1000 BALLPARK WAY #400


Posted on January 23, 2019



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When the original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1960 as the Twins, Major League Baseball decided to expand a year earlier than planned to stave off threats of losing its exemption from the Sherman Antitrust Act. At the winter meetings that year, it awarded a new team to Los Angeles (the Angels, now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) as well as a new team in the nation's capital. This new team adopted the old Senators name, but was (and still is) considered an expansion team since the Twins retained the old Senators' records and history. The Senators and Angels began to fill their rosters with American League players in an expansion draft. The team played the 1961 season at old Griffith Stadium before moving to District of Columbia Stadium (now the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium).

For most of their existence, the new Senators were the definition of futility, losing an average of 90 games a season. The team's struggles led to a twist on a joke about the old Senators--"Washington: first in war, first in peace and still last in the American League." Frank Howard, known for his towering home runs, was the team's most accomplished player, winning two home run titles.

Ownership changed hands several times during the franchise's stay in Washington and was often plagued by poor decision-making and planning. Owner Pete Queseda once wondered why he needed to pay players who didn't belong in the majors and later agreed to a 10-year lease at D.C. Stadium—a move that would come back to haunt the Senators. In 1963, Quesada sold his stake in the club and resigned. Washington stockbrokers James Johnson and James Lemon owned the team briefly, suffering massive financial losses. Johnson died in 1967 and Lemon sold the team a year later to hotel and trucking executive Bob Short, who outbid a group headed by Bob Hope. Short named himself general manager and hired Hall of Famer Ted Williams as manager. Although Williams had never coached or managed at any level of baseball, he seemed to light a spark under the once-moribund Senators. Williams kept them in contention for most of the 1969 season; their 86–76 record would be its only winning season in Washington.

President Richard Nixon throwing out the first ball of the Senators' season in April 1969 with manager Ted Williams (left) and owner Bob Short(right, partially obscured by Yankees manager Ralph Houk).

The success was brief, as Short borrowed most of the $9.4 million he had paid for the team. As general manager, Short was forced to make many questionable trades to service the debt and bring in much-needed revenue. As a result, the team rapidly fell back into the American League's cellar. Fans kept their distance from the Senators while the Baltimore Orioles, 45 miles (72 km) to the northeast, won four American League pennants and two World Series from 1966 through 1971. By the end of the 1970 season, Short had issued an ultimatum: unless someone was willing to buy the Senators for $12 million (in comparison, the New York Yankees were sold in 1973 for $8.8 million), he would not renew the stadium lease and move the team elsewhere. At that season's end, Short dealt his best starting pitcher and the left side of his infield to the Detroit Tigers for erstwhile 30-game-winner Denny McLain, who had spent most of the 1970 campaign suspended because of gambling allegations. The deal—alleged by onetime Senators broadcaster Shelby Whitfield to have been made in order to secure the Tigers' vote in favor of the Senators' eventual move to Texas—turned Detroit back into contenders, while McLain was a monumental bust, losing a league-worst 22 games.

Short was especially receptive to an offer from Arlington, Texas mayor Tom Vandergriff, who had been trying to get a Major League team to play in the Metroplex for over a decade. Years earlier, Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Kansas City Athletics, sought to move his team to Dallas, but the idea was rebuffed by the other AL team owners.

Arlington's hole card was Turnpike Stadium, a 10,000-seat park which had been built in 1965 to house the AA Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs of the Texas League. However, it had been built to Major League specifications and also located in a natural bowl, meaning only minor excavations would be necessary to expand the park to accommodate Major League crowds.

After Vandergriff offered a multimillion-dollar down payment, Short decided to make the move to Arlington. On September 21, 1971, by a vote of 10 to 2 (the Orioles' Jerold Hoffberger and John Allyn of the Chicago White Sox registered the dissenting votes), American League owners granted approval to move the franchise to Arlington, Texas for the 1972 season.[1]

Senators fans were livid. Enmity came to a head at the club's last game in Washington. Thousands of fans simply walked in without paying after the security guards left early, swelling the paid attendance of 14,460 to around 25,000, while fans unfurled a banner reading "SHORT STINKS". With the Senators leading 7–5 and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, several hundred youths stormed the field, raiding it for souvenirs. One man grabbed first base and ran off with it. With no security in sight and only three bases, umpire crew chief Jim Honochick forfeited the game to the New York Yankees.[2][3]