In Washington, baseball fans are still living with the Curse of Jim Crow.

The demise of two major league baseball teams in the nation's capital is usually attributed to weak ownership, poor stadiums, the city's transient population, and the Baltimore-Washington area's supposed inability to support two teams.

But if Washington wants another major league team, and wants it to succeed, it must confront the unspoken reason for those earlier failures: race. An all-white major league team drove away black fans, hampered the team's success on the field, and epitomized the segregation and discrimination that plagued the city.

The Senators' rise and fall coincided with the team's relationship with its black fans. The nation's capital was not always "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." During the 1920s and 1930s, the Senators won three American League titles (1924, 1925, and 1933) and one World Series (1924).

In their heyday, the Senators also boasted some of the country's most loyal black fans. Although they sat in Griffith Stadium's segregated right field pavilion, blacks flocked to Senators games. In the hearts of their fans, the Senators transcended racial lines.

Griffith Stadium was practically in the black community's backyard. Located at Seventh Street and Florida Avenue, the ballpark stood on the site of what is now Howard University Hospital. The ballpark's location and black fans' love of the game created a strong bond.

During the late 1930s, however, the Senators' place in the American League standings and their relationship with the city's black fans began to sour. Change was in the air as black sportswriters led by Sam Lacy campaigned to integrate Major League Baseball. In December 1937, Lacy landed a groundbreaking interview on the subject with Senators owner Clark Griffith. "The time is not far off," Griffith predicted in Lacy's column in the Washington Tribune, "when colored players will take their places beside those of other races in the major leagues. However, I am not so sure that time has arrived yet."

Griffith's remarks prompted some people to assume that the Senators would be the first team to sign a black player. Griffith had been signing light-skinned Cuban players for decades. Some of them, such as third baseman-outfielder Bobby Estallela, were not-so-light skinned.

America's premier black baseball talent was right under Griffith's nose. From 1940 to 1950, the Homestead Grays, perennial Negro National League champions, played their home games at Griffith Stadium. The Grays featured two home run hitters for the ages -- catcher Josh Gibson and first baseman Buck Leonard. In 1943, Gibson hit more home runs (10) over Griffith Stadium's left and center field fences than every player in the American League (nine). Leonard regularly knocked balls over Griffith Stadium's 30-foot-high right field wall.

The Grays packed Griffith Stadium and sometimes outdrew the Senators, particularly when pitcher Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs came to town. With the Grays' popularity growing among black fans, the clamor to integrate the Senators increased.

During the 1943 season, Griffith asked Gibson and Leonard if they wanted to play for the Senators. They said yes. Griffith, however, refused to sign them. The Grays' stadium rentals and concessions sales meant the difference between Griffith finishing the season in the red or the black. The owner valued his short-term profits more than the opportunity to snap up the best black players.

Not signing Hall of Famers Gibson and Leonard may have cost Griffith a few American League pennants. The Senators finished second in 1943 and 1945, barely losing the 1945 pennant.

It also may have cost the Senators their black fans. An outspoken opponent of Jackie Robinson's signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Griffith refused to integrate his team for seven years after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Larry Doby signed with the Cleveland Indians later that season, and Satchel Paige joined Doby on the Indians in 1948. Paige and Doby regularly appeared at Griffith Stadium before capacity crowds.

Griffith, however, did not officially integrate his team until he promoted a 26-year-old Cuban-born outfielder named Carlos Paula in September 1954. Nobody seemed to care. Blacks had long ago stopped going to Senators' games. When Griffith died in 1955, a Washington Afro-American editorial stated: "Clark Griffith's contributions to baseball were accompanied by no desire to include us in it."

In 1961, Griffith's nephew, Calvin, moved the franchise to Minnesota and renamed it the Twins. Calvin persuaded the other owners to permit the move because "the trend in Washington is all colored." Calvin revealed in a 1978 speech that he moved his team to Minnesota because "black people don't go to ballgames."

In Washington, the absence of a black superstar, either on the Griffith-owned Senators or on the expansion Senators of 1961 to 1971, probably had something to do with it.

Over the years, the Senators' racial policies were overshadowed by those of the Washington Redskins and their virulently racist owner, George Preston Marshall. The Redskins refused to integrate until 1962, but, unlike the Senators, the Redskins produced black superstars during the 1960s and early 1970s including Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor and Larry Brown. Today the Redskins unite the city across racial and class lines and inspire fan loyalty unlike any other local team.

The Curse of Jim Crow should be a cautionary tale for the city's next major league franchise. Blacks currently represent less than 5 percent of the fans at major league games. A baseball team in a majority-black city like Washington has to make a concerted effort to do better.

If baseball returns to Washington, the team should reach out to every racial and ethnic group -- sending players into the schools to give clinics, marketing season-ticket plans to Hispanic- and black-owned businesses, establishing team-sponsored youth baseball leagues, and giving free tickets to underprivileged young fans. The only way to inspire fan loyalty is to promote the team citywide, in Fort Washington and Fairfax, in Mount Pleasant and Montgomery County.

A baseball team with only affluent white fans will repeat the failures of the past.

Brad Snyder is the author of the recently published book, "Beyond the Shadow of the Senators: The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball."

By refusing to sign future Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson, Senators owner Clark Griffith alienated black fans. Griffith didn't integrate the team until 1954.