Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman won the All-Star Game MVP in DC last night, a half-century after his grandfather unwittingly helped set in motion the Washington Senators’ move to Texas.
It was quite the Washington debut for Bregman, who hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th inning to help the American League win 8-6. After the game, he talked about his family’s DC roots.
In the 1968 presidential election, Bregman’s grandfather, Stanley Bregman, worked for Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 campaign, serving as campaign director in 14 states. After Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon, Bregman suggested that Bob Short, the Democratic Party treasurer and former NBA team owner, buy the Senators, who were for sale. Short took his advice and purchased the team in December 1968, beating out rival bidder Bob Hope.
As team general counsel, Bregman helped negotiate Short’s purchase of the Senators, then helped negotiate Short’s hiring of Ted Williams as manager in 1969. And now things have come full circle, with Bregman winning an award named for Williams.
“My grandfather was the general counsel for the Washington Senators, and my dad grew up on Ted Williams’s lap,” Bregman told reporters after the game. “So seeing ‘Ted Williams Most Valuable Player’ on this trophy is pretty special.”
As a kid, Bregman said he often looked at a signed photo of Ted Williams and his dad, five years old at the time. Growing up, his father told him he had to be the next player to hit .400, Bregman recalled with a chuckle.
“I think if anyone’s going to do that it might be Altuve,” Bregman said, referring to his Astros teammate Jose Altuve.
Bob Short’s hiring of Ted Williams was one the few positive things he did as owner. Soon after purchasing the team, he sent a chill down Washington fans’ spines when he said he wouldn’t sign any papers preventing him moving the team. Short didn’t have a great track record in that regard – he had purchased the Minneapolis Lakers and moved them to Los Angeles a few years later.
Short would give Washington the same treatment, moving the Senators to Texas after the 1971 season, where they became the Rangers – leaving DC without a baseball team for 33 years.
In a 1991 Washington Post takeout on the sad history of DC baseball, Bregman said that Short “did not know one thing about baseball. He called the umpires referees. And the manager was ‘coach.’” But Short did recognize the value of making a big splash, and that’s why he turned to Ted Williams to manage the team. Williams initially responded “Noooo,” but Short recalled giving him the hard sell.
”I told him I thought he had a responsibility toward the game, toward the country, toward Nixon, and the whole bunch of bull you throw into a business proposition,” Short told Washingtonian magazine in 1970. “He said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Goddamn it, I know you’re in a hell of a fix. I can’t do it, but I’ll help you find somebody.’ I knew I had him in the bag then. As long as he’s going to draw up lists of who might do the job, it’s going to come out just like my list. Ted Williams has to come out on top. And that’s what happened.”
His first year as manager, 1969, happened to also be the last time DC hosted the All-Star Game, and at the break Williams had the team a game over .500 – better than where the Nats are at this year’s break (.500), but with much lower expectations. The previous year, the Senators had finished 10th the 10-team American League.
The New York Times reported at the All-Star Game that Williams was the “focus of a tremendous revival in baseball interest in the nation’s capital, and of a remarkable improvement in the weak team’s fortunes on the field.” Williams would go on to lead the expansion Senators to their only winning season that year.
Short, meanwhile, started complaining about the bad deal he was getting in his lease at RFK Stadium, seeking parking revenue and other improvements. President Nixon, the man that Short worked unsuccessfully to defeat in ‘68, privately criticized Short after he moved the team, on a taped conversation with DC Mayor Washington E. Washington that I discovered for my book, You Gotta Have Heart.
“Short is a jerk. I sat behind him at games, and I can tell you—moaning and bitching all the time,” Nixon said.
Bregman was a Washington native who also worked for Adlai Stevenson’s 1956 presidential campaign and for Lyndon Johnson in 1960. His father (Alex’s great-grandfather) was a standout player in Washington’s amateur leagues, his daughter, Suzanne Fields, recalled in a Washington Times piece last fall.
Stanley Bregman died in 2014, but not before watching all his grandson’s games when he starred at Albuquerque Academy. “We talked after every game,” the younger Bregman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2015. “He’d call and tell me to ‘bang the ball all over the place and play good defense.’ I still have voicemails from him. I didn’t want to delete them so I could still hear his voice.”
Bregman’s putting together a great season, hitting .288 with 19 home runs and a .928 OPS. He won’t hit .400, but it’s a safe bet his dad is happy anyway.
Frederic J. Frommer is the author of You Gotta Have Heart, a history of Washington baseball, and the head of the Sports Business Practice at the Dewey Square Group, a Washington, D.C. communications firm. Twitter: @ffrommer