“The universe [is] on a plan [of] profound symmetry” (Paul Valery)
In 1924, the Washington Senators of the American League played in their first World Series in franchise history. The previous 23 seasons, Washington had finished over .500 just five times, and in the bottom two slots of the then eight-team AL eleven times. In 1904 alone, they clocked in at 38-113 (.252 winning percentage).
In ’24, however, Washington rode the bats of Muddy Ruel, Joe Judge, Goose Goslin, Nemo Leibold, & Sam Rice, plus the strong arms of Walter Johnson, George Modridge, Tom Zachary, and Firpo Marberry, to a 92-62 record, clipping the vaunted New York Yankees by one game.
In those halcyon days, no playoffs existed—it was straight to the World Series, where the Senators would meet the premiere team of the National League, John McGraw’s New York Giants. Featuring such stars as Frankie Frisch, Heinie Groh, Hack Wilson, Irish Meusel, & High Pockets Kelly (hand to God his listed name on Baseball-Reference), the Giants were a perennial NL powerhouse.
After five games, McGraw’s Giants had a 3-2 lead over Bucky Harris’ “Nats” (as they were often referred to). But Washington took Game Six to force the final climactic affair.
On Friday, October 10, at 1:00 PM EST in front of 31,667 rabid onlookers packed into Griffith Stadium in D.C., Game Seven commenced. With the Giants holding a 3-1 lead heading into the 8th inning, the Senators staged a ferocious comeback: After loading the bases with two outs, player-manager Harris hit a ground ball to New York 3B Freddie Lindstrom. As legend has it, the ball hit an abnormally large pebble, skipped over Freddie’s head, and just like that it was 3-3.
For the next four innings, Johnson—easily the franchise’s brightest star, a mighty flamethrower who had toiled for years on horrible clubs—was perfect out of the pen. This coming off a campaign that saw him pitch 277.2 innings (20 CG) to the tune of 23-7 and a 2.72 ERA. In the bottom of the 12th, Washington put two men on base with one out. Earl McNeely stepped into the box, another grounder was hit to Lindstrom…and again it took a bad hop, careening away from his glove and allowing Ruel to motor from second to home and score the game (and series) winning run.
Not too long ago, some film footage of that game was found, and it is a sight to behold:
“There’s poetry in nature…a symmetry” (Saffron Kent)
Did that scenario sound vaguely familiar to you? If you watched any of this past week’s World Series, it probably should.
Once again, a reborn Washington franchise—springing from the ashes of the Montreal Expos and this time officially given the Nationals moniker—was playing in their first World Series. Despite enjoying much more regular season success than the old Senators, they had been bounced from the NLDS four times in the past seven seasons.
They were facing the powerhouse Houston Astros of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer fame, not to mention three pitching aces in Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zach Greinke. Down 3-2 after five contests, Washington took Game Six to force a clincher.
Trailing 2-0 heading into the final third of Game Seven, the Nationals rallied in the late innings to take and hold the lead. While the fireball-ing starter—Stephen Strasburg—didn’t come out of the bullpen this time, he was named MVP of the series.
While player names these days aren’t nearly as hilarious and infields seem to be much better manicured, there existed a remarkable symmetry between two Washington World Series victories nearly 100 years apart.
“Symmetry, by surrounding us, makes itself invisible” (Hugh Howey)