As a D.C.-area native, I was doomed to be a Washington Senators fan from the time my grandfather took me to the first of many games at Griffith Stadium soon after World War II. Summer days were filled with the voices of Arch McDonald and Bob Woolf.
The Washington Senators: first in war, first in peace, last in the American League. At least I knew what to expect when I rooted for them — they were going to lose. It was more fun rooting against the Yankees, although nearly as futile. In those days, the Bronx Bombers were more likely than not to face the Bums of Brooklyn in the World Series, and the early television broadcasts of the October event kept me home “sick” from school many days, although I never seemed to run a fever.
After Johnny Podres shut out the Yanks in 1955, and gave Brooklyn its first trophy in many years, I became a huge Dodger fan. When they moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, I soon discovered Nat Allbright’s play-by-play broadcasts on a Washington radio station, and I became addicted to his urgent voice and colorful descriptions of the game.
What I didn’t know for a couple of years was that he was inventing the drama from pitch-by-pitch wire service reports and supplementing it with canned crowd noise. When he encountered delays in the reports, he would fill the void with accounts of fans on the field, arguments with umpires, interminable walks to the mound by the manager, and even rain delays that suddenly ended without warning.
I discovered Nat’s “secret” one day while switching back and forth between a Dodgers game and a Senators game. My father and I were working in the yard and had the radio facing out from an open window. The Nats were way behind as usual, but the Dodgers were down only two runs when they batted in the bottom of the eighth, so I stuck to that game. When my father ran to the shed to get something, I made a quick check of the Senators game.
Bob Wolff says, “Here’s an update on the Dodger game. Wally Moon blasted a ninth-inning three-run homer into the net at Chavez Ravine to give LA a come-from-behind victory.”
“Wait a minute,” I said out loud, “that game’s not over yet!” So I switched back. Top of the ninth, Dodgers still behind by two runs. “Oh,” I said, “that’s why the crowd noise always sounded so phony. I get it now.”
Dad came back. “What’s the score?”
“Senators are hopelessly behind, but the Dodgers are still down by just two. Funny, but I’ve got a feeling that they’re gonna pull it out somehow. If they can get a couple of runners on in the ninth, Moon will be coming up, and you know what a clutch hitter he’s been lately. I’ll bet you a dollar he hits a homer and wins the game.” I tried to keep from smiling too much.
“It’s a deal.” Dad says. “When you lose, I’ll take it out of your allowance.”
So Moon comes up with two on, and Dad puts down the rake and listens. Nat shouts, “Long drive, could be outta here. It’s gone. Dodgers win!”
Dad pulled out a buck from his wallet, handed it to me, and resumed raking.
Nat 1, Dad 0.