Elfin: Washington Nationals Giving Hope Capital Title Drought Could End
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As Washington passed the one third pole of the season yesterday while leading the National League East, the idea is taking hold that the Nationals might actually make the playoffs.
Not only would that be foreign territory for a franchise that has yet to top .500 since coming to the nation’s capital in 2005, but it would be unprecedented for any Washington baseball fan under 80. After all, the nation’s capital was deprived of the summer game from 1971-2004 and the Senators last reached postseason in 1933. What’s more, our last – and only – World Series title came in 1924.
That’s 88 years ago so it’s appropriate that the Nats are visiting Boston this weekend since Red Sox Nation endured an 86-year championship wait from October 1918 until October 2004.
My uncle Bill, a Massachusetts native, was just three – and thus not really aware – when his beloved Sawx captured that 1918 Series. He died 76 years later, still waiting to toast a title, one he wound up missing by a decade and one that came just a year after the gut-wrenching blown American League Championship Series against the hated archrival New York Yankees.
Not that Washingtonians should feel sorry for Bostonians just because we took their unwanted football team in 1937. The longest championship drought in the city that considers itself America’s intellectual hub lasted just 16 years: from 1941 — the year of the Bruins’ last Stanley Cup triumph for 29 years — until 1957, the year the Celtics won the first of their 13 NBA titles in the span of just two decades.
Boston was also ring-deprived from the Larry Bird-led Celtics’ last championship in 1986 until the Patriots won the first of their three Super Bowl titles in February 2002.
However, Washingtonians waited from the Redskins’ second championship in 1942 until the Bullets’ lone NBA title in 1978.
And we’ve now been waiting – not counting DC United’s MLS titles in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004 — since the Redskins captured the city’s last Super Bowl in January 1992. In the interim, the Patriots (three), Red Sox (two), Celtics (one) and Bruins (one) have delivered eight championships to Boston.
The Curse of the Bambino is now just an unhappy memory in Beantown, especially since the Bosox won another Series in 2007.
So maybe the relevant Boston tale for the Nats is that of Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski and the 1967 Sox who followed nine straight losing seasons by coming on top in a wild AL pennant race before losing the World Series to St. Louis in seven games. That started a span of 23 winning seasons In 25 years. Along the way, Boston won two more AL flags – repeating those heartbreaking seven-game Series defeats — four AL East crowns and finished second four times.
If the Nats can be similarly consistently good for the next quarter century, capture three pennants, four division titles and come in second four times, would you complain if they didn’t win it all once?
Were Bullets backers looking to switch allegiances when the team didn’t win a championship while reaching postseason each spring from 1969-77? Were Redskins fans ticked off when the team won an NFC title, made the playoffs five times and recorded nine winning seasons in the span of 11 years from 1969-79 without bringing home the Lombardi Trophy? Are Caps supporters ready to stop rockin’ the red because the team hasn’t skated with the Stanley Cup despite reaching the playoffs 23 times during the last 29 seasons?
So, sure a World Series victory would be unbelievable, but Washington baseball fans should be thrilled if the Nats are still playing in mid-October. Anything else at the end of this unexpectedly enjoyable season would be a bonus.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin