I am a superstitious baseball fan, so naturally, I believe in curses.
The Curse of the Billy Goat has held the Chicago Cubs captive since 1945, not allowing the Northsiders to even appear in the World Series in that time. This curse even inspired a corollary called the Ex-Cubs Factor to fully describe its potency.
The Curse of the Bambino haunted the Boston Red Sox for generations. This hex was so strong that it could only be undone by the power of numbers. In 2004, it had been 86 years since the Red Sox last won the World Series in 1918, and 18 years since the Red Sox last appeared in the World Series in 1986.
Not a coincidence.
The Washington Nationals have their own curse, one so powerful it traveled with the franchise over international borders. This curse is either largely unknown or unwisely ignored by many Washington Nationals fans, because it was freely invoked during the 2012 Washington Nationals season, a dream season that turned into a nightmare.
The curse of which I speak is that of the 1994 Montreal Expos.
First, the background.
The Nationals/Expos franchise played in Montreal from 1969-2004. They finished with at least a .500 record in 15 of those 36 seasons, and had a winning record 13 times. Their best record was during the 1979 season, when they finished 95-65 for a .594 winning percentage, but missed the playoffs. Montreal's only trip to the postseason came two years later, during the strike-shortened season of 1981. That team finished 60-48 but lost 3-2 in the NLCS.
And now, the curse.
In 1994, the Montreal Expos had a record of 74-40 on August 11. They had the best record in baseball, and a six-game lead in the NL East. Their winning percentage of .649 extrapolated over an entire season equals a franchise-best record of 105-57, good enough to return to the postseason and perhaps win the first World Series in franchise history.
All that winning brought improved attendance as well. They had an average attendance of 24,543 per home game, and were on pace to eclipse the two million mark for the first time since 1983.
But the 1994 Montreal Expos never played in the postseason. In fact, they never played on August 12.
Because baseball went on strike on August 12. The season was canceled, marking the first time since 1904 that the World Series was not played. For the Montreal Expos, the 1994 season was filled with hope and disappointment, and left many wondering what might have been.
But the strike had more dire consequences for the Montreal Expos than simply canceling games and ruining their postseason aspirations.
Simply put, the Montreal Expos never recovered from the strike of 1994-95.
The strike crippled the team's attempts to build a new stadium, and ownership decided on a fire sale to unload salaries. Center fielder Marquis Grissom, starting pitcher Ken Hill and closer John Wetteland were all traded, and right fielder Larry Walker left via free agency.
The Expos finished the strike-shortened 1995 season dead-last in the NL East with a 66-78 record, and the average attendance for the season fell below 20,000, never to return to that level again.
General manager Kevin Malone, who had been instructed by Expos owner Claude Brochu to carry out the fire sale, resigned shortly after the season, saying "I'm in the building business, not in the dismantling business."
The dismantling was completed in the next two years, as outfielder Moises Alou and relief pitcher Mel Rojas left after the 1996 season and starting pitcher Pedro Martinez was traded after 1997, shortly after winning the NL Cy Young. From 1995 to 2002, Montreal had only one winning season, in 1996.
Things only got worse for the Montreal Expos. The franchise narrowly avoided contraction in November 2001, and was sold to MLB in 2002. Commissioner Bud Selig had the team play 22 games of the 2003 season in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Selig did more than relocate the Expos' games, however. In late August, the Expos were tied for the NL Wild Card lead with four other teams. But despite the team's budget of $35 million, Selig deemed that the annual September call-ups—a mere pittance at $50,000—were too expensive, and decided against them.
Without any reinforcements, Montreal went 12-15 from August 29, and finished eight games out of the wild card. GM Omar Minaya said "it was a message to the players. It was a momentum killer."
During the following season, it was announced that the team would move to D.C. to become the Washington Nationals. On September 29, 2004, the Expos played their final game in Olympic Stadium. Just over 10 years after the franchise was crushed by the MLB strike, a sign was unfurled at the stadium to commemorate that doomed season. It read: "1994 Meilleure Équipe du Baseball/Best Team in Baseball."
And that brings me back to the Washington Nationals and their own doomed season of 2012. This year, I was constantly reading about the ill-fated '94 team. And each time, I was forced to ask myself: Why would anyone associated with the Washington Nationals want to bring up the 1994 Montreal Expos?
One of those articles I am referring to was written by fellow Washington Nationals Featured Columnist Michael Nargi. In the rather innocuous article, Michael simply mentioned that the Nats were about to become the first team in franchise history since 1994 to reach 20 games over .500.
The mere mention of "that team" made me avoid the article like the plague, especially as the Nats went on to finish with the best record in baseball, just like the '94 Expos. I only read the article after the Nationals' season abruptly ended and I began to research this very piece.
Further confounding me as to why anyone would compare the 2012 Nats with the accursed 1994 Expos is that these two teams hold more in common than simply win-loss records. The Washington Nationals have two current players who originally joined the franchise when it was based in Montreal.
Outfielder Roger Bernadina was signed as an amateur in 2001 and shortstop Ian Desmond was drafted in 2004. Those two connections to the former home of the franchise make this curse even more menacing.
But the most perplexing part about the apparent ignorance of Nationals fans to the existence of this curse is that their team's home city has already seen not one but two different franchises pack their bags and leave town.
In the name of Bob Short, why would a baseball fan in a city with a history of transient franchises invoke a curse involving a franchise with its own transient history?
I no longer want to ask these painful questions. So, hopefully, by writing this article I will educate uninformed or unbelieving Nationals fans so as to prevent further invocation of this dreaded curse, lest it cast its shadow on another season for the Washington Nationals.