Skip to content

Talkin' baseball: Historical Society looks at connections to county

Presentation looks at national pastime from Little League to the Majors

Bobby Witt Sr. had a modestly successful career as a journeyman for multiple professional baseball teams from 1985-2001. And he shares one accomplishment with fewer than 100 among the thousands who have ever pitched in the Major Leagues.

Hurling for the Texas Rangers against the Baltimore Orioles in the summer of 1987,  Witt struck out four batters – in a single inning. (Yes, it can happen, albeit rarely.)

That was just one of the quirky facts presented by Johnathan Thomas, who on May 11 briefed the Arlington Historical Society on baseball topics, spanning a full century, connected to the county.

The hour-long program represented “three things I love to talk about: Arlington, history and baseball,” said Thomas, a former Historical Society president.

“I’m one of four brothers who grew up with a passion for playing baseball in Arlington,” Thomas said, noting that one summer, his mother attended nearly 90 games watching all her sons compete.

Witt, whose son Bobby Jr. currently is an infielder for the Kansas City Royals, is among a surprisingly robust number of those with Arlington connections who made it to the big leagues.

“I had no idea we had so many great players from this area,” said Amy Breedlove, who was among those watching the meeting online. Others enjoyed it in person at Marymount University.

Among the players profiled was Clay Kirby, a pitcher who made his Major League debut in 1969 with the San Diego Padres.

“He is the poster child for great players drafted by lousy teams,” noted Thomas, which may account for an overall 75-104 Major League record.

(Kirby, who ended his career in 1976 with the equally lousy Montreal Expos, at least got to play for the Cincinnati Reds during two of their best seasons in the mid-1970s.)

Others with Arlington connections rattled off during the rapid-fire presentation included, like Witt and Kirby, a striking number of pitchers: Jay Franklin (who despite being drafted second overall in 1971 by the San Diego Padres played only three games in the Majors before being hobbled by arm injuries); Bill Dailey (a relief pitcher whose 1960s career also was cut short by arm trouble); Dave Leonhard (who pitched for the Baltimore Orioles from 1967-72); Mike Holtz (a relief pitcher who played for five Major League teams and spent a year in the Japanese Central League); and Rich Saveur (who bounced around professional baseball from 1986-2000 and now is a pitching coach).

Perhaps the most famous Major League with Arlington roots was not a pitcher, but left-handed first-baseman George McQuinn (1910-78), a Washington-Lee High School graduate who was a six-time All-Star in a career spanning 1936-48 and had his best season in 1938 with St. Louis Browns, batting .324.

After retirement, McQuinn operated a sporting-goods store in Arlington and served as a scout for the Expos and Washington Senators. In the late 1950s, he was the first inductee into the Arlington Sports Hall of Fame, and shortly before his death was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the most accomplished baseball player in the presentation had but a tangential, if interesting, connection to the county. And he brings the story back to pitchers.

Eppa Rixey played for the Philadelphia Phillies and later Cincinnati Reds from 1912-33 (minus military service in World War I) and from the time of his retirement until 1959 held the National League record for most career wins by a pitcher (266) that ultimately was surpassed by Warren Spahn.

Rixey, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963 (the same year as his death), grew up in Culpepper and Charlottesville. His connection to Arlington? His uncle, Presley Rixey, served as surgeon general of the U.S. Navy and in the early part of the 20th century owned all the land where both Marymount University and Washington Golf  & Country Club currently sit. The Rixey mansion fronting North Glebe Road is now in use as the office of Marymount’s president.

Thomas’s program also touched on the history of youth and high-school baseball in the county. “It was definitely a trip down memory lane,” said former society president Cathy Bonneville Hix, who like the evening’s speaker is a lifelong Arlingtonian.

“Baseball was a part of my family’s life story in Arlington,” she said.

Tom Dickinson, another historical-society stalwart, couldn’t resist a baseball-themed reaction to the presentation. He termed it “a grand slam out of the park.”