Not since British troops burned the White House during the War of 1812 had the environs of the nation’s capital endured a conflagration triggering a plummet in morale. On March 17, 1911, a fire tore through the Washington Nationals’ ballpark, also known as Boundary Field “It is well, however, to be optimistic,” stated an editorial in the Washington Post. “It is this quality that has distinguished Washington ‘fans’ from the rest of the universe. Others may lose hope and be cast down, but the Washington ‘fans’ never.”
Plumbers left a blow lamp “in an exposed place,” according to the Post. An estimated $20,000 in damage resulted from the blaze. A lumber company and land owned by Howard University sustained damage estimated at $20,000 and $2,000, respectively.
With the season starting in just a few weeks, Washington’s baseball brain trust had to consider viable options if the stadium could not be fixed in time for Opening Day. It was a logistical nightmare involving the balance of practicality, insurance money, and promises from contractors.
An idea to move the Nationals-Red Sox Opening Day game from Washington to Boston received quick dismissal from the hierarchy belonging to the Boston Braves. “It would be out of the question for us to consent to the Washington American league [sic] opening being transferred to Boston, because we also open on that date,” said L. Coues Page in an article for the Boston Globe. “All opening games are considered plums, and it would be contrary to the national agreement of baseball clubs for such a thing to happen.”
Logically, the Braves would not submit. “It would be a poor business proposition for us, and I personally don’t believe such a thing could be don without violating the peace clause of the national agreement,” continued Page.
Lack of firefighting infrastructure jeopardized the ballpark. “The fire was one of the hardest to combat in the history of the local department,” reported the Post. “That Washington needs a high-pressure water system was clearly demonstrated, say the firemen. There are but four fire plugs within the immediate vicinity of the ball park, and it was with great difficulty that the engines stationed at a distance threw water on the burning structures.”
Repair efforts proved successful. Washington hosted Boston for the Opening Day game, which ended in an 8-5 victory for the home team.
1911 was not a great year for the Senators. It was not even a good one. Their 64-90 record put them in seventh place in the American League. Walter Johnson, as was his won’t, put up terrific figures belying the team’s mediocrity:
- 25-13 win-loss record
- 1.90 ERA
- Six shutouts
- 36 complete games
- 207 strikeouts
- Led American League in shutouts
- Led major leagues in complete games
Clyde Milan, Washington’s center fielder, led the American League in:
- Plate appearances (705)
- At bats (616)
- Games played (154)
Additionally, he ratcheted 148 hits for a .315 batting average, his career high. In the following two seasons the fleet-footed Milan led the major leagues in stolen bases:
- 88 stolen bases in 1912
- 75 stolen bases in 1913
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 5, 2016.