Early Years: 1872 – 1899
The current Washington Nationals franchise has only been around since 2005, but there’s been quite a number of baseball teams who’ve represented Washington DC over the years. There even was time not too long ago, where the Washington Nationals came extremely close to not even existing at all. This is a super quick history of the Washington Nationals…
Between the 1870s and 90s, there were at least nine different professional baseball teams in Washington that were named as some variation of “The Nationals”, “The Senators”, or “The Statesmen”.
Success & Struggles 1901 – 1960
The early years of the 20th century were full of ups and downs for baseball in Washington DC. The team fielded eventual future hall of famers like Walter Johnson, Bucky Harris and Sam Rice. However, the Senators were mostly remembered for being pretty much terrible year in a year out. A popular saying at the time was that Washington was “First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American League”
Their luck would change in 1924, when the Senators beat the heavily favored New York Giants. This would be their first and only championship while playing in Washington DC.
1930s-50s: Throughout the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s the Senators went back to playing terrible baseball and were routinely in last place. Making matters worse, the St. Louis Browns Baseball club moved to Baltimore in 1954, becoming the Baltimore Orioles. Thus creating increased local competition for fans.
Relocations: 1961 – 1971:
After years of frustration, and seeing successful relocations of other MLB teams, the Senators decided to relocate to Minneapolis in 1961 to become the Twins. Despite the name change, the team still officially held on to it’s Senator’s past including that 1924 World Series win.
But all was not lost, because in that same year MLB expanded and added a new team in Washington that would also be named the Senators.
Unfortunately, this new Senators team played much like the old Senators team. Their only winning season came in 1969.
What led to the turnaround was the hiring of baseball great, and Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams as the Senators new manager. Williams, known for his incredible hitting ability, brought his hitting fundamentals to the team and helped the Senators win 21 more games that season then they did the year prior. The Senators went from last place to a division contending team in one season, and Ted Wiliams was named American League manager of the year for 1969.
However the success was short lived, as the team finished in last place in 1970 with only 70 wins, and second to last place in 1971 with 63 wins.
Years of mis-management by multiple ownerships created a situation where by 1970 the Senators were in financial trouble. In 1971 the Senators owner Bob Short (seen here sitting next to Richard Nixon, and no I’m not talking about the child) made a deal to move the team to Dallas Texas for the 1972 season. The team would change its name to the Texas Rangers, but like the Twins before them would keep all of it’s Senator history.
Not So Fun Fact – During the final home game, the Senators were playing the Yankees and had a 7-5 lead in the 9th inning with only one out left. Some upset fans knowing the team would be moving away the next year, stormed the field and refused to leave. Even though the Senators held a lead over the Yankees, The Umps had no choice but to call the game, forfeiting the game in favor of the Yankees.
The Lost Years: 1972 – 2004
In 1973, The San Diego Padres were granted permission to relocate to Washington DC. However, prior to that decision the Padres were sold to Ray Kroc (one of the founders of Mc Donald’s) and he elected to stay in San Diego.
By the early 1990’s MLB was looking to expand, and Washington DC was under consideration as a possible expansion city. Unfortunately for DC, four other cities offered more attractive bids and were awarded franchises. Those teams were Denver, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Look it was the 90s ok? No one could resist the powerful color combination of Purple and Teal, not even MLB. So you had your chance Washington.
By 2001 MLB had some large problems on it’s hands. Small market teams struggled to keep up financially with large market teams. There was competitive imbalance on the field, and off the field. MLB looked to shed the league of faltering franchises, so the owners opted to contract the league by folding two teams, the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos. Reason being, both teams had for many seasons failed to generate enough revenue while also failing to secure funds for building new stadiums in their cities.
Thankfully for the two teams, the contraction plan was thwarted by the Twins’ obligation to fulfill it’s lease with the Metrodome going through the 2002 season.
During this time, the Expos were bought out by MLB from it’s controversial owner Jeffrey Loria. It would only take another 15 years for MLB to be finally rid of Jeffrey Loria, but that’s for another video at another time.
Because the contraction had stalled, MLB was forced t o keep the Twins and Expos for the 2002 season. Also, the new agreement between the Players Association and MLB forbid any contractions until after the 2006 season. Had the contractions taken place, and the Twins and Expos been folded. This probably would have ended the chance for the Nationals to come back into existence for some time, while simultaneously erasing part of Washington DC’s baseball’ past in the Minnesota Twins.
Baseball Returns To DC: 2005 – present
Now that MLB owned the Expos franchise, they looked for relocation sites that would best suit the club. Some of those cities considered were, OKC, San Juan Puerto Rico, Monteray Mexico, Portland, the Northern Virginia area, Las Vegas, and Charlotte NC. To Washington D.C.’s luck, MLB chose D.C. as its favored relocation city and on Sept 29 2004 made the official announcement of relocation to DC.
When deciding on a new team name, local politicians objected to the use of the name Senators because the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. Also, it didn’t help that the Texas Rangers still owned the name “Senators”. So the former Expos club settled on “The Nationals” as their new team name.
After officially becoming the Washington Nationals, the team adopted similar colors as the late 1960’s Senators while adding gold accents. The team played at RFK stadium until a new stadium could be built. In 2008 The Nationals opened their brand new stadium, “Nationals Park”. The first game would end with The Nationals beating the Braves 3-2, thanks to Ryan Zimmerman’s walk off home run.
Early on, The Nationals routinely fielded one of the worst teams in the league. This included back to back 100 loss seasons in 2008 and 2009. However, starting in the 2010s The Nationals luck with change. In 2010, the Nationals drafted Bryce Harper the number one overall pick and he made his major league debut in 2012. That same year, the team made the postseason for the first time ending a 79 year drought of playoff baseball in Washington DC.
Harper would go on to win Rookie of the year in 2012, and the NL MVP in 2015. He quickly became the face of the Nationals organization with high hopes that he’d help bring a championship back to DC. Those hopes were crushed however when in 2019 Harper signed a 330 million dollar contract with the Nationals rivals The Philadelphia Phillies. Without their star player the team began the 2019 season with a 19-31 record, bringing their chances of winning the World Series to just 1%.
However, with the help of improved team play and some baby sharks they managed to turn around their record and finished the season with 93 wins. They clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs, and eventually advanced to their first World Series appearance after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. In the World Series, the Nationals jumped out to an early series lead winning the first two games. However, the they only managed to score one run over the next three games allowing the Houston Astros to take a 3-2 series lead.
In game 6, The Nationals bounced back and handedly beat the Astros 7 to 2, forcing a pivotal game 7. Houston took an early lead in Game 7, with two runs scored during the first five innings. In the 7th inning, The Nationals came up with two clutch key hits by Anthony Randon and Howie Kendrick, scoring 3 runs and taking a 3-2 lead. The Nationals continued to score runs in the 8th and 9th inning, padding their lead and winning the game 6-2. This would end a 95 year drought, by bringing a world Series title back to DC for the first time since 1924.
It’s ok Bryce….. there’s always next year! …Well that’s if there is a next year.
So that about wraps up a super quick history of the Washington Nationals. What did you think about the Nationals winning the World Series without Bryce Harper? Let me know in the comments below! And while you’re there let me know what other sports history topics you’d like to see covered in future videos.
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