By JANE LEAVY | New York Times | October 22, 2011
Among the games people play, baseball is distinguished by the preservation of landmark numbers — 56, .367, 2,632, 4,256. But Major League Baseball does precious little to preserve the places where the game once breathed.
Last week, after more than five years of hectoring by the former Washington Senators public-address announcer Charlie Brotman, a sign marking Griffith Stadium — where the tape measure home run was born — was finally erected on Georgia Avenue NW.
Howard University Hospital, which sits on the ground where Earl McNeely’s grounder hit the pebble that allowed the winning run to score in Washington’s only World Series victory, in 1924, proudly unveiled home plate in a hallway near a bank of elevators.
Clark Griffith, the grandson of the scion of woeful Washington baseball, took one look and knew it was wrong.
“I was stunned how off it was,” Griffith said. “That the position was so wrong and the orientation was so wrong.”
The Griffith Stadium sign is part of a new D.C. Heritage Trail. The hospital displayed memorabilia and located the plate near first base and had it pointed toward left field.
I could have told them they were wrong. It took the physicist Alan Nathan, the chairman of the science committee for the Society for American Baseball Research, three years to fix the location of the plate so that I could measure the actual distance of Mickey Mantle’s April 17, 1953, clout, reported by a Yankees public-relations man, who did not have a tape measure, as 565 feet.
Robert Caro, the biographer of Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Moses, argues that an author cannot fully understand his subject without an intimate knowledge of the landscape that produced him. That is why he devoted the first 100 pages of the first L.B.J. volume to the Texas Hill Country and why he moved there for three years.
For a baseball biographer, documenting the landscape is an essential part of holding myth accountable to history.