Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Washington Nationals is the name of a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise based in Washington, D.C.. The team recently relocated to Washington, D.C. from Montréal, Québec, Canada after the completion of the 2004 MLB season. Prior to this move, the team was known as the Montréal Expos. Coincidentally, the last time a MLB team moved to a new city was in 1972, when the previous franchise to operate in the DC area, the Washington Senators, moved to Texas, becoming the Texas Rangers.
Currently, the Nationals are a member of the National Leagues East Division. The Nationals will play at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium until 2007 when a new facility will (tenatively) be completed for their use. The new stadium will be located in Southeast D.C. near the Anacostia River and with views of the Capitol building.
- Founded: 2005 (Relocated from Montreal)
- Stadium: RFK Stadium, Washington (capacity approximately 56,000) 2005-Present
- Uniform Colors: Red, white and blue
- Logo Design: A shield featuring "Washington" in a ribbon device over "Nationals" in a hard-block font, both superimposed over a baseball flanked by 9 stars, representing the 9 defensive players of a baseball team. The scripted "W" on the Nationals' hats is similar to that of the former Washington Senators.
- Mascot: A 7-foot tall eagle chick named "Screech", wearing a Washington Nationals cap and matching jersey.
- Division Titles Won: None
- National League Championships: None
- World Series Championships: None
As the Montreal Expos
The Montréal Expos joined the National League in 1969, along with the San Diego Padres. They were named for Expo 67, a world's fair that was held in Montréal. Their home stadium was to be that fair's Autostade, but that plan was rejected and they settled upon Jarry Park, in Montréal. The Expos suffered through 10 straight losing seasons under their first manager, Gene Mauch (1969-1975) and three other managers. In 1979 they posted their first winning record with a 95-65 record, under manager Dick Williams . They would post five consecutive winning seasons, including their only division championship, in the split season of 1981. They defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 in the divisional series, but lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in the National League Championship Series. Montréal was led through these years by a core group of young players, including catcher Gary Carter, outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, third baseman Larry Parrish and pitchers Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson .
The Expos had several mediocre years in the mid 1980s under manager Buck Rodgers , but rebuilt and under manager Felipe Alou, who took the position midway through the 1992 season, finished second in the National League East in both 1992 and 1993. 1994 proved to be heart-breaking for the Expos. With a very talented group of players, including outfielders Larry Walker, Moisés Alou and Marquis Grissom and pitchers Ken Hill , John Wetteland and a young Pedro Martínez, the Expos had the best record in major league baseball, 74-40 when the strike forced the end of the season.
The Expos lost most of their star players through free agency and trades since the 1994 season and have produced poor records since except for a second place finish in 1996 and a few respectable seasons in 2002 and 2003. However, they continued their losing trend by posting a 67-95 record in 2004 after losing superstar Vladimir Guerrero to free agency during the previous offseason.
Montréal was often cited as an example of a small-market team, unable to compete with teams in bigger markets such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and therefore no longer a viable competitor. Jeffrey Loria, the last owner prior to the team's purchase by Major League Baseball, made some personnel moves, however the future of the franchise in Montréal never appeared strong. Attendance in the 2001 season was usually fewer than 10,000 people.
From contraction to relocation
On November 7, 2001, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Major League Baseball would undergo a contraction of two teams, after a 28-2 vote by the owners (it should be noted that Montreal was one of the two dissenting votes). On February 14, 2002, after a 30-0 vote, Major League Baseball formed a Delaware partnership (Expos Baseball, LP) to buy the Expos for $120,000,000 USD with the intent of eliminating the franchise. The Minnesota Twins, who were also facing contraction, initiated legal maneuvers that ultimately led to a collective bargaining agreement between MLB and its players association which prohibited "contraction" through 2006. As a result of this, the Expos survived. Major League Baseball named Frank Robinson manager and Omar Minaya as vice-president and general manager.
In 2003, the team played 22 of its home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, despite having the highest percentage attendance increase in 2002 to go with a second place finish in the National League East. Despite being a considerably smaller facility (it seats approximately 19,000) than Montréal's Olympic Stadium, Bithorn regularly outdrew the attendance in Montréal. Thanks in part to the San Juan games, the Expos were able to draw over a million fans at home in 2003 for the first time since 1998.
Led by Vladimir Guerrero, the Expos launched a spirited battle to lead the Wild Card race over the Florida Marlins. However, MLB decided that it could not afford an extra $50,000 to call-up players from its minor leagues. The budget was some $35 million dollars. All teams have this right around the end of August.
Up to this point attendance had been increasing. The decision to deny the franchise any chance to draw from its farm system, however, dashed the Expos' playoff chances. The Marlins eventually became the World Series' winner in 2003. Some commentators like Peter Gammons have accused MLB of having "a conflict of interest," and of deliberately scuttling the team's chances in order to strengthen the case for relocation.
The players' union initially rejected continuing the San Juan arrangement for the 2004 season, but later relented. Meanwhile, the league actively looked for a relocation site. Some of the choices included Washington D.C., San Juan, Monterrey, Mexico, Portland, Oregon, Northern Virginia, and Norfolk, Virginia. In the decision-making process, Selig added Las Vegas, Nevada to the list of potential Expos homes.
On September 29, 2004, MLB officially announced that the Expos would move to Washington D.C. in 2005. The move was approved by the owners of the other teams in a 29–1 vote on December 3 (Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos cast the sole dissenting vote). In addition, on November 15, 2004, a lawsuit by the former team owners against MLB and former majority owner Jeffrey Loria was struck down by arbitrators, ending legal moves to keep the Expos in Montréal.
The league must also decide who will be allowed to purchase the franchise. The frontrunners are a group called the Washington Baseball Club, and the speculative cost is between $200 and $300 million dollars.
The move was announced despite opposition from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos . From 1972 to 2004, the Orioles were the sole MLB franchise in the Baltimore-Washington metropolis. Obtaining the Orioles' cooperation was essential: the Baltimore and Washington regions had always been considered part of the same market, one which the Orioles' had had exclusive control over since 1972 (the original Washington Senators had waived their exclusivity rights to the region to allow the Orioles, then the St. Louis Browns, to move to Baltimore in 1953 ). On March 31, 2005, a deal was struck between Peter Angelos and Major League Baseball in order to protect the Orioles against any financial harm the Nationals might present to the Orioles' market (Washington is approximately 35 miles south of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Orioles have played their home games since 1992). Under the terms of the deal, television and radio broadcast rights to Nationals games are been handled by the Orioles franchise, who formed a new network (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network ) to produce and distrubite the games for both franchises on both local affilites and cable/satellite systems.
The Ballpark Controversy
The team's relocation to Washington had been contingent on a financing plan for the Nationals' stadium — a plan that had been the subject of much debate on the D.C. City Council.
The ballpark proposal is controversial; many city residents oppose government subsidies for a multi-billion-dollar private business and would prefer the land and money to focus on schools rather than a ballpark. Three Council members who supported Mayor Anthony Williams's plan were ousted in September's Democratic party primary. An opinion poll conducted by the Washington Post found that approximately two-thirds of District residents oppose the mayor's stadium plan.
During December 2004, the move to Washington itself was called into question when the D.C. City Council sought to change details of the financing for a new stadium MLB sought for the Nationals (see following section on "The Ballpark Controversy"). When the council voted on December 14 to require 50 percent private financing for any new stadium, MLB ceased promotional activites for the Nationals and announced that would consider looking for a new market.
Despite this, the council passed an amended plan on December 21, 2004, that proved slightly more financially favorable to the city, while remaining acceptable to MLB. Mayor Williams signed the stadium financing package on December 30.
Washington as a baseball market
Due to the past history of Washington franchises (See Washington Senators), there are doubts about whether Washington will actually be a better market for a pro baseball team than Montréal long term. Major League Baseball does not express such doubts, and proponents of the move argue that the failure of previous franchises has more to do with poor business decisions and financial management on the part of their owners than with any lack of popular support in the region itself.
- On April 14, 1969, Mack Jones hit a three-run home run and two-run triple that highlighted an 8-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Expos' first home victory as a franchise at Jarry Park. Jones' blast was also the first MLB home run hit outside the United States.
- On September 29, 2004, the Expos played their final game in Montréal, a 9-1 loss to the Florida Marlins before 31,395 fans at Olympic Stadium.
- On October 3, 2004, the New York Mets defeated Montréal 8-1 at Shea Stadium, in the final game the franchise existed as the Montréal Expos.
- On April 4 2005, Brad Wilkerson had the honor of being the first batter for the Washington Nationals and he promptly responded with the first hit in the new team's history. Nevertheless, Kenny Lofton hit a three-run homer and Jon Lieber pitched 5-2/3 effective innings, leading the home team Philadelphia Phillies to an 8-4 victory over the new Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
- On April 6, 2005, the Washington Nationals won their first-ever regular season game by beating the Phillies, 7-3. The win came in their second game of the season and was highlighted by Wilkerson's hit for the cycle.
- On April 14, 2005, the Washington Nationals won their first regular season home game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C, by a score of 5-3 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. President George W. Bush kept up a tradition of sitting U.S. Presidents by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day in Washington, exactly 95 years after William Howard Taft started the tradition at Griffith Stadium. 45,596 fans were in attendance, including former Senators players and Commissioner Bud Selig. Liván Hernández threw eight shutout innings, and Vinny Castilla missed the cycle by a single. Chad Cordero recorded the save for Washington.
Players of note
Current 25-man roster (updated April 19, 2005)
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