God is a Nats Fan: A Kid from New York Remembers

God is a Nats Fan: A Kid from New York Remembers

“God is a Nats Fan” first appeared in The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor on 21 Octo­ber 2019. Scroll down to the com­ments for emails with fel­low fanat­ics as the 2019 World Series unfolds.

Yankee Stadium, 1958

When Wash­ing­ton was in town, the drill was always the same: 15¢ for a bus to the Stat­en Island Fer­ry. A nick­el fer­ry ride and 15¢ more for the BMT to Wood­lawn and Jerome Avenues. As the sub­way erupt­ed into sun­light from the bow­els of the Bronx, this kid wear­ing his navy blue hat with its white “W” would con­front the Citadel of Base­ball, proud and aus­tere with its eagle logos, bristling with pen­nants. The House That Ruth Built was home to the team I root­ed against.

Through the turn­stiles, down dark alley­ways smelling of beer and cig­ars, and sud­den­ly you’d burst upon this hal­lowed expanse of green. In the out­field were memo­ri­als to The BabeLou Gehrig and Miller Hug­gins. Bil­ly Crys­tal once quipped, “I thought they were buried there!” All us kids thought that.

Nine­ty cents got you into the bleach­ers, but gen­er­al admis­sion cost only $1.30. From there, after a cou­ple innings, you could sneak into an emp­ty $2.50 reserved seat or, if atten­dance was light, a $3.50 box. Now and then the vis­it­ing Sen­a­tors would get ahead, and scary Bronx voic­es would holler: “Hey kid — the Wash­ing­ton section’s in the bleachers!”

Why the Nats?

Don’t get me wrong. All us New York kids backed a home team. But in those days we had three choic­es, and I chose the Nation­al League Giants. The sure-win­ner Yan­kees were too easy to root for. When I dis­cov­ered base­ball, they were all-dom­i­nant, win­ning five straight pen­nants and World Series from 1949 to 1953. The Evil Empire, even then! I pre­ferred underdogs.

I looked around for an Amer­i­can League rival, and my eye fell upon the Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors. (Offi­cial­ly they were the Nation­als until 1956, and every­body called them the Nats.) I liked their uni­form with the big navy blue “W.” Why not? In the ear­ly Fifties the Nats were good, but not great. Decent pitch­ing, light hitting.

Once in July 1952, we found our­selves only five games behind the Yanks. Man­ag­er Bucky Har­ris was inter­viewed: “Could you guys actu­al­ly win the pen­nant?” Bucky laughed, but I was euphor­ic. Maybe! Alas, we fin­ished fifth at 78-76—the orig­i­nal Sen­a­tors’ last over-.500 sea­son. After 1960 they moved to Min­neso­ta and became the Twins. An expan­sion team took their place, and when I lived in cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia I drove to a few games. They had only one win­ning sea­son, and after 1971 they hied to Texas to become the Rangers. Bummer.

Better Than You Think

Long before then, this kid with his “W” hat had mem­o­rized Wash­ing­ton baseball’s great days. And there were many. In the decade 1924–33, the Sen­a­tors, Yan­kees, and Philadel­phia Ath­let­ics owned the Amer­i­can League. They won every pennant—three, four, and three respectively.

In 1924, the Nats won a sev­en-game World Series—improbably. Trail­ing 3-1 in the eighth, play­er-man­ag­er Bucky Har­ris smashed a grounder to third. It hit a peb­ble, deflect­ing over the Giants’ Fred­die Lind­strom. Wash­ing­ton scored two and tied the game. Next Bucky brought in the aging vet­er­an, Wal­ter John­son, “The Big Train,” baseball’s great­est pitch­er. Wal­ter pitched four score­less innings against the for­mi­da­ble Giants.

In the bot­tom of the 12th, Nats catch­er Mud­dy Ruel rifled a dou­ble. John­son (who usu­al­ly hit for him­self) reached first on an error. Incredibly—impossibly—Earl McNeely came up and hit anoth­er grounder to third that took anoth­er bad hop over Lind­strom and Ruel lum­bered home! I’m sure it hit the same peb­ble — because God put it there, and as every­one knows, God is a Nats fan.

Making History

The Sen­a­tors won pen­nants in 1925 and 1933, but lost both of those Series. In ’25 they blew a three-games-to-one lead to the Pitts­burgh Pirates. In ’33 the Giants took revenge, win­ning hand­i­ly, four games to one.

Washington’s pre­vi­ous World Series, 1933: Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt throws out the first ball in game three, Grif­fith Sta­di­um, Octo­ber 5th, with Sen­a­tors and Giants man­agers Joe Cronin and Bill Ter­ry. (Dept. of the Inte­ri­or / pub­lic domain)

Had the 2019 Nation­als wound up play­ing the Yan­kees, it would have been a “rub­ber” World Series matchup between Wash­ing­ton and New York. But between dif­fer­ent teams from oppo­site leagues, since fran­chis­es have changed, and moved. Busi­ness arrange­ments mean noth­ing to Wash­ing­ton fans. Above Nation­als Park, we’ve always flown our three pen­nants, and now there’ll be anoth­er one fly­ing beside them.

The Sen­a­tors near­ly won their fourth pen­nant in 1945 and were most­ly respectable there­after. Until 1955, when they fin­ished last—likewise in 1957–59. This earned them the sobri­quet “First in War, First in Peace, and Last in the Amer­i­can League.” That’s not real­ly fair. They were bet­ter than that.

Nats – talgia

As life unfold­ed, I drift­ed from base­ball, espe­cial­ly after the Giants fled to Frisco and the expan­sion Sen­a­tors flopped. Once, in the Eight­ies, I tuned in a game, only to find a guy bat­ting who didn’t play the field, called a “Des­ig­nat­ed Hit­ter.” What is that? I won­dered. Evi­dent­ly a con­so­la­tion prize for expired roost­ers who can’t field but still can hit, to thrill a few fans with left­over home runs. Sacrilege!

In my opin­ion, the DH ruins the game. Excus­ing pitch­ers from hit­ting removes key strat­e­gy decisions—when to pinch-hit or bunt. As a result, bunting is almost a lost art. Even in my beloved Nation­al League, I fume as I watch pro­fes­sion­al hit­ters square away before the pitch, giv­ing away the ele­ment of sur­prise that is the essence of a good bunt.

Then, sud­den­ly, in 2005, Wash­ing­ton had a base­ball team again—complete with the Six­ties curly “W” logo and again called the Nation­als. Now they were in the Nation­al League, where pitch­ers still bat. Nos­tal­gia drew me back. Avid­ly I watched them play .500 base­ball that first year — the same as they did in 1953 for old Bucky Harris.

Every­body knows the rest of the sto­ry. It took years of trying—frustrating years, includ­ing four when we nev­er got past a divi­sion series. It took a hell­ish, Sen­a­tors-like per­for­mance last April and May that left us 19-31 after the first 50 games. Every­body was say­ing, “It’s over—again.” It took one of the most impos­si­ble come­backs since the New York Giants surged from 13 1/2 games behind to wrest a pen­nant from the Dodgers in 1951. Guess what? In 2019 the Nation­als whupped those Dodgers again!

Field of Dreams

Win­ning the pen­nant for the first time in 86 years was main­ly about step­ping up. All our guys did: bril­liant starts, sol­id relief, fine field­ing, clutch hit­ting from the most for­mi­da­ble offense Wash­ing­ton has seen since the 1930s. Bless them all, from fans old and new, who prayed for this moment.

Full cir­cle: for years we fans have watched three pen­nants fly at Nation­als Park. On the fourth flag­pole they flew a blank one. Not any more! (Pho­to: Kevin Har­ber)

High above in their Field of Dreams, old Sen­a­tors must be intox­i­cat­ed. Play­er-man­ag­er-own­er Clark Grif­fith, the “Old Fox,” who raised the team from cel­lar to cham­pi­onship, is envy­ing today’s own­er, Mark Lern­er. Isn’t Max Scherz­er, who also hits well, the pitch­er equiv­a­lent of Wal­ter John­son — who like­wise hit for him­self? Aren’t our starters Stephen Stras­burg, Ani­bal Sanchez, and Patrick Corbin the coun­ter­parts of Cami­lo Pas­cualPedro Ramos, and Con­nie Mar­rero? Yes, all those greats were at one time Wash­ing­ton hurlers.

Is Howie Kendrick’s 2019 bat the equal of Tris Speaker’s in 1927? Aren’t short­stop Trea Turner’s glove and bat as good as those of Joe Cronin? Behind the plate, who needs to choose between Rick Fer­rell and Kurt Suzu­ki, between Mud­dy Ruel and Yan Gomes?

Antho­ny Ren­don at third fields as well and hits much hard­er than the Sen­a­tors’ “Walk­ing Man,” Eddie Yost. And what out­field­ers! Juan Soto, Vic­tor Rob­les, Adam Eaton, and Michael A. Tay­lor could be the coun­ter­parts of Sam RiceHeinie Manush, and Goose Goslin — or, to put a more mod­ern spin on it, of Roy Siev­ersHar­mon Kille­brew, and Frank Howard.

What a sea­son this has been: reviv­ing old mem­o­ries, cre­at­ing new ones we’ll nev­er for­get. And now, please excuse me. I’m going to sneak into Minute Maid Park and plant a peb­ble on the third-base line — just in case.



To the mem­o­ry of Charles Krautham­mer, who I know is tuned in. (Left: Daniel and Charles at Nation­als Park, a fam­i­ly photo.)

2019 World Series:

Scroll to com­ments below for ban­ter among Nats fanat­ics as the fourth Wash­ing­ton World Series unfolds.



Kevin Kel­ly, Octo­ber 23, Game 2, Nats 12, Astros 3: “Fam­i­ly friends in Hous­ton, hangin’ out with Juan Soto. Daugh­ter, son-in-law, grand­son head­ed to all Nats home games. Adding a World Series pro­gram to your NLCS pro­gram for your col­lec­tion.”
Kevin: Wow, fantastic!

10 thoughts on “God is a Nats Fan: A Kid from New York Remembers

  1. Dick: I do indeed. I root­ed for the Pirates to beat the Evil Empire in 1960, and by gaw­sh they did! We’re hop­ing the under­dogs some­how pull it out. You nev­er know! BTW, Roy Face is still with us, hav­ing turned 90 last year. Won­der if he’d be avail­able in Houston?

  2. Game 4: Painful to watch! Keep­ing the clos­er out of the game until the “right” moment has always been a pet peeve of mine. It’s man­age­ment by formula. 

    When Goose Gos­sage was elect­ed to the Hall of Fame, dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion cer­e­mo­ny he was praised for his many sev­en-out relief appear­ances. He often entered the game in the sev­enth inning or ear­li­er. In some years, the ratio of his innings pitched to his game appear­ances was almost three to one. 

    You prob­a­bly remem­ber Elroy Face win­ning nine­teen games for the Pirates in ’59 as the Bucs’ clos­er. The Clos­er! Dan­ny Mur­taugh would not hes­i­tate to use Face in the mid­dle of the game, even if the Pirates were behind. When the Pirates took the lead, he would stay in the game, and he had the wins to prove it.

  3. Game 5, Astros 7, Nats 1. War­ren Kim­ball writes: “Joe Ross tried. Just 4 runs, but he ain’t no Max Scherzer.”
    *** Yep. We attend­ed the funer­al at neigh­bors who admin­is­tered sacra­men­tal wine and a nacho com­mu­nion. Imag­ine how poor Max feels. 

    “But it was the Nats bats that dried up.”
    ***True, but we didn’t chase as many bad pitch­es. Only 70%, down from 85%. Weird, because our hit­ting coach had them going. But the Astros have good pitch­ing as well as tremen­dous, dis­ci­plined bat­ters. As Howie Kendrick says: In the end, you got­ta hit the ball.

    “I turn the sound way down and just watch.”
    ***If you have MLB At Bat, mute the Fox drones (Smoltz is remark­ably unil­lu­mi­nat­ing) and turn on one of the team radio feeds–sometimes there is lit­tle lag and the broad­cast­ers real­ly know the teams.

    “I’ll bet the droners went on and on about five straight road wins. Will that con­tin­ue Tuesday?”
    ***God is a Nats fan. He has decreed no home team vic­to­ries. Stras­burg gets them Tues­day and cor­ti­sone-laced Scherz­er sets them down Wednes­day. Ya got­ta believe. It’s a fun­ny old game.

    “Zim­mer­man looked hap­less against Cole.”
    ***We got what we could from Zim. Been great over the years, but they fig­ured him out. Stands too far from the plate, no pull, easy prey for pitch­es away. LH Matt Adams should play 1B against RH pitch­ers, but the man­ag­er has this rote response to every­thing, and he tears up when Zim gets a hit. Usu­al­ly with nobody on.

    “In the dugout, the Nats man­ag­er looks bewil­dered but I guess that’s just his nor­mal expression.”
    ***Deer in the head­lights. Unfor­tu­nate­ly our amaz­ing come­back, thanks to the play­ers and coach­es not him, will see him renewed. His fre­quent mis­judg­ments in the sea­son and NLCS are for­got­ten, along with his repeat­ed use of exhaust­ed roost­ers in lieu of his best reliev­ers in game 4. (Doolit­tle and Hud­son only look good com­pared to the rest of them, but some­times they give us a chance.)

  4. Charles: Amen to all that. As a reg­u­lar fol­low­er, my impres­sion that they nurse few if any overblown egos com­pared to oth­er teams that have gone this far, and esprit de corps is undoubt­ed­ly a fac­tor. We only hope they can re-sign Antho­ny Ren­don, who is a free agent this year. Now that’s one free agent every­body wants back.

  5. The 2019 Nats remind me of the 2018-19 UVA Cav­a­lier bas­ket­ball team where redemp­tion was a watch­word and their des­tiny was a cham­pi­onship. This team is com­prised of qual­i­ty indi­vid­u­als with great tal­ent that sub­sume their egos to the ulti­mate suc­cess of the team.
    I look for­ward to watch­ing the next three games where real base­ball will be played, absent the hat­ed DH. Go Nats!

  6. John Mor­gen­stern: “First major league game I ever saw was @ Grif­fith Sta­di­um in 1945 or ’46. Dizzy Trout and Hal New­houser pitched a dou­ble head­er for Detroit and Rudy York hit a home run. Does that qual­i­fy me to be an hon­orary Nats fan? Loved the 7th inning yes­ter­day. It is still a game of inch­es, but Breg­man should have nev­er tried to get Zim at first. Excit­ing stuff. Hope you will go to at least one of the games in DC.”

    John: No, it makes you a Detroit fan. All those Tigers! The date was 15 Sep­tem­ber 1945 and they beat us twice, 7-4 and 7-3 behind New­houser and Trout. York home­red in game 2. You can look it up. That put Detroit 2 1/2 games up and by season’s end they beat us to the pen­nant by only 1 1/2 games. 

    Alas I have no tick­ets, but I have a TV….

  7. Auld Munro again: “They Have the Stros on the ropes. A split in Hous­ton already was a vic­to­ry for Nats. Now they could win the whole she­bang by Sun­day. Amaz­ing. It should be a great game Fri­day. Just got home to see the whole thing.”

    Auld Munro: In lieu of the dron­ing Fox announc­ers, I put Fox TV on mute and am lis­ten­ing to the Wash­ing­ton radio feed via MLB At-Bat. Char­lie Slowes just said God has “unleashed a plague of locusts,” as swarms of fans leave ear­ly. No dis­re­spect, Astros are a great bat­tling team and it’s by no means over. But that ump must have called 20 strikes balls on Stras­burg. Stras has “grown,” how­ev­er. In ear­li­er days those calls would have derailed him; now he just rears back and throws anoth­er strike.

  8. Richard Munro: “I was in a base­ball coma for a week but I was there for the first pitch. You could be the team of des­tiny. I am a Nation­al League fan and for­gave the Nats for their trounc­ing of Dodgers.”

    Richard: Knew you couldn’t resist. Am in a coma already. What a game. No mis­takes, except Robles’s throws which proved harm­less. Scherz­er wasn’t at his best but he ground through as he always does. If Stras­burg is on tomor­row we could return to DC two up. And there they have to play real baseball—no DH. But the Astros are real­ly good. They don’t chase break­ing balls out of the zone, and that affect­ed Max’s pitch count.

  9. Jack Mens: “How do you feel tonight? Nobody expect­ed the Nats to pull this off. Pret­ty exciting.They are already a win­ner. Hope the rest of the Series is good to the Nats. Do You need a ride to the ball-park?”

    Jack: Yes. Also, a tick­et would help!

  10. Richard Munro: “Great arti­cle. We were also dis­pos­sessed when the Dodgers left Brook­lyn. So I root­ed for the Braves (they seemed like Yan­kee killers in 1957) and the Boston Red Sox the AL. Not pop­u­lar at Yan­kee Sta­di­um but no one ever both­ered us in those days. I also hate DH. I like pitch­ers who can HIT and BUNT ..like Drys­dale, Seaver, War­ren Spahn. One of the rea­sons Spahn won 20 games a year so many times was he didn’t need a pinch hit­ter. The DH killed strat­e­gy. Charles Krautham­mer must be look­ing down. As for me, I prob­a­bly won’t be watch­ing. I am still in a coma due to the Dodger loss.”

    Richard: Well, wish us luck then! My Bahamas bar­tender is a Braves fan, but he will always back our Nation­al League. He was a good sport and wished us well.

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