Sunday, August 17, 2008

Washington Nationals Baseball Team Is as Inept as Were the Senators from the 1950s

There is a favorite term in Human Resources, called “propinquity” – the tendency of people on the same team in close proximity to bond together and take sides. Even in the same company, rivalries develop. I can recall that at work in the 1970s, when us programmers at one location in mid-town Manhattan would say about the team in the financial district, “They’re bad.”

And the same is true in sports, especially baseball. The Washington Nationals managed to get their spanking new stadium, throwing out “undesirables” from the SE neighborhood for “real estate development” (some of it subprime, of course), including a number of businesses important to the LGBT community.

At least we could have a winning team. Usually teams do well for a while when they get new stadiums. But not this year's Nats. Right now, they have lost 10 in a row, have a record of 44-81 (a pct of .352), and lost all six games on a home stand. How can you go 0-6 at home? They’re even getting blown out in most games, which aren’t even close. It's hard to believe that they started the season with three straight wins.

You can go to and look at sorry teams in the past. (By the way, the site gives Pythagorean projections of W-L records for each team each year based on runs allowed v. runs scored, an interesting statistical calculation for high school math classes.) In 1958, the old Senators were 61-93 and lost the last 13 in a row, scoring very few runs (getting swept by the Red Sox in one series with every game ending 2-0). In 1959, the Senators lost 18 in a row in July and August, including all the games on a western road trip (they were winning going into the bottom of the Ninth in two of the Chicago games -- remember the home field advantage!). In those days, teams were divided for scheduling very symmetrically, into East (Washington, Baltimore, New York, Boston) and West (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City). Each team visited every other city 4 times a season. In those days, you went on the road for two weeks at a time. The Senators used to dread those "western" trips, which in earlier days were done on the train.

The performance of the old Senators was obviously degraded by lackadaisical management from the Griffith family, as well as social tensions in Washington associated with racism and oppressive McCarthyism, which did not bode well for attendance. The “new Senators,” eventually under “BobShort” faced a similar fate during the distractions of Vietnam and Nixon (exception: 1969 was a good year). The “new” Senators moved into boring RFK (first called “DC Stadium”) in 1962. I miss the old Griffith Stadium (near where Howard University is and probably near the Town DC club now), with its asymmetry and erratic dimensions, a reverse of Fenway Park, but bigger. I think the Nationals Park should outfield have been built to imitate Griffith Stadium.

In 1961, the “new” Senators (expansion team) were 30-30 on the date of my graduation from high school, and were 31-70 for the rest of the season. The old Senators are now the Twins, the “new” Senators are the Rangers, and the Nats used to be the Expos.

At least they can’t finish as bad as the Detroit Tigers in 2003, who won only 43 games, in a relatively new park. And by 2006, the Tigers were in the playoffs. (The Mets won only 40 in 1962, and a World Series in 1969.) It doesn’t have to take too long to turn things around.

What a MLB team needs is aggressive management, and a big league player in every position. Yes, we’ve had our injuries, but most Nats are back, and they still lose. You need to have a lineup with every guy who can hit the ball hard, between the outfielders at least. You need to have a pitching staff with every starter capable of 7 good innings. (Remember the 1954 Indians?) And you need a closer. Can managing a baseball team be that hard?

It’s interesting how the old, big cities mostly in the Northeast and upper Midwest, tend to have consistently good baseball year after year: New York, Boston, Chicago. The same is more or less true for Los Angeles. Maybe the size of the TV market really does matter.

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