Washington Senators: The last game was a riot, a historic broadcast

RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., circa 1969. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., circa 1969. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images) /
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Washington Senators: The Last Game Was a Riot

A week before the game, District of Columbians, to whom the Washington Post sports section was their daily Bible reading, picked up theirs. There was the grand old man of Washington sports journalism, columnist Shirley Povich, castigating the American League’s owners for letting debt-ridden Bob Short buy the Senators in the first place only to kidnap the team to Texas, after swearing to anyone listening that that was the last thing on his mind.

“His fellow club owners let go unrecognized Short’s continual mistakes that got him into the mess that, he says, threatened to bankrupt him,” Povich fumed.

"They paid scant heed to the fact that Short foolishly overborrowed to buy the team and then pleaded poverty, and to the stubborn refusal of this novice club owner to hire a general manager, and his record of wrecking the club with absurd deals . . . [T]he impoverished Senators were the only team in the league billed for the owner’s private jet, with co-pilots. The owners had ears only for his complaint that he couldn’t operate profitably in Washington. They showed utterly no concern for the Washington fans, who were asked to support last—place teams by paying the highest prices in the league, a little matter Short arranged by trading away his infield and boosting the ticket prices far beyond those of the Baltimore Orioles, who were playing the best baseball in the league only forty miles away."

Povich exaggerated only slightly. The Second Nats (the originals, of course, moved to Minnesota after 1960, prompting the expansion Senators creation in the first place) actually hung in the 1969 pennant race before finishing fourth in the brand-new American League East. (“Teddy Ballgame of the MFL,” crowed Jim Bouton in Ball Four, referring to Ted Williams, the Hall of Famer now managing the Senators, “was named Manager of the Year.”) They finished rock bottom in 1970 but fifth in 1971.

The ancient image (Washington–First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League) wasn’t always true.

A too-heavily-leveraged Short refused to sell the team even to local buyers unless they were willing to pay him a few million more than the franchise’s actual value. Povich compared that demand to that of the guy who bought and abused a $9,000 car (in 1971, nine large got you a fully-stuffed Cadillac Sedan de Ville), spent $3,000 to fix it up, and proclaimed his car was worth twelve grand.

Short met with his fellow owners earlier in 1971 and one and all agreed something must be done about the Washington situation. That was the public story.