A century ago, Clark Griffith wanted abolish the Nationals. No, not a Peter Angelos/Baltimore Orioles style abolition – just the name.
Courtesy of David Moore on the Washington D.C. Baseball History Facebook page comes this newspaper clipping from just over 100 years ago.
Manager Contends Title is Confusing — Also Abhors “Griffmen” —Favors “Washingtons,” “Senators” or Some Other Title
“It seems to me that it would far better if the local club were referred to as the ‘Washingtons.'” Griffith said today. “That identifies the club with no chance of mistake.” Griffith implies that the club is owned by one man and is his exclusive property — which it is not. The team belongs to the city in that it is a Washington institution and represents Washington in the American League.
“Senators is a much more appropriate name than ‘Nationals.’ It is one that means something and easily identifies it. The team is still known and is referred to by the newspapers and fans of the middle and far west as ‘Senators.’ It is true that the old ‘Senators’ usually finished last or near it, and the name came to be looked upon as a sort of hoodoo and if it is not acceptable to the fans for the reason should not be revived, but it appears to me that Nationals should be abolished and some name less confusing should be adopted.”
Hoodoo. That word has come up before in reference to the D.C. baseball team’s nickname: How the DC baseball team became known as the Nationals…in 1905. I think I’m going to bring it back into the vernacular.
Back then, Griffith was merely manager of the team, but by 1920 he’d be an owner and team president. In 1950, the team had a prototype road jersey made with “Nationals” in script. Griffith called them the Nationals in a 1955 spring training movie, but sadly that’s taken down. It wasn’t until Charlie Brotman (2004 profile), became the PR director that the nickname officially change. Griffith’s nephew, Calvin, discarded the name when he abandoned the nation’s capital for Minnesota. The new expansion team was known as the Senators for the 11 seasons it spent in the American League.
Since several cities had two clubs, it wasn’t uncommon for teams to be referred to by their league, rather than their nickname, in particular in newspaper circles. It even came up in the Boys of Summer. Team nicknames were often informal anyway and heavily influenced by their city’s newspapers.
When baseball returned to the nation’s capital, Mayor Anthony Williams told MLB commissioner Bud Selig that he did not want the new team to be called Senators since the District is denied the opportunity to elect their own Senators. While there was some interest in naming the team “Grays” after the Negro League team that played some of their schedule in Washington, Nationals carried the day. In 2007, I blogged about USA Today suggesting they be called “Washington National Grays.”
Everybody calls them the Nats anyway.