Rangers revisit their roots in DC
Team makes first visit to Washington since relocating in 1971
ARLINGTON -- The late Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to keep it from happening, moving heaven and earth to stop the moving vans heading for Texas.He had a deeply personal stake in the matter, having grown up in Washington D.C., and having worked as a scoreboard operator at Griffith Stadium for the original Senators. But the Washington Senators II were doomed from the start, having been hastily thrown together after the original Senators had packed up themselves and moved to Minnesota. When the American League decided to expand, on Oct. 26, 1960, they awarded the Senators franchise to General Elwood Quesada, a retired Air Force officer who at the time was head of the Federal Aviation Agency, and the first-ever expansion draft was held less than a month later.
With hardly any time to prepare, the Senators enjoyed only one winning season in 11 miserable years in the nation's capital before the American League finally granted them permission to move to Texas on Sept. 20, 1971.Now, almost 37 years later, the Rangers are going back to their original home. They open a three-game series with the Washington Nationals on Friday at Nationals Park. It will be the Rangers' first appearance in Washington D.C. since the franchise moved in 1971. "We had a lousy team, and no one came to watch the games," said Tom Grieve, who played in Washington and moved with the team. "But we loved playing in Washington. You'd go to the ballpark and drive by the Washington Monument or the Capitol. It was pretty fun. Everybody liked playing there. "When it was announced that we were moving to Texas, I don't think many were excited moving to Texas. We were disappointed leaving Washington. It was only once that we got here that we found out it was a great place to live and raise a family, and that there were affordable houses and places to live near the ballpark." Arlington mayor Tom Vandergriff had been trying to bring baseball to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for over a decade before the Senators moved here. In the early 1960s he had relentlessly courted Charlie Finley, who desperately wanted to move the Athletics out of Kansas City, and ultimately relocated to Oakland. Vandergriff also tried hard to get a National League expansion team, but Judge Roy Hofheinz wanted Texas all to himself and blocked the bid. Instead, the franchise went to San Diego. That was in April 1968.
The Senators' road to Texas really started on Dec. 3, 1968, in San Francisco. That's where Major League owners met and approved the sale of the Senators to Minneapolis businessman Bob Short, who had been the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.Short controlled a lot of money for the Democrats, but little of it was his own. He hired Ted Williams as his manager and the Senators had their one winning season in 1969. They dropped to last place in 1970 and then lost 96 games in 1971, while drawing 655,156 fans. Short was losing money and badly wanted out. Washington D.C. was a one-industry town that had been hit hard by the urban strife and unrest of the late '60s. The crime rate was going up. By April 1971, Short was threatening Kuhn, saying that he would move the franchise and that nobody could stop him. "If we're to save Washington, everybody has to give something: Me, the players, TV and the federal government," Short told Kuhn on one late-night telephone call. "Maybe things might work out in a Cinderella way, but that's not likely." Kuhn tried to save D.C. by finding local ownership, but couldn't find anybody. Bob Hope was on his list. The legendary comedian had tried to buy the Senators in 1968, but lost out to Short. Now, he was no longer interested. Kuhn tried the hotel magnate Willard Marriott, and Sonny Werblin, the New York Jets' owner who signed Joe Namath. Both said "No." National corporations like General Motors, Ford, ABC, NBC, Philip Morris and Coca-Cola also weren't interested. A supermarket guy and the doctor who invented Chloraseptic tried to put a group together, but was too little and too late. The tireless Vandergriff had done a superb job of salesmanship, and the American League owners were convinced. The final vote was 10-2, with only the Orioles -- their owner was allied with Kuhn -- and the White Sox opposing the move. Kuhn thought of blocking the move, but elected not to despite his deep bitterness. "Dallas-Fort Worth belonged, but not at the cost of a second Washington franchise," Kuhn said in his memoir, Hardball. "Nor did it make any sense to leave a major growth area like Washington and the surrounding Maryland-Virginia suburbs. The area had not failed; management had been unable to provide attractive baseball." The end came 10 days later. There were 14,460 fans in the stands when the Senators played the Yankees in their final game at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. "If there was no general wet-eyed melancholia in the stadium, there were still unmistakable pockets of bitterness," Shirley Povich wrote in the Washington Post. "From the upper stands hung banners spelling out four-letter words in large design, all of them reviling club owner Bob Short for shanghaiing the team to Texas." The Senators were leading, 7-5, with two out in the top of the ninth when several hundred fans started swarming the field. First base was stolen and that was it. The game was called and the Yankees won by forfeit. The Senators were on their way to Texas. Now, 37 years later, they are going back again.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.