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Is it time for Washington baseball fans to 'forgive' the Texas Rangers?

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 11:56 PM

Good for the Texas Rangers. They suffered long enough. At last, they've won their first postseason series. It took 39 seasons. Personally, I think 40 years would have been a little too long, despite the undeniable resonance of "40 years in the wilderness."

To me, 39 seasons is just about right for stealing my childhood team and damaging Washington's reputation so much the town did not get a club for decades. See, I'm not the type to hold a grudge.

Washington baseball fans have had prickly Ranger feelings for ages. They, and especially under-financed, incompetent owner Bob Short, who moved the Senators to Texas after the '71 season, are a primary reason the town went without a team for so long.

The man who slipped the black spot to Washington when it came to baseball was not Calvin Griffith, the owner of the original Senators who skipped town for Minnesota after the '60 season. That problem was solved instantly. The sport was so worried Congress would repeal its antitrust exemption that D.C. got an expansion team the next season.

Back then a city could be forgiven for misplacing a team. Hadn't it happened to New York - with both the Dodgers and Giants? There was a gold rush to new markets and Griffith was part of it.

Short was so precariously and highly leveraged that the late Post columnist Shirley Povich thought his total out-of-pocket cash to buy the expansion Nats was a few thousand dollars. He ran a lousy, cheap operation and probably got better attendance than his product deserved. But, when he fled to greener pastures, the town's reputation paid the price for Short's ineptness as a businessman.

As usual, there are variations of this history. Washington wasn't blameless. But for decades, every time the nation's capital was close to getting a team, which happened a half-dozen times, the same argument bludgeoned the town: You lost two teams.

One could be forgiven, but two seemed like carelessness.

So, for those fans who lived without a team for all or part of those 33 years, it's often hard to feel sorry for a Rangers franchise, which has had Nolan Ryan no-hitters and 17 winning seasons, just because it never won a postseason series until Tuesday night.

I wonder how Povich would feel. I'm ready to pull for the Rangers starting Friday in the ALCS, especially in a series against the New York Yankees. Is it too soon to go from a lifetime of mature indifference toward the Rangers to outright approval? If my home computer should spontaneously combust and an old Remington typewriter is found nearby, take that as "Shirley disagrees."

Such feelings aren't unique to Washington. Lucky is the fan that hasn't cried, not over a team's loss, but over the loss of a team.

Whether you are an 80-year-old from Brooklyn who lost the Dodgers as a boy, or a girl in Seattle who just lost the SuperSonics two years ago to Oklahoma City, you are part of a continuum of anger, sorrow and finally, if you're sane, acceptance. You wait, like football fans in Baltimore for 13 years, to get "your" team back.

Whether you are from Los Angeles, which lost both the NFL Rams and Raiders in '95, or Charlotte and Vancouver, which lost NBA teams in the last decade, or from Montreal, which saw Les Expos headed south to Washington in '05, you know the pain.

We all come full circle in our own way. And we learn plenty about ourselves when we lose a team that we loved from our earliest memories until we were adults. Everybody's reaction is unique and valid, but very different. I found, to my surprise, that I never hated the Rangers. I didn't even dislike them. I remembered many of their players too vividly and fondly when they were Nats.

But I also didn't want Texas to have the instant and spectacular success of the Twins who, after winning only one World Series in 60 years in Washington, captured the American League pennant in '65 in only their fifth season in Minnesota. Core players like Zoilo Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Don Mincher, Earl Battey, Bob Allison and Camilo Pascual were all Nats in '60.

In my early years at The Post, I'd have been delighted to write about anything. The Rangers? Sure. But I never did, beyond a few occasional paragraphs. It was as if the Rangers had ceased to exist. Short had exiled his franchise to irrelevancy in the heart of football country. I never saw Arlington Stadium. When Texas built The Ballpark, I saw it while visiting relatives. But I've never seen a game there.

Why? Because, compared with other hot stories of the moment, the Rangers were never worth the plane fare - not once since they left D.C. It's an amazing reverse accomplishment. Even the three times they made the playoffs, they gagged so fast in New York (1-9) that you'd only see them play at Yankee Stadium.

But this season, an odd thing has finally happened. Instead of my usual apathy toward the Rangers, I started following Texas - and not just Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero.

Ryan, as an owner, and Ron Washington as manager, have built the most versatile Ranger team ever. The best? A couple of Texas teams have won more. But none had such team speed or willingness to use it. (Beware those antlers.) C.J. Wilson has dazzling southpaw stuff that's suited to handling a Yankees or Phillies lineup in October. Colby Lewis only struck out one less hitter this season (196) than the Yankees' C.C. Sabathia.

Nelson Cruz would have 30 homers and 100 RBI if he stayed healthy; but he always misses too many games to get noticed. He's intact now. Michael Young is one of the least appreciated stars of this generation - a former batting champ who's had 200 hits five times and won a gold glove at shortstop before he moved to third base.

When Stephen Strasburg was scorching hot, I even discovered that only one pitcher in baseball had a fastball with a higher average mph - the Rangers' 22-year-old closer Neftali Feliz. And he's only one of four effective arms in that bullpen.

As the ALCS begins with the Yankees forced to take to the road, there's no need to make room for me on the Rangers bandwagon. Lets not go crazy. The Yanks look better.

But the Rangers seem tough enough to bring this series back to Texas where the Yanks could face the stunning Lee a second time.

Maybe, after 39 years, there'll be an absolute must-see game in Arlington. And not the one that's beside the Potomac River.

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