Nationals or Senators? Depends on who you ask.


Walter Johnson,veteran pitching ace of the Washington Senators, shown in action on September 26, 1924.(AP Photo)

It’s been a big week for The Nationals, who recently clinched the NL East title and on Sunday begin the best-of-five National League Division Series. Amid the victory stories and Teddy-watching came a story about 99-year-old Nationals fan, Bertram R. Abramson,  who remembers the last time the home team played in the World Series — in 1924.

Back when they were called the Senators. Or maybe they were called The Nationals.

In the story, reporter J. Freedom du Lac notes that “the team didn’t have an official nickname then.” One reader, posting as “lhaller” in the comments section of the story asked about the distinction, writing, “Why do you keep referring to the 1924 team as the Senators? They were the Nationals at that time — just read the Post articles that are included in the pdf files.”

Du Lac acknowledges it’s a complicated question that he took to someone who knows the subject well. Here’s an excerpt of du Lac’s response in the comments.

According to Baseball Hall of Fame Librarian Jim Gates, the 1924 Washington baseball team wasn’t officially known as the Senators. But it wasn’t officially known as the Nationals, either. Teams in that era did not have official nicknames; there was no commercial or legal relationship with those names, the way there is now (as with Washington Nationals Baseball Club, LLC). They were the Washington Base Ball Club, or some such. The circa-’24 Washington team was commonly called the Nationals, Gates says; “but quite often they were called the Senators, too. People used both names simultaneously.” And they were (and are) both correct. “The issue — what was the name of the Washington American League team? — will never be adequately answered,” Gates says. “There really is no perfect answer.”

“Quite often,” Gates adds, “the nickname depended upon what paper you read. The reporters would get tired of saying ‘the Washington Club’ and would start giving them nicknames.” And sometimes, he says, the writers would switch it up and start using one of the other nicknames, or a new one, simply because they were tired of using the same name.

Now, at Cooperstown, they generally refer to the Washington team from that era as the Senators, if they use any nickname at all. That’s because Senators eventually became the official name of the team here (you see it on uniforms beginning in the late 1950s), just like Dodgers became the official name of the Brooklyn Base Ball Club that was commonly called the Robins in 1924. They do that no matter the year(s) they’re referencing.

Look at Walter Johnson’s page on the Hall of Fame web site.

It says: “Played For: Washington Senators (1907-1927).”

Another commenter, mojo6, also addressed the confusion, writing, “They were the Nationals, the Senators and the Nats. All good.”

All good, indeed. For the record, du Lac notes that Abramson — who was 11 when he watched that 1924 World Series Game — called them the Senators and the “Nats.”

Bethonie Butler is a producer and a reporter on The Post’s engagement team. She oversees online comments and has also contributed to The Style Blog and She The People.
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Bethonie Butler | October 4, 2012