The Nationals announced Tuesday afternoon that the team will be honoring 2010 Hall of Fame inductee Andre “The Hawk” Dawson, who played for the franchise in Montreal with a tri-colored Expos cap atop his head from 1976-1986, on August 10 at Nationals Park.
It’s easy to fall victim to making a quick comparison between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Senators since those are the only two ball teams to play in the District, but they’re not one in the same. In fact, they’re far from it.
The Senators were an American League team. The Nationals are a National League team. The only common ground is the city in which they played.
Here’s a closer look at the Nationals’ history and how the Expos fit into that.
Nats Fan at The Bullpen on June 5, 2010 with an Expos Cap/Photo by Rachel Levitin
Nationals season-ticket holder and 10 millionth fan – as dubbed during a 2009 Nats-Red Sox game – thinks Washington should look more to the Expos than the Senators when delving into the team’s heritage. “I really do think that we need to remember that we truly are a National League team and our heritage is the Montreal Expos which is not that great either but hey, it’s a heritage.”
“I really don’t mind them doing the Washington Senators,” Strattner explained, “but I do think it would be nice every once in awhile to talk about the Montreal Expos, to bring a few of the Expos player to town to remind people that we aren’t a new franchise.”
While it’s not necessary for the Nationals to take it upon themselves to commemorate a team that is no longer in existence, it couldn’t hurt. The Expos weren’t what anyone would call a top big league team during their tenure in Major League Baseball, but their roster did help cultivate the careers of some of the game’s best players. Dawson is among that elite crop.
“[...] It will be a little strange when Dawson steps onto the field on August 10, being recognized in a city where he never played a game,” MASN Sports writer Ben Goessling wrote Monday. He’s right. It will be strange. Some fans, the younger ones in particular, are likely to not understand why it’s such a big deal. But in context, the timing couldn’t be better.
The Washington Nationals are currently in last place in the National League East. Although it should be noted that they’ve showed improvement when compared to the last two seasons in which they compiled over 200 losses. Stephen Strasburg is just about the only buzz word in MLB talks around the country besides trade rumors regarding the upcoming deadline and Matt Capps getting a K off David Ortiz with the National League’s first All-Star win in his name in 13 years.
The District is six years into a new era of baseball and there’s still no obvious reason for fans to devote themselves to a team who appears to be relying on a 22-year-old ace who’s only played nine games.
Generating talk of historical accomplishments and acknowledging the Nationals context within MLB history and their franchise’s history might give fans another reason to attach their passion to the sport in this city.
Passion is like any sort of relationship or romance and is often based on an unconditional love — if you know where someone comes from, you know where they’ve been, and have an idea of where they might be going, then the love, passion, and appreciation can only grow.
Poor Andre Dawson is a Hall of Fame orphan. The team in which he was inducted for exists only in memory and Cooperstown apparel. Just because the Expos are no longer an active nickname among today’s MLB roster of teams doesn’t mean their place in baseball history should ignored.
Look at the Dodgers — they honored the 1955 World Series championship team in L.A. even though the team won the ring in Brooklyn decades ago. Who’s to say the Nationals shouldn’t conduct some similar business on their home turf?
Patrick Reddington of SB Nation DC dug up some great quotes on the topic. Dawson’s fellow Hall of Famer of Expos fame and former teammate Gary Carter told the New York Times, “That’s really the sad part [that Nationals Park doesn't acknowledge the Expos]. At least recognize and embrace the fact that they were in Montreal for 36 years.”
“Dawson was one of the best players in this franchise’s history,” Nats News Networks’ Dave Nichols told Reddington. “Why wouldn’t the Nationals want to honor him as he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame? There are other non-D.C. based Hall of Famers on the columns on the concourse around Nationals Park–why not honor part of this franchise’s history by putting up murals of Dawson and Carter, Hall of Famers that actually played for this franchise?”
The District was without baseball for over 30 years. It must have been hard for kids and adults alike who cherished the game to not have easy access to a team within their city limits. But imagine living with a team to root for and then having it taken away? Sure, that’s what happened when the Senators became the Texas Rangers*, but that’s also what happened to Montreal.
“As Washingtonian baseball fans, we need to remember how truly lucky we are. For years our city was without a baseball team to call our own,” Will Yoder of The Nats Blog wrote.
“Many, like myself, grew up rooting for out of market teams just so we could have baseball in our lives. Then in 2005 we were given the gift of baseball from the MLB, and as recipients of any gift we should be both grateful and mindful. Grateful to the MLB for choosing our city, and mindful to the sacrifices made to make that happen. Montreal fans had their passion taken from them…the Nationals owe it to Expos fans, as well as the city of Montreal to recognize the history of their franchise.”
All strangeness of what this situation could lead to aside, the Nationals didn’t come into existence out of nowhere. They’re a franchise with a history. People often forget or overlook the fact that the Washington Senators were an American League team. That means the only tie the Nationals and Senators share is the location of their ballparks.
Baseball history in the District might stem from the Senators but they weren’t the forefather’s of Nationals baseball. The Nationals were an expansion team that came to live in our Nation’s capital after the Expos time in the MLB came to a close. To ignore that piece of baseball history in a town full of history in its own right seems oxymoronic albeit ironic.
*Author’s Note: The Texas Rangers did not respond to my request to comment on whether or not they have commemorated the Washington Senators in any capacity during a game day event or inside their ballpark. If updates become available, that information will be posted.