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First in War, First in Peace, Last in the NL East

Borrowing from the famous lines of "Lighthorse Harry" Lee's eulogy to General George Washington, this modified cliche best captures the futility of the Washington Nationals and all previous professional Washington baseball franchises.

Granted, the franchises who came before the Nationals were in the American League, so this current cliche would not quite fit pending a slight adjustment.

This morning, Saturday Jan. 24, 2009, I was reading a column in the Washington Post by legendary sportswriter Thomas Boswell on the lack of aggressiveness best characterizing the offseason of the Washington Nationals. In particular, the lack of free agent signings was what upset Boswell.

With players like Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, and Jon Garland still unsigned in the free-agent market now, it would be unwise for the Nationals to pass up on this extraordinary opportunity to acquire good players at a less expensive [non-Steinbrenner] price. 

I could not agree with Boswell more.  The Nationals have been floundering opportunity after opportunity to acquire any big free agent signings during arguably one of the biggest free agent markets in recent Major League Baseball history. 

I do not know who in Nationals organization is to blame? Lerner? Bowden? Kasten? But, it does not matter who the blame belongs to.

This is a collective failure by an organization that last season had been expressing optimism that they would be a winning team in a new ballpark with a re-energized fan base. Everything was going well for the Nationals last season until they were 3-0.  Then, the Nats proceeded to lose 102 of their remaining 159 games. 

Why is Washington baseball so poor? During the Walter Johnson years, from the late 1910s through the early 1930s, Washington baseball was in its prime. The Senators won three American League pennants in an era where Babe Ruth's Yankees were sweeping the pennants in many of the other seasons.

Following the Senators' third and final pennant in 1933, the Senators dropped to seventh place in 1934 and struggled to finish with a winning season in the years ahead prior to the move from DC to Minnesota in 1955 where the team became known as the Minnesota Twins.

In 1961, a new Washington Senator franchise was born. But this franchise only lasted in DC for 11 seasons before departing after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers. Over the course of their 11 seasons in DC, this Senator team had only one winning season. 

It seemed that the only highlight for this Senators team was its final game at RFK Stadium on September 30, 1971. The Senators were leading the Yankees 7-5 in the ninth inning with two outs when the fans stormed the field.

Since security guards had already left the ballpark early that night, the fans tore up the field, stole first base, and forced the Senators to forfeit that game.

The fans were outraged that the team had been sold to Texas just five days earlier! Thus, only the passion of the fans made this second era of DC baseball exciting! The fans were rising up against the franchise establishment who mishandled the team and stole a precious pastime from the nation's capital for the next 34 years.

Then, in 2005, the Washington Nationals came to town. After a promising first season where the Nats finished 81-81, the Nats ended up losing 91, 89, and 102 games in their next three seasons respectively.

If the Nats desire a winning season for a change, they first have to change their losing past.  A winning season would not only be a break for this Nats team...but for all Washington professional baseball teams.

The teams that came before them since the 1933 World Series, when the Senators fell to the New York Giants in five games, fared little better. 

This Washington baseball fan, unlike Boswell, will be a bit more patient.  But patience like a history book can often wear thin after so many years.

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