First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American or National League


On September 30, 1971, the expansion Washington Senators concluded an abysmal 11 year run in the nation’s capital with a loss to the New York Yankees.  They finished the season with a 63-96 record, 38 ½ games out of first place.  During their stint, they finished in last place five times, lost the most games, and had by the far the lowest attendance in the American League.  The franchise was an unmitigated disaster.


Like any astute businessman, owner Robert Short assessed the situation, decided to cut his losses, and moved the team to Texas.


Despite the fact that this was the second time baseball had failed in the nation’s capital, by committing this transgression, Short was vilified in the press.  How dare he have the audacity to move the national pastime out of the nation’s capital?  Despite being in an untenable position, he then became DC’s persona non grata


This wasn’t the first time this had occurred. In 1960, fed up with a losing team and a non-existent fan base, owner Clark Griffith moved the Senators to Minnesota.  Congress intervened and mandated that an expansion team be created.  This time, perhaps preoccupied by the Vietnam War, no such legislation occurred.


Over the next 30 odd years, there was hand ringing on a massive scale.  The Washington establishment, led by businessmen, the press, lobbyists, and assorted hangers on made it their personal crusade to bring back baseball to Washington.  There were Congressional hearings, local rallies, mandates, etc.  Every year, Thomas Boswell, the esteemed baseball writer for the Washington Post, would justify his position.  It didn’t matter, he would argue, that baseball had failed twice in the past. The demographics had changed.  DC was the 3rd biggest market, near the top in disposable income, etc. etc.  There was a massive yearning for baseball, and it just had to be accommodated.


I didn’t buy any of their arguments, but no one listened to me.


In 2005, they got their wish.  The Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals.  After a 34 year absence, baseball was back in the Nations Capital.  Hip Hip Hurray!!  There was euphoria and the locals celebrated.  There were still minor issues to be resolved related to public financing would for a new stadium, but, the most important issue was that BASEBALL was back!


Now that the team has finished their third season and the euphoria has died down, let’s assess the situation.  Their three year won lost records have been 81-81, 71-91, and 73-89.  They have finished last, last, and next to last in their division.  The most worrying stat has been their attendance.  In three years, out of 30 MLB teams, their attendance has dropped from 11th to 21st to 25th.


25th out of 30 is very worrying, particularly for a city that supposedly was yearning for baseball for 34 years.  However, the apologists and justifiers have come back in full force.  The reason, they claim, for the low attendance is RFK Stadium.  It’s a dump, and once the new stadium is ready (2008) the fans will come back in droves!


Build it and they will come!


I’m not holding my breath.


The reality is that Washington DC is a one sport town.  It all revolves around the Redskins, and everything else is second fiddle.  There used to be a famous saying in DC that the second most important job in town was the President of the United States, behind the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.  The city has always had a passion for the team, and has only given lukewarm support to any other sport.


Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.  Unfortunately, there are two instances of baseball failing in Washington DC.  Congress intervened the first time, and despite that, the failure occurred again.  I grew up in DC and understood the pulse of the city.  Despite the fact that I was a huge baseball fan, I believed that based on history, Washington did not deserve a team.  This was harsh, but was my humble opinion.


Three years in to the third era, it’s not looking good.


I hope I’m wrong, but we’ll see if the Nationals succeed, and more importantly, if the city supports them.



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