The (Forfeited) Last Game of the Washington Senators in 1971

I had not known the last game of the second version of the Senators’ franchise was a forfeit, but the Washington, D.C. newspapers have taken a few looks back at it over the decades. Timothy Dwyer of the Post wrote in 2004:

Thursday, Sept. 30, 1971, began as a dismal, rainy day in Washington. Good weather for a funeral, not much good for baseball. Ron Menchine, the radio voice of the Washington Senators, remembers waking up that morning, seeing the rain and then making a wish about that night’s game, the final home game of the final season for the Senators.

“I hope it keeps raining,” he thought, “and they rain the damn thing out and I won’t have to broadcast it.”

His wish did not come true. The rain cleared out by the afternoon, and by evening about 14,000 people showed up at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Owner Bob Short was home in Minnesota, sitting next to a squawk box, listening to the game on the radio. He had not come for the funeral because it was decided that it might be too dangerous for him.

It was a good decision.

Word of Short’s plan to move the Senators to Texas, which began to surface in the dog days of the summer, was not viewed as a good decision by baseball fans in Washington. They had lost their team once before, in 1960, gotten it back, and now their beloved Nats were leaving again, not for Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, but for Arlington, a dinky, nowhere town between Dallas and Fort Worth with all the big-league stature of an anthill.

On Sept. 21, the first day of autumn, owners met in Boston and approved the move to Texas. The announcement came late at night, just in time for the 11 o’clock news.

Dick Bosman was watching with his wife, Pam, at their Fairfax home. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘That’s it, we’re going.’ “

The mood in the clubhouse the next day was grim. “It was like the whole team had been traded,” he said.

The last game finally came, and Bosman was again the starting pitcher. He had a difficult time focusing on the Yankees.

“I was angry,” he said. “I was resentful and I was angry. This was a place where it was my first major league club, my first major league ballpark. I met my wife and got married there. I was angry we were leaving.”

As he warmed up, he could tell right away that the fans — who were chanting and hanging obscene signs — shared his emotions.

“I think all of us felt that way,” he said. “I really had a hard time in that game. I had a hard time separating the emotions, and there was chaos in the stands, there was chaos in the field. I’ll never forget it.”

The Senators fell behind to the Yankees, staring up at a 5-1 score in the sixth inning. Bosman had given up home runs to Bobby Murcer, Roy White and Rusty Torres. But the Senators had one more comeback left in them. Frank Howard hit his 26th homer of the year, and the Senators grabbed a 7-5 lead in the eighth inning.

Del Unser was in right field, having moved over from center late in the game. He noticed the fans gathering along the right field line. A few had run onto the field before the inning began and were cleared off when an announcement was made warning that the game would be forfeited if they didn’t leave.

In the ninth inning, Murcer bounced back to the mound for the second out. And fans poured onto the field. They grabbed the bases, including home plate. They started digging up the mound and even ripped off pieces of the scoreboard.

Unser ran for the dugout. “I saw them going crazy, and I just hoped I could get to the dugout. It was basically you just grab your hat and run for it. It was a little broken-field running through the crowd, but nobody was after us, they were after souvenirs from the stadium.”

Joe Grzenda, a 34-year-old left-handed relief pitcher, threw the Senators’ last pitch. The Post, again in 2004, wrote about Grzenda:

That evening, as the moment he dreaded approached when the franchise in Washington would die, fate — and the managerial hand wave of Ted Williams — thrust him from the bullpen’s dark corner to the spotlight of the mound. He was called in to pitch the ninth inning and hold the Senators ‘ 7-5 lead over the New York Yankees. Jogging in across the field, he felt buoyed not by his chance for a save but simply the opportunity to salvage a small satisfaction from the most heart-rending day of an itinerant professional career in which he played for 18 teams in 20 years.

He got Felipe Alou to ground out. Bobby Murcer hit a sharp one-hopper to the mound, and Grzenda threw him out. A fast worker, he shouted to Horace Clarke to step into the batter’s box. “I hollered, ‘C’mon, let’s go, get in there.’ ” With that, hundreds from the stands rushed crazily onto the field. Grzenda turned and saw them coming. He had thrown the last pitch in Senators history.

As a big, bearded man barreled toward him, Grzenda grabbed his red cap and wondered what was going to happen to him. “Was he going to tackle me? I didn’t know.” But all the man did was run up to him and touch him on the shoulder, “touched me, just like that.” In what looked from above like a kaleidoscope of chaos, players scurried to safety as people pulled up the bases and grass, and at least three jumped on big Frank Howard’s back, and others ran aimlessly. The game was forfeited. The Senators ‘ last season was over.

An hour or so later, Grzenda found his wife Ruth and two children, Joe Jr. and Donna Marie, and together they made their way to their car in the stadium parking lot. The 11-year-old boy, his favorite team taken from him, wept in the back seat. The father still felt his heart beating fast from a ninth inning he could never have imagined. Then, like leaving home for the last time, he pulled out of the lot and, sadly, silently, drove into the night in his Pontiac Bonneville.

Fast forward 33 years. Joe Grzenda’s home now is where it was then, a modest split-level at the edge of the woods in the northern foothills of the Pocono Mountains.

Yes, he still had the ball, the last ball used in a Washington Senators game.

“Sure,” he said, “I’ve got it in a drawer.”

And in 1991, the Washington Times wrote:

The umpires asked the Senators to warn the crowd over the public address system of a possible forfeit. And they did – to no avail.

With two outs in the ninth, a fan raced out to shake hands with the players. After rounding second, he dived into the dirt, scrambled up and headed toward the outfielders before security guards caught him. The Senators called time to allow the players in both bullpens to return safely to the dugout.

“That final strategic move ignited an already hostile crowd and started the rampage,” said Senators second baseman Tim Cullen.

Undaunted by the forfeiture threat, thousands of fans ran onto the field from all directions, taking control of the infield and rendering the police, security guards and umpires helpless.

Senators pitcher Jackie Brown was halfway to the dugout when the fans ran onto the field. “It got a little shaky,” he said.

Grzenda watched the mayhem unfold from his perch on the mound. When the fans began to run toward him, he immediately fled for the dugout. “I never saw anything like that before,” Grzenda said. “I grabbed my cap and ran.”

Not knowing what the fans might do, John Welaj, head of the Senators ‘ public relations department, immediately called the club’s administrative offices and suggested that all the doors be locked.

“I didn’t know what the fans were going to do next,” Welaj said. “So I told the girls in the office to lock up just to be safe.”

Ted Williams said he was neither surprised or dismayed by the ending. adding, “One more loss didn’t affect our overall performance that year.” Their 63-96 record was the Senators ‘ worst in seven years.

Menchine said: “Oh, man, it was a disaster. I did that game, and I am a pretty effervescent guy, but when I did that game I was pretty devastated because here I had waited all my life for this opportunity, and I was watching it slip away. I did the game in a monotone.”

Brian Short argued that his dad “really had no choice but to move the team. You look back at sports owners in that era with the benefit of looking through the lens of today, and you see that the club had to support itself. . . . My dad ran a very successful trucking business, millions of dollars of which went to running that team.”

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Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 8:17 am  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. hi i was living at a foster home in new carrolton, md. in 1971. i was 11. we sat on the third base side, a couple of rows from the dugout.i was hoping i could get a copy of the game and see if i can see myself, brother and the foster parents son who took us to the game.

  2. i want to buy a copy of the game i was there

  3. I was at theat game, my dad worked with a guy who was an usher for the senators as a part time job. He always got me in free. I got to know the little black kid that painted the seats white where the ball struck in the upper deck when Frank Howard hit a home run. Him and I were sitting up there all by ourselves when the mayhem hit the field. We were laughing and having as good a time as two 13 year old boys could have back then, cheering, yelling, clapping… great memory.

  4. I was there as well. I remember a big burly guy they called “‘ baseball billy” who hanged a dummy from a rope with a noose from the upper deck in right field. It was supposed to be a dummy of bob short. When security came after him, he would haul the dummy up and run away. He did this a couple of times. What a scream! Sad night for senator fans. I’m glad they are back!

  5. The radiocast is available for sale, both through the catalogue at otrcat.com and from Onesmedia’s collection of 96 old-time games. Ironically enough, though, it is mislabeled as the final game of the ORIGINAL Sens, from 1960 against the Orioles, and thus not in its proper chronological place at the end of the collection (which goes all the way back to a 1934 Tiger-Yankees game). So Washington lost its franchise, lost a game it deserved to win (due to the forfeit) and the broadcast is mislabeled and misfiled. Sigh.

    A lot of young talent on that 1971 team: Elliot Maddox, Del Unser, Jeff Burroughs, Toby Harrah and Dave Nelson were in the lineup for that final game. I wonder how much the move to Texas set the team’s development back?

  6. Short Still Stinks!

  7. Is there a video of frank Howard final home run at rfk

  8. Is there a video or copy of the final home game of the Washington Senators in Oct, 1971?


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