Celebrating the unlikely champs

The Washington Nationals managed to make winning in the face of almost certain defeat look routine. They entertained and sustained us.

Alex Brandon/AP
Washington Nationals fans hold up baby shark toys as they watch a broadcast of Game 7 of baseball's World Series Oct. 30 at Nationals Park in Washington.

The past has provided some remarkable World Series. Just two years ago, the Houston Astros gave their city a much-needed lift by winning a championship shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. And before that long-suffering Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs fans were finally rewarded when their teams won titles after waits of 86 and 108 years, respectively.

But this year’s win by the Washington Nationals will surely go down as one of the most satisfying for its loyal fans, as well as among the strangest in the history of baseball.

Until now, Washington took a back seat to no one when it came to baseball futility. In 1924, a team known as the Washington Senators won the World Series. But then came decade after decade of persistent losing. The 1950s Broadway show “Damn Yankees” portrayed a frustrated Senators fan who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a baseball superstar and guaranteeing a Washington championship. 

But the real Senators kept losing: “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” This twisting of a saying honoring the nation’s first president became a cruel joke.

In 1961, the Senators left town to become the Minnesota Twins. A new Senators team was created – and itself moved away in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers. In 2005, the Montreal Expos moved south and became the Washington Nationals.

Early on, that team wandered through its own baseball wilderness. But aided by the third-highest payroll in baseball (behind the Cubs and New York Yankees), according to USA Today, the Nats, as their fans call them, slowly assembled the talent needed to compete.

In an oddity that forever will be associated with the 2019 World Series, the visiting team won all seven games. Not only had that never happened in baseball; it had never happened in the championship rounds of professional basketball or hockey, either. 

The Astros had won 107 games, the most in baseball. The Nats had won but 93, barely squeaking into the playoffs as a wild-card team, though they were among the hottest teams in the second half of the season. 

As does every winning team, the Nats bonded with their fans, developing their own lovable traditions. Nationals Park swayed to the children’s tune “Baby Shark,” the team’s unofficial anthem.

Perhaps most important for Americans both inside and outside the Beltway, the Nats provided a welcome diversion from the capital’s roughest sport: politics.

Game after game, they were able to keep surprising – and intriguing – us. How often could they stand on the brink of defeat without falling? 

Their unexpected success can serve as a needed reminder that anything, even political comity, is possible.

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