Opening Day Wasn’t Always a Given in D.C.

Things weren't always so merry with Washington baseball. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Things weren't always so merry with Washington baseball. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Jason Dick
Posted April 6, 2015 at 11:46am

It’s opening day for Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals are the odds-on favorite to win the 2015 World Series. It wasn’t always like this.  

As any die-hard D.C. baseball fan can tell you , at one point success wasn’t a given for the nation’s capital on the baseball diamond, nor was even having a team! After owner Calvin Griffith moved the original Washington Senators to Minneapolis after the 1960 season, the American League moved to quickly expand in 1961, so Washington would not go long without a baseball team. The logistics were a high hurdle, but the pressure was on to deliver. And it came from even as high a place as Capitol Hill.  

As Frederic J. Frommer recounts in his book “You Gotta Have Heart, a History of Washington Baseball From 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions,” even House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y., chimed in. “Capitol Hill will not countenance any absence of Major League Baseball in Washington in 1961,” the lawmaker said at the time, adding, “The nation’s capital shall not be looted of its franchise even for one season.”  

MLB made it happen, and the 1961 season opened with two new AL teams, the Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels.  

The expansion for D.C. was doomed, though, when the franchise moved to Texas after the 1971 season. Celler lost a bid for renomination in 1972 and died in 1981.  

Capitol Hill did countenance the absence of baseball in the capital until 2005, when the league moved the Montreal Expos and gave birth to the current Nationals, as well as a new base of fans that includes many a member of Congress , including the two Senate caucus leaders, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.  


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