Griffith Stadium: graveyard for would-be home runs

May 15, 2016:

Most of those familiar with baseball history know that cavernous Griffith Stadium, home of the original Washington American League team from its opening until 1960 and to the expansion Senators in 1961, was a difficult place to hit a ball out of the park. That was especially true before Calvin Griffith moved the fences in after his uncle and adoptive father, Clark Griffith, died in October 1955. (The elder Griffith had reluctantly shortened the left and left-center field distances a bit in 1954. Calvin shortened them even more when he added a  “beer garden” in front of the bleachers during the 1956 season, the first time alcohol was sold in the stadium.)

From 1915 through 1955, Griffith Stadium yielded the fewest home runs (even including inside-the-park homers, of which there were many) in the A.L. for either the home team, the visiting team or both every year except 1921, 1927 and 1954. For 21 consecutive seasons, 1933 to 1953, it was the hardest A.L. park for both the home team and the visitors to hit homers. (The 1932 total was one more than Chicago, or it would be 22 straight.) For 35 seasons over 45 years, Griffith Stadium yielded the fewest homers of any A.L. ball park.

Clark Griffith was no fan of home runs, which is why the oft-repeated quip attributed to him is so out of character: “Fans like home runs, and we’ve assembled a pitching staff to please our fans.” No one seems to recall exactly when he said this, although supposedly it was after he watched his team take a beating fueled by the opponent’s long balls.

Goose Goslin hit all 17 of his 1926 home runs on the road, the highest total ever for a player who didn’t homer in his home park. Third on the list is Eddie Yost of the 1952 Senators, who hit all 12 of his homers away from Griffith Stadium.
In the stadium’s second and third seasons, when it seemed to yield a greater number of home runs, more than half of them did not leave the playing field. In 1912, nine of Washington’s 13 HRs were inside-the-parkers (and another bounced over the fence for a HR under the rules of the day). Eight of the 12 hit by opponents did not clear the fences. Six of the nine Washington HRs and 13 of the 29 hit by the opposition in 1913 were inside-the-parkers.
In Washington’s lone world championship season, 1924, the team’s only home run at Griffith Stadium was hit on Aug. 19 by Goose Goslin. In 1945, when the team finished in second place, 1.5 games behind Detroit, no Washington player hit a ball that cleared the fences at home. The lone Griffith stadium HR by the home team was an inside-the-parker by 39-year-old Joe Kuhel, and that didn’t come until Sept. 7.
Washington lead the league in home runs on the road just once during the Clark Griffith era: In 1949, the Nationals hit 61 away from Griffith Stadium, but just 20 at home (2 inside the park). The pennant winning 1925 team finished second in road homers with 43, but hit just 13 at home – three of them being inside the park.

Roy Sievers in 1957 and Harmon Killebrew in 1959 most likely would not have led the league in homers if Clark Griffith had lived longer.

For a definitive list of home runs hit not only at Griffith Stadium but at all venues for professional baseball in the District of Columbia (through 2008), here’s a link to the late David Vincent’s compilation for the 2009 National Pasttime issue that coincided with that year’s SABR convention in Washington:

Washington Homers

A version of this appeared in the June 2016 edition of Nats News, the newsletter of the Washington Baseball Historical Society.

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