On Oct. 1, 1971 in the last game played by the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium, fans began tearing apart the stadium and field to claim souvenirs. Much like the current Washington Nationals are tearing apart Washington, D.C.
A lot is made of the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox decades long pursuit of World Series titles and the pressure from it. But that cannot compare to the pressure of being in town without baseball for 33 years.
Thirty-three World Series champions were crowned without a team from Washington, D.C. even entering the fight.
After moving from Montreal to the nation’s capital, the newly christened Washington Nationals quickly bowed under the pressure of 33 years of expectations. In their first six seasons the Nationals, or as they once were on the front of their chest, Natinals, set a new precedent for futility, going a combined 412-559.
Washington, D.C. had given up on two baseball teams already and the Nationals were on track to make it a third.
Increasingly desperate, the Nationals chased fool’s gold in signing aging outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year $126 million deal in 2011. Fans welcomed the blunder with chants of “Werthless” as the Nationals continued in their mire.
Jim Riggleman, the then-manager of the Nationals, was not a dumb man. He saw the sinking ship he had been anchored to and quickly navigated himself back to shore, quitting his job in the middle of the season.
The Nationals then turned to a man who had previously outworn his welcome in New York, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Los Angeles, Davey Johnson, to try to right the ship. The Nationals still failed to finish .500.
The Nationals again made a series of moves to try to get some wind in their sails, each more preposterous than the last. Edwin Jackson was signed for $11 million and the Nationals shipped off four of their best prospects for command-less Gio Gonzalez.
Again their efforts were a failure. While they managed to make the playoffs they suffered in an embarrassing defeat in the NLDS.
With the playoff appearance expectations had reached a fever pitch. “World Series or bust” was the rallying cry. The Nationals knew they needed to do something incredible or it would be 1971 all over again.
The hopelessness of their cause was evident in their offseason moves. Signing Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano to $13 and $28 million contracts respectively showed the fear that they could never make up for the time lost.
Their fears were realized as the team disappointed massively.
The Nationals know that their fate lies with those previous two D.C. baseball teams, cast off to the scrap heap and forgotten.