- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

So far those plucky Washington Nationals have exceeded most expectations, but there’s an ominous cloud in their sunny skies.


Never mind the Sports Illustrated cover jinx — the Nats ought to be concerned about the Dick Heller Jinx. Simply put, no team can win anything important if I’m watching and rooting.

Normally, I wouldn’t consider myself that important a factor but consider:

I’ve seen the Nats play six games in person, and they’ve lost five. In one of the losses, shortstop Cristian Guzman threw away a victory in the ninth inning when he picked up a ball covered with mud on a rainy day and heaved the horsehide about 10 feet higher than first baseman Nick Johnson. Score it E6.

In another, relief pitcher Joey Eischen lost his balance while trying to snag a batted ball and fell heavily on his side. Broken arm.

I don’t even need to be on the premises to wreak havoc. The other day, I turned on the TV to find the Nats and Giants tied in the 13th inning of a grim struggle. Before I could say, “Who the heck is Jason Ellison?” he had scored the winning run for San Francisco.

I know the Nats are trying to accommodate the media and the fans during their maiden season in D.C. Nonetheless, the next time I visit RFK, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself stopped by security and ejected from the premises before the first pitch.

Some years ago, when Frank Robinson was managing the Baltimore Orioles, I approached him before a game and said, “Excuse me, Frank, I’m Dick Heller and …”

F. Robby teed off on that one like he used to do on fastballs down the middle: “That’s your problem.”

Now any conversation with the Nats’ skipper might be even less civil.

“Hi, Frank.”

“Get thee behind me, Satan!”

You have to understand this jinx stuff is nothing new. During the 13 years or so between the time I discovered sports and became a sportswriter, the Senators and Redskins were … well, abysmal is the best word printable in a family newspaper. Let’s check out the numerical evidence from 1949 to 1961:

Senators: 824 wins, 1,182 losses, .411 percentage, one winning season, one .500 season.

Redskins: 53 wins, 98 losses, seven ties, .358 percentage, two winning seasons (somehow).

Championships? You gotta be kidding.

Rising to adulthood under such sporting circumstances permanently can alter your outlook on life. Optimism, what’s that?

The Senators tried every previously successful person they could find as manager: Bucky Harris, the “Boy Wonder” who led the ‘24 team to a World Series title; Chuck Dressen, who won pennants with the ‘52 and ‘53 Dodgers; Cookie Lavagetto, whose game-winning double broke up a no-hitter in the ‘47 World Series; Mickey Vernon, owner of two batting championships.

Didn’t matter.

Ah, but when I wasn’t around …

After moving to Minnesota and becoming the Twins, the original Senators franchise won a pennant in 1965. The Redskins won their first Super Bowl after the ‘82 season, and the Baltimore Orioles, my adopted baseball team, won a World Series in ‘83 — while I was living in Miami.

True, the Redskins also won Super Bowls after the 1987 and ‘91 seasons, but that probably was because I never watched the games. With so many of my friends and neighbors going bonkers over the burgundy and gold, I didn’t have the heart to ruin everything for them.

Now, you may think the jinx is a figment of my fevered imagination, but I tell you it exists. Before this year, I watched the Orioles muddle through seven straight losing seasons. With the Nationals on the scene and playing well, I haven’t paid much attention to the O’s this spring — so check out the American League standings.

Last year the Red Sox finally exorcised the Curse of the Bambino, but the Dick Heller Jinx is alive and well, unfortunately. Maybe I just ought to move somewhere else — and if they’re smart, the Nats should pay my way.

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