Thom Loverro: Toasting a division title for the Nationals

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Photo - Jayson Werth and the Nationals clinched the NL East on Monday night -- the first major league title for D.C. since 1933. (AP photo)
Jayson Werth and the Nationals clinched the NL East on Monday night -- the first major league title for D.C. since 1933. (AP photo)
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Thom Loverro

The last time a championship baseball banner flew above a ballpark in the District, fans couldn't legally celebrate with a drink.

Have a beer today, Washington, on your 2012 Washington Nationals.

The Nationals are the National League East champions -- the first actual title a Washington major league team can claim since the Senators won the American League pennant in 1933.

When those Senators clinched that championship, it was still two months before Prohibition was repealed.

And it's actually the first division title this franchise -- formerly the Montreal Expos -- can call its own. The only previous postseason appearance for the Expos was in the strike-shortened season of 1981, when they were declared the second-half "champions" and played in a division series.

In the 21st century of sports, no one is quite sure what constitutes a championship. The Nationals already had clinched a place in the playoffs more than a week ago, which guaranteed them at minimum a place in the one-game wild-card playoff. But nobody knew how to react to it -- not even the players, who toasted it quietly in the clubhouse with the Lerner family as if they were toasting the opening of a mall.

There's no confusion about this one, though, It's a title. It's not the AL pennant the Senators got to raise above Griffith Stadium, when the league consisted of eight teams. But it is a championship banner, one that will be raised at some point next season at Nationals Park no matter what happens from here.

It may feel like it means more to Nationals fans today than the championship banner meant to Senators fans in 1933 because of the drought of any kind of baseball title, pretend or otherwise, in this town. After all, when Senators fans celebrated in 1933, it was a familiar exercise -- the third AL pennant in 10 years.

As they say in the inspiration business, whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger.

Baseball seemed to die a thousand deaths in Washington since that 1933 pennant winner -- just four winning seasons after that until those Senators left town for Minneapolis in 1960, followed by just one winning season in the reincarnation of the Senators until they left town following the 1971 season for Arlington, Texas. And then 33 years of no national pastime in the nation's capital.

Yet baseball never did die. Despite the losing, the abandonment, the frustration of numerous failed attempts to bring the game back, baseball supporters still got up off the canvas and battled yet again until the Expos finally relocated to here in 2005. We had to import a team to get baseball back in Washington.

The NL East title the Nationals now lay claim to is more than a baseball championship. It is a victory banner for the championship baseball perseverance of Washington.

And this time, ain't the beer cold!

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner