Roy Sievers: "The Sweetest Right Handed Swing" in 1950's Baseball


Roy Sievers "The Sweetest Right Handed Swing" in Baseball

The video below features a brief summary of Roy Sievers: "The Sweetest Right Handed Swing" in 1950's Baseball from Paul Scimonelli himself.


By Bob Wolff

Baseball Hall of Fame Sportscaster

Roy Sievers emerged as one of baseball’s premier sluggers despite all the obstacles he surmounted in his career.

His initial obstacle was deciding what pro team to sign with. A versatile baseball and basketball player in high school, his power as a home run hitter caught the scouts’ eyes. Roy checked out the rosters of the interested clubs and realized his best chance to get quick action in the majors would be to sign with a weaker team with less money to spend but a quicker chance to play at the highest level.

The Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns were losing teams with slender payrolls eager to sign players with potential. Roy chose his home town team, the St. Louis Browns, but soon realized this was a shaky organization. He did make it to the majors, however, before the Browns traded him to the last-place Senators.

It didn’t take long before he starred in the Senators outfield. His short baseball stroke enabled him to smash a baseball with such force it was like a knockout blow by heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Louis left his opponent lying in the ring, while Sievers would send a line drive into the Washington bleachers. 

The left field line was 407 feet away and then a small wall to get over in front of the bleachers. On the right side, there was even a greater challenge: a towering right field wall that protected walkers on the sidewalk and the moving transportation from any fly balls that came over the fence. I never saw that happen, but I watched many two-base hits smash into the wall.

Roy and I often wondered what his total number of homers would have been if he had played in Boston’s Fenway Park instead of Griffith Stadium. One of Roy’s closest friends, Pete Runnels, personally showed what a change in ballparks could mean. Runnels, a lefty hitter, routinely hit line drives to deep left field in Griffith Stadium for long outs when he played in Washington. But when Pete was finally traded to Boston, he won two batting titles with his left field liners banging off the Green Monster, beating out Ted Williams twice for the league title. Roy Sievers never complained that he didn’t have that same opportunity, but just think of the slugging records he could have set in a different ballpark.

When I reminiscence about these lineups at Griffith Stadium, I also think of the long bus travels made enjoyable by the music of the “Singing Senators” and the acclaim for Roy Sievers, Jim Lemon, Truman Clevenger, Russ Kemmerer, and Albie Pearson, who could have been a professional crooner with his romantic voice. Howie Devron was our accordion player and a singer. He owned a popular band in Washington, loved sports, and was a great addition to our baseball group. We introduced him as playing “first bass.” An earlier group of singers, before our nationally acclaimed ensemble, included Milt Bolling, Bob Usher, Jim Lemon, Roy Sievers, and myself.

As you may know, the Senators had a large contingent of Cuban ballplayers. Joe Cambria, friend and scout for Calvin Griffith (“The Old Fox,” as he was called), had many ties in the pre-Revolution Cuban community, and sent a steady stream of Cuban talent to the big club. A lot of those players, due to their limited English-speaking skills, pretty much kept to themselves. One day, while we were singing on the team’s bus, pitcher Frank Shea said to me: “We’re missing out on some terrific singers. Those guys sitting in the back [the Cuban guys] are great singers, too.” We asked them to come up and join us. That suggestion not only integrated our musical ranks, it made for a greater baseball team.

I doubt that today I could put together a group of Singing Senators who performed for the fun of it. It would involve discussions with the network carrying the show, the players’ agents, the team’s General Manager, the players’ manager regarding rehearsal time, the team’s PR man, and all those others who share an involvement in the project.

Most of the fans in the early days got to the ballparks by trolley. The only food available was the hotdogs. Nowadays the new ballparks are entertainment palaces with shops to buy sports clothing, including jerseys featuring the names of baseball players, deluxe restaurants, a parking garage, and of course, high-priced corporate suites and the rent from other sport teams in the off season. Back when Roy played, Mr. Griffith was able to pay some bills by renting the stadium to the Washington Redskins football team and one of the top black baseball teams in the country, the Homestead Grays, featuring home run slugger Josh Gibson, and did well at the gate. They also added entertainment with pepper games and an invisible ball game with make-believe hitting, fielding, and base running.

Clark Griffith, who inherited the team from Calvin, could afford only one or two stars; the rest were competent players, but not skilled enough to compete for the title. His big attraction was Roy Sievers and, at the same time, Roy was thrilled to be object of attention in this city with the world’s great political luminaries.

Griff couldn’t afford to give Roy more money, but he did arrange a special night for Sievers at the end of the ’57 season. Roy received a brand new car that was presented by Richard Nixon, an avid sports fan who called me regularly to discuss his sports questions. He was a great rooter for Roy. After leading the league in homers with 42 and RBI with 114, Roy saw his biggest payday in Washington in 1958 when he received a $36 million contract. And the applause for the Singing Senators was an added bonus. These were not winning days, but they were happy days. When I think of Roy I still have the urge to break out in a chorus of “Take me out to the ball game.”

The game used to be one run at a time. Getting on base and scoring runs were big statistics. Baseball players choked up on their bats and chopped the ball to all fields. Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox went a record 98 times in 1958 without striking out using a light bat. He led the league with 187 hits—not one of them a homer! An amazing record.

Babe Ruth with his high-in-the-air home runs changed all that. Today’s thin handle bats are swung from the bottom, whip-like, in upper-cutting homers.

Mickey Mantle also sent baseballs high into the air, either leaving ball parks or smashing into façades close to the top. Mantle could hit them left or right handed. He told me he was a right-handed hitter, and hitting home runs was the only thing he could do left-handed. Lefty, he bent our bunts on the left side, though, particularly with a drag bunt when the fielders were playing back.

Roy Sievers was strictly a line drive right-handed hitter, and Hank Aaron the same way. Roy’s short, quick, wrist-snapping swing not only hit home runs, but also drove in many runs with voluminous singles, doubles, and the occasional triple. “That’s where I make my money,” he’d say with a smile.

I was personally delighted to see Roy Sievers rise to stardom in the major leagues and have a chance to enjoy the high fives, cheers and applause he received from fans and so many well-known government officials.

Baseball is a tough game to succeed in. As a hitter, the pitcher is trying to get you out, and so are the fielders—infield and outfield. And a stadium with distant fences can make it even more difficult. Add injuries and illnesses and there’s little time to relax and enjoy one’s achievements.

Roy enjoyed both fame and adulation, playing or singing. All in all, he spent 17 years in uniform, some coaching or managing, but his early years in Washington had to be particularly fulfilling in achieving his ambitions. Roy heard those cheers for 17 years—a privilege that many talented players don’t receive. 

Today most of baseball’s rewards are of a financial nature, designed more for one’s wallet than one’s pride. Players today ask for and receive larger long-term contracts. But very few should consider baseball a livelihood. There’s a time limit for everyone. However, having been part of it means one has shared a special baseball brotherhood. That’s something to always be proud of.

Roy Sievers never lost faith in his own ability despite injuries, illnesses, distant fences or baseball slumps. He just tried harder. He ended his first professional season being selected “American League Rookie of the Year,” and he kept going upward.

It began with his bonus from the St. Louis Browns when he signed a pro contract with them. He received a pair of baseball spikes. Unfortunately, they didn’t fit, but Roy was most grateful for the thought behind the gift.

For Roy, it’s been an upward path ever since. He particularly treasures becoming the American League home run leader in 1957, beating out Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. Roy had 42 homers and 114 runs batted in—the first player in major league history to lead his league in homers and RBIs while playing for a last place team.

That’s something to sing about.

Bob Wolff is the Guinness World Record holder as the longest-running sportscaster in history.  Ninety-five years young and in his seventy-seventh year as a professional behind the mike, he’s the only broadcaster to have called the championships in all four major pro sports: the World Series, championships in the NBA and the NFL, and the Stanley Cup.

Wolff is in the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters-Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame, and in July 2008 was voted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Award, joining Curt as the first two sportscasters to be in both the basketball and the baseball halls. Wolff has also been honored by selection to the Hall of Fame of his collegiate fraternity, Sigma Nu.

Bob began his broadcast career in 1939 on CBS radio in Durham, North Carolina, while attending Duke University. He became the pioneering television voice of the Washington Senators in 1947 and moved with the club to Minnesota in 1961. He then joined NBC as the play-by-play man on the TV Baseball Game-of-the-Week in 1962.

Bob Wolff, who called Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in 1956, died on July 15th, 2017. He was 96 years old.