Years ago there was a saying that went, “Washington: first in war, first in peace, LAST in the American League.”
But the Senators, who were charter members of the American League in 1901, didn’t actually finish in last place that often. From 1910 through 1943, the team never finished in the league’s basement. It was actually the A’s and Red Sox who were far more likely to be the bottom dwellers in the Junior Circuit. But the Senators were made fun of a lot because they only managed to win two pennants in their six decades in the nation’s capital.
But despite playing second, third, or fourth (or fifth) fiddle a lot in the American League, the Senators (officially known as the “Nationals” or “Nats” despite the Senators nickname in the press), fielded many excellent players.
What I’ve done here is select an all-time team for the original American League Washington D.C. team, the one that played from 1901 to 1960, until relocating to Minnesota to become the Twins.
The Washington Senators All-Time Team
Muddy Ruel, CATCHER
Muddy was a durable catcher who enjoyed his best seasons as receiver for the Washington Senators in the 1920s, helping the team to their only World Series title in 1924. He delivered a rally-starting double and scored the winning run in the final game of that series.
Joe Judge, FIRST BASEMAN
Only 5’8, Judge still managed to stand tall at first base for the Senators, where he played 18 seasons, 15 of them as their starter. After years of toiling for a second-division club, Judge took advantage of his first chance at the postseason: he had ten hits and got on base 15 times in the 1924 World Series, which the Senators won. That was the only time a Washington team won the Fall Classic, until the Nationals in 2019.
Though he hit just a tick below .300 and had more than 2,300 hits in his career, Judge was best known for his range at first base. Had there been Gold Gloves back then, he would have earned a load of them. Judge and outfielder Sam Rice were teammates for 18 seasons, a record surpassed by only one duo: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
Buddy Myer, SECOND BASEMAN
Myer, who was Jewish, was one of the best bunters of his generation, and he usually bunted for a hit. He probably dropped down 50 bunt attempts a season, maybe more. His specialty was the drag bunt, which even in the 1920s was fast falling out of vogue. His favorite target was Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, who was known to be slow to field short grounders. When he won the batting title on the final day of the 1935 season, Myer started his hit rampage with a drag bunt single.
Joe Cronin, SHORTSTOP
The Senators stole Cronin from Pittsburgh in an astute transaction in 1928 when the Pirates left him unprotected. Washington owner Clark Griffith only needed to pay $7,500 to get the talented Mr. Cronin. In seven seasons in a Senators uniform, Cronin batted .304 and averaged 35 doubles and 95 RBI per season. He ended up marrying Griffith’s niece, but the The Old Silver Fox still traded his new nephew, sending him to Boston. It was a trade he always regretted, as Cronin went on to a Hall of Fame career.
Cecil Travis, THIRD BASE
One of the most tragic players of his era, Travis missed a chance at Hall of Fame status because of World War II. Before the war, playing short and also some third base, Travis was a high-average doubles hitter, an up-and-comer ready to supplant Cronin as the best shortstop in the league. But in the Second World War, Travis had his feet frozen at the Battle of the Bulge, and when he came back to the states he wasn’t the same player. He still managed to hit .314 in a little over 1,300 games, all of them for Washington.
Goose Goslin, LEFT FIELD
One of the best run producers in baseball history, Goslin topped 100 RBI in 11 seasons. He was a dead pull hitter in a ballpark that did not favor his power. But Goose hit into the gaps too, batting .316 in an 18-year career. He is one of several players on this team who were part of the Senators only championship team in 1924.
Clyde Milan, CENTER FIELD
His last name was pronounced “MIL-LEN.” and Clyde didn’t play much baseball growing up in rural Tennessee, instead spending his youth hunting and fishing. Something must have chased him at one time or another, because Milan was one of the fastest men in the game when he became a major leaguer in 1907. He was signed by a Washington scout on the same trip that netted Walter Johnson for the Senators. Milan and Johnson were teammates, roommates, and best friends for 16 years.
Milan played very shallow in center field and he went back on the ball well. He committed a lot of errors, but many of them came on ground singles to the outfield. He hit 17 home runs in 16 seasons, only four of them over the fence. He was fond of the swinging bunt, and he might have tried that play more often than anyone since 1900. It was said that if the baseball bounced more than twice, Clyde would beat it to first base.
Sam Rice, RIGHT FIELD
Rice was always lightning fast and he was good at every sport he ever tried. He was an excellent bowler and a scratch golfer. He was pretty old (25) by the time he started his major league career, and he only had 247 hits through the age of 28. But Rice kept himself in excellent condition, and he averaged 202 hits from age 30 to 40. He’s the only position player in history who had his best season when he was 40 years old. “Man O’ War” finished his career 13 hits shy of 3,000. He did it while barely making a ripple: he was quiet, private, the Great Sphinx of Baseball.
Pete Runnels, PINCH-HITTER
Runnels was really a professional hitter more than a second baseman, shortstop, or first baseman, the three positions he played most frequently. He ended up playing 644 games at first, 642 at second base, and 463 at shortstop, mostly with the Senators.
He was misplaced in cavernous Griffith Stadium in D.C., and when he was traded to Boston he really blossomed. As a Red Sox, he won a pair of batting titles in his 30s and showed off his foul line to foul line hitting ability. He was no slouch for the Sens either, hitting .274 with a .354 on-base in seven seasons as a jack-of-all-trades.
Walter Johnson, STARTING PITCHER
We have a lot on Johnson over here in this popular article.
Dutch Leonard, STARTING PITCHER
Emil John “Dutch” Leonard rarely threw the baseball harder than 70 miles per hour. As Jackie Robinson once said after facing Dutch’s knuckleball: “It comes up, makes a face at you, then runs away.”
Leonard won 118 games in nine seasons for the Senators in the 1930s and 1940s, when the team was often mediocre. In 1944, Leonard was the ace of a Washington staff that featured four knuckleball pitchers, including Roger Wolff, Johnny Niggeling, and Mickey Haefner. The team nearly won the pennant with those four in 1945, losing the flag on the final day of the season.
George Mogridge, STARTING PITCHER
A tall, spindly lefty who spun a curveball and kept his fastball away from the meat of the plate. Mogridge was never a big winner, he didn’t win more than 18 games in a season and his career mark is 132-133. But in 1924 he won 16 games for Washington and in the Fall Classic he won Game Four and started Game Seven.
Earl Whitehill, STARTING PITCHER
Another southpaw who preferred Uncle Charlie to the fastball. Whitehill pitched four years for the Senators, but won 64 games, including 22 in 1933 when the team won the pennant. He won 218 games in a 17-year career spent with four teams.
Firpo Marberry, RELIEF PITCHER
Marberry was big and strong and impressive on the mound. He was one of baseball’s first relief specialists. Teammate Ossie Bluege said, “You should have seen Fred walk across the outfield when he was coming in to relieve. He moved just as fast as he could and just as determined and as confident as could be.”
Marberry led the league in saves six times, and also got his share of starts later in his career. He had a career 116 ERA+, and six times he led the league in appearances.
Tom Zachary, RELIEF PITCHER
Yet another southpaw, Zachary pitched mostly as a starter, but also could be called in to pitch in a pinch out of the bullpen. He averaged 220 innings and 14 complete games for the Sens from 1920 to 1925. He was superb in the postseason: a lifetime 3-0 mark with a 2.86 ERA.
Bucky Harris, MANAGER
Like Tommy Lasorda bled Dodger Blue, little Bucky Harris had Senator blood coursing through his veins. After ten seasons as a second baseman for Washington, Harris handled three stints as their manager, the first as player-manager. In 1924 the 27-year old led the Sens to their first pennant and only World Series title. He led them to a repeat as AL Champions the following season.
Harris won 1,336 games for the Senators, managing his last game for them in 1954. He was always a favorite of Clark and Calvin Griffith, and as long as the family owned a baseball team, Bucky usually had some sort of job. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager, winning another World Series with the Yankees, and accumulating 2,158 victories in 29 years as a skipper.