- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2012


Like you, I’d enjoy rooting the Nationals upward and onward in 2012, perhaps even to — dare we dream? — the World Series.

Trouble is, I don’t know how.

Since the Truman administration, meaning for 60-odd years, I’ve watched guys with a “W” on their caps falter and flop. Over that dismal span, the Senators/Nats have savored exactly two winning seasons (1952, 1969).

Maybe it’s not fair to count those 33 years (1972 through 2004) when the nation’s capital had no major league team. That makes it merely 27 losing seasons out of 29, so what am I complaining about?

As Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff recalls his 14 seasons as the Senators’ voice, “All you had to do was give the score. Listeners just assumed Washington was losing.”

But suddenly, if that’s the word, we have a strong ball team ready, willing and apparently able to compete in the agonizingly tough NL East. How astonishing is this? For comparison, think of a balanced Federal budget, a political campaign without attack ads or a Beltway without traffic jams.

Through most of the 20th century, Washington fielded teams that not even a mother could love. A brief exception came when future Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Clark Griffith joined forces exactly a century ago.

After doing no better than 67-85 during any of the first 11 American League seasons, the Senators vaulted all the way to second place in 1912 with Johnson collecting 32 wins for appropriately appreciative manager Griffith and the team going 91-61.

Still the club didn’t win a pennant until 1924, beating the New York Giants in a 12-inning Game 7 with Johnson pitching in relief. By then, Griff owned the club, and as he and commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis watched delirious crowds snake-dancing down Pennsylvania Avenue late that night, Landis remarked, “You know, Clark, this may be the high point of this sport we love.”

The Senators also won pennants in 1925 and 1933 before mediocrity returned to town. Never again did a Griffith club contend. Matters got so bad that when the 1949 team somehow won nine straight on an early-season western swing, they were honored with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and dubbed the “Wondrous Nats.” Of course, they finished last.

Things got worse after Calvin Griffith moved out (to Minnesota) in 1961, and an expansion club moved in. The new Senators gave us 10 terrible seasons in 11 years before carpetbag owner Bob Short shanghaied -em to Texas. The only exception was 1969, when rookie manager Ted Williams cussed and cajoled another mediocre outfit to an 86-76 record — a feat nearly as momentous as his .406 batting average in 1941.

Then came those 33 seasons in baseball’s wilderness for Washington. The former Montreal Expos arrived to end the drought in 2005 and actually led the NL East for much of the early going before a 31-50 second half dropped the Nats to 81-81. What followed was eminently predictable, six losing seasons.

But now, wonder of wonders, deliverance seems at hand. We all know the main reasons: Zimmerman, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jackson, Clippard, Storen, LaRoche, Espinosa, Desmond, Morse, Werth and, sooner rather than later, Harper. Plus, in the dugout, wise Davey. So forget that lousy spring training record — strictly an aberration, we trust — and nagging injuries to several key players as the season starts. This is our year.

So arise from your long sleep, Washington fans. Our prayers just might be answered, starting with an 88-74 finish in 2012. Please.

For more of the author’s columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com



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