The Nationals Should Stop Claiming Expos History
Since the Expos franchise relocated to Washington in 2005, in many ways the Nationals have been baseball's newest team. In a game that leans strongly on its rich history, the Nationals have often attempted to catch up with their longer lived rivals by borrowing a little history from the Canadian team that preceded them. But do Nationals fans really identify with the Montreal Expos, or should the team be looking for a past somewhere else?
Recently the Nationals twitter account posted a photo of Vladimir Guerrero Sr in honor of the Hall of Famer's birthday. The photograph appears to be from a relatively recent Expos throwback day. It's a bit jarring to see: a Nationals player (in this case the well-known Nat Gerardo Parra) wearing a powder blue Expos uniform rather than Nationals colors and sitting next to a player who never wore the curly 'W'. It's strange to see them posed as if they're teammates because I don't associate Vladimir Guerrero Sr. with the Washington Nationals at all.
I suppose it is nice that somebody is honoring the greats of baseball who played at Olympic Stadium, but why does that somebody need to be the Nationals? Sure our franchise technically comes from Montreal, but the move happened during such a low point for the franchise that there really wasn't much culture to be passed on to Washington. Many of the Expos players who started on Opening Day in 2004 were traded by the end of the season, and none of those players who remained were still with the franchise by 2008. Brian Schneider and Tony Batista were the only players from the last Expos Opening Day lineup to be with the Nationals as late as 2007.
It just doesn't feel as though we got a lot from Montreal in terms of on-field talent or fan culture. The Nationals did inherit the Expos beloved mascot, Youppi!, but once Screech the Eagle came along, we sent Youppi! back home to Montreal where he belongs. The fuzzy orange monster now serves as mascot for the Montreal Canadiens. Although the Expos had a cool mascot, logo and branding, along with some very cool Cooperstown-caliber players, they simply aren't the Washington Nationals.
So what history do we have? The legacy of the Washington Nationals goes back not to Canada, but to the rich baseball history that happened right here in DC. Not a lot of people seem to remember that the original Senators franchise was officially named the "Nationals" for fifty years, between 1905 and 1955. Though "Senators" was the team's widely-used nickname during this time, when Walter Johnson heroically saved game seven of the 1924 World Series, he did so as a Washington National.
I don't think Nationals fans lean on the Senators legacy nearly enough, and that is partially because many would attempt to convince us that this legacy belongs to Minnesota or Texas, the eventual homes of both Senators franchises. But why do those cities get claim to Senators history when it all happened right here in Washington, DC? The way I see it, Senators history doesn't belong to Twins or Rangers fans in the same way that Expos history doesn't belong to Nationals fans. Despite this, the Nationals throughout their current incarnation have been awkwardly drawing upon both the Expos and the Senators rather than just picking one and sticking to it.
That's why the Nationals' "Ring of Honor" has always perplexed me. I like that we take the effort honor Nationals and Senators greats along with Homestead Grays legends like Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, but including Expos players turns an exclusive club of Washington Baseball achievement into an awkward menagerie of scattered talent. The Nationals Ring of Honor includes Expos like Tim Raines and Gary Carter, but next to Washington players like Walter Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman, the Expos guys feel a bit like leftovers we got in the divorce with Montreal.
Moving forward, let's leave the honoring of the Montreal Expos to people who actually live in Montreal, and harken back instead to the proud Major League tradition that has existed in Washington since 1901. As fun as it is to see an Expos cap or hoodie in the Nationals team store, I'd much rather see a Senators jersey.