Washington, DC Sports Franchises: Washington Nationals

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Titles: None

Retired Numbers: #42 Jackie Robinson (retired league-wide)

Rivals: Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins

The Nationals are the youngest of the four franchises in the greater DC area. Though Washington had hosted two previous baseball franchises, first being the Washington Senators from 1901-1960. Although those Senators boasted stars highlighted by pitcher Walter Johnson and won a World Series in 1924, the franchise was mostly unsuccessful. The team moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season and became the Minnesota Twins. However, a second Washington Senators franchise took hold of DC beginning in 1961. This team, led by home-run hitter Frank Howard, had only one winning season in their 11 years in the area before packing up and moving to Arlington, TX, becoming the Texas Rangers.

The story of the Nationals first starts north of the border in Montreal. After the baseball strike in 1994, attendence for the Montreal Expos flatlined. The franchise traded away notable stars such as Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Kirk Reuter, Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou. In 2001, the owners of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises voted to contract the league by two teams in a 28-2 vote (the owners of the Expos and the Twins, the two teams up for contraction, voted against). However, after the vote, a domino effect of new ownership occured. Stay with me here as I elaborate…

-The Boston Red Sox were sold to a group led by John Henry, who was the current owner of the Florida Marlins

-In order to become the principal owner of the Red Sox, Henry sold the Marlins to a group led by Jeffrey Loria, who was the current owner of the Montreal Expos

-In order to become the principal owner of the Marlins, Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball, which paved the way for contraction. But, here comes the twist…

-The Metropolitan Sports Facility Commission, the organization that owned the Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Twins, won a court decision that allowed the Twins to continue to play baseball in the 2002 season. Due to this development, MLB could not contract the Expos. And, in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement pieced together in 2002, the players voted to prohibit contraction.

Now the Expos entered an interesting time in their history. MLB owned the team, and immediately began searching for a new owner. The league couldn’t find an owner that wanted to keep the team in Montreal, but the league was also determined to make the team profitable. This led to then-Expos General Manager Omar Minaya completing a trade to bring Cleveland Indians ace Bartolo Colon north, but shipping out three blue-chip prospects, and future stars, pitcher Cliff Lee, outfielder Grady Sizemore and second baseman Brandon Phillips. At the end of the 2004 season, baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced that a ownership group led by Ted Lerner purchased the Expos and were prepared to move the team to Washington, DC.

The Nationals first season in DC produced the team’s only .500 or better season, ending the year with a record of 81-81. Since then, the team has been working towards building a winner, initializing what became known as “The Plan”. The team tried to build itself through the MLB Draft, trades and low-budget free agent signings. The team drafted the likes of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (who skipped the minor leagues and made his debut the same year he was drafted, 2005),  pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, traded for outfielder Alfonso Soriano and signed first baseman/outfielder Adam Dunn. While Ryan Zimmerman has emerged as one of the premiere third basemen in all of baseball, Alfonso Soriano spent only one year in Washington signing a free agent contract with the Cubs, Jordan Zimmerman needed Tommy John Surgery after a promising start to his career and Adam Dunn was never able to provide a steady influence of winning for the team.

In 2009, amid a bonus scandal involving prospects from the Dominican Republic, GM Jim Bowden resigned, clearing the path for Mike Rizzo to take control of the franchise. Rizzo pledge to launch a rebuilding campaign through high-character players. In two short years, Rizzo has drafted the likes of three uber prospects, pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, and catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper, signed Jayson Werth to a massive seven-year contract, replaced Dunn at first base with the slick fielding Adam LaRoche and traded for stud catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Things seem to be pointing up, but we will cover these Nationals more tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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