he will sleep through that final game. By the time Applegate wakes up again, the game is well underway. Angry, Applegate turns Lola back to an ugly woman, and the two race to the ball field.
I should probably stop there, in order to avoid spoiling the rest of the story for anyone who has yet to see it. Overall, I found the movie quite amusing, even if a bit cheesy. The combination of baseball and comedy made it worth my while, I felt, and I do like that one doesn’t necessarily have to be a baseball fan in order to be able to appreciate the plot of the film.