Before the Washington Nationals do anything else - certainly before they enter next week’s draft and pick Stephen Strasburg - they have to do one thing. It is a top priority. Nothing else is more important.
They have to rid themselves of the curse.
Let Teddy win.
Lightning just struck in Nationals Park as I wrote those words.
It’s gone beyond amusing. It passed embarrassing weeks ago.
There are supernatural forces at play that have cursed the Washington Nationals.
Here they were on Wednesday night with the good fortune of having Randy Johnson going for his 300th career victory at Nationals Park.
It was the topic of radio talk shows. National media had come to town. Attendance could have reached 25,000 for a team that drew just 17,000 for first game of this series Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants and is averaging just over 20,000 a game so far this season.
So what happens? The skies open up, and it rains. And rains. By 10 p.m. with the start of the game still delayed at that point, there appeared to be maybe a thousand people at Nationals Park, and that included the vendors.
Of course it rained on a night where, win or lose, it would have been a good night for the Nationals. And then the game got postponed until Thursday.
That’s what happens to teams that are cursed.
It is time to let Teddy win.
In Chicago, of course, there is the Curse of the Billy Goat, born of the legend that the Cubs kicked Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis out of Wrigley Field during a World Series game in 1945 because his pet goat’s odor was deemed offensive. The story goes that Sianis declared, “Them Cubs, they aren’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs have not been to the World Series since.
In Boston, there was the Curse of the Bambino, resulting from the sale of a young Babe Ruth by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to the New York Yankees in 1920, two years after they had won the World Series. As everyone on this planet knows, the Red Sox supposedly reversed the curse by coming back from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and going on to win the World Series.
In Philadelphia, they came up with the Curse of Billy Penn to explain the city’s failure to win a championship, though simply being Philadelphia would seem to be curse enough. For years, no building was constructed in the city that rose above William Penn’s statue on top of City Hall. Then, in 1987, the Liberty Place skyscraper went past the Penn statue, and so that was the rationale to explain why no sports team in the city had won a championship since 1983 (the 76ers) until the Phillies won the World Series last year - a year after a miniature statue of William Penn was put on the final beam during the topping off of the Comcast Center, the newest tallest building in the city.
These were curses with a long tradition and history - even Philadelphia’s had a 25-year run.
The Nationals, it appears, have been cursed enough to have been cursed rather quickly, just five years into the franchise’s existence in Washington.
To deal with the curse, it’s important to identify it.
The Nationals weren’t exactly the Yankees before they started the live presidents races in July 2006 with a record of 122-137 since the franchise began play in the District. But you could make the case they have played like a cursed team since then with a record of 176-262 - all without Teddy Roosevelt ever winning a race.
That’s good enough for me. Curse identified: the Curse of Teddy Roosevelt.
Let Teddy win.
What simply seemed like a bad organization has taken off this year into something that defies incompetence. It started, of course, back in February when it was learned the highly touted Dominican prospect the Nationals had paid $1.6 million to in 2006, Smiley Gonzalez, was not who he said he was and was four years older than the team thought. Added to that were the reports that former general manager Jim Bowden was being targeted in a federal investigation into irregularities involving the signing of Dominican baseball prospects, forcing Bowden to resign.
It picked up speed once the season started, from the unveiling of the statues in center field of Walter Johnson, Frank Howard and Josh Gibson that were almost universally criticized - Walter Johnson’s grandson called his kin’s statue “hideous.” Then there were the “Natinals” misspelled jerseys that made the NBC nightly news and were good for a few days of laughs on “SportsCenter.”
Team president Stan Kasten angered the few Nationals fans left when he went on Philadelphia sports talk radio and invited Phillies fans to come down for the Nationals’ home opener - where their beloved announcer, Harry Kalas, died in the press box. The shooting pieces of sausage. The cutting of Daniel Cabrera, who left with the $2.6 million the Nationals are paying him this year. And on. And on.
A 14-35 record. A season-ticket base down to 12,000, nearly half the sales from the Nationals’ inaugural 2005 season.
It’s not just bad. It’s not just horrid. It’s a curse. And it won’t be lifted until they let Teddy win a race.
Win, Teddy, win.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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