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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 157-158
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Tom Deveaux. The Washington Senators, 1901-1971. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2001. 282 pp. Cloth, $45.00.
As a future franchise relocation to the Washington DC-Northern Virginia area has once again emerged as a possibility, the time seems right for a comprehensive history of the team that once occupied the DC area, the Washington Senators. This fine book fills a previous void in the literature.
Deveaux uses a chronological format, devoting a chapter to each decade. In addition to his coverage of the 1901-71 period, the author offers a worthy account of the history of baseball in Washington from the mid-1800s to the inclusion of the Senators as a charter member of the American League in 1901.
Although the futility of the franchise is legendary, the Senators had a fair number of star players and good teams. Indeed, sixteen men who became Hall of Famers played for Washington during the team's history. Unfortunately, [End Page 157] most wore the Senators uniform either before they became great or after their better days were behind them. Indeed, timing (in terms of acquisitions) always seemed to be a problem for Washington. When their pitching was strong, their hitting was weak. Strong hitting teams were usually accompanied by suspect pitching. Since the team played in one of the largest parks of the day, Griffith Stadium, it is not surprising that only one Senator, Harmon Killebrew, ever became a true long-term power hitter. And he ended up doing most of his damage with the Minnesota Twins.
Two men, Clark Griffith and Walter Johnson, rate as the most important in Senators history. The author devotes ample ink to each without allowing either to overshadow the collective story. Both men were in the thick of Washington's glory years, the 1920s. Under the guidance of twenty-seven-year-old player-manager Bucky Harris, Washington won consecutive pennants in 1924 and 1925. Deveaux's description of Harris's handling of the team is one of the strengths of the book, as is his extensive (eleven-page) description of the 1924 World Series, won by Washington over the Giants. Subsequent years featured good teams that proved inadequate by comparison to the superb A's and Yankees. A World Series loss in 1933 proved to be the team's last hurrah.
An erratic and disappointing decade, the 1940s, gave way to the 1950-60 period, referred to by the author as "the road to oblivion." A losing team combined with little fan support and a ballpark in a "slum area" led to the team's moving to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area following the 1960 season.
The concluding chapter focuses on the "new" Senators, a team that had some competent players but only giant Frank Howard's prodigious blasts as a fan draw (until Ted Williams added a bit of spark as the last Senator skipper). The rather distasteful story of the ownership of Bob Short and the eventual move of the franchise to Texas concludes the book. The account of the days leading up to the move is intriguing and well written.
There is much to recommend The Washington Senators, 1901-1971. Deveaux's writing is crisp, and the book is very readable. Overall, it is a well-rounded blend of biography and statistics, with a good supply of humorous and interesting anecdotes. Notable also is the strength of Deveaux's handling of transactions, of which he often offers his personal evaluations. I am confident this book will occupy a prominent place on the bookshelves of Washington Senators fans. It serves as a solid example of how team history should be written.
Ted Farmer is a historian who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. His work has appeared in NINE, Baseball Quarterly Reviews, the Baseball Research Journal, the Baseball Grandstand Annual, and the National Pastime. He is a Yankees fan.