The Washington Nationals Mount Rushmore is the eighth in a series revealing the top four players for each franchise as selected by writers and fans.
America’s capital has a long and sordid baseball history. The launch of the first professional major league corresponded with the restriction of the District of Columbia to its present city of Washington boundary, and that National Association included a district representative in the Olympics. Since that inaugural year, Washington put forward bad teams more often than good, lending itself to the phrase, “Washington: first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” The capital did enjoy some regular success when the Homestead Grays began splitting its home games between Pittsburgh and Washington. The latest iteration, the Washington Nationals, ended a decades-long drought with a World Series title in 2019.
Across these many years, multiple Golden Hallers and Hall of Famers have graced the diamond, and four are presented here as the Washington Nationals Mount Rushmore.
What defines a franchise?
Washington has been represented by teams at the major league level bearing the name Olympics, Nationals, Blue Legs, Senators, Statesmen, Potomacs, Pilots, Elite Giants, Black Senators, and Grays.
Most historians and fans count these as distinct entities.
For the purposes of this series, however, OTH is embracing the idea that these iterations are one club telling a shared story. These teams represented Dallas in professional baseball. They played with Dallas or Texas written proudly on their uniforms. They share a common fanbase that enjoyed successes and lamented failures.
This series of articles serves, in part, as an attempt to recapture the legacy of those earlier teams. OTH recognizes that while an owner may move the corporate structure, the legacy belongs to the fans and the city for which the team played.
For cities that fielded two teams in the shameful era of segregated ball, this series will consider both sides as part of the same club. Today to a degree, major league clubs take a similar approach. The Washington Nationals, for instance, include Washington Homestead Grays players in their Ring of Honor, and most teams tip their caps to their city’s Negro League predecessors by donning their uniforms for Negro Leagues heritage games.
The NBA and NFL have recognized the validity behind this line of thinking. The modern Charlotte Hornets inherited the legacy of the Hornets that moved to New Orleans. The modern Cleveland Browns inherited the legacy of the Browns that moved to Baltimore. Now Rob Manfred and MLB need to do the same.
- Olympics (1871-1872)
- Nationals (1872, 1875, 1884-1889, 2005-present)
- Blue Legs (1873)
- Senators (1890, 1892-1972)
- Statesmen (1891)
- Potomacs (1924)
- Pilots (1932)
- Elite Giants (1936-1937)
- Black Senators (1938)
- Washington Homestead Grays (1940-1950)
World Series titles (5)
American League pennants (3)
National League pennant (1)
Negro National League pennants (7)
Eastern League pennant (1)
Washington Nationals Mount Rushmore
After counting votes from OTH writers and baseball fans, here are the top four players in Washington Nationals history.
- Washington Years: 1907-1927
- Washington Stats: 164.8 WAR, 2.17 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 1.061 WHIP, 3,509 K
As the Washington Nationals closed in on the 2019 World Series, the television announcers and their columnist counterparts made frequent reference to the team’s Washington-based predecessors. For the most part ignoring the Montreal Expos history, this trend somewhat bucked the convention of viewing clubs as continuations of their corporate charters. The embrace of the city as the cornerstone of an MLB franchise was refreshing. After all, the Nationals play to represent their city and fanbase. That city and fanbase, not a faceless corporate entity, are the true inheritors of the legacy of the Washington Homestead Grays and Washington Senators.
That latter club won back-to-back American League pennants and one World Series. And the vehicle that propelled Washington to that success: the Big Train. Though the championship season took place toward the twilight of Walter Johnson’s career, the hurler posted one of his best campaigns. Johnson led the majors in starts and shutouts while leading his league in earned run average, strikeouts, adjusted ERA, fielding independent pitching, and walks plus hits per inning pitched. He topped off this typical-for-him regular season with a respectable 3.00 ERA, 0.53 win probability added, 47.6 percent championship WPA, and a clutch four innings of scoreless relief in game seven.
With a sidearm delivery relying primarily on fastballs and curveballs, Johnson led the American League in ERA and innings five times, strikeouts 12 times, WHIP and ERA+ six times, and FIP ten times. He holds the major league record for career shutouts (110) and struck out hapless batters 3,509 times.
- Washington Years: 1940, 1942-1946
- Washington Stats: 16.9 WAR, .372/.466/.583, 60 HR, 262 G (documented)
Gibson is the all-time leader in Negro Leagues home runs with 238 in just 911 documented games in the Negro National and Mexican Leagues. That is an average of 42 over a 162 game season. Once the research is complete, it is likely that the number will grow even higher.
His slash line of .365/.449/.690 is almost unparalleled. In addition to prodigious offense, Gibson was a stellar catcher. In nine different seasons, he placed in the top ten in fielding percentage. Greatness often interacted with greatness, as Gibson formed batteries with stars like Satchel Paige, Ray Brown, and Smokey Joe Williams. These duos dominated the majors in the 1930s and 1940s.
Gibson placed in the top ten in the Negro Leagues in on-base percentage in 12 different seasons, adjusted on-based plus slugging percentage 14 times, home runs 14 times, and wins above replacement nine times. When incorporating statistics from the integrated majors and segregated leagues, Gibson ranks second all-time in batting average, seventh in on-base percentage, second in slugging, and second in adjusted on-base-plus-slugging.
- Washington Years: 2005-2021
- Washington Stats: 40.1 WAR, .277/.341/.475, 284 HR, 417 2B, 51 rField
Ryan Zimmerman is the face of Washington Nationals baseball, so it is only fitting that he should be selected for the club’s Mount Rushmore. Zimmerman has played his entire career with the Nationals, and the Nationals have played their entire existence with Zimmerman (from the 2005 return through the present).
In that time, the Virginian earned a Gold Glove, two Silver Sluggers, and MVP votes in four different seasons. Zimmerman helped Washington end its 71-year World Series drought. In his eight playoff series, Mr. National slashed .274/.328/.462 with five homers, seven doubles, and 51 total bases.
- Washington Years: 2015-2021
- Washington Stats: 39.5 WAR, 2.80 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 0.962 WHIP, 1,610 K, 11.8 K/9
Pitchers employ all manner of methods to deceive opposing batters. Some shake their gloves during the windup; others have an almost too quick delivery; a few even speak to the ball. I suspect Max Scherzer’s combination of intensity and mix-matched eyes distract almost any hitter from his duty.
Scherzer is arguably one of the greatest pitchers in Washington history. In DC, he led the National League in complete games three times, shutouts twice, innings pitched twice, strikeouts three years in a row, FIP once, and WHIP four times. He was rewarded with two Cy Young Awards and votes in four other seasons.
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