Thursday, February 25, 2016

Island of Lost Teams (Part I--The Washington Senators)

The Senators have had several lives. They began their existence in the American Association as the Washington Statesmen. When the AA folded after the 1891 slate, the Statesmen joined the National League and became the Senators. The club floundered in the standings despite the presence of multiple deadball stars--among them Jack Doyle, Kip Selbach and Deacon McGuire. After the 1899 campaign, the NL downsized from twelve to eight teams. The Senators, with their lousy 54-98 record, were ousted from the league.

A new incarnation would appear among the inaugural American League lineup in 1901. In 1905, the team name was changed to the Nationals, but it never caught on. The old Senators were a star-crossed club through most of their existence, compiling a cumulative won/loss record well below .500. Their lackluster play inspired the popular saying: "Washington: First in War, First in Peace and Last in the American League!" 

During the mid-'20s/ early-'30s, the club climbed into contention with the addition of Hall of Fame outfielders Sam Rice and Goose Goslin. Walter Johnson--among the greatest hurlers of all time--had been anchoring the pitching corps for many years. In 1924, the rejuvenated Senators captured the first World Series title in franchise history, squeaking out a narrow 7-game victory over the Giants. The final game meandered into extra innings and was decided on a pair of flukey defensive mishaps. With the lineup virtually intact, the Senators returned to the Fall Classic the following year. They met their match against the Pirates, who carried a trio of all time greats on their roster--Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey and Pie Traynor. The Senators brought the last pennant to Washington in 1933, finishing seven games ahead of the powerful Yankees. Season highlights more or less ended there as the Giants rolled over them in five games.

From 1934-1960, the Sens finished in fifth place or lower more than twenty times. This included six last place showings. When owner/ president Clark Griffith passed away in 1955, his nephew Calvin took over the team. He sold Griffith Stadium to the city of Washington then leased it back, generating speculation that the team would relocate. By 1957, Griffith was actively negotiating with officials in Minnesota. The American League was initially opposed to the move, but a deal was eventually struck in 1960. The Senators became the Twins and a new franchise continued play in the nation's capital.

The new Senators were more pitiable than their predecessors, losing 100 games in four consecutive seasons. During their eleven years of existence, they finished above .500 just once. It happened in 1969 with former Red Sox great Ted Williams at the helm. Slugger Frank Howard, known to fans as "The Capital Punisher," had a banner year with 48 homers and 111 RBIs. It wasn't enough to prevent the club from moving to Texas and changing its identity in 1972. To date, the Rangers have made a total of seven playoff appearances, advancing to the World Series twice. Both were losing causes.

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