X
Story Stream
recent articles

Fifty years ago today, Major League Baseball abandoned the nation's capital for the second time. The first came in 1960 when Washington Senators owner Calvin Griffith took the team to Minnesota where it became the Twins. Depriving America's capital city of having America's "national pastime" seemed unthinkable, at least to some, so the other owners awarded D.C. area fans an expansion team, also named the Senators.

The new team was worse than the old one, which hadn't won a World Series since 1924. The expansion Senators had one winning season, in 1969 with Ted Williams as manager, but success was fleeting. The second version of the Senators averaged more than 90 losses a season, alienating all but the most diehard fans and inducing a revision of an old quip: "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and still last in the American League."

It didn't have to be that way. Washington was a venerable baseball town and the new Senators played in a new stadium, one later named after Robert F. Kennedy. But something was rotten at the top, namely the owner, Bob Short.

A Navy veteran and Georgetown Law School graduate, Bob Short returned to his native Minnesota after World War II, practiced law for a couple of years before investing in various local businesses. One of them made it big, a trucking company, which is unfortunate because it gave Short an inflated sense of his professional acumen. He bought a pro basketball team, the Minneapolis Lakers, and moved it to Los Angeles. He sold the Lakers to a flamboyant Canadian named Jack Kent Cooke just before its value would soar. Next, Short outbid wealthy comedian Bob Hope for the expansion Senators, which was also unfortunate, because Hope had deep pockets. Bob Short did not. Nor did he know much about baseball, even though he installed himself as the de facto general manager of the club.

One example: Short traded his best young players to the Detroit Tigers for a washed-up Denny McLain, who promptly lost 22 games in 1971 for the Senators and was soon out of baseball. But baseball was soon out of D.C., too, as Short took the Senators to suburban Dallas, where they were renamed the Texas Rangers.

As for Bob Short, he didn't move to Texas. He stayed in Minnesota where he tried to revive his political ambitions. He was even worse at politics than sports. Despite a friendship with Hubert Humphrey, Short lost when he ran for Congress in 1946 and lost again when he ran for lieutenant governor 20 years later. In 1968, he had a role in Humphrey's losing presidential campaign and in 1978 he ran for Humphrey's vacated Senate seat. He managed to get the party nomination, but then led Minnesota's Democrats to a stunning defeat, taking several down-ticket candidates with him.

Short died in 1982, little lamented even by loyal Democrats here in the Washington area, at least those who like baseball. MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, whom Short derisively called "that idiot" for his efforts at keeping baseball in Washington, is another story. Kuhn mismanaged the 1981 baseball strike and was forced out a couple of years later by the owners. But he was eventually given his due -- inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, the year after he died at age 80.

Kuhn, who'd grown up in the Washington area and remembered paying $1 to sit in the bleachers at old Griffith Stadium, beseeched the owners not to let Short take the team to Texas. But they voted 10-2 to do it. Kuhn cried openly after that vote. Senators' fans did more than cry. Hundreds of them rioted on the field on the final day of the 1971 season, which fell on today's date, Sept. 30. The Senators were one out away from defeating the Yankees, but the umps declared a forfeit.

I won't expect such rowdiness Sunday as the Washington Nationals conclude their awful year in the season finale against the Boston Red Sox. The last week of July, as Nats fans know all too well, Washington threw in the towel on the 2021 season, trading eight front-line players for minor league prospects. The team has been hideous since then and dwells in last place. (Shades of the Senators!)

So, fans surely have a right to be angry -- I certainly am – and it doesn't take too much poetic license to argue that July 30, 2021, was the third time MLB deserted Washington. There's a big difference this time, though, especially as some of those newly acquired young Nats begin to showcase their talent as autumn descends on the capital city. Baseball will return here next spring, and this winter, followers of the Washington Nationals can console themselves with the eternal hope of fans everywhere: "Wait 'til next year!" 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

Comment
Show comments Hide Comments