New park, same old Senators
Strong points: Manager Mickey Vernon has a fairly reliable infield and outfield, which is a big improvement over last season's ragtag beginning. Jimmy Piersall (.322), obtained from the Indians, is baseball's most voluble player but also one of its most talented center fielders. Piersall will add color and, certainly, controversy to the team. His fine defensive play will also take some of the pressure off Left Fielder Charley Hinton and Right Fielder Gene Woodling, both poor fielders. But Woodling, even running on 39-year-old legs, adds hitting power (.313) to the outfield. Ready to relieve Woodling and Hinton will be Willie Tasby and Jim King. In the infield Vernon has Bob Johnson at short (.295) and Chuck Cottier, an accomplished gloveman, at second. The veteran Danny O'Connell helps stabilize the infield with his hustle and steady if unspectacular play at third.
Weak spots: The pitching, at best, is fair, and the hitting is terrible. Right-hander Bennie Daniels (12-11, 3.44 ERA) is the only winning pitcher on the staff, and Pete Burnside (4-9, 4.54 ERA) the only left-hander of note. The rest of the starters—Joe McClain (8-18), Ed Hobaugh (7-9) and Tom Cheney (1-3)—will try again. Part of the pitchers' troubles can be blamed, however, on the Washington hitters. The team was last in batting in the league and runs scored. Dale Long, who is a part-time first baseman at 36, is the team's only power hitter.
The big ifs: Last year, when the team was new to the AL, spirit and enthusiasm helped win a few games in the spring. Perhaps the move from shabby old Griffith Stadium to the Senators' modern new park this year will touch off a spark. That's about all that can help this team.
Rookies and new faces: To get Piersall the Senators had to give away Dick Donovan, the league's ERA leader. Pitching help will have to come from the likes of Ray Rippelmeyer, a big right-hander who has been kicking around the minors since 1954; Dave Stenhouse, obtained from the Reds' farm system; and rookie Carl Bouldin, who throws a knuckler that curves (109 SOs in 78 innings in Class D last year). Bob Schmidt, a power-hitting catcher (when he hits, .132 BA) obtained from the Reds, won the first-string job with his bat in spring training. The most promising newcomer is Catcher Ken Retzer, who hit .340 in 16 games with the Senators at the end of the season.
OUTLOOK: The Senators did not fall irretrievably into the cellar until they lost on the final day of last season. This year they will get there sooner.
Anything can happen in the spring
Pete Daley, one of the Senators' catchers, has a lifetime batting average of .239 to show for seven seasons in the majors. Last year he hit .192. Is Pete depressed by it all? Listen to him talking this spring:
"I think I'll do pretty well. Last spring I hit .360 and was the catcher on Opening Day. I kept on hitting the ball hard but it was going right to someone all the time. Then I got in a little slump and I looked for my average and could hardly find it.
"Gene Woodling and I got talking and he said, 'You can't do any worse than you are'—he wasn't trying to be smart, he was right—'so why don't you try hitting like me?' I switched to a big, heavy bat: 38 ounces, 36 inches. I got down in that crouch like he does and it worked.
"The guys on the team laughed when I started using it. Yogi really laughed at me from the dugout the first time he saw me use it in New York, but I hit a line drive that almost tore the pitcher's head off. He didn't laugh anymore.
"It gives me more straightaway power, too, which is good, because I've always been a pull hitter. I'm going to stick with it. The last two months of the season I hit .295 that way. I know, I keep track of those things."
Last year the new Washington Senators lost 100 games and finished 47½ games out of first place. The result was just what most experts had figured for the new franchise. As late as June 15, however, Washington was playing .500 ball and was tied for fourth place. It is difficult to name a single loss as a turning point when a team loses 100 games. But one of the Washington players thought he could do it.
"I remember the one that turned our season around," said Relief Pitcher Marty Kutyna. "We were moving along real good, giving everybody a little hell, including the Yankees.
"We were playing Boston in the middle of June. We go into the ninth inning with a 12-5 lead. Everything seemed just fine. We were winning our share, baseball seemed like a lot of fun, and I was doing a good job in relief. In fact, Ed Hobaugh and I were planning on becoming another Gomez and Murphy."
What happened then?
The relief pitcher laughed. "Errors, base hits, pop flies, long balls, everything. Next thing we know we're in the clubhouse, beaten 13-12. The bottom just fell out and we got to believing we were as bad as everybody said we were."
Gene Woodling started his professional career in 1940. He is the American League player representative and has the respect of all his teammates. Gene Woodling is considered a pro.
The other day Woodling walked out of the Senators' clubhouse a few minutes before a game. A player came along with his uniform shirt hanging out of his trousers and his cap perched back on his head like a sandlotter. Woodling turned to the sloppy young ballplayer. "Tuck your shirt in," he said. "Look like a big leaguer."
Gene Woodling, age 39, is a little heavy and doesn't look like a professional athlete. No matter. His uniform was neat and his cap was straight.