Thorn: Remembering the original Washington Nationals, who date to 1859

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 16, 2018:

When ownership of the Montreal Expos National League franchise was transferred to Washington, DC in 2004, it was only natural for the club to be named the Nationals rather than the Senators, whom we recall as an American League club in two incarnations. The first was the generally woeful club that played in the nation’s capital from 1901 through 1960, featuring Hall of Famers Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, and Sam Rice. When those Senators relocated to Minnesota for the 1961 season, an expansion franchise of the same name replaced them until 1972, when they relocated to become the Texas Rangers.

Although commonly known as the Senators, the original team was also known as the Washington Americans and, paradoxically, as the Washington Nationals, as early as 1905. The nickname “Nats” soon thereafter came to be used as a newspaper-headline contraction (as in “Sox top Nats, 9–8”) of either Senators or Nationals.

But why was this charter club of the American League called the Nationals anyhow? Working backwards: the National League had included a Washington club in the period 1891–1899 that was known principally as the Senators, or Solons. Another NL club, operating from 1886–1889, was known principally as the Nationals. So why was that latter club thus named?

Because an even earlier professional club in DC bore that name: the Washington Nationals of the National Association, as early as 1872, which in turn derived from a famous amateur club founded in 1859. Here you have the reason that Washington celebrated its baseball centennial in … 1959!

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Originally published: July 17, 2018. Last Updated: July 17, 2018.