Ted Williams and the 1969 Washington Senators: The Last Winning Season
Briley, Ron, Nine
Ted Leavengood. Ted Williams and the 1969 Washington Senators: The Last Winning Season. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 241 pp. Paper, $29.95.
Stephen J. Walker. A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators. Clifton, VA: Pocol Press, 2009. 257 pp. Paper, $17.95.
Fortieth anniversary celebrations of the Apollo moon landing, the Woodstock musical festival, and even the World Series triumph of the Amazin' New York Mets characterize 1969 as a time when all things seemed possible. Yet, that same year also witnessed the dark side of the 196os and counterculture with the murderous escapades of the Charles Manson gang and the violence of the Altamont rock concert, while the bloodshed in Vietnam continued despite Richard Nixon's assurances that he had a plan to end the war. Lost amid these national media events was the 1969 season of the Washington Senators, in which rookie manager Ted Williams led the club to eighty-six victories; the first winning season for the team since major-league baseball was resurrected in the nation's capital when a 1961 expansion version of the Senators was created to replace the original franchise which Calvin Griffith moved to Minnesota following the 1960 baseball campaign.
The achievements of Williams and his Washington club are narrated in the works of Washington baseball fans Ted Leavengood and Stephen J. Walker. Relying upon newspaper accounts and interviews with former players, Leavengood and Walker each trace the exploits of such Washington Senators as Mike Epstein, Dick Bosman, Ed Brinkman, Del Unser, Ken McMullen, Bernie Allen, Arthur Lee Maye, Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan, Ed Stroud, Tim Cullen, Paul Casanova, Hank Allen, Brant Alyia, and the better-known slugger Frank Howard. But at the center of both books is Williams, who was selected as American League Manager of the Year in 1969. Many sportswriters assumed the fiery perfectionist would lack the patience to guide the young Senators club. Yet both authors credit Williams with maintaining an even temperament while imparting his vast hitting knowledge to willing pupils such as Howard and the light-hitting Brinkman, who incorporated the manger's suggestion to be more selective at the plate. On the other hand, not all players were enthusiastic about Williams. For example, young pitcher Joe Coleman challenged Williams's directive that he make better use of a slider, a pitch which the ballplayer insisted hurt his arm.
While the two volumes plow similar ground and represent labors of love, the authors take somewhat different approaches to the material. Walker is more a baseball romanticist. He tends to eschew the larger historical and cultural context of 1969, maintaining his focus upon the playing field achievements of the Senators. Thus, he pays less attention to racial issues impacting the nation's capital. Keeping his concentration on the field, Walker has little to say about owner Robert Short, whom many Washington fans blame for destroying baseball in the city. Walker details the 1969 season and provides his readers with biographical sketches of the athletes after their playing days with the Senators. On the other hand, Leavengood takes a more analytical approach in his volume, expanding upon the historical and cultural milieu of the late 196os. He also presents a critical analysis of Short as an owner who was more interested in making money by selling his ball club than developing a winning baseball tradition in Washington.
Thus, Leavengood interprets Short's decision to lure Williams out of retirement to manage the team as motivated primarily by the belief that having the Hall of Famer in a Senators uniform would draw people to the ballpark. Leavengood argues that trucking magnate Short accumulated considerable debt with his purchase of the Senators, but that he hoped to capitalize on his investment by selling the club to outside investors after his lease with RFK Stadium expired. Accordingly, Short followed in the footsteps of Calvin Griffith, who questioned the future of baseball in Washington by describing the capital as "a sleepy little Southern city. …