Fans blame Teddy Roosevelt for Nats playoff collapse

For six years from 2006 through 2012, Washington Nationals fans talked of The Curse of Teddy Roosevelt, and everybody knew what they meant: Teddy’s continued losses in the team’s presidents race were seen as a curse that kept the team from winning.

Washington Nationals Teddy Roosevelt Scratched Injured Day to DayAbe Lincoln pushes Teddy Roosevelt to the Ground - Washington Nationals presidents race

Jayson Werth interferes with the Nationals presidents race

Outfielder Jayson Werth attempted to interfere with the presidents race in September, 2011. “People can laugh,” Werth said. “To me, the Presidents Race and Teddy Roosevelt are very symbolic of where this organization goes.”

But since the Rough Rider won his first-ever presidents race title this year, and extended his victorious ways into the 2014 postseason, many fans have concluded that the Nats are doomed to playoff failure precisely because Teddy is now winning.

An informal review of this week’s playoff chatter on Twitter (excerpts below) reveals a strong anti-Teddy Roosevelt sentiment that grew with each Bull Moose victory and each Nationals postseason loss.

So how did this happen?

Talk of a curse among fans goes back to the days of RFK Stadium, and was the inspiration for this blog, but of course back then it was Teddy’s failure to win that was the problem.

After the team opened Nationals Park and Teddy’s losing streak passed the 250 mark, Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro first compared it to famous baseball curses that had prevented the Cubs and Red Sox from winning for generations.

When the Nationals signed free agent Jayson Werth in 2011, the team’s new outfielder spoke openly of the curse, going so far as to say that the Nats wouldn’t win if Teddy didn’t as well.

Before his first season had ended, Werth had personally tried to interfere and stop Teddy’s losing streak.

Even the next season when the team built the best record in baseball, Werth continued to insist that Teddy’s losing streak was a curse.

Teddy Roosevelt Racing President dot drawing from page A1 of the Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt dot drawing from the front page of The Wall Street Journal
September 29, 2012

As the Nats improved on the field and Teddy’s streak passed 500 losses, a Ken Burns mini-documentary plus cover stories in The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets turned the curse into a national story. Even The White House called for a victory by Teddy to break the curse.

Then remarkably, just before the team’s first playoff appearance in 2012, Huffington Post editor Brandon Wetherbee, a longtime Cubs fan, pleaded that the Nats not let Teddy Win until after the team won the World Series. He argued that a Teddy victory followed by anything short of a championship would forever link Roosevelt to a reversed curse, much like the Curse of the Billy Goat that has haunted Cubs fans since 1945.

How prophetic he was.

The Nats clinched the 2012 division title, then the team let Teddy win on the last day of the 2012 season and again in the playoffs, and Teddy has won each of the team’s postseason races since.

When the Nationals failed to beat the Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS, a few people blamed Teddy:

But when the Nationals got off to a poor start in 2013, this sort of record-keeping became common practice after every Nationals loss:

Even as the Nats record improved and they roared back into playoff contention in 2013, a new myth was establishing itself: the Nationals had taken a turn for the worse since they let Teddy Win. When the 2014 season began and for the first time Teddy started winning more frequently, the myth grew:

You get the point.

So what’s the actual record say?

That data is hardly conclusive. Teddy only started winning regularly this year, and during the recently-completed 2014 regular season, the Nationals won an impressive 69% of games in which Teddy won the presidents race:

2014 Results


President
Regular
Season
Record
Team
Record
Team
Winning
%
Roosevelt 26 18-8 69%
Lincoln 25 15-10 60%
Taft 12 9-3 73%
Jefferson 11 5-6 45%
Washington 10 5-5 50%

This record includes two occasions in which the Nats played a 13-inning home game. Both times, Teddy won the late “bonus” race, and the team lost.  Counting only the regular fourth-inning race, the team was 18-6 (75%) when Teddy won.

But the story changes during the postseason. Since Teddy’s first win in 2012, the Nats have played five home playoff games. Teddy has won all of the presidents races, including two during Saturday’s 18-inning contest, and the team has posted a dismal 1-4 record.

Thus the curse.

As you can see, the Twitter curse talk started slowly after the Nats’ Game 1 loss:

Then came game 2. Teddy won the 4th inning race, and then the team suffered a blown save in the 9th inning. In the 13th inning, Teddy won again. Finally, the Nationals lost by a score of 2-1 in epic, record-breaking, heart-wrenching 18-inning fashion, and the chatter really picked up:

When the Nats hit the road and won game three in San Francisco, things quieted down. The momentum had shifted, but people still were getting digs in at Teddy. Then came game 4, in which defensive gaffes and wild pitches led to all three of the Giants’ decisive runs. The Nats were eliminated in embarrassing fashion.

Somebody had to take the blame:

It seems likely that until the Nationals win the World Series, this myth will continue to propogate, but I’d like to offer an alternative interpretation of things. The Nationals introduced a fifth racing president, William Howard Taft, after the 2012 season. Perhaps it’s a #TaftCurse that kept the Nats out of the playoffs last year, and caused this year’s postseason meltdown. Taft knocked things out of balance. He’s not one of the Mount Rushmore four. Get rid of Taft, and perhaps harmony will be restored at Nationals Park.

Tunnel photo: Anthony Gualtieri

Video: Nats get superstitious, reverse presidents race direction and put a stop to Teddy victories

Blame the team. Blame Twitter. But the seven year conspiracy against Teddy Roosevelt seems to have been resurrected.

Racing president Teddy Roosevelt takes a dive July 25

Teddy Roosevelt takes a dive just short of the finish line July 25

Rally Cicada arrives too late to tackle Teddy Roosevelt July 26…

Teddy Roosevelt Takes a Dive Jul 26 Nationals Presidents Race 2

…but Teddy Roosevelt pretends to be tripped and falls anyway

Abe Lincoln leaps from the stands to tackle Teddy Roosevelt in the Washington Nationals Presidents Race

Abe Lincoln leaps from the stands to tackle Teddy Roosevelt July 27…

Abe Lincoln leaps from the stands to tackle Teddy Roosevelt 4

…as George Washington races by for the win


The Washington Nationals’ struggles have prompted hundreds of Tweets tallying the team’s total record since letting Teddy win at the end of last season, with some even calling it “the curse of Let Teddy Win.”

After suffering their sixth straight loss Wednesday, the Nats tried to shake things up. The direction of the race was switched, with the presidents now running towards a finish line on the third base side of the field. More significantly, a familiar but suspicious pattern suggests that the team revived its longstanding ban on Teddy Roosevelt victories at the same time.

On Thursday, the presidents ran left for the first time all season, and Teddy took a huge lead into the home stretch, but stumbled as if on queue, falling flat on his face just short of the finish line.

The next day, the Rally Cicada returned to Nationals Park, and appeared ready to ambush Teddy along the finish line. The bug arrived late and missed Teddy completely, yet Teddy pretended to be tripped and fell just short of victory.

Nats play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter captured it best. “This town loves a good conspiracy,” he said on the broadcast. “That was the worst, ever.”

On Saturday, the Rough Rider once again took a big lead into the home stretch, but Abe Lincoln was waiting in ambush, and jumped out of the stands along the third base line, tackling Teddy to the ground, allowing George Washington to race by for the win. On Sunday, George Washington slammed into Teddy with a bicycle.

Teddy had won five races this season, but none on this homestand, and the team has won 4 of 5 games since the changes. If superstition holds, Teddy may be in for a long rest of the summer.

Another Curse against the Nats? Or just the reason Abe Lincoln gets away with cheating.

In today’s Baltimore Sun, Mark Greenbaum and David O’Leary argue that the Nationals poor record in the team’s short history is not due to the fact that Major League Baseball decimated the Expos organization and talent pool, but because Nationals Park is haunted by the ghost of John Wilkes Booth.

Yes, it seems the the Nationals’ shiny new ball park happens to be on the site where Abraham Lincoln’s assassins were tried, hung, and buried.

Of course, the Nationals’ weak on-field performance dates not to the opening of Nationals Park, but to the introduction of the presidents race in 2006, leading others to have speculated about the curse of Teddy Roosevelt.

Interestingly, if any performance-related trend can be tied to the opening of Nationals Park, it’s the unlikely dominance of Abraham Lincoln in the team’s 4th-inning presidents race.

Back at RFK stadium, the first presidents race season titles went to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

But since moving to Nationals Park, Abe Lincoln has simply dominated, winning the crown going away in 2008 and 2009. This year, after losing his lead briefly to George, Abe went on a late season tear and with just ten home games remaining is positioned to take his third title in a row.

It’s been well established that Abe gets away with cheating, but perhaps it’s not Abe at all, and rather a higher power allowing the Great Emancipator to get away with murder…

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