Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 14- Washington Senators

I’ve always been fascinated with all of the random activities that take place during a baseball game. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to appreciate them on a much deeper level. As much as I want to include the pre-game 40 ouncer of Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor I usually polish off before every Oakland Athletics game on this list, I’ll spare the historians my one vice. The ceremonial throwing out of the first pitch is mostly the one I’m referring too actually. Throughout the season at 162 guests per team are elected to take part in one of the oldest fan-related traditions of our national pastime. That’s roughly 48600 first pitches thrown out each season (not taking into consideration the rare two or more people throwing out balls). The honor, once reserved for presidents, politicians, military officials, foreign diplomats and former players has evolved into something that we can all at some point in our lives be able to put into our pocket. I was fortunate enough to receive the honor on July 17, 2012, but I’ll spare you the details as I’ve all ready written about in my Athletics Opening Day post from April 1.

My first encounter with this tradition, like a few other nostalgic baseball-related moments in my life, came during my first viewing of the 1988 film “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad.” While I had been to professional games prior to seeing this film, I can’t honestly say that my little brain at the time was all too keen to remember that moment. The scene in the film is wonderful as Queen Elizabeth II is the guest of honor in a game between the California Angels and the Seattle Mariners during her tour of Los Angeles. Because of her status, the Angels allow her to throw out the first pitch. Here:
It’s still one of those goofy moments that still makes me chuckle for multiple reasons:

1. Obviously it’s the greatest screwball ever thrown.

2. The mere fact that the catcher is the only one that seems to be blown away by the throw.

3. Dick Vitale being in the press box during a baseball game.

4. Tim McCarver before he went absolutely insane after being teamed up with Joe Buck.

5. The PA announcer nonchalantly saying, “How about that Queen ladies and gentleman!”

The Zucker Brothers know how to write a damn good comedy, that’s for sure. Anyway, as a five-year-old that pitch blew my mind. My brothers and I worked on it with our wiffle balls for hours, hoping that we would somehow be able to bend the laws of physics. Needless to say, after about three intense summer days of trying and failing, we gave up and played pickle instead.

This Washington Senators hat holds a special place in the history of the ceremonial first pitch, which leads me to the marks I opted for.

4/14/10- I should first point out the hat, as it is not exactly the accurate model for the date, so bear with me. This particular hat was used by the Senators for all of their home and road games from 1916-1925; however, the particular style of “W” featured on the front was used as a patch over the heart of their jersey only in 1910. From 1912-1925 and then again from 1929-1935 the “W” appeared as a patch on the outside sleeves of their jerseys. The Washington Nationals also used this hat for their Turn Back the Clock games in 2012. Now that I have that covered; the date I chose was Opening Day for the Senators against the New York Yankees at National Park, which was later renamed Griffith Stadium in 1920. The larger importance of this date is that it was the first time a United States President ever threw out the first pitch. Therefore, it was the first Ceremonial First Pitch. A lot of first taking place, I know.

William Howard Taft was a huge (no pun intended) baseball fan and started the tradition which took place at some time throughout the season (Opening Day, All-Star Game or World Series) on almost every year. There were a few gaps in time since 1910 on account some very important wars taking place. Another interesting tidbit from this particular day is that April 14, 1910 is also one of the three supposed moments in time when the seventh-inning-stretch first came to pass. The way the story goes is that President Taft while at the game was sore from prolonged sitting and stood up to stretch. Upon seeing the chief executive stand, the rest of the spectators in attendance felt obligated to join the president in his gestures. Whether it’s true or not, it’s still a fun little story to tell fans.

Since the tradition was started every president has thrown out at least one first pitch, and only Richard Nixon and James Sherman were the only two Vice Presidents to fill in for the President while they were occupied. Nixon in 1959 for Dwight Eisenhower and Sherman for Taft in 1912 on account of Taft being at a funeral for a friend who had died in the RMS Titanic sinking only four days prior on April 15. As for how each President stacks up: Franklin D. Roosevelt has the unbeatable record with eight Opening Day first pitches thrown while in office and Jimmy Carter has the fewest at zero as he only threw out one Opening Day first pitch at Petco Park in 2004 when the San Diego Padres first opened the stadium. Lyndon B. Johnson was the “kiss of death” for the Senators as they lost all three games in which he threw out first pitch, while Taft has the best win percentage at 100% having only thrown out first pitches in 1910 and 1911. Bill Clinton and Bush, Sr. tied for second place with a .750 win percentage as the teams won three of four in each case for various teams.

WJ- Only in a few cases do I ever mark the opposite front panel with anything; however, in this case it was very important. Due to the fact that this hat was technically used from 1916-1925 it was very important for me to write about someone who actually played under the hat, and witnessed the majority, including the very first of the Ceremonial First Pitches.

Walter Perry Johnson was born in Humboldt, Kansas in 1887 but moved to Southern California in his teen years where he attended Fullerton Union High School where he struck out 27 batters in a 15-inning game against rival Santa Anita High School. He later moved to Idaho, where he doubled as a telephone company employee and a pitcher for a Weiser-based team in the Idaho State League. Johnson was spotted by a talent scout and signed a contract with the Senators in July 1907 at the age of nineteen. Johnson won renown as the premier power pitcher of his era. Ty Cobb recalled his first encounter with the rookie fastballer:
"On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty; with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: 'Get the pitchfork ready, Joe-- your hayseed's on his way back to the barn.'”

“...The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park."

Although a lack of precision instruments prevented accurate measurement of his fastball, in 1917, a Bridgeport, Connecticut munitions laboratory recorded Johnson's fastball at 134 feet per second, which is equal to 91.36 miles per hour (147.03 km/h), a velocity which was virtually unique in Johnson's day, with the possible exception of Smoky Joe Wood. Johnson, moreover, pitched with a sidearm motion, whereas power pitchers are normally known for pitching with a straight-overhand delivery. Johnson's motion was especially difficult for right-handed batters to follow, as the ball seemed to be coming from third base.

Johnson played his entire career with the Senators from 1907-1927. During his tenure he won two American League MVP awards in 1913 and 1924. He never played in an All-Star Game as the first one wasn’t played until 1933. He also never won a Cy Young Award as the first ones were given out in 1956, a year after his death. He only won one World Series in 1924 against the New York Giants. Johnson does have the distinction of being one of the first five players elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. The other four: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Shockingly Cobb outlived them all.

Johnson has the second-most wins in MLB history with 417, only 94 behind Young. He has 3.509 strikeouts, which puts him at ninth place all-time. And he has a career ERA of 2.167, which is also the ninth best in MLB history. Throughout his career Johnson led the league in almost every positive category numerous time: Wins a total of six times at which 36 in 1936 was his career-high, ERA five times at which 1.14 in 1913 was his career-best, most innings pitched five times at which he topped out at 371 2/3 in 1914 and most strikeouts 12 times in which 313 was his career-high in 1910.
Walter Johnson retired to Germantown, Maryland. A lifelong Republican and friend of President Calvin Coolidge, Johnson was elected as a Montgomery County commissioner in 1938. His father-in-law was Rep. Edwin Roberts, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1940 Johnson ran for a congressional seat in Maryland's 6th district, but came up short against the incumbent Democrat, William D. Byron, by a total of 60,037 (53%) to 52,258 (47%).

Joseph W. Martin, Jr., before he was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955, recruited Johnson to run for Congress. "He was an utterly inexperienced speaker," Martin later said. "I got some of my boys to write two master speeches for him – one for the farmers of his district and the other for the industrial areas. Alas, he got the two confused. He addressed the farmers on industrial problems, and the businessmen on farm problems."

At 11:40 pm, Tuesday, December 10, 1946 Johnson died of a brain tumor in Washington, D.C., five weeks after his 59th birthday, and was interred at Rockville Union Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland.


  1. Replies
    1. I got mine on clearance at Not sure if they have anymore.