Washington Nationals Team Picture 2006 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for December 22, 2017


So much was strange about the first year the Nationals played in Washington.

For one thing, a baseball team in Washington seemed like something from a distant time. The Senators played their final game in DC in 1971. I was born in 1972. It was no different for me emotionally to think of a big league team in Brooklyn as it was to have a team in Washington.

And I so loved having a team in Montreal. But like a bad marriage, the Expos leaving Montreal was inevitable. Except of course it dragged on. Baseball needed to strike a deal with the Orioles, who relied on the DC market for television revenue.

Makes sense. Everyone knew that. So why not take 3 years to do it? Whatever deal was struck after the 2004 season could have been made before the 2002 season when MLB took over the Expos and the fiasco was on its way.

All of 2002, 2003 and 2004, baseball put on a charade as if to say “Well, we are trying to figure out where the Expos can play.”

Washington was the only place! They had a city that could support them and a stadium, albeit a crappy one in RFK, that they could move into. So strike the deal with the Orioles and get on with it.

The Expos could not call up September roster players because of budget constraints being owned by MLB. And two Wild Card runs were derailed because of it.

The charade ended, a deal was struck that favored Baltimore and the Nationals stumbled into existence in 2005.

And for a while, the Frank Robinson led team looked like they were going to do something extraordinary: They were going to bring Washington their first post season team since the 1933 AL Champion Senators.

A 5 game winning streak in April, including their first home games in DC, put them in first early on. Throughout May, the Nationals hovered around .500, but the Braves, always the winner of the East, was not off to a great start either. Washington was hanging around.

Then, out of nowhere, the Nationals won 13 out of 14 games in June. They went from even .500 to 11 games over in a few weeks and took a 3 game lead in the Division by June 15th. They took 3 of 4 from Atlanta during the stretch. Livan Hernandez pitched like an ace for a big chunk of the first half while Marlon Byrd, Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen supplied the fire power.

On July 3, the Nationals won a 12 inning game against the Cubs. They were 5 1/2 games in first place roughly half way through the year. This was more than just an April winning streak padding their early numbers. This was a team that was defying expectations and suddenly gave Washington fans legitimate reason to believe.

Then the losing started. Between July 4 and August 2, they went 6-19. On July 26th, they fell out of first place. The team that had a 5 1/2 game lead on July 3 was 6 1/2 games out on August 10th. By August 28th, they were 7 games out and in last place, but still with a winning record. The NL East was quite strong that year while the NL West barely had a team over .500.

The Nationals limped to the finish line. A 3 game sweep by the Phillies to end the season prevented even a winning year, let alone a playoff spot. They finished at 81-81, a far cry from the team that sat alone at the top of the standings at the All Star Break.

Washington fans would have to wait until 2012 for their first playoff team since 1933. For much of 2005, it looked like they were going to be treated right away.

Frank Robinson 2006 Topps – Sully Baseball Card for October 11, 2017


Is it possible for a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to be underrated? Can someone who has achieved the highest honors in the game look around and say “Man, they just aren’t giving me my due”?

It is a hard sell, I admit. But it is possible that the great career of Frank Robinson, whose influence stretched over six decades, has been somewhat under valued.

Born in Texas but raised in Oakland, as a high school student played basketball with Bill Russell and baseball with Vada Pinson and Curt Flood.

As a 17 year old, he signed with the Reds and would attend Xavier University when he wasn’t playing. He made minced meat of the minor leagues, smacking homers and hitting for a high average.

By age 20, he was starting for the Reds and led the league in runs scored during his Rookie of the Year winning campaign.

Year in and year out, he would hit 30 or more homers, keep his average over .300 and see his RBI total hit triple digits.

In 1961, he led the Reds to the World Series and won the Most Valuable Player. Nobody knew it then, but he also consistently led the league in OPS then as well.

The year after his MVP season, he led the league in on base and slugging while hitting 39 homers and driving in 136 runs.

Unbeknownst to anyone, he consistently was in the top 10 of WAR in the National League. Advanced metrics showed he might even have been better than his eye popping numbers would indicate.

He had a .925 OPS in 1965 when he also hit 33 homers and drove in 113 when the Reds figured he was washed up and sent him off to Baltimore.

Can you imagine if Frank Robinson was part of the Big Red Machine? Well, instead he went to Baltimore, won the Triple Crown, had an OPS of 1.047 and became the first to win MVPs in both leagues.

Oh yeah, he led the Orioles to the World Series title, their first ever including their years as the St. Louis Browns.

He continued putting up solid traditional numbers and terrific advanced metrics into the 1970’s and played on a total of four Orioles pennant winners and two World Series champs.

After bouncing between the Dodgers, Angels and Indians, he became a player manager for Cleveland. He was the first ever African American manager in MLB history, fulfilling what Jackie Robinson had lobbied for in his final public appearance.

Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson were not related by blood but they are tied together by their legacies. Robinson became the first African American manager in both the American and National League. He took over the Giants in the 1980’s and they contended until the last weekend in 1982.

Later in 1988, he was named the Orioles skipper and won the Manager of the Year when they stunned baseball by challenging the Blue Jays until the final weekend.

When MLB took over the Expos in 2002, Robinson was installed as manager in a hopeless situation. The Expos, despite no money and no support, were surprise Wild Card contenders late into the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

When the club moved to Washington, they were in first place for much of the first half of the season before fading to Atlanta. He managed one more season before becoming an executive for MLB.

He was a Rookie of the Year, won the NL and AL MVPs, was a 14 time All Star, won a pair of World Series, took home the Triple Crown, the Gold Glove was named manager of the year and had his number retired by three organizations.

He was 57 hits shy of 3,000 while finishing with 586 homers and lifetime batting average of .294 and an OPS of .926.

He was a pioneering player, an all time great and blazed trails in the dugout over several generations.

His career spanned from his playing against Jackie Robinson to managing Vladimir Guerrero.

As an All Time great and influential figure in baseball history, he has to be considered one of the biggest.

For that reason, as odd as it seems, I believe this Hall of Fame titan may be underrated.

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – February 4, 2017


Neil Leifer

One of the most intriguing “What Ifs” in baseball history is the question “What if the Reds did NOT trade Frank Robinson to Cincinnati?”

Truth be told, while it was a HORRIBLE trade for the Reds, it is hard to see them having a BETTER decade in the 1970’s with him as they had without him.

Oiling the Big Red Machine on this episodeĀ of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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