Last night, the Washington Nationals played in the franchise’s first World Series game — and Washington, DC’s first World Series game since 1933.
The Nationals lost to the Astros, 4-1, and now have a 2-1 lead in the best of 7 series.
In the last few days, Washington media outlets have taken pains to note that 1933 was not the last time a baseball World Championship came to Washington, however. Washington had another championship baseball team in the 1940s, the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League.
For people unfamiliar with Negro League baseball, in the pre-Jackie Robinson era when baseball was segregated, the Grays were a team based in the Pittsburgh area that began playing games in Washington, DC, the home of the Washington Senators, in order to make money. Among their players were Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, and Cool Papa Bell, and they were a dominant team throughout the 1940s. The Washington Post had an article about the 1948 Negro World Series this week, and did Washington’s NPR station WAMU did an overview piece on the team and its place in baseball and DC history.
And there’s a nice little video the Washington Nationals did, featuring baseball historian Phil Wood:
I’ve often cited Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field as one of the lost ballparks I would most want to see if I had a time machine. And if I could travel back to see Forbes Field, it’s the Grays I’d want to see playing there in the early 1940s, not the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have a throwback Grays hat I sometimes wear, just as I sometimes wear a throwback Washington Senators cap.
The essential book on the Grays is Brad Snyder’s Beyond the Shadow of the Senators. It came out fifteen years ago and is out of print now, but it’s worth tracking down. The book covers a lot of ground, baseball history and social history from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the ending of the book is interesting to read in light of Washington now having a baseball team (it didn’t, at the time the book was written) and the way they celebrate the Grays (the Josh Gibson statue, the Grays in the Ring of Honor, the occasional throwback game) instead of forgetting them.
The one thing I wish the Nationals would do would be to fly Grays pennants for their Negro National League victories alongside the American League pennants they fly for the Senators.
Game 4 starts in about two hours. Go 1-0 today, Nationals!