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Crossroads for the Nationals: elite or just ordinary?

When I lived in the DC area growing up from a young boy to young adult during the 1950s and 1960s I watched the two versions of the Washington Senators with undivided interest. I attended many games in Griffith Stadium and later DC (RFK) Stadium. The on field performance was, on balance, bad to horrible depending on the year. The one decent year, and as I recall the only year with a winning record, was 1969 when Ted Williams was the manager. The teams were bad for one main reason, lack of support from the community and the ownership. The first was a result of the second. The owners, whose names still bring a touch of anger to my innermost being, Calvin Griffith and Bob Short, would not or could not spend the necessary money to make the club competitive. As a result of that attendance was low, which gave each of them an excuse for moving the team to Minnesota (by Griffith) and Texas (by Short). While I can forgive each of them, because my faith requires me to, I cannot forget. All of this is a preamble and reasoning for my opinions regarding the current Nationals.

It gives me great pleasure that the Nationals have deep pocket owners and a commitment to DC baseball. As a result they have put in place the ‘infrastructure' of talented executive leadership, staff, and scouts, plus the facilities, to move the organization from merely the shell, that moved from Montreal to DC, to an organization approaching elite status. On the field a division championship has been achieved (2012) and attendance has ramped up as new fans have been attracted. The increased revenue from the live gate, and eventually from TV rights, adds to my optimism that the Nationals can become and remain an elite franchise on the field. In order to do that they cannot fail to spend money, even big time money, to win now and in the future. Also, to be an elite franchise they need to admit mistakes, even costly ones, by eating multi-year contracts, if necessary. As regards the latter, if Haren cannot pitch effectively very soon then they need to either relegate him to long relief or release him (my preference). Yes, it means they ‘wasted' millions on his contract. Again, if you want to compete with the big boys, you do not continue to put a player in the starting lineup just because you are paying him a lot. When a team does that they jeopardize the season, and risk losing the interest of the new fans. Likewise, if spending several million to get a piece that is needed either during the season or in the off-season they should do it. The ownership is rich and I understand committed to winning now. The revenue is ramping up, and the current roster has a lot of young talent. They do not have to choose entirely between this season and the future. It does not mean throwing money around on malcontents or has-beens. Rizzo is savvy enough not to do that. The Gio trade he engineered was risky, and now appears rewarding. The attitude behind that trade needs to be ever present. Assuming he can get the approval of the Lerners, that he claims he already has, then he needs to admit even costly mistakes to dump a player here and there and to even overpay for ‘suitable' new acquisitions. The timing is right to act now, not wait just for next year and beyond. A good result this year could easily move attendance to near the 40,000 per game average next year, and with a fair TV rights contract, give them enough revenue to keep them an as elite franchise for years to come. So, I say think, and act, big. Act like you belong in the country club of elite teams.

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