When do we get long-range perspective on what we’re seeing here now that the Nats are favorites, precarious ones, but favorites, to reach . . . the (eh) next round. What responses might be appropriate to this team and even more its long-enduring fans after all the rude raspberry they have gotten in return for their baseball affection for 118 years?
Since 2000, in a century still too young to buy a drink, the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Anaheim Angels and Houston Astros have ended World Series droughts that totaled 434 years, with the Angels and Astros capturing their franchise’s first titles.
With true delight, I have reported all these victories, detailing the patience of aged fans, the delight bordering on blissful derangement of the crowds in those home parks, the tears on the cheeks of the celebrants and the thousands of hugs and silly dances perpetrated by the just-gone-loony citizens of amazed and relieved metropolises.
You can usually interview a four- or five-generation family that plans to sprinkle scorecard ashes from the final victory on the grave of great-great-grandpa or -grandma who never lived to see it. Nobody thinks they’re celebrating the success of the Normandy invasion, but these are still truly giddy occasions amid the usual annals of human travail.
I also quote from or create my own version of the hosannas that every baseball scribe or TV-radio yodeler bestows — also sincerely — on the city that finally got its turn to be champion in a sport that clearly has no conscience whatsoever about its franchises taking “turns.”
The reason my columns at those times are sincere, not grudging, is because I understand those fans. I feel a lifelong bond with the followers of every one of those teams, just as I still begin every season with a little internal nod that it would be fine with me if Cleveland won the World Series for the first time since 1948.
Never once have I written, “Yeah, but what about Washington, D.C., my hometown? We don’t count?”
However, with the NLCS underway, I would like to make a quiet but firm point:
What is it with you people?
Where’s the sympathy? Where’s the love from fans in other cities? Where’s the media empathy for a city and its fan base that have waited longer to get less than any in baseball history?
Washington has been getting poked in the eye, given the hotfoot, had bubble gum put on its hat or had its pants pulled down in public since 1901 by the “national pastime.” D.C. has had two teams spirited out of town — just like New York City when the Dodgers and Giants bolted — but the Big Apple is painted as profoundly wronged. D.C.? Meh.
Cubs or Red Sox fans, any fans you want to mention — none approach the 118 years of bad road D.C. has endured at the hands of baseball. Our problem: We keep coming back for more cream pies in the face because, apparently, we refuse to stop loving the game.
The sad Cubs went 108 years between World Series wins. That’s pain. But at least they had a team all 108 years. Part of the reason they went so long between titles is that they lost seven World Series along the way.
The Red Sox went 86 years between World Series wins. But in that span, they had 48 teams with records over .500, eight of them over .600, and went to the postseason 10 times. They didn’t win the World Series, but they had baseball — and generally good baseball — every year.
I’m a native Washingtonian, lived here all my life. My old baseball cards begin with some from the Bowman set of 1955 — the goofy ones with the players’ pictures put inside TV screens. Do you know how many winning major league teams D.C. had from the time I became conscious of the sport until the Nats finally became good in 2012?
In 56 years, the answer is one.
One winning team by the time I turned 64. Because I covered baseball for The Washington Post, I had fun. But think of all the D.C. fans who didn’t have that good luck. When people who are eligible for Social Security have seen only one winning baseball team in their lives, that ought to kill every iota of their baseball interest 10 times over.
But the first year that baseball came back to D.C. in 2005, in that decrepit, rodent-infested RFK Stadium, the team drew 2,731,993 fans.
Do you know the first year that the New York Yankees ever drew that many people? Try 1998.
Don’t you think those of us who live in the Washington area are normal folks? Are we not fans? Do we not hold our heads in our hands when we must wait 33 years — 33 years of lobbying, begging, forming ownership groups and proposing ballpark plans — to get back a franchise in a town that was home to one of founding franchises in 1901?
Do we not, with justification, feel slighted when there is wide support in October for the 14 current major league teams — including the Mets, Astros, Royals, Twins, Rangers, Brewers, Padres, Royals and Blue Jays — that have not even been in existence as long as the 71 years that D.C. backed baseball from 1901 to 1971?
The nation gushes sympathy for fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston — among the most desirable and glamorous spots in the world — weeping as if they are citizens of Dogpatch who need a World Series trophy to make their lives worth living.
Fewer than 1 percent of the roughly 6 million people who now live in the Washington area have much to do with partisan politics. In fact, the “people in Washington” that every politician — both parties — have slandered for decades, the ones who truly impact national policy, are a tiny fraction of us.
So keeping in mind that 99.9 percent of Nats followers are not guilty of “being Washington,” could kind folks everywhere, you know, maybe say a good word about our bouncy, close-knit, fun-loving, refuse-to-die, full-of-old-goats baseball team that just knocked out Clayton Kershaw and the perfect Dodgers right there in Dodger Stadium?
And if Washington should somehow get to a World Series for the first time since 1933 and have a chance to win the city’s second World Series — the first was 95 years ago — maybe act as if we are just a tiny bit akin to those noble “long-suffering” fans of the Cubs or Red Sox or White Sox or Giants. Even though all those fan bases, during Washington’s third-of-a-century in exile, were getting to watch players such as Frank Thomas, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Sammy Sosa, Ryne Sandberg and Barry Bonds.
If I’m reading it right, D.C. isn’t asking much. Unlike the Dodgers, who seem so distressed that, for the 31st straight year, they will not win a World Series to which they feel they are somehow entitled, many of us in the D.C. area would just like it noted that it has been no bed of roses to be connected to baseball for 118 years — 85 of them with a team that was usually lousy and 33 seasons with no team at all.
If fans at Nationals Park for NLCS Game 3 on Monday are a decibel too demur — something I seriously doubt will be the case — or if some other Nats-related flaw should come to mind, it might be generous to note that no city in America has put more into baseball for longer and gotten less back. If we seem a bit over the top for “just” making an NLCS, forgive us. It has been a while. Actually, it feels like forever.
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