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Baseball in Washington, D.C. (DC) (Images of America) Paperback – April 2, 2002
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About the Author
Authors Frank Ceresi, former curator of the National Sports Gallery, and Mark Rucker, baseball writer and vintage photograph expert, are sports historians and longtime fans of the game. Researcher Carol McMains is still hoping to bring her 3-year-old son, Brady, to his first professional ballgame . . . in the nation's capital!
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The book is enjoyable and nostalgic as it takes the reader through a guided tour of baseball in Washington D.C. It begins with a chapter describing Washington's early baseball teams from 1850 -- 1900, focusing on -- no surprise here -- a team called the Washington Nationals. The discussion features photographs of forgotten players, stadiums, and baseball memorabilia with a good running commentary.
The Nationals were not asked to join the National League upon its formation in 1900. In fact, the League bought the team only to disband it. When the American League was formed the following year, Washington D.C. began its long relationship with the Washington Senators. The original Washington Senators team receives most of the attention in this book, especially in the team's best years before 1930. The Senators won their only World Series in 1924, while winning American League Pennants in 1925 and 1933. The book focuses on many of the players of the early years, while concentrating on "The Big Train", Walter Johnson, who won 416 games in his career, spent entirely with the Senators, for clubs that often were mediocre. The book also show many photographs of other players, well known and obscure from the early years of the team.
Subsequent chapters describe the falling fortunes of the Senators during the 1930's and 1940's. The book also gives substantial attention to the Homestead Grays of the Negro League. The authors state that the Grays "may well have been the greatest professional ball club ever assembled" and their account of the team focuses on catcher Josh Gibson, who may well have been "the greatest power hitter of all time." The book offers photographs of many players of the Senators and the Grays and documents their changing fortunes through the 1940s.
By the 1950's the Negro League was no more and the Senators went into a long decline. They left Washington, D.C. in 1961. The book offers a good portrayal of the teams last decade, focusing on stars such as slugger Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Vernon and pitcher Camillo Pascual.
From 1961 -- 1971, Washington had a second Senators team before it also left the city for Texas. Baseball wise, these were lean years, although Ted Williams briefly managed the team near the end. The team still had some high marks, including Frank Howard, and the durable pitcher, Dick Bosnan. A final chapter in the book shows political involvement in baseball over the years while also suggesting the strong presence of the game at the school and amateur levels.
The resumption of baseball with the Nationals is beyond the scope of this book, but it gives a good, enjoyable earlier history. The book will be of interest to readers with an interest in Washington D.C. local history and in the history of its professional baseball teams.
The three authors (Frank Ceresi, Mark Rucker, and Carol McMains) use an impressive collection of photographs to tell the story of baseball in our nation’s capital and take the story up to 1971, when the Washington Senators’ franchise moved to Texas to become the Rangers.
The book is well researched and rewards its readers by pointing out such facts that star pitcher Walter Johnson once completed 36 of 37 starts in a season, and Frank and Eleanor Roosevelt were baseball fans who often attended Senators’ games. The saddest note for Washington fans, however, is that 1924 was the last year that a Washington team won the World Series!
Most of the images in the book are posed shots and they provide an excellent glimpse of the rich baseball tradition in Washington. For a team that earned the slogan of “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League,” the number of stars who called Washington home during the summer is impressive and includes such stars as Joe Cronin, Walter Johnson, Harmon Killebrew, Sam Rice, and Ted Williams.
As with any book, there are some minor errors, which are the only thing preventing this book from getting a five-star rating. Two sample miscues are the Table of Contents lists the final chapter as “Statesman and Sportsman,” but the title actually is “Statesman as Sportsmen.” Also on page 67 the authors confuse the holiday season with D-Day, as well as being redundant when they state: “One day after Christmas, on December 26, 1944, Washington Senator pitcher and full-time soldier, Dutch Leonard, was photographed signing autographs in France while surrounded by infantrymen anxious to return home. This phot was taken less than three weeks after D-Day.”
For those interested in picking up the story where this book leaves off, I’d recommend “Spring Training with the Washington Nationals,” which was published in April 2015 by Fonthill Media and documents the spring training history of the Nationals in Viera, Florida with over 200 color photographs, with most of them being action shots. The Nationals started training in Viera during their inaugural season of 2005. “Spring Training with the Washington Nationals” provides some great photographs of today’s D.C. stars, including Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Jordan Zimmerman.