How D.C. is on the diamond in baseball playoffs

Lots of fans know that the nation's capital has had more than one major league team. But fewer know the city has had three, all of which are still playing – one in the baseball playoffs.

Nick Wass/AP
Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth (28) celebrates his home run against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning of a baseball game on Friday, Sept. 23, in Washington. The Braves won 7-4.

You know who’s in the Major League Baseball playoffs, right? In the American League, New York is playing Detroit, and Texas is taking on Tampa Bay. The National League has Philadelphia versus St. Louis and Arizona against Milwaukee.

But here’s something you maybe didn’t know: Washington is in the postseason, too. It also finished last. Plus, it ended up in the middle of the pack. What a year.

OK, we’re exaggerating a bit here. But the point in this playoff season is to show how the nation’s capital and the national pastime have had a long, complicated relationship.

Lots of fans know D.C. has had more than one MLB team. But fewer know the city has had three, all of which are still playing – and that the Washington area’s most enduring monument to baseball isn’t a team at all.

The winning team is the expansion-era Washington Senators, otherwise known as the Texas Rangers, this year’s American League West Division champions. They began life in 1960, when baseball enlarged the AL.

In Washington, these Senators were pitiful. Comedian Bob Hope tried to buy the team in 1967, probably just to get material for jokes. They had one winning year, then fled to Texas after the 1971 season. During their last game at D.C.’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, angry fans swarmed the field, forcing umpires to call a forfeit.

The last-place team is also the Washington Senators – original version. Today they’re known as the Minnesota Twins, 2011 cellar-dwellers of the AL Central. As Senators, they were one of the original eight AL teams in 1901. Sometimes they played great – this team gave Washington its only World Series victory, in 1924. It fielded Hall of Fame players such as Goose Goslin and Heinie Manush. But in the mid-1950s, the open West beckoned and owner Calvin Griffith scooted off for Minnesota, leaving an open field for an expansion team. (See above.)

The third team is today’s Washington Nationals, a National League East resident that ended with an 80-81 record. They’re the ex-Montreal Expos, dropped into D.C. in 2005. They’ve got a nice stadium on the riverfront and that great pitcher, Stephen Strasberg, so maybe their future is bright.

The monument? That’s in honor of the greatest original Washington Senator of all: pitcher Walter Johnson. Suburban Montgomery County named a high school after him in 1956. It still exists. And we love the name of the yearbook: The Windup.

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