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Chuck Stobbs and Donald Dunaway (UPDATED)

Matt Schudel

Longtime Washingtonians may remember the name of Chuck Stobbs, a pitcher with the lowly Washington Senators of the 1950s. Stobbs died July 11 in Florida and, much to his chagrin, could never live down his moment in history.

On April 17, 1953, in his very first game with the old Senators, Stobbs gave up what may have been the longest home run in baseball history. As detailed in today's (July 25) obituary, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, hit a ball so hard that it went all the way out of Griffith Stadium, including a 55-foot-high wall, and across a street before landing in someone's back yard at 434 Oakdale Place, NW. A Yankee press spokesman raced out of the press box and stepped off the distance from the outer wall of the stadium to the point where the ball came to rest. He calculated that Mantle's blast traveled 565 feet before it came to rest.

Later writers have challenged that figure, but none of them was at Griffith Stadium that day. Stobbs was a likable fellow who took it all in stride and actually became very adept at getting Mantle out in later years and, because of the monstrous home run, has become an interesting footnote in baseball history.

(I had written most of this blog entry ahead of time, before the Stobbs obituary appeared in the paper on Friday. When I got to my desk Friday morning, I had a message on my phone from a man named Donald Dunaway, who wanted me to call him right away. I recognized the name from a New York Times story recounting Mantle's home run. The Yankees' press spokesman, Arthur "Red" Patterson, got the home run ball from 10-year-old Donald Dunaway, who actually found the ball in the backyard of 434 Oakdale Pl., NW. Some revisionist accounts of the home run have doubted the distance of Mantle's blast (always given as 565 feet), and some have questioned how Patterson got the ball because, they claim, no one could confirm that Donald Dunaway existed.
Well, I can confirm that Mr. Dunaway, now 65, most certainly does exist. He still lives in D.C. and has spent much of his life working in hotel laundries. He told me that he skipped school and went to the stadium, which was in his neighborhood. He often "hustled" -- his word -- foul balls and sold them for a dollar to patrons leaving the stadium after the game. At any rate, on April 17, 1953, the 10-year-old Dunaway was sitting in the left-centerfield bleachers and watched Mantle's home run sail directly over his head. Dunaway ran out of the stadium to find the ball. I wrote in the obituary that the Yankees' Patterson went in search of the ball, but Dunaway said that was not true. He was the only person looking for it and, after 45 minutes, he found it "under some bushes" in the backyard of 434 Oakdale Pl, NW. The ball had a telltale mark of black paint from the National Bohemian sign it hit on its path out of Griffith Stadium. Dunaway then took the ball to the Yankees' clubhouse -- a key point no one has made before. "They gave me $100 and a ball," Dunaway told me. Patterson later stepped off the distance from the outer wall of the stadium at 105 feet -- a distance Dunaway confirmed as correct.
So, there you have it. You never know what you're going to learn in writing obituaries, and I am proud to bring Donald Dunaway back to light 55 years after his moment in baseball history. He said he never heard from Mantle or the Yankees again, but he did say that a baseball researcher tracked him down several months ago to interview him about Mantle's home run.)

Now ... to get back to the rest of the orginal blog item, which includes some little-known tales of Chuck Stobbs's athletic prowess...
I enjoy sports stories because they embody so many of the hopes and pathos of youth (or at least my youth), and the hard-luck tale of Stobbs -- one of the greatest athletes in Viriginia history -- strikes me as particularly poignant. Stobbs signed with the Boston Red Sox out of high school in Norfolk, Va., and first pitched in the majors three months after graduating from high school in 1947. He became a good friend of Ted Williams, who took the teenaged Stobbs on a clothes-buying trip through New York.

Stobbs spent a total of eight seasons with the Nats/Senators (the team's nickname was officially "Nationals" until 1955, even though everyone called them the Senators) and had several good years for terrible teams. After seasons of 11, 12 and 10 victories in Boston, Stobbs was traded to the Chciago White Sox in 1952. His record of 7-12 wasn't very good, but he had a very good earned run average of 3.13. He was traded to Washignton in 1953 -- the season of Mantle's home run -- and went 11-8, with a 3.29 ERA that year.

In 1956, he was 15-15 for the Nats, with a 3.60 ERA, and great things were expected of him in 1957. Unfortunately, he had lost his last five decisions in 1956, then lost his first 11 decisions of 1957. On June 21, the Senators gave away rabbit's-foot charms to spectators to break Stobbs' long spell of bad luck. He also changed his uniform number from 18 to 13 for that game, and something seemed to work, since he beat the Cleveland Indians, 6-3.

Stobbs finished the '57 season with a record of 8-20 and was released midway through the 1958 season. After playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in the second half of 1958, he returned to Washington in 1959, began wearing glasses and became a standout relief pitcher, with a career-best ERA 2.98, despite a record of 1-8. In 1960, the last year for the old Senators, Stobbs was 12-7, with a 3.32 ERA. When the Senators deserted Washington for Minnesota, Stobbs went along and played briefly before retiring at age 31.

Stobbs was a very handsome fellow, in the square-jawed mold of 1950s, and he seems to be someone whose athletic career may have peaked too soon. By the time he graduated from Granby High School in Norfolk, he was 6-feet-1, 185 pounds and was a nationally recognized athlete. He was an all-American in baseball and was a three-time all-state quarterback in football -- leading his team to three straight state titles -- and was a two-time all-state basketball player who led his team to the state championship as a senior. He considered baseball his third best sport, but the Red Sox offer of a $35,000 bonus was too good to turn down.

As a high school senior in 1946-47, Stobbs led Granby High School to state championships in football and basketball. His school met Alexandria's George Washington High School for the state baseball championship in the spring of '47 in Alexandria. Stobbs struck out four of the first six batters he faced, but in the third inning Granby's coach -- Stobbs's father -- was ejected for arguing a questionable umpire's call. On the next play, an umpire made another dubious call on an attempted stolen base, which the younger Stobbs protested. He too was thrown out of the game. Granby lost to the hometown GWHS Presidents, 5-4 in 10 innings.

Stobbs always had some regret about not pursuing football -- he had dozens of scholarship offers -- and expressed some regret about not getting a chance to prove himself on the gridiron when he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

While with the Senators in the '50s, Stobbs and some of his teammates once joined the Redskins for a workout. According to Stobbs's son, Charley, a former executive with Nike's baseball division, Chuck could pass, punt and place-kick farther than anyone on the Redskins' roster.

Nevertheless, Stobbs had a fine career in baseball, winning 107 games, with a 4.29 ERA -- a record that would make him worth at least $5 million a year in today's game. Still, he lived out his life with the regret that he never gave college football a chance -- he said he dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl as the quarterback for Southern Cal -- and with the constant reminders from strangers of Mantle's mammoth home run in the first game he ever pitched for the Senators.

"That's one day I'd like to forget," he said, "but nobody lets me."

By Matt Schudel  |  July 25, 2008; 7:54 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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Comments

I loved the Stobbs obit in today's paper. But notice the error in the photo/graphic. It shows the ball trajectory starting from the pitcher's mound, rather than home plate.

Posted by: junior3 | July 25, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

hi

i remember that game as my dad had taken me to see the senators play the yankees.. because the nats were so bad, i was not so secretly a fan of the yanks and wanted to see mantle, skowron and all my other favorites play.

the stadium had a very large billboard with "mr boh" who was a character representing National Bohemium Beer at the back of the stands in left center field. it reminded me of the icon from monopoly- the little man in the suit with one winking eye.

the ball hit the top corner of that billboard on its way out of the stadium.
goodness knows how far it might have traveled had it not caromed off the sign.

sorry to hear of chuck's passing. he was one of my favorite old time nats. and, yes, i did remember him as the pitcher who gave up that homer..but it is in fondness for both of our youths..

shal

Posted by: shal seltzer | July 25, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

We dug up an original 1953 illustration from the Associated Press showing the path of Mantle's home run. It's certainly a little deceiving, but the "X" indicates the point over home plate where Mantle actually hit the ball. By the way, please see the updated blog post about Donald Dunaway, the neighborhood boy who actually found the baseball. It's an amazing tale in its own right.

Posted by: Matt Schudel | July 25, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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