Next week’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park marks the return of the Midsummer Classic to the District of Columbia for the first time since 1969, adding to a rich Washington ASG history that includes big stars, Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy, and the beginning of the end of Dizzy Dean’s career.
The American League’s Washington Senators hosted the All-Star Game in two different venues, Griffith Stadium and D.C. Stadium/RFK Stadium, over four games between 1937 and 1969. Griffith Stadium and RFK Stadium were total opposites on every level. Griffith Stadium opened in 1911 on the site of a previous MLB ballpark, Boundary Field, which burned down in March 1911. A steel-and-concrete ballpark replaced Boundary Field, and although it was functional by Opening Day, it was not fully open until July 24, 1911. The new ballpark was larger than the old one, and in one of the ballpark’s many quirks, American League Park had a jog in the outfield wall, abutting property owners in right-center field who refused to sell to Senators owner Clark Griffith. In the 1920s, Griffith worked on expansions to the ballpark (hence a grandstand with different rooflines) before the facility entered a stable period in terms of construction by 1925.
Griffith Stadium first hosted in All-Star Game in 1937, in the fifth occurrence of the Midsummer Classic. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a friend of Clark Griffith, who quietly installed a ramp at the ballpark dedicated to Roosevelt’s entrances and exits) threw out the first pitch before a crowd of 31,391, in a game that presaged a transitional period in baseball. Babe Ruth had retired, and many MLB stars, like Lou Gehrig, were entering the final stages of their careers. Meanwhile, a new breed of star was just hitting the scene. Joe DiMaggio was in the second season of his distinguished career and batted third in the AL lineup. Johnny Mize was also in the second season of a 15-year career. Dizzy Dean was in his prime after winning 30 games in 1934 and 28 games in 1935. He started the 1937 game, but it ended up the last hurrah of his career: A line drive off the bat of Earl Averill broke Dean’s toe. Instead of letting the broken toe heal, Dean and the Cardinals decided he should play through the pain. After adjusting his delivery, Dean blew out his arm, dramatically diminishing his effectiveness before a premature retirement.
Griffith Stadium next hosted the All-Star Game in 1956, a peak period in MLB with a host of Hall of Famers and other notables in both lineups: Henry Aaron, Ken Boyer, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle (in the midst of his Triple Crown season), Mickey Vernon and Ted Williams. Talk about deep benches: Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks didn’t even make it off the bench. Williams, Mays, Musial and Mantle homered, and the National League won, 7-3. With such star power on the field, you’d expect a lot of excitement in the stands, but the announced crowd of 28,843 was among the lowest to date in All-Star Game history.
By the 1950s, the demographics of the District of Columbia had changed, and Senators owner Calvin Griffith was seeking an exit from Washington and decrepit Griffith Stadium, looking at the likes of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Louisville, Denver and Toronto as a future home for his team. In the end, Griffith moved his Senators to Minneapolis, and the new Senators—an expansion team added with the Los Angeles Angels for the 1961 season—played out the string at Griffith Stadium in 1961 before beginning play at the shiny and new D.C. Stadium in 1962.
Later renamed RFK Stadium in honor of the late Robert F. Kennedy, D.C. Stadium was designed to function as a multiuse facility and was hailed as the future of sports architecture. Though NFL teams had played out of stadiums owned by pro baseball teams–Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium, Forbes Field, the Polo Grounds–the design in these ballparks was always baseball first, with football a secondary concern, and pro football even less of a consideration. D.C. Stadium featured seating sections on rails to allow for configuration changes between football and baseball, and the highway-friendly location, surrounded by a sea of parking, gave the facility a suburban feel in an urban location. For better or worse, it inspired a host of cookie-cutter facilities across the country (Cincinnati, New York City, Atlanta, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis).
At the 1962 All-Star Game, President John F. Kennedy threw out the first pitch (as shown above), and Maury Wills—who entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-runner for Stan Musial—received the first Arch Ward Memorial Trophy (now the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award) as the game’s MVP. The National League won, 3-1.
The last All-Star Game played in Washington (before next week’s match, natch) came in 1969, when the National League defeated the American League, 9-3. It was not a particularly suspense-filled game, with the AL’s Mel Stottlemyre and Blue Moon Odom giving up eight runs in the first three innings.
With the game at Nationals Park, Washington joins the list of cities hosting All-Star Games in three different venues: Griffith Stadium, RFK Stadium and now Nationals Park. The list of MLB markets hosting All-Star Games in three venues:
Chicago: Comiskey Park (three times), Wrigley Field (three times), U.S. Cellular Field
Cincinnati: Crosley Field (twice), Riverfront Stadium, Great American Ball Park
Los Angeles: Memorial Coliseum, Dodger Stadium (twice), Angel Stadium (three times)
New York City: Polo Grounds (twice), Yankee Stadium (four times), Ebbets Field, Shea Stadium, Citi Field
Minnesota: Met Stadium, Metrodome, Target Field
Pittsburgh: Forbes Field (twice), Three Rivers Stadium (twice), PNC Park
St. Louis: Sportsman’s Park/Busch Stadium I (three times), Busch Stadium II, Busch Stadium III
Admittedly, there aren’t many MLB markets that have sported three ballparks since the first All-Star Game in 1933, even in situations where two teams set up shop in both leagues. Presumably Atlanta will be added to the list in future years.
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