Benny Daniels coiled his lean body languidly as if to lob the ball. But surreptitiously he was reaching back, and the sneaky fast ball popped loudly as it hit Don Zimmer's glove. Zimmer shifted his cud and spat a stream of tobacco juice on home plate. "That's the hardest you thrown in two years," he said. "Nobody knows how fast I am," Daniels said. "The ball don't get to the mitt that often." It was a stock line, vintage early Lefty Gomez. A few minutes earlier, in the clubhouse, Ron Kline had informed a visitor that he thought of himself as being in the twilight of a mediocre career. That was a mot copyrighted if not originated by Frank Sullivan (the pitcher, not the old Saratoga hand who writes for The New Yorker). In the camp of the "new" Washington Senators even the wisecracks are secondhand.
Still, the Senators are a funny group as ball clubs go, and it is unfortunate that more persons in the Washington area are not aware of this. They might come out to see them play. The Senators finished ninth last year and attracted 600,106 customers. That was 64,502 more than they drew the year before, and Dr. Cou� would have said that was improvement, but it was also 1,132,491 fewer than paid to see the 10th-place New York Mets. The differences between the Mets and Senators are too marginal to merit solemn argument, but the Senators are not—at least in the eyes of their nonbeholders—cute.
The Washington management carefully avoids the central fact that there was nothing but a great groundswell of public apathy to welcome them in 1961 when the new club sought to fill the "vacuum" left by the old Senators, who moved to Minnesota and renamed themselves the Twins. The Mets, entering an aching void to solace still-sorrowing Giant and Dodger fans, were conceived in nostalgia and dedicated to the dubious proposition that any team is better than none at all. The Senators were similarly dedicated, but they were born in original sin. All the evil that the Griffiths—old Clark and young Calvin—did in Washington lives after them; the good was packed off to the Northwest Territory in Calvin's carpetbag.
In a sense, the new Senators' management has brought the problem on itself. From 1934 through 1960 the old Senators finished in the second division 23 times in 27 years, the last 14 consecutively. They finished as high as second only twice, both times during the war. When Calvin Griffith said he was leaving town, the attitude of Washington fans resembled that of the harried mother Sam Levenson tells about: when her brat threatened to run away from home, she said, "So go. I'll make you sandwiches."
It might have followed that what any new franchise in Washington needed most was a clean break with history—maybe even a new name, to cosmeticize some of the stigma. Instead, the new people embraced history, taking the position that they were not new at all. "The Washington franchise was never vacated," says Burt Hawkins, who endured the old as a newspaperman and now doubles as PR man and road secretary to the new. "The Twins are the new franchise. The records are ours."
Which means Walter Johnson and all that. But along with The Big Train they got a big chain to drag through the league, maybe through their entire existence. Things like this: it says in the
American League Red Book that Pitcher Jim Grant is 22-5 lifetime over Washington, and only Whitey Ford enjoys figures of greater preponderance over anybody. But analysis shows that Grant was 16-2 over the old Senators and only 6-3 against the new. The latter-day Senators have been three times as successful (.333-.111) against him as their forebears, but they have taken that 22-5 thing to be their own and they are stuck with it. The iniquities of the fathers are being visited upon the children of the second generation, and it doesn't look good for the third.
Alas. The current Senators are a singular collection of Hessians who have done very little to deserve their fate. Seldom in the field of human endeavor has there been such an assemblage of men victimized by the cruel coincidence of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take Don Blasingame, the second baseman. From one point of view it could be argued that a man who had taken as his bride the many-splendored daughter of Walker Cooper ought not expect much more luck. (Sara Cooper was Miss Missouri of 1957 and the jury wasn't out long.) In any case, the rest of Blasingame's luck has been mostly bad.
In 1960, after his third good season in St. Louis, the San Francisco Giants deemed Blasingame worth Daryl Spencer and Leon Wagner. The year before, 1959, the Giants had "bought" the pennant from St. Louis in the person of Sam Jones, and then had blown it—partly because. Spencer neither felt nor acted like a second baseman. Now, they decided, The Blazer would make everything all right. Nothing was all right. By June the Giants had reached the reductio ad absurdum of having Tom Sheehan, the Falstaffian scout, as manager, and just played out the schedule. Blasingame, never really more than a quite adequate player, wilted under the unreasonable pressure and became inadequate.
The next spring he was traded to Cincinnati, where there would be a pennant that year, but Blasingame could win only part of a job. He ran into the one brief flash of adequacy by Elio Chacon, who later tipped his fraudulence by failing as a Met. After that, for The Blazer, there was Washington.
The first wrong place for Don Zimmer was the batter's box in Columbus, Ohio on a July night in 1953. At age 22, with 23 home runs in the bank and the league lead in runs batted in, Zimmer had it made. Then a curve ball got him above the left temple and nearly killed him. "I didn't see it," Zimmer said. The fractured skull finished him for the year, and the dizzy spells lasted into the next season, but he finally got to Brooklyn to sit in the shadow of Pee Wee Reese.