Great American Stories: No Joy in Mudville
The only trait seemingly shared by players, agents, and owners in MLB is greed. Tweet
It’s Friday, the day of the week when I reprise quotations intended to be uplifting or educational. Today’s, which is only a slight variation on a famous poem, is a sad one: It references the sordid business side of professional baseball.
Our nation’s capital city was the home of a major league team for seven decades beginning in 1901. Historically, the Washington Senators weren’t very good, a record of futility captured in a puckish riff off the old eulogy of George Washington: “Washington: first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”
Then in 1971, it got worse for local baseball fans. A greedy owner moved the Senators to Texas. For 33 years, the nation’s capital was without the national pastime. That’s how long it took MLB’s half-witted overseers to bring it back.
When baseball finally returned to Washington in 2005, the new team was named the Nationals, placed in the National League and awarded to a wealthy local real estate family headed by Ted Lerner, who was born in 1925 — the year after the Senators won their only World Series.
At first, the team was as lousy as the old Senators. But aided by General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Lerners soon put a good product on the field, and in 2019 — after a terrible start to the season — the Nats improbably won the National League pennant and the World Series. But modern baseball economics are challenging to the loyal fans of any team. The only trait seemingly shared by players, agents, and owners in MLB is greed. In every town except maybe New York and Los Angeles, the fans’ favorite players frequently skip off to ply their trade in greener pastures, and by that I don’t mean the grass is greener in another ballpark. It’s the money.
And so Bryce Harper departs for Philadelphia. Anthony Rendon relocates to Southern California.
It’s not a new story, just as franchises skipping town isn’t new. But that hardly makes it easier to take. It’s even worse when owners send perfectly good, perfectly content players packing. Stars, even, which is what happened last night when Washington traded two of the team’s three most beloved players to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers are the defending World Series champs and in pitching ace Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner, they are getting two of the best players in the league — for minor leaguers. Other well-liked players were traded, too. What’s left is a shell of a team, one that will be staffed mostly by journeymen and marginal prospects trying to stick. Once upon a time, baseball’s commissioner would have blocked such a trade. But MLB doesn’t really have a commissioner anymore, although some suit does hold that title.
Somewhere in this favored land of ours, the sun is shining bright. The band is playing somewhere (Dodger Stadium, I reckon) and somewhere hearts are light. And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout. But there is no joy in Mudville — the mighty Lerners have struck out.
And that’s our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.