1971- The Futility Begins: My History As A Fan

It took about four years to get from being aware of major league baseball to becoming a full-fledged team fan. My first major league game was a Senators game. I got free tickets to a game for doing a backyard carnival for Muscular Dystrophy. In junior high, we got to catch one of the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series games in ’67. Fanhood, however, didn’t kick in until 1971.

I still remember being a freshman in high school in 1971, bringing my transistor radio to school with an earpiece. We were having a school assembly that day- for what I don’t remember- and I was ready for the season opener. Back then, there were two traditional opening day games. The Cincinnati Reds home opener and the Washington Senators home opener were the two. Living in Maryland, I could pick up the Senators home opener on my radio, so I decided to try to listen to the game without getting caught during the assembly. I succeeded.

If you lived in Maryland, especially in 1971, you were an Orioles fan. The Birds had lost the ’69 Series to the Mets, beat the Reds in ’70 and were loaded to repeat in ’71. About the only thing the Senators had going for them was Ted Williams as their manager (they were 70-92 in 1970). While not new to the game of baseball, 1969 was my first year of starting to become a fan of a team. I pulled for the Mets in the ’69 Series because I loved their story of rags to riches (this didn’t make me popular among my Oriole fan friends) and I pulled for the Birds in ’70, but I really wasn’t a fan of any team.

I probably would have remained that way for a while longer, except for two fateful turns. First, my eighth grade year, in 1970, I had gotten my first paper route, delivering the Washington Post. This put me in direct contact with regular news about the Senators. Second, I took that transistor radio to school that day to listen to the traditional opener. And what an opener it was. I remember few details about the game, but I do remember the result: The Senators were playing the A’s, who were expected to be one of the best in the American League, and Dick Bosman threw a gem for the Nats, an 8-0 shutout.

The 1971 Senators team was full of hope. They had traded for former 30-game winner Denny McLain from the Detroit Tigers. They also had acquired Curt Flood to play the outfield. I knew nothing of the finances of the game and the players at the time, but I knew they were two very good players. When the Senators not only beat the A’s, they trounced them, a fan was born.

I began telling all my Oriole friends about the Senators, trying to sway them. And oh, did I enjoy the start of that season. While Curt Flood had not hit a lot yet, coming off a self-imposed exile in which he was protesting the fact that he could not become a free agent, his presence was felt in the Nats line-up.

The Senators would follow their defeat of the A’s with a loss to the Orioles and a 4-game split with the Yankees. After losing two of three to the Red Sox, they went on to win two of three from the Indians, swept a two-game set from the Yankees, took two of three from the Brewers and another two of three from the Twins. After 20 games, “my” team was sitting at 12-8 and things were looking good.

And then it ended.

Sitting at 12-8, Curt Flood suddenly decided to retire. I don’t recall if he decided he didn’t have the skills any more or the interest. Regardless, he left the team, and in one fell swoop, the team totally deflated. The Senators lost 18 of their next 21 games to fall to 15-26 and things never got better. They ended the 1971 season at 63-96. Owner Robert Short announced he was moving the team to Dallas after the season. In the last game of the season, leading the Yankees 7-5 in the 9th inning, fans stormed the field before the end of the game, leading to their last game in Washington being a forfeit.

I should have known better. I should have taken it as an omen and moved my allegiance to the Orioles, who I had great respect for. But I was then, and still am, a very stubborn individual, so I stayed true to my Senators, now known as the Texas Rangers.

I have stayed loyal through nearly 40 years of fanhood, delighting in the accomplishments of stars like Frank Howard, Mike Epstein, Jeff Burroughs, Toby Harrah, Ruben Sierra, Jim Sundberg, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro as well as lesser known players like Joe Foy, Del Unser, Darold Knowles, Pete O’Brien and Kevin Elster. I have witnessed home-grown Senators and Rangers become stars for other teams: from Adrian Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa in recent years back to Eddie Brinkman and Aurelio Rodriguez in the early 70’s (they went to Detroit in the Denny McLain deal). I even moved to Texas in 1983 (not because of the Rangers) and have stayed a Lone Star State resident and a closer follower of “my” team ever since.

In 40 years of being a Senators/Rangers fan, I think I have witnessed winning records maybe ten times at best (I don’t have the heart to do the research to find out the actual figure). There was one delightful four year stretch in which the Rangers went to the playoffs three times, only to stomp on my heart again by losing nine of ten playoff games, all to the Yankees. I remember Billy Martin’s first year as manager when the Rangers came oh so close. I remember the year the Rangers fired their manager, hired a new one who managed one game and then quit, forcing them to hire their third manager of the season.

So now we come to 2010 and I am starting this blog, hoping this is the year the futility ends. I write this as a fan- not a fan who’s a whiz at strategy or sabermetrics, just one who has loved his Rangers/Senators through thick and thin for a LOOONNNGGG time with only one playoff win to show for it.

So no more history except for today’s history. Let the 2010 season begin. And let it end with at the very least a wild card berth, at most the first title in franchise history!

Tomorrow: Hopes and Fears for the 2010 Season


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