Nationals

Scherzer not first D.C. star to play for rival, but he's the best

Nationals

Max Scherzer's introductory press conference for the New York Mets, which was held over Zoom and included his agent Scott Boras on screen, featured the customary list of reasons for why the player chose to sign with said team. Scherzer mentioned the opportunity to share a rotation with fellow multiple-time Cy Young-winner Jacob deGrom, plus the clubhouse presence of one Eduardo Escobar. 

Sure. While it's common for those types of comments to be made, no matter the contract or the circumstances, for this particular occasion, no one would have faulted Scherzer for pulling the curtain back and saying, simply, they offered him $130 million to play in New York City.

Perhaps not even Nationals fans, who understand his legacy with them is secure and that their own franchise is currently not on a trajectory that made sense for him to return. The Mets aren't exactly a guarantee to be World Series contenders, but the Nats seem fairly certain to take their lumps as they begin a rebuild.

Still, it will be strange, undoubtedly, to see him in a Mets uniform pitching against the Nationals. That should take place early and often, as the Nats and Mets open the season against each other, face off in seven of their first nine regular season games and will even play six times in spring training before Opening Day arrives.

During his three-year contract, the Nationals and Mets will square off 57 times in the regular season. So, if he plays out his entire deal with the Mets and stays healthy, he will face them at least roughly 10 times.

 

The intense competitive fire, the stomping off the mound, the brilliant pitching artistry — all of that will be on the other side now. Everything Nats fans came to love about 'Mad Max' will be directed against their favorite team.

Scherzer isn't the first D.C. legend to later play for a rival team, not by a longshot. But he's probably the most accomplished and beloved, the most iconic and the subject of the most indelible memories. Scherzer won two Cy Young awards with the Nationals, had a 20-strikeout game and two no-hitters. He won a World Series in 2019. 

Scherzer will be in the Hall of Fame someday and, though the Mets are his fifth team and the Nats were his third, he will very likely wear a Curly W cap in Cooperstown and be more associated with the Nationals than anyone else. He may even have a statue outside Nationals Park one day down the road.

Looking back, there are more D.C. stars who played for rival teams than you may remember. Washington Football great Art Monk played for the Eagles, albeit only for three games. So did Super Bowl-winning quarterback Mark Rypien, for one game. Brian Mitchell played for both the Eagles and Giants. LaVar Arrington played for the Giants and Ryan Kerrigan plays for the Eagles now.

Capitals stars Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Hatcher each played for the Pittsburgh Penguins after leaving Washington. Mike Gartner played for the Rangers, whom the Caps have had many playoff battles with over the years.

Though rivalries do not mean the same in the NBA, the Wizards had a decent one with the Cavaliers in the mid-2000s. Their fans then had to see Antawn Jamison join forces with LeBron James in Cleveland.

Nationals fans are no strangers to seeing their own star players go play for division rivals. All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos later played for both the Phillies and Mets. Of course, there's also Bryce Harper, who after winning an NL MVP award and making six All-Star teams for the Nats left to sign a massive free agent contract with the Phillies.

Like Scherzer, Harper was a major star who won big-time awards. But the situation was different because they had his heir apparent in Juan Soto and were set up to still be good moving forward. Then, they won the World Series just one year later. It was like if you got laid off by a job you liked, but won the lottery soon after. You wouldn't miss the job anymore.

Maybe the narrative changes moving forward, as Harper just won his second NL MVP award this past season. For Scherzer, it will likely start out differently than Harper's departure did, given the Nats could be set up for some lean years where he and his new team will have the upper hand. Another important difference to note is that Harper left as a free agent, while Scherzer was traded to the Dodgers this past summer before signing with the Mets.

 

Regardless, it's probably going to quite weird to see Scherzer pitching against the Nats for a division rival. As my colleague Matt Weyrich argued, his legacy in Washington should remain intact, no matter what. Though a D.C. sports legend of his caliber playing for a rival may be uncharted territory, let's hope so.