It may seem odd to commemorate the one decent season of a dismal franchise with a card set. But Washington Senators (1961-1971 version) fans, of a certain age, fondly remember 1969; the only winning season in the expansion team’s history.
In 1998, a Senators reunion was held to celebrate the storied season. Attendees at the reunion breakfast received uncut sheets of cards featuring caricatures of the players. The individual cards were reminiscent of the 1938 Goudey “Heads-Up” (like the DiMaggio above).
The 1998 cards were produced by legendary card dealer Larry Fitsch. He cut card stock into 2 ½ x 2 7/8 inch cards and packaged them as a set of 28. In addition to statistics and trivia on the backs, there is a commentary by radio personality Phil Wood. I purchased a set in the early 2000s.
The second incarnation of the Washington Senators began in 1961 in conjunction with Calvin Griffith moving the first Senators team (1901-1960) to Minnesota. Pressure from Congress to keep the “national pastime” in the nation’s capital compelled the American League to create the expansion Senators with nothing but an off-season separating the tenures of the two teams.
The existing AL teams provided a poor-quality player pool for the expansion draft, resulting in four straight 100 loss seasons. Over the span of eight years, the Nats averaged 96 losses never finishing higher than 6th in the 10-team league.
Before the 1969 season the sports gods smiled on the downtrodden Washington fans by providing a savior so legendary that his nickname evokes the sport itself: “Teddy Ballgame.” Senators owner Bob Short needed a big name to get the fans excited, so he convinced Ted Williams to put down his rod-and-reel and manage the club.
Ted did inherit a few good pieces. In addition to hulking, super-slugger Frank Howard, the Senators had two good starting pitchers in Dick Bosman and Joe Coleman as well as bullpen stalwarts Darrell Knowles and Casey Cox. Del Unser and Mike Epstein were promising youngsters, while Eddie Brinkman and Ken McMullen anchored the left side of the infield.
The enthusiasm surrounding Williams’ dugout presence rubbed off on the players. The club overachieved by posting a winning season with 86 victories. They still finished 23 games behind the division champion Orioles; nevertheless, fans were hopeful for the future.
Of course, the success was not sustainable. The club resumed its losing ways and followed the same script as the original Senators by moving to Texas in 1972.
So, if you are dying to relive the glory year of Jim French, Bernie Allen, Tim Cullen, Fred Valentine and Dick Billings, the set is still available. http://www.fritschcards.com
Larry Fritsch Cards: 1969 Heads-Up Senators product page
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