City Desk

Baseball in 1941 vs. Baseball in 2011: DiMaggio vs. Werth?

The older I get, the more pleasure I get from reading old newspapers. So it was a labor of love poring through the Washington Post archives last week for stories on baseball doubleheaders.

I was particularly taken with Shirley Povich's write-up of a1941 doubleheader between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees.

The game was different, sportswriting was different, our country was different — and all the differences are right there in Povich's piece.

Take the lede:

“This is the Fourth of July when Mr. Clark Griffith and the Washington Club stockholders were denied the pursuit of happiness as promised by the founding fathers 165 years ago.

It was to be an Independence Day doubleheader, the league-leading Yankees were hot, Lou Gehrig’s Memorial was to be unveiled, Joe Dimaggio was in the midst of his record batting streak, and a goodly crowd of 70,000 was to be there.

And then it rained — all day. There were no ballgames and the only thing the Washington club got out of the afternoon was an early train to Boston."

So it takes us back to a time when:

a)Fourth of July doubleheaders were the norm. There hasn't been a regularly scheduled doubleheader on Fourth of July or any day in Major League Baseball since 1996.

b)Lou Gehrig was a month dead of Lou Gehrig's Disease at 37 years old.

c)Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, which still stands as the best of all time by a far sight, was very much alive, and stuck at 45 games because of the rainout.

d)70,000 people would show up to watch a baseball game —or, in this case, two games. And,

e)Teams traveled from town to town by train. The speed of modern travel is among the factors mentioned in most discussions of what led to the disappearance of  doubleheaders.

Then there's this graf:

Business manager Edward B. Eynon of the Washington club estimated that the day-long rain represents a dead loss of from "$20,000 to $25000" to the stockholders, adding "that's sort of hard to take."

Speaking of dead losses: In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell, the last writer the paper will ever employ that enjoys baseball as much as Povich did, wrote that over the life of Jayson Werth's contract with the Nats, the .218-hitting face of the franchise "actually will make more than $30,000 per at bat."

So if owners of the latter-day local baseball team read that fiscal figure, they could understand how stockholders in the old Senators felt about that doubleheader rainout 70 years ago this week:  That's sort of hard to take.

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