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Maury Povich, Who Was a Senators Bat Boy in the ’40s, on What the Nats Win Means to Him

His dad, Shirley Povich, was actually there the last time a DC team was in the World Series—in 1933

Maury Povich in 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

It’s hard to think of a bigger DC baseball fan than Maury Povich. As the son of legendary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich, he literally grew up with the Senators, and he’s been a regular presence at Nats games ever since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. We called up the 80-year-old TV host, who still has a syndicated daily talk show, to get his thoughts on the Nationals’ trip to the World Series and what his father—who attended the Senators’ previous World Series appearances in the ’20s and ’30s—would’ve thought.

What does the Nats going to the World Series mean to you? 

Are you kidding? It means all of my dreams have been fulfilled. For me, it’s only taken 80 years. [Laughs] I started at the age of 5 as a spring-training bat boy for the Washington Senators in, like, 1946. 

What was that like?  

It was great, because every year our family moved to Florida when I was very young for spring training. We hung around the Senators. Back then the hero was Mickey Vernon. It was just glorious. I met Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial. All the great players of that era, in the late 1940s. I’ve been around that uniform for a long time. 

maury policy nats
The Senators at RFK on Opening Day 1971. Photograph via the Library of Congress.

The last time a DC team was in the World Series was six years before you were born, in 1933. You’ve been pining for this moment for a long time, in other words.  

First of all, I grew up at my father’s knee in the Griffith Stadium press box. In 1954 or ’55, I started working for Bob Wolff, who was the the broadcaster for the Senators back then. I was Bob’s assistant and traveled all summer long with the team, both home and away. That team was very dear to me. Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew and Camilo Pascual and Jim Lemon and Roy Sievers. Those were the great Senators players before they moved to Minnesota. So I was enthralled. Then I started working in the mid ’60s in Washington as the sportscaster at Channel 5, so I followed the second incarnation of the Senators. And then of course we had a 33-year drought. To the point where for 27 of those years, my father was without a team. He refused to go to Baltimore for opening day for those 27 years. It was his protest.   

So he never adopted another team.

Never. Never. The only time he went to Baltimore was for Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s record, and he would go to World Series games if they had them there.

Did you go to that final Senators game in 1971 at what was then called Kennedy Stadium?  

I sure did. I covered that game for Channel 5.

What was that like, just knowing that baseball was leaving DC?  

The game actually never finished because the fans just ran onto the field—they were so mad. I don’t think they ever played the full nine innings. Yeah, it was…you know, the lights were out. And the lights were out for a long time.   

Your father starting writing for the Post the same year—1924—that the Senators actually won their only World Series. That season, they finished two games ahead of Babe Ruth’s Yankees, which is kind of astonishing to even contemplate. It seems like such a distant era, but your father was there. Did he share stories?

Yeah. He was very young. I think it was his first year of writing sports. It was memorable for him because he became great friends with Walter Johnson. Johnson was without a doubt his favorite ballplayer, not only because of his pitching exploits, but he felt that Johnson had the highest character of any person he had met in baseball. Because Johnson was so modest and so truthful and honest. He took Johnson to see this rookie for Cleveland one year named Bob Feller. Everybody was talking about how fast Bob Feller’s fastball was. So my father took Johnson—this was the late ’30s—to the park and asked Johnson whether he thought Feller was faster than he was. Johnson looked at Feller for a couple of pitches, and my father said, “so what do you think, Walter? I mean, is he faster than you?” Walter hesitated for a long time, and then very quietly said: “no.” [Laughs]

It’s just so wild to think about having such a direct link to all those guys that your father knew.  

Oh, yeah. Michael Wilbon still talks about my father telling him stories about the Train [Walter Johnson’s nickname was the Big Train]. Wilbon could never get over the fact that my father knew Walter Johnson so well, and that the first fight my father ever covered was Dempsey–Tunney.

Did he share anything about the 1933 World Series, which was the last time a DC team made it in?

Yeah, he was a big fan of [Senators manager] Joe Cronin. The Kid, as they called him. This morning, the Post reprinted the front page of the paper from the day they clinched the American League pennant. I saw the first four or five paragraphs of my father’s column, and it was all about the kid manager—that this 26-year-old boy player-manager was able to win the pennant. It was classic Povich prose.   

What would he have made of this moment?  

Oh, he would have just…he would be so happy for the team, and especially how the season unfolded after May 23 [the date that Nats pitcher Sean Doolittle called “rock bottom,” before the team unexpectedly turned the season around]. What a way! It gives it so much more texture. It’s not like you go out and win 107 games or 103 games or 106 games or the way the Astros and the Yankees and the Dodgers did, because they were expected to do that. We were expected to compete, but we weren’t slated to be the No. 1 team in the league, that’s for sure.  

It’s hard not to think of your father’s famous column after Don Larsen’s perfect game: “The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar.”

Yeah.   

It’s just a shame we don’t get to read what he would’ve written this morning, given how long this moment has been coming.  

Yeah, well, we have good writers today, but you always want to know what Shirley would have written, or Red Smith, or Jim Murray. Back then, when there weren’t other forms of media, we relied on them. I can’t tell you the number of people who still come up to me and say that they never read a newspaper except for my father’s column in the sports page, that they learned how to read from my father’s column. I still get that today.  

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Politics and Culture Editor

A DC native, Rob Brunner moved back to the city in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He has also written for the New York Times Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among others. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.