Long suffering? Washington overqualifies.

2019-10-12 WashingtonNationals
Their host city hasn’t had a World Series title since before Calvin Coolidge earned his only elected term to the White House.

It seems a few people of my acquaintance were less than thrilled over my defense of Clayton Kershaw. Not that they disagreed with defending him but they disagreed with my assessment of Joe and Jane Dodger fan running Kershaw jerseys over in the parking lot after division series Game Five’s demolition.

As one replied to me elsewhere, those jerseys were their property and if they want to deface or damage them, that’s their right. And she was right. It’s also their and anyone else’s right to make asses of themselves if they choose. Fair is fair. But since fair is fair, not every Dodger fan made such asses of themselves Wednesday night. That, I could have made more clear.

And for not doing so, I offer Dodger fans a sincere apology. Nobody likes seeing their heroes go yet another year with nothing to show for a splendid season. The Dodgers didn’t expect to win seven straight National League Wests with nothing to show for them, and neither did their fans.

I’m not thrilled that the Mets of whom I’ve been a fan since the day they were born didn’t quite stay the season’s distance. But who the hell am I to complain?

I’ve seen the Mets win five pennants and two World Series in my lifetime. Dodger fans of my age can point to eleven pennants and five World Series conquests since I was hatched. I’d say twelve pennants and six World Series, but I was a month away from my hatching when the Boys of Summer finally made next year happen in 1955.

The Dodgers have a measly 31 years since their last World Series win. I don’t want to make Dodger fans feel any worse than they’ve felt this week, and even Dem Bums winning all those Brooklyn pennants from 1941 to 1953 only to get slapped back down by the Yankees didn’t hurt that badly.

But it probably hurt worse that it took until 1955 for the Dodgers to bring a World Series title to Brooklyn at all, the only one Brooklyn ever knew, when the Dodgers were in the National League since the presidency of Benjamin Harrison.

Nothing personal, Los Angeles Dodger fans, but you really haven’t suffered that long even if you have taken it on the chin, in the belly, and anyplace else you can think of for seven straight years. And you’ve only been barred from the Promised Land since the last year of the Reagan Administration. I can name you fans beyond the Brooklyn fans New York’s politicians forced the Dodgers to abandon who took it a lot longer.

You think the Dodgers got destroyed when Howie Kendrick hit the grand slam Wednesday night? Try the litany Peter Gammons, then of the Boston Globe, ran down after the Red Sox went from one strike away from the Promised Land to disaster in Game Six of the 1986 World Series:

[W]hen the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs, 41 years of Red Sox baseball flashed in front of my eyes. In that one moment, Johnny Pesky held the ball, Joe McCarthy lifted Ellis Kinder in Yankee Stadium, Luis Aparicio fell down rounding third, Bill Lee delivered his Leephus pitch to Tony Perez, Darrell Johnson hit for Jim Willoughby, Don Zimmer chose Bobby Sprowl over Luis Tiant, and Bucky (Bleeping) Dent hit the home run.

And there’d be fourteen more years to come, right up to the moments Grady Little read Pedro Martinez’s heart while ignoring his tank and Aaron Boone hit the home run that had the 2003 pennant attached.

Red Sox fans, among whom I’ve also been one since the 1967 pennant race, waited longer to get back to the Promised Land than Dem Bums waited to get there in the first place. They waited 86 years between Babe Ruth’s last World Series victory with them and the 2004 Idiots; they’ve had four World Series rings to celebrate this century. Red Sox Nation has no real reason to complain again. Yet.

Cub fans waited from the Roosevelt Administration (Theodore’s) to the last days of the Obama Administration for another return to the Promised Land. And from the day I was hatched until 2016, many were the Opening Days in Wrigley Field when the first pitch of the season was accompanied by a Cub fan holding up a sign saying one of two things: “Wait ’till next year!” Or, “This Year is Next Year.” (With or without “Alas” at the end.)

Thomas Boswell reminds us that since the turn of this century the Angels, the Cubs, the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Giants, and the Astros ended World Series droughts that add up to (wait for it) 434 years. America herself isn’t even close to that old yet. And the Angels and the Astros brought themselves their first trips to the Promised Land ever. Think about that.

Think, too, about the Indians, who’ve gone 72 years without another claim on the Promised Land and got their last one around the Berlin Airlift. Not to mention how close they got in 2016. Good to the last minute, practically. Think, further, about the Rangers, who haven’t reached the Promised Land in their entire franchise existence (59 years). Or the Padres, who haven’t reached it in fifty years.

Brave fans? They had eleven straight division championships and fourteen out of fifteen. They have five pennants and one World Series ring to show for it. They’ve had three division titles, four NLDS losses, and a wild card game loss since. That ain’t easy, Clyde. (Thank you, Phil Harris.) Neither was the ten-run beating they took in the first inning of the fifth game of their just-ended division series, either.

Ten straight divisions without seeing the Promised Land trumps seven straight most of the time. Those Braves won their World Series a year before. In franchise terms, they went 43 years between the Miracle Braves’ conquerors in 1914 and the Warren Spahn-Henry Aaron Braves in Milwaukee taking the Promised Land in 1957. I’ll leave it to Brave fan and Dodger fan to slug that one out for now.

But there’s a team that just won Game One of the National League Championship Series and hasn’t gotten to the Promised Land in their entire 49-year franchise history, either. Representing since 2005 a city that hasn’t seen the Promised Land since Calvin Coolidge was a month from winning his only elected term as an American president.

Oops. Better not lean on that too hard. The Nationals got to this NLCS by breaking the Dodgers’ backs. And if they overthrow the Cardinals for a date with either the St. Elsewhere Yankees or the Gray’s Anatomy Astros in the World Series and then overthrow one or the other of those bloodied-but-unbowed behemoths . . .

C’mon. There are and have been real baseball fans in Washington for eons, and only a nano-fraction of them carry government identification. And they’ve put up with at least as much crapola as any Cub, Red Sox, Phillie, White Sox, or Brooklyn Dodger fan in creation ever had to bear.

I don’t remember any Cub, Red Sox, Phillie, White Sox, or Bum fan hearing their heroes’ owners tell the world, “The fans like home runs, and we have assembled a pitching staff that is certain to please them.” Old Senators owner Clark Griffith is said to have come up with that in the 1940s.

I can’t think of any out-of-town observer hanging the Cubs, the Red Sox, or the old Brooks with a comparable observation that became a lifetime (and not even close to always accurate) watchword: “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

Brooklyn was abandoned only once. Boston proved too much the seat of Red Sox Nation for the Braves to stay. St. Louis proved too much Cardinal Country’s capital for the decrepit Browns to even think about staying. The Mack family was too tapped to hold onto the Athletics before their successor owner moved them to Kansas City. (And, made them practically a 1950s Yankee finishing school while they were at it.)

But at least the City of Boo-therly Love (Those people would boo at a funeral—Bo Belinsky) still had the Phillies. (Who went 28 years between World Series titles, by the way, not to mention 97 years in the National League before winning their first.)

Do you remember how long Kansas City had to wait between their abandonment by the A’s and the birth of the Royals? Try two years. Do you remember how long Seattle had to wait between the Pilots’ heist to Milwaukee and the birth of the Mariners? (Who also haven’t seen, never mind won a World Series in half a century.) Seven.

Washington had it happen twice, when the original Senators moved to Minnesota for 1961 and the Second Nats’s own owner kidnapped them to Texas for 1972. Washington fans waited 33 years for the national pastime to return to the nation’s capital. Settling for rooting for the somewhat adjacent Orioles—who, by the way, haven’t seen the Promised Land since the first Reagan Administration.

Fine thing to happen to one of the American League’s charter cities.

But no Washington fan—ever—turned an outfield wall deodorant soap ad into a classic insult. That bright idea is said to have happened in Philadelphia: “The Phillies use Lifebuoy . . . and they STILL stink!

And no Washington fan ever painted an addendum on either Griffith Stadium’s or RFK Stadium’s occupancy advisory: “Occupancy by more than 35,000 unlawful. AND UNLIKELY.” A Dodger fan in Ebbets Field thought of that during the 1930s.

And no matter how they got it, no matter the shenanigans that brought the Montreal Expos to the Beltway, no matter the shenanigans of the nation’s largest organised crime family headquartered there, guess what happened when they returned.

Former Senator Joe Grzenda handed President George W. Bush a ball to throw for the ceremonial first pitch. The ball Grzenda wasn’t able to pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke at the Second Nats’ final home game ever, because heartsick fans lost it and stormed the field, forcing a forfeit.

And from there, “in that decrepit, rodent-infested RFK Stadium, the team drew 2,731,993 fans” (Boswell) in 2005. “Do you know the first year that the New York Yankees ever drew that many people? Try 1998.” It took them a mere seven years to get good. They’ve stayed that way ever since for the most part.

The Nats finished eleventh in National League attendance this season but they still drew 2,259,781 to Nationals Park. And they weren’t even close to being all or mostly bureaucrats, Congressmanpersons, or White House crawlers, either. Stephen Strasburg might have been just the most vocal Nat lamenting for more home game support, but the Nats aren’t bereft for love.

They’re just bereft of even one year’s lease for the Promised Land. Their home city’s been bereft of it for almost three times as long. And if you think Nationals Park will be devoid of a red, white, and blue racket audible from coast to coast when the NLCS moves there for Game Three, think again.

Washington’s put up with enough from its largest business. So has the country. It’s long past time that Washington and the country caught even a temporary break. Washington hasn’t seen the Promised Land in 95 years. That’s not as long as the Phillies and the Cubs were deprived. But for a baseball town, Bugs Bunny was wrong: 95 years does seem like forever.

Nothing personal, Yankees and Astros. You’ve been wonderfully deep and gutsy teams this year. You’ve earned the chance to determine which of you is going to win not just the American League championship trophy but possibly the Nobel Prize for Medicine. You’re fun to watch, you’re as admirable as the week is long, and you’re an example to us all of survival under attrition.

But you, Yankees, with your forty pennants and 27 World Series trophies. You don’t know the meaning of the word “suffering,” you and your fan base who seem to continue thinking you’re entitled to play in, never mind win, every World Series.

You, Astros? You’ve owned the American League West for a third year running and had a whale of a World Series win at the end of the first of those seasons. You’re too good and too smart to be deprived again any time soon.

Whichever one of you gets to the World Series, if the Nats get there (you, Cardinals, can just hurry up and wait, too, with your 23 pennants and eleven World Series triumphs), it will not be the end of life as you or we know it if they push, shove, nudge, bump, or bomb you to one side and themselves to the Promised Land. I promise.

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