Now, with the 40th anniversary of Bob Short’s escape in the rearview mirror, it’s time to go all the way and let the last of the bygones be gone.
How times change. The Rangers are not only the Series favorite over the miraculous Cardinals — “Rangers in six” is the chalk pick and mine, too — the Texas franchise has become a fine team-building model for other clubs from prosperous cities that are football crazy but not yet addicted to baseball.
Now, what team could possibly fit that description? Oh, right, the Nationals.
No franchise is in a better position to understand what the Rangers have done to transform their lot in just three lightning years, and to emulate that success, than the current club in Washington. You would be pressed to find two franchises more similar than the 2008 Rangers and 2011 Nats.
The Nats finished this season a thousand miles from the playoffs, much less from reaching consecutive Series like the Rangers. But there is a map. As the Rangers’ huge leaps in attendance demonstrate, it is actually a gold map, even if you play in the shadow of the Cowboys (or Redskins).
Just three years ago, the Rangers drew 24,320 a game, had a $66 million payroll and finished their fourth straight losing season at 79-83. This year, the Nats were 20th in attendance at 24,877, had a $66 million payroll and finished 80-81. Can you get closer? It wasn’t a fluke. If you look at four-year attendance, the Rangers and Nats were 99 percent identical. As a baseball market, and in talent level, the Nats are the ’08 Rangers.
How close (or far) are the Nats to a transformation of their place in the game, their fan base and their financial underpinnings? You have to win to find the answers. But the Nats should be motivated when they look at Texas, where crowds are up 49.6 percent since ’08 to 36,382 this season with 40,000-a-game plausible next year. And the Rangers have done it with a sane 13th-ranked, $93 million payroll.
Who dreamed a Texas ballclub could go to consecutive World Series and make money, all while playing across the street from Cowboys Stadium?
Could it actually happen? You need brains, organization, luck and money to go from where the Rangers were in ’08 to where they are now, but how much is required? The answer, which the Nats need to face, is: a whole lot. This isn’t a matter of stumbling into a couple of hot draft picks such as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, then letting them grow up, adding a couple of $100 million free agents, and ultimately collecting your hardware.