The region is buzzing with postseason excitement as the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles have both clinched playoff spots. While each team’s success has followed stretches of disappointment, the full history of baseball in the area goes back well over 100 years. At the turn of the century the Washington Senators searched for a winning formula by changing their name, and Baltimore tried to hang on to a team that would later become the New York Yankees. Kojo explores the local history of our national pastime.

Guests

  • Bill Stetka Director of Alumni Affairs, Baltimore Orioles
  • Frederic Frommer Author, "You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions."
  • Hank Thomas Author, "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train."

Transcript

  • 13:25:21

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJust ten years ago, professional baseball in Washington barely existed. The team we know as the Nationals was playing in Montreal as the Expos and seeing a major league game and taking a trip to Baltimore to watch the Orioles. But there's a much older history of baseball in the Washington region dating back to before the Civil War.

  • 13:25:41

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe Washington Senators struggled from the early 1900s through the '60s earning the dubious title of first in war, first in peace and last in the American league. We need to put that one to rest. While the Orioles made their way to Baltimore in 1954. As the modern day Nationals and Orioles have won their divisions and get ready to play October baseball, we take a look back at the local history of America's pastime.

  • 13:26:06

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me now to discuss this is Fred Frommer. He is author of "You Got to Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions." Fred Frommer, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:18

    MR. FRED FROMMERGreat to be here. Thank you.

  • 13:26:19

    NNAMDIFred's going to be giving a talk on D.C. baseball history with former Senators' public address announcer Phil Hochberg this Friday at noon at the National Archives McGowan Theater on 7th Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest. He joins us in studio. Hank Thomas was the author of "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train." He's also the grandson of the aforementioned Big Train Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson. Hank Thomas, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:45

    MR. HANK THOMASYou're welcome. Pleasure to be here.

  • 13:26:46

    NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Bill Stetka, director of Alumni Affairs with the Baltimore Orioles. Bill Stetka, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:54

    MR. BILL STETKAThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 13:26:55

    NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. Give us a call. What are your favorite moments in Nats and Orioles history? What would you like to know about the history of these local baseball teams, 800-433-8850? You can send email to kojo@wamu.org or shoot us a Tweet @kojoshow. Fred, if you ask a lot of people how long there's been a pro baseball team in Washington, they'll tell you the Nationals came to town in 2005. But there's a much longer history of professional baseball in D.C. When did they start playing baseball here?

  • 13:27:25

    FROMMER1859, if you can believe it.

  • 13:27:27

    NNAMDIWhoa. That'd make that, what, 150, what 50...

  • 13:27:33

    THOMAS55.

  • 13:27:34

    NNAMDI...5 years ago, yeah.

  • 13:27:35

    FROMMERYeah.

  • 13:27:36

    NNAMDI1859.

  • 13:27:37

    FROMMERRight.

  • 13:27:38

    NNAMDIUnder what circumstances?

  • 13:27:39

    FROMMERWell, there were these groups of gentlemen, government clerks that formed two different teams. One was the Washington National Baseball Club, which became known as the Nationals, and the other one was the Potomacs. And they would play games sometimes on Capitol Hill and sometimes on what is now known as the ellipse where a lot of your listeners probably play softball. And they had all kinds of softball scoring type games, you know, 35 to 15. There was one game where one team scored 87 runs. They had a nice little friendly rivalry but eventually the Potomacs faded from view and the Nationals were the only team that really were around for the next few years after that.

  • 13:28:13

    NNAMDIWhen did it become a professional sport?

  • 13:28:15

    FROMMERWell, it was -- professional baseball probably was later in the 1800s but it really wasn't -- the modern era really didn't begin until 1901 when the Washington Senators started playing. In fact, their official name was the Washington Nationals, but they were mostly known as the Senators because that's what the old team, (unintelligible) had been called. And so people were very interested in watching the games.

  • 13:28:35

    FROMMERAnd they were very -- not a very good team unfortunately. They started with 11 straight losing seasons and it was a long, long time before they were competitive in Washington.

  • 13:28:46

    NNAMDIBill Stetka, the Orioles started out as the St. Louis Browns sharing a market with the Cardinals. How and when did they end up in Baltimore?

  • 13:28:54

    STETKAWell, in 1953 the Browns were losing the attendance battle to the Cardinals. And their team ownership Bill Veeck decided to try to transfer the team. And he ended up selling it to Baltimore interest, so the team was moved to Baltimore in 1954. Prior to that Baltimore was in the minor leagues from 1903 through 1953. And actually prior to that, baseball in Baltimore -- professional baseball started in the late 1870s. Baltimore had a National League team, the Baltimore Orioles. And the National League in the 1890s won three National League titles in a row.

  • 13:29:40

    STETKAAnd then in 1901, Baltimore actually had one of the charter teams in the American League in 1901 and 1902 before the team was moved. They moved to New York, became the New York Highlanders. And the Highlanders, about ten years later, changed their name to the New York Yankees. So the Yankees actually derived their being from the Baltimore Orioles.

  • 13:30:04

    NNAMDIWell, from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s the Orioles became a powerhouse winning a couple of World Series titles, enjoyed many of those winning seasons under Manager Earl Weaver. Weaver was known not only for his winning teams but for his colorful behavior on and off the field. We have a clip here of Earl having, well, a slight misunderstanding with an umpire.

  • 13:30:28

    EARL WEAVERDon't you ever put your finger on me again.

  • 13:30:30

    UMPIREYou hit me, Earl.

  • 13:30:31

    WEAVERYou put your finger on me.

  • 13:30:33

    UMPIREThat's okay.

  • 13:30:33

    WEAVER(Censored by network). (unintelligible)

  • 13:30:36

    UMPIREY'all ain't gonna knock nobody out of the (censored by network) .

  • 13:30:40

    WEAVERDo it again and I'll knock you right in your nose.

  • 13:30:41

    UMPIREI didn't touch you.

  • 13:30:42

    WEAVERYou pushed your finger...

  • 13:30:43

    UMPIREI did not. Now you're lying. You're lying.

  • 13:30:47

    WEAVERNo, you are.

  • 13:30:47

    UMPIREYou are (censored by network) .

  • 13:30:48

    WEAVER(unintelligible) ...

  • 13:30:50

    UMPIRENo. You're a liar, Earl, a liar.

  • 13:30:52

    WEAVERYou are.

  • 13:30:57

    NNAMDIWe miss that. Bill Stetka, what were those teams like under Earl Weaver?

  • 13:31:02

    STETKAWell, they were colorful but they were also very good. The Orioles won the first pennant and World Series title in 1966. And they had acquired Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds the previous winter. And Frank went on to win a Triple Crown his first season with the Orioles. By '68 they had kind of fallen off a little bit because of injuries and some players getting older.

  • 13:31:28

    STETKAEarl Weaver took over as manager in the middle of the '68 season. And low and behold in '69, '70 and '71 the Orioles won three straight pennants. They won another American League pennant and went to the World Series in '79 under Earl. And he was colorful. He was brash. He was feisty. He was only 5'6" so I think he tried to let his bluster make up for some of his height disadvantage, it that's...

  • 13:32:00

    NNAMDIYes. He was a trifle argumentative. Fred, let's go back to the...

  • 13:32:03

    STETKAThe thing about Earl, though, I mean, forgetting the arguments, Earl was an innovator. Many of the sabermetric stats that you see and hear about today, batter-pitcher matchups and who does well against lefties and righties and moving players around, Earl actually keep note of all of that on index cards. So he had an index card in the dugout for every batter that pitchers would face. And every pitcher that batters would face.

  • 13:32:34

    STETKAAnd when he needed to put a pinch hitter in or if he wanted to change his players around, he knew exactly what every batter had done against the opposing team's pitchers to know the better batter or the better pitcher to put in against the opposition.

  • 13:32:49

    NNAMDIBill Stetka's director of Alumni Affairs with the Baltimore Orioles. He joins us by phone. We have in studio Fred Frommer. He is author of "You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball From 1859 to the 2012 National League Champions (sic) ." And Hand Thomas, he's the author of "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train." He's the grandson of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.

  • 13:33:10

    NNAMDIFred, let's go back to the early 1900s when the Washington Senators joined the American League. They were generally a losing team but then a young pitcher named Walter Johnson came along with a legendary fast ball. How did people react to him?

  • 13:33:24

    FROMMERThere was so much excitement about him. You know, there was no ESPN obviously or Twitter or anything like that. But even back in 1907 when he was scouted, there was a lot of excitement. The Washington Post had a headline which screamed "Secure's a Phenom" and talked about how he was from the lowly west and you can't see his fast ball and that sort of thing. So in this case the hype was really true. He was as good as advertised.

  • 13:33:52

    NNAMDIOne hitter left the box after two strikes. The umpire told him he had one more. I love people with character like that. He left anyway saying, it wouldn't make a difference.

  • 13:34:01

    FROMMERRight. You can have the third strike.

  • 13:34:03

    NNAMDIHank Thomas, so in 1924 toward the end of Walter Johnson's career, the team finally starts to win. They're competing with the New York Yankees for the American League pennant and it goes down to the final games of the season. How big a deal was it when Washington beat the Yankees for the pennant?

  • 13:34:21

    THOMASWell, it was unbelievable really. The Yankees' this powerhouse of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and all these other guys. They had won the last three American League pennants in a row. The Senators in the year before in 1923 had barely finished in the first division. They basically had the same team this year, so there was no reason to believe that they were going to do any better. Then all of a sudden for some reason -- well, probably the biggest reason was Walter Johnson, even though he was coming toward the end. He was in his 18th season. He reeled off 13 wins in a row. Just wouldn't lose.

  • 13:34:59

    THOMASWhen they needed every single game they were fighting. First it was a three-way race between Ty Cobb's Tigers and the Yankees and the Senators. And then the Tigers dropped out and it was the Yankees and the Senators down to the second to the last game of the year. And the excitement was, you know, as exciting as it is right now, you can imagine. Because in the 40-some histories of Washington baseball nothing like that had ever happened. And just the idea that they might get into a World Series had the town in a frenzy.

  • 13:35:33

    NNAMDIWell, they got in the World Series facing the New York Giants who were there for the fourth straight year, spent more money, had more star players than the Nationals did. How did the Series play out?

  • 13:35:45

    THOMASWell, the 1924 World Series is on a very short list of the great World Series of all time. The drama, I believe, is unmatched -- pardon me -- in the history of the game because of the David and Goliath factor. You've got this Giants team -- almost the entire starting position players on the Giants is in the Baseball Hall of Fame today. And they had -- John McGraw was their manager. He's generally considered the greatest manager of all time. As you mentioned, they had won four -- this was their fourth National League pennant in a row. They were a juggernaut.

  • 13:36:25

    THOMASAnd on the other side you've got the Senators who came out of nowhere. Nobody expected them to be in the World Series. They're up against this fabulous team. You know, what kind of chance are they going to have? So you had that going in plus you had the setting. You've got the first game in Washington with the president. Anybody in official Washington, congress, Supreme Court that could get a ticket was there. Everybody was there.

  • 13:36:50

    THOMASAnd as it turned out the seventh game was also there before the president and all these dignitaries. So just the drama and the setting was guaranteed to make it exciting...

  • 13:37:02

    NNAMDIGame gets tied up in the 9th inning, seventh game and they bring in Walter Johnson.

  • 13:37:10

    THOMASThey bring in Walter Johnson, which nobody expected because in the fifth game just two days earlier they played seven games in seven days. They'd take the train up back and forth, no days in between. Two days earlier with one game in between, he got pounded up in the polo grounds. And he gave up -- there's still records for hits in a World Series game. And nobody expected him to pitch. And he was done for the Series. But they came back and won the sixth game to tie the Series.

  • 13:37:43

    THOMASThen in the seventh game, which a lot of people, not just myself because this is my grandfather that ended up winning it for them, but a lot of people considered that seventh game of the 1924 World Series as the single greatest most dramatic game in the history of baseball. Game's tied at the end of eight innings 3 to 3. They had played seven games in seven days. Bucky Harris the Boy Wonder, manager of the Senators is totally out of pitchers. His pitching staff is shot, but he's got Walter Johnson sitting there in the bullpen and he waves him in. And he handed the ball to Walter Johnson and he said, Walter, this is your game, meaning you're pitching until the game's over.

  • 13:38:29

    NNAMDIAnd Walter Johnson pitches four innings of shutout baseball. The Nats win in the 13th inning on a ground ball that hits off a rock and goes over the third baseman's head. Pandemonium.

  • 13:38:44

    THOMASTotal pandemonium. The next day the headline in the Post -- the Washington post next day a headline that, you know, they'd use -- you'd use for wars or earthquakes said, Nationals win World Series 4 to 3, city in carnival celebrates.

  • 13:39:02

    NNAMDIAn unbelievable moment. Before you go, Bill Stetka, I want to go to the phones because Tim in Alexandria, Va. has something for us about the Orioles. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:15

    TIMYes. Hello. Thank you. Actually it's about the St. Louis Browns. I had heard a story a few years ago that they were going to move in 1941. But the announcement was supposed to happen on December 8 and I think we all remember what happened on December 7.

  • 13:39:33

    NNAMDICorrect.

  • 13:39:34

    TIMSo they never announced that they were intending to move to Los Angeles. So if that move had happened I guess the Orioles would've had to become, you know, had to have gotten another franchise or an expansion team...

  • 13:39:47

    NNAMDIYou ever heard that story, Bill Stetka?

  • 13:39:50

    STETKAI haven't heard of 1941. I do know that there were plans and there were votes in process as early as 1951 and '52 for the Browns to move to Los Angeles. Even in'53, prior to the Orioles getting the vote from the other owners, they were -- it appeared that they were headed to Los Angeles. The problem was that the owners didn't want only one team on the West Coast because of the travel and, you know, having another team to pair up to play out there.

  • 13:40:31

    STETKASo when the vote didn't materialize for Los Angeles, it took several more votes, but finally Baltimore was awarded the franchise. I had never heard of the 1941 story, but I do know that at least 10 years later and for the next couple seasons that Los Angeles was in play for the St. Louis franchise.

  • 13:40:51

    NNAMDIBill, before we let you go, the Orioles haven't won their division since 1997. After so many years of struggle, what does it mean for you and other fans to see the team have a year like this one?

  • 13:41:02

    STETKAWell, I think this was -- this year kind of -- I think we all felt like we had the capability of, you know, playing for the division. I don't think we -- I don't think anyone could have imagined winning it so handily, especially in the face of injuries. The Manny Machado and Matt Wieters -- or, you know, early in the season. But it's certainly -- the kind of turnaround came in 2011, at the end of the 11th season. Buck Showalter's done a magnificent job and many have compared him to Earl Weaver, in fact, with job he's done and some of his bearing in the present -- in the clubhouse and the dugout.

  • 13:41:43

    STETKASo it's just been wonderful. We're excited for, you know, for Baltimore. Also for Washington, I mean, I think it's great for the whole region. I can't imagine what tickets would be like on the scalping market if the Orioles and the Nationals make it to the World Series. But we're just hopeful on both ends that we can make it happen.

  • 13:42:06

    NNAMDILet's see if it does. We're going to take a short break. Bill Stetka is director of alumni affairs with the Baltimore Orioles. Bill, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:42:13

    STETKAThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 13:42:15

    NNAMDIWhen we come back we'll continue our conversation with Fred Frommer and Hank Thomas. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How did you feel when the Nats moved back to D.C.? In what ways was -- has having a baseball team again changed Washington? What do you think of Nats' part? Did you support moving the team from RFK to the Navy Yard? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:44:30

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're exploring local baseball history with the playoffs coming up. We're talking with Fred Frommer. He's author of "You've Got to Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball From 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions." And Hank Thomas. He is author of "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train." He's also a grandson of the Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Walter Johnson.

  • 13:44:51

    NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org. What are your thoughts on the Nats' and the Orioles' fan bases? Why did you choose to root for your team? 800-433-8850. Hank, you grew up in Washington in the 1950s. What did -- what was it like being a National -- Senators fan back then?

  • 13:45:12

    THOMASWell, it wasn't easy. My formative years as a fan -- the team finished last every year, actually last every year starting in 1957. I was 11. I started taking the streetcar down to the ballpark. That really ages me. And, you know, makes -- talk 1859, it sounds like that when I say streetcar. But, you know, we didn't care. We had our heroes and we had a beautiful little ballpark, Griffith Stadium, which was a wonderful little venue.

  • 13:45:49

    THOMASA great place to watch a game and to be at a game. And we would load our pockets with a couple dollars and go down there and spend the day. Double-headers were the best. So I have nothing but absolutely wonderful memories of that. But looking back, you know, it would have been nice if the teams had done a little better.

  • 13:46:10

    NNAMDIDo you do like some of the Wizards fans do in their losing years, sometimes go to see the opposing team?

  • 13:46:17

    THOMASWell, no. I don't think so specifically that we would target another visiting team, but it was always great when the Yankees were in town with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford or the Red Sox with Ted Williams or other great players. That was -- but we had great players, too. We had Harmon Killebrew and Roy Sievers and Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos. So it wasn't like -- and eventually that team got very good. My team got very good. Unfortunately, they then…

  • 13:46:47

    NNAMDIFlown the coop.

  • 13:46:48

    THOMASFlown the coop. And that was that.

  • 13:46:49

    NNAMDIToday the team plays at Nats Park in the Navy Yard. Before they moved there they were at RFK, but there was a stadium even before RFK. What was that stadium like and how was the ballpark experience then?

  • 13:47:02

    THOMASWell, it was a little band box of a ballpark. Griffith Stadium is what they called it. And it was…

  • 13:47:10

    NNAMDIRight there on the corner of -- what -- Florida and 7th?

  • 13:47:13

    THOMASFlorida, 7th, Georgia Avenue, it's right there.

  • 13:47:15

    NNAMDIRight where the Howard University Hospital is now.

  • 13:47:16

    THOMASYeah, Howard University Hospital is on the grounds entirely of the old Griffith Stadium. And it was easy to get to. You know, the neighbors were friendly. You could buy peanuts outside the ballpark. And it was a wonderful. I don't ever remember having any kind of bad experience. RFK, D.C. Stadium at the time, that made it a little different, harder to get to, you had to have a car. I wasn't old enough to have a car. So -- plus the teams -- the tragedy of losing that -- what turned out to be a very good team and won a pennant and division titles in Minnesota.

  • 13:47:59

    THOMASAnd then having that be replaced by a very bad expansion team -- so all of a sudden, here I go again and the team finishes last three more years in a row. So I actually, you know, plus I'm getting older. I've got other interests. Lost a little bit of my affection for the game.

  • 13:48:15

    NNAMDIRegained now, though. Fred, before baseball…

  • 13:48:17

    THOMASAbsolutely.

  • 13:48:18

    NNAMDI…became integrate, black players also had to play in the Negro Leagues. D.C. also had a team of all black players. Who might have had more success than the Nationals did if they had the chance? What was the scene like for Negro League games in D.C.?

  • 13:48:32

    FROMMERIt was very exciting. There was a team called the Homestead Grays, technically based out of Homestead, Pa. But they would split their games between the two cities and eventually played almost all their games in Washington at Griffith Stadium, as a tenant of the Washington Senators. And they were a far better team than the Senators for most of those years. Perennial pennant winners in the Negro National League, had two great players named Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, who were known as the black Babe Ruth and black Lou Gehrig of their time.

  • 13:49:01

    FROMMERAnd they were just amazing. And Clark Griffith, the Senators' owner was pressured, actually, to sign these guys before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and had a meeting with both of them. And he said, you know, "What do you think about the pressure? Do you think you guys should be in the major leagues?" And, you know, they said they'd let other people make that case for them. But I think the meeting was really all for show. He didn't make the move, obviously. And, in fact, the Senators were one of the last teams to wind up integrating, well into the 1950s.

  • 13:49:30

    NNAMDIBut those games used to be crowded when the Negro leagues were playing there in those days. You see pictures. People got really dressed up to go to those games. They'd be wearing their Sunday best and that stadium, Griffith Stadium, would be full on those days.

  • 13:49:44

    FROMMERRight. And sometimes even bigger marquee games, where you'd have -- there was a game where the Dizzy Dean All-Stars, headlined by the former St. Louis Cardinal great Dizzy Dean would come to town. And it would be a team of white players playing against a Negro league team. And usually the Negro team would win that game. It was a lot of excitement, both for the Negro games and the interracial games that were played there.

  • 13:50:04

    NNAMDIHere is Walcott, in Wheaton, Md. Walcott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:50:09

    WALCOTTThank you, Kojo. I'd just like to say I picked up a copy of Mr. Thomas' biography of his grandfather the other day. And it's a -- just a wonderful, wonderful read. And I encourage anybody interested in the history of the Senators, the Nationals to pick up a copy.

  • 13:50:27

    THOMASThat's my agent.

  • 13:50:30

    NNAMDIWalcott, thank you very much for your call.

  • 13:50:31

    FROMMERSure thing.

  • 13:50:33

    NNAMDIHank, as a baseball fan in the '60s and the '70s, you saw the team get ripped away from D.C., not once, but twice. How did that happen?

  • 13:50:40

    THOMASOh, boy. Well, I'm not going to go into the individual circumstances. Each case was different. Part of it, it is tied in with the city's history. And in the case of the first team leaving, some unfortunate history where, you know, there was what they called white flight taking place in sections of the city. And, you know, the theory of the owner of the Senators, Calvin Griffith, who had inherited the team from Clark Griffith, was -- now, I mean, you have to laugh when you hear this, you know.

  • 13:51:26

    THOMASThat because they didn't get a lot of black fans at Griffith Stadium for the Senators' games, here's the theory, is that, oh, well, I guess black people really aren't, you know, real baseball fans, you know. They're more basketball. Well, you know, how about putting some good black players on your team? How about giving them something to go root for and then maybe you'll get some black fans. But anyway, as ridiculous as that sounds, that was his theory. And he got a big offer for the first time that they expanded after 50 years, they expanded the American league, he got a big time offer, which basically guaranteed that he would become wealthy.

  • 13:52:05

    THOMASAnd he thought the future in D.C. was bleak for a baseball team. So he bailed out and they gave the town an expansion team. And that team just never did well because they were burdened with the pick of the worst players of the other teams and they didn't finish well. And if you don't, you know, do well, you're not going to draw fans. And so that team bolted, too, in '71.

  • 13:52:33

    NNAMDIFast-forward to the late '90s, early 2000s, Baltimore Orioles are in a terrible stretch after being very good for decades. Many people in D.C. are trying to get a baseball team back to the area. How did this process happen? You were on the committee with Mayor Williams to try to make it happen.

  • 13:52:50

    THOMASYes. There was a bunch of us. And I'm going to give Tony Williams -- he does not get enough credit. He is the man that got baseball back to D.C. Let there be no question about it. But being, you know, the kind of person he is, modest and unassuming, he would never, you know, try to grab credit. But he's the guy. I was there. I saw it firsthand. He put together a committee out of his office to try to make that happen. And by, God, they did. And I went to a lot of -- there was a lot of other people -- Chuck Hinton, Fred Valentine, old ball players I'm sure you know Chuck very well.

  • 13:53:26

    NNAMDISure.

  • 13:53:26

    THOMASA wonderful guy. And other people. And we would go to these rallies and we would try to explain to people -- and there was always protestors, a lot of them, you know, making the case that, well, you know, this money that you're going to go to subsidize the ballpark, you know, gosh, there's schools and there's roads and there's so many needs and this and that. And, you know, to try to explain to them, you know, what baseball coming back would do for the city was sometimes very difficult. And -- but we persisted and the mayor persisted. And, by golly, I was there when the announcement was made. And it couldn't have been more exciting.

  • 13:54:06

    NNAMDIFred, when the Nationals came back they had one good year, then a bunch of really bad ones in a row. Now, they're one of the best teams in baseball, having won their division two of last three years. What was the strategy to get to this point?

  • 13:54:19

    FROMMERWell, part of the strategy was not really intentional. I mean, they were really bad, so they were so bad that they got really two great players in the draft, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. But that's not giving them enough credit. I mean, they wanted to rebuild from the bottom up, through the farm system and with a few complimentary players in the free agent market, like Jayson Werth. And you see this team -- it's interesting.

  • 13:54:41

    FROMMERYou know they have a couple of players that probably could be superstars, like Harper and Strasburg, but this season I wouldn't say any of them were really superstars. It was a very evenly balanced team, a very, very deep lineup. Maybe even a deeper pitching rotation. In fact, you have a problem, like who do you even sit in the pitching rotation? Because you only need four pitchers instead of five. But all five pitchers were very good this year.

  • 13:55:04

    FROMMERSo it's really kind of like taking the long haul, not looking for instant gratification. And I think you can get away with that a little better in a city like Washington than in New York, where you have to win today. And it's harder to build a team that way.

  • 13:55:16

    NNAMDIHere is Phil, in Baltimore, Md. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:21

    PHILOh, well, this is an honor. I love your show. I -- it's one of the best things about Washington. I grew up around Washington. And I went -- I didn't go very often because we didn't have a lot of money. We lived out by -- in Berwyn, which is part of College Park. But I remember going and I remember people like Eddie Yost and Mickey Vernon and listening to it. I went a couple of times to Griffith Stadium.

  • 13:55:47

    PHILAnd, of course, then the Orioles -- the Senators got told, let's mix (unintelligible), Clark Griffith was a racist, in terms of how he looked at the world and cost Washington a lot. But then…

  • 13:56:03

    THOMASCalvin Griffith.

  • 13:56:04

    PHIL…of course the second team came back. And I was very -- again, I followed them. Even though at that time I was away in school and so forth. When they sold them the second time I swore off of baseball. I wouldn't look at the sports page. I wouldn't listen to anything. And then I got -- I moved back to Baltimore and in '79 we were here. I didn't even know the Orioles were in a World Series. I would not have anything to do with baseball. And it only changed when my son was about eight years old. He wanted to go to baseball games and we started going to Orioles games. And it was great. Of course we had some, you know, great teams…

  • 13:56:45

    NNAMDISo now which team do you root for?

  • 13:56:50

    PHILOh, well, I root for the Orioles, but I am happy to see Washington -- and I think, obviously, a Beltway series would be unbelievable. I don't know if I could get a ticket, but that would be great.

  • 13:57:05

    NNAMDIWell, the mayor says the Beltway doesn't connect the two cities. It would have to be a Parkway series. But we can argue about that forever. This, in the final analysis, Hank Thomas, seems to be good for both areas, for the entire region.

  • 13:57:18

    THOMASOh, just -- and it's just getting started. Oh, the next couple of weeks are going to just be so exciting. And wouldn't it be something if they met in the World Series.

  • 13:57:26

    NNAMDIOh, God, only to hope for. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Hank Thomas is author of "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train." He's the grandson of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Walter Johnson. Fred Frommer is author of "You've Got to Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball From 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions." Fred is giving a talk on D.C. baseball history with former Senators' public address announcer this Friday, at noon, at the National Archives' McGowan Theater on 7th Street and Constitution Avenue. Fred Frommer, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:55

    FROMMERThank you. I enjoyed it.

  • 13:57:56

    NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein, and Andrew Katz-Moses. Brendan Sweeney is the managing producer. Our engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is back on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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