As soon as Major League Baseball nominated seven Expos as candidates for the greatest players in Nats history, it was clear that we would eventually have a problem.
While fans across baseball were busy choosing their team’s four greatest players this spring, the All-Star-themed promotion was invisible in Washington, where no one even bothered supporting the candidacy of the one actual National on the list, Ryan Zimmerman.
Frank Howard was a candidate for the Rangers Franchise Four, and Walter Johnson was on the ballot for the Twins, but you wouldn’t expect Texans or Minnesotans to rally behind former stars. This meant, almost inevitably, that Washington baseball would be whitewashed from this celebration of baseball history.
And so Tuesday night arrived, and MLB announced the 30 Franchise Four teams, and wouldn’t you know it, Washington wasn’t represented. Johnson lost out to Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett. Howard didn’t make the Rangers list. And Zimmerman was bested by a quartet of Expos: Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Vladimir Guerrero, who had also made the Angels list. (Which wasn’t as good as Nolan Ryan, who made three of the teams.)
“We wanted to give fans a chance to recognize players they care the most about,” Tony Petitti, MLB’s chief operating officer, told MLB.com. Do fans of the first-place team in Washington care most about Vladimir Guerrero?
Now, it’s a given that you shouldn’t get too worked up about any sports debate, much less an MLB-manufactured one that was revealed during an exhibition game. But the fact remains that 29 out of baseball’s 30 fan bases were given a cool little present on Tuesday night, and the 30th fan base was handed a glorious plate of poutine, minus the fries, the cheese curds and the gravy. Which is why 29 out of MLB’s 30 teams happily tweeted out images of their Franchise Four representatives on Tuesday night, like these, from the other teams in the NL East. Only the Nats remained silent.
To even contemplate a sensible solution to this problem would be to spend too much time thinking about MLB’s Franchise Four promotion. Off the top of my head, though, I’d suggest that MLB could have realized what was going to happen, and realized that Washingtonians would not particularly want to celebrate the achievements of former Expos, and then create one foursome honoring the Expos, and another honoring the Nats.
Yes, this would have made 31 Franchise Four teams, which is a bit ridiculous. But it’s not any more ridiculous than the same players appearing on multiple Franchise Four teams, or celebrity softball games, or an exhibition determining where World Series games are played, or a regional sports network controlled by one team in charge of broadcasting another team’s games. I think, in other words, that 31 Franchise Four teams is a hurdle that could have been leaped.
But that’s not what baseball decided, and so Nats fans were left to celebrate the four greatest players in their franchise’s history, none of whom played a regular-season game in Washington. This is how they celebrated.