A Moment In Time – 7/28/25

https://i0.wp.com/i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj90/alpineinc/14225u_1.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj90/alpineinc/soxsens1.jpgBack we go to 1925, and back to Griffith Stadium, White Sox/Senators twin bill on Tuesday, July 28, third inning of Game 1. Johnny Mostil trots home standing up, as instructed by teammate Ray Schalk (the high-five had yet to be invented) as the Sens’ C Muddy Ruel looks to corral an errant throw or back up another play, as none other than Walter Johnson got roughed up by the Pale Hose this day (including 5 walks) and was sent to the showers by the 6th inning. And when the White Sox knocked Tom Zachary out of the box with four runs in the first in Game 2, the Senators were on their way to a double defeat, which would drop Washington 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A’s, although the Senators would rebound to win the 1925 AL crown. And while the White Sox enjoyed the spoils that day, the franchise was in the midst of an extended period of inconsistency since the Black Sox scandal gutted the club in 1921, and wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 1959.

Johnson warming at Forbes during the 1925 WS

Johnson warming at Forbes during the 1925 WS

Johnson himself would otherwise have a stellar campaign in the Senators’ pennant winning season, winning 20, which would prove to be his last year with a winning record. He was also as good a hitter as a pitcher in 1925, batting an astounding .433 with 20 RBI’s. And facing the Pirates in the 1925 World Series, Johnson was the hero of Games 1 and 4, allowing only one run – but, like in 1924, Johnson was counted on by the Senators to come up big once again in Game 7, and “faced his Waterloo with head unbowed”, but turned out to have the worst post-season outing of his career, giving up 9 runs, including 3 in the bottom of the 8th (although there was a bit of bad luck as well – it was a muddy, rainy affair at Forbes Field, as night was falling in the late innings, and a Peckinpaugh error eventually allowed 2 unearned runs), to put the Bucs ahead 9-7 and virtually seal the championship for the Pirates.

Johnson would fall to 15-16 the next season, and then win only 5 games while pitching to a 5.10 E.R.A. in 1927, and his storied playing career was at an end.

Schalk in 1925

Schalk in 1925

White Sox Hall Of Fame catcher Ray Schalk had a storied career himself – he is considered to have revolutionized the position with his speed and quickness to redefine the capabilities of what a catcher could do, and was the best defensive catcher of his era. Thankfully, he also wasn’t one to give in to quick temptation, as he was among the “clean” White Sox players in the 1919 World Series, batting .304 and admitting later that he knew something was afoot when tainted hurlers Cicotte and Williams wouldn’t throw the pitches he was calling for.

In 1925, Schalk’s career was already in twilight – he had his last strong season that year, but after being slowed by injury the following season (which would be a typical lament for similar aggressive, defensive-minded catchers going forward), became a player-manager in 1927, limiting his playing time greatly, and after assuming the same role with the Giants, retired after the 1929 season.

Mostil in 1925

Mostil in 1925

Johnny Mostil may have joined the ranks of the above Hall of Famers if he hadn’t derailed his career prematurely due to an unfortunate incident off the field preceding the 1927 season. Mostil emerged as a budding star in the mid-1920’s, leading the league in runs, walks and stolen bases in ’25, and the slick fielding center fielder would be second in the MVP voting in 1926. However, the following March, during Spring Training in Shreveport, Louisiana, Mostil was found in a hotel room in a pool of blood due to many self-inflicted wounds throughout his body from a pocket knife and razor, and teammates, including Schalk, administered aid as help arrived. While initially he was not expected to survive, Mostil made a rapid physical recovery, but was put on the “voluntarily retired” list (likely recovering from emotional issues), and would not return to the White Sox until September of ’27. He did play a full season in 1928, but his speed was inexplicably slowed (with his stolen base percentage plummeting to near .500), and after breaking his ankle in May 1929, his career was over.

Mostil never did disclose the reason for the suicide attempt, but it may have stemmed from rumors circulating that he was having an affair with a teammate’s wife, or perhaps a result of painful neurological problems he was going through. While it’s sad that the event effectively ended his major league career, he did survive, was very successful in the minor leagues afterward, and was also a long time scout for the White Sox, and lived to 70 years of age.

Muddy Ruel was also an outstanding defensive catcher in his own right, helping to usher in era of defensive-minded backstops that originated during the Deadball Era, and led the AL in assists and putouts in 1925, and was also Walter Johnson’s “personal” catcher in his later career. He also happened to score the winning run for Washington in the 1924 World Series. Ruel was also no stranger to baseball-related tragedy, this time on the field – he happened to be the catcher when the Yankees’ Carl Mays threw the pitch that struck and mortally wounded Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in 1920, still the only player to perish from an on-field injury.

Big Train, In Vain

One of the interesting discoveries in delving into the smaller details of the classic baseball era, is how many times personalities seem to intersect with one another, even indirectly, sort of filling in the gaps in the unique tapestry of the sport. A player goes down, allowing another to rise, or an owner or sponsor otherwise upsets the best laid plans by putting their foot down or pushing through a pet project of theirs, and changing history in the process.

One such instance that few people know about occurred in 1939. Fresh off doing football games while attending Alabama in the ’30’s, a young man by the name of Melvin Israel auditioned for CBS while on vacation in New York in 1937, and was hired to do a variety of work with the station, eventually doing color commentary for the 1938 World Series (although not exclusive to a single network in those days, a plum job nonetheless).

Mel broadcasting for CBS in 1938

Meanwhile, Wheaties, who sponsored the Washington Senators’ broadcasts, were in the market for a new announcer, as Arch McDonald was in the process of moving to New York to call both Yankees’ and Giants’ home games for the 1939 campaign, and they were confident that this young Crimson Tide up-and-comer would be a perfect fit for them. Unfortunately, Senators’ owner Clark Griffith had other ideas – with the Senators being largely “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” for many years, Griffith thought he had a plan to stir fans’ interests.

Walter Johnson with Calvin Coolidge at Griffith Stadium in 1925

Walter Johnson, “The Big Train”, was the best pitcher in the franchise’s existence, and had been out of baseball since managing the Cleveland Indians in 1935. In addition, although part of the initial 1936 class, he was slated to be officially inducted into the newly dedicated Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown that summer, so why not? Surely he would be a more popular choice than some young guy virtually no one knew about.

Original HOF induction of the first 4 classes, 1939 (Johnson top right)

And it did work for a while. Johnson again became the most popular Senator, with fans at Griffith Stadium marveling at hearing their old hero’s voice through the PA system (he was also the park’s announcer), and both home and away ballparks clamoring for his autograph over any other.

Johnson behind the mike for WJSV in 1939

Arch McDonald with Johnson, before McDonald’s full-time move to New York

Unfortunately, while Johnson was a natural on the mound, he was much less so behind the microphone. His delivery was slow, stilted and largely indifferent, especially over the course of another long season in the second division. Also, he was not possessed with what one would call a classic broadcaster’s voice – high, thin, nasal and ordinary, it belied his stature as one of the game’s giant figures. What is possibly the only radio broadcast of Johnson’s work to exist, is linked below – starting at 1:45 until after the 44 minute mark, than again for the last 12 minutes or so. A fascinating document, including sounds from the fans, vendors, etc., but it sounds like Walter would rather be anywhere else than at the park that day.

September 21, 1939, Senators vs Indians at Griffith Stadium

After the 1939 season was over, Johnson was ready for greener pastures, although his lack of oratory skill would follow – in an unsuccessful run for Congress in the 1940’s, he was known for  his lack of experience as a public speaker, and would often read the wrong speeches to the wrong constituents, etc. Sadly, 1939 was his last direct involvement with baseball – he died in 1946 of a brain tumor at age 59.

And what became of young Melvin? Well he of course was the legendary broadcaster Mel Allen, who ended up being paired with Arch McDonald in New York in June of 1939 after McDonald’s partner, Garnett Marks, was fired after mispronouncing on multiple occasions a key sponsor over the air, extolling the virtues of “Ovary Soap” to millions of New York baseball fans. And what of McDonald? Well, his broadcasting style was considered too homespun for the New York listeners (Allen’s Alabama twang would not fully emerge for a few years, when I suppose New York, having gotten used to Red Barber, was just fine with it), and he returned to Washington in 1940 (remaining there well into the ’50’s), as Mr. Allen moved into the Yankees’ play-by-play seat, stayed there for almost 25 years, and became a legend in the process.

So, if not for the insistence of one Clark Griffith to hire his old buddy Walter way back when, Mel Allen may very well have become the “Voice of the Washington Senators”! How about that!