WASHINGTON — It has been 10 eventful years since baseball returned to Washington. Those years have seen their share of highs — winning the division in 2012 and 2014 — and lows — worst record in baseball in 2008 and 2009.
In 2005, a scrappy group of strangers made their way south from Montreal to play baseball in a decrepit abyss where good football was once played. Though RFK had the nostalgia of the Senators glory days with the Frank Howard seats, it offered little more in the way of enjoying modern baseball — for fans and players. Eventually, some of those 2005 strangers became household names around the District and the team found a worthy home for baseball when Nationals Park opened in 2008. Shortly thereafter, the quality of baseball played in D.C. improved dramatically.
In 2015, the Nationals are contenders, people are naming their sons Bryce, and the kids you see at the ballpark today will live their entire lives not knowing what it is like to miss baseball. What a beautiful difference a decade can make.
Sometimes it helps to look back on the past in order to appreciate your current situation. Let’s take a look at some of the worst Natinals — never forget the Natinals — to ever don the scarlet, navy blue, and white. In an attempt to end things on a high note, we’ll wrap up with the best Nationals over the first 10 seasons.
The Worst of the Natinals
Scott Olsen – This guy will be hard to vanquish on any worst-of list. His Wikipedia page has a section titled “Suspensions, confrontations and legal trouble.” That section is twice as long as the entire section about his playing career. He also enjoyed smoking cigarettes in the dugout, but who could blame him? 2009 was a rough year. If you run into Scott Olsen, you are in a bad place — probably Florida.
Elijah Dukes – No relation to 106.7’s own Mr. Dukes. Vice did a story on Elijah titled “Elijah Dukes is Actually That Crazy” and it is worth reading. Dukes was occasionally entertaining on the field, but a detriment to the locker room — we are still waiting on the mentorship he promised to Dmitri Young.
Jason Bergmann – If you bought a ticket to a game that Bergmann pitched you should be able to get your money back from the Lerners. I watched more games than I would like to admit during our worst seasons, perhaps all of the losses are blending together in my recollection, but I am fairly certain Bergmann never won, and he pitched ALL THE TIME.
Lastings Milledge – Lastings was promised to Nats fans as a do-everything center fielder. He was supposed to be an Andrew McCutchen. Today, Lastings plays for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows — you can write your own joke here.
Jason Marquis – We paid him $15M for a two-year contract. Marquis is yet another reason to loathe the Cardinals. D.C. sports fans suffer from the delusion that all good players will immediately become overweight, half-hearted losers the second they sign a contact here. Sometimes we are right. In those cases we call them Haynesworths — Marquis was a Haynesworth.
Edwin Jackson – Jackson’s numbers in D.C. weren’t terrible, but the bitterness comes from the fact that he could have made the 2012 rotation special. Jackson was brought in to anchor the rotation and instead he became the weakest player on the pitching staff. He also gave up five runs in six innings versus the Cardinals in the NLDS.
Dan Haren – The Edwin Jackson of the 2013 season, but even worse, he was paid $13M for one season of terrible, lifeless pitching. Haren has been in the majors for 13 seasons and he has never had a higher ERA than his season with the Nats. The Nationals missed the playoffs by 4 games that season and you can blame Dan for that. I wish him nothing but the worst.
Yunesky Maya – “This guy has a baseball name, let’s offer him $8M.” – An idiot, circa 2010. He won one game in three seasons for the Nationals. I still love you, Mike Rizzo.
Austin Kearns – Austin Kearns is a more hobbit-like version of Ryan Church, which wouldn’t be so bad if Jim Bowden had not decided to give him a $16.5M contract over three years.
The entire 2007 Starting Rotation – Not the worst Nationals team ever, somehow, but you shouldn’t look at the following names if you have a weak heart. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
SP1 – Matt Chico
SP2 – Mike Bacsik
SP3 – Jason Bergmann (worth mentioning twice)
SP4 – Shawn Hill
SP5 – Tim Redding
SP6 – Jason Simontacchi
How did that team win 73 games? I’m convinced that Bryce Harper’s dad, with a torn rotator cuff, would have been more effective on the bump. Please take a deep breath and look at your 2015 rotation. Feel better? If not, please keep reading for the 10 best Nats of the first 10 seasons.
The Best of the Nats
Ryan Zimmerman – You never forget your first love. Zimm is the original Washington National, homegrown, Mr. Walk-off, forever and always.
Bryce Harper – The Golden Boy since he hit puberty and, yet, inconceivably, he is living up to the hype. It is easy to forget that he is a 22 year-old. In a dugout, filled with grown men, he was the best player on the roster during the 2014 playoffs. Injuries are the only thing that could possibly keep us from witnessing a level of greatness the likes of which America’s pastime hasn’t seen since the Sultan of Swat.
Jordan Zimmermann –Before Strasburg, there was Zimmermann. He’s grown up with this franchise and given the fans one of the greatest regular season moments in team history with his 2014 no-hitter. All signs point to J-Zimm leaving town in free agency this offseason. If that is the case, it will be the toughest goodbye this fan base has faced in its short history.
Livan Hernandez – One of the very few players who can say they did two stints with the club in their 10 years. His second time around was even more impressive than his first. When this franchise had little relevance he offered stability and a taste of legitimacy. Livan’s efforts have been immortalized in a bobblehead so he is essentially on our Mount Rushmore.
Alfonso Soriano – The first big acquisition in Nationals history. The Nats were still playing in a dilapidated, pitcher-friendly stadium, with meager attendance numbers, and Soriano responded by joining the 40-40 club — a feat only three other players (Canseco, Bonds, A-Rod) have accomplished in the entire history of baseball.
Stephen Strasburg – Strasburg has had his own share of highs and lows with this franchise, but his dominance cannot be overlooked. No. 37 has faced the toughest personal journey of any player through this team’s first decade: Tommy John surgery, a subsequent innings-capped return keeping him out of the 2012 playoffs, a rough 2014 playoff outing, and his early struggle in 2015, have all frustrated fans that are still waiting for him to pitch his best on the biggest stage. Someday, we will celebrate Strasmas again.
Tyler Clippard – Chad Cordero or Tyler Clippard? Flat-brimmed hat vs. goggles. Cordero’s performance in 2005 was the best season a closer has ever given the Nationals — he was one of the biggest reasons that the Nats were in the playoff hunt through the first half of their inaugural season. Clippard, on the other hand, gave the Nats 464 innings over seven seasons. Sometimes he saved games, sometimes he held leads, and sometimes he pitched extended innings. His toughness in middle relief is sorely missed this season and I want him back.
Max Scherzer – Have you heard anyone talk about how much we overpaid for him lately? For the Nats to achieve their goal this season they will rely on Mad Max. His pitching in June transcended Nats history — he was flirting with baseball history.
There it is, the best and the worst of the Nats’ first 10 years. While the best-of list may seem like a product of the recency effect, I assure you that this franchise’s first five years were difficult to stomach.
The Nationals have evolved from a Canadian baseball team, with a sparse following, to one of the league’s leaders in attendance and hosts of the 2018 All-Star Game. They have escaped the old football stadium, but they still play ball in a football town. Perhaps winning a World Series could change that.
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