The National Base Ball Club
Baseball fever officially hit Washington in 1859. As the nation stood on the brink of civil war, a small group of federal workers founded the Washington Base Ball Club and its team the Washington Nationals. Initially, they honed their skills by competing with local teams. After the war, they faced more formidable rivals from New York and Philadelphia. By the 1867 season, after luring a few of baseball’s greatest talents onto the team, they launched a twenty-day, ten-stop “grand western tour” that was covered by baseball journalist Henry Chadwick. In the heat of that summer, the Nat’s bats were on fire as they went on to win nine out of ten matchups, outscoring their opponents 735 to 146. Only the Forest City team from Rockford, Illinois, led by seventeen-year old ace pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding, claimed the lone victory. The cover illustration depicts a loose interpretation of the Massachusetts Game rules for laying out the grounds: a square field and stakes for bases.
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George Barclay “Win” Mercer (1874–1903) was a star pitcher for the Senators from 1894–1899. Known for his good looks, he was a fan favorite, especially with the women. Capitalizing on that popularity, the coach chose to pitch Mercer on Tuesdays and Fridays, which were designated “Ladies Days.”
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1924 World Series
“Our Old Home Team,” composed in 1924 to celebrate Washington’s World Series champions, was dedicated to pitching ace Walter “Big Train” Johnson (1887–1946) whose sizzling fastball may have topped 100 mph. Johnson was one of the first five players ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Babe Ruth (1895–1948), Ty Cobb (1886–1961), Honus Wagner (1874–1955), and Christy Mathewson (1880–1925).
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“The Big Train”
Shown here, baseball fans President Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou are photographed shaking hands with Walter Johnson at a baseball game in 1931. After playing his full twenty-year pitching career with the Washington Senators, Johnson became a manager in the International League. He then returned to Washington, where he served as the Senators’ manager from 1928–1932, and returned again in 1939 as their broadcaster.
Lou Hoover and Herbert Hoover shaking hands with Walter Johnson at a baseball game. Harris & Ewing, 1931. Digital print from negative. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (010.00.00)
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A Panoramic View
1913 was a very good year for the Washington team with a 94–60 second place standing. Their nucleus was pitcher Walter Johnson (pictured third from the right), who won each category of the pitching grand slam—games won, earned run average, strikeouts, and shutouts. He was voted league Most Valuable Player, in perhaps his best season. This team photograph was made with a Cirkut camera, which rotates on a special tripod while exposing a narrow slit of film. This makes it possible for someone to appear in the picture twice, as player Germany Schaefer proved by posing on one end and running to the other end in time to be photographed there as well.
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“Hail to the Senators”
The Washington Senators failed to rise in the standings between 1934 and 1954 with two exceptions—they were pennant contenders in both 1943 and 1945. “Hail to the Senators” was composed for the 1943 pennant race.
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The Music Man of Washington
Accordionist Mervin Conn served as the official music man of the Washington Senator’s team from 1964 to 1969. He composed this song during his first season. Conn came with his accordion to the “opening day” of the Library’s 1991 exhibition Take Me Out to the Ball Game: A Celebration of Baseball in Song. He played his Senators song, as well as his own arrangement of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” One observer noted that there was “absolute happiness on that man’s face” as he played at the Library of Congress.
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