In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
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As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the only local college basketball team that seems certain to make the NCAA basketball tournament is George Washington. American can get in with a winner-take-all game at Boston University for the Patriot League title, but a loss will send the Eagles home. That leaves Maryland needing to win the ACC Tournament and Georgetown needing to go deep into the Big East tournament, if not win it. George Mason has had a very disappointing season and won’t even get to 10 wins if they lose the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Wednesday.
Sooo…in an area where college basketball really matters, we could be looking at a year where only GW represents the area in March Madness. By the way, in case you missed it last week, Brent Musberger took credit for dropping “March Madness” on the nation in an interview with the “Big Lead.” Musberger said he took it from the city high school tournament in Chicago and began using it on CBS in the early 1980’s.
Anyway, the likely lack of NCAA Tournament representation from the area this year, got me thinking about what a great launch year we had in this area 20 years ago. That 1993-94 season meant extended postseason play for George Washington, Georgetown and Maryland. Each school had a great basketball story that season. And two decades later, it’s interesting to look back on the influence that season had on each school’s program.
George Washington - Believe it or not, the Colonials were the only one of the three schools going back to the tournament for a second-straight season. Mike Jarvis, who had coached Patrick Ewing in high school in Boston, had really made a name for himself in town the season before. His 1992-93 team had advanced to the NCAA tournament pretty much out of nowhere. A big factor was a 7-foot freshman from Nigeria named Yinka Dare. That team finished the regular season at 21-9, got into the NCAA’s as a 13th seed and made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before finally losing to Chris Webber’s Fab 5 Michigan team that would go back to the national title game, before losing to North Carolina. By the time the 93-94 season arrived, Dare and the Colonials were known. Dare averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, but the regular season was tougher sledding. In a second round loss to Temple in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, GW was held to only 34 points. Still, they went into the NCAA Tournament as a 10th seed. After beating UAB in the first round, the Colonials failed to get out of the first weekend, losing to Connecticut 75-63. No shame in that, UConn featured future lottery picks, Donyell Marshall and Ray Allen. Against the advice of many, Dare declared for the draft a short time later. He was drafted 14th overall by the New Jersey Nets, but soon proved to be an NBA bust. Tragically, Dare died of a heart attack at the age of 31. Jarvis would spend five more years at GW, before leaving for St. Johns. He would never again match those two magical seasons with Dare at GW.
Georgetown – After a rare year of missing the NCAA tournament under John Thompson, the Hoyas got back in for 1993-94. Their star player was Othella Harrington, who didn’t quite match Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo in skills, but would become yet another Georgetown big man who would make it to the NBA. He averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds for the season. George Butler averaged 14 points a game and Don Reid, who would prove to be a better-than-expected NBA player also provided valuable scoring and rebounding. The Hoyas went into the NCAA’s as a 9th seed after falling to Providence in the final of the Big East Tournament. With 27 from Butler and 15 from Reid, the Hoyas beat Illinois in the first round, but fell to number one seeded Arkansas in the second round, 85-73. Corliss Williamson, who had 21 in that game, would take the Razorbacks to the National Championship, where they would knock off Grant Hill-led Duke with President Bill Clinton cheering his home state team all the way. A few months later, Allen Iverson arrived on the Georgetown campus and would get the Hoyas to the Elite 8 two seasons later, before splitting for the NBA.
Maryland – This was, as Gary Williams told me on the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570, a turning-point season for his program. Freshman Joe Smith proved to be a big surprise, quickly becoming the best player on the team. Thanks to a 70-68 win over Virginia to get to 8-8 in the ACC, the Terps were pretty much assured of being in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. A first-round loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament didn’t seem to matter as the Terps went into the NCAA’s as a 10th seed. In the first round, with 29 from Smith and 14 from Johnny Rhodes, they took out 7th seed St. Louis led by H Waldman (the Tournament always give us great names – H Waldman. What? His parents didn’t give him a full name?). In the second round, despite 32 from Marcus Camby, Maryland got balanced scoring to beat second seed Umass 95-87. Smith had 22, Duane Simpkins 20 and Exree Hipp 19. In the Sweet 16, the party finally ended with a loss to Michigan. Remaining Fab 5-ers Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose combined for 40 points. A couple of months later, Howard was drafted by the Bullets and Rose went to Indiana after being introduced at the draft, wearing a now legendary bright red suit. As for Maryland, that season started a run of 11-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. Smith would come back to College Park for one more year. He would be named player of the year, before becoming the number one pick of the 1995 draft by Golden State.
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One of the traditions that will be lost with Maryland’s exit from the ACC this summer is the annual regular season closing game against Virginia. Home court has alternated and it’s worked out that the final one will be here on Sunday.
I took a look back at the archives for great season-ending games between these two teams, figuring the start of our radio station was a good place to start. So, for better or worse, here is my list of the scintillating six season-enders between Maryland and Virginia. You can decide how to rank them. This is the list in chronological order:
March 7, 1992, Cole Field House, Virginia 76 – Maryland 74
This was the final home game for the great Walt Williams, who Gary Williams gives great credit to keeping the program on track while they went through probation. Before the game, his number 42 was hung from the rafters and he fed off the emotion to score 31 points. His 18-footer tied the score with 8 seconds left, but Junior Burrough tipped in the game-winner with 1.9 seconds left.
March 5, 1994, Cole Field House, Maryland 70 – Virginia 68
A case of being good when they had to be. Maryland shot only 38 percent from the field and went 8 minutes without a basket in the second half. But the Terps gutted out the win with a monster game from Joe Smith; 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. The win made Maryland 16-10 on the season and 8-8 in the ACC. The fans stormed the court celebrating what they figured to be enough to get Maryland into the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years. In fact it was and the Terps made it to the Sweet 16.
March 4,2000, Charlottesville, Va., Virginia 89 – Maryland 87 OT
This was a game that Maryland wanted to win, not had to win. They came in riding an 8-game winning streak with a record of 22-7 and ranked 17th in the country. The long-forgotten Adam Hall came up with the game of his life. He hit two free throws to send the game into overtime and hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in OT for what turned out to be the game-winner. Hall finished with a game-high 16. Danny Miller led Maryland with 20 points, but fouled out in overtime.
March 31, 2002, Cole Field House, Maryland 112 – Virginia 92
This was the last game ever played at the historic arena. And what a way to send it out. The win was number 12 in a row for the Terps and it completed a 25-3 regular season and a 15-1 finish in the ACC. The only conference loss was at Duke, meaning Maryland had completed a season without losing a single game at Cole. Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, playing their last games in College Park finished with 23 and 20 respectively. Chris Wilcox, who was on his way to the NBA after only two years, had 21 points and 11 rebounds in his final game at Cole. Walk-on Earl Badu, who would commit suicide a decade later, scored the final points at Cole in a mop role in the blowout.
March 7, 2004, Comcast Center, Maryland 70 – Virginia 61
Nearing 60, Gary Williams showed he still had hops. As the game ended, he leaped high into the air, celebrating one of the most satisfying wins of his great career. In a game they really needed to have, the Terps came from 11 points down to pull out the victory. Maryland shot only 34 percent for the game, but got clutch performances down the stretch. Jamar Smith, a 46 percent free throw shooter during the season, hit 3 of 4 in the final minutes. After going through a stretch of 4 losses in 5 games during February, Maryland had rebounded to win their last two and finish 7-9 in the ACC, which seemed to be enough to get an at large bid in the NCAA tournament. They wouldn’t need it. Maryland beat Duke in overtime in the ACC Tournament championship to earn the automatic spot.
March 4, 2012, Comcast Center, Virginia 75 – Maryland 72 OT
Facing a Virginia team that was ranked 24th in the country, Maryland had faint hopes of making the NCAA tournament with a record of 16-13, 6-9 in the ACC. And they almost got this one. Down 13 with 8 minutes left, Maryland managed to send the game into overtime. They just fell short in the extra period. Terrell Stoglin had 25 points in what would be his final game in College Park. Senior Sean Moseley, playing in his 4th season-ending game against Virginia had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
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Okay, I may not be the right guy to weigh in this. I’ve made my passion for sports history quite clear over the years. But I can’t be the only one who was thrilled to hear what Orioles manager Buck Showalter did the other day.
On Monday, one of the greatest Orioles of all time, Frank Robinson, visited their spring training camp in Sarasota, Florida. He spent some of his time talking to the players, including 19-year-old Josh Hart, who was taken in last year’s draft. Hart shook the Hall of Famer’s hand, but told Showalter he had no idea who Frank Robinson is.
That’s where Showalter really stepped up to the plate and did what anyone in his position should do. He told the kid to write a one-page paper on Robinson and turn it in the next day. A quick search of the inter net should have given young Mr. Hart more than enough information to work with, including:
Frank Robinson was a .294 lifetime hitter with 586 career homers (clean homers I might add) putting him in 9th place on the all time list.
Robinson was Rookie of the Year and a 12-time All Star.
And biggest of all, he is the only player to win the MVP in both leagues, 1961 with Cincinnati and 1966 with Baltimore, when by the way, he also won the Triple Crown. Both the Reds and Orioles have retired his number 20.
About that number 20. Ian Desmond now wears it for the Nationals. He’s one of their best players and deserves to wear any number that’s available. But should it be available? Frank Robinson wore number 20 as the Nationals manager. I know he was here for only two years. And I know in the minds of most, he’s associated with the Orioles and the great teams they had from the mid 1960’s to the early 70’s. Robinson was the leader of that group and collected both of his World Series rings in Baltimore (1966 and 70). However, doesn’t Frank Robinson hold a lofty place in the history of baseball’s return to Washington after a ridiculous 34-year wait?
There was something comforting about see number 20 manning the dugout during the 2005 and 2006 seasons at RFK Stadium. You could tell just by looking at him, that Robinson knew how to lead men. And even though we knew it would be a while before the Nats would contend, the fact that he got what was left of the Montreal Expos in first place on the 4th of July that first year told you that this guy meant business. Nearing 70 at the time, Robinson was never going to be the long-term answer, but in the short term he gave the team an identity.
Two stories that took place during those two Robinson seasons will always stick out for me. One demonstrates his toughness and the other his compassion.
In 2005, during an interleague game with the Angels, he engaged in stare-down with their manager Mike Scocia, who was a former tough veteran catcher, who is also about 25 years younger than Frank. It was clear that Scocia wanted no part of that battle. And in 2006, during a day game, some lineup shuffling put Matt LeCroy behind the plate. LeCroy, at that point in his career, was employed for his bat. Counting on him to catch was a stretch. And after allowing a couple of steals, Robinson did what he had to do. He yanked LeCroy in the middle of an inning. Recounting the move to reporters after the game, Robinson had tears in his eyes, knowing what embarrassment it must have caused LeCroy. What made the story even more meaningful was that LeCroy said he had no problem with the move. Because of the respect he had for Frank Robinson, he understood.
The Nationals and Orioles meet every year in interleague play. Sooner rather than later would be a good time to bring Robinson to Nationals Park and take the number 20 off Desmond’s back and put it on the outfield wall. Make sure everybody knows that one of the great figures in history of baseball was part of bringing the grand old game back to the Nation’s Capital.
It would be a shame if some Josh Hart of the future doesn’t know who the original and true Nationals number 20 is.
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NBA All Star weekend gave us the Mount Rushmore debate. First it was LeBron James offering his four; Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson – with the proviso that he may ultimately bump Oscar from the list. Then asked about LeBron’s list, Kobe Bryant offered his; Jordan, Bird, Magic and Bill Russell. And no he didn’t suggest that he himself might bump any of the four.
Anyway, the lists got me thinking about who we might chisel into the local basketball Mount Rushmore – including both college and pro. Keeping it to coaches would be relatively easy. There is no doubt in my mind that these four definitely deserve to be there:
Lefty Driesell – (786 wins – 384 losses) - Lefty never won a national title, never played in a Final Four, but he made college basketball big time in the D.C. area. He won most of the big recruiting battles early on and established a program that could compete with the best teams in the country. Lefty made college basketball matter here.
John Thompson – (596 wins – 239 losses) – Thompson did win a national title and took three teams to the Final Four over a four-year period. A giant in both size and stature, he is one of the most significant figures in the history of sports, paving the way for other African Americans to become head coaches in all sports.
Gary Williams – (668 wins – 380 losses) – Gary took his teams to back-to-back Final Fours in 2001 and 2002, winning Maryland’s only title in 2002. He picked up the ashes of a program that had crashed after the death of Len Bias and made it into one of the best in the country.
Morgan Wooten – (1,274 – 192) – Spending his entire coaching career at DeMatha, Wooten is regarded as one of the best coaches in the history of high school basketball – if not the best. The great John Wooden even suggested that Wooten may have been the best coach – period. He sent a number of players to the NBA, including Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley and managed to get almost of all his seniors on to a college roster somewhere around the Nation.
That’s my coach’s Mount Rushmore. The players are a different story. The first three are reasonably easy to separate out. When it comes to the fourth, however, it’s difficult. So here are my first three plus suggestions for fourth:
- Patrick Ewing – (Georgetown 1981-85) - Ewing was a three time first team All American and National player of the year in 1985. He led the Hoyas to three Final Fours over his four-year career, winning the national title in 1984, while being named Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. He is regarded as one of the best players in the history of college basketball.
- Wes Unseld – (Bullets 1968-1981) - The greatest player in the history of the franchise. He was named both MVP and Rookie of the Year when the team played in Baltimore in 1969. Moving here with the team in 1973, he led them to the Finals in 1975, 78 and 79, winning the title in 78, while being named MVP of the Finals. Unseld was an All Star five times and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players on the 50th anniversary of the league.
- Juan Dixon – (Maryland 1998-2002) – Dixon is Maryland all time leading scorer and the best player on their 2002 National Championship team. He was named the Most Outstanding Player in that Final Four. He was also named a first team All American that year.
Now is where it gets tough for me. I came up with a list of five other players who I think deserve consideration for that fourth spot. One is a Bullet and the other four are college players:
Elvin Hayes – (Bullets 1972-81) – Hayes is the franchise’s all time leading scorer and a 12 time All Star. Like Unseld, he was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players on the 50th anniversary of the league.
John Lucas – (Maryland 1972-76) – Lucas entered Maryland the first year freshmen were eligible to play. He became an instant starter at point guard, where he stayed the next four years, leading the Terps to the Elite Eight in 1973 and 75. He was a first team All American in 1975 and 76 and was the first pick of the NBA draft.
Kermit Washington – (American University 1969-73) – Washington is the greatest player in school history. Averaging 20 points and 20 rebounds a game, he was a second team All American in 1973. He was drafted in the first round by the Lakers and began putting together a solid NBA career. That career was derailed by the unfortunate punch that nearly ended Rudy Tomjanovich’s life in 1977.
Alonzo Mourning – (Georgetown 1988-92) – Mourning followed Ewing as the Hoyas next great big man. Although his career didn’t match Ewing’s – he never played in a Final Four, Mourning was a first team All American in 1992 and Big East player of the year. He was the number two pick of the NBA draft in 1992 behind Shaquille O’Neil.
Len Bias – (Maryland 1982-86) - I saved this one for last because of the tragedy that will always be associated with his name. There is no question that Bias is the greatest player in Maryland history. He was a first team All American in ’86 and was named ACC player of the year in both ’85 and ’86. But because of his death from a cocaine overdose, there is always some pushback when it comes to discussion for all time honors for this man.
There you go. The debate floor is open.
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When former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam takes the field for whatever NFL team he winds up with, he’ll become the first active openly gay athlete in the history of major sports in the United States. No matter how he performs, Sam will become a game changer.
It got me thinking about game changers in our town. Obviously the first name that came to mind was Doug Williams, who is back in town as an executive with the Redskins. In 1988, Williams became the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, and until Russell Wilson matched him a couple of weeks ago, the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Wilson has given Williams his due, as have others like Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. All of them have benefitted from the doors Williams opened for them.
However, when I got to thinking about the men who were game changers in our town, I came up with four who really stood out. Two are coaches, one was an owner and the fourth is a man who wanted to be an owner. All four were game changers for sports in the Nation’s Capital. Here is the list:
4. Bill Collins – If you’re new to town, you may have never heard of him. And even if you’ve been here for years, you may not remember the name. Collins a former minor league catcher, who did very well selling pagers before everybody owned a cell phone. During those 34 years we went without a major league baseball, it was Bill Collins who beat the drum the loudest in an attempt to get a team. Heading up the “Virginia Baseball Group”, Collins spent bundles of his own money trying to land a team. His plan was to have that team play at a stadium to be built near Dulles Airport. And he darned near pulled it off. After the strike of 1994 was settled, Collins had a deal to buy the Houston Astros, before the city of Houston stepped in at the last minute and agreed to build the team a new stadium and the keep the team in town. He later focused his effort on getting the Montreal Expos. And although his dream of owning the team was never realized, the Expos eventually wound up here and are about to begin their 10th season as the Washington Nationals. Without Collins efforts, it may never have happened.
3. Edward Bennett Williams – Although Jack Kent Cooke got to hoist the Redskins first Super Bowl trophy in 1983, it was EBW who changed the face of the franchise. He didn’t officially become majority owner of the Redskins until 1970, but Williams had served as team president since the mid 1960’s when George Preston Marshall suffered a debilitating stroke. It was under Williams, who had made his money winning big cases as a famed trial attorney, that the focus really turned toward winning. And he was willing to spend what it took to do it. In 1969, Williams hired Vince Lombardi, luring him to Washington by giving him a piece of the team. Lombardi delivered a winning season in his first year, but tragically died of cancer before the start of the following season. Again EBW delivered, hiring George Allen in 1971. He would later joke that he gave Allen an unlimited budget, and Allen exceeded it. But the coach who said, “the future is now” – delivered. Allen had the team in the postseason for the first time in a quarter of a century. A year later they were in the Super Bowl. Williams sold his majority interest in the team to Cooke in 1974, but continued to serve as President of the team until Cooke sold his interest in the Lakers and Kings in 1979 and took over as the Redskins team president. Williams died of cancer at the age of 68 in 1988.
2. John Thompson – As a coach, Thompson was a trail-blazer both locally and nationally. When Thompson was hired at Georgetown in 1972, he became one of the first African American head basketball coaches at a predominately white college. Thompson took over a program with relatively low expectations (the school’s president said to him when he was hired, “it would be nice if we made the NIT every few years) and built a powerhouse. In 1982 Thompson became the first African American to coach in Final Four history. Two years later, he became the first African American to win a national title. Over 27 seasons, Thompson won 596 games and was named to the Hall of Fame. Thompson changed the perception of coaches in every sport, opening doors for men like Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl title. More than 40 years after putting Georgetown basketball on the map, he remains a symbol of what can accomplished when you don’t listen to people who tell you what you can’t do.
1. Lefty Driesell – Even Thompson will be the first to tell you that Lefty made college basketball matter in the D.C. area. Arriving from Davidson to coach at the University of Maryland in 1969, Lefty made everybody pay attention. UCLA was in the midst of winning seven-straight championships, but he was hardly intimidated. Borrowing a suggestion form former Maryland player Jay McMillen, who’s brother Tom would later lead the Terps to great heights, Lefty agreed that Maryland could become, “the UCLA of the east.” Lefty never quite got there, but he got close. He landed Tom McMillen and Len Elmore, two of the top recruits in the country, and won an NIT title in his third year on the job. He made the Elite 8 the following year and might have won the national title a year after that, but an historic loss kept him from getting a chance to do that. Maryland lost an overtime game to North Carolina State in the 1974 ACC Championship game. In those days, only the tournament champion went to the 25-team tournament. NC State went on to end UCLA’s seven-year national title run in the semifinals and beat Marquette for the title. Maryland went home, but because of that game, the NCAA agreed to expand the tournament field the following year, paving the way for what is a 68-team field today. Lefty never did take Maryland to the Final Four, but with flair, showmanship and 348 wins over 17 years, he made college basketball a big deal around here. He, like the other three, was a true game changer.
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I often use this spot to discuss Redskins history. And with more than 80 years of history, there is plenty to talk about. While there is plenty of baseball history in this town, much goes back to days I can’t even remember. Between 1972 and 2004, we didn’t even have a team here. However, with the Super Bowl over with, I got to thinking that the Nationals are actually heading into their 10th season in Washington. There is actual Nationals history – history that bears remembering. So – here we go. Here are some of the highlights of our near decade of modern baseball history in Washington.
2005 – After months of drama that included D.C. representative Linda Cropp nearly crushing plans to build a new stadium – a major part of the deal to bring the Montreal Expos to D.C., we had a team on the field. The Nationals wore uniforms that were mostly red and white and included a cap identical to the one worn by the Senators before they were cruelly, yanked out of town by Bob Short after the 1971 season. That curly w made us old timers feel good. With Frank Robinson as manager (he came with the team from Montreal), the Nats opened the season in Philadelphia on April 4th with Brad Wilkerson leading off and delivering the team’s first-ever hit. They would lose the game 8-4, but returned home 10 days later for a magical home-opener at RFK Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks. President George Bush threw out the first ball and the Nats won 5-3 with Chad Cordero earning the save. “The Chief”, as Cordero was known, became one of the first stars of the club. Amazingly, the Nats got off to a 51-32 start and were in first place on the 4th of July. Ryan Zimmerman, who had been their first-round pick out of the University of Virginia in June, was a September call-up and wound up batting .300. The team finished a respectable 81-81.
2006 – Brad Wilkerson was one and done in D.C. In the offseason he’d been traded along with Termel Sledge (there’s a name for you) to Texas in exchange for Alfonso Soriano. The career second-baseman balked at a move to left field, but eventually settled in there to have a very good year. Soriano had 40 homers, 40 steals and 40 doubles. Playing out the last year of his contract, it had been expected that the Nats would trade him to a contender before the July 31st deadline, but he remained on the team the entire year. He would wind up signing a monster free-agent deal with the Cubs. The Nats would use one of the draft picks they received in compensation to draft Jordan Zimmerman. At midseason the Nats were sold by Major League Baseball, which had been operating the team since it’s final few seasons in Montreal, to Ted Lerner. At the end of the season – a 71-91 finish, Frank Robinson was nudged into retirement and replaced by Manny Acta.
2007 – Playing their last season at RFK, the new manager was given the task of doing the best he could with what he had. And he didn’t have much. The starting rotation included Mike Bacsik, Micah Bowie, Tim Redding and Jason Simontacchi. The best that can be said for that group is that Bacsik was able to enjoy 15 minutes of fame by serving up career homer number 756 to Barry Bonds to break Hank Aaron’s all time record. With all that, Acta was credited with doing an amazing job, going 73-89 as a rookie manager with a team in a complete rebuilding mode.
2008 – A new era began on March 30th when the Nats played baseball’s season opener – a Sunday night game against the Atlanta Braves at brand-new Nationals Park. President Bush threw out the first ball and a perfect night concluded with a walk-off homer from Ryan Zimmerman to win the game 2-1. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of winning after that. The team finished the season 59-102.
2009 – This was a very disappointing season. Perhaps a sign of things to come occurred on April 17th, when Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam Dunn walked on to the field wearing uniforms that read “Natinals” instead of “Nationals.” As the team played worse and worse, it became popular to refer to them as “Natinals.” On July 12th, Manny Acta was fired and replaced by a member of his coaching staff, Jim Riggleman. They played well enough in the second half of the season to earn Riggleman a two-year contract extension, but still finished the season at 59-103. What was more fun was tracking the progress of Stephen Strasburg, who had been the number one pick of the June draft. He would be due up in the majors the following season.
2010 – As a season, it wasn’t much. The Nats finished at 69-93. Not much of a story. The story was Strasburg – the beginning and the end. The beginning was beyond belief. Hyped to the moon as the game’s next great fireballer, Strasburg made his major league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 8th. We all expected strikeouts, we didn’t expect 14! It goes down as the greatest pitching debut in history. But as good as the beginning was, the end was as bad as the beginning was good. By August, he was through for the year and most of the next year. Torn elbow ligament. Tommy John surgery. Oy. But like the year before, there was another phenom in the pipeline. Bryce Harper, who’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 10th grader, was the number one pick of the June draft. Those back-to-back 59-win seasons were now paying off.
2011 – What will always be remembered from this season, was the bizarre move by Jim Riggleman. When his demands for a contract extension were not met, he resigned on June 23rd with the team playing reasonably well. Bench coach John McLaren took over for three games, going 2-1. Davey Johnson arrived. And after brushing off the rust of being out of the dugout for a decade, he led to the Nats to a third-place finish at 80-81. Strasburg returned in September and pitched well enough to have us believing that 2012 would be a good season. We would not have guessed how good.
2012 – Davey Johnson in his first spring training as Nats manager declared, “if this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they ought to fire me.” There was no need to worry about that. Harper was called up from the minors in April and looked to be the star-in-the making that he was advertised to be. Though controversy raged throughout the season about the planned shutdown of Strasburg in September, the Nats rolled through the year, finishing with the best record in baseball at 98-64. Playoffs, Davey? This looked like a team that could win it all. They were a two-run lead and three outs away from going to the National League championship series. But Drew Storen failed to close the door on the Cardinals and the Nats first-ever postseason ended in heartbreak.
2013 – Davey said this would be his last season from the beginning and expected to go out with a bang. “World Series or bust,” he declared. Though they got their full season from Strasburg, too many injuries including extended time on the disabled list for Harper, crushed a season that had been so full of hope. They finished a disappointing 86-76 and Davey followed through on his plan to retire.
2014 – Here is comes with new manager Matt Williams. Hopes are high once again for the last year of the first decade of baseball back in D.C. Can’t wait. Pitchers and catchers report February 13th.
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