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Jun 29, 2020

When the original version of the modern-era Washington Senators announced its intention to relocate to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1960 to become the Twins the following season, Major League Baseball moved up part of its planned 1962 expansion by a year to help stave off dual competitive threats of both a new challenger Continental League and the potential loss of its longstanding federal antitrust exemption.

To placate regulators, the American League reworked its plans and replaced the departing DC franchise with an entirely new expansion club – to also be known as the Senators – to commence immediately in its wake for 1961.  After an “inaugural” season at old Griffith Stadium, the new Senators moved to the new District of Columbia Stadium under a 10-year lease.

For most of their second incarnation, the “new” Senators were just as woeful as their predecessors, losing an average of 90 games a season and perennially finishing below .500 – helping preserve the traditional lamentation to which DC area fans had become accustomed: “Washington: First in War, First in Peace and Still Last in the American League.”

But in 1969, when new owner Bob Short successfully coaxed Hall of Fame batting legend Ted Williams out of retirement to become the club’s rookie manager, things immediately changed.  Williams' maniacal approach to hitting helped ignite the moribund Senators to its one and only winning season during its 11-year run – winning 86 games (21 more than in 1968) – and vaulting from last in the previous year’s ten-team American League to just one game out of third in the new divisional AL East.

Attendance at the newly renamed RFK Stadium zoomed above 900,000 for the season (not to mention a Senators-hosted MLB All-Star Game featuring a booming 2nd inning HR by hometown hero Frank Howard), and Williams was voted AL Manager of the Year.  For the first time in decades, it seemed baseball in Washington was “back.”

But, as 1969 Senators chronicler Steve Walker (“A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators”) tells us, the excitement was not to last; the club soon reverted back to its forlorn ways – exacerbated by an increasingly impatient and already-conspiring Short – who relocated the franchise to the Dallas Metroplex after the 1971 season, to become today’s Texas Rangers.

It would be 33 years until another major league team would call DC home again.

This week’s episode is sponsored by the Red Lightning Books imprint of Indiana University Press – who offer our listeners a FREE CHAPTER of pioneering sportswriter Diana K. Shah’s new memoir A Farewell to Arms, Legs and Jockstraps!