September 2, 1918 – Senators 8, Athletics 3

There is a sort-of point to this one, believe it or not. It started with a search for the lowest team-leading home run total. Result: Three teams in modern history were led by players with exactly one home run. They are the White Sox of 1908 and ’09 – the tail end of the “Hitless Wonders,” who shocked the mighty Cubs in the 1906 World Series — and the 1918 Senators, on whom we’ll focus.

 

Of course, Griffith Stadium was for decades the toughest park on home runs. Whatever non-homering record you can think of, the Sens probably hold it. They totaled single-digit HRs each year from 1908-10; and in 1917 they hit just four, with only one of those at home. It came on the last home date of the year, hit by Mike Menosky (of Glen Campbell, PA) in a blowout. It was a grand slam, and the only home run ever hit off Red Torkelson, who took his first loss in the fourth and last game of his career. (This source names Torkelson as one of 41 pitchers whose only HR allowed was a salami.)

Now skip ahead to 1918. The schedule has been shortened due to the Great War. And as the end draws near, once again, no Senator has struck a circuit clout at home. Their season finale is a meaningless home doubleheader against the Mackmen, with both teams locked in the standings. (Washington was eliminated three days earlier when Boston swept a twin-bill from the A’s, as Carl Mays went the distance in both games and was 5 for 6 at bat.)

In the opener, Washington musters just six singles against Roy Johnson, and the rook snags his only win in his final game in the bigs.

On to the nightcap, our featured box score, with Grunting Jim Shaw opposing rookie Mule Watson. Shaw began the year 3-10, but is 12-2 since, and is after his 5th straight win.

Through seven innings, Washington leads, 6-3 — but still no home run. As the Senators take the field in the 8th, a new pitcher toes the slab: It’s 41-year-old Nick Altrock, long-ago star twirler for the Hitless Wonders; he bested Miner Brown in the WS opener. Altrock’s spent the last six years as a Senators coach and entertainer, with an occasional cameo in the lineup. But pressed into duty by the personnel shortage, Altrock started three games in June (winning the first one), and logged another inning in August, and here he is again.

Altrock turns aside the A’s on one hit, and he comes to bat with two outs in the home 8th. It’s last-chance-saloon for a Senators HR, but Altrock hasn’t had so much as a base hit since 1909. Here’s what happens next, according to one source:

Wickey McAvoy, a catcher playing first for the day, comes in to throw. Altrock finally lines one of his lobs into the outfield, rambles around the bases and allegedly neglects to touch second and third. Umpire Billy Evans calls Altrock safe at home for the only homer by a Senator hit at home this season. For Altrock, it’s been 14 years since his last round tripper.”

Who knows if Altrock missed those bags or not, but the verifiable details of their account include just one minor error, stating that Altrock finished the game in relief. In fact, Altrock moved over to 1B, and no less than Walter Johnson came in to wrap things up with a scoreless 9th.

Altrock’s home run, the 2nd and last of his career, tied him with three others for the team lead: Joe Judge (71 career HRs), Howie Shanks (25), and that man again, Walter Johnson (24).

And in 1919, Washington mustered two round-trippers at home. For 1918-19 combined, there were 14 home runs hit in Griffith Stadium: 4 by Babe Ruth (in 54 ABs), 3 by the Senators (4,889 ABs), and 7 by other visitors (4,937 ABs).

Where did they go from here?

Altrock remained a Washington coach for many more years, and he continued to make token appearances, usually in season finales. In 1924, just past his 48th birthday, he closed out the last game of the Senators’ first pennant season, and lashed a triple in his one at-bat. He remains the oldest player ever to triple in the majors. (No word on any collusion in that affair, but at least it came off a legitimate pitcher, Howard Ehmke – who would find a bigger place in Senators lore many years later.) Altrock’s SABR bio is a worthy read, but alas, no confirmation of the legend that he had cousins named Miles Altjazz and Hank Altcountry.

Shaw got his 16th win to tie for 6th in the league, while ranking 2nd in SO/9. The next year, he led the majors with 307 IP and was 4th in AL pitcher WAR, but he went just 17-17 as Washington stumbled into 7th place. Even so, Shaw had 72 wins by age 25, still among the top 60 in modern history (a list topped by Johnson). But Shaw lasted just two more years.

Walter Johnson pitched 39 games that year and was never removed: he completed all 29 starts, and finished all 10 relief outings. And what manager would be fool enough to lift him? He paced both loops with a 1.27 ERA, 23 wins and 162 strikeouts. It’s the only season since 1905 with more than 20 starts and all of them CG.

Wickey McAvoy served up Altrock’s HR in the only mound appearance of his career. He got the last out of that inning, then played one more season behind the plate for the A’s, batting .141 — 10th worst in modern times with at least 150 ABs. Then he returned whence he came, to Jack Dunn‘s legendary Orioles (tabbed the greatest minor league team of all time in the BJHBA), where he caught the young Lefty Grove as well as the two-way star Jack Bentley. The 1922 Orioles went something like 115-52, and McAvoy earned postseason plaudits:

“McAvoy probably is the most logical to be called the hero of the [Junior World Series], for it was his bat that won two games, started a rally that won another, and in the second game kept the Orioles from being shut out.” - The Sporting News

Mule Watson finished his career with the 1923-24 Giants, who captured the flag both years. He started the 1923 WS opener – there must have been a reason –  but only lasted 2 innings. The Giants won that game on Casey Stengel‘s inside-the-park HR in the 9th, and took game 3 by 1-0 on another Stengel HR — until 1949, the only HR-powered 1-0 WS win — but they lost the series in six games. Watson had better luck in the 1924 Series: Entering game 3 in the 9th with the bases full, one out and a 2-run lead, he quelled the fire to give the Giants a 2-1 edge on the Senators. (To this day, just one WS relief outing of less than an inning earned as much WPA as Watson’s did.) But Washington won a thrilling game 7 in 12 innings, helped by a dropped foul and a couple of bad hops.

The world-champion Senators of 1924 were an almost completely different group from 1918, which is odd since the franchise would become known for stability. From 1901-50, a dozen players logged at least 1,200 games with the Senators, more such players than any other team. But the rotation and lineup had just one holdover each, Johnson and 1B Joe Judge. The clubs did have one thing in common, though: The ’24 champs also hit just one HR at home, and were out-homered in their park for the season by Babe Ruth. (For his searchable career, 1916-35, Ruth hit 34 HRs in 597 ABs in Griffith Stadium — more HRs than the leading Senator, Goose Goslin, hit there in over four times the ABs.)

The A’s finished last in 1918, the midpoint of seven straight cellar seasons. There was actually a good bit of talent on the club. 2B Jimmy Dykes, a rookie in 1918, stayed with Mack through 1932 and was a standout for the ’29 champs, in both the season and the Series. Most others were traded within a few years, with the returns contributing little to their second dynasty. Jumping Joe Dugan, who in 1918 was a SS in his first full year, did fetch (in a very roundabout way) a fading Howard Ehmke, who had enough left to set a WS record with 13 Ks in the ’29 WS opener; but meanwhile, Dugan wound up in 5 WS as a 3B for the Yankees. Larry Gardner and Charlie Jamieson went in an ill-advised swap for Braggo Roth, who was dealt in turn to bring back first-dynasty legends Jack Barry (who hung up his spikes) and Amos Strunk (sold for the waiver price a year later). Both Gardner and Jamieson were key players in Cleveland’s 1920 title. So was 1B George Burns, a top hitter in 1918, sold to Cleveland during the 1920 campaign. He played sparingly during that season, but drove in the only run of WS game 6 and had several more good years, earning MVP in ’26 with a then-record 64 doubles.

A’s OF Tillie Walker in 1918 led both leagues with 11 HRs. He played out his career with the A’s, setting a club record of 37 HRs in 1922 that stood for 10 years. He hit 26 of those 37 in cozy Shibe Park, with at least one in every other AL park — except Griffith Stadium. Of the 105 AL HRs accounted for in his splits, none were hit in Washington.

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Pop quiz: Which Perry had the first 20-win season?

Trick answer: While Gaylord did it in 1966 (three years before big brother Jim), Scott Perry beat him by 48 years, going 20-19 for the 1918 A’s, with a 1.98 ERA and 146 ERA+ in a MLB-high 332 innings. Perry logged 28.7% of all innings for the 1918 A’s, a percentage that hasn’t been matched since. (Wilbur Wood ’72 came closest, with 27.1%.) Over the next three years, Perry’s ERA+ was 105, but his record was 18-46; that’s what it was like to pitch for a team that lost 100 games every year.

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