Early baseball in Washington, D.C.
Multiple short-lived baseball franchises, including two named the Nationals, played in Washington with the National Association in the 1870s.[note 1] The first Washington Nationals team in a major league played in the American Association in 1884. Another Washington Nationals team also played in the Union Association during its only season in 1884. The first Washington Nationals of the National League played from 1886 to 1889.
The Washington Statesmen played in the American Association in 1891, before jumping to the National League as the Senators the following season. The Washington Senators, who were often referred to as the Nationals, played in the National League from 1892 to 1899. They were followed by another Washington Senators franchise in 1901, a charter member of the new American League, who were officially named the Washington Nationals from 1905 to 1956. The first American League Senators franchise moved to Minneapolis after the 1960 season and became the Minnesota Twins. They were replaced in Washington by an expansion team, the second Senators franchise, which began play in 1961 and moved to Arlington, Texas after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers.
The Montreal Expos were part of the 1969 Major League Baseball expansion, which included the Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers), Kansas City Royals, and San Diego Padres. Based in Montreal, the Expos were the first Major League team in Canada.
The majority-share owner was by Charles Bronfman, a major shareholder in Seagram. Named after the Expo 67 World's Fair, the Expos' initial home was Jarry Park. Managed by Gene Mauch, the team lost 110 games in their first season, coincidentally matching the Padres' inaugural win–loss record, and continued to struggle during their first decade with sub-.500 seasons.
Starting in 1977, the team's home venue was Montreal's Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Two years later, the team won a franchise-high 95 games, finishing second in the National League East. The Expos began the 1980s with a core group of young players, including catcher Gary Carter, outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, third baseman Tim Wallach, and pitchers Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson. The team won its only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981, ending its season with a three games to two loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
The team spent most of the 1980s in the middle of the NL East pack, finishing in third or fourth place in eight out of nine seasons from 1982 to 1990. Buck Rodgers was hired as manager before the 1985 season and guided the Expos to a .500 or better record five times in six years, with the highlight coming in 1987, when they won 91 games. They finished third, but were just four games behind the division-winning Cardinals.
Bronfman sold the team to a consortium of owners in 1991, with Claude Brochu as the managing general partner.
Rodgers, at that time second only to Gene Mauch in number of Expos games managed, was replaced partway through the 1991 season. In May 1992, Felipe Alou, a member of the Expos organization since 1976, was promoted to manager, becoming the first Dominican-born manager in MLB history. Alou would become the leader in Expos games managed, while guiding the team to winning records, including 1994, when the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in the major leagues until the 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, Expos management began shedding its key players, and the team's fan support dwindled.
Brochu sold control of the team to Jeffrey Loria in 1999,
but Loria failed to close on a plan to build a new downtown ballpark, and did not reach an agreement on television and English radio broadcast contracts for the 2000 season, reducing the team's media coverage.
Proposed 2001 contraction
After the 2001 season, MLB considered revoking the team's franchise, along with either the Minnesota Twins or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In November 2001, Major League Baseball's owners voted 28–2 to contract the league by two teams — according to various sources, the Expos and the Minnesota Twins, both of which reportedly voted against contraction.
Subsequently, the Boston Red Sox were sold to a partnership led by John W. Henry, owner of the Florida Marlins.
In order to clear the way for Henry's group to assume ownership of the Red Sox, Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, and MLB purchased the Expos from Loria.
However, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of the Metrodome, won an injunction requiring the Twins to play there in 2002. Because MLB was unable to revoke the Twins franchise, it was compelled to keep both the Twins and Expos as part of the regular season schedule. In the collective bargaining agreement signed with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) in August 2002, contraction was prohibited until the end of the contract in 2006. By that time, the Expos had become the Washington Nationals and the Twins had made sufficient progress towards the eventual building of a new baseball-specific stadium that contraction was no longer on the agenda.
Creation of the Washington Nationals
With contraction no longer an option for the immediate term, MLB began looking for a relocation site for the Expos. Some of the choices included: Oklahoma City; Washington, D.C.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Northern Virginia (such as Arlington or Dulles); Norfolk, Virginia; Las Vegas; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Washington, D.C., and both Virginia locations emerged as the front-runners.
In both 2003 and 2004, the Expos played 22 of their home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium, and the remaining 59 in Montreal.
On September 29, 2004, MLB announced the Expos would move to Washington, D.C., in 2005.
The Expos played their final game on October 3 at Shea Stadium in New York, losing by a score of 8–1 against the New York Mets, the same opponent the Expos faced in their first game, 35 years earlier. On November 15, a lawsuit by the former team owners against MLB and former majority owner Jeffrey Loria was struck down by arbitrators, bringing to an end all legal actions that would impede a move. The owners of the other MLB teams approved the move to Washington, D.C., in a 28–1 vote on December 3 (Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos cast the sole dissenting vote).
Washington baseball history revived
Numerous professional baseball teams have called Washington, D.C., home. The Washington Senators, a founding member of the American League (AL), played in the nation's capital from 1901 to 1960 before moving to Minnesota and becoming the Twins. The original Washington American League Base Ball Club was founded by three local businessmen: Edward J. Walsh, Benjamin Minor, and Harry Rapley. Clark Griffith was hired as manager in 1912 and became a part owner, accumulating majority shares in later years. The stadium, originally known as National Park and then American League Park, later became known as Griffith Stadium. With notable stars including Walter Johnson and Joe Cronin, the Senators won the 1924 World Series and pennants in 1925 and 1933. The franchise became more successful after moving to Minnesota for the 1961 season to be renamed the Minnesota Twins. A second Washington Senators team (1961–1971) had a winning record only once in its 11 years, although it featured slugger Frank Howard, who was inducted into the Ring of Fame at the new Nationals Park in 2016. This team was notable also because Ted Williams was manager in 1971. The expansion Senators moved to Arlington, Texas (located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex), for the 1972 season and changed their name to the Texas Rangers. The city of Washington spent the next 33 years without a baseball team.
Although there was some sentiment to revive the name Senators when the Montreal Expos franchise moved to Washington in 2005, legal and political considerations factored into the choice of Nationals, a revival of the first American League franchise's official name used from 1901 to 1956. Politicians and others in the District of Columbia objected to the name Senators because the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. In addition, the Rangers still owned the rights to the Senators name, although the Nationals were able to acquire the rights to the curly "W" logo from the Rangers. This logo looked a lot like Walgreens logo, but the drugstore chain never sued because, even though people have trouble telling the logos apart, it is believed the chain does not see this as a problem.
Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony A. Williams supported the name "Washington Grays", in honor of the Negro-league team the Homestead Grays (1929–1950), which had been based in Pittsburgh, but played many of their home games in Washington. On November 21, 2004, the team's management chose the name "Washington Nationals".
When Ted Lerner took over the club in mid-2006, he hired Stan Kasten as team president. Kasten was widely known as the architect of the Atlanta Braves before and during their run of 14 division titles. Kasten was also the general manager or president of many other Atlanta-area sports teams, including the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. "The Plan", as it became known, was a long-range rebuilding and restructuring of the team from the ground up. This plan included investing in the farm system and the draft, and having a suitable team to go along with their new stadium.
In the front office, the Nationals hired the well-respected former Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo to be the vice president of baseball operations, second in charge under then-general manager Jim Bowden.
Thanks to back-to-back No. 1 picks of Stephen Strasburg (in 2009) and Bryce Harper (in 2010), and other strong moves to their farm system, the Nationals became a contending team by 2012, winning division titles in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017, but losing in NLDS each time. In 2018, the All-Star Game was played at Nationals Park.
The Nationals began the 2019 season with a record of 19-31, and their chances winning the World Series at that point was 1.5 percent. They improved from there, finishing the regular season with a record of 93-69 and earning a spot in the wild-card game, which they won over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Nationals advanced past the divisional round of the MLB playoffs for the first time as the Nationals on October 9, 2019, with a 7–3 win over the Dodgers that sent them to the NLCS. The Nationals advanced to the World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, making their first World Series appearance in franchise history. On October 30, they won their first World Series when they defeated the Houston Astros in game seven. This was the first World Series in MLB history where neither team won a home game.