Friday, September 19, 2008

Chocolate City Professional Sports History

Washington D.C. is known as the capitol of the United States to all, but there is more to this little city that is 12 miles wide and 10 miles long. It's conception was born from a conversation between future President James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and founder of the U.S. Mint, while dining at the home of another future President (Thomas Jefferson) in 1790. It was initially planned to be shaped as a diamond by architects Charles L'Enfant and Benjamin Banneker and measure 10 miles on each side. Many may not know that D.C. was built over swamp land (locals do from the summer humidity). The city has gone through many changes since then. It survived being burned, along with the White House, Capitol, Treasury building and Navy Yard after a British invasion in 1814 in retaliation for America burning down York (now known as Toronto), Canada. Many of D.C.'s own citizens contributed to the fire, so that the British wouldn't take possession of properties. There have been countless other occurrences besides protest marches, riots, and failed invasions. George Washington referred to the city as Federal City and rarely visited, despite only living about 8 miles from it in Mount Vernon, Virginia. D.C, has always been run by the Federal government. It wasn't until 1973 that they allowed the city to elect a elected mayor, whose name coincidentally was Walter Washington. It is a transient city to some. Many come and go with the administrations elected, as well as government workers and contractors. Yet, through all of the marches, protests, tourists and temporary citizens, D.C. is a great city thanks to its native residents. Sports has had an erratic, but important role in every day life.

Since the 1870's, baseball has had teams come and go (a recurring theme) in D.C. Teams named the Statesmen, Senators, and Nationals all played for brief periods of time until the turn of the century, when the National League disbanded a version of the Senators in 1900. In 1901 the Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) were born when the newly formed American League decided to place a team in the nations capitol. This team employed such Hall of Fame players like Sam Rice, Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush, and Joe Cronin. The team was terrible its first few seasons, once losing 113 games in 1904. In 1905, the teams owners tried to rename the team the Nationals, but the move was so resisted by the locals that they switched it back to the Senators. Fortunes began to turn in 1907, when a 19 year old pitcher came to D.C. His name was Walter Johnson. Johnson would soon be called "The Big Train". Johnson threw the ball harder than anyone in all of baseball at the time. His frisbee like delivery also made it hard to pick up the ball until too late. In 1910, Johnson struck out 313 batter, while compiling a paltry E.R.A. of 1.36. Johnson would win 33 games in 1912, then 36 in 1913 with an E.R.A. of 1.14! The Senators improved yearly, then finally won its lone World Series in 1924 over the heavily favored New York Giants in 7 games when Johnson, pitching on 1 days rest, held the Giants scoreless for 4 innings until the Senators scored the winning run when a ground ball deflected off of a pebble over the Giants 3rd baseman's head in the 12th inning. It is called the greatest World Series Game 7 ever by many. In 1925, the Senators returned to the World Series, but lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Johnson retied after 1927, accumulating 417 wins and 3, 509 strikeouts (a record that stood for over 50 years), with an E.R.A. of 2.17 in 5914.2 innings pitched to go with 34 saves. Johnson (also nicknamed "Barney") led the league in wins in 1913-16, 18, 24, and in strike outs in 1910, 12-19, 21, 23-24. He was the Most Valuable Player Award in 1913 and '24. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. He amassed 110 shutouts, the most ever. His 38 1-0 wins are an all-time record. 65 of his losses were by shutouts, 26 of them by 1-0 scores (both records). Johnson would return to the team as a manager to help a team mired in a losing slump of a few years and lead them to 3rd place finish, but was fired after the season. In 1933, led by player- manager Joe Cronin, the Senators returned to the World Series. They lost to the New York Giants. The team then would begin a swoon and endured losing seasons until 1960, when they would move to Minnesota. In 1957, Hall of Famer Joe Black played 1 season in Washington. 1959 saw Harmon Killebrew, the Senators last Hall of Famer, slug 42 home runs to be the last Senator from this incarnation to lead the league in a major category. This franchise was also the inspiration for the movie, "Damn Yankees".
In 1961, D.C. was awarded an expansion team to replace the old team now known as the Twins. This team was also called the Senators. This team was led by a 10 man committee of ownership and none knew anything about baseball. Most worked in government. This team averaged 90 losses a season in its brief existence. The owners made a serious error by only having the team involved in a 10 year lease in RFK stadium. In 1971, the Senators announced they were moving to Texas, and would be renamed the Rangers. This outraged fans and D.C. citizens. In the teams final game versus the Yankees, the security guards walked off the job early into the game. The paid attendance of 14,000 swelled to 25,000 non paying spectators. With 2 outs in the ninth, and the Senators up 7-5, the fans stormed the field. The game was awarded to the Yankees 9-0 due to forfeit. The teams highlights were Frank Howard leading the league twice in home runs. Their only winning season would be the year the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, was hired as manager in 1969. The team went 86-76. Williams stayed with the team in its move until he left after the 1972 season. This franchise would not approach that record again until their 6th year in Texas.
It would not be until 2005 that Washington D.C. would have another Major League baseball team. The Montreal Expos, then owned by MLB, were moved to D.C. and were renamed the Nationals. The new ownership still keeps the Expos records, but has put their retired numbers back into circulation. The team went .500 in its inaugural season, and has hovered just below that in the 2 seasons that followed. The teams first manager was Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who was replaced by Manny Acosta after 2006. The face of this franchise is 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
The Homestead Grays adopted D.C. as its "home away from home" in the late 1930's until the Negro Leagues disbanded in 1950. Such Hall of Fame players like Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Jud Wilson, as well as owner Come* (*TSN won't let me use the U : his actual name!) Posey, graced D.C.
In 1923, the Washington Potomacs played in the Eastern Colored League. They also played in Wilmington, Delaware and were known as the Rosedales briefly that one season.
In 1932, the Washington Pilots joined the East-West League and compiled a 15-37 record before the team, and league, went defunct. The team featured the Negro Leagues All Time Home Run king, and Hall of Famer George "Mule" Settles. Jesse "Nip" Winters, considered to be one of the best pitchers in all negro leagues baseball history, was also on the team.
In 1936, the Washington Elite Giants played two seasons in D.C. That team boasted Hall of Famer Roy Campanella in its final year.
In 1938, the Washington Black Senators lasted 15 games in the Negro National League, winning 2 games.
The Washington Glory is a woman's softball team that joined the National Pro Fastpitch league in 2007, and won the leagues championship.

Basketball has long been considered a primary sport in D.C. Such luminaries like Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley, Thurl Bailey, Kenny Carr, Jerome Williams, Kermit Washington, John Thompson Jr., and many, many more D.C. natives have played at the NBA level.
The Washington Capitols were D.C.'s first pro team. They joined the Basketball Association of America in 1946. Their first coach was legendary Hall of Famer Arnold "Red" Auerbach, who had played his college basketball at D.C.'s George Washington University. Led by star players (and later head coaches of the team), Horace "Bones" McKinney and Bob Feerick, the team had a 17 game winning steak (a record that stood for 23 years) in its inaugural season. The 1948-49 season saw the Capitols start the season by winning a record (that still stands and tied with the 1993-94 Houston Rockets) 15 games in a row. That team reached the Finals, but lost to the George Mikan - led Minneapolis Lakers. The next year the BAA merged with rival league, National Basketball League, to become the NBA. Auerbachs proposals for roster changes were deterred by the owner, so Red resigned and went on to greater things. The first black player to play in the NBA, Hall of Famer Earl Lloyd,played for the Capitols in the 1950 season after being drafted in the 9th round. The Capitols went defunct after the 1951 season, which featured Hall of Famer Bill Sharman. The teams .817 winning percentage in its inaugural season still ranks in the NBA's top ten of All Time best winning percentages. Coincidentally, the teams colors were green and white, the same as Auerbachs Boston Celtics.
The Washington Bullets moved from Baltimore to Landover, Maryland in 1973 and were named the Capital Bullets. In 1974, they were named the Washington Bullets. They won one NBA title in 1977-78. They also made 2 other NBA Finals appearances, losing to the Golden State Warriors and Seattle Super Sonics. Such Hall of Famers like Wes Unseld, Elvin "The Big E" Hayes, Earl "The Peal" Monroe, and Moses Malone wore Bullets uniforms in Washington. Other greats, like Phil Chenier, Bobby Dandridge, Mitch Richmond, Jeff Ruland, and Bernard King also did. In 1995, the Bullets name was changed to the Wizards. Such greats like Michael Jordan have worn this jersey, as has Richard "Rip" Hamilton and several other current NBA players.
Wes Unseld is one of only 2 players (Wilt Chamberlain) to have won both the NBA MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season.
The Washington Mystics are a WNBA team formed in 1998. They have led the league in attendance in 1998 through 2000 and from 2002 through 2004. Maryland University legend and Olympic Gold Medalist Vicky Bullett was once a member of the team. They have made the WNBA playoffs 4 times, They lost in the first round 3 of those times, and the conference finals the other time. Newly drafted Crystal Langhorne, is also a legend at Maryland University. She broke most of Bulletts records and is the first player in the University of Maryland's history to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds for either the men's or women's basketball teams histories.

Football may be the most beloved professional sport in Washington. The Redskins came to D.C. from Boston in 1937 due to lack of fan support, even though they had won the NFL Championship (led by Hall of Famers Cliff Battles, Wayne Milner, and Turk Edwards) 2 seasons before and lost in the NFL Championship the following season. Hall of Famer "Slingin" Sammy Baugh was signed that year. While most teams hardly passed the football, the Redskins used it as their primary weapon as Baugh is hailed as the man who perfected the passing game and moved the NFL forward. Baugh also was a NFL record setting punter and played cornerback as well. Baugh led the Redskins to a NFL Championship win over the Chicago Bears in his first season. The teams met again for the 1940 Championship, where the Bears smashed the Redskins 73-0. The teams met yet again in the 1942 Championship, this time the Redskins won and spoiled the Bears run for a perfect season. The teams met for the final time in the 1943 Championship and the Bears won. The Redskins then would appear in their final NFL Championship in 1945 and lost to the Cleveland Rams. Baugh retired after the 1952 season with many NFL records. His passing records are now broken, but his 4 interceptions in one game as a cornerback still stands. His season punting average of 51. 4 (1940) still stands as well. Baugh was a 9 time All Pro and one of Cantons first inductees. He is a member of the 1940's NFL All Decade team and one of the 70 Greatest Redskins. He is the only Redskin to have his number (33) officially retired. Baugh and Sid Luckman careers are the only players from that era in which todays passer ratings apply.
The Redskins would then go 27 years before getting to a championship game, now called the Super Bowl. In 1966, the highest scoring game was played between the Redskins and New York Giants. The Redskins won 72-41. Many Hall of Famers played on the organization during that time such as Charley Taylor, Sonny Jurgenson, Bobby Mitchell, Sam Huff, Paul Krause, Bill Dudley and Stan Jones. Hall of Famers like Ray Flaherty, Otto Graham, Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, George Allen and Joe Gibbs have been head coaches of the Redskins. Hall of Famers Charley Taylor, Mike McCormack, and Emmitt Thomas have been assistant coaches in the organization. In 1972, coached by George Allen, the Redskins were led by the Over The Hill Gang to Super Bowl VII before falling the the Miami Dolphins 14-7. Such great players like Chris Hanburger, Jerry Smith, Taylor, Harold McClinton, Jack Pardee, Brig Owens, Ron McDole, Diron Talbert, Bill Brundige, Jurgenson, Billy Kilmer, Larry Brown, Pat Fischer, Mike Bass, Rusty Tillman, and Len Hauss was on that team and are all members of the 70 Greatest Redskins team. Hall of Famer Deacon Jones was a member of the 1974 Redskins, and Hall of Famer Ken Houston (considered to be the best SS to ever play) was on the team from 1973-80. George Allen was the first to hire a special teams coach (Dick Vermeil for the LA Rams, then Marv Levy for the Redskins). The Redskin/ Cowboy rivalry was introduced to NFL during this time. The team continued to make the play offs many years, but did not return to the Super Bowl until second year coach Joe Gibbs led the Redskins, in 1982-83, to a victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. Hall of Famers like John Riggins and Art Monk were on that team. Such great terms now commonly known were invented during the Gibbs era. Gibbs invented the 2 tight end set with an H-back in motion. Joe Bugel coached up the best offensive line in football then : The Hogs. Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Mark May, and George Starke were the original members and all are members of the 70 Greatest Redskins. Riggins, along with tight ends Don Warren and Clint Didier were "Honerary Hogs". The Smurfs and the Fun Bunch were two different groups of receivers during that era which excelled. The Redskins would draft Hall of Famer Darrell Green after the '82 season. The Redskins Dynasty would last a decade. 4 Super Bowl appearances between 1983 - 92. 3 wins (Miami, Denver, Buffalo) and 1 loss (Los Angeles Raiders). The Redskins set NFL records for scoring in a season (541-since broken), as well as Riggins scoring a then record 24 rushing touchdowns. In Super Bowl XXII, Doug Williams set a Super Bowl record of 4 passing touchdowns in one quarter, and Timmy Smith set a record for accumulating 204 yards rushing. Many great players passed through this era. Joe Theisman, Jim Lachey, Ed Simmons, Raleigh McKenzie, Gary Clark, Brian Mitchell, Mike Nelms, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Joe Washington, Ricky Sanders, Williams, Mark Murphy, Mark Moseley, Wilbur Marshall, Monte Coleman, Dave Butz, Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs, George Rogers, Terry Allen, and many more. Most of these listed players are on the 70 Greatest Redskin Team. Gibbs retired after 1993 and the teams fortunes began to fade. Under present ownership, there has been a coaching carousel (including a brief return by Gibbs), as well as bad drafting and other extremely poor personnel decisions that have contributed to the Redskins non appearances in Super Bowls since 1991. Still, at present time, the Redskins are the NFL's 2nd most valuable franchise and valued well over a billion dollars.
The Washington Federals were created in 1983 and joined the United States Football League. They lasted until 1984. The team had the worst attendance in the league and their owner called them "trained gerbils" after selling them with 6 games left in the 1984 season. They won only 7 out of 36 games. They would move to Orlando in 1985 and be renamed the Renegades. They, and the league, folded after that season. Such notable NFL players like "Jefferson Street" Joe Gilliam, Craig James, Coy Bacon (who had 130 sacks in his 14 year NFL career), and CFL Hall of Famer Ron Estay played for the Federals.
The D.C. Divas are a woman's tackle football team that was formed in 2001, joining the National Woman's Football Association. They were mostly dominant in the regular seasons they played, winning the 2006 championship game. The team then joined the Independent Womans Football League in 2007. They finished that season 8-1, but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
D.C. Explosion is a minor league men's football team that has existed since 2001. They have won the 2006 and 2007 USA Bowl Division 1 AAA National Championships.

Hockey has, for the most part, been the 4th sport in D.C. The Washington Capitals were formed in 1974, joining the NHL. The "Caps" have mostly been at the bottom in their divisions throughout the history of the franchise. They did make on Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Hall of Famers Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Mike Gartner, and Larry Murphy all spent many years in a Capitals jersey. Other notable players who were part of the organization are Yvon Labre, Bob Carpenter (1st American to score 50 goals in a season), Sergei Gonchar, Olaf Kolzig, Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter, Kevin Hatcher, Robert Lang, Adam Oates, Dino Ciccarelli, and Dennis Maruk. The teams recent fortunes and future have turned much brighter when they drafted the top player in the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin, in 2004.
The Potomac Mavericks joined the Professional Inline Hockey Association in 2008 and are currently in 4th place in their division.

Soccer has always had a decent following thanks, in part, to its popularity in the D.C. Metro area. The Washington Diplomats were formed in 1974 and joined the North American Soccer League. This incarnation lasted until 1980. They made the playoffs 3 times. After they folded after the 1979 season, the Detroit Express moved to Washington and were renamed the Diplomats. They only lasted one season and lost in their only playoff game in 1981.
In 1988, another team came to Washington as part of the American Soccer League. They also were named the Diplomats. They lasted until 1990.
D.C. United was formed in 1995. They are one of the ten founding members of Major League Soccer. The team has been popular in the area and enjoyed many successes. They have won the MLS Cup 4 times (1996,'97, 99, 2004), the MLS Supporters Shield 4 times (1997, 99, 2006, '07), the US Open Cup (1996), the CONCACAF Champions Cup (1998 ), and the InterAmerican Cup in 1998. Many casual fans may best remember them as the team who signed 14 year old Freddy Adu to a huge contract in 2004. Adu is the youngest player to appear in a United States professional sporting event since 1887.
The Washington Freedom is a woman's soccer team that was formed in 2001 and is part of the United States Leagues W-League currently. They initially joined the Woman's United Soccer Association in 2001 until 2003, when the league folded. That team featured Mia Hamm and won the 2003 WUSA Founders Cup Championship. From 2004 to 2005, the team played exhibition matches. In 2006, they joined their current league and won the 2007 championship.

Lacrosse is popular in the area, and D.C. has hosted professional team, the Washington Bayhawks, since 2007. They are part of Major League Lacrosse. They were very successful in Baltimore from 2001-06, having won 2 championships in 4 finals appearances.
The Washington Wave were members of both the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League and Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1987 to 1989. They appeared, and lost, in 2 championship games.

Rugby is also a sport that does pretty well in D.C. The Washington Football Club is a SuperLeague rugby union team since 1963. They are the founders of D.C.'s Cherry Blossom Festival, which started in 1966. The club has won many championships in different divisions throughout their existence. They also host the Potomac Rugby League.
The Washington D.C. Slayers are a semi-pro rugby team that was formed in 2003 and play in the American National Rugby League.

Cricket also has a pro league since 1974 called the Washington Cricket League. There are 28 clubs consisting on 923 members currently.

D.C. also hosts 2 annual marathons: the National Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon.
The city also hosts the annual Leggs Mason Pro Tennis Championships.

As you can see = there is much more to do than visit the monuments, museums, zoo, and other popular points of interest. Washington D.C. has a rich sports history that holds a very strong bond with its citizens. So, if you come to D.C., don't just bring a camera or buy a tourist map. Take a look around and envelop its great people and the traditions.


CK0712 said...

DAYUM 3rd, that is one great history crash course, you are certainly the master~i have a cousin who went to GWU & now teaches at the university, i'm going to send this to her, do u mind?

David Funk said...

Great stuff here 3rd. Great detail and info on how our capitol city came to be.

BTW, I like reading about Walter Johnson. The Big Train fit him perfectly, and he's easily one of the best pitchers in baseball history.

Always a good read coming from you! said...

The Washington Capitals have made it to the playoffs quite a number of times, I believe the majority of the seasons they've been in the NHL so to say they've finished mainly at the bottom of their division is false. Everything else in the story was great, but that fact just shows the ignorance of hockey in the DC area.

I'm not referring to the author as ignorant, but the general misconception of the Caps is their recent woes are just that, recent. Prior to their recent slump, the last time they missed the playoffs in consecutive years was back in the early 80's.

Good list of teams though, I was surprised to see both the Washington Glory and the Potomac Mavericks on the list. Two teams I work with.