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Washington Examiner
Restoring America
21 Oct 2023


NextImg:The 1924 World Series Centennial is the time to put Joe Judge, my grandfather, in the Hall of Fame

It’s October and the baseball season is heating up. It’s also time for my annual pitch asking Major League Baseball to put my grandfather in the league’s Hall of Fame.

To do so would correct a decades-old injustice. It would celebrate an athlete who was loyal to his hometown, who gave almost four decades of his life to the game, and was a gentleman on and off the field. He was a brilliant player and the inspiration for the character Joe Hardy in the book Damn Yankees. Joe Judge, my grandfather, was baseball.

WHY THE REPUBLICANS CAN'T JUST GET ALONG

This year, baseball has seen abysmally low attendance — even at the playoff games. The Tampa Bay Rays, for example, have thousands of empty seats every home game because they, like too many teams in baseball, are made up of free agents who have no roots or real name recognition in the city that they play for. Having survived the steroid era, and now suffering from low attendance and too much specialization, baseball can do a lot for itself by recognizing one of its greatest and almost forgotten players .

From 1915 to 1932, Joe Judge played first base for the Washington Senators, and he then played his final two seasons for the Boston Red Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers. His career stats remain impressive: a .298 batting average, 2,352 hits, 433 doubles, and 1,034 runs batted in. He was magic with the glove — the sportswriter Shirley Povitch called him “poetry in motion” — five times leading the American League in fielding percentage or tied at the top. He had 1,500 double plays and 1,284 assists. He tied or led the American League in fielding percentage five times.

Gramps played in the 1924 World Series, which the Senators won in seven games. Judge hit .385 against the New York Giants. He also saved legendary pitcher Walter Johnson’s only no-hitter, snagging a ball that had bounced over the first base bag in what the Washington Star newspaper called “a sizzle-bounce.” At a 1953 Old Timers Game, the great announcer Mel Allen introduced him as “that other Washington Monument.”

After retiring, my grandfather coached at Georgetown University for 20 years. My father, also named Joe Judge and who died in 1996, always included his father’s coaching in the assessment of his career: “He gave almost 40 years of his life to baseball,” my father would say. “All of his heart and soul.”

It was in the early 1950s that my grandfather’s daughter, my aunt Dorothy, dated the writer Douglass Wallop. Wallop would stop by the house in Washington and see my grandfather watching the Senators games on TV, talking to the players, and arguing with the umpires. Wallop would then write the book Damn Yankees about an aging Washington jock named Joe who makes a deal with the devil to come back and play baseball. “The man in that book was my father,” my father would say.

My father always used to talk about his father as a quiet, gentlemanly person and player: “He wasn’t playing in New York so he didn’t have that kind of celebrity.” Everyone who met him described him the same way — a gentleman who never used bad language, proving himself on the field. “He was not a yeller or a screamer,” one of the Georgetown students he coached once told me. “But he could be funny. He once said the way we played could bring tears to a rocking horse.”

Up until his death of a heart attack at 68 in 1963, a year before I was born, Joe Judge was known and recognized by virtually everyone in Washington. The district’s old Griffith Stadium held Joe Judge Day on June 28, 1930, when all proceeds went to the first baseman. Devoting a day to a single player was a rare honor back then. According to the June 29, 1930, edition of the Washington Post, Joe Judge was “showered with coin and gifts totaling $8,000.” The paper concluded: “Now Joe Judge knows how highly esteemed he is by Washington fandom. The fans made his day — Judge Day — something long to be remembered in baseball history.”

The one reason the MLB might be against my grandfather could be something that happened in 1950. That year, my grandfather’s byline appeared on an article for Sports Illustrated. Titled “Verdict Against the Hall of Fame,” the piece claims that “the Hall has lost some of its meaning and much of its glory in recent years.” Judge slammed players such as Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, who were immortalized for the poetic ring of their double-play combination — Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Tinkers's lifetime average is .264 and Evers's is .270. “Ballads … do not make base hits,” the piece read.

If the tone seems harsh, it’s probably because (at least, according to family lore) it was actually written by my father, a writer for Life magazine at the time.

The article noted other stats of Hall of Famers, players such as catcher Ray Schalk’s lifetime .253 average, and shortstop Rabbit Maranville, who never hit over .300. “In my day,” Gramps (or my father) wrote, “by the time the infield was finished spitting tobacco juice and licorice and rubbing the ball down with mud, especially on a dark afternoon, that ball would come at you looking like a lump of coal. A great hitter would lay the wood on it regardless of the side it was thrown from or the stuff on it.” Modern players, he argued, “are not expected to throw too well or run too fast as long as they can belt the ball out of the park when their one moment of usefulness arrives.”

Obviously such a verdict didn’t please Major League Baseball. Yet those words ring true today. Specialization and free agency are why players don’t stay in any city for too long. It’s why fans never get attached to them. It’s why, even in the playoffs, Tampa can’t attract a crowd.

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the 1924 World Series, which is, in my view, the greatest in the history of the game. It’s also the right time to put Joe Judge in Cooperstown, New York.

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Mark Judge is an award-winning journalist and the author of  The Devil's Triangle: Mark Judge vs. the New American Stasi . He is also the author of God and Man at Georgetown Prep, Damn Senators, and A Tremor of Bliss.