If you peruse some of the on-line comments over the past few weeks, you’ll see a number of folks whose prose includes some variation on the theme “if the Nationals don’t bring back Adam Dunn, they’ve lost me as a fan...”
Really? Dunn’s the reason you follow baseball in Washington? Kind of a stretch, doncha think?
Do these comments represent a true cross-section of the Nats’ fan base? Not really. If you read them often, you see that it’s the same bunch of people, over and over again. A handful of anonymous commentators whose credibility is no more genuine than anyone else who hides behind a pseudonym.
If Adam Dunn is really and truly the “franchise,” then a lot of us are looking at this thing completely wrong.
Go back 50 years. Hey, I know a lot of current fans seem to think that if they didn’t see it in color on “Sportscenter,” it might not have actually happened, but stay with me on this.
The most popular baseball player in Washington for the decade of the 1950’s was, inarguably, Roy Sievers. Roy spent six seasons in a Washington uniform, averaging 30 home runs and 95 RBI per year, with an OPS of .859. This guy could rake. He led the AL in homers & RBI in 1957, and finished third in the MVP balloting. He was a three-time All-Star. The ballclub held a “night” for him in 1957, showering him with gifts, and he received an on-field salute from then-Vice President Richard Nixon. It was stock footage of Roy that was used for Joe Hardy’s home runs in the motion picture “Damn Yankees.” Roy, in the words of Ron Burgundy, was a pretty big deal.
He went to Spring Training in 1960 with Washington, but just before the club broke camp in early April, he was traded to the White Sox, for catcher Earl Battey, first baseman Don Mincher, and $150,000, big money in those days.
I was crestfallen. Roy was my guy. Heck, he was everyone’s guy. He signed my first autograph. How could the Nats get by without Sievers?
Pretty well, actually. You see, the Senators wanted to move Harmon Killebrew from third to first, Roy’s position. They needed an everyday catcher, and at 25, Battey was just entering his prime. The money couldn’t hurt, and Mincher was a solid prospect. By season’s end, Battey had won a Gold Glove, hit 15 home runs, and finished in the Top 10 in MVP balloting. Sievers had another solid season, but the Pale Hose finished third. Washington had won 63 games in 1959, and improved by 10 wins, to go 73-81, their best season since 1953, when they broke even.
Obviously, the franchise moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season where they became the Twins and appeared in one World Series (1965) and two ALCS (1969-70). We struggled with an expansion team for 11 years before it, too, left town. Sievers came back to Washington to finish his career in 1964-65, but he was pretty well done at that point, and by then the fans had glommed on to Frank Howard.
Popular players get traded, and in almost every case, they’ve spent a lot more than just two seasons in a particular market. Don’t get me wrong, I like Dunn a great deal. He’s a threat to hit it out every night. He’s an engaging presence, a funny guy, and apparently a great teammate. But he’s not the centerpiece of the ballclub, and even he would say the same thing.
Hindsight is 20-20, and while a lot of keyboard cowboys predicted doom-and-gloom when Alfonso Soriano wasn’t re-signed five years ago, in retrospect, that worked out pretty well. Maybe Adam stays, maybe not. Whichever way it goes, the final analysis comes down to this: Will the ballclub be closer to break-even next October?
Isn’t that what really counts?