Recreating a magical season

Published 7:53 am Monday, April 8, 2024

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The most amusing of the many offbeat emails I receive are the ones that think the newspaper is in Washington D.C. inviting us to all kinds of cool big city events. I assumed this was another one, but the heading Team of Destiny kept my attention long enough to actually open it.

It was from a D.C. publicity agency letting me know there was an upcoming book about the Washington Senators unlikely appearance in the 1924 World Series.

My mind immediately flashed back to the Christmas of 1969, when Santa Claus brought me one of the best gifts I ever received, the brand new first edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia, all 2,348 pages of it. I had just turned eight years old.

I read that tome cover to cover multiple times (and referred to it many more over the years), trying to commit to memory all the lineups, stats, standings and lists of awards from the National League in 1876 all the way to the Miracle Mets 1969 World Series triumph over the Baltimore Orioles.

The Baseball Encyclopedia introduced me to all the great players of the past including a gentleman farmer from Kansas named Walter Johnson, who threw the hardest of anyone around and won 413 games, still second all-time behind Cy Young, despite pitching for one of the worst teams. I also enjoyed learning the unusual sounding names of his teammates; Goose Goslin, Roger Peckinpaugh and Muddy Ruel. I am forever grateful to my mother for not naming me after him.

When I returned to reality, I realized the book was indeed about the great Johnson and how his team managed to pull off the upset of the century and bring home a title.

I don’t usually do book reviews, but I really wanted to read this one and my boss let me reserve an advance copy.
Team of Destiny Walter Johnson, Clark Griffith, Bucky Harris and the 1924 Washington Senators by Gary Sarnoff is an amazingly meticulous recount of how the perennial losers turned into Cinderella from the time owner Griffith chose his young second baseman, Harris, to manage the club, until after the final World Series celebration. The journey starts on New Year’s Eve and takes the reader on a ride, mostly by train, through a baseball season that no one alive today could remember, yet we’re all aboard by the end of the first page.

Sarnoff told me in a phone interview earlier this week that he spent five years researching the season, relying on the archives of the four D.C. newspapers of the time, out of town papers, books and other reference sources to piece together the day-to-day happenings during the season.
There’s a lot to digest in these 230 pages and several things stand out to remind the reader how different the game and the world is today.

Remember, baseball games played at night were still 11 years away, so games usually started at 1 or 2 p.m. There were also only eight teams in each league, so only the top teams in each played in the World Series.
The teams traveled by train, so the four eastern teams, the Yankees, Red Sox, Philadelphia A’s and the Senators took a west-bound line for three week road trips to play Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and the St. Louis Browns. The game before the Senators clinched the pennant in Boston was in Chicago, 26 hours away.

A particularly rainy spring and summer forced the team into 19 doubleheaders. Today’s players union would mutiny at the very thought.

Team of Destiny is available through the publisher, Roman & Littlefield, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart.
It’s an engrossing tale of triumph set in an era most of us can only imagine. A new baseball season is upon us, which is a perfect time to take a stroll down memory lane.