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Phil Wood: Fans of Nationals franchise need a history lesson

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Orioles,Phil Wood

Who's the greatest hitter in Baltimore Orioles franchise history? Here's a hint for you: He was also their first MVP winner.

If you guessed former Nationals manager Frank Robinson, or maybe fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken or Eddie Murray, guess again.

Give up? The answer is George Sisler, who batted .344 in 12 years with the club and won the AL MVP in 1922 when he hit .420. In 1961, his son Dave pitched for the expansion Senators.

Wait a minute, you say. The Orioles didn't get started until 1954. That's right, but the franchise played in St. Louis as the Browns from 1902 to 1953. Hence, Sisler's the guy ... unless you try finding his name anywhere at Camden Yards.

You see, when the Browns relocated to Charm City, they left all vestiges of the Browns in St. Louis. It was as if the Browns disappeared one day and the Orioles fell from the sky in Baltimore. There's no "Gorgeous George" statue scheduled for unveiling at Oriole Park anytime soon.

That's the way it should be when a team moves but leaves its nickname -- and hence its identity -- in the rearview mirror. It's why it's irritating that so many people want to reference the Montreal Expos' lone playoff appearance in 1981 as being a part of the Nats' history.

The idea that fans in Washington would rush to latch on to a legacy that's simply not theirs makes no sense. Had the team retained "Expos" as its moniker, it would be a different story, but much like the NBA having a team called the Utah Jazz, Washington Expos has no synergy whatsoever.

This year's Nationals have no one left who actually played in Montreal. Only Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond ever wore Expos uniforms -- as teenage prospects with the Gulf Coast League Expos -- Roger in 2002 and Ian in 2004.

It's different with the Braves, Dodgers, Giants and Athletics. Those clubs kept the same nickname and continue to honor players from their past cities. The Twins and Rangers acknowledge their pasts in Washington in their media guides but don't honor any of the players. The Orioles act like the Browns never happened. The Seattle Pilots are a mere footnote in Milwaukee Brewers lore.

Once the Nats opted to issue uniform numbers that had been retired in Montreal (No. 8 for Gary Carter, No. 10 for Andre Dawson and Rusty Staub and No. 30 for Tim Raines) it should have been patently obvious that Nats' NL history began in 2005, not 1969. In fact, 1969 is a year that's quite significant to local fans already getting the senior discount at Denny's: the last year before this one when a District team finished above .500.

Maybe someday the majors will return to Montreal. If that happens, let those fans celebrate the wonder that was the Expos. For me, it's a 79-year gap between postseason appearances for Washington baseball, not 31. Let's keep that straight.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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