Washington Nationals Explained

The Washington Nationals are an American professional baseball team based in Washington, D.C., United States. The Nationals are a member of the Eastern Division of Major League Baseball's National League. The team moved into the newly-built Nationals Park in 2008, after playing their first three seasons in RFK Stadium. The new park is located in Southeast D.C. near the Anacostia River and with views of the Capitol.[1]

The Nationals name originates from the two former Washington baseball teams who held the same name (used interchangeably with Senators). They are nicknamed "the Nats," a shortened version of the Nationals name that was also used by the old D.C. teams.

An expansion franchise, the club was founded in Montreal, Quebec in . The then-Montreal Expos were the first major league team in Canada. They played their home games at Jarry Park Stadium and later in Olympic Stadium. The team saw very little success, their most successful season coming in the strike-shortened season of . They had the best record in baseball when the season was cut short, and were regarded by many to have been the team to beat that year. This may have been the death blow for baseball in Montreal, although the team did stay in Quebec for 10 more seasons. After the 2001 season, Major League Baseball even considered shutting the team down (along with either the Minnesota Twins or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays).[2] [3] The team finally left before the season, moving to Washington to become the Nationals. This was the first complete name change for a relocating team in Major League Baseball since, when the Washington Senators left D.C. to become the Texas Rangers. They are one of three teams (the others being the aforementioned Rangers and the Seattle Mariners) never to have played in a World Series, never having officially won a league championship. They won a division championship, and advanced to the National League Championship Series, in their only playoff appearance, which was under the strange circumstances of the strike-shortened season.

Montreal Expos (1969 - 2004)

See main article: Montreal Expos. The Montreal Expos joined the National League in 1969, along with the San Diego Padres. After a decade of losses, the team became a winner in the early 1980s, winning their only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981. That team lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3 - 2 in the National League Championship Series. After several mediocre years in the late 1980s, the team rebounded in the early 1990s. In 1994, the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in the major leagues before the 1994 Major League Baseball strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, the Expos began to lose players, money and fans. Ownership squabbles, the decimated fan base, a difficulty in selling broadcasting rights, and numerous other issues led to the team being bought by MLB in 2002.

Relocation to Washington

See main article: History of Washington, D.C. professional baseball. Numerous professional baseball teams have called Washington D.C. home. The Washington Senators, a founding member of the American League, played in the nation's capital from 1901 to 1960. These Senators were founded and owned by Clark Griffith and played in Griffith Stadium. With notable stars including Walter Johnson and Joe Cronin, the Senators won the 1924 World Series and pennants in 1925 and 1933, but were more often unsuccessful and moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season. A second Washington Senators (1961-1971) had a winning record only once in their 11 years, though bright spots, such as slugger Frank Howard, earned the love of fans. The second Senators moved to Texas for the 1972 season, and Washington spent the next 33 years without a baseball team.

After several years in a holding pattern, MLB began actively looking for a relocation site for the Expos. Some of the choices included Oklahoma City; Washington, D.C.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; New Jersey; and Charlotte, North Carolina. In the decision-making process, Commissioner Bud Selig added Las Vegas, Nevada to the list of potential Expos homes.

On September 29, 2004, MLB officially announced that the Expos would move to Washington, D.C. in 2005. The move was approved by the owners of the other teams in a 28 - 1 vote on December 3 (Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos cast the sole dissenting vote). In addition, on November 15, 2004, a lawsuit by the former team owners against MLB and former majority owner Jeffrey Loria was struck down by arbitrators, ending legal moves to keep the Expos in Montreal.

Although there was some sentiment to revive the name Senators, political considerations factored into the choice of Nationals, a revival of the first American League franchise's "official" nickname used from 1905 to 1956.[4] Politicians in the District of Columbia objected to the name Senators because the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. Another reason was the Texas Rangers (the second Washington Senators team) still owned the rights to the "Senators" name.

Opposition from the Orioles

The move was announced despite opposition from Peter Angelos, owner of the nearby Baltimore Orioles. Since 1972, the Orioles had been the only MLB franchise in the Baltimore-Washington area, which he considered a single market in spite of vastly different cultures and populations in the two cities. Angelos contended that the Orioles would suffer financially if another team were allowed to enter the market. Critics objected that the Orioles and the Washington Senators had shared the market successfully from 1954 through 1971. This reasoning disturbed many in Washington who recalled that it was the Griffith family, owners of the Washington Senators, who allowed the St. Louis Browns to move to Baltimore in 1954 in the first place.

On March 31, 2005, Angelos and Major League Baseball struck a deal to protect the Orioles against any financial harm the Nationals might present.

Under the terms of the deal, television and radio broadcast rights to Nationals games are handled by the Orioles franchise, who formed a new network (the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network) to produce and distribute the games for both franchises on both local affiliates and cable/satellite systems. MASN was not, however, immediately available on all cable providers, adding to the frustration of Nationals fans. In fact, most in the DC area missed almost the entirety of the Nationals first two seasons. The deal with Angelos makes the Nationals the only major league baseball team which does not own their own broadcast rights.

The ballpark controversy

The team's relocation to Washington was contingent on a financing plan for the Nationals' new stadium - this plan quickly became the subject of much debate on the D.C. Council.

Three Council members who supported Mayor Anthony Williams's plan were ousted in September 2004's Democratic party primary. In addition, an opinion poll conducted by the Washington Post during the peak of the controversy found that approximately two-thirds of District residents opposed the mayor's stadium plan.

Much of the controversy centered on the fact that the city would be helping finance a $581 million stadium without state or county support, despite the fact that a large portion of the team's fan base would be drawn from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs.[5] (The District of Columbia is not part of any state or county; the city is administered as a territory directly by the United States federal government, with the city council serving as the territorial legislature.)

During December 2004, the move to Washington itself was called into doubt when the D.C. Council sought to change details of the stadium's financing. When the Council voted on December 14 to require 50 percent private financing for any new stadium, MLB ceased promotional activities for the Nationals and announced that they would consider looking for a new market.

Eventually, the council passed an amended plan on December 21, 2004 that proved slightly more financially favorable to the city, while remaining acceptable to MLB. Mayor Williams signed the stadium financing package on December 30.

During the 2005 season, a private financing plan for construction of the stadium was negotiated between the city and a syndicate of bankers led by Deutsche Bank. The negotiations of the details ran into another problem in November 2005. The bankers requested a letter of credit or other financial guarantee of $24 million US, $6 million for each of four years, ensuring payment of lease revenues against various risks including poor attendance and terrorism. The city requested that Major League Baseball provide this guarantee, which they were unwilling to do.

On December 22, 2005, the Post reported that Major League Baseball had specifically instructed prospective owners not to offer to pay cost overruns on the stadium if they were selected as the owners. Bidders were also told not to communicate with the press about these issues.

In February 2006, the DC City Council imposed a $611 million cap on the stadium.

Finally, on March 5, Major League Baseball signed a lease for a new ballpark, agreeing to the city's $611 million cap. MLB also agreed to contribute $20 million toward the cost of the stadium, although it did not agree to cover stadium overruns. Further, MLB added the condition that excess ballpark tax revenue earmarked for debt service for the bonds to be available for cost overruns. Two days later, on March 7 the DC City Council, by a vote of 9 - 4, approved a construction contract for a state-of-the-art stadium with a contemporary glass-and-stone facade, seats for 41,000 fans and a view of the U.S. Capitol, and affirmed its demand that public spending on the project be limited to $611 million. The votes were the final actions needed to satisfy the terms of the deal struck in September 2004, paving the way for the sale of the team.

Major League Baseball had agreed at the time that the franchise was moved to Washington, DC, to sell the team to an owner or ownership syndicate. Several dates for sale of the team were set and missed due to the legal wrangling regarding the building of the stadium. The delay was harshly criticized by city residents and leaders as reported in the Washington Post.

Selecting from a finalized group of three potential ownership syndicates, Major League Baseball announced in July 2006 that it had chosen the Lerner Enterprises group, led by billionaire real-estate developer Theodore N. Lerner. The final sale price of the team was $450 million and the transfer of ownership was completed July 24, 2006. In late September 2006, Comcast finally agreed to broadcast the Nationals games.

Notable firsts from the 2005 season

Notable moments from the 2006 season

Notable moments from the 2007 season

See main article: 2007 Washington Nationals season.

Notable moments from the 2008 season

See main article: 2008 Washington Nationals season.

New ownership and "The Plan"

When Ted Lerner took over the club in mid-, he hired Stan Kasten as team president. Kasten was widely known as the architect of the Atlanta Braves before and during their run of 14 consecutive National League Eastern Division titles. Kasten was also the general manager or president of many other Atlanta-area sports teams, such as the Atlanta Thrashers. "The Plan," as it became known, was a long-range rebuilding and restructuring of the team from the ground up. This plan included investing in the farm system and draft picks, and having a suitable team to go along with their new stadium.

At the end of the 2006 season, the Nationals did not re-sign free agent and star OF Alfonso Soriano. Soriano signed a $136 million contract with the Cubs, and Washington received two draft picks in return. OF Jose Guillen was also allowed to depart via free agency, and another high draft pick was obtained. Another high priced player, 2B/DH Jose Vidro, was traded to the Seattle Mariners for prospects OF Chris Snelling and RHP Emiliano Fruto. In mid-2006, the Nationals received OF Austin Kearns, 2B/SS Felipe López, and RHP Ryan Wagner from the Reds, giving up LHP Gary Majewski, LHP Bill Bray, SS Royce Clayton, 2B Brendan Harris and RHP Daryl Thompson. In August they traded RHP Liván Hernández to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects LHP Matt Chico and RHP Garrett Mock. Other players traded or let go from the 2005 season were OF Preston Wilson, RHP Hector Carrasco, IF Jamey Carroll, and OF Terrmel Sledge. The team also acquired pitching prospects Luis Atilano from Atlanta, Shairon Martis from San Francisco and Jhonny Nunez from the Dodgers. In 2006, they had two first-round draft picks, OF Chris Marrero, and RHP Colten Williams, and signed them both to developmental contracts. The Nationals also signed a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop, Esmailyn Gonzalez, for $1.4 million.[10] Gonzalez was later revealed to be 20 years old at the time of his signing.[11]

In the front office, the Nationals hired the well-respected former Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo to be the vice president of baseball operations, second in charge under general manager Jim Bowden.[12]

As for their farm system, the Nationals had a lot of work to do. By the spring of 2007, Baseball America had ranked the Nationals organization as dead last twice in four years in terms of minor league talent.[13]

The Nationals had five of the first seventy picks in the 2007 first-year player draft: their own two, and three compensation picks (two from losing Soriano, and one for Guillen). The team selected players that many considered to be four of the top 30 players available.[13] Overall, the Nationals signed all of their top twenty draft picks.[14] One of them, a first-round supplemental pick, Michael Burgess, was, by the end of the year, picked by Baseball America as the top prospect for the entire Gulf Coast League[15] . Their rookie team, Vermont, sent three starting pitchers Colton Willems, Glenn Gibson, and Adrian Alaniz, and two position players, first baseman Bill Rhinehart, and outfielder Aaron Seuss to the New York-Penn League All-Star Game.[16] . By the end of the season, three Vermont pitchers landed in the Top 20 prospects for the New York-Penn League:

In the low-A South Atlantic League Top 20, two players made the list:

In addition, after having no teams in the Dominican Summer League, the Nationals fielded two clubs in 2007, one of which won the DSL Championships[19]

2007 season: "Pledge Your Allegiance"

See main article: 2007 Washington Nationals season. After losing four starters (Liván Hernández, Tony Armas, Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio) from the prior year, the Nationals invited an extraordinary 36 pitchers to spring training.[20] [21] On Opening Day, the Nationals lost their starting shortstop (Cristian Guzman, hamstring) and center fielder (Nook Logan) for five weeks. At the end of April, one of their starters, Jerome Williams hurt his ankle while batting and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Then, in the space of just 10 days in May, Shawn Hill, John Patterson, and Jason Bergmann went on the disabled list. Jerome Williams returned, pitched one game, and went back on the DL with a shoulder injury. The Washington Post's wrote: "Almost everything that could sink a team's attitude has befallen the Nationals. They started the year 1 - 8, then they lost eight in a row to drop to 9-25."[22]

They pressed journeymen Mike Bacsik, Micah Bowie (a relief pitcher), Tim Redding, and Jason Simontacchi, along with rookie reliever Levale Speigner into the starting rotation, amidst predictions that the 2007 Nationals might equal the 1962 Mets' record of futility of 120 losses in one season.[23] . The Nationals were also able to top the worst record in the American League set by the 2003 Detroit Tigers season of 43 wins and 119 losses during the same predictions on the season. But the Nationals bounced back, going 24-18 in their next 42 games through June 25. But on that day, a day in which Bergman made his first start off the DL, the Nationals received the news that shortstop Cristian Guzman, their leadoff hitter (and second on the team with a .329 batting average) was lost for the rest of the season due to a thumb injury he received the day before tagging out a runner.

The Nationals finished the 2007 season 73 - 89, improving their record by two more wins than in 2006. In September, the Nationals won five out of six games with the New York Mets, contributing to the Mets' collapse out of first place.

Quick facts

Legal Name: Despite being publicly known as the Washington Nationals, until it was sold by MLB, the legal name of the team was still Baseball Expos LP. With the Lerner family as new owners, it is now known as Washington Nationals Baseball Club, LLC.

Founded: 1969 (Relocated from Montreal in 2005)

Stadium: Nationals Park. The team played in RFK Stadium from 2005 - 2007.

Uniform Colors: Initially, the Nationals adopted the red, white and blue used by previous Washington baseball teams while adding gold trim. As of the 2009 season, the familiar red hats and white jerseys will continue to be worn for home games, while the away uniform's dark blue hats have been replaced with the home red hats. Grey jerseys will still be worn for away games, but the block Nationals lettering has been altered to a red, cursive style reminiscent of the jerseys of the 1960's and 70's Washington Senators. The new alternate uniforms include the familiar red jerseys and hats, but the DC logo on the chest has been replaced with a 'Curly W'; these are most commonly worn at afternoon home games. Another alternate uniform, meant for special occasions, will be a navy blue hat and jersey, with a 'stars and stripes'-themed DC logo.

Logo Design: A shield featuring "Washington" in a ribbon device over "Nationals" in a hard-block font, both superimposed over a baseball flanked by 9 stars, representing the 9 defensive players of a baseball team. The scripted "W" on the Nationals' hats is similar to that of the former Washington Senators (1961 expansion, now the Texas Rangers). Interestingly enough, the "W" insignia on the Nationals' caps bear a resemblance to the "W" found on Walgreen's logos. There is also an alternate logo of an interlocking DC (similar to the cap logos of the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants)

Mascot: A six-foot, two-inch (1.88 m) tall eagle chick named "Screech", wearing a Washington Nationals cap and matching jersey.

Team Motto: Pledge Your Allegiance. And Welcome Home! (celebrating the Nationals new stadium completed in 2008.)

Other Nicknames: Often called the Nats.

Current ownership: Lerner family (Lerner Enterprises)

Playoff appearances (1): 1981 (as the Montreal Expos)

Local Television: MASN, WDCW 50

Local Radio: Federal News Radio - WFED 1500 AM/WWFD 820 AM

Spring Training Facility: Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Florida

Fight Song: Nuts About the Nats

People of note

Baseball Hall of Famers

Broadcasters

See main article: List of Washington Nationals broadcasters.

Retired numbers

With the exception of 42, retired for all MLB teams to honor Jackie Robinson, the Nationals have no retired numbers. The Montreal Expos retired the number 8 for Gary Carter, the number 10 for both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson, and the number 30 for Tim Raines. The Nationals returned these numbers to circulation: In the 2006 season, number 8 was worn by second baseman Marlon Anderson and was worn by Aaron Boone, number 10 was formerly worn by shortstop Royce Clayton and catcher Brandon Harper and is currently worn by infielder Ronnie Belliard, and number 30 was worn by reliever Mike Stanton and pitcher Chris Booker. The retired numbers for the Expos are now displayed at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, home of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League.

Washington Hall of Stars

RFK Stadium had a series of banners displaying a Washington Hall of Stars above its right-field fence. A newer version hangs on the facing of one of the parking garages near the center-field entrance to Nationals Park.

Figures from all of sport, including sportswriters, are eligible, but, as yet, no Nationals figures have been honored. The following Washington Senators are so honored:

Sievers (the second time around), Hinton and Howard played for the "New Senators" who became the Rangers; Vernon, Yost and Hodges managed the new Senators and Selkirk was an executive for the second franchise. All others either played for or managed the "Old Senators" who became the Twins. Neither the Twins nor the Rangers ever retired any numbers while they were the Washington Senators, nor have they so honored any former Senators since their moves, with the exception of Harmon Killebrew, whose number 3 was retired by the Twins on his election to the Hall of Fame.

Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard are also listed on the Hall of Stars banner, honoring their contributions playing for the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues. Both are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as are Johnson, Griffith, Goslin, Cronin, Wynn and Killebrew.

Season standings

See main article: Washington Nationals seasons.

The following is the previous five seasons of the franchise:

rowspan=2MLB
season
rowspan=2Team
season
rowspan=2League[24] rowspan=2Divisioncolspan=5Regular seasonrowspan=2Post-seasonrowspan=2Awards
FinishWinsLossesWin%GB
2005NLEast5th8181.5009
2006NLEast5th7191.43826
2007NLEast4th7389.45116Dmitri Young (CPOY)[25]
2008NLEast5th59102.36632½
2009NLEast
These statistics are current as of September 30, 2008. Bold denotes a playoff season, pennant or championship; italics denote an active season.

Minor league affiliations

Radio and television

The Nationals' flagship radio station is WFED, "Federal News Radio" at 1500 & 820 AM, which is owned by Bonneville International. Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler are the play-by-play announcers.

Nationals' telecasts are predominantly on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), with a handful of games simulcast on WDCW, "DC50." Bob Carpenter is the TV play-by-play announcer while Rob Dibble is the new color analyst.

The team has struggled to attract fans with attendance averaging in the middle of the league in the team's second year in Washington. Local TV ratings have declined to the lowest in the league by a significant margin.[26] [27]

See also

Footnotes

  1. RFK Stadium Fast Facts

External links

Notes and References

  1. http://mlb.mlb.com/news/gameday_recap.jsp?ymd=20080329&content_id=2465865&vkey=recap&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb - Nationals victorious in stadium debut
  2. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/news/2002/08/25/1994_strike_victims_ap/ CNNSI.com - Baseball - 1994 strike ended a spectacular season - Monday August 26, 2002 12:43 AM
  3. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/contraction1.html Baseball Contraction Primer
  4. http://www.dcvote.org/media/media.cfm?mediaID=1098&year=2005 DC Vote - Media Coverage
  5. http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3930510 Letters | Economist.com
  6. http://www.forbes.com/home/feeds/ap/2006/06/18/ap2822938.html
  7. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/17/AR2007041702068.html Nats Show Their Support - washingtonpost.com
  8. http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/baseball/20070417-2028-bbn-nationals-virginiatech.html SignOnSanDiego.com > Sports - Nationals don Virginia Tech baseball caps during game
  9. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=270512120 ESPN - Zimmerman's walk-off grand slam ends rain-delayed game - MLB
  10. News: Top 10 Prospects: Washington Nationals. Aaron Fitt. January 12, 2007.
  11. http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-nationals-fakeagename&prov=ap&type=lgns
  12. News: Nationals Counting on Draft-Day Payoff. Barry Svrluga. Washington Post. June 5, 2007. E01.
  13. News: From worst to ... not quite first. Mark Zuckerman. September 7, 2007. Washington Times.
  14. News: August 16, 2007 title=Nats agree to terms with McGeary: Lefty was club's sixth-round pick of 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Bill Ladson. MLB.com. http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070816&content_id=2151632&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb.
  15. News: Gulf Coast League Top 20 Prospects List: Young talent proves tough to gauge. Chris Kline. September 20, 2007. Baseball America.
  16. News: Experienced Former College Players Fill NYPL All-Star Rosters. August 9, 2007. Ben Badler. Baseball America.
  17. News: New York-Penn League Top 20 Prospects List. Aaron Fitt. September 26, 2007. Baseball America.
  18. News: South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects List. Bill Ballew. October 1, 2007. Baseball America.
  19. News: Notes. Bill Ladson. September 7, 2007. MLB.com.
  20. News: Nats' Starting Pitching Could Be a Real Problem. Thomas Boswell. March 7, 2007. E03.
  21. News: Nats' St. Claire Knows the Task at Hand. Barry Svrluga. Washington Post. February 26, 2007. E01.
  22. News: Nationals Are Managing Just Fine With Acta. Thomas Boswell. June 4, 2007. E01.
  23. News: Baseball Most Foul: The Nats Reinvent Bad. Linton Weeks. Washington Post. May 8, 2007. C01.
  24. Web site: Washington Nationals History & Encyclopedia. 2008-11-05. Baseball-Reference.
  25. Web site: Young honored by Players Association. 2008-11-08. Bill Ladson. 2007-10-26. MLB.com.
  26. News: Nats: Last in the League, Last in TV Ratings. Steinberg. Dan. July 7, 2008. Washington Post.
  27. News: MLB ratings down, but networks look ahead. OURAND. JOHN. July 7, 2008. Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal. 2008-07-10.