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Nats hope to repeat feat of '24 DC baseball champs


Nats hope to repeat feat of '24 DC baseball champs

WASHINGTON (AP) They stormed to the top of the league the year after a losing season, had a star pitcher who was the subject of intense national discussion and won praise from the president of the United States for their performance.

Like this year's Washington Nationals, the 1924 World Series champion Washington Senators generated excitement in a city starved for a baseball winner. The Nats launch their quest for the city's second championship Sunday when they begin the division series at St. Louis

The Nationals finished 80-81 last year, 21 1/2 games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. The Senators were coming off a 75-78 season, 23 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League (there were no divisions then). But both Washington teams came into spring training the following season with some swagger.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said in February he expected to make the playoffs, and ``they can fire me'' if the team missed out.

Nearly 90 years earlier, Senators owner Clark Griffith predicted: ``Those boys are going to get somewhere this year.''

At 69, Johnson is the oldest manager in baseball. Griffith chose youth over experience, selecting his scrappy 27-year-old second baseman, Bucky Harris, as player-manager. Critics panned the move as ``Griffith's Folly.'' By the end of the season, Harris was known as ``Boy Wonder.''


This year, the Nationals' decision to shut down star pitcher Stephen Strasburg's season early brought debate among fans, sportswriters and players, even leading to a supportive Washington Post editorial. The team made the move to limit the number of innings Strasburg pitched in his first full season following Tommy John surgery.

In 1924, there was also a national buzz about Washington ace Walter Johnson, one of baseball's greatest pitchers. Fans were pulling for the good-natured right-hander to finally get a chance to play in a World Series in his 18th season.

``There is more real genuine interest in him than there is in a presidential election,'' Will Rogers wrote in a syndicated column in September titled ``Everybody is pulling for Walter.''

``Today the entire baseball world is not pulling for Johnson the pitcher; they are pulling for Johnson the man,'' Rogers wrote. Fans across major league baseball - which at that point didn't extend west or south of St. Louis - jumped on the Johnson/Senators bandwagon.

Strasburg and Johnson, at opposite ends of their careers, both had excellent seasons in helping their teams reach the postseason. Strasburg, 24, went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, and struck out 197 in 159 1-3 innings. At the time the Nationals ended his season in early September, he was among the league leaders in strikeouts, ERA, winning percentage and wins.

In 1924, the 36-year-old Johnson led the American League in several categories, including wins (23), ERA (2.72) and strikeouts (158). Johnson and Strasburg were both good hitters, too, and had nearly identical batting lines: .283 for Johnson, .277 for Strasburg, with one homer apiece.


The Senators marched to the pennant in the middle of the Roaring `20s, a time of rising prosperity when Americans became enamored of jazz, drank alcohol at illegal speakeasies during Prohibition and drove cars in greater numbers. As the Senators battled the Yankees in the final weeks of the '24 pennant race, Washingtonians went nuts over their team.

``Base ball in the National Capital no longer is a national game,'' declared the now-defunct Washington Evening Star. ``It is a disease, a flaming epidemic, and if something doesn't happen soon to ease the strain on the faithful fans half the population of the District of Columbia will be dead of heart failure.''

Something did happen soon - the Senators (aka Nationals) clinched the city's first pennant by defeating the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park on Sept. 29, the second-to-last game of the season. The Boston crowd, caught up in the excitement of the popular team, gave the Senators a homestyle celebration. Hundreds of fans mobbed the Washington players, and thousands more cheered from the stands, tossing straw hats into the air and waving handkerchiefs.

``The champions are not Washington's alone,'' wrote sportswriter John B. Keller. ``They belong to the country, as typified in its National Capital, and the entire Nation insists upon sharing with Washington the joy and pride that follows the Griffmen.'' That nickname was a tribute to team owner Griffith. Sportswriters also called the team ``Bucks,'' for player-manager Bucky Harris.

When the Senators returned to Washington, 100,000 people honored them on a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue featuring mounted policeman, a U.S. Cavalry Band and red-coated members of the Washington Riding and Hunt Club. At the Ellipse near the White House, President Calvin Coolidge told the victorious players that they had ``made the national capital more truly the center of worthy and honorable national aspirations.''

He also joked that the city's productivity had suffered because of the Senators' success: ``When the entire population reached the point of requiring the game to be described play by play, I began to doubt whether the highest efficiency was being promoted.''

And that was before fans could check scores on their smartphones.

This year, President Barack Obama congratulated the Nationals when they clinched a playoff, saying at a campaign event in Virginia, ``You guys are looking very good.''


The 2012 Nationals will bring considerably more muscle to the postseason than their '24 forebears. This Nats' lineup features four players with at least 22 home runs. The entire Senators team hit 22 home runs, last in the American League, and less than half of Babe Ruth's 46 that year. Only one Senator, Goose Goslin, hit more than three.

Instead, the '24 team generated runs by getting on base, with three regulars hitting at least .324 - outfielders Goslin (.344 with 17 triples and 129 RBIs) and Sam Rice (.334), and first baseman Joe Judge (.324). Goslin, Rice and Walter Johnson were all future Hall of Famers.

But they faced a daunting opponent in the World Series. The New York Giants had won their fourth straight pennant, and their lineup was packed with six future Hall of Famers, including rookie Bill Terry, who later became the last .400 hitter in National League history.

Most fans were pulling for Johnson and the Senators.

``Outside of the most rabid of Giant partisans, fans throughout this country will root for him in unison,'' predicted The Associated Press.

``All the sentiment of sentimental Washington is built around Johnson,'' declared The New York Times, adding that the country was rooting for the Senators because they are ``young and dashing and enthusiastic. New York is hated because it has won too many pennants and possesses too much money and is too powerful.''

But Johnson didn't have his best stuff in the series. He went the distance in a 12-inning, Game 1 loss in Washington's Griffith Stadium, surrendering four runs on 14 hits and six walks. Then he lost game 5 at New York's Polo Grounds, giving up six runs (four earned) on 13 hits, and the Senators fell behind three games to two. Johnson said after the game he would probably retire, and with no scheduled starts remaining, it looked like he'd end his career with two World Series losses.

``Giant bats penned one of the saddest stories ever known to baseball yesterday,'' the Times reported. ``After the name of Walter Johnson they wrote `finis,' for it was Johnson, before the second greatest crowd of the series, who tried again and failed again. When Johnson's own world's series finally came along he couldn't win a single game . Even for (New York fans) it was a tragic affair and Johnson the most tragic figure that ever stalked through a world's series.''

The series returned to Washington for the final two games, and the Senators won Game 6 to tie the series. In the seventh and deciding game, the Senators fell behind 3-1, but tied it in the eighth on a ground ball by player-manager Harris that scooted over third baseman Freddy Lindstrom's head, sending the crowd into delirium. As Washington's fielders trotted out for the top of the ninth, fans continued to cheer when they saw none other than Johnson come in as a relief pitcher.

Things didn't go smoothly for the Big Train. He gave up a one-out triple, putting him in danger of losing his third World Series game. But Johnson got a crucial strikeout and then ended the threat on groundout. When the game went to extra innings, Johnson kept pitching in and out of trouble, working around a leadoff walk in the 10th, two men on base in the 11th and a leadoff single in the 12th.

In the bottom of the 12th, the Senators put runners on first and second with one out. Earl McNeely, an expensive late-season acquisition ($50,000), hit a grounder to third. Incredibly, the ball took a bad hop over Lindstrom's head, just as it did in the eighth inning, and Muddy Ruel raced home from second with the winning run. Fans stormed the field and danced on dugouts, and police had to rescue players from the adoring masses.

Had fate intervened to send those balls careening the Senators' way?

``Perhaps the millions of fans pulling for Washington to win its first World Series championship influenced the usually fickle goddess of luck to give a little lift to the gallant Nationals,'' wrote famed sportswriter Fred Lieb.

The Giants losing pitcher, Jack Bentley, looked higher than that: ``The good Lord just couldn't bear to see a fine fellow like Walter Johnson lose again.''


EDITOR'S NOTE - Frederic J. Frommer is the author of the book, ``The Washington Nationals 1859 to Today: The Story of Baseball in the Nation's Capital,'' (2006, Taylor Trade). Follow him on Twitter at

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Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Winter has been coming for quite a while for the Washington Nationals. Specifically, Winter 2018. And much like last season of HBO’s beloved Game of Thrones, winter has finally arrived.

Bryce Harper has potentially played his final game in a Nationals uniform, and all fans can do over the course of the next few months is play the waiting game. Instead of sitting around twiddling our thumbs, however, we’re going to take a look at some of the major players who will be active in Harper’s free agency this winter.

We’ll do our best to gauge how genuine each team’s interest in the superstar is (spoiler alert: they are all very interested) and try to guess how good their chances are of landing him. 

Bovada updated their odds on Harper’s ultimate landing spot after the regular season ended, and they’ve got the Nationals as the fifth-most likely team for him to (re)join. Number one on that list was the Chicago Cubs.

Number two? The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Narrative

Some fans were surprised to see the Cubs top Bovada’s odds, and I expect even more will think the Dodgers at number two is curious. We don’t have years of subtle hints, personal connections, and conspiracy theories to link Harper with Los Angeles, like we did with Chicago. Still, there are a few dots here worth connecting. 

The most obvious (or, at least, the most recent) came this past August. After the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in July, Major League Baseball teams have the month of August to trade players who pass through waivers. These are referred to as revocable waivers, because even if a player is claimed, the team that owns his rights is allowed to pull him back. 

When a player is claimed in August, the claiming team has 48 hours to try to strike a deal with the original team. It’s essentially a formality for every player to be placed on waivers in August, knowing teams can revoke them at any point. Still, fans online were all over Twitter when it was reported that the mystery team to have placed a claim on Bryce Harper was none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

No deal ended up being reached between the Dodgers and the Nats, and it’s entirely possible the Dodgers only made the claim to keep Harper from going to another National League contender. Still, it’s hard to view the near-move as anything other than a sign of interest from the team with the deepest pockets in baseball.

That last line is important, as it plays into the narrative for Harper-to-LA as well. The Dodgers are the Yankees of the West Coast (and, in reality, probably have more money to spend than the Evil Empire). Ever since an ownership group including Magic Johnson acquired the Dodgers in 2012 for a staggering $2.15 billion, the Dodgers have flexed their financial might over the rest of the baseball world. 

Let’s also not forget one of Harper’s biggest “flaws,” his rooting interests in Duke, the Cowboys, and yes, the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing in L.A. for a team owned by the greatest player in Lakers history has to appeal to him on some level, even if it won’t end up being the most important factor.

There are plenty of connections to make with Harper and the Nationals, Cubs, and Yankees, but more often than not, free agents tend to follow the money. If the Dodgers are inclined to pay whatever it costs to sign Harper, then it’s hard to imagine another team topping them. That’s narrative enough for them to be considered strongly in the mix.

The Roster

Of course, there’s still the question of if the Dodgers actually would be inclined to pay whatever it costs. Just because a franchise can afford to sign someone doesn’t always mean it makes the most sense, from either a financial standpoint or roster construction.

The Dodgers, as mentioned earlier, have more money than God. According to Spotrac, their Opening Day payrolls in the last few seasons are outrageous.

2018 - $199.5 million (3rd in baseball)
2017 - $259.1 million (1st)
2016 - $268.7 million (1st)
2015 - $301.7 million (1st)
2014 - $246.3 million (1st)
2013 - $239.8 million (1st)

Those numbers are just plain silly. In 2015, the Dodgers spent more than twice as much on payroll than all but five teams. Outside of a flukey “low” spending season this past year, they haven’t just lead the league for five straight seasons, but have run away with it year in and year out. Spending more than $300 million in a season is wild.

So, obviously, the Dodgers can throw money at any problem (or player). They’re probably itching to get back on top of the heap after not even cracking $200 million in 2018. But does it make sense from a team-building perspective?

None of the team’s pending free agents on Spotrac are outfielders, so there’s no obvious hole to fill. One of the strengths of the Dodgers is their positional versatility, which adds to their depth but makes it harder to evaluate their offseason outlook. Cody Bellinger started 50 games in the outfield in 2018, and appeared in 81, but while his versatility is a nice bonus, he’s ultimately an athletic first baseman, and he certainly wouldn’t get in the way of Harper playing for that reason.

That said, if the Dodgers retain Brian Dozier at second, then Max Muncy would need to play first, which pushes Bellinger to the outfield. Plus, Chris Taylor can play second, shortstop, third, and the outfield.  You can see where the headache comes in.

Still, for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume Bellinger is off the table for outfield playing time, but bear in mind that Taylor could find his way out there on occasion.

Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, and Matt Kemp are the remaining outfielders. Puig, Pederson and Hernandez are in their arbitration years, and almost certainly will be kept around at reasonable deals. It’s hard to evaluate the three of them relative to each other. Each hit 20-25 home runs, and each hit between .248 and .267. Pederson has struggled to live up to his immense talents, and the same could be said for Puig. Hernandez is yet another Dodger who plays all over the diamond.

Then you have Kemp, who would have been easy to rule out entering 2018 but then proceeded to have one of the best comeback seasons in baseball. He hit .290 and made his first All-Star game since 2012, and he’s owed a ton of money next season.

None of that includes Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers’ best prospect and one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. He probably already should have been an everyday Major League outfielder in 2018, and there’s no way Los Angeles can continue to keep him in the minors next year. He needs to play every day, and certainly will get that chance.

Ultimately, the Dodgers have a ton of bodies to play the outfield already. That said, Puig and Kemp will no longer be under contract after next season, and outside of Verdugo there are no clear-cut future standouts in the Dodgers outfield. The fit for Harper, position-wise, is fairly weak compared to the other contenders. 

At the end of the day, however, none of their current guys are necessarily better than Harper, and if the Dodgers are willing to deal with a crowded outfield for one season, things shore up nicely in 2020 and beyond. A future outfield with Verdugo and Harper would be pretty appealing to any team, especially considering how relatively cheap Verdugo will be until he hits free agency.

The Odds

Call it a gut feeling, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see Harper in Dodger blue. There are plenty of factors in which they are one of the top three choices for him, but they aren’t a clear leader in any. The Cubs have more personal connections, the Phillies are more of a positional fit, and the Nats are the “hometown” team. The one area in which they stand out, however, is possibly (probably) (okay almost definitely) the most important: money.

It will be telling to find out what their best offer ends up being, but for now, I think the +500 odds are actually pretty spot on. I’d take issue with the Cubs being so much further ahead of them as the betting favorites, but they should probably be ahead of the Dodgers at least. I just wouldn’t have them so far out ahead of the pack. 

The Dodgers have a lot going for them. Harper has always wanted to play in a big name city for a big name franchise, and he has always wanted to be the highest-paid player in the game. Plus, getting to play for Magic Johnson doesn’t hurt. The Dodgers can offer all those things. The only question remaining is if they want to?


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Breaking down Bryce Harper's early years of stardom with the Nationals


Breaking down Bryce Harper's early years of stardom with the Nationals

We’ve written plenty of times about the potential end of Bryce Harper’s Nationals career. We’ve examined what were maybe his final days at Nationals Park, started discussing where he might end up, and taken a look at the journey that brought us to this point.

Over the course of a few posts, we’re going to take a deeper look at some of the highlights of the last half-decade in Nats history through the lens of Harper. We’ll be breaking this up into a three-act series, but who knows? If he ends up re-signing in D.C., we may end up looking back on 2012-18 altogether as just the first act of a storied career in the nation’s capital.

Whether or not he comes back to Washington, it’s clear that we’re entering a new era in both D.C. baseball and Harper’s career, so it’s a natural point to take a step at and review where we’ve come from so far.

Act I (2012-2014)

Really, the story of Bryce Harper dates back to 2010, the year in which he was drafted (or possibly back to 2009, the year of his notorious Sports Illustrated cover story). 2010 was a year of endless excitement and optimism for the future of Nationals baseball, with the franchise enjoying the second of their back-to-back top overall draft picks.

In just about the most fortunate setup in draft history, Washington’s first two No. 1 picks came in 2009 and 2010, which happens to be the two draft classes headlined by the most hyped prospects entering the league in recent memory. 2009 brought the future ace in Stephen Strasburg, and 2010 brought the future face of the sport in Harper.

The Debut

After continuing his rise to fame through the minors, Harper finally made his big-league debut in April of 2012 at the tender age of 19. The recent success of Juan Soto may lead some fans to believe it’s normal for uber prospects to reach the majors this quickly, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most prospects are still in college or the lower levels of a team’s farm system at the age of 19, but Harper wasn’t most prospects.

Based purely on the crazy hype surrounding Harper, it’d be tough to exclude his Major League debut -- the Nats played the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28, 2012 -- among the early highlights of his career. He showed off a lot of the skills we’d see over the next six years. There was his rocket arm, his flair for the dramatic, his pure strength and his steely demeanor in the face of overwhelming pressure.

What made his debut game even more special was that Strasburg was starting for the Nats. The team lost to the Dodgers in extra innings, but in one glorious evening, fans could see the future taking place right before their eyes.

The All-Star

The next major milestone for Harper was making the All-Star Game, which he did somewhat controversially in that magical 2012 season. Harper became the third teenage All-Star ever, and the first one to do so as a position player.

He entered the game as a reserve, and in two at-bats, walked and struck out. He had very little impact on the game itself but was still one of the biggest stories at an event made for baseball’s biggest stars.

The Playoffs

There were other highlights during his rookie season, of course, as the team experienced its first success since returning to Washington. The Nats won 98 games that year to take the NL East, and Harper was helping lead the charge. The NLDS that year pitted the Nats against the 88-win St. Louis Cardinals, and the back-and-forth series went the full five games.

Harper notably struggled during his first exposure to October baseball, hitting just 3-for-23. He struck out eight times, which the most between both teams. The highlight, however, was a Game 5 home run off Adam Wainwright. Harper had already tripled in the Nats’ three-run first inning, and he led off the third with a solo blast to extend the lead to 4-0. At the time, it felt like the team’s youngest superstar cemented a franchise-altering win.

This is the part where Nats fans yell at me for reminding them of what came next.

Drew Storen fell apart in the ninth inning, the Cardinals completed the comeback victory, and the Nats were eliminated from the playoffs. Harper did get an at-bat in the 9th inning and struck out swinging. Say what you want, but he wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

The Recognition

Harper deservedly won the National League Rookie of the Year that season, and looking back, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t that close to unanimous (his stiffest competition came from Wade Miley and Todd Frazier). His 5.2 WAR and 57 extra-base hits both represented modern era records for a teenage hitter, and Harper even found himself getting down-ballot MVP votes (he finished 30th).

It was a historic season, and Harper has the accolades to show for it. The future was bright.

The Follow Up

Bryce Harper’s 2013 season didn’t go as well as 2012 for a litany of reasons. The team surrounding him was worse, failing to follow up 2012 with another postseason run. He struggled with injuries, including missing time after crashing into an outfield wall that May. It was a signature aggressive Harper play, going all-out in an attempt to help the team, but ended up being costly. He only ended up playing in 118 games and hitting 20 home runs. He was still an All-Star, but that was partially aided by his fame and stature.

That said, he kicked off the 2013 in incredible fashion, and that Opening Day stands out as his clearest highlight from the entire season. Harper didn’t just become the fourth-youngest player to ever homer on Opening Day (trailing names like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Robin Yount), but he ended up hitting home runs in his first two plate appearances. He was the first player to do so in franchise history and did it at the prodigious age of 20.

His powerful start to the year sent fans into a frenzy, and he gave them a curtain call four innings into the new season. The success wouldn’t last throughout the summer, but it was a wild start and is one of the lasting highlights from the early years of Harper’s career.

The Postseason Return

The 2014 regular season would be a forgettable one for Harper. Thanks to a thumb injury he suffered running the bases, Harper set a career-low in games played with exactly 100. The time missed contributed to a third straight season with fewer home runs than the last, but his rate stats suffered as well. He had the lowest slugging percentage and OPS of his career, and it remains the only season in which he wasn’t named to the National League All-Star team.

For his regular season struggles, however, Harper experienced much more success in his second postseason. The Nats bounced back from a down 2013 team, beating up on a weak division and winning 96 games to lead the National League. They ended up facing another inferior NLDS opponent in the San Francisco Giants, and the end result was the same as in 2012.

The Giants may have won the series thanks to a dominant performance by their pitching staff (the Nats batted .164 as a team), but Harper held his own this time around. In what still stands out to this day as his strongest postseason performance, Harper had a slash line of .294/.368/.882, buoyed by his three home runs in four games. The 1.251 OPS represents by far a career-high, and his three home runs were 75 percent of the team’s total in the series.

He went 0-for-7 in the 18-inning Game 2 marathon, but essentially was the entire Washington offense in Games 1, 3 and 4. He even launched a ball into the third deck at Nats Park in Game 1. It was a titanic blast that won’t soon be forgotten.

The clear highlight, however, came in Game 4. The Nats fell behind 2-0 early, but Harper got them on the board with a fifth-inning double. Trailing 2-1, he came to bat in the seventh and blasted his third home run of the series to tie the game. The Nats were eight outs from elimination, and Harper had saved them.

Of course, once again, the bullpen would go on to lose the game for the Nats and end their season. Harper again had a chance in a do-or-die 9th inning, and this time, the Giants learned their lesson and walked him. His team lost, but the legend of Bryce Harper was cemented.