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Did the AL's Slowness in Signing Black Players Cost DC the Expansion Senators?

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  • Did the AL's Slowness in Signing Black Players Cost DC the Expansion Senators?

    I just finished a "course" on CD (Take Me Out to the Ballgame: A History of Baseball in America, narrated by by Professor Timothy B. Shutt). He mentions how the AL was not as aggressive as the NL in signing black players in the 1950s who became All-Stars in the 1960s (eg. Ernie Banks, Maury Wills, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson). I wonder... if the Expansion Senators had been more aggressive in signing quality black players, would the team have been much better and they would not have moved?
    Last edited by bryanac625; 05-22-2009, 09:22 AM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by bryanac625 View Post
    I wonder... if the Expansion Senators had been more aggressive in signing quality black players, would the team have been much better and they would not have moved?
    Bryan, Not being familiar with Professor Shutt or his work I can't respond directly, however I think the question you pose does not really involve race, at least from my perspective.

    Unfortunately, the expansion Senators that I grew up following and rooting for were a lousy franchise, period. They were cursed with poor management, insufficient financial backing, a revolving door of players who were primarily washed up former big names (ie Roy Seivers) or marginal players who were rushed to the big leagues without proper seasoning. Promising talent was continually shipped out in questionable trades that usually benefitted the other team far more than the Senators.

    For instance, Chuck Hinton, a black outfielder, was one of the few bright spots in the expansion Senators early years. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the 1964 season for Bob Chance and Woodie Held. Chance, a black 1st baseman, only played in 136 games over the next 3 seasons. He'd resurface with the California Angels for 5 games in 1969 before his career ended. Held would only play in 1 season in Washington, hitting .247 in 122 games before he was on the move again, traded to the Baltimore Orioles for John Orsino who would play in a grand total of 15 games for the Senators. Meanwhile, Hinton remained in the majors through 1971 with the Indians and California Angels.

    Bob Chance career record

    Woodie Held career record

    Chuck Hinton career record

    Bennie Daniels, who came to the new team in their first trade after the expansion draft, was a black pitcher who went 12-11 for the expansion Senators in their inaugural season. (20% of the team's wins!) Unfortunately he'd never match that record again and was out of baseball after the 1965 season.

    Bennie Daniels career record

    The perpetually changing lineup combined with the poor play on the field did not help to build a fan base or the allegiances that a fan usually develops with a team. Admittedly I was much younger then and didn't pay much attention to those things but I don't really recall the Senators marketing themselves very well. (Aside from Frank Howard, Eddie Brinkman, Jim Hannan, possibly Joe Coleman, how many other notable players can you immediately think of who stayed with the expansion franchise for any appreciable length of time?)

    I think the bottom line is that the fans in Washington tired of the constant mediocrity on the field. The original Senators last contended in 1945 when they finished in 2nd place with an 87-67 record. Their last .500 season was 1953.

    The expansion Senators got off to a horrific start, losing 100 or more games their first 4 seasons. When the expansion team had their best (and only winning) season in 1969, the fans responded by coming out in record numbers. This was just 1 year after the Martin Luther King assassination when Washington was still recovering from the turmoil of the previous year, proving that the fans would come out to see an exciting team.

    For the record, in 1969 the eventual pennant winning Baltimore Orioles drew 1,062,069 fans, approximately 144,000 more patrons that season than the 4th place Senators.

    To save you from having to look it up, here are the expansion Senators records and attendance from their 11 seasons in Washington:

    1961 61-100 597,287*

    1962 60-101 729,775#

    1963 56-106 535,604

    1964 62-100 600,106

    1965 70-92 560,083

    1966 71-88 576,260

    1967 76-85 770,868

    1968 65-96 546,661

    1969 86-76 918,106

    1970 70-92 824,789

    1971 63-96 655,[email protected]

    *=last year in Griffith Stadium

    #=first year in DC Municipal (later RFK) Stadium

    @=Aside from the lousy record, the 1971 team was a "lame duck". Bob Short had made his intentions of moving the team known and the Washington fans responded by staying away from RFK although this attendance total is still better than that of 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966 or 1968.

    We've discussed in other threads what effect the Metro might have had on attendance if it had been built in earlier years. Personally, having an aversion to driving in Washington (although some might argue that the traffic in the suburbs has gotten just as bad), when the Nationals were still playing in RFK I'd drive to New Carrollton and hop on the Metro there. The Branch Avenue Metro station now makes it even easier for me to reach the system.

    I've read in the Brooklyn Dodgers forum how the arrival of Jackie Robinson and other black players was reflected by an increasing diversity of patrons in the stands. How the integration of other teams affected the racial makeup of the patrons I can't say. (Recall that the original Senators were one of the last American League teams to integrate with Cuban-born Carlos Paula in 1954.)

    I may be a bit naive or simplistic but I'm really not concerned with the racial makeup of a team-when I plunk down my hard-earned cash to attend a game I go there with hopes of seeing my team win. When a team is a consistent loser I'm less likely to make the effort to travel the 60+ miles into the city and return only to see the Nats (or the Wizards) lose another one.

    Sorry for being so verbose. The bottom line is that I think if the expansion Senators had been more agressive in signing quality players, period, the team may not have moved had the caliber of play on the field have been better.

    I'm sure you've read the other threads in this forum regarding the Senators move to Texas-I think the AL signed the Senators death warrant when they allowed Bob Short to purchase the team after the 1968 season.
    Last edited by Aa3rt; 05-25-2009, 06:38 AM.
    "For the Washington Senators, the worst time of the year is the baseball season." Roger Kahn

    "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Rogers Hornsby.

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    • #3
      Art,
      My post is and is not about race. It's not about race because black players of the 1950s-1960s were perhaps the impact players of the game, much like Latin players today. Imagine MLB of that time without Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Lou Brock, Maury Wills and Hank Aaron. Imagine all of these men on the same team.

      But I think race is why the AL was slower than the NL in signing blacks. Eventually, the Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox caught up, but being the last teams to sign blacks cost them at one time or another. And as you're saying, it was that much worse for an already pathetic team.

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      • #4
        The Senators were one of the first teams to have Cuban Players, and had many Cubans in the 40's and 50's (albeit light-skinned ones). I think that the Senators missed out on a lot of talent (as did most of the teams in MLB) by not signing black / dark-skinned players, especially because Griffith's Stadium was also the home of the Homestead Grays which featured Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Cool Papa Bell. The Senators had the opportunity to sign all three of those players, being they were literally in their own backyard.

        If the Senators had more talent, they probably would not have needed to leave.
        Baseball Happenings
        - Linking baseball's past, present and future.
        http://baseballhappenings.blogspot.com

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        • #5
          Originally posted by metrotheme View Post
          especially because Griffith's Stadium was also the home of the Homestead Grays...
          Didn't the Grays play the majority of their home games at Forbes Field? Just askin'.
          He's guilty of excessive window shopping.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Andy K View Post
            Didn't the Grays play the majority of their home games at Forbes Field? Just askin'.
            The Homestead Grays were based in Pittsburgh but used Washington, DC as a "secondary" home, playing many home games in Washington. More information here:

            Homestead Grays from Negroleaguebaseball.com

            The stadium rent paid by the Grays in Washington was undoubtedly most welcome by the perpetually cash strapped Clark Griffith.
            "For the Washington Senators, the worst time of the year is the baseball season." Roger Kahn

            "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Rogers Hornsby.

            Comment


            • #7
              The Washington Senators had only one season where attendance went over one million- 1946...

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