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Griffith Stadium
Location Washington, D.C.
Opened July 24, 1911
Closed September 21, 1961
Demolished January 26, 1965
Owner Washington Senators
Surface Grass
Architect Osborn Engineering
Former names National Park (1911-1920)
Tenants Washington Senators (I) (MLB) (1911-1960)
Washington Senators (II) (MLB) (1961)
Washington Redskins (NFL) (1937-1960)
Georgetown Hoyas (NCAA) (1925-1950)
George Washington Colonials (NCAA) (c. 1930s–1940s)
Maryland Terrapins (NCAA) (1948)
Capacity 32,000 (1921)
27,550 (1961)

Griffith Stadium was a sports stadium that stood in Washington, D.C. from 1911 to 1965, between Georgia Avenue and 5th Street, and between W Street and Florida Avenue, NW. An earlier wooden baseball park had been built on the same site in 1891. It was called |Boundary Field or National Park, as its occupants were then known primarily by the nickname "Nationals." This park was destroyed by a fire in March 1911, and replaced by a steel and concrete structure, also at first called National Park; it was renamed for Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in 1920. The stadium was home to the American League Senators from 1911 through 1960, and to an expansion team of the same name for their first season in 1961. The venue hosted the 1937 and 1956 Major League Baseball All-Star Games. It served as a part-time home for the Negro League team called the Homestead Grays during the 1930s and 1940s. It was also home to the Washington Redskins of the National Football League for 24 seasons, from the time they transferred from Boston in 1937 through the 1960 season.

William Howard Taft began the tradition of presidents throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the baseball season at Griffith Stadium. Harry Truman, being ambidextrous, enjoyed showing off by throwing the baseball with either hand. According to some reports, he would alternate from year to year.

Field designEdit

The stadium was laid out at an angle within its block in the Washington street grid. Thus, it was over 400 feet down the left field line (east) to the bleachers (though this distance was shortened in later years by the construction of an inner fence). The fence also took an unusual right-angled jut into right-center field where a large tree and several apartment buildings stood, due to the unwillingness of the owners of the tree and those nearby houses to sell to the Senators' owners during construction of the stadium. The right field fence angled away from the infield sharply which, in addition to a 30-foot fence (to block the view from surrounding buildings) about 8 feet inside the lower, outer wall, meant that relatively few home runs were hit at the stadium. Center field was east-southeast of home plate, which made for difficult visibility for the fielders in the late afternoon sun.

Notable sluggersEdit

The distant fences were no problem for sluggers like Josh Gibson, Mickey Mantle and the Senators' own youngster Harmon Killebrew. Gibson is reported to have hit baseballs over the left field bleachers twice. Babe Ruth hit near-500 foot drives over the center and right-center walls on consecutive days in May, 1921. On April 17, 1953, Mantle hit one off Chuck Stobbs that was so impressive that someone tried to determine its flight with some precision, thus popularizing the term "Tape Measure Home Run." It was alleged to be 565 feet, although it bounced off the top of the back wall of the bleachers, adding some distance to its flight path.

File:JFK Griffith Stadium 1961.jpg
Aside from some championship seasons in the early 1920s and 1930s, the Senators teams that played at Griffith Stadium were legendarily bad. The hapless Washington team became the butt of a well-known Vaudeville joke, "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League," a twist on the famous Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee eulogy of George Washington: "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen." (A similar phrasing was once used for the St. Louis Browns: "First in shoes, first in booze, and last in the American League.")

Supposedly, Senators groundskeepers ensured that it was actually slightly downhill towards first base in order to give sluggish Senators players an extra step.

File:1937 all stars crop FINAL2.jpg

Only one Washington, DC public high school baseball player ever hit a home run over the 30-foot high "green monster-like" right field wall at Griffith Stadium - Bill Harrison of Coolidge High School in 1952.

The stadium was still called Griffith Stadium in 1961, even though team owner Calvin Griffith had moved the original Senators club to the "Twin Cities" area of Minneapolis-St. Paul (becoming the Minnesota Twins), to be replaced in Washington by a new expansion team, also called the Senators (now the Texas Rangers).

Final yearsEdit

In the fall of 1961, the Redskins and Senators moved to the new D.C. Stadium (renamed R.F.K. Stadium in January 1969). Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, and the Howard University Hospital now occupies the site.

The home of the Washington RedskinsEdit

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Griffith Stadium was the location of 1940 and 1942 NFL Championship Games. The 1940 game was the 73–0 triumph by the Chicago Bears over the Redskins, the highest-scoring shutout game in the history of the NFL. The Championship Game in 1942 was essentially a rematch, with nearly the same players, and this time the Redskins upset the previously-undefeated Bears, 14 to 6. According to Richard Whittingham's history of the Chicago Bears (ISBN 0671628852), George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Redskins, gave his team a pre-game "pep talk" that consisted simply of writing "73 - 0" on the chalkboard.

During the Redskins' game on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, against the Philadelphia Eagles, an announcement was made over Griffith Stadium's public-address system commanding all of the American generals and admirals there to report to their duty stations. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not explicitly announced over the P.A. system; with no small, portable radios available in the 1940s, that left thousands of other spectators to be among the last Americans to learn of the Japanese attack. The Redskins won that game, their last game of the 1941 season by a score of 20 to 14. They finished the season with a record of six wins and five losses, in third place in the NFL Eastern Division.

SourcesEdit

  • Green Cathedrals, by Phil Lowry.
  • Lost Ballparks, by Lawrence Ritter.
  • Williams, Paul K. Greater U Street. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
  • The Ballparks, by Bill Shannon & George Kalinsky, 1975. ISBN 0-8015-0490-2.
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