When Washington's Senators Won the World Series

Any book that re-creates the glory days of the Washington Senators (there were so few), salutes the greatness of Walter Johnson and tells the overlooked story of the author’s grandfather, first baseman Joe Judge, is worth writing about. In Damn Senators, Mark Gauvreau Judge accomplishes all three.

Kids who grew up in Washington in the 1940s, as I did, heard fascinating tales from their fathers about that magical time in the 1920s when the Senators captured the imagination of the nation’s capital and the entire country by winning one of their three American League pennants-by two games over Babe Ruth and the mighty New York Yankees-and their only World Series.

As Judge recounts, they did it in storybook fashion in the 1924 Series, which began with one 12-inning game and ended with another. The sainted Johnson, pitching in his first World Series, was the losing pitcher in the opener and the winner in the finale, in a game decided by a ground ball that struck a pebble and took a bad hop into left field. Judge’s grandfather led all hitters on both teams with more than 20 at-bats, with a .385 batting average.

Mark Judge recalls more than just the games. He vividly recaptures those times in baseball and in Washington with his descriptions of Major League Baseball and its players in the 1920s, and the city that was destined to be his hometown two generations later. He effectively uses a variety of stories to illustrate the greatness of Johnson, who was revered by the people of Washington-and not just the baseball fans-to the point of almost being worshipped.

Joe Judge was considered the best fielding first baseman in the league in those years, even though he stood only 5 feet, 8-1/2 inches tall. He led the league in fielding average, and hit well enough to finish his career with a .298 average over 20 years. That’s the same lifetime average achieved by Mickey Mantle in 18 seasons, but not the .300 mark for Judge mentioned in the book, according to the Baseball Encyclopedia.

His grandson makes the case that with numbers like that over two decades, Joe Judge belongs in the Hall of Fame, and many of his contemporaries felt the same way. His grandson’s book, which takes its title from the hit movie and Broadway musical, "Damn Yankees," strikes a strong blow on behalf of the senior Judge.

At the end, the book briefly mentions the years after Judge’s career, including the departure of the Senators from Washington. The brief coverage is understandable, since the author’s primary purpose is to tell the story of his grandfather and the Senators in the 1920s. Unfortunately, that limits the rest of the Senators’ story to six pages. That means there is no mention of the later Senators’ years and stars like Mickey Vernon-the two-time batting champion and another first baseman who should be in the Hall of Fame- speedster George Case, Bob Allison, sluggers Roy Sievers and Frank Howard, Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, pitcher Camilo Pascual and other equally deserving favorites.

The author was not served well by his editors and proofreaders. As a result, Senators’ fans will spot certain passages that will surprise them, and not just the several misspellings: The Senators played their last game at Griffith Stadium in 1961, not 1962 as the book says. The expansion Senators played in Washington for 11 seasons, not 10. General Manager Ed Doherty was fired not by Short but by Pete Quesada in 1962, seven years before Short’s arrival. And management, not the fans, painted the seats of RFK Stadium after Frank Howard’s mammoth home runs.

Despite statements like these, which should have been caught by his proofreaders or editors, Mark Judge has done his grandfather and the rest of the Judge family a distinct service by recording and preserving in the pages of this book the story of a forgotten star on a forgotten team in a forgotten time. For that, every Senators fan, not just the members of the Judge family, should be grateful.