Major League Baseball was coming back 34 years after it left, and the new franchise would need a name.
Should it harken back to prior iterations of baseball and choose the Senators? Or was this a new franchise, with new logos and a new attempt at establishing itself in the District?
Controversial franchise nicknames -- like the Redskins -- are wading through pushes to change. Redskins owner Dan Snyder said in a statement last week the team will “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name. This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.” An alteration now seems inevitable.
What is now known as the Nationals did not have to navigate an offensive nickname from the past. Instead, they had to decide which, if any, franchise history they wanted to latch on to.
Major League Baseball was extracting the Expos from Montreal. They were destined for the nation’s capital despite the Baltimore Orioles operating an hour north. The Senators evolved into the Minnesota Twins first in 1960, then the Texas Rangers in 1971. The Twins ended up retaining the Senators’ first six decades of records and history.
The second iteration of the Senators -- which existed from 1961-1971 -- was a franchise surrounded by losing. They finished above .500 once and lost at least 90 games eight times. Texas totes that history.
Which means when baseball came to the nation’s capital, a debate ensued between the past and future.
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Some historical notes began to emerge. According to historians, people would refer to the Senators teams operating closer to the turn of the 20th century as the “Nationals” on occasion. The terms “Senators” and “Nationals” became almost interchangeable at the time. For example, a 1955 Topps Roy Sievers baseball card had him playing outfield for the Washington Nationals. He played for the Washington Senators, according to his 1954 Topps card.
There were legal, and of course, political complications when determining the new franchise’s name. The Rangers owned the rights to “Senators”. Politicians used the moment to point out the District of Columbia does not have voting rights in Congress.
Then-mayor Anthony A. Williams supported calling the team the Washington Grays in honor of the former Negro League franchise the Homestead Grays. Nov. 22, 2004, city and team officials announced inside Union Station that “Nationals” was chosen as the franchise nickname.
"It's a question of taste," then-team president Tony Tavares said at the time. "In this case, I think Nationals gives us a fresh start. For example, in our media guide, we're talking about having a page of records from the old Senators, a page of records from the Expos and a blank page writing our own records in Washington. This is a new team. The record is going forward here. We'll start with that."
It didn’t start well. But, by 2012 the team was in the playoffs and on its way to being an annual contender. They finally made it to a World Series title in 2019, fifteen years after their new name was installed free of the controversy which has long followed the Redskins.
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