It’s the history of the game of baseball that has always attracted me to the sport.
Growing up, I would listen to the stories from my parents about the Orioles of the 1960’s and 70’s and the childhood icons they watched on the diamond nearly 50 years ago.
It’s the history of baseball which is unlike any other in professional sports. Baseball has been around the longest, with origins dating well back into the 19th century. Through the years, despite the finer tweaks and tuneups, the game itself remains largely intact. Three strikes still equal an out, each base is still 90 feet from the next and the team with the most runs at the end of nine innings is declared the winner.
It’s a simple game at its core, yet those who watch it or play it know the game of baseball is much more complicated than simply striking a ball with a bat and rounding some bases.
Baseball is a numbers game. It’s a never-ending comparison to those who played before, an open window into the men who are now remembered only in the grainy footage of the early 20th century.
It’s the history of the game that we love to discuss, love to compare and love to argue. The next great superstar today really hasn’t made his mark until he’s compared to a Hall of Famer from the previous era.
“He hits like Stan Musial,” someone will offer. “His dominance on the mound reminds me of Bob Gibson,” another will say.
In a strange way, with the players and teams of yesteryear continually being brought up, baseball’s past really never truly reaches the past.
That’s certainly not a bad thing, mind you. The history of anything is useful, particularly in baseball. With more than 100 years of players, games and accomplishments to look back on, baseball is one of the rare things in life that always offers something of interest.
This certainly rings true in Ted Leavengood’s latest book “Clark Griffith - The Old Fox of Washington Baseball.”
The story Leavengood so wonderfully captures is one of a former player, manager and owner, a man who put together a Hall of Fame career pitching for two decades, before moving on to manage four teams, including the Washington Senators. His dedication and passion for the game is put to the test in his efforts to keep baseball alive during World War II.
During his career, “The Old Fox” picked up 237 wins to just 146 losses. His 1.88 ERA in 1898 was tops in the major leagues, helping him finish with a stingy 3.31 mark for his career.
Of course, the story of Clark Griffith goes beyond his accomplishments on the diamond. As a manager, Griffith helped engineer one of the greatest turn-arounds in Washington baseball history, helping the 1912 Senators reach second place, after the Senators had never recorded a winning season or finished higher than sixth in their brief history.
He did more with less than possibly any other manager in the history of the game. Often times, he would be forced to mortgage his ranch in Montana simply to raise enough money to keep control of the team. His desire to be a part of the Senators’ organization, along with his faith in his players, translated to nearly 1,500 wins as a manager. As of 2005, Griffith’s 1,491 wins ranks 19th on the all-time list.
...Griffith, no stranger to tall tales, told one about his catcher in Missoula who let a ball get away and roll to the backstop at a key moment in a game. The crows of miners behind home plate drew guns and told the young catcher it might be wise to take better care of the ball in the future. The wild risks of life on this particular frontier were more than some of the players could handle...
Such was the life of a man whose greatest passion in life was baseball. And in “Clark Griffith,” Leavengood retells the life of Griffith and his journey from a boy with a dream of playing baseball to his time with the Washington Senators.
Washington fans, if you’re looking for a piece of baseball history, a story of importance and one that provides a unique look at one of baseball’s most influential people, be sure to dive right in to this book.