Washington Senators (1901-1960)

Washington Senators (1901-1960)

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Washington Senators (1901-1960)

Washington Senators (1901-1960)

The team was founded in Kansas City in 1894 as a Western League team and would move to Washington, D.C., in 1901 as one of the eight original teams of the American League, named the Washington Senators or Washington Nationals. Although the Washington team endured long bouts of mediocrity (immortalized in the Broadway musical Damn Yankees), they had a period of prolonged success in the 1920s and 1930s, led by Hall-of-Famers Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice, Joe Cronin, and above all Walter Johnson. Manager Clark Griffith joined the team in 1912 and became the team's owner in 1920. The franchise remained under Griffith family ownership until 1984.

In 1960, Major League Baseball granted the city of Minneapolis an expansion team. Washington owner Calvin Griffith, Clark's nephew and adopted son, requested that he be allowed to move his team to Minneapolis and instead give Washington the expansion team. Upon league approval, the team moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season, setting up shop in Metropolitan Stadium, while Washington fielded a brand new "Washington Senators" (which later became the Texas Rangers prior to the 1972 season).

Washington Nationals/Senators: 1901–1960

For a time, from 1911 to 1933, the Washington Senators were one of the more successful franchises in major-league baseball. The team's rosters included Hall of Famers Goose Goslin, Sam Rice, Joe Cronin, Bucky Harris, Heinie Manush and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Walter Johnson.

In the 1924 World Series, the Senators defeated the New York Giants in seven games. The following season, they repeated as American League champions but ultimately lost the 1925 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After Walter Johnson’s retirement in 1927, he was hired as manager of the Senators. After enduring a few losing seasons, the team returned to contention in 1930. In 1933, Senators owner Clark Griffith returned to the formula that worked for him nine years before, and 26-year-old shortstop Joe Cronin became player-manager. The Senators posted a 99–53 record and cruised to the pennant seven games ahead of the New York Yankees, but in the 1933 World Series the Giants exacted their revenge, winning in five games. Following the loss, the Senators sank all the way to seventh place in 1934, and attendance began to fall.

Despite the return of Harris as manager from 1935–42 and again from 1950–54, Washington was mostly a losing ball club for the next 25 years, contending for the pennant only during World War II. Washington came to be known as "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League", with their hard luck being crucial to the plot of the musical and film Damn Yankees. In 1954, the Senators signed future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. By 1959, he was the Senators’ regular third baseman, leading the league with 42 home runs and earning a starting spot on the American League All-Star team.

After Griffith's death in 1955, his nephew and adopted son Calvin took over the team presidency. He sold Griffith Stadium to the city of Washington and leased it back, leading to speculation that the team was planning to move, as the Boston Braves, St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Athletics had all done in the early 1950s. By 1957, after an early flirtation with San Francisco (where the New York Giants would eventually move after that season ended), Griffith began courting Minneapolis-St. Paul, a prolonged process that resulted in his rejecting the Twin Cities' first offer before agreeing to relocate. The American League opposed the move at first, but in 1960 a deal was reached: The Senators would move and would be replaced with an expansion Senators team for 1961. Thus, the old Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins.

Team Nickname

The Washington franchise was known as both "Senators" and "Nationals" at various times, and sometimes at the same time. In 1905, the team changed its official name to the "Washington Nationals."  The name "Nationals" appeared on uniforms for only two seasons, and was then replaced with the "W" logo for the next 52 years. The media often shortened the nickname to "Nats." Many fans and newspapers (especially out-of-town papers) persisted in using the "Senators" nickname. Over time, "Nationals" faded as a nickname, and "Senators" became dominant. Baseball guides listed the club's nickname as "Nationals or Senators," acknowledging the dual-nickname situation.

The team name was officially changed to Washington Senators around the time of Clark Griffith's death. It was not until 1959 that the word "Senators" first appeared on team shirts. "Nats" continued to be used by space-saving headline writers, even for the 1961 expansion team, which was never officially known as "Nationals."

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