Welcome to the next installment of the 2015 Minor League report, courtesy of the Nationals Baseball Communications department. All the information below reflects games played from the start of the season through yesterday (May 12).
Here are a few highlights:
WILMER DIFO – INF – HARRISBURG SENATORS
INF Wilmer Difo was promoted from Single-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg on May 1…In nine games with the Senators, Difo is hitting .344 (11-for-32) with seven doubles, one triple, three RBI, one walk, three stolen bases and seven runs scored…He has hit safely in seven of the nine games…In 28 games between Harrisburg and Single-A Potomac, Difo is hitting an organizational-best .327 with 14 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 17 RBI, nine walks, seven stolen bases and 20 runs scored…His 14 doubles are tied for second most in all of Minor League Baseball…For his efforts during the month of April (.320, 7 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 8 BB, 4 SB, 13 R), Difo was named Organizational Player of the Month for Single-A Potomac…Difo, 23, was signed as a non-drafted free agent, June 3, 2010…He entered 2015 ranked as the No. 7 prospect in Washington’s chain, per Baseball America.
SYRACUSE CHIEFS (AAA – International League)
Overall Record: 14-18
Standing – Games Back: 5th place, -5.5, International League North
Period Record: 8-5
HOT STREAK: 3B Ian Stewart leads Nationals farmhands and is tied for the International League lead with six home runs…His 19 RBI are tied for most in the Nationals’ organization and tied for fifth in the International League…On May 8 vs. Durham (TBR), Stewart clubbed two home runs the Chiefs’ 7-6 loss to the Bulls…Since that day, Stewart is hitting .286 (6-for-21) with three home runs, six RBI, one walk and six runs scored.
HARRISBURG SENATORS (AA – Eastern League)
Overall Record: 13-18
Standing – Games Back: 3rd place, -6.5, Eastern League Western
Period Record: 9-11
VOTE FOR PEDRO: After starting the season on an 0-for-22 skid, C Pedro Severino has stayed hot, hitting .377 (23-for-61) with three doubles, two homers, 12 RBI, five walks and nine runs scored in 17 games since April 17…He has hit safely in 13 of those 17 games along the way…His .277 average on the season is tied for eighth among Nationals farmhands.
POTOMAC NATIONALS (Advanced-A – Carolina League)
Overall Record: 14-18
Standing – Games Back: 3rd place, -3.5, Carolina League Northern
Period Record: 5-8
REY OF HOPE: Through two starts, RHP Reynaldo Lopez has yet to allow an earned run in 11.0 IP…He is 2-0 and has fanned nine batters while walking two and surrendering six hits in his first taste of Carolina League action…In his 2015 debut on May 7 at Wilmington (KCR), the 21-year-old Dominican Republic-native allowed two hits while striking out three and walking none in 5.0 innings of work in Potomac’s 2-1 win…He followed that up on May 12 when he struck out six while allowing four hits in 6.0 innings at Wilmington (W2-0)…Lopez entered 2015 rated as the No. 3 prospect in Washington’s system, per Baseball America…He was signed as a non-drafted free agent, June 21, 2012.
HAGERSTOWN SUNS (A – South Atlantic League)
Overall Record: 14-17
Standing – Games Back: T6th place, -8.0, South Atlantic League Northern
Period Record: 5-7
START ME UP: Through six starts, RHP Phillips Valdez is 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA (5 ER/30.0 IP)…His 1.50 ERA ranks second in the organization and third in the South Atlantic League…From April 19-May 1, Valdez went 2-0 and did not allow an earned run in 17.0 IP…He struck out 11 and did not walk a batter during that stretch…Valdez, 23, was singed as a non-drafted free agent, May 30, 2012.
Here is the full Minor League report:
by Amanda Comak
Harper, who is currently leading the National League in home runs (11) and is tied for the Major League lead in walks (27), hit .455 with a .520 on-base percentage and a 1.318 slugging percentage over last week’s six-game stretch. He clubbed six home runs, drove in 13, doubled once and struck out only four times in 25 plate appearances. The Nationals went 5-1 in that span.
Harper began his power surge on Wednesday, hitting three home runs in his first three at-bats, making him just the fourth Nationals (2005-present) player ever to hit three home runs in one game. He joined Alfonso Soriano (April 21, 2006 vs. ATL), Adam Dunn (July 7, 2010 vs. SDP) and Ryan Zimmerman (5/29/13 at BAL) on that list.
But that was just the start of Harper’s hot week. He followed Wednesday’s performance up with a two-homer game on Friday, and a walk-off homer on Saturday (the third walk-off home run of his career), before going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in the Nationals’ sweep-clinching victory over Atlanta on Sunday.
Harper had already made history with five home runs in the span of two games, becoming the youngest player in MLB history to do so, besting Mark McGwire (age 23, June 1987), and the first franchise player (Nationals/Expos) to accomplish that feat as well. But his six home runs and 12 RBI put him in even more elite company. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Harper is only the fifth player in MLB history to hit at least six home runs and drive in 12 or more runs over a span of three games during the near-century for which RBI have been officially compiled (1920-present). The only other players to do so were: Tony Lazzeri (1936), Ralph Kiner (1947), Manny Ramirez (1998) and Shawn Green (2002), but none of those players hit a walk-off home run during their three-game power trip.
Harper, who is 10-for-16 with six home runs and 13 RBI in his last four games, also joined Vladimir Guerrero as the only player in franchise history to produce such gaudy totals in a four-game period. Guerrero, who once went 10-for-15 with six home runs and 14 RBI for the Expos, did it over two seasons, in the final three games of 1999 and the 2000 season opener.
At 22, Harper’s heroics also put him in elite company historically. The only other Major League players to hit at least three walk-off home runs at age 22 or younger are: Frank Robinson, Tommy Davis, Eddie Murray, Juan Gonzalez and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He is also the 10th-youngest player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a game.
This is the first Player of the Week award for Harper, who was twice named Rookie of the Month in 2012, and the 13th such honor for the Nationals organization. He joins Jordan Zimmermann (Sept. 22-28, 2014; June 2-8, 2014), Adam LaRoche (Sept. 1-7, 2014), Jayson Werth (June 30-July 6, 2014), Ryan Zimmerman (July 16-22, 2012; Aug. 15-21, 2011; July 30-Aug. 5, 2007), Stephen Strasburg (June 7-13, 2010), Josh Willingham (July 27-Aug. 2, 2009), Cristian Guzman (Aug. 25-31, 2008), and Nick Johnson (May 31-June 6, 2005) as honorees.
by Mike Feigen
What to Watch for: Philadelphia Phillies (3-6) at Washington Nationals (3-6)
April 16–19, Nationals Park
What a difference a day makes.
The Nationals found an offensive rhythm from the very beginning of their 10-5 victory at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon, tagging Boston starter Wade Miley with two runs in the first inning and six more in the third. Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore belted their first home runs of the year, Bryce Harper doubled in the Nationals’ first run and reached safely three times, while Wilson Ramos cleared the bases with a three-run double during the six-run frame. Starter Gio Gonzalez, rookie Rafael Martin, and closer Drew Storen made the lead stand up, giving the Nationals a happy flight back to D.C. for their seven-game homestand against the Phillies and Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the Phillies come in losers of four straight after winning a pair of games against the Nationals last Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia was swept at Citi Field in New York, mustering just six runs in the three-game series.
Both teams could use a series win to gain their footing in what has started out as a wide-open National League East race. The Braves and Mets are both 6-3 in the early going, while the Nationals, Phillies and Marlins are three games back at 3-6. That said, it may be most important to avoid dropping three of four or getting swept this weekend. Nobody can win a division in April, but they can make it a lot more difficult on themselves with a slow start.
THURSDAY, 7:05: RHP Doug Fister (0-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (0-1, 3.75)
FRIDAY, 7:05: RHP Max Scherzer (0-1, 0.66) vs. RHP Sean O’Sullivan (0-0, 3.00)
SATURDAY, 1:05: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 8.64) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (1-1, 0.73)
SUNDAY, 1:35: RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06) vs. RHP David Buchanan (0-1, 18.00)
Perhaps the top advantage the Phillies have entering the four-game set at Nationals Park is that their ace is on the mound in game one. Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels allowed just one run on two hits against the Nats on April 11, also the last time Philadelphia tasted victory. After that, right-handers Sean O’Sullivan, Aaron Harang and David Buchanan provide their own challenges against the Nats’ right-handed-heavy lineup.
All four of the Nationals starters in the series could lay claim to the individual matchup advantage, though the Phillies are more left-handed dominant at the plate and pose threats of their own. However, Fister and Scherzer allowed just one combined run last Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, while Zimmermann and Strasburg had to face the much more dynamic Boston Red Sox attack.
The Phillies still have many of the dangerous names Nats fans will remember, but they’ve scored the fewest runs in baseball to this point, with 22 tallies through nine games (2.44 per game). Second baseman Chase Utley homered twice off Matt Harvey two days ago, proving he’s still got the bat speed to compete with the National League’s best arms.
After a slow start in which they scored just 17 runs in their first seven games, the Nationals have matched that total in the last 14 innings. Right fielder Jayson Werth has contributed to the resurgence, as he reached safely to help spark the Nats’ six-run innings on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Washington also took a step forward with Michael A. Taylor in the No. 9 spot in the order, as the young center fielder collected two singles, a double, a triple and four runs batted in over the past two games.
The Best of the Rest
The Nationals will feature a new-look bullpen from the one they featured in Philadelphia last weekend. Absent are Craig Stammen (forearm stiffness) and Xavier Cedeño (designated for assignment) and in their place are the right-handed rookie Martin as well as left-hander Felipe Rivero, who was called up prior to Thursday’s game and could make his Major League debut during the series. Martin, 30, was incredible in his Major League debut Wednesday, striking out the final five Red Sox he faced in succession.
by Amanda Comak
by Mike Feigen
What to Watch for: Washington Nationals (2-4) at Boston Red Sox (4-2)
April 13–15, Fenway Park, Boston
The Nationals will look to build on the momentum of their extra-innings victory on Sunday in Philadelphia, as they travel to Boston for the Red Sox’ home-opening series. Washington scored twice in the top of the 10th inning in Sunday’s 4-3 win, capitalizing on doubles from newcomers Yunel Escobar and Clint Robinson, a run-scoring wild pitch and an RBI single by Wilson Ramos.
The Red Sox dropped a 14-4 decision on Sunday Night Baseball in New York against the Yankees, as starter Clay Buchholz was battered for seven runs in the first inning. Despite winning two of three in the Bronx, the Red Sox put a lot of pressure on their bullpen, gutting out a 19-inning win on Friday night and needing 4.2 innings of relief on Sunday as well. Boston does get closer Koji Uehara back, a key ingredient in their World Series run in 2013.
With just 13 runs scored in their first six games of the year, the Nationals hope the return of Jayson Werth to the lineup will spark the club. The veteran outfielder has slashed .304/.396/.491 with 41 home runs, 61 doubles and 164 RBI over the past two seasons, highlighting his importance to the lineup. More importantly, an uptick in production will take some of the pressure off the Nationals’ pitching staff, a group that has a stellar 2.32 ERA through the first 54.1 innings of the season.
The two teams don’t have much history, but the Nationals swept the Sox behind strong starting performances by Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in June of 2012 — who happen to be the Nats’ starters the next three days.
MONDAY, 3:05: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.50) at RHP Rick Porcello (0-1, 4.50)
TUESDAY, 6:10: RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06) at RHP Justin Masterson (1-0, 3.00)
WEDNESDAY, 1:35: LHP Gio Gonzalez (0-1, 4.26) at LHP Wade Miley (0-0, 3.38)
The Nationals hope to get off to a strong start in the series behind the right arm of Jordan Zimmermann, a pitcher who hasn’t suffered a loss over his last 12 starts dating back to July 28, 2014. They will then give the ball to Stephen Strasburg, who took the loss against the Mets this past Wednesday, and Gio Gonzalez, who took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning on Friday in Philadelphia.
Boston will counter with a pair of sinkerball specialists in the first two contests, as they hope to keep the Nationals’ powerful bats from clearing the Green Monster. The Nationals have five home runs in their first six games, though all have been solo shots. Wade Miley will pitch game three of the series, a pitcher the Nats have faced five times in the past four seasons when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ryan Zimmerman is 4-for-7 with three doubles and a pair of walks against the quick-working southpaw.
Boston’s attack features two new stars in the heart of the order, both of whom have worn out Washington pitching over the years. Hanley Ramirez, who moved from shortstop to left field this season after joining the team as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers, has hit an incredible .336/.418/.623 with 30 home runs against the Nationals in just 121 career games, while third baseman and former San Francisco Giant Pablo Sandoval has hit .330/.370/.500 against Nats pitchers. Veteran sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli are off to slow starts for the Red Sox, hitting just .130 (3-for-23) and .053 (1-for-19) on the young season.
The Nationals are still without Denard Span and Anthony Rendon at the top of the order, but Werth’s return could be a huge boost to the rest of the lineup. Escobar has been a pleasant surprise in the No. 2 spot thus far, hitting .304/.385/.391 with three walks and no strikeouts through the first six games of the season, while Robinson has four hits in 10 at-bats and could see time in the outfield or at designated hitter during the series.
Right fielder Bryce Harper has two home runs and a .346 on-base percentage on the young season, but hopes to see more RBI opportunities with the lineup becoming healthier.
The Best of the Rest
With Werth returning to the team today, Tyler Moore slides out of the regular lineup with Matt den Dekker joining Triple-A Syracuse. Moore is 0-for-12 on the year so far, but could regain his form in a familiar bench role. Left-hander Matt Thornton, who won a ring with the Red Sox in 2013, has yet to allow a run in 20 appearances in a Washington uniform. Former MVP Dustin Pedroia remains one of the toughest outs in the game, but has been quiet since homering twice against Cole Hamels on Opening Day.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals’ lineup got one of its biggest bats back on Monday as outfielder Jayson Werth was returned from rehab and reinstated from the 15-day disabled list, and outfielder Matt den Dekker was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
Werth, 35, returns to the Nationals’ active roster after missing the first six games of the 2015 season following offseason (January 9) surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder. On a three-game rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac, Werth was 1-for-6 with three walks and one home run.
A career .276 hitter with a .370 on-base percentage, Werth has hit .282 with a .375 on-base percentage and a .452 slugging percentage in his first four seasons with the Nationals (507 games). Since arriving in the District in 2011, Werth has hit 108 doubles, five triples and 66 home runs. He has driven in 253 runs, stolen 46 bases and been caught stealing just seven times.
The veteran outfielder will transition his primary defensive position from right field to left field this season with Bryce Harper taking over in right.
den Dekker, 27, appeared in four games for the Nationals off the bench. He was 0-for-2 at the plate. den Dekker was acquired from the New York Mets on March 30 in exchange for left-handed pitcher Jerry Blevins.
The Washington Nationals broadcast partners, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and 106.7 The Fan, will broadcast a total of 14 Nationals Spring Training games throughout the weeks leading up to the start of the 2015 regular season.
The Nationals 2015 Grapefruit League schedule features seven games televised by MASN and a combined 10 games airing on 106.7 The Fan, and partner station CBS Sports Radio 1580 AM.
Here’s the full broadcast schedule:
NATIONALS 2015 SPRING TRAINING BROADCAST SCHEDULE*
|3/7||vs. STL||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||MASN / 1580AM|
|3/8||@ NYY||1:05 p.m.||Tampa, FL||106.7 The Fan|
|3/9||vs. ATL||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||MASN|
|3/10||@ MIA||1:05 p.m.||Jupiter, FL||1580AM|
|3/11||vs. DET||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||MASN|
|3/16||vs. HOU||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||MASN|
|3/19||vs. DET||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||1580 AM|
|3/21||vs. MIA||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||1580AM|
|3/22||@ DET||1:05 p.m.||Lakeland, FL||1580AM|
|3/23||vs. NYY||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||MASN / 1580AM|
|3/25||@STL||1:05 p.m.||Jupiter, FL||1580AM|
|3/26||vs. NYM||5:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||MASN|
|3/27||vs. STL||1:05 p.m.||VIERA, FL||1580AM|
|4/4||vs. NYY||1:05 p.m.||WASHINGTON, DC||MASN/ 106.7 The Fan|
* Subject to change
Today was the day of the first full-squad workout for the 2015 Washington Nationals. Instead of rain, which was forecast throughout the Space Coast, there was excitement in the air. From bunt plays, to infield work to outfield drills to batting practice, this was the first day all 60 players in Major League camp got to work together, with their collective eyes on a single goal.
Manager Matt Williams addressed the entire group, (players, coaches, training staff, medical staff, clubhouse staff and front office staff) Thursday morning prior to the workout. He delivered a powerful message about “staying with the process” and let them know that “everything we do here has a purpose.” From there, it was time to go to work.
News of the Day:
Yunel Escobar took the field Thursday morning and instead of going to shortstop, where he’s played the majority of his career, Escobar went right to second base. This spring, the 32-year-old native of La Habana, Cuba will be given a crash course in the fundamentals of playing the position.
Escobar manned second base during the team bunt defense drills before taking full infield work with the rest of the team’s infielders, and batting practice. Following organized workouts, Escobar worked with Williams, shortstop Ian Desmond, and Defensive Coordinator/Advance Coach Mark Weidemaier, who is fluent in Spanish, on basic fundamentals of playing the position.
“What I saw is a guy who certainly has skill and that can play anywhere on the diamond if he wanted to,” Williams said. “Beyond that, what I saw was a guy who came in and asked for some extra work after practice. That’s the most important thing to me. It tells me he will take pride in playing second base and takes pride in his game in general. He wants to work at it. We made an agreement that, barring being sore or going through the ‘Spring Training soreness’ that he would like to do that on an everyday basis. That is a really good sign…If he wants to take grounders at 5 a.m., we’ll be here.”
Images of the Day:
Social Media of the Day:
Quote of the Day:
“Depends on the guy. Depends on the manager. I’ve played for some guys who could set the tone and some who couldn’t it just depends on the guy. I would say our guy can set the tone,” – Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth on Matt Williams’ first address to the team.
I am writing to you from my office at Space Coast Stadium on another picturesque day in Viera. Sorry, I know you’re all facing some pretty tough weather back in D.C. We just wrapped up Day 4 of our Pitchers and Catchers workouts and the full squad is just about complete. The position players will all report by this evening, get their physicals tomorrow, and on Thursday we’ll get them all out on the field together for the first time.
— Spring Training is one of my favorite times of year. It’s always so great to see everyone after the long winter. I truly enjoy hearing what our players did in the offseason, how their families have grown – some got married, or had children – or any of the interesting things they did in the time they were away. It’s a little like the first day of school. But way more fun.
I ran into Ryan Zimmerman in the hall outside the clubhouse just this morning. He looks great and is truly enjoying preparing to be our first baseman.
It’s also always fun to see who has worked hard all winter to grow their hair out – Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond are leading this category right now – or who has been experimenting with a new facial hair look. You’ve all seen Danny Espinosa, right? Yosemite Sam, as we call him — just one of the names they’ve come up with in the clubhouse.
— We’ve now seen the pitchers all go through two rounds of bullpen sessions. And all that’s done for me is solidify how excited I am to see these guys compete this season. To stand in the bullpen and watch Max Scherzer throwing next to Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez throwing next to Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen side-by-side with Matt Thornton – I could go on all day. It’s tantalizing to watch, and to think about what is to come.
It’s also been great to see guys like Dan Uggla and Heath Bell in camp. That these players, with such accomplished resumes, are here in our camp as Non-Roster Invites speaks to our depth. Both players have arrived in tremendous shape – Heath Bell told me he’s lost 40 pounds and participated in two triathlons this winter – and I look forward to seeing what they will do during the Grapefruit League season. You never know how much of an impact their veteran presence can have on a club. We’re happy to welcome them to our team.
— I know I’m not the only one enjoying these workouts. It’s been wonderful to see so many of our fans lining the fences and taking the front-row-seat offered to them at Spring Training. The turnout has been fantastic and there really aren’t many better pro sporting experiences. The access for fans during Spring Training
workouts is really unparalleled. There’s no better opportunity to see these guys up-close-and-personal, and no better opportunity to get that autograph you’ve been seeking. Our guys have been signing each day after the workout. Nothing like the smile on a young fan’s face after they’ve received a prized autograph. There’s still plenty of time to plan a quick trip down here!
— Another part of Spring Training I really enjoy is that it’s a great time for me to catch up on all the movies I’ve missed. I enjoyed watching Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins battle it out on Twitter over their Oscars predictions earlier this week, and I got a chance to see American Sniper myself last night. Bradley Cooper was tremendous. I highly recommend it.
I also want to give a shoutout to our great staff at our complex here at Space Coast Stadium. They do a tremendous job, and we’re very lucky to have such wonderful people working for us and working to make the experience for everyone here so positive.
— We are thrilled that we’ll be welcoming ESPN’s SportsCenter here on Sunday morning, and really looking forward to them broadcasting LIVE from our camp all day. I know how eager our fans back in D.C. are to see these guys and for us to get back up north, so hopefully this will help make a cold Sunday morning that much warmer! Be sure to tune in!
— I want to personally congratulate our manager, Matt Williams, on having his option picked up for the 2016 season. Matt has done a tremendous job thus far and we are honored to have him guiding our players. The pride he takes in playing the game the right way and in helping our players reach their full potential is outstanding. I am really looking forward to watching him as he continues to lead.
Well, that’s about all for now. Don’t forget that single-game tickets are already on sale. While I’m already looking forward to the Grapefruit League opener on March 5, Opening Day will be here before we know it!
Until next time,
Images and content for this spotlight were provided by the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. The exhibition, “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia” provides an overview of the popularity of African American baseball teams played on segregated fields in Washington, D.C., from Reconstruction to the second half of the 20th century.
Baseball: Universal Pastime in D.C.
More than 150 years before the Nationals brought Major League Baseball back to D.C. in 2005, the city was home to a baseball mania comprised of every age, every race and even every government level. From schoolyards to the White House lawn, baseball flourished after the Civil War when thousands of men turned from the battlefield to the baseball field.
While baseball was played by all, the teams were segregated by race. While many white teams had fields, black clubs including the Washington Mutuals and Alert Base Ball Club were left to rely on the generosity of other clubs for the use of their fields and open spaces. As far back as the 1860s, black clubs came and went until the Homestead Grays formally called D.C. home in 1937.
DID YOU KNOW? From 1891 to 1965, Washington’s Griffith Stadium and St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park were the only segregated major league ballparks hosting both black and white ball games.
“Home Away From Home:” Homestead Grays
The Homestead Grays are considered one of the most successful baseball teams to call Washington home, even if they split time between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. While the first incarnation of the Washington Senators were busy giving Washington the distinction of being the “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League East,” the Grays won nine Negro National League titles and two consecutive Colored World Series. The roster featured Hall of Famers James “Cool Papa” Bell, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Jud Wilson. Each of these men is also a member of the Nationals’ Ring of Honor, displayed at Nationals Park.
Although the team was only in D.C. from 1937 until 1948, the team adopted Washington as its “home away from home” and scheduled many of its games at Griffith Stadium. Many historians report that their games often pulled larger crowds than the Senators, especially when the rival — and equally successful — Kansas City Monarchs came to town.
When World War II began to rage in Europe and the Pacific, many ballplayers, Major League and Negro leagues alike, traded in their baseball uniforms for that of the Army, Navy and Marines. The Negro leagues flourished during the war, however, due to the Kansas City Monarchs’ Satchel Paige and the Homestead Grays’ Josh Gibson being considered “4-F,” or unfit for service. Paige’s flat feet and Gibson’s creaky knees may have kept them from serving in the war efforts, but did not tarnish their baseball skills. With more employment opportunities in war-related industries and disposable income, black fans flocked to watch the Negro league stars. The Negro league franchises began bringing in revenues of more than $2 million a year, making them one of the largest black-owned and operated businesses in the country.
Although Jackie Robinson’s success in the Major Leagues in 1947 changed the course of baseball, his success also spelled the end of the Negro leagues. Due to financial difficulties and the collapse of the Negro leagues, the Homestead Grays franchise disbanded after the 1950 season.
DID YOU KNOW? When the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington after the 2004 season, “Grays” was one of the three finalists for the team’s new name along with the “Senators” and ultimately the winner, the “Nationals.”
Grays’ Spotlight: Josh Gibson
Josh Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque states that he is considered the “greatest slugger in Negro Baseball Leagues,” but many feel that he is one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Also known as “The Black Babe Ruth,” the Grays catcher hit for average and power and finished his 17-year career with a .350 batting average. While the final total is unclear, Gibson hit more than 800 homers, taking home nine home run titles and four batting championships along the way. Although Negro league statistics were not well kept, research has said that Gibson had a home run rate of one every 15.9 times at bats. This rate compares to the top nine home run hitters in Major League Baseball history. These didn’t just clear the fence either. Tales of Gibson’s long balls — and where they landed — only add to the myths surrounding this legend.
While he occasionally played against MLB competition, Gibson unfortunately never got a chance to play in a Major League Baseball game. On New Year’s Day 1943, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but refused operations fearing that he would suffer permanent brain damage. He did not reveal his condition to the Homestead Grays and continued to play for the team for four more seasons. Although he suffered from reoccurring headaches, those years were among the best of his career. He won the Negro league home run titles in 1942 and 1943, won the batting title in 1943 with an average of .517, and hit 10 home runs in Griffith’s Stadium in 1943 — more than the entire American League hit in Washington that year. His supreme batting also led the Grays to win the Negro World Series in 1943. In Gibson’s last season, in 1946, he batted .379 and led the league with 16 home runs.
In 1947, at the age of 35, Gibson died of a cerebral hemorrhage. This was just three months before Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s contributions to the game are colossal, but many feel that the honor of breaking the color barrier should have been Gibson’s. But his efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1972, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Gibson, behind Satchel Paige, became the second player inducted for their tremendous Negro league careers.
DID YOU KNOW? Clark Griffith, longtime Senators owner, attempted to sign Gibson and Leonard to play for the Senators in the early 1940s. Baseball officials intervened and forced Griffith to break off contract negotiations. The Senators would not become integrated until seven years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, signing Carlos Paulz in 1954.
Breaking Barriers: Sam Lacy
Before there was television, fans who weren’t in attendance at the games were left to read all about it in the next morning’s newspapers. African American sportswriters not only played an integral role in the success of the Negro leagues, but Samuel Harold “Sam” Lucy wrote continuously about the injustice in segregated D.C. and the Homestead Grays. A Washingtonian and former Howard University student, Lacy covered sports for the Washington Tribune and the Chicago Defender before taking up a post at the Baltimore Afro-American. He constantly pushed for Senators’ owner Clark Griffith to integrate Grays players into Major League Baseball.
Encouraging others to not be satisfied with the segregated game, Lacy challenged racist standards while capturing the stars of the Negro leagues. Appropriately, it was Lacy who followed Jackie Robinson in the early days of integrated Major League Baseball, often sharing a room with the baseball legend.
Although Lacy wrote about African American success stories, he was a success story himself. In 1948, he became the first black member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In 1997, he was awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the BBWAA for outstanding baseball writing, which placed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s writers’ and broadcasters’ section.
DID YOU KNOW? Sam Lacy’s love of sports started at a young age. Early in his life he worked in Griffith Stadium selling peanuts and popcorn in the black seating section of the park.