I am never going to forgive the Houston Astros. Not because they’ve dropped two straight at home to the Washington Nationals in this year’s World Series, although that was pretty grotesque. (They gave up a crucial home run to Kurt Suzuki, who is 129 years old.) No, it’s because their idiot assistant GM belched some Neanderthal jabber about domestic violence, and because, on Thursday, having fired the dope, their general manager Jeff Luhnow called a press conference in which he said he hadn’t apologized personally to the female reporter whose justifiable outrage had touched off the controversy. That reporter—Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated—was in the room when Luhnow said this. The Houston Astros could screw up a two-car funeral if you spotted them the hearse.
No, it was none of that, although all of that is pretty goddamn awful. What I find unforgivable is that the Astros have left me no team in the World Series for which to cheer. I cannot now support the Astros and I will not support the Washington Nationals because I loathe the fandom of everyone who will be sitting in the high-priced seats in their stadium over—please, God—the next three games of the Series. Look, I’m from Boston and, that being the case, I know from front-running dilettante nuisances. Sometimes, when the Red Sox were contending, the Boston newspapers looked like a gang fight between the Harvard Classics department. So I am speaking from long experience when I say that the Washington bandwagon is very likely to be the most insufferable one ever to come rolling down the pike. If you don’t want to believe me, gaze in awe at the estimable Columbia Journalism Review, which did a fine job delineating the extent of the upcoming nightmare.
At Nationals Park, Peter Baker, the chief Washington correspondent for the Times, takes his spot in the low section between home plate and the dugout. A section over is the oracle of baseball-loving political columnists, George Will. “There’s no more unifying force in established Washington journalism than the Nats,” James Carville, the political operative and commentator, tells me. Carville, who’s flying in from New Orleans for the first championship home game, on Friday, sits next to Luke Russert. A fat cat offered Russert thousands of dollars above list price for his tickets. He, of course, said no. Russert wondered aloud to his mom—Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair—who he might take to the game. She had a quick, emphatic response: “Moi.”
Good Christ. Kill me now. Horribly.
We were without a baseball team entirely for thirty-three years, until 2005, when the Montreal Expos, financially strapped, moved to town. Having waited in agony for a team, I eagerly took my eighteen-year-old son to the opening game at the old Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. “Benjamin,” I said to him, getting a little teary-eyed, “I have dreamed for so long about this day, taking a son to a baseball game.” He shrugged. “Hey Dad,” he replied. “It’s just a baseball game.” With this season, however, he knows it’s a lot more.
There’s a reason why Washington didn’t have a baseball team for 33 years—it’s because Washington sucks gallons of pondwater as a sports town and even more of it as a baseball town. Its hockey team is built around one of Vladimir Putin’s linemates. Its NBA team is nondescript when it’s not embarrassing. Its football team plays under a racial slur for a nickname and it is owned by one of the world’s most embarrassing humans. And, sorry, but Washington had two tries as a baseball town and it punked out both times.
The original Washington Senators were awful when they began and they were awful when they bailed out to Minneapolis in 1961. Against all common sense, the city was granted another baseball team almost immediately. From 1961 to 1971, the new Senators drew a paltry 7.3 million fans. Which caused them to move to Texas, rename themselves the Rangers, and then come into the control of a certain George W. Bush, who managed to blackjack a new ballpark out of the folks in Arlington, and who later would come to Washington to blight the landscape there. I personally believe that the election of W was a curse from the gods as a punishment for our daring to put another baseball team in Washington.
Why would anyone gift this city with another baseball team? Well, because a coterie of well-known puddlers thought that it was disgraceful that Our Nation’s Capital didn’t have a franchise in The National Pastime, as though anybody outside of a network green room thought that was any kind of a loss. Truly, Washington is a perfectly fine city with citizens who deserve all the entertainment that the sports-entertainment industrial complex can provide them, if they can afford it, which not many citizens of the District can, because the shiny new stadium was built for suburban incomes and carpetbaggers who work on the Hill. The actual residents of the District will be as erased from the World Series hype as they generally are from what is perceived to be the life of the city and what is in fact full representation in government. So, when the Montreal Expos of sainted memory were sounding one of their regularly scheduled financial death rattles, Major League Baseball arranged that they be shuffled off to Washington, which was like moving the Riviera to Kansas City. This was a terrible missed opportunity; the Expos should have been moved immediately to Havana, but that’s beside the point.
So now we will have a stadium swollen with people who, three years ago, were studying law in Bug Tussle or working on the staff of some county commissioner who ran for Congress and won. Sitting next to them will be various journalists and other remoras to power. By the fifth inning of Friday night’s game, you will be slavering for just a glimpse of the star of the new upcoming FOX sitcom as opposed to another shot of the Undersecretary of the Interior For Selling Off Yellowstone For Scrap.
Because you know this is coming. Right now, Washington’s primary industry is occupied with the fact that the entire democratic republic is on fire, and that it has been ever since the country determined that it would like to be ruled by a vulgar talking yam. Sooner or later, and I suspect sooner, we will be reading more than a few columns from the folks in the good seats about how the Nationals have brought our divided nation together. Who knew that all that it took was shuffling off Bryce Harper to Philadelphia? Again, from CJR:
After all, the Nats are a great story: In the wild card game, our twenty-year-old phenom, Juan Soto, hit a game-winning shot against the best relief pitcher in baseball. In the division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, we were overwhelming underdogs; behind again, Soto and Anthony Rendon, our top player, hit back-to-back home runs against Clayton Kershaw, an All-Star eight times over. Then one of our oldest players—Howie Kendrick, age 36, recently recovered from an injury and now with his fourth team in five years—hit a grand slam to win it. Howie is a kid next to Fernando Rodney, a Nats relief pitcher, who at 42 is the oldest player in the major league. Damn, this is as good a story as Barack Obama.
No, in fact, it is not. And, dear Jesus H. Christ on a copy desk, please lose the personal pronouns. The fact is that a large portion of the fans in the stadium here will be from somewhere else. Lifelong fans of the Royals who now are working in the Labor Department will have abandoned them for this particular flavor of the month. People from Minnesota who once cheered for Jack Morris will have found an unexpected affection for Stephen Strasburg because The Congressman got them tickets. This is not a bandwagon. It’s a plague ship.
And then there’s the president himself. As if to place a cow chip atop a manure sundae, he let it be known that he will be in attendance at Sunday’s game. He will not throw out the first pitch because, it was reported, that he thought he would look too fat. As it happens, the first president to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game was William Howard Taft, who was once photographed atop a water buffalo that, under Taft, looked like a shetland pony. Washington is a burden that comes in many forms.
Charles P. Pierce is an author and writer-at-large for Esquire.