Sunday, October 07, 2012

After 79 years: Washington, D.C., no longer last.

Today in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in his first term as President. Today in 1933, beer had been legal in the United States for only seven months, to the day, following an eighteen year interruption called Prohibition.

October 1933 was also was the last year a Washington, D.C. Major League Baseball team would be in the playoffs. That year, the Washington Senators would go on to lose to the, then, New York Giants in the World Series. A 79 year baseball playoff drought would follow.

In fact, the city would be completely bereft of a Major League baseball team for nearly half of that interregnum, from 1970 though 2004. The city's only World Series championship occurred in 1924. "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League," it was said of Washington, D.C.

Today, it all changes. The Washington Nationals, of the National League, mind you—exported to Washington, D.C. in 2005, from Montreal, Canada, where they had been the Expos— have the best record in all of baseball, with 98 wins. They are the National League Eastern Division champions. Today, they play the opening game of their first-ever postseason, against the Cardinals of Saint Louis.

Mom at RFK
In September 2005, my mother and I were at RFK Stadium to see the Nats,
(which is where the team first played when it came to town).
The last time a Washington team had been in the playoffs, Mom had been 7 years old.

Here's how Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post put it, wonderfully:
The coming days, starting Sunday afternoon, should provide an agonizing, thrilling, exhausting level of uncertainty and tension that many fans don’t even know exists in sports, certainly not in baseball, a game that, in D.C., has been a sleepy endeavor for 79 years. For relentless sensory bombardment, for hair-yanking twists of fortune, for sudden utterly unexpected explosions of joy, there’s nothing like playoff baseball.

What are we in store for? If the Nats lose in seven games in the National League Championship Series — a middle-of-the-road chalk prediction — Washington would probably have 11 or 12 postseason games in the next 15 or 16 days. Yes, it could be only three games in the next four days at worst. Or it could be 19 in the next 26, though the World Series.

But here’s the highest probability outcome: You’re going to spend the next two weeks going out of your mind on a continuous basis.

No other sport is an exact analogy, but trust me, people in towns with baseball traditions understand: October baseball bears no resemblance to the “pastoral” sport of April through September. The playoffs are more like the Myocardial Infarction Games.

Any of the eight teams that are left, and certainly any team that is good enough to win 98 or 94 games, like the Nats and Orioles, are more than good enough to win the World Series. They may not. But there is no veteran player who doubts that it’s a reasonable outcome.

Walter Johnson statue (01)
Sitting outside of the new Nationals Park,
a statue of the great Walter Johnson,
Hall-of-Fame pitcher for the former Washington Senators.

The NFL takes two weeks off before the Super Bowl. The Nats (and you) might have only one day off between the division series and the league championship series. There could be five postseason games at Nats Park in six days starting Wednesday. Sleep deprivation is the least of your worries. Hearts (and small pieces of furniture) get broken.

That's writing! That's baseball!

Eighty-eight years since Washington, D.C.'s only World Series championship. Seventy-nine years since its last playoff game. Go Nats!

I think it's time for a beer.

  • And, I'll toast my father, who took me, as a pre-teen, to games at R.F.K. Stadium to see the 2nd incarnation of the Washington Senators through 1969 (now the Texas Rangers), managed by Ted Williams, where the great Frank "Hondo" Howard would whack mighty home runs.
  • But ... they lost. Wait till next year!

1 comment:

  1. Being an Expos fan, I can't say this is not bittersweet but good luck to you team. I'll have my Expos hat on if they make it to the World Series.


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