Saturday is a big day for the Washington Nationals. They get to dance on the grave of the Montreal Expos.
In a cheap, lazy, thoughtless promotion, the Nationals supposedly will “recognize” their history as the Expos — a franchise that began play in Montreal 50 years ago – by wearing Expos throwback jerseys and other promotions “recognizing” the Expos, in an attempt to get people to come to the ballpark on a Saturday afternoon during July 4th week when they are playing the Kansas City Royals, who also happened to begin play in that 1969 expansion season.
The team will replace the Curly “W” with the Expos “M,” among other things. Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero — who never played one single game as a Washington National — will be there to … what? Celebrate a corpse?
For a city that lost baseball twice, to purport to celebrate the history of a franchise that left its home for greener pastures — Montreal for Washington — is bad form. Anyone who was in Washington from the time the second coming of the Senators left for Arlington, Texas, following the 1971 season to when the Expos crossed the border and became the Washington Nationals following the 2004 season, should be able to recognize that.
Try to consider the Texas Rangers holding a Washington Senators night, wearing Senators jerseys with all kinds of promotions “recognizing” the team you grew up rooting for in Washington that then left town — just like the Expos did in Montreal. I know many of you may not think of this, and it is the business of sports, but Washington baseball supporters did everything they could to get another city’s team to move to the District — leaving behind an angry, sad fan base, the same thing Arlington, Texas, did to Washington.
It was the way for Washington to get baseball back, and no one should apologize for it. But there should also be a recognition of the cost for the baseball fans left behind.
QUIZ: Can you match the nickname to the Major League Baseball player?
There may not have been many Expos fans at the end, but they loved their team, and it was taken from them. I was in Montreal for the final game, and saw the pain when one fan had to be held back from attacking team president David Samson in a bar.
Imagine if you were a Senators fan and could have gotten your hands on owner Bob Short after the Senators played their final game at RFK Stadium at the end of the 1971 season.
It is a shared passion — your baseball love ripped from your heart.
The Lerners, though — the Nationals owners — have never been long for passion.
The whole Expos connection has been a thoughtless mess here in Washington. The Lerners have bastardized their own Hall of Fame — the so-called “Ring of Honor,” which includes three former Expos Hall of Famers — Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and the late Gary Carter. I would assume that Guerrero will soon join as another former Expo Hall of Famer.
None of these players mean anything to Washington Nationals fans.
It’s a simple concept — embrace the history of Washington baseball. It should not be that hard for anyone who has lived here, and lived through the absence of the game. But the Lerners seem to have trouble with the concept.
There have been moments when they recognized the tradition of Washington baseball and the importance particularly of the second Senators team that was here from 1961 to 1971. But they failed to truly embrace it right from the time they took over ownership of the franchise from Major League Baseball.
They had a chance to make a big statement when some team officials wanted to hire former Senators great Frank Howard — still perhaps the most beloved baseball figure in history in this town, with a statue outside Nationals Park — to simply be Frank Howard, a community ambassador. This was a no brainer, particularly, according to sources, the cost would have been about $75,000 annually.
The Lerners refused.
I can only speak to this anecdotally, but a number of times at Nationals Park, particularly after it opened in 2008, many instances of meeting middle-aged men with their fathers, who had grown up watching the Senators as far back as Griffith Stadium, and were now sharing these moments of the return of baseball to Washington. Sometimes I would see three generations, all connected by baseball in Washington — a remarkable scene, considering that there was no baseball in the city for 34 years.
That’s the passion that is the story of baseball in Washington. Consider that generations passed since the Senators left town. Yet you had fans that still yearned for its return. You had different sets of politicians over the years, turned down by baseball time after time, still fighting to get baseball back in the area — even though there was a perfectly good team 35 miles up the road in Baltimore.
There isn’t a city in America that fought 34 years to successfully get a sports franchise back.
That’s the connection that should be celebrated, and celebrated often — not the theft of another city’s team that is now living through the same hell that Washington did for years.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.