I have to admit, I was rooting for Max Scherzer to win the Cy Young award. Hard as it was to see him wearing Dodger blue, I was still pulling for him personally in the postseason, and beyond.
Seeing the most exciting pitcher to take the mound at Nationals Park come in third behind Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler was almost as painful as any of those four unlikely runs Scherzer was charged with in Game 5 against the Cubs in 2017.
I was also disappointed to see Dusty Baker finish third in the AL Manager of the Year voting.
He came in almost 40 points behind the manager of a second-place team that never threatened his Houston Astros, while Baker took his team to the World Series (though voting takes place before the postseason).
That wasn’t nearly as bad as the time Davey Martinez lost the NL Manager of the Year voting to the manager of the team his Washington Nationals beat in the Wild Card game on its way to a World Series title.
Honestly, following baseball since the Nats ended their season, seemed to remind me almost daily of what what might have been or never was for the Nationals since we watched the Commissioner’s Trophy parade down Constitution Avenue on that glorious November day, barely two years ago.
But hoping for postseason awards as a consolation for a disappointing season only sets us up for more disappointment. With all due respect to the BBWAA, and even more to the members I’ve counted as friends and colleagues, their votes come from a perspective I’ll likely never have, and so I’ll give myself license to respectfully disagree.
It was great to see Juan Soto win a second Silver Slugger award to leave lying around his room, but I’m not holding my breath for him to win the National League Most Valuable Player award. It would be about as exciting as the time Bryce Harper won in 2015, the year of the “D.C. Strangler,” when the Nats unraveled after Labor Day. Good times.
It would also mean a lot more to me, and probably to Soto, if the award were not named for someone responsible for maintaining institutional racism in baseball and American society.
It’s also nice to see ex-Nats win awards, especially Michael A. Taylor taking home the Gold Glove we all knew he’d win someday while watching him rob home runs over the center field fence at Nationals Park.
But honestly, no award can take away the pain of watching the Nationals finish the 2021 season in fifth place, with only one starting position player from the 2019 World Series champions remaining, the aforementioned Soto.
The only thing that will ease that pain is time — time getting used to whatever the post-pandemic reality of sports culture in Washington turns out to be. And we may not see the entirety of that new reality until after there’s a new collective bargaining agreement for baseball.
As much as we’d love to see the Nationals sign Soto to a long-term deal, it’s hard to imagine any big league team, let alone the Nats, rushing to sign anyone before the CBA expires on Dec. 1.
The economic conditions of the game — as well as the calculations of Soto’s or any player’s future value — will be different whenever the labor dispute is resolved.
A universal designated hitter, a salary floor, a salary cap, an expanded postseason, tanking penalties, new calculation of service time — or any or all of the above — will certainly influence the Nationals’ team-building strategy moving forward.
The other tonic for pain of this past season is the memory of that World Series title and what preceded it. At no other point in my lifetime could I look back on a losing baseball season in Washington and still take comfort in a championship I had witnessed myself.
That title gives me the freedom to root for Scherzer to win the CYA, Dusty to be the Manager of the Year, and even wish Howie Kendrick the best of luck in his new front-office gig with the Phillies.
The memory of the Nats’ 2019 World Series title will be an additional comfort in the long months ahead, and one we did not have in the 34 seasons we went without a team.