Between 7 and 8 p.m. Thursday evening, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will probably be named the National League’s most valuable player. Nothing is certain. Perhaps Harper’s outdated reputation as a precocious but petulant starlet swayed some voters away from him. General consensus holds that his numbers — the sum of which represents one of the most dominant offensive seasons in history — probably overpowered any doubts. We’ll find out soon enough.
Harper wanted to “hoist a World Series trophy over the monuments,” and perhaps he will someday, provided someone sorts out the logistical challenges that would seem to be associated with such a high-flying celebration. But if he earns the MVP award, he will do something nearly as rare: bring that trophy to the District for the first time in 90 years, when Presidents’ Race rookie Calvin Coolidge was in office, since before the Great Depression, before another World War.
The D.C. baseball team — then, of course, the Senators — last had a most valuable player in 1925. Funnily enough, the Nats won back-to-back MVPs at the time: Walter Johnson in 1924, then Roger Peckinpaugh in 1925.
You’ll know all about Walter Johnson, the first pitcher to accumulate 3,000 strikeouts, the hard-throwing D.C. legend who helped win the city’s last World Series in 1929 and eventually ran for office in Montgomery County. But Peckinpaugh is less well-known.
At the time, he was one of the best shortstops in the American League, well-established as such after playing parts of three seasons with the Cleveland Indians then nine with the New York Yankees, who handed shortstop off to some guy named Leo Durocher a few seasons after he left.
Peckinpaugh was an Ohio native, born in Wooster, raised mostly in Cleveland, where legend Napoleon Lajoie saw him play as a high schooler. Lajoie signed him to the team named after him, the Cleveland Naps, out of high school in 1910, Lajoie then sent him to New Haven to develop, and play for the Praire Hens — whose geographically curious name probably requires a story in itself.
Anyway, Peckinpaugh joined the Senators ahead of the 1922 season. He played at least 140 games for the Nats in each of his first three seasons, but won the MVP award after hitting .294 for 126 games in 1925. He hit 16 doubles and four home runs, and finished just ahead of young Athletics outfielder Al Simmons for the award.
Not long after Peckinpaugh won the award, the Senators took on the Pirates in the 1925 World Series and built up a 3-1 series lead — until that World Series, no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit on baseball’s biggest stage. The Pirates took two games to tie the series, and with Johnson on the mound in the seventh, Peckinpaugh made two crucial errors that sparked a Pittsburgh rally. Peckinpaugh finished his career with a .259 average, 1,876 hits, and 48 home runs. Harper, an unfair comparison but a fun one nonetheless, finished the 2015 season with 42.