Bryce Harper was one of the few sources of joy for Washington Nationals fans this year. And now that he’s won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, perhaps Congress should repay him with a federal monument.
Ninety years ago—the last time Washington had a consistently dominant baseball club—Congress considered legislation that would have done as much for American League MVPs. In 1924, the Senate voted to accept the league’s offer to build a $100,000 monument in East Potomac Park. But congressional gridlock hampers everything, even something as innocuous as a fully paid-for gift honoring the national pastime’s best performers. The monument couldn’t overcome the opposition from a few cranky House members, and the bill authorizing it died in January 1925.
Ironically, that following season, Senators shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh went on to be the American League’s MVP—the last time a player from DC claimed the award. (Though he went on to commit eight errors in the World Series, costing the Senators their chance to repeat as world champions.)
The Senators’ back-to-back pennants marked Washington baseball’s high-water period, with Hall-of-Fame pitcher Walter Johnson claiming the MVP in 1924. Back then, baseball was unquestionably the nation’s most popular sport, so it was no surprise when the Senate approved the MVP monument resolution without any debate. The text of resolution called for accepting the American League’s offer to build, “as a gift to the people of the United States…a monument to symbolize the national game of baseball and the benefits resulting therefrom to the people of the United States.”
But some House members refused to go along. House leaders tried to bring up the bill under unanimous consent three times, but were thwarted each time.
“Why not a monument to golf?” asked Emanuel Celler, a Democratic congressman from Brooklyn. “Why not a monument to tennis? Why not one to every branch of sport? I can’t see that it is the business of the national government to clutter up its public grounds, especially in Washington, with monuments of this kind.”
Celler was one of three House members that objected when the leadership tried to bring up the bill. The other two were Edward King, an Illinois Republican, and Thomas Blanton, a Texas Democrat. Blanton suggested that it made as much sense to erect monuments to fox hunting and swimming holes, because residents back home were partial to both activities. (There was no major league baseball in Texas at the time.)
American League owners voted to rescind the offer that February. The Senators, probably oblivious to brouhaha on Capitol Hill, dominated the American League in the ensuing season, finishing 8 ½ games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Athletics.
Peckinpaugh won the 1925 MVP in recognition of his leadership and steady defense. Still, the reward was a bit of a head-scratcher. He hit just .294 (in a year when the league average was .292) with four home runs. Peckinpaugh certainly wasn’t the best player in the league, or for that matter, his own team. His teammate, outfielder Goose Goslin, hit .334 with 18 home runs and a league-best 20 triples.
Today, Harper is a much more deserving MVP candidate, even if his team was a colossal disappointment. He led the National League in runs scored (118), on-base percentage (.460) and slugging percentage (.649); tied for the lead in homers (42); and was second in batting average (.330), in a year when the league average was just .253. Now that he’s brought the award back to Washington, perhaps his legions of fans on Capitol Hill, including Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, will bring the MVP monument idea back for the National League. Who could object this time?
Frederic J. Frommer is head of the Sports Business Practice at the Dewey Square Group, a public affairs firm, and author of “You Gotta Have Heart,” a history of Washington baseball.