O is for Opening Day #AtoZChallenge
The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2023 is 1943 Washington D.C., the setting of the novel that I’m writing. Visit daily in April for a new post on my topic.
O is for Opening Day
When I was growing up as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington D.C. didn’t have a baseball team. But they had a team in 1943. Washington D.C. currently has their eighth major league franchise, with a confusing history of alternating team names from Nationals to Senators — and, often, using both at once.
In 1943, the team was officially known as the Nationals, with nicknames including the Nats and the Senators.
The famous phrase: “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” was the invention of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Charley Dryden, in 1904. Occasionally, in the team’s history, they rose above that description. 1943 was one of the better years. Baseball historians are quick to add that baseball lost much of its talent to the war in 1943, so there was a big element of luck at play that year.
Opening Day was a front-page story in the April 20, 1943 issue of the Washington Post. Although, with a war on, it was below the fold. The game was against the Philadelphia Athletics, managed by 80-year-old Connie Mack. It was also the Opening Game of the season, with the other teams in the American and National Leagues taking the field the following day.
President Roosevelt sent a substitute to throw the ceremonial first pitch that year — unlike most years. FDR holds the record for most presidential first pitches at 11. In those days, the first pitch was thrown from the stands, a tradition that would have worked with his disability.
In 1943, the honor of the first pitch went to Paul McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission. President Roosevelt was in Mexico meeting with President Amila Camacho to further the Good Neighbor Policy.
The Nats had high expectations for 1943 with two off-season trades bolstering their hopes. Gerry Priddy, second baseman, joined the team from the Yankees. Slugger and outfielder, Bob Johnson, came from the Athletics.
The Washington Nationals victory on Opening Day didn’t make the front page the following day. Instead, Washington Post readers learned newly released details about the Doolittle Raid, a daring attack on Tokyo a year earlier on April 18, 1942 (81 years ago today), that boosted US morale after Pearl Harbor.
Baseball got a full two-page spread later in the April 21, 1943 issue, with several takes on the Nats victory over the As. The Washington Nationals went on to take second place in the American League in 1943.
Aside from the Wikipedia articles linked to above, I also found information for this post from these Washington Post articles. I have access to the Historical Newspapers database with my St. Louis County Library card.
By Shirley Povich Post,Staff Writer. (1943, Apr 20). 25,000 expected as nats and A's open ball season: McNutt, sen. barkley figure in ceremonies dutch leonard and luman harris hurl; veteran and rookie managers oppose. The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/25-000-expected-as-nats-open-ball-season/docview/151649306/se-2 By Douglas B Cornell Associated Press,Staff Writer. (1943, Apr 21). Views echoed by president of sister nation at historic meeting: Roosevelt tours camps, visits mexico. The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/views-echoed-president-sister-nation-at-historic/docview/151641664/se-2
Great Opening Day photo of FDR throwing the first pitch and an interesting history of the Washington, DC team. A shame it wasn’t around when you were growing up.
The Nats and the Senators. I wonder if they struck out as often our congressional senators? 🙂
Such an electric feeling in the stadium on opening day. I can imagine it was huge there.