And last in the American League. That was the old joke about the Washington Senators, who were themselves the old joke of the “junior circuit.” For sixty seasons—with one notable exception in 1924—the Senators were the perennial losers of the AL: the Bizarro New York Yankees. They were always losers and—short of selling their souls for a pennant—they’d always be losers.
I was never a Senators fan. The team I remember that called themselves the Washington Senators weren’t even the real Senators. They were an expansion team that replaced the original Senators who moved to Minneapolis in 1962 and became the Minnesota Twins.
The expansion Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers. My earliest memory of my hometown baseball team is of them leaving my hometown. Quite the contrast from my hometown football team, who would go to their first Superbowl the following year.
That’s why I’ve always been a Redskins fan, even after the last twenty years of misery, and why I always will be. It’s also why I don’t care about the Texas Rangers (or the Minnesota Twins).
I always had to adopt baseball teams. In the 70s it was the Pirates, in the early 80s (after moving to San Diego), the Padres, in the late 80s and early 90s, the Blue Jays, and since 1995 (when I moved to the Northwest) it’s been the Mariners. I might have rooted for a D.C. ball club for old-times sake, but there wasn’t one to root for.
That changed in 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. Washington had a baseball team again: first in war, first in peace . . .
And last in the National League. The league had changed—and they added all those divisions—but the result was the same. Until this year:
As of July 4th—the traditional midpoint of the Major League Baseball season—the Washington Nationals are in first place! First in war, first in peace, and first in the NL East! Eighty-eight years since their only World Series, and seventy-nine years since their last pennant, Washington baseball fans have something to celebrate. And yet it all seems so familiar.
On July 4, 2005—the midpoint of the Nats first season in Washington—they were in first place in the NL East, but a second-half collapse would drop them back into the cellar where they would remain for the next six seasons.
So it’s too soon to celebrate. Let’s see how the second half goes before anyone starts making playoff plans. But I do know one thing: the odds of the Nats winning a World Series this year—as long as they are—are still better than the odds of Teddy Roosevelt ever winning the Presidents’ Race.