- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

Forget the speculation, arguments and fan contests. There is only one proper name for our new baseball club.

The Washington Nationals, aka the Nats.

Forget Senators. Mayor Tony Williams is correct when he describes the name as oxymoronic considering the District has no U.S. senators. Besides, it would conjure up unpleasant memories of the club’s not-so-immediate predecessors, who took the rights to the moniker with them to Texas in 1972. Good riddance, I say.

Forget Grays. I applaud the idea of paying homage to the superb Homestead Grays who played here from 1940 to 1950 — certainly they deserve a memorial at our new ballpark on the Anacostia riverfront. But remember that Homestead refers to a suburb of Pittsburgh, where the club also played, and not D.C. Besides, the name lacks pizzazz — sort of gray, you could say.

Forget any other names that might be suggested as appropriate for Washington, such as Monuments, Federals or, not quite seriously, Lawyers. (Although I could have second thoughts about Bullspitters.)

Here, hopefully, come the Nats — ready to tear it up next season while thousands cheer at RFK Stadium.

The name makes sense for two primary reasons. First, the team will be in the National League, where no Washington team has resided since 1899. Second, it has tradition behind it without the baggage attached to Senators: Our original ballclub officially was named the Nationals from 1905 until 1957, when Calvin Griffith changed it to Senators and commissioned Washington Star artist Zang Auerbach to create a logo showing “Mr. Senator” in formal dress throwing a pitch with the Capitol in the background.

“I think my dad changed it just because there was some confusion about the name — people were calling them Senators, Nationals, Nats,” said Clark Griffith II, now a Minnesota lawyer. “But this is a new team, and I think the name Nationals would be perfectly appropriate. … And I hope to be there next April for Opening Day.”

Bob Wolff, a broadcaster for the club from 1947 to 1960, makes a good point that more people around the country knew the club as Senators than as Nationals.

“Most of the time I called them the Senators on the air,” said Wolff, now a sports anchor for a Long Island cable TV station. “Often it depended on the sponsor. Senate Beer, of course, wanted them known as the Senators. When National Bohemian came in, they liked Nationals or Nats. … I guess I’m split on what the new team should be called.”

Shame on you, Bob.

Incidentally, Wolff has been all over national TV and radio this week, speaking as someone who actually was there when the original club was losing games. Said Bob, who is 83: “I guess a lot of people have discovered I’m still alive — or at least half-alive.”

Phil Wood, the local sportscaster and a respected authority on baseball history, is another veteran who favors Senators “because the words ‘Washington Senators’ roll off the tongue so easily and because that’s the name I grew up with.”

That’s OK, Phil — anybody can make a mistake.

Another burning issue is the identity of the club’s new owners. I hope Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and his minions realize it will be a total travesty if any group other than Fred Malek’s Washington Baseball Club gets the Nats — with Virginia Baseball’s Bill Collins and Gabe Paul Jr. as partners.

These people have spent many years and many bucks trying to restore our baseball birthright, and we owe them our deepest thanks.

As my personal gift to the new owners, I’d like to offer another piece of free advice: When President Bush or President Kerry throws out the first ball next April at RFK, tosses No.2 and 3 should come from the fists of Mickey Vernon and Frank Howard.

These guys represent the best of both previous franchises. Vernon spent 14 of his 20 major league seasons playing a graceful first base for the original Senators, winning batting titles in 1946 and 1953, and managed the expansion club for its first two-plus seasons. Howard, of course, whacked 237 home runs in seven seasons with the expansion team and was by far its most popular player.

“Sure, I’d love to do that if they want me to,” said Vernon, who is 86 and lives in Media, Pa. “Of course, I don’t know if I could still get the ball to the plate.”

Not to worry, Mick. On what will be one of the most glorious days in Washington’s sporting history, nobody will care. Especially when the Nats take the field.

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