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A Capital Team

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Washington Senators baseball team. Between 1909 and 1932. Prints and Photographs Division.

Baseball is certainly on the minds of sports enthusiasts as Opening Day is today. And, the Washington’s Nationals join most Major League Baseball teams in kicking off the season.

Washington, D.C. actually has a long and storied baseball history. Formed in the late 19th century, the District’s teams have used both the names “Nationals” and “Senators” and often interchangeably. The ‘Nats didn’t appear to make a name for themselves until 1886 as a member of the National League. They folded in 1889, after finishing last.

Two years later, the team was resurrected as the Washington Statesmen with the American Association. The association went bust after that season and back went the team to the National League as the Senators.

The Senators did not fare well in their nine years as a franchise, never finishing .500 or better. In 1899, the National League reduced its number of contracted teams from 12 to eight, and the Senators ended up striking out.

In 1901, the second iteration of the team returned with the debut of the American League. Once said to be “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League,” the franchise would remain in the capital until 1961, when they moved to Minnesota to become the Minnesota Twins.

Despite their history as a consistently losing team, the Senators managed to win the 1924 World Series and pennants in 1925 and 1933, thanks in part to such Hall-of-Famers as Walter Johnson and Joe Cronin.

Roger Peckinpaugh is tagged out at home plate during game between Washington and the Philadelphia Athletics. Ca. 1924 or 1925. Prints and Photographs Division.

An expansion team came to bat following the Minnesota departure. This third version of the Senators stayed in town until 1971, when they moved to Texas and became the Rangers.

According to the Sports E-Cyclopedia, the team’s last game on Sept. 30, 1971, against the New York Yankees saw a riot as angry, jilted fans continually disrupted play by throwing things onto the field. At the ninth inning, the Senators were leading but unruly fans streaming onto the field caused the game to be forfeited as order was unable to be restored.

Washington Senators baseball played host to many lawmakers of the country over time. Eleven presidents of the United States, three vice presidents, a speaker of the House of Representatives and a Canadian prime minister, among others, all threw out the first pitch to help open the season.

Washington wouldn’t see baseball on its turf again until 2005, when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals, who are a member of the East Division of the National League of the MLB.

In 2012, the Washington Nationals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming the first D.C. team to advance to the postseason in 79 years. They went on to win the National League East Division but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series.

An interesting sidebar: The Broadway musical, “Damn Yankees,” was inspired by the competitive struggles of the Washington Senators. “You Gotta Have Heart,” one of the songs from the musical, is often played at baseball games.

If you want to read actual sports headlines from the bygone days of your favorite team, head to Chronicling America and search through its historical newspapers.

American League Park, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia vs. Washington. May 6, 1905. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress publication, “Baseball Americana,” draws upon items from its baseball collection – the world’s largest – to tell the story of America’s favorite pastime. From baseball’s biggest stars to sandlot street urchins, from its most newsworthy stories to Little-League games, the book tells the history of the sport’s hardscrabble origins, rich cultural heritage and uniquely American character.

Want to see more? We’ve gathered a variety of our online resources on baseball here.


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