John Holway / Negro Leagues
WHAT IS SHAW?
By John B Holway
A friend in Japan, who read a Washington Post article about sites for a new Washington baseball stadium, asks, "Where, and what, is Shaw?"
I don't know what Shaw means. It is probably named for someone back in the city's early history before the Civil War.
Shaw used to be (and still largely is) a black neighborhood near Howard university, a black college, on Georgia avenue. It was also the site of a thriving black entertainment center with theaters where Duke Ellington (a Washington son) and all the great black singers and jazzmen performed around 1915-1940, when it was part of the HOBA (Hard on Black Asses) circuit of theaters. It is very close to old Griffith Stadium, home of the Senators and Homestead Grays..
About 30 years ago developers began rehabilitating the old houses, and whites bought them to fix up very attractively inside. Prices went sky high. Georgetown, once a black neighborhood, underwent the same transformation around 1940, and Capitol Hill a little later, and both are very upscale white neighborhoods now, but I don't think Shaw has made the change to to the same degree. Crime is still a concern around there.
Shaw is close to downtown, there is a Metro stop there now, and a stadium would revive the neighborhood economically. It's not far from the Capital Center, where the basketball and hockey teams play.
The Howard U hospital today stands exactly where Griffith Stadium stood. The school refused to put up a plaque to mark it, because of old man Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators, and his segregation policy. However, a year ago they relented and decided it was a historic site, and after all, the black Homestead Grays of Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell etc played there.
I saw Satchel Paige pitch there when I was a 15 year-old in 1945. It was the scene of Walter Johnson's and the Redskins' "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh's greatest triumphs, of Fred Linstrom's error, when Earl Sheeley's grounder hit a pebble to win the 1924 World Series, of Sam Rice's controversial catch, falling into the temporary bleachers in 1933, of DiMaggio's breaking George Sisler's 41-consecutive game record in 1941, and Early Wynn's debut that same year etc etc.
It was by far the biggest field in the major leagues, 408 feet to the LF foul line and 434 to center with a 30-foot high wall in center and right. Mickey Mantle hit his longest home run there, announced at 565 feet. I saw Mickey hit two 500-footers over the centerfield wall on Opening Day 1956. I saw Ted hit his next to last home run over it in 1960 and saw Maris hit two homers there in 1961, one into a new centerfield bullpen 408 feet away.
Anyway, Howard relented and a year ago had a big symposium with a day of speakers to commemorate the history of the stadium. I helped a little with the preparations and spoke. Mickey Vernon of the Senators was there. So was George Case Jr, whose base-stealing father played for the Senators. Former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who had worked the scoreboard there as a kid, was due to attend but at the last minute couldn't. One of the old Redskins stars came. Anyway, it was a nice day, altho I don't think they ever have put the plaque up.