The precipitating events which led to Major League Baseball’s most famous championship droughts are etched into the memories of most fans of the sport.
William Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern and a goat named Murphy, was asked to leave Wrigley Field with his pet in 1945. In both cases, totems and sacrifices were offered over the decades until long-suffering fans got their “one before I die” in 2004 and 2016, respectively.
At least fans in Boston and Chicago got to witness the occasional League Championship Series. The drought in DC has grown without much notice – or hope.
Washington has never hosted a game in the LCS because, until this season, a Washington team had never advanced past the playoff’s first round since the playoffs have had rounds. The 1933 Washington Senators – the franchise which would move to Minnesota and become the Twins – lost the World Series to the New York Giants. That was the most recent championship throwdown between those two cities in any major sport, and it’s the last time baseball fans in the nation’s capital have seen their team this close to a title.
“I think this organization for years has been really, really good,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said, “and they’ve always been talked about as being one of the top teams in the division, or they should go far. I think this year we kind of went under the radar because of the way we started, and now that we’re where we’re at, I think the fans, the city, appreciate how hard we all worked to get where we’re at and that the players keep pushing every day.”
Undoubtedly part of the reason for the indifference is that the city went through an extended stretch without a team.
The second Senators moved to become the Texas Rangers before the 1972 season, and the Nationals didn’t arrive from Montreal until 2005. With 33 dormant years, it can be easy to forget that history runs as deeply here as anywhere else.
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has a tie to that history.
Growing up in North Carolina, his mother, Lib, worked for the Baltimore Orioles organization. For Shildt, born in 1968, the Orioles were the only team in the area. He wears number 8 because he idolized Cal Ripken and would make excuses to hang around minor league clubhouses just for an opportunity to shine his shoes and get a few words in edgewise.
“I can certainly appreciate it,” Shildt said Sunday of the region’s baseball history. “I love the history of our game. It’s storied. It’s deep. It’s one of the things that’s romantic about our game that people love. It’s the history and the knowledge about organizations and dates and things of that sort.
“It’s a great area of many in our country for baseball, and this is a very, very deep rooted … baseball area that I know is going to be passionate about and excited about the opportunity to see a National League Championship Series three games.”
A third Washington-hosted game in this NLCS is not yet guaranteed, as the Cardinals entered Monday’s action down two games to none. These two guaranteed games will be a test for a region defined frequently in the national conversation by its non-native, politically oriented citizens. Those people make up a small percentage of Washingtonians, and the natives have been restless for many, many years.
“I think right now the players are not thinking a whole lot about anything except winning today,” Martínez said. “I really do. We got to this point, we celebrated the wild card, we celebrated game five, and it was a celebration, and then we’re like, ‘OK, next day.’ I think the focus is just going out there and going 1-0 every day.”
The franchise has a single LCS berth in its history, as the Montreal Expos were defeated three games to two by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981. They’re one of two franchises (the Seattle Mariners being the other) to have never appeared in the World Series. Bostonians saw five LCS berths during the Red Sox drought; Chicagoans saw five by the Cubs and two LCS losses by the White Sox, who also won World Series Championships in 1917, 1919, 1959, and 2005.
Very few inhabitants of the DMV – short for DC, Maryland, and Virginia – are likely to have paid much attention to Ray Burris and Gary Carter under the supposition that their history would one day be transplanted. That 1981 series, in Ronald Reagan’s first year as president, is breaking news in comparison to the last non-Wild Card or Division Series postseason game played in this town.
That year was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first in the White House.