The Washington Senator fan, like the torch singer, makes a career of suffering. The team has gone 27 years without a pennant, and it is 14 years since it finished in the first division. "We've put up with an awful lot of bum teams," said a 31-year rooter. He sounded complacent, as though it would be sordid to support a team that merely played well. At the start of this season the Senators' prospects were dismal enough to thrill the most insatiable masochist. Calvin Griffith had taken the old team to Minnesota as the Twins, and all the local heroes were gone; Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Camilo Pascual, Cookie Lavagetto. The new Washington Senators, created under the baseball expansion system at a cost of more than $2 million, looked partly like an elephants' graveyard, partly like an experiment in group therapy: a basic squad of 28, the great majority either has-beens or might-bes. The entire pitching staff had a total of three complete major league games among them in 1960. The starting outfield could scrape together a record of 22 home runs, and the infielders were known, if at all, as players who could neither field nor hit.
But for much of the season the Senators have hovered about seventh place, rising at one time as high as fourth. In Washington, seventh place is seventh heaven. The fans actually resemble fans now—shouting, cheering, clapping and booing the opposition. In the past, except when Killebrew appeared, they looked like hired mourners. Attendance is up from last year though not very much (below). The WTOP play-by-play radio broadcast audience has increased, at times double what it was last year.
A wistful hope is stirring, an affection for the team that for once is based on reality, or at least possibility, though a touch of the old neurosis remains. The team is an underdog, but it shows its teeth and growls once in a while. "The new Washington Senators were like orphans you took into your home," says Bob Addie,
columnist. "And you don't kick orphans in the seat of the pants."
" Washington knew that it would never have a decent team as long as Calvin Griffith was around," says Morrie Siegel of the
Washington News, "and the fans were ready to support anybody else."
Washington sportswriters occasionally warn the local citizens to support the team if they want to keep a franchise in Washington, but no one pays them any mind. Congressmen threaten an investigation of baseball whenever the franchise appears in danger.
Through Manager Mickey Vernon the team enjoys popularity by association. Washington fans still remember his easy grace at first base and his batting championships in the horrid years before there even was a Harmon Killebrew to cheer.
Serenity, at least on the surface, characterizes the soft-spoken Vernon. "Only player I ever saw to compare with him in that quality is Yogi Berra," says Bob Addie. At 43, Vernon looks slim enough and young enough to play. He is also modest—a novel quality in Washington. "When I make a move and it works, I'm a good manager," he says. The players say, " Vernon still knows what it is like to be a player." They find him tough but like him because he saves his scoldings for the privacy of the office.
In the field the Senators owe their mild success to a delicate selection of the limited skills available under the expansion plan. General Manager Ed Doherty, president of the American Association for seven years and a veteran of baseball front-office management for 20 years, Mickey Vernon with 22 years as a player, and Hal Keller, farm manager, concentrate on pitching rather than hitting. Griffith Stadium is not a hitter's park, with the left-field line 388 feet and right field 320 with a 31-foot wall. The new D.C. Stadium, home for the Senators in 1962, offers no substantial betterment for hitters. "I agree with Connie Mack—pitching is 75% to 80% of the game," says Vernon, a handsome opinion for a onetime first baseman.
The new Senators' top pick was Dick Donovan from the Chicago White Sox, now 33 years old but still a starter on any team in the majors. For the Senators, Donovan is the top winner (eight games). His earned run average is close to the best in the American League.
Another helpful pitching recruit is Joe McClain. After six years in the minors, the 28-year-old McClain was ready to quit baseball if he did not make a major league team. Doherty remembered McClain's statistics at Charleston, 33 walks in 223 innings and a better-than-average assortment of pitches. Ed Hobaugh from the Chicago Sox and Bennie Daniels, picked up in a trade with the Pirates, also are starting pitchers. Marty Kutyna, a castoff from the Kansas City club, is a starter at times. "For me the hardest part of managing is handling the pitchers," says Vernon. With his limited bullpen resources this aspect of Vernon's management is critical, and thus far he has handled the problem deftly.