In order to earn a nickname like, “The Old Fox,” one cannot be anything close to what a prototypical pitcher is thought to be, and that is what Clark Griffith was as a player. He amassed 453 wins to 372 losses with a 3.31 ERA over 20 seasons. Clark Griffith lived up to his nickname using deception instead of speed to get players out, and after his playing career was over it would be slightly ironic that one of the greatest finesse pitchers would own the team that was home to one of the games greatest power pitchers.
Clark Griffith as a player has only a small role in Washington baseball history, but it is an important role. It was Griffith who while representing the players in a salary dispute with the NL had worked out a deal with Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey to turn the American League into a major league with Washington being one of 8 charter cities. The city of Washington had had a professional franchise for a brief period of time when the NL Washington Nationals called Washington home from 1886-1889 before being folded due to poor attendance and overall mismanagement. When the leaders of the NL turned down Griffith’s and the players request for more money Griffith quickly wired Johnson and Comiskey to let them know the players were on their side.
It wouldn’t be until 11 years later that Griffith would once again have a place in Washington baseball history. As the manager of the Chicago White Sox and New York Highlanders Griffith would earn a managerial record of 576-483. He would then move back to the NL and Cincinnati Red were he would manage for three season to a record of 222-238. Tiring of the NL and with a job opening in Washington Griffith felt like it was time for a move, but this time he wanted a larger slice. One of Griffith’s terms in coming to manage the lowly Senators was that he could buy a 10% ownership stake.
Before Clark Griffith arrived the Senators were as much a pathetic mess as previous incarnations of baseball in the nation’s capital. In the ten seasons before Griffith took over as manager the Senators never finished higher than sixth and had finished last in the league four times. In Giffith’s first season as manager he led the Senators to a record of 91-61 and a second place finish in the AL. He would go on to have another 90 win season and second place finish in his second season as manager. Overall as manager of the Senators Griffith won 693 games while losing 646. More importantly he brought winning baseball to the city. The Senators never finished last with Griffith as the manager and finished out of the second division in five of his nine seasons at the helm.
In 1919 Griffith would team William Richardson, a Philadelphia businessman, to buy a controlling interest in the franchise. After the 1920 season Griffith left the field for good and turned his attention to building a real contending team. After becoming the team president Griffith was able to add players like Goose Goslin, Muddy Ruel, Ossie Bluege, Curly Ogden, and Joe Judge to go along with Walter Johnson, Sam Rice, and second baseman and kid manager Bucky Harris. It would be this team that would lead Washington baseball to its one and only World Series title in 1924.
After that title the Senantors made it back to the Series once the following year and again in 1933 losing both times. Clark Griffith would pass away at the age of 85 in 1955 and his adopted son would proceed to run down the name Griffith and then move the team out of Washington. As the owner of the franchise from 1919 to 1955 the Washington Senators would finish last only three teams and would finish in the first division 14 times. After Calvin Griffith took over the Senators never finished higher than fifth and had three last place finishes in five seasons before moving t0 Minnesota in 1960.
The history of the Washington Senators is thought of as one of losing, but under Clark Griffith that wasn’t the case. Griffith was a winner as a player, a manager, and an owner.