Why we've got "Natitude"

Museum staff flaunted serious "Natitude" last year as we rooted for the Nationals. Why were their wins such a big deal? As Archivist Cathy Keen explains, winning was a new feeling for Washington, D.C., locals.

In 2012, the Nationals had the best record in baseball, and while their World Series hopes ended abruptly and disappointingly in the Division Series, Washington baseball fans celebrated an amazing season. Since moving to Washington from Montreal in 2005, the team did not have a winning season until last year, when, led by Manager Davey Johnson, they finished with 98 wins and 64 losses.

Throughout most of its history, Washington's baseball teams have only rarely enjoyed winning seasons. The American League Washington Nationals who played from 1900-1960, before relocating to the Twin Cities, achieved the feat only 16 times, with their best years falling during the 1910s and 1920s under Managers Clark Griffith and Bucky Harris. The Washington Senators, who played here from 1961-1971 before they were relocated to Texas to become the Rangers, had only one winning season, in 1969, managed by the legendary Ted Williams.

Thirty-three dark years would pass following the 1971 season, before the Nation's Capital saw diamond action again with the Expos' relocation to the District.

1925: A dramatic year for Washington, D.C.'s baseball fans

The year 1925 was one of only three times in which the city of Washington saw its team go to the post season, when they posted a 96 win, 55 loss record. The program illustrated here is from the World Series, in which the American League Nationals (sometimes called the Senators) faced the National League Pittsburgh Pirates, who'd finished with a 95-58 record. There were no divisions within leagues in those days, so teams that won their league's pennant went straight to the World Series.


The 1925 American League Champion Washington Nationals
The 1925 American League Champion Washington Nationals. Want to see the details of this image? Check it out on Flickr.

The previous year, Washington had won the only World Series they would ever win, beating John McGraw's New York Giants in seven games. The win in the final game came in sudden death on a hit in the bottom of the 12th inning by Earl McNeely, scoring catcher Muddy Ruel from 2nd base. Ruel had reached base on a double following a dropped foul by the Giants' catcher Hank Gowdy, who'd failed to make the play when he'd tripped on his own mask.


The 1925 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates
The 1925 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates


Things looked promising for Washington's team as 1925 World Series began in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field.

Game 1 featured future Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson dominating the Pirates, with Washington winning 4-1. The Pirates took game 2 with a score of 3-2. Washington took a lead of three games to one as the Series came to Washington’s Griffith Stadium for the middle games. They won 4-3 in game 3, and Walter Johnson dazzled fans again in game 4, shutting the Pirates out 4-0 on six hits, with Goose Goslin and Joe Harris each hitting homers. Game 5, in Washington, and Game 6, in Pittsburgh, saw the Pirates come back to tie the Series, with scores of 6-3 and 3-2.

In the final game, Johnson hoped to win three games in one World Series. It was not to be.

The final game, originally scheduled for October 14, was cancelled due to rain, and rescheduled for the 15th, even though conditions on the field were terrible. Author Roger Treat, in Walter Johnson: King of the Pitchers, described the pitching mound as "a quagmire" and compared the playing field to "soft, brown ice cream." Fog, smog and chilly temperatures further complicated things.


An endorsement for Griffith Oil featuring Washington’s star pitcher Walter Johnson
An endorsement for Griffith Oil featuring Washington's star pitcher Walter Johnson


At first, things looked good for the Nationals and dismal for the Pirates as every man in the Washington lineup batted in the top of the first inning and Washington took a 4-0 lead, knocking out Pittsburgh starter Vic Aldridge. An on-and-off drizzle turned into a steady soak as the first inning ended, and intensified as the game progressed. Johnson found it almost impossible to grip the baseball or to throw strikes. The Pirates scored three times in the third inning and another in the fifth, but Washington had scored twice in the fourth.

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, seated next to team owner Clark Griffith, wanted to stop play but was talked out of it by Griffith. By the 7th inning, with rain falling harder, enough outs had been recorded to make it a legal game, and again Landis made the decision to call the game and let the score stand 6-4 in Washington's favor. Again he was overruled by Griffith, who feared that people would say that the Commissioner gave the series to Washington.

The last of the seventh inning saw Washington lose the lead. It started with an error on a routine pop fly, a disputed call on a line drive (apparently foul but called fair) resulting in a run, and a triple hit by Pie Traynor that he attempted to stretch to a home run. Though out at the plate, he'd driven in the Pirates' 6th run.

Sheets of rain continued to fall.

Shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, who'd committed the error, atoned with a home run in the top of the eighth, but the Nationals' one run lead was brief.

The Pirates tied it 7-7 on a pair of doubles followed by another error by Peckinpaugh that should have been the third out, but instead put a second man on base. A disputed call on the next batter, future Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler (a ball that appeared to be a third strike, but called a ball) was followed by a double by Cuyler, which scored both runners, giving the Pirates the lead, 9-7, a lead they would hold as three consecutive future Hall of Famers, Sam Rice, Bucky Harris and Goose Goslin, were retired by Pirate reliever John Oldham, with both Rice and Goslin striking out.

The city of Washington would see post season baseball just once more before the 2012 season. In 1933, the World Series was a rematch with their 1924 opponents, the New York Giants. The Senators lost the World Series in five games. That Series also featured several future Hall of Famers, including Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott for the Giants, and for the Senators, Joe Cronin and Heinie Manush.

We're already flaunting our Natitude this season and putting the disappointemnts of past seasons behind us. But all 30 teams begin with a blank slate.

Cathy Keen is an archivist in the museum's Archives Center. This post originally appeared on the Smithsonian Collections Blog