Something fine in
American sport was preserved when Calvin Griffith moved his Washington Senators
to the wheat belt and renamed them the Minnesota Twins. Few people outside
Washington understand this.
In towns like New
York and San Francisco the Washingtonian is greeted with misplaced sympathy.
"It's too bad," these well-meaning people say, trying to be nice,
"too bad that the year the Senators finally won the pennant they were
disguised as the Minnesota Twins."
being a gentleman about his baseball, will not disillusion the New Yorker or
San Franciscan. He knows that towns like New York and San Francisco tend to
breed baseball "fans," a coarse genus that aspires to the shabby
distinction of winning pennants.
Winning has no
place in the Washingtonian's thinking about baseball. The idea that people
might go to the ball park in the expectation of seeing their team win strikes
him as childish, for the Washingtonian is not a "fan" but a connoisseur
of baseball. What the tea ceremony is to the Japanese and cricket at Lord's is
to the Englishman, what Wagner at Bayreuth is to the opera lover and Swan Lake
at the Bolshoi is to the Muscovite, baseball at D.C. Stadium is to the
For him, living
with a bunch of bums has been elevated to high art. When he goes to the ball
park, it is not for the sweaty satisfaction of seeing a contest. He knows that
the Senators will lose, just as the Wagner devotee knows that Tristan and
Isolde will die in the last act. What interests both are style and quality of
How will the
Senators do it? Will they blow a five-run lead in the ninth while outfielders
collide head to head? Or will the pitcher simply yield hit after hit? Should
the Senators win, as they occasionally do, he comforts himself with the
assurance that art will be redressed by a six-game losing streak. Deep in his
subconscious lies the proud awareness that he is the flower of a unique
American heritage. The Senators' 30-year record of total ineptitude is
unequaled in the annals of modern sport, and the Washington baseball
connoisseur is its finest by-product.
Any team, after
all, can win a pennant. Even the St. Louis Browns did it in 1944. But to outwit
the law of averages for 32 years, to finish with unparalleled consistency in
the cellar, to lose 100 games year after year without letdown—that is
All this explains
why Washingtonians began to worry a few years back when ugly portents of
professionalism began to break out on the team. Calvin Griffith had hired a
number of men who betrayed unmistakable signs of competence. Among them were
Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Camilo Pascual, Zoilo Versalles, Jim Kaat, Don
Mincher and Earl Battey.
third base in those days and you went to the park—then the old Griffith
Stadium—to see Harmon field hot grounders with his chin. This, of course, was
in the best Senator tradition, but the trouble was that Killebrew could also
hit the ball all the way to Baltimore. On top of that, Allison was holding on
to fly balls, Pascual and Kaat were both throwing strikes and Battey was
catching them. When this team finished fifth one year—it was still an
eight-team league and fifth place was the second division—several of the most
influential men in town asked for a conference with Griffith.
we're concerned or anything, Cal," they said, "but we'd like to know
when you're going to start trading off Killebrew, Pascual, Battey and Versalles
for some real bush leaguers, the way you always do."