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Given the History, Rivalry Should Come Naturally

In the 11 seasons that the expansion Senators played here, they finished within 23 games of the Orioles only twice. In Washington's best expansion year, with 86 wins under Manager Ted Williams in '69, the Orioles won 109 games. Talk about overshadowed. In fact, in the last three years that Washington had a team -- and Short was deciding whether to flee to Texas -- the Orioles won the pennant every season and finished a staggering total of 99 1/2 games ahead of Washington.

To what degree did Short want to get to Texas? And how much did he just want to get away from the Orioles?

Frank Robinson's days as an Oriole still runs deep. "One night this summer when the Nationals dont play, Ill go over and watch ..... and have dinner," says the Nats manager. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)

Unless you lived through those last 11 years when the imperial Orioles feasted on the pathetic Senators (who lost from 92 to 106 games eight times), you can't really appreciate the scarring effect it had on Washington baseball. As the original Senators, reborn as the Twins, were capturing the '65 pennant and winning more than 90 games six times, their expansion replacements made a mockery of Washington's long baseball tradition. To be a Senators fan then was to despise and resent the Orioles. Far worse, to be a Washington fan was to know that the Orioles considered your team to be a swarm of 25 insignificant gnats.

Although I didn't keep all the programs, I am fairly sure that the score of every Senators-Orioles game ever played in RFK Stadium was Baltimore 3, Washington 0 at the end of the first inning. Usually because of a three-run homer by someone named Robinson. I recall this vividly because unreserved lower-deck seats cost $2.75 and my ticket was, for all practical purposes, worthless by the time Washington came to bat in the bottom of the first inning.

Eventually, I refused to go to any game involving the Orioles. They epitomized everything we all wanted the Senators to be, but knew they had not approached since their last pennant in 1933. Why attend a weekend series if you knew the pitching matchups would always be Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar against Dick Bosman, Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan?

Now, we get to start again. Some say that the proper path for the Nationals and Orioles to follow is one of mutual respect and, when it is deserved, even admiration. With a team in both leagues, why not root for both? That may, in fact, be how this relationship evolves. After all, many San Franciscans enjoy following the Oakland Athletics across the bay. The '89 World Series, before the earthquake, had almost no rivalry feeling whatsoever. The towns just giggled that they were both in the Series.

However, San Francisco didn't have the kind of history with the A's that Washington has with the Orioles. Baltimore beat up Senators teams for 17 straight seasons until, one day, Washington had no team at all while Baltimore had back-to-back-to-back pennant winners. 'Frisco never had to swallow anything like that.

Then, after Washington had been without baseball for 33 seasons, the Orioles owner still used every ploy and threat to prevent the Expos from moving to the District. And, finally, after being voted down 29-1 by his fellow owners, Angelos continued to do everything in his power to extract territorial "indemnification" -- all at the expense of the Nationals.

Most great baseball rivalries take decades, if not generations to build. The Cardinals and Cubs have been glaring at each other across the Midwest since the 19th century. You need a vast accumulation of lore and anecdote between two teams, and perhaps a few brawls, too, before you can call it a rivalry.

Still, the Nationals and Orioles have a huge head start on a genuine territorial tiff. Already, the thought may be forming, like cattlemen and sheepherders eyeing the same open range: Is this 33-mile parkway between RFK Stadium and Camden Yards big enough for the both of us?

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