Last year, three miracles occurred that inform the new season.
First, there was the miracle of the Boston Red Sox beating the New York Yankees in the playoffs, and then going on to not lose the World Series - sort of a miracle twofer. Second, there was the miracle of Major League Baseball announcing a steroid-testing policy, which, if enforced, will reduce the average number of homers in a season from its current 348,000 to around 14. Third, there was the miracle of the national pastime returning to the nation's capital.
Of them all, what happened between Washington, D.C., and MLB - an acronym that just doesn't roll off the tongue like NFL or NBA, or even KFC - may be the greatest.
Last fall, MLB decided to move the Expos from Montreal to Washington. Starved for the sport since it left town for Texas in the '70s, Washington reacted with a great ground swell of dithering.
The debate began after the mayor reached an agreement with MLB that read as follows:
"We, the City, known hereinafter as the District, do hereby accept a Baseball Team to play in the environs of said District in exchange for building said Team a Stadium through the use of Public Funds, kinda sorta, because they're just technically tax moneys to wit and henceforth the meaning of which is Arguable. Besides, Nobody is really going to shell out Anything because, hey, what are you anyway, Anti-baseball? Huh, are ya?"
Some folks on the City Council took issue with the deal and responded with the following statement:
"Oh yeah? Well, We, also the City, known hereinafter as the District, will show you how much we don't like your deal by not giving any money to Libraries. So there. You know What Else? We're going to stop Breathing until you give us what we Want, which is, like, we're not exactly sure, but Something, you can be assured of that. Take it or Leave it."
MLB, which had formed a task force to deal with the issue of how it could get people to use its acronym, issued a statement that said:
"Okay, so nobody follows the Sport anymore. That doesn't mean you can tell Us that you won't build a Stadium at your expense for the Rich Guys who will Own the Team. So we don't care what you Don't Fund. If you want a Sport that has been found by the FDA to be an effective Sleep Aid, you will give us what we want. Unnerstand? Huh? Do ya?"
At the eleventh hour, everybody came to an agreement to the effect that the only people to blame are each other, then each issued press releases saying they brought baseball back to the District.
And that is the miracle of baseball's return to the nation's capital.
But assuming Washington hasn't changed its mind again before you read this, the real miracle will be if the team posts a winning season. In a sport where haplessness is a kind of badge of honor -Boston complained for decades that it never won the World Series; Chicago Cubs fans cry that they may never again go to the World Series - let history record that there is a new chump on the block: the Washington Nationals.
The name stems from the team's original moniker back in the 1800s when it was in the National League, thus adhering to a Washington tradition of naming things literally. ("Hey, what should we call that white house?" "How 'bout the White House?" "Brilliant.") In 1901, the franchise joined the newly formed American League and, in a bold move, was named the Senators. Baseball left the District after the 1971 season, moving to Arlington, Texas, and the Senators became the Texas Rangers. In its 71-year history, the Senators won exactly one World Series championship and last appeared in a Series in 1933.
By contrast, the Cubs, whose fans claim to be the longest suffering, have won two World Series. In addition, the Cubs have appeared in nine World Series, compared with Washington’s three. And the Cubs made it to the Series more recently, in 1945.
Oh, and for a quarter century, dating from 1924, the Senators had only two winning seasons.
Meanwhile, since moving to Texas, the team has not once appeared in a World Series. And the emigrating Expos, since becoming a team in 1969, haven’t either.
What does all this mean? That the Washington franchise is bad enough to crow that it is the most hapless in baseball history. When tossing in the histories of the two teams revolving around it, it holds a record for wretchedness that would take a miracle to break.
To which I can only say that miracles do happen. And although it may sound funny, I’ll say it anyway: Go Nats!