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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Whose Franchise Is It Anyway?

Our all-time favorite American League team since the other night, the Texas Rangers, will be making its first League Championship Series appearance in its 39 years of existence.

Just wanted to get that on the record — and let the second edition of the Washington Senators off the hook.

(Oh, the things one thinks about when one’s favorite National League team hasn’t played in twelve days.)

I’ve seen it asserted (by nimrods as well as decent people) that the Texas Rangers franchise has waited 50 years for this moment, but I don’t think that’s practically accurate or exactly fair. It’s not completely wrong to say it; it may even be technically right. Yet it doesn’t quite ring true.

The Washington Senators were refounded in 1961 as a sop to politicians who might have otherwise stripped away baseball’s antitrust exemption once the previous Washington Senators (1901-1960) were permitted to transplant their operations and assets — most notably young Harmon Killebrew and Jim Kaat — in Minnesota. While they and a few other promising players would go on to blossom in Bloomington, the second Senators were left to fend for themselves as expansioneers, one year ahead of the Mets.

Those Senators never blossomed. They barely filibustered. Eleven seasons of Senators II yielded no more than 86 wins in any one year — 1969, their only winning campaign — and not a single finish in what we used to call the first division. They didn’t win, they didn’t draw (never attracting as many as a million fans in a season to D.C./RFK Stadium) and they didn’t stay in Washington. In 1972, they became the Texas Rangers and ceased to be the Washington Senators.

Or did they? Well, yes…the uniforms and the locale said they were no longer the Washington Senators. That was the whole idea of moving. Owner Bob Short, not a glorious figure by any means, said he couldn’t make a go of baseball in the nation’s capital and resettled in Arlington, Texas. But the Texas Rangers — like the Minnesota Twins — didn’t materialize from thin air. They came from somewhere.

So at what point is a franchise that leaves a town and a name behind no longer that franchise? Is it that franchise into perpetuity? If the second Senators didn’t simply trail off into the ether but rather assumed a new identity, were they and are they not, on some level, still that Senators franchise?

On some level, yes. On a tangible level, no, not really.

My bible when it comes to such philosophical questions is the 2005 volume Total Ballclubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, an indispensable history of every single franchise that has ever been tabbed as major league: National and American as well as four defunct circuits: American Association, Union Association, Players League and Federal League. It is Total Ballclubs’ contention that once a team leaves its immediate geography, it’s not the team it used to be.

[A]nyone who holds that the Brooklyn Dodgers-Los Angeles Dodgers or Seattle Pilots-Milwaukee Brewers constitute the same club has not talked to a native of Brooklyn or Seattle.

I buy that reasoning more than I don’t. When a franchise maintains at least the same name and makes an ongoing effort to keep its chronology intact, it’s a nice gesture toward history. Walter O’Malley hauled the Dodgers to L.A. — not the shell of a failed franchise, but a brand brimming with equity, something that would attract Southern Californians beyond the mere concept of a blank slate baseball team. On the other hand, he killed the Brooklyn Dodgers. The aftermath couldn’t help but yield a substantially new entity.

Ditto for the Dodgers’ ancient rivals. You’ll hear much in the coming days that the Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954. I’d counter that the San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series, but that the New York Giants won five, the last of them in 1954, three years before their colors and heritage were dragged ignominiously across the country by Horace Stoneham.

Yet I can see where some would see that differently. If they’re the Giants now, they’re directly traceable to the Giants then, whatever coast they’re nearest. The Giants, like the Dodgers, celebrate their past and never explicitly disavowed it. That should be worth something if not everything.

The Rangers, however, shed their Washington baggage as soon as they could. As Total Ballclubs points out, the two most saleable individuals Short brought to Arlington were manager Ted Williams and slugger Frank Howard.  Williams led the Senators to that one winning season in ’69, and Howard — New York Met manager for 116 games in 1983, in case you’ve forgotten — hit 136 home runs from 1968 through 1970. Yet both were gone from Texas before 1973 began. The Rangers, for better, worse or primarily the same, were intent on ditching their Dick Whitmanesque past in Arlington (also, Short didn’t want to keep paying Williams and Howard).

The Texas Rangers weren’t automatically 25 Don Drapers just because they changed their name. They didn’t win very much for a very long time, but they elected to proceed as an essentially new franchise. View it within the realm of what the Rangers had been before 1972: a United States senator’s term in office is six years; the only Senator to serve that long, in uninterrupted fashion, in Texas, was Toby Harrah. He stayed a Ranger through 1978 and returned for a House of Representatives-length stint in 1985 and ’86. That put Harrah, a four-time All-Star, in the same trivial conversation with 1970s Mets Willie Mays and Bob Aspromonte. They were, respectively, the last active New York Giant and Brooklyn Dodger to play in the bigs, just as Harrah was the final Washington Senator. Jim Kaat, should you be wondering, was the last pre-Twin Senator on whom the gavel came down — Kitty came up in 1959 and hung on until 1983. Toby, though, finished up a Ranger, saying goodbye to America in a way Mays, Aspromonte, Kaat didn’t do with their once-transient franchises.

Last Harrahs not withstanding, it can’t be said Washington became a distant memory in Arlington, because Arlington had no reason to remember Washington in the first place. The Rangers were a new concern in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex; the Senators of 1961-1971 never happened for them, except, perhaps, at the bottom of the American League standings, assuming anybody in the area was looking for them. They didn’t use the Senators as a platform for growth as L.A. did with the Dodgers or San Fran sort of did with the Giants. What got shipped to Texas was indeed the shell of a failed franchise. The shell would be filled with more failure across most of the next four decades, but it was Texas-bred failure.

Now flip the coin: If the Washington Senators didn’t matter much to Texas fans, did the Texas Rangers merit sentimental attachment back in Washington?

Though they were jilted en masse by their franchise’s owners, handfuls of Dodger and Giant loyalists persevere to this day in our Metropolitan midst, never taking the opportunity to get on board the Amazin’ express, not in 1962, not ever. Some of those who hang in there gamely grew up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, and some inherited the gene. The New York Mets fan in me finds living in New York while rooting for a California club kind of crazy, but the New York Giants fan I profess to have been in another life sort of understands it. There was a long and hallowed history there, and as one of my Giants friends once told me, he was a Giants fan as long as he could remember, long before 1958…why should he quit on them just because they quit on him?

But the Washington Senators? The Senators of 1961 to 1971, specifically? The Senators who couldn’t rise above fourth place and exceeded .500 only once? Did they inspire any residual hometown allegiance once they filed a change-of-address card? Could there possibly still be Texas Rangers fans in Washington, D.C., even now, 39 years after the Senators left and going on six years since the Nationals arrived?

Anything is possible, but somehow I doubt it. Some folks in Washington cling tightly to their memories of both versions of the departed Senators (each of whom the ex-Expos acknowledge as municipal and spiritual forebears), but Texas was Texas, and the Rangers were quickly something else altogether. Perhaps it’s best to defer to the great Tom Boswell on this matter:

Washington baseball fans have had prickly Ranger feelings for ages. They, and especially under-financed, incompetent owner Bob Short, who moved the Senators to Texas after the ’71 season, are a primary reason the town went without a team for so long.

Boswell, for so long a bard of baseball in a town that lacked a team, betrays no latent attachment to the Senators Emeriti, even if he thinks it’s fine they’ve reached their heretofore unreachable star. “Good for the Texas Rangers,” he wrote in Thursday’s Washington Post. “They suffered long enough. At last, they’ve won their first postseason series. It took 39 seasons. [...] To me, 39 seasons is just about right for stealing my childhood team and damaging Washington’s reputation so much the town did not get a club for decades. See, I’m not the type to hold a grudge.”

Tom Boswell says the Texas Rangers required 39 years before making it to an LCS — 39, not 50. Long enough for Tom, long enough for Texas, good enough for me.

Now on to winning their first American League pennant.

25 comments to Whose Franchise Is It Anyway?

  • Ray

    Well, there goes MY first blog entry in a month.

    I planned more on speculating on the Everybody-Hates-Washington connection of the two other AL post-season teams that stood in the way of the Evil Empire on the way to that all important 28 (because, hey, ya gotta get 28 before 30!).

    Last year, beat the Old Senators. This year, beat them and the New Senators. Next year, maybe, beat both and the Nationals to claim that even more important 29!

    On second thought, maybe everybody is fine with me just keeping my big mouth shut.

  • March'62

    For sure, you’ve got it right Greg. There are certainly no ‘long-suffering’ Rangers fans that have waited 50 years. The second incarnation of the Senators didn’t have any fans to begin with, let alone fans that would root for the team after it left town. 11 years of losing baseball won’t garner the same fan loyalty as that of the Dodgers and Giants.

    I’m all for forcing owners to sell their team to local interests before being allowed to move. If Walter O’Malley or Horace Stoneham wanted to own baseball teams in California, they should have been forced to sell their teams to someone like Joan Payson, and then apply for expansion teams in the new location. Cleveland had it right by at least forcing Art Modell to leave the ‘Browns’ name and history behind while absconding with the team to Baltimore. Sports teams belong as much to the city they play in as to the majority stockholder. They both sink lots of money into the team what with ticketing and merchandising. Owners shouldn’t be allowed to screw the fans by just selling out to a higher bidder.

    • Why weren’t you commissioner in 1957? Other than presumably being not yet old enough to vote?

      In thinking through the idea that there might be a Rangers fan in Washington nearly four decades later, I’m somehow reminded of this quote from a Brooklynite after the 1959 World Series. It ran in the Times and Neil Sullivan used it in The Dodgers Move West:

      “We were rooting for Furillo and Hodges and Snider, those other guys — Wills, Demeter and all — we didn’t root for them.”

      • March'62

        So you think that somewhere in the D.C. area is a guy in his living room, dressed in a Frank Howard Senators uniform who WON’T root for Josh Hamilton? I can see that.

        And as for the commissioner’s job, I wasn’t on the scene yet in ’57 as per my nom-de-plume, but I always felt my father’s pain when he wistfully spoke about Dem Bums. But if MLB wants someone to represent the rabid baseball fan, they can reach me through you. Or probably better yet, they can hire you. (just remember me for an assistant’s job if it ever happens).

  • And here I thought March ’62 was an homage to the first Spring Training in St. Pete.

  • It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in the fully digital world.

    If you were a Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants fan, your team all but vanished: Gone from the radio and TV, and reduced to “Cincinnati at San Francisco (n.)” above the box scores. It would have taken a Herculean effort to stay a fan even if you wanted to. My hat is so doffed to anyone who managed to pull that one off.

    Nowadays it’s different. We’ve had one franchise move in the Web era, and that feels like an exceptional case: The Expos fans were treated abysmally on repeated occasions and then their franchise was moved to another country, and the new owners scorned the history they inherited. (I remain aghast that the Nationals have unretired Expos numbers and mixed-and-matched stats with the various Senators incarnations. It’s like desecrating a corpse.) Baseball couldn’t have tried harder to break any bonds that might still exist between Montrealers and the Nationals.

    But look forward. Of course any franchise relocation will come with heartbreak and rage. But with a bit of money (less all the time) and effort, you can now be a fan of any team and get the kind of 24-7 news and talk that once you could only get locally. Would I really turn my back on the San Antonio Mets? In 1991, definitely. Nowadays? I’m not so sure.

    • “Of course I miss our fans in New York,” said San Antonio third baseman David Wright, “but the people here in Texas have been really great to us and I can’t wait to play in front of them. We may even re-evaluate the way we slide into second now that we’re in gunslinger territory.”

      • March'62

        Johan Santana is quoted as saying that “I always wanted to know what it felt like to play post-season baseball in New York” as the San Antonio Mets get set to play the New York Royals.

    • Andee

      By the same token, there are Mets fans everywhere. (As well as fans of other teams everywhere.) We can still watch and listen to the games, we can still read the local rags’ coverage (if we must), plus all the blogs. The only thing we can’t do is go to the games. Which are too freakin’ expensive anyway.

  • I feel better reading this. I feel better because I was more than a little irked (and clearly continue to be irked, as I went back and searched to find it again) that this tribute video for the Giants referenced the ‘shot heard round the world’ but I was too embarrassed to mention it to anyone – I mean, I don’t have a horse in this race.

    I don’t know about Giants fans, but I do know for a fact that Dodgers fans – at least some of them – don’t stop to think about what it would have been like for someone in Brooklyn. There were at least three people I met in LA who said some variation of “Wow, I never thought about what it would be like to lose my baseball team,” when I 1) told the Walter O’Malley/Hitler/Stalin joke and 2) talked about my father. To them, it’s just history they feel completely entitled to claim without any impact on anyone else. Irrationally or not, it bothers me.

    (But then again, it also bothers me that the Expos are completely invisible in DC, while the rest of the park is filled with images in tribute to historical baseball greats.)

  • Tim Hanley

    Today marks the 41st anniversary of the iconic Ron Swoboda catch during the 1969 World Series.

    However, on that note, I have not yet heard when the Channel 13 series “Baseball: A New York Love Story” will be available to view online (http://www.thirteen.org/baseball). (There is a DVD scheduled to be released in November.)

    But, In the coming days, the focus of my appearance — the film clip of the Swoboba catch — can be viewed within the MLB Network’s program “Baseball’s Seasons: 1969.” Their online schedule lists the broadcast dates and times as: Monday, October 18, at 1:00 pm (ET), and Saturday, October 30, at 2:00 pm (ET). (One proviso: Previously, at least one scheduled broadcast has been cancelled near airtime, so a last-minute check of the MLB Network’s schedule is probably in order (http://mlb.mlb.com/network/schedule/).

    Lastly, in order to find MLB Network’s channel on your cable system, simply click on its homepage link (http://mlb.mlb.com/network/) and enter your ZIP Code in the “Channel Locator” box.

    • Thanks for the update, Tim. You were the best part of that series, and I’m not saying that because you posted here. The Mets fans’ stories were told with much more drama and crispness than the other local teams.

      • Tim Hanley

        Thanks a lot, Greg!

        It was great fun filming my segment, and the editing was top-notch.

        I filmed about 20-30 minutes of additional material which will probably never see the light of day. But, the Swoboda catch film clip story was conveyed effectively.

        However, among the other bits of business I talked about were: My seeing my first Mets game (in May 1964); the art of selling peanuts (Planters vs. Bazzini); the price of various food items — while donning my vendor’s change apron and holding up big buttons which said “35 cents” and “65 cents”; and the night the Mets won the Eastern Division title in 1969, when I grabbed a clump of Shea Stadium grass, which I held up to the camera in all its Saran Wrapped-wilted-glory!

        Thanks again for your interest and for letting me use FAFIF to promote the broadcast.

  • In the days before the internet, the solving of how the two Senators franchises came to be in their respective non-Washington addresses was one dilly of a riddle to solve. And after the Texas bullpen morphed into the 2008 Mets, I can’t see this team winning squat. For the first time in years I’m actually glad the dual Darren O’s–Oliver and O’Day–are no longer Mets. Send them all back to RFK. A plague on your American League.

  • isles

    I’ve always thought it was a shame that the Nationals didn’t carry over the Expos’ retired numbers.

  • Brooklyn Dodger and NY Giant history and lore belongs in Brooklyn and Upper Manhatten– Period. No exceptions. LA and SF got baseball teams starting in 1958. their history and historical bragging rights start in 1958 and 1958 only. Likewise, the championships won by the Philadelphia A’s belong to Philadelphia. For better and for worse, I’ve attatched myself to the Philadelphia Phillies starting in 1964. Should they move to another city, whether they call themselves the Phillies or the Assholes, Ashburn/Roberts; Schmidt/Carlton; Utley/Halliday remain part of Philadelphia lore and no other citiy’s lore.

  • [...] The Yankees got the job done. Congratulations Texas Rangers for coming into your own. Congratulations to my favorite player who’s never been a Met, who — had free agency [...]