The Nats are cursed

An­guished fan Mike Tid­well says the team has been doomed since Teddy won the Pres­i­dents Race

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @MikeTid­well4 Mike Tid­well is a writer, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist and un­treat­able base­ball ad­dict from Takoma Park, Md.

Let­ting Teddy win the Pres­i­dents Race sealed D.C.’s base­ball fate.

Washington Na­tion­als fans and base­ball writ­ers will spend the long months un­til spring train­ing starts next Fe­bru­ary sort­ing through just what went wrong in the sea­son the Na­tion­als are wrap­ping up this Sun­day. Picked near-unan­i­mously to win the World Se­ries, the Nats in­stead gave up the di­vi­sion lead to the New York Mets for good in Au­gust and were elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention a week ago.

A sea­son that failed so spec­tac­u­larly to meet such high ex­pec­ta­tions has no short­age of pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions: Man­ager Matt Wil­liams lost the re­spect of his play­ers. The stars got hurt, one af­ter another. The front of­fice traded for Jonathan Papel­bon, who proved to be bet­ter at chok­ing a team­mate in a dugout fight than clos­ing out wins. Wil­liams turned out not to have any idea how the bullpen was sup­posed to work. The start­ing pitch­ers thought they were throw­ing bat­ting prac­tice all Au­gust.

All of those things are, sadly, true. But they’re symp­toms, not causes, of what’s ail­ing the Na­tion­als. To find the real rea­son there’s no joy along South Capi­tol Street these days, you’ve got to look back three years, to Oct. 3,2012. That was when the curse started.

Yes, Nats fans, our team is af­flicted by an hon­est-to-Je­sus curse. For more than 80 years, the Bos­ton Red Sox suf­fered un­der the Curse of the Bam­bino. The Chicago Cubs still stag­ger un­der the Curse of the Billy Goat. And now base­ball has a new de­monic force haunting a sto­ried team: the Curse of Teddy. From the day the Na­tion­als launched the Pres­i­dents Race in 2006 through seven glo­ri­ous, quirky sea­sons, Teddy Roo­sevelt never won the 4th-in­ning out­field sprint among those mas­sive-headed chief ex­ec­u­tives. Then, in late 2012, right af­ter the fran­chise clinched the first trip to the play­offs for a D.C. Ma­jor League Base­ball team since 1933, the Na­tion­als let it hap­pen. Dur­ing the last game of the reg­u­lar sea­son, they let Teddy win. And thus they brought a night­mare down upon them­selves.

Base­ball is a game of num­bers, so let’s look at the key stats, as tracked by the ded­i­cated (but mis­guided) fan blog Let Teddy Win. In2013, the for­mer peren­nial loser was vic­to­ri­ous in 11 races, and the Na­tion­als didn’t make the play­offs. Last sea­son, true, Teddy won more of­ten than any other pres­i­dent, and the team was 18-8 when he tri­umphed. But that can’t ob­scure the most im­por­tant data: He won both races dur­ing a 2014 play­off se­ries against the San Fran­cisco Giants, and the Nats lost both of those home games, the sec­ond af­ter a blown lead and 18 in­nings, a fin­ish so ex­cru­ci­at­ing that only the mem­ory of an even worse col­lapse against the St. Louis Car­di­nals in the 2012 play­offs dims its pain. Teddy won the race that night, too, of course. In fact, he’s won dur­ing all five home play­off games the Nats have ever played. The team’s record in those games? A mis­er­able 1-4.

This sea­son, the team was 8-7 when Teddy won. But a closer look again re­veals Teddy’s sea­son-end­ing dam­age down the stretch. He won on Sept. 9, the night Drew Storen gave up a two-run homer in the 8th in­ning to com­plete a three-game sweep by the first-place Mets, doom­ing the sea­son. (And, oh yes, Storen broke his thumb that night.) On Sept. 22, the team had a fi­nal chance to sal­vage its dy­ing play­off hopes: If the Nats could sweep the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles, they might be able to catch the Mets in the sea­son’s fi­nal three games. Teddy kicked off Game 1 by beat­ing Abe and the gang. The Nats promptly lost, in mis­er­able fash­ion. They’d go on to get swept by the Ori­oles, in a se­ries that saw Papel­bon, their es­pe­cially ac­cursed closer, in­ten­tion­ally hit Bal­ti­more’s Manny Machado with a pitch. It was Na­tion­als su­per­star Bryce Harper’s crit­i­cism of that pitch that ap­par­ently pro­voked Papel­bon to at­tack him in the dugout a few days later, end­ing Papel­bon’s sea­son (and pos­si­bly his ten­ure with the team).

This didn’t have to hap­pen. Again, for 525 games, the Easter Is­land headed Teddy al­ways man­aged to pull off a face plant or find a pretty girl in the front row to dis­tract him be­fore the fin­ish line. With his mas­sive, say-cheese grin and tilt­ing spec­ta­cles, he lost ev­ery sin­gle race to Abe or Ge­orge or Tom. ( Wil­liam Howard Taft, Roo­sevelt’s real-life ri­val, didn’t join the race un­til 2013.)

Then, dur­ing that mag­i­cal sum­mer of 2012, as the Nats made their push for a pen­nant, some cock­eyed fans started back­ing what had, upto then, been a lonely cam­paign to “let Teddy win.” Even the White House got in­volved.

At the time, my teenage son Sasha and I laughed at this fool­har­di­ness, se­cure in the knowl­edge that the Na­tion­als front of­fice would never let that hap­pen. As ev­ery se­ri­ous base­ball per­son knows, when things are go­ing well, you don’t change any­thing. When the hits are fall­ing and wins piling up, fans and play­ers alike must take the ex­act same route to the ball­park ev­ery day and or­der the same brand of peanuts in the stands and sun­flower seeds in the dugout. It’s not a su­per­sti­tion; what a friv­o­lous con­cept, su­per­sti­tion, im­ply­ing un­founded belief in ex­tra-nor­mal pow­ers. This is a time-tested truth. Is be­liev­ing in grav­ity a su­per­sti­tion? No. In base­ball, you never make changes when things are go­ing well. Pe­riod.

So as the Nats racked up their 98th win on that fi­nal day of the 2012 reg­u­lar sea­son, the last thing I ex­pected to hear was that my team had turned one of its core tra­di­tions on its head. From some delu­sional cor­ner of the front of­fice, the word had gone out: Yes, let Teddy win. Inmy mind I see the cul­prit: some 24-year-old mar­ket­ing idiot with a master’s de­gree in “cor­po­rate sys­tems man­age­ment” from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics. He drinks hot tea at the park.

So Amer­ica’s 26th pres­i­dent won that day. And de­spite the mo­men­tary ex­cite­ment of see­ing our team reach the play­offs, my son and

Wipe off that grin and get back to los­ing, Mr. Pres­i­dent.

I went into a deep and im­me­di­ate pe­riod of griev­ing. Just ask all our friends: We knew bad things were com­ing. And I gotta be­lieve you did, too, deep down, con­sciously or not.

Now, in the ashes of the failed 2015 sea­son, I want to start a new move­ment, equal and op­po­site to those mis­guided “fans” who cam­paigned for Teddy to win in 2012. My cam­paign— and I be­seech you to join me— is this: Let Teddy lose! For­ever! Dur­ing home games, he can bust out of the out­field gate with the oth­ers. He can run along the warn­ing track to­ward the fin­ish line. But he can never, ever be al­lowed to break the rib­bon with his burly chest and gi­ant neck­tie.

That’s not enough to lift the curse, though. So pro­found has been our base­ball of­fense, and so slow have we been as a city to make amends as the crim­i­nal per­for­mances have piled up on the field and now in the dugout, thatwe must do more.

The real fix sits on the sec­ond floor of the Newseum on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue NW. Like many ded­i­cated fans, I made a visit there this sum­mer, tak­ing in the im­pres­sive dis­play of Nats mem­o­ra­bilia and photos cel­e­brat­ing the 10th an­niver­sary of the team’s ar­rival in Washington. The ex­hibit cov­ers the early “re­build­ing” years lead­ing up to the ar­rival of man­ager Davey John­son and re­spectabil­ity in 2011. Then much is made — rightly— of the 2012 sea­son and all those wins and more wins.

But then you turn a cor­ner, and there he is: Teddy, in a gi­ant photo, cross­ing the fin­ish line. And there they are: the gar­ish yel­low Un­der Ar­mour sneak­ers he wore that day. I re­coiled in hor­ror. The shoes are like Kryp­tonite to me. Those shoes must be de­stroyed.

At a fa­mous 2003 play­off game be­tween the Cubs and Mar­lins at Wrigley Field, a fan reached out and de­flected a foul ball that could have been caught by Cubs out­fielder Moises Alou. The ball-that-got-away played a big role in keep­ing the Cubs out of the World Se­ries that year. So what did the good fans and civic lead­ers of Chicago do the fol­low­ing win­ter? They took that base­ball, placed it in a plex­i­glass cube and— dur­ing a huge rally— they blew the ball up. Ex­ploded it to smithereens with cam­eras rolling and fans cheer­ing. And look: The Cubs are play­ing bet­ter lately, headed to the play­offs this year.

The same needs to hap­pen to Teddy’s shoes. We need to blow them up. An­ni­hi­late them with TNT. Only then can we be­gin to atone for our sins, restor­ing some hope that — if we sim­ply stick to the fun­da­men­tals of hard­ball tra­di­tion — we can stag­ger back to the path of suc­cess. Our team has never needed us more than right now, Nats fans. So with con­vic­tion and a nod to the mys­ter­ies of sci­en­tific truth, say the words with me: “Let Teddy lose! Let Teddy lose!”

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