The Carolina Hurricanes wore Hartford Whalers uniforms Sunday for their home game against the Boston Bruins. And if that isn’t the strangest lede I’ve ever written to a blog post about the Nationals, I’m trying to remember something else that would top it.
You see, the Hurricanes’ throwback night on the ice reminded me of something I’ve long pondered in my own mind: Would the Nationals ever wear Expos uniforms? And how would fans, both from Washington and Montreal, feel about that?
I think - think, not know - more people would be against it than for it. Based on the responses I get anytime I reference a Nationals player surpassing a former Expo on the franchise leaderboard, I sense D.C. baseball fans aren’t interested one bit in embracing this club’s original roots.
Like it or not, though, the Expos and Nationals officially are considered one continuous franchise by Major League Baseball. This team played for 36 years north of the border, compared to only 14 years in the nation’s capital.
The Lerner family has complicated matters somewhat by recognizing all kinds of franchise histories connected to Washington. There are three flags flying high atop the scoreboard for the Senators’ World Series title (1924) and American League pennants (1925, 1933). Original Senator Walter Johnson is honored with a statue. So is expansion Senator Frank Howard. As is Homestead Grays great Josh Gibson.
And then there’s the Ring of Honor at Nationals Park, which boasts the names of those who played for the original and expansion Senators, the Grays, the Nationals and the Expos.
It’s a little strange to be permanently honoring players from five different franchises in one ballpark, but it has to be pointed out that if the Nationals didn’t do it most of those teams would be lost to history.
There are 31 members of the Twins Hall of Fame; Walter Johnson, Bucky Harris, Sam Rice and Goose Goslin aren’t among them.
There are 20 members of the Rangers Hall of Fame; Frank Howard, Mike Epstein and Dick Bosman aren’t included.
So it’s up to the Nationals to recognize the greats from Washington’s former major league franchises, plus the Negro League club that split its time between D.C. and Homestead, Pa.
And, yes, to recognize the Expos. Because they’re not being recognized anywhere else. Beloved Muppet-like mascot Youppi! was sold to the Canadiens, but that’s the only real official continuation of the Expos in Montreal.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about a potential return of baseball to Montreal, helped in part by the hugely successful Blue Jays exhibition games that have been played at Olympic Stadium in late March. If it ever actually happens, of course the new Montreal franchise should have the right to honor the old one.
But until then, Washington is the only place where it can be done. Would one “Expos Day” per year at Nationals Park be such a horrible thing? Dress the players in throwback uniforms. Invite former Expos players to attend and be recognized. Celebrate the fact that this franchise spent 36 players playing in a different city with a different name and logo.
If anyone can appreciate that, you’d think it would be baseball fans from a city that twice lost its team to another, then had to wait an exhausting 34 years for the sport to come back.
If the Nationals had never come into existence, wouldn’t you want the Senators to still be remembered? Don’t Expos fans deserve to have their team remembered as well?