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So long, so what?
Question of the Day
Perhaps it was appropriate that the city’s baseball farewell to RFK Stadium was mostly a losing proposition. After all, that’s how the Senators, and sometimes the Nationals, mostly played during the 13 seasons of horsehide hijinks on East Capitol Street.
True, yesterday’s 5-3 victory over the Phillies poked the Nationals over .500 (122-121) for their three-year tenancy. But that hardly made up for the consistent ineptitude of the expansion Senators, who stumbled around to the off-key tune of 363-441 there from 1962 through 1971.
It also figured that some of the old Senators on the premises probably weren’t even household names in their own households.
Fine and dandy to have Frank Howard, Dick Bosman and Chuck Hinton — three of the Senators’ fan favorites — trotting onto the greensward before the game and signing autographs afterward for a long line of fans with long memories.
But Don Loun, whose entire Senators pitching career consisted of two games in 1964? When Loun was introduced, he received an enthusiastic welcome from the paying customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many thought they were hailing Don Lock, a muscular outfielder who whacked 99 home runs for the Senators from 1962 to 1966.
Nonetheless, Loun, who lives in Northern Virginia, said he was “happy and honored to be here.” I guess it beat watching the Redskins on TV on a lovely September afternoon.
Former shortstop Ron Hansen was another somewhat dubious guest. He played only part of one season in these parts, batting .185 in 1968, although he did achieve momentary distinction as the author of an unassisted triple play.
“I think that sign on the left-field wall is in your honor,” a man told Hansen, referring to a Comcast bundle advertisement that urged fans to “Earn your own Triple Play.”
“Sorry,” Hansen replied. “I didn’t see it.”
Also escorted onto the field before combat were Wayne Comer (.233 in 1970, his only D.C. season) and Hank Allen (six well-scattered home runs over five seasons). Too bad Coot Veal and Bud Zipfel, who also performed less than heroically hereabouts, weren’t available.
There was a brief generational pang when Frank Howard, aka “Hondo” and “The Capital Punisher,” and Ryan Zimmerman strode out to third base together. Big Frank, who smote 237 home runs on behalf of generally terrible teams from 1965 through 1971, was the closest thing the Senators had to a superstar. And Zimmerman, finishing his second season in the bigs at 23, looks like one in waiting.
All of this is not to demean the Nationals” front office, which presumably did its darndest to produce a gala day at the old ballyard. But as far as producing stellar Washington baseball alumni is concerned, it is easy to recall the timeless words of Joe Kuhel. Upon being sacked as manager of the last-place original Senators in 1949, Kuhel reportedly remarked, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.” However, some earwitnesses insisted he said something other than “feathers.”
It is tempting, if unfair, to compare this long goodbye with the Orioles’ poignant sendoff to Memorial Stadium in 1991. Countless tears fell that day as the P.A. blared the “Field of Dreams” theme and ex-O’s named B. Robinson, F. Robinson, Palmer, Powell, Johnson and Blair, et al, scampered out to their old positions.
The difference, of course, is that the Orioles won six pennants and three World Series while playing at Memorial. For the expansion Senators at RFK, the only taste of success came in 1969, when Ted Williams somehow goaded and cussed these perpetual losers to an 86-76 record. Likewise, the Nats were absolutely splendid only during the first half of 2005, which they negotiated with an unreal and unexplainable 50-31 record.
At the finish yesterday, workmen dug up home plate for transport to the Nats’ new digs on the Anacostia Waterfront, and the crowd of 40,519 — the season’s largest — dispersed to await brighter days and nights in a glittering new setting.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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