Happy Holidays From The Ghosts Of Christmas Past
[Dec. 23]- Tis the season to be thankful. And I am. Very, very thankful. I am grateful that in spite of the stupidity and selfishness from all sides concerned, baseball has returned to Washington. I remember when I wasn't so thankful.
It's as though it all happened yesterday. Back then, the only access to what was going on was the morning Washington Post and Warner Wolf's sportscast on channel 9 every night. The news always sounded gloomy, but none of us thought it would ever happen. I mean, no one would let it happen.
The term "long suffering Washington Senators fans" was describing me. Oh, my "suffering" didn't begin until 1962, so I guess I'm luckier than some older Washingtonians. Each summer, my brothers and family would have a "Carnival for Muscular Distrophy" because WTTG's Bill Gormley made hosting one seem so cool. We'd set up in the alley behind our Dogwood Drive residence, and have a 3-day fun-fest. We'd then turn in the sixteen dollars or so we'd made and a few days later, our mailbox would be inundated with free Washington Senators' tickets. And thus began the love affair with the Nats.
1969 was perhaps the most special year of my young life. I had just turned 13, and the Senators, "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League," were keeping their head above .500.
As the season progressed, the Senators got as hot as the D.C. summer, and by the time that yard-markers replaced the pitchers' mound at RFK, Ted William's charges finished the season 86-76, the only winning season for the expansion Senators.
1970 saw a return to the "last in the American League" part of that old saying. During the winter meetings, owner Bob Short, acting as his own general manager, traded three of his best players to the Tigers for three of their worst. Walking to school the next day, my pal Ignazio Azorbe said, "Gee, its almost as if he was trying to make the team worse." He was so prophetic.
The Senators were terrible in 1971, and the team's attendance plummeted right along with their record. It didn't take long for Short to begin complaining about the team's stadium lease [funny how nothing has changed these many years later], saying forcefully that the team could only remain solvent with a new lease or a new city. Nah. Those D.C. Armory boys [the people in charge of RFK] were old and mean looking, but there was no way that they'd allow baseball to leave Washington again over a piece of paper.
I went to bed that Monday night more curious than concerned as to how the vote would come down. The Armory commission had said to Short, "Screw you" the previous week. Now the baseball owners were to vote on Short's request to move the team to Dallas-Fort Worth. Bowie Kuhn and the boys wouldn't embarrass themselves a second time in 10 years by letting the Senators leave town. I was wrong, of course. I woke up the next morning, and hurried down the staircase towards the front door, where I knew our copy of the Washington Post was waiting for me. I opened the door, picked up the paper and began throwing the sections onto the lawn as I looked for the sports section. Funny. The headline was about Redskin running back Larry Brown. Nothing about the Senators.
I glanced over to where the disemboweled newspaper was laying. There it was. Front page, banner headline. It was NEWS afer all. Emblazoned across the full width of the paper, in Arial black font, was my answer: "SENATORS MOVING TO TEXAS."
1971 was George Allen's first season in Washington, and their 5-0 start was the talk of the town. Nobody at Duke Ziebert's restaurant seemed concerned about the move. But I was. I sat on the porch and cried. It was wasn't like my brother had died or anything, but it was close.
In March, the Post reprinted pictures of spring training in Pompano Beach, Florida. There was Ted Williams and Nellie Fox, sporting the team's new uniforms. Across the chest, "RangerS" replaced the traditional script "Senators." The Post pointed out that the "R" and the "S," at the beginning and end of the lettering, were capitalized at the request of owner Robert Short. Those were his initials.
It was a long 34 years. Oh sure, we almost got the Padres in 1972 when Giant Food owner Joe Danzansky agreed to the purchase the team, but the Padres owner sold out to local businessman and McDonalds CEO Ray Crock. And that was that. And that was the last time that the city was seriously considered for a team until two seasons ago.
Today, the Jose Vidro roams the infield where Bernie Allen once stood. Jose Guillen sees the same sights as did Lee Maye and Chuck Hinton. Dick Bosman looked as sharp in his "curly 'W'" cap as does John Patterson. Baseball is back in Washington.
How much have we forgotten the past 34 years? Enough that a slew of bloggers [including me at times] enjoys finding fault with the team and its management. Instead of embracing Cristian Guzman and all of his imperfections [and his imperfections are countless], we trash him, the stadium, the general manager, the owner [oops, not the owner ... sorry] and the trainer. I love the Nationals. I am thankful for the stadium that they play in. Each trade that Jim Bowden screws up is a trade that we didn't have to talk about since 1971.
I don't care about the stupid trades or the insanity of the D.C. City Council or Bud Selig's inability to see the damage he's causing his cause. To me, it's all a play on a stage, acted out for our benefit.
It'll all come together, a stadium will be built, the team will grow and become better. Soon, not next year, or perhaps even the next, but soon, the Nationals will become a franchise that will be studied and written about. The next years will be dissected and studied. Others will try to emulate the moves made by the team, but they won't be able to copy it.
Magic can't be copied. It's a gift. Just like baseball in Washington. For the second year in a row, the Nationals are my favorite Christmas gift.
My site is not like the others in the Nat-o-sphere in that I worry less about the deep statistical significance of the game (I don't care what Nick Johnson's batting average is in games at night after a day game when the humidity is more thn 35%). Rather, I enjoy the prose of the game, the feel, the joy, the love of father of son in attendance, etc. One of my readers likened my site to a magazine where the other sites are like newspapers.
I like that analogy, and I'm content being who I am. One day, I might create a really nice, for-profit site that'll make me rich. For now, kind words from readers like you is all I need or want
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