McDowell, Indians Became Last Team to Lose a Road Game to Senators — in D.C.!

Forty-seven years ago this week, the Indians became a footnote to baseball history in Washington by being the last team the second incarnation of the Senators beat on the road.

The problem is, the game ended up being at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.

For the first 60 seasons of the American League, Washington was home to the Senators who, after Walter Johnson’s retirement, were thoroughly committed to mediocrity – or worse. The joke in the 1940s and 1950s was that Washington was “First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.”

After the 1960 season, the team moved to Minnesota (home to “good, hardworking white people,” owner Calvin Griffith said later at a notorious Lions Club; Griffith’s bigotry ended up chasing off Rod Carew, who refused to sign another contract with the Twins), and was replaced by an expansion team, also named the Senators. The original Senators played at Griffith Field – built by Calvin Griffith’s uncle Clark – but the new Senators played their inaugural year there before moving into a brand new multipurpose stadium. Its initial name was District of Columbia Stadium, but six months after the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy during his 1968 run for president, the stadium was renamed in his honor (as Attorney General, Kennedy was instrumental in getting the Redskins to integrate – the last team in the NFL to do so).

The Senators didn’t have a lot of good years at RFK, finishing with a winning record only in 1969, the first year Ted Williams served as manager (for that achievement, he was named American League Manager of the Year). By then, the team was owned by Bob Short, a Minnesota lawyer and businessman who had briefly owned the Lakers, being responsible for their move from Minneapolis (where the team nickname made more sense) to Los Angeles. Short was hamstrung by a bad lease and owner of a bad team – their shortcomings magnified by the success of the nearby Orioles – so he started to look elsewhere. He put the team up for sale for $12 million (by comparison, Nick Mileti would buy the Indians the following year for $9 million, and George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees – arguably the most famous team in all of pro sports – in 1973 for $8.7 million) and said if he couldn’t find a local buyer, he’d move the team – a prospect that saddened a man who would have been a sportswriter had he not been elected president. “It seems to be heartbreaking that Washington would not have a baseball team,” said Richard Nixon.

Ted Williams was characteristically blunt about a potential move: “The way things are set up here – the rent, the concessions, no television market, the town’s history – nobody can make it here.”

The Indians arrived in Washington on Sept. 20 for a three-game set against the Senators, but had some unfinished business to attend to first – namely finishing a game that had started six days and 16 innings earlier. That game had been postponed because of rain with the score tied at 5.

Sam McDowell got the nod for the Indians, while Denny McLain – whose trade from Detroit to Washington had sunk the Senators fortunes – started for the Senators. They traded scoreless innings until the top of the 20th when McDowell gave up a leadoff walk to Elliott Maddox, who took second on a bunt by Lenny Randle, who was himself safe at first. Toby Harrah reached on an error, allowing Maddox to score and Randle to move to third. Former Indians player and future Indians coach Dave Nelson singled to score Randle and move Harrah to second base. McLain sacrifice bunted to advance the runners, and Del Unser drew a walk to load the bases. McDowell walked Tommy McCraw to score Harrah, and he was lifted for Steve Mingori, who got Don Mincher to ground into a double play to end the inning. But the damage was done. The Indians were able to push one run across in the bottom of the 20th, but the Senators held on for the win.

McLain started the second game that day, but ended up taking the loss.

The next day, American League owners met and voted on Short’s proposal to move the team to Arlington, Texas. The move was approved 10-2, with the White Sox and Orioles dissenting (there were whispers that the enormously lopsided trade of McLain to Washington might have been done to secure the Tigers’ vote for the move).

They had a weeklong homestand, thus making the Indians the last team to lose to them on the road – even if it was in Washington D.C.

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