Last November, the Washington Nationals began selling team merchandise. Opinions vary, but for the most part, it seems the designers came up with some decent-looking gear.
There is, however, one strange item that conjures up images of Donald Trump pointing to the MLB marketing executive and saying, “You’re fired.”
The item is a variation of the team emblem. It's also a patch sewn on the Nats’ home jersey. On top of the logo, it says Washington Nationals. Below, the tag line reads, “Established 1905.”
The date is confusing to say the least. The Expos-Nationals franchise was established in 1969. The Senators/Nationals franchise was established in 1901. So where did they get 1905 from?
According to the Hall of Fame website, the 1905 Nationals were the first team to wear their nickname on their uniform. I spoke with Marc Okkonen whose massive research is the definitive work on the subject of uniforms. He confirmed the Nationals were the first team to do so.
Ok, so the Nationals pioneered the nickname across the chest. But from 1901 to 1904, the team was known as Senators. How exactly did the name change come about?
New Name For Club
“The Senators” Has Been a Veritable Hoodoo
Fans Asked to Suggest Title
Those were the sports headlines at The Washington Post on the morning of February 3, 1905. Team owner Thomas C. Noyes, it seems, wasn’t happy with the team’s record as Senators. The club’s Board of Directors appointed the sports editors of the three Washington newspapers as a committee to head up the selection process for a new name.
The suggestions poured in. Among them were Admirals, Big Sticks, Defenders, Empires, Olympias, Pensioners and Presidents. The final tally numbered 3,000 with 1,185 different names suggested.
On March 26, the Post announced the winner.
Washington Team Rechristened “The Nationals”
The exact number of votes was not given but the article said Nationals “had the strongest following.” The Post published several comments from the letters.
“The name I suggest for the Washington baseball club is the Nationals. The only team that ever won a pennant for Washington was called the Nationals. It would indicate that they represent the National Capital.”
The first great club that Washington had was named Nationals. This club was one of the pioneers of baseball, and was successful; so call the club the Nationals…”
In the years to follow, the Washington Post referred to the team as Nationals or Nats, a convenient abbreviation for the editors. Some other newspapers still used Senators. And as Howard Pollack notes (SABR-L), “both were used interchangeably and, technically, the latter (Nationals) was correct.”
Nationals lasted until another team owner wanted a change. In 1956, Calvin Griffith decided he didn’t like the name. On October 31, “Bob Addie’s Column” in the Post announced that Griffith decided to change the name to Senators.
"Calvin’s reasons for the change are curious. The name ‘Nationals,’ Calvin says, has a connotation of belonging to the Nation. He wants the Senators to belong to the city of Washington.”
The Senators did belong to Washington until the end of the 1971 season. Then last September, after MLB awarded Washington with the Expos franchise, discussion began on what the new nickname should be. Senators got some nostalgic support. D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, however, did not like the name.
"I've articulated that I do not support Senators as a name. I believe that is the wrong name," Mr. Williams said, citing the District's lack of voting representation in Congress. "I think [MLB] listened. They understand my position."
MLB collected their own data. A Washington Times article noted that “Industry sources said Nationals is a near lock to overtake Senators and Grays after a whirlwind, closed-door evaluation that involved focus groups, marketing executives and polling data.”
So once again, the team in Washington will sport Nationals across their chests. It’s a nickname the fans in the nation’s capital wanted and got 100 years ago.