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Washington Nationals hope to avenge Alex Bregman’s grandfather’s role in Senators’ move from DC

Astros’ third baseman Alex Bregman’s family has history in the nation’s capital, from the second Senators years...

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President Richard Nixon and Ted Williams Smiling Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

When the World Series shifts to Washington for Game 3 tonight, Houston Astros star third baseman Alex Bregman will be returning to the scene of his grandfather’s crime against Washington baseball.

The “crime,” in this case, was persuading Bob Short to buy the Washington Senators, because Short wound up moving the team to Texas a few years later. OK, so maybe Stanley Bregman didn’t actually commit the crime, but he was an unwitting accomplice.

Like most interesting tales in Washington, this one involves politics.

It starts with the 1968 presidential election. Bregman’s grandfather, Stanley Bregman, was a Democratic lawyer working for the party’s presidential candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. In an incredibly divided time for the country (sound familiar?), Republican Richard Nixon won a close election.

Bob Short, a wealthy trucking and hotel executive, was treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. After the election, Stanley Bregman persuaded Short to buy the Senators, who were for sale. Short beat out rival bidder Bob Hope.

Washingtonians had reason to be nervous about Short, given his track record as a professional sports team owner. Earlier, he had purchased the Minneapolis Lakers, and moved them to Los Angeles just a few years later.

And Short “did not know one thing about baseball,” Bregman said in a 1991 Washington Post takeout on the sad history of DC baseball. “He called the umpires referees. And the manager was ‘coach.’”

Things did start out well for Short after Bregman helped negotiate his purchase of the Senators. Short hired Ted Williams as his manager in 1969, which Bregman also helped negotiate. And there was some irony to that, since the new manager was a huge fan of Nixon – the man that Short and Bregman tried to defeat the year before.

In fact, Nixon and Williams had long been in a mutual admiration society.

Short didn’t mind invoking his political rival when he recruited a reluctant Ted Williams for the gig.

”I told him I thought he had a responsibility toward the game, toward the country, toward Nixon, and the whole bunch of bull you throw into a business proposition,” Short told Washingtonian magazine in 1970.

After Williams became manager, Bregman’s son, Sam, would sit on Ted’s lap in the clubhouse. Fast-forward a half-century, to last summer, and Sam’s son Alex, made his Washington debut at the All-Star Game – winning the game MVP award named for none other than Ted Williams.

As Alex Bregman said at the time, “My grandfather was the general counsel for the Washington Senators, and my dad grew up on Ted Williams’s lap. So seeing ‘Ted Williams Most Valuable Player’ on this trophy is pretty special.”

As a kid, Bregman said, he often looked at a signed photo of Ted Williams and his dad, five years old at the time. Growing up, his father told him he had to be the next player to hit .400, Bregman recalled with a chuckle. Bregman won’t do that, but he could win his first American League MVP, after hitting 41 homers with a 1.015 OPS this year.

OK, back to 1969.

Ted Williams’s first year as manager was a magical one for long-suffering Washington baseball fans. That season, he led the expansion Senators to their only winning season in 11 tries. But the team’s performance and attendance dropped off after that, and Short started complaining about the bad deal he was getting in his lease at RFK Stadium, seeking parking revenue and other improvements.

After the ’71 season, he moved the team to Texas, leaving DC without a baseball team for 33 years.

President Nixon, a huge baseball fan and loyal Senators partisan, privately criticized Short after he moved the team, on a taped conversation with DC Mayor Walter E. Washington that I discovered for my book, You Gotta Have Heart.

“Short is a jerk. I sat behind him at games, and I can tell you—moaning and bitching all the time,” Nixon said.

Stanley Bregman died in 2014, but not before watching all his grandson’s games when he starred at Albuquerque Academy. “We talked after every game,” the younger Bregman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2015. “He’d call and tell me to ‘bang the ball all over the place and play good defense.’ I still have voicemails from him. I didn’t want to delete them so I could still hear his voice.”

After winning the All-Star Game MVP last year, Alex Bregman, sitting next to his father on the flight out of DC, “marveled at the cosmic underpinnings of the night, as if destiny had been dictating events,” the Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin reported last fall.

“It was some magical stuff that happened out there,” Bregman said during last year’s playoffs. “It was all we could talk about. It felt like it was meant to be.”

Nats fans are hoping the magic wears off tonight.

Frederic J. Frommer is the author of You Gotta Have Heart, a history of Washington baseball, and the head of Sports Public Relations at the Dewey Square Group, a Washington, D.C. communications firm. Twitter: @ffrommer.

[ed. note - “A version of this story originally appeared on this site in 2018.”]

LINK: You Gotta Have Heart: History of Washington Baseball 1859 to 2012