“First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”
That was the battle cry of the Washington Senators for much of their existence. In the first 23 years of the franchise, they finished sixth, seventh, or last 14 times and had just six winning seasons.
All that changed when Stanley “Bucky” Harris was tabbed as their manager.
Owner Clark Griffith gave his 27-year old second baseman Harris the reins to the team before the 1924 season.
“You’re only a kid, as managers go, I’m gambling on you having the right stuff,” Griffith told him according to the Hall of Fame.
The Senators owner was right. In his first year, Harris piloted Washington to its first American League pennant. Harris’ squad finished two games ahead of the Yankees.
Knocking New York off the top spot was no small feat. The Yankees previously owned the decade. From 1920-1923, New York averaged more than 96 wins per season, winning three consecutive pennants starting in 1921.
The ’24 campaign was special in DC. Thirty-six year old Walter Johnson earned the AL’s pitching Triple Crown with 23 wins, a 2.72 ERA and 158 strikeouts. Harris deployed Firpo Marberry as the game’s first true reliever. The right-hander responded by leading all of baseball in appearances, saves, and games finished.
Hall of Fame Goose Goslin led the Washington offense, batting .344 with a .421 on-base percentage, and a .516 slugging mark. Goslin’s 129 RBI were tops in the AL.
Harris was spectacular in the the ’24 Mid Summer Classic, the franchise’s first postseason appearance. In the 7-game tilt against John McGraw’s New York Giants, no player had more hits or runs batted in than the Senators player/manager.
In the deciding Game 7, the Senators scored two in the eighth to tie the game. Harris brought The Big Train in for the 9th despite Johnson losing his two World Series starts in Games 1 and 6, both complete-game efforts. Pitching on just a day’s rest, Johnson quieted the New York bats for four scoreless innings. In the bottom of the 12th Washington catcher Muddy Ruel hit a one-out double. Two batters later Ruel, who scored the game-tying run in the 8th, came around to score the winning run.
At last the Senators were champions of baseball.
The following season Harris guided his team to a four-game improvement and a second consecutive American League championship. After the first four games, the Senators held a three-games-to-one advantage. Though Washington dropped Games 5,6, and 7 to the Pirates, Harris’ place in the nations capital and in baseball history was assured.
He managed went on to manage the Tigers for seven years over two stints, and the Red Sox and the Phillies for one year each. Harris earned another ring as skipper of the 1947 Yankees. The following season New York won 94, but slipped to third place to cost Bucky his job.
In addition to his five years with the Senators from 1924-1928, Harris helmed the club in 1935-1942, and 1951-1954.
He left the game with 2,158 wins. At the time of Harris’ retirement only Connie Mack and McGraw had more.
Shown above is a letter written and signed by manager Harris. Dated 17 days before the opening of the 1925 World Series, the letter reads, “As the World Series approaches we need your help to have a winning team. Hope you have made arrangements to come at once. You will be a great help to the team. The players seem to have more courage and pep when you’re around. Please do not fail us. Sincerely, Stanley “Bucky” Harris”
Letters from this era handwritten by members of the Hall of Fame are rarely seen.