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The Washington Nationals are an American professional baseball team based in Washington, D.C.. They compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member of the National League (NL) East division. From 2005 to 2007, the team played in RFK Stadium while a new stadium was being built. In 2008, they moved in to Nationals Park, located on South Capitol Street in the Southeast quadrant of D.C., near the Anacostia River.
The Nationals are the eighth major league franchise to be based in Washington, D.C., and the first since 1971. The current franchise was founded in 1969 as the Montreal Expos as part of a four-team expansion. After a failed contraction plan, the Expos were purchased by MLB, which sought to relocate the team to a new city. Washington, D.C. was chosen in 2004, and the Nationals were established in 2005 as the first MLB franchise relocation since the third Washington Senators moved to Texas in 1971.
While the team initially struggled after moving to Washington, the Nationals had considerable success throughout the 2010s. The team had two back-to-back first overall picks in the MLB draft in 2009 and 2010, where they drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The team secured their first playoff berth and first division title in 2012. They won the National League East again in 2014, 2016, and 2017, but failed to advance past the NLDS each time. In 2019, the team advanced to the World Series and defeated the Houston Astros in seven games to earn their first championship.
As of 2021, the franchise's overall win–loss record is 4,068–4,280 (.487). Since moving to Washington, D.C., their overall win–loss record is 1,313–1,337 (.495)
Multiple short-lived baseball franchises, including two named the Nationals, played in Washington with the National Association in the 1870s. The first Washington Nationals team in a major league played in the American Association in 1884. Another Washington Nationals team also played in the Union Association during its only season in 1884. The first Washington Nationals of the National League played from 1886 to 1889.
The Washington Statesmen played in the American Association in 1891, before jumping to the National League as the Senators the following season. The Washington Senators, who were often referred to as the Nationals, played in the National League from 1892 to 1899. They were followed in 1901 by another Washington Senators franchise — a charter member of the new American League — who were officially named the Washington Nationals from 1905 to 1955. In 1912, another Washington Senators team formed as one of eight teams of the United States Baseball League. But the league and the team folded after just over a month of play in 1912.
The first American League Senators franchise moved to Minneapolis after the 1960 season and became the Minnesota Twins. They were replaced in Washington by an expansion team, the second American League Senators franchise, which began play in 1961 and moved to Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers.
The Montreal Expos were part of the 1969 Major League Baseball expansion, which included the Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers), Kansas City Royals, and San Diego Padres. Based in Montreal, the Expos were the first Major League team in Canada. They were named after the Expo 67 World's Fair.
The majority-share owner was Charles Bronfman, a major shareholder in Seagram. The Expos' initial home was Jarry Park. Managed by Gene Mauch, the team lost 110 games in their first season, coincidentally matching the Padres' inaugural win–loss record, and continued to struggle during their first decade with sub-.500 seasons.
Starting in 1977, the team's home venue was Montreal's Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Two years later, the team won a franchise-high 95 games, finishing second in the National League East. The Expos began the 1980s with a core group of young players, including catcher Gary Carter, outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, third baseman Tim Wallach, and pitchers Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson. The team won its only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981, ending its season with a three-games-to-two loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
The team spent most of the 1980s in the middle of the NL East pack, finishing in third or fourth place in eight out of nine seasons from 1982 to 1990. Buck Rodgers was hired as manager before the 1985 season and guided the Expos to a .500 or better record five times in six years, with the highlight coming in 1987, when they won 91 games. They finished third, but were just four games behind the division-winning Cardinals.
Bronfman sold the team to a consortium of owners in 1991, with Claude Brochu as the managing general partner. Rodgers, at that time second only to Gene Mauch in number of Expos games managed, was replaced partway through the 1991 season. In May 1992, Felipe Alou, a member of the Expos organization since 1976, was promoted to manager, becoming the first Dominican-born manager in MLB history. Alou would become the leader in Expos games managed, while guiding the team to winning records, including 1994, when the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in the major leagues until the 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, Expos management began shedding its key players, and the team's fan support dwindled.
Brochu sold control of the team to Jeffrey Loria in 1999, but Loria failed to close on a plan to build a new downtown ballpark, and did not reach an agreement on television and English radio broadcast contracts for the 2000 season, reducing the team's media coverage.
After the 2001 season, MLB considered revoking the team's franchise, along with either the Minnesota Twins or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In November 2001, Major League Baseball's owners voted 28–2 to contract the league by two teams — according to various sources, the Expos and the Minnesota Twins, both of which reportedly voted against contraction. Subsequently, the Boston Red Sox were sold to a partnership led by John W. Henry, owner of the Florida Marlins. In order to clear the way for Henry's group to assume ownership of the Red Sox, Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, and MLB purchased the Expos from Loria. However, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of the Metrodome, won an injunction requiring the Twins to play there in 2002. Because MLB was unable to revoke the Twins franchise, it was compelled to keep both the Twins and Expos as part of the regular season schedule. In the collective bargaining agreement signed with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) in August 2002, contraction was prohibited until the end of the contract in 2006. By that time, the Expos had become the Washington Nationals and the Twins had made sufficient progress towards the eventual building of a new baseball-specific stadium that contraction was no longer on the agenda.
With contraction no longer an option for the immediate term, MLB began looking for a relocation site for the Expos. Some of the choices included: Oklahoma City; Washington, D.C.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Northern Virginia (such as Arlington or Dulles); Norfolk, Virginia; Las Vegas; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Washington, D.C., and both Virginia locations emerged as the front-runners.
On September 29, 2004, MLB announced the Expos would move to Washington, D.C., in 2005. On November 15, a lawsuit by the former team owners against MLB and former majority owner Jeffrey Loria was struck down by arbitrators, bringing to an end all legal actions that would impede a move. The owners of the other MLB teams approved the move to Washington, D.C., in a 28–1 vote on December 3 (Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos cast the sole dissenting vote).
Although there was some sentiment to revive the name Senators when the Montreal Expos franchise moved to Washington in 2005, legal and political considerations factored into the choice of Nationals, a revival of the first American League franchise's official name used from 1901 to 1956. Politicians and others in the District of Columbia objected to the name Senators because the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. In addition, the Rangers still owned the rights to the Senators name, although the Nationals were able to acquire the rights to the curly "W" logo from the Rangers. This logo looked a lot like the Walgreens logo, but the drugstore chain has never sued.
Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony A. Williams supported the name "Washington Grays", in honor of the Negro-league team the Homestead Grays (1929–1950), which had been based in Pittsburgh, but played many of their home games in Washington. On November 21, 2004, the team's management chose the name "Washington Nationals". The club's official colors of red, white, and blue were revealed the next day.
As part of the relocation, the Nationals played their first three seasons at RFK Stadium until Nationals Park could be built. Nationals Park was completed in 2008, and the Nationals played their first home game there on March 30, 2008. The game was nationally televised on ESPN and former U.S. President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch. Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run to win the first game in the new stadium.
The Nationals' first game was played on April 4, 2005 at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia against the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Phillies won the game 8-4. The Nationals finished their 2005 inaugural season at .500 with an 81-81 record. Its first draft pick as the Nationals was Ryan Zimmerman, a Virginia native, in the first round of the 2005 draft. Zimmerman made his MLB debut in 2005 and became one of the teams best players and the face of the franchise, playing his entire career with the Nationals.
When Ted Lerner took over the club in mid-2006, he hired Stan Kasten as team president. Kasten was widely known as the architect of the Atlanta Braves before and during their run of 14 division titles. Kasten was also the general manager or president of many other Atlanta-area sports teams, including the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. "The Plan", as it became known, was a long-range rebuilding and restructuring of the team from the ground up. This plan included investing in the farm system and the draft, and having a suitable team to go along with their new stadium.
In the front office, the Nationals hired the well-respected former Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo to be the vice president of baseball operations, second in charge under then-general manager Jim Bowden.
The Nationals finished in last place in four out of five years from 2006-2010, but began building the foundations of a contender with their first-overall draft picks of Stephen Strasburg (in 2009) and Bryce Harper (in 2010). In 2011, they signed Jayson Werth to the team's first big free agent contract. With a mix of homegrown players and players acquired via trade and free agency, the Nationals clinched their first playoff berth and first division title in 2012. They were knocked out of the 2012 NLDS by the St. Louis Cardinals in five games after the Cardinals took the lead with two outs in the top of the ninth of game 5. After missing the playoffs in 2013, they hired Matt Williams as manager and rebounded to win their second division title in 2014, but were eliminated in the 2014 NLDS by the San Francisco Giants. They missed the playoffs again in a turbulent 2015 season, leading to Williams' firing. The team hired veteran manager Dusty Baker in 2016, and returned to the playoffs only to be eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS in five games. They won the NL East title in 2017, but were eliminated in the NLDS yet again after losing game 5 to the Chicago Cubs. Baker's contract was not renewed after the 2017 playoff loss, and the team hired Dave Martinez as their sixth manager in ten years.
In 2018, the All-Star Game was played at Nationals Park. The Nationals failed to make the playoffs in 2018, finishing a disappointing second in a year they were expected to sail to the playoffs. After the 2018 season, star slugger Bryce Harper left the team via free agency, signing with the rival Philadelphia Phillies.
The Nationals began the 2019 season with a record of 19–31, with their projected chances of winning the World Series at that time being 1.5 percent. They then posted a 74–38 record over the remaining 112 games, finishing with an overall record of 93-69 and earning a spot in the 2019 National League Wild Card Game, which they won over the Milwaukee Brewers 4–3. In the NLDS, the Nationals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games, propelling them past the divisional round for the first time in franchise history. The Nationals then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, giving them their first NL pennant. The team then defeated the Houston Astros in game seven of the 2019 World Series, giving them their first World Series championship, with Strasburg being voted series MVP. The World Series was the first in MLB history that saw no team win a game at home, as the road team won all seven.
Franchise cornerstone Anthony Rendon left in free agency for the Los Angeles Angels after the 2019 season. The Nationals struggled in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic led to the season being shortened to 60 games; the team finished 26-34 and missed the playoffs. After another disappointing start to the 2021 season, in which the team was under .500 at the trade deadline, GM Mike Rizzo disassembled much of the team, trading ace pitcher Max Scherzer and superstar shortstop Trea Turner to the Dodgers, among many other trades of starting players in exchange for prospects, signifying the start of a rebuilding process. Ryan Zimmerman, who had been with the team since its inaugural 2005 season, announced his retirement after the 2021 season, marking the end of the first era of Nationals baseball.
In 2022, the Washington Post reported that the Lerner family was exploring a restructuring of the team's ownership, including the possibility of selling the team outright.