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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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