A Tale of Two Cities
In the 1930’s two adolescent boys worked the score board at old Griffith Stadium: Bowie Kuhn and Ted Lerner. Both grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs and both came up watching the slow demise of the old Washington Nationals as they went from perennial contender to the goats of baseball for thirty years. Kuhn became a successful lawyer and the Commissioner of Baseball. As such, he presided over the vote by the American League ownership in September of 1971 that sent the expansion Washington Senators to Arlington, Texas. In the run-up to that vote, Bob Short created a conventional wisdom that Washington, DC was not a baseball town. The idea stuck for more than three decades.
The person at the other end of that old Griffith Stadium score board was Ted Lerner and he had the temerity to tackle the conventional wisdom and wrestle it to the ground. He convinced Bud Selig to give Washington another chance and the 2016 Washington Nationals are living proof that Bowie Kuhn and Bob Short were wrong. There are two Districts of Columbia, two perceptions of the same city, the one with which Bowie Kuhn lost faith and the one that Ted Lerner redeemed.
Next Saturday Ted Lerner will be 91 years old. He has born on October 15th, 1925, the very date that the Washington Nationals lost the Seventh Game of the 1925 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was eight when they lost again in 1933 to the New York Giants in five games. Despite the many years of frustration, he has watched over the signing of Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, all cornerstones of a successful Washington Nationals franchise that has now won three National League East Division titles in five years. Washington has returned to the winner’s circle under the watch of the Lerner family.
In Lerner’s lifetime no Washington baseball franchise has been able to push the ball over the goal line. They have gotten into the red zone numerous times, but never won it all. He deserves better. No doubt there is still great hope that next Saturday, the Lerner family will be celebrating more than just a birthday and will be toasting the possibility of a return to the World Series. That hope is still alive, but the skies have been dark almost none stop since the team clinched the NL East several weeks ago.
There has been almost endless rain and the team has not played well beneath the gray skies. It is like that day almost 91 years ago when Kennesaw Mountain Landis leaned over to Clark Griffith at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. It was the Seventh Game of the World Series and the Nationals were up by a score of 6-4. The rain had been falling all day. Puddles stood everywhere and the field was an unplayable mess. Landis wanted to call the game in the seventh inning with the Nationals ahead. Griffith could have nodded and history would have been so very different, but instead the Old Fox told Landis he did not want to win that way. Play it out, he said.
And that is what we will do today. We will play it out. The Dodgers lead and the Nationals are without their best clutch hitter in Wilson Ramos. His career hangs by a precarious thread after his second ACL tear and it was inspirational to all National’s fans to see him throw out the first pitch for Friday’s first game. But it would have so much better to see him stroke a single to right field with runners on base in the late innings, because none of his team mates could manage to do it without him. In the bottom of the third inning with two men on base and two outs, Ramos might have plated both runners to tie the score.
There is no Ramos, just the same lineup that failed for ten innings in 2014 to push across a single run to beat the San Francisco Giants in the Second Game of the 2014 playoffs. The frustration is palpable. It is almost a taste in the mouth.
I share a birthday with Ted Lerner but next Saturday I will not be 91 and I have not known the many decades of vexing baseball history. I can attest to the difficulty of it all, however, and reflecting on my own lack of patience, it is difficult to imagine how very annoying it must be to Lerner to watch his Nationals squander the many chances they have had to succeed over the past five years. Ultimately we–the players and fans–must answer the question for Lerner. Which city is it going to be? The bottom line is impossible to see, but there has been one answer already. These are most certainly the best of times and it is great fun to live in them. Happy Birthday Ted and “Go Nats!!”