At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

TED, NATS & RANGERS NOT SHORT ON HISTORY

Posted by athomeatfenway on July 15, 2012

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July 21 is a special date in Baseball history.  Some good things happened.  The Braves clinched a pennant in 1958.  Vida Blue tossed a no-no in 1971.

And some bad things happened, too. 

On Sept. 21, 1958, Ted Williams hit Joe Cronin’s housekeeper in the face with his bat after angrily flinging it into the stands.

Temperamental Ted added a chapter to his stormy career that day.  He struck out looking in the 3rd inning and whipped the bat 75 feet, giving Gladys Heffernan a left eye contusion, according to the NY Times.

Gladys immediately said she knew that Ted did not mean to do it.

Williams apologized profusely and squarely accepted the blame.  He visited Gladys in the 5th inning.  He pulled himself together and doubled in a run in the 6th.  Still, the incident added to Ted’s legacy of self-absorption and anger.

Ted’s behavior aside, July 21 is a day upon which another bad thing occurred, the very worst thing possible.  It happened to the Washington Senators & their fans.  And Ted was involved in that, too.

It was the day that Washington lost its baseball team. 

Shelby Whitfield’s 1973 book, Kiss it Goodbye, details how a trucking millionaire from greater Minneapolis sold a community of baseball fans down the river for some gold.  And not for the first time, either.

Ted Williams was the Manager of the Senators, having been recruited out of retirement by team owner Bob Short for the 1969 season.  This immediately worked out swell.  Ted won AL Manager of the Year in ’69.  His hitting techniques, his effusive support for all, and his intentional distancing of himself from the coaching of the pitching staff resulted in a sea change for the Senators.  They went from 65 – 96 WL in 1968 to 86 – 76 in 1969.  The Nats’ team BA jumped 27 points.

Unfortunately, Bob Short’s secret agenda was to move the Senators to Texas within 3 years, before the 1972 campaign, and end 71 years of baseball in the Nation’s Capital.  Hiring Ted was part of his plan.  With Ted as his field Manager, he not only had a keen baseball mind in the game, he also had a man who would call Tom Yawkey to ask for his support when the AL owners would vote to approve the Senators move to Texas.

Short purchased the Nats for $9 million.  He increased ticket prices by 125%.  He stopped donating tickets to kids and wounded servicemen.  He traded away his best young talent for has-beens with injuries or declining skills.  He signed faded stars.  After the resurgence of 1969, his player personnel moves sank the team back to the bottom of the AL East.

All the while Short complained about how much money he was losing because D.C. was a lousy baseball town.  He built his case for 3 years and forced a vote to approve the move.

In the weeks before the decisive owners’ meeting the outcome was in doubt.  A three-quarter majority vote among 12 voting teams was required.  The Orioles, Angels, Athletics and White Sox opposed the move.  The rest had their reasons for supporting it.  Cal Griffith of the Twins was a Yes because Short’s departure would make his own 1961 abandonment of D.C. seem more acceptable.  The Detroit Tigers had been bribed by Short’s sending of Joe Coleman, Aurelio Rodriguez and Eddie Brinkman in one-sided trades. New York, Kansas City and Cleveland owners were in the Yes column because they, too, were threatening to leave their homes for more lucrative pastures. Milwaukee was supportive because Short had supported them when they wanted to leave Seattle in 1970.  Counting Short’s vote, that made it 7 – 4 in favor, with Boston in play. 

In the days before the vote, writes Whitfield, Williams called Yawkey on Short’s behalf and secured his support.  That made it 8 – 4.

On Sept. 21, the AL owners met at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel in Boston to vote on whether Short could move.  Yawkey was in the bag.  Gene Autrey, lying in a hospital bed across Beantown, was persuaded to back Short, too.   The final vote came down 9 – 3.  Bowie Kuhn was soon advised not to overturn the vote.  He certainly could have blocked the move.  He was concerned he would lose support and his job in the long run.

Near the end of 1971, Short accepted a $7.5 Million payday from the City of Arlington, Texas.  Then, in 1973, Short sold 86% of the Rangers to Brad Corbett for $8.3 million.  It is safe to assume Short pocketed several millions in profits in the process by selling food and broadcasting rights in 1972, and his 14% ownership stake.

It was a premeditated shakedown.  Buy a team, cut salaries, cut staff and other operating costs, double ticket prices, stop paying rent & phone, stop paying vendors, complain about lack of fan support, and accept money to move the team to a new market in which you can reap millions through the sale of new media rights.  Bingo.

Whitfield does a great job explaining the progression of Short’s plan and he fills it with lots of colorful misbehavior by Short, Ted, Denny McLain and others.  Whitfield also devotes a chapter to The Gentle Giant, Frank Howard, so this book is not all about exposing dirty laundry.

The 40th anniversary of the vote to leave Washington will be on Sept. 21, just 62 days from today.  

33 painful years with no major league baseball followed that vote until the Expos decamped for D.C. in 2004, becoming the Nationals.

And 40 years have passed since the Rangers began play in Texas.

Are the Baseball Gods lining up a mystical World Series in 2012 between the Rangers and the Nationals, two teams related illegitimately by bribery and greed in a shady corner of baseball’s family tree?

I would love to see it.

Go Sox.

BULLPEN:

Here are a few nuggets about other events that went down on September 21 in BB history.

In 1916, rookie Tris Speaker went 4-for-6, helping the Indians down Walter Johnson and the Nats, 3 – 2.

In 1901, the Senators and Indians combined for a total of 22 errors in one game.

In 1907, Fred “Boner” Merkle made his first appearance in a NY Giant uniform.

In 1966, just 440 fans saw the Cubs beat the Reds at Wrigley.

In 1971, Dave McNally shuts out the Yankees for his 20th win.  4 O’s starters won 20 that year.

In 1963, Yogi Berra hit his 358th and last HR.

In 1958, The Braves clinched the pennant in Milwaukee.  The same date that Ted hit Gladys.  🙂

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