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May 28th, 1941: The First Night Game at Griffith Stadium

On May 28th, 1941, Griffith Stadium hosted its first night game under the newly installed lights. Walter Johnson was special guest, Joe DiMaggio had a 12-game hitting streak, and the Senators were stumbling. Read about the historic night in Washington baseball history.
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May 28th, 1941 was an important day in Washington baseball history. That evening, Griffith Stadium hosted its first-ever night game under the newly installed lights.

Joe DiMaggio at Griffith Stadium - May 28th, 1941
Joe DiMaggio at Griffith Stadium – May 28th, 1941

The Senators were playing the powerful New York Yankees, led by Joe DiMaggio, who had a 12-game hitting streak entering the game — he went on to hit safely in 44 more consecutive games. The hometown team was stumbling into the game with a 9-game losing streak (not shocking). First in war, first in peace, last in the American League … blah, blah, blah.

The crowd was a respectable 25,000 strong, many likely in attendance for the novelty of a night game. A special guest, and Washington hero, Walter Johnson (read about his quiet marriage ceremony on Monroe St.) was in attendance to help kick off the ceremonies in a unique, and (at the time) technologically advanced way. Read the account below, as reported by the Washington Post.

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Walter Johnson, the greatest name in Washington baseball history, was the hit of the opening ceremonies, which had all the fanfare of a Hollywood premiere.

Just before the 8:30 starting time, the football lights were dimmed to almost darkness. Johnson was to throw the ball across the plate through a beam of light that would make daylight out of darkness by turning on the $120,000 lighting system.

Johnson threw the ball twice for photographers and then, in his shirtsleeves, threw the ball. The “Big Train” was off the beam about three inches, but electrical engineers were prepared and as the ball hit Catcher Jake Early’s mitt they threw the switches. The crowd didn’t know the difference.

The thousands in the stands scanned eight tall towers that fringed the field and found them good. Outfielders were as visible as in broad daylight and shadows were lacking. The 740 bulbs on each tower generated enough power to light 5,000 average homes.

Dignity went out the window as the gay and informal crowd shed its coats and rolled up sleeves. The night was perfect for the concessions, and bottle drink sales hit a new high for a night event at the park.

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Joe DiMaggio at Griffith Stadium - June 29th, 1941
Joe DiMaggio at Griffith Stadium – June 29th, 1941

The Senators went into the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead and things were looking good to end their losing streak. DiMaggio came to the plate, hitless on the night, with one out in the eighth. He tripled against the right field wall to keep his hitting streak alive. A walk and an error allowed DiMaggio to score and put the Yankees on second and third.

An intentional walk to Bill Dickey loaded the bases. Pinch-hitter George Selkirk came to the plate with the bases loaded. The count went to two balls and two strikes, when Selkirk lifted the next pitch high and deep into the night, far over the right field fence. The Post painted a great picture of the hit: “[the] majesty of the home run was never better demonstrated than in Washington’s first night game.”

The Yankees came out on top 6-5. The Senators were, yet again, successful in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory … tenth consecutive loss, putting them in the cellar of the American League.

Little known trivia … the Senators needed to get special permission at the time to fly the American flag after sundown, during the national anthem.

Washington Senators at Fenway Park in 1941 (Boston Public Library)
Washington Senators at Fenway Park in 1941 (Boston Public Library)
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