January 19, 2019:
The rules for the annual MLB All-Star games require that every team, no matter how bad, must have a representative. The expansion Nats were no worse than many bad teams over the years, but Washington’s lone “All-Star” twice was given short shrift.
Dick Donovan was an obvious and deserving pick in 1961, but with a tender arm, he didn’t appear. On the strength of his hot start — he was 6-2 with an ERA of about 2.60 when the teams were filled out — pitcher Dave Stenhouse was selected for the ’62 All-Star roster. Two games were played that season, and although the first game was at D.C. Stadium, Stenhouse didn’t pitch. But he was named the starter for that season’s second All-Star game at Wrigley Field. He game up a run in two innings.
The 1963 Nats were woeful, finishing with 106 losses, but Ralph Houk made it clear in mid-season his disdain for the All-Star team selection rules. The Yankees manager picked Don Leppert, who had been injured and by then was not even the Senators’ regular catcher, for the All-Star team. Leppert had somehow managed to hit three of the six homers he would have all season in a game in early April. (That game’s highlight was the one-hit shutout by Tom Cheney, to boot.)
Houk could have picked Cheney, who already had thrown four shutouts and hadn’t yet hurt his arm, or Chuck Hinton in recognition of the outfielder’s .310 average in ’62 and his his base-stealing proclivity, but he didn’t, nor did he play Leppert. Even though his numbers had declined, Hinton did get the nod for the 1964 game, but didn’t play.
Houk justified his pick by saying, “I needed a third catcher.” Leppert, tongue firmly in cheek, told Bob Addie of the Washington Post that Houk was “a fine judge of talent.”
“I can always say I was an all-star,” Leppert, then 84, told the Post in 2015.
Starter Pete Richert was the Nats’ All-Star pick in 1965 and ’66, ending up the loser in the 1966 game when he gave up the winning run in the 10th.
In 1967, Hank Bauer, manager of the ’66 World Champion Orioles, picked Paul Casanova as the Senators’ representative. The game went 15 innings, but Bauer left starting catcher Bill Freehan in all the way, leaving Casanova and Bauer’s own Andy Etchebarren on the bench. Etchebarren was no more an offensive threat than Casanova at that point and was on the team more as a manager’s favorite rather than an obligatory pick like Casanova. Admittedly, there were few good choices among AL catchers that season. Right before Bauer picked the All-Star reserves, Casanova’s three-run homer had beaten the Orioles, 3-2. Cazzy was hitting about .260 at that point, tops among Nats’ regulars.
Yet Bauer could have picked Frank Howard, who had 18 homers by late June, or Darold Knowles, who came up with the Orioles in late ’65 and already had established himself as the Nats’ closer.
The Senators were not to be ignored the next three seasons as Howard was picked as a starter all three years. Fittingly, he homered in the ’69 All-Star game at his home park, by then named Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. That season, the expansion Nats’ best by far, was the only time the team had two players on the All-Star roster as closer Knowles also was picked.
Howard was the expansion Nats’ final All Star as a reserve on the 1971 team.