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Nationals Have Arrived But What Came Before?


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With the Nationals starting spring training this week, I just wanted to give everybody a little history of baseball in Washington. As everybody knows, this is a huge sports town and it deserves a winner.


With the popularity of the Redskins and Capitols and the rise of the Wizards, just imagine how nuts this place will be if the Nationals shock everyone this year.





The last time the Washington Nationals fielded a team – albeit a semi-professional one – Ulysses S. Grant was president, the United States was still healing from a devastating Civil War and the transcontinental railroad was in the midst of being connected to allow Americans to travel like never before.


Oh, have the times changed. The Nationals have returned, giving baseball-starved fans in the D.C. area reason to celebrate. Sure, there has been professional baseball in Washington before, but staying power has proved to be difficult. Twice, a team named the Senators tried to win over fans in Major League Baseball but failed. And six different Negro League teams called Washington their home in hopes of making the nation’s capitol the center of baseball, not just politics.


But the Montreal Expos’ financial troubles in Canada have turned out to be D.C.’s gain as MLB approved the first move of a baseball team since, well, the last time Washington lost baseball in the early 1970s.


Fans can only hope that this incarnation of the Nationals goes better than recent attempts at baseball in D.C. The original Washington Senators were more like the Cardinals of the NFL or the Clippers in the NBA. Between 1901 and 1960, Washington finished sixth, seventh or eighth in the American League 33 teams and won only three pennants in 60 years.


The “Golden Era” for the Senators came in 1924 and 1925 when the team won back-to-back A.L. pennants behind player-manager Bucky Harris, the youngest manager in the Majors, and Hall of Fame hurler Walter Johnson. Harris took over a team that had a losing record in 1923 and helped the franchise break attendance records at Griffith Stadium. In 1925, more than 800,000 fans saw the Senators play, which doubled the total of the year before Harris arrived. It stood as the club’s highest attendance until the team finally broke the million mark in 1946.


The 1946 team was an anomaly as Ossie Bluege’s bunch finished 28 games out of first place, yet drew 1,027,216 fans. After that season, however, fan support dropped off considerably, falling to under 500,000 from the 1955 to 1958 seasons. As fans moved to the suburbs and more games were played at night, Major League Baseball suffered attendance problems across the board despite the economic prosperity of the era.


After the 1960 season, Senators owner Calvin Griffith moved the team to a publicly financed stadium in Bloomington, Minn., to become the Minnesota Twins. The moved opened the D.C. market to the American League, which was expanding by two teams the next season.


Unfortunately for D.C. baseball fans, the second incarnation of the Senators fared even worse than the first one. The team finished no higher than sixth place between 1961 and 1968 and finished last three times. When baseball split into divisions prior to the 1969 team, Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams took over the managerial post but the team finished an average of 33 games out of first place for the next three years.


With little fan support, competition from the nearby Baltimore Orioles, and what owner Robert Short claimed was the high crime rate of D.C., Short moved the second Senators to Texas, where they became the Rangers.


Two teams. Two failures. It appeared baseball in Washington was dead. When baseball expanded in 1977, 1993 and 1998, the D.C. area was again left out in the cold for the return of baseball.


But Major League Baseball could not ignore the nation’s capitol when the Expos needed to get out of their money-draining situation in Montreal. The D.C. city council approved the construction of a $440 million stadium for the 2008 season and baseball is back in D.C.


Now, fans hope it’s for good.

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