Thumbing through The Team by Team Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, I discovered a couple little-known (to me at least) tidbits about Washington’s baseball nicknames, by way of the current Minnesota Twins franchise.
The 1901 incarnation of Washington baseball moved to Minnesota in 1960. Originally called the Washington Senators, the team was renamed, though history shows that change was unsuccessful. The ONLY modern example I can recall is Bill Simmons’s reluctance to call the Oklahoma NBA team the Thunder, instead calling them the Zombie Sonics, due to their Seattle lineage. Otherwise, we still call it the Utah Jazz, even though the name makes no sense.
The team officially changed its name in 1905 to the Washington Nationals, but the fans and the press refused to acknowledge it and continued to call their team the Senators. Much team-sponsored ephemera such as programs, tickets, postcards, and the like continued to be printed bearing the Senators name, not the Nationals one. The name was officially changed back to the Senators in 1956, but no one noticed since no one had ever really stopped calling them the Senators.
I remember when our current Nationals team began to move to Washington; there was much debate about the name. Both myself and thesnerd favored the Washington Grays, due to the city’s Negro League history. There was also a significant contingent clamoring for the team to be renamed the Senators — still a nifty name. But after refreshing myself in this voluminous baseball tome, I am glad the team is the Nationals and not the Senators. I would hate for the lovable losers to be associated with Calvin Griffith, the buffoon who moved the team to Minnesota.
When a Minneapolis reporter asked Calvin Griffith in 1961 why he had chose to relocate to Minnesota, Griffith replied with a racist aplomb, “You only have 15,000 blacks here. You’ve got good, hard-working people here. Blacks don’t go to ballgames.”
Good riddance, Griffith and the Senators name, after reading that. I imagine Griffith, L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott all had/have a lot in common: Opposing fans didn’t have to dig deep to find reasons to hate these franchises. Can pro leagues really not prevent racists from owning teams? If not, they should, because comments like these embarrass everyone in retrospect, most of all the MLB, which allowed this dolt to move his team basically because he was racist.
I’ll take the more mundane Nationals name over a Senators moniker tied up in the racist baggage of an America era that I am glad I never had to live in. Go Nats!