WASHINGTON – The longest losing streak in baseball continued Monday afternoon. This happened when a giant-headed replica of President Theodore Roosevelt once again failed to finish first in the presidents race held by the Washington Nationals. It wasn't unusual. Teddy Roosevelt has been losing presidents races in the middle of the fourth inning of Nationals home games for more than half a decade.
In fact, Teddy has never won the giant presidents head race since the team launched it in 2006, a run of futility that stretched to 394 races with Monday's defeat. The loss was like many of Teddy's in the past. The enormous heads of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson burst out of the center field gate, running around the right field warning track, trailed by Teddy who wobbled along well behind the other three, never to catch up. This is the joke, of course. Teddy is never allowed to win. He's in a sense the Washington Generals of the Washington Nationals.
Running at the back of the pack is nothing new for the Teddy Roosevelt mascot.
Over the years the Nationals have worked long and hard to invent new ways for Teddy to lose. Once he was attacked by a panther. Another time he ran the wrong way. He was even distracted during one race by a juggler in a clown suit. They've all been chronicled by Letteddywin.com, a website dedicated to Teddy's fruitlessness that seems to have the most complete accounting of Teddy's failures.
But on Monday speculation ran wild that Teddy was finally going to win. The Internet was abuzz with word that on Memorial Day the Nationals were going to let the old Colonial who charged up San Juan Hill actually take a race, though the reasons for this were less patriotic and had more to do with the whims of the team's unhappy right fielder, Jayson Werth(notes). It seems Werth, who is hitting .255 with eight home runs and just 19 RBIs despite being paid $126 million over seven years, does not care for losing. He expressed this in a rambling, ambiguous rant recently in which he said the problems with the last place Nationals are obvious, but refused to disclose what these obvious problems actually are.
When trying to clarify his remarks a few days later, he was still vague, indicating that changes need to be made to rid to the franchise of a losing culture but again did not want to identify these changes.
Except for one.
"Why doesn't Teddy get to win?" he asked.
Then he didn't want to say anything more.
Still his words left everyone baffled. Most had assumed when he first started talking about changes that he was referring to manager Jim Riggleman. No one had considered Teddy's five-year losing streak to be a factor in Washington's string of last-place finishes. Generally blame for that fell on a lack of talent, something the signing of Werth was supposed to help reverse.
Perhaps the line about Teddy getting to win was a joke, something to lighten a tense mood that followed Werth's complaints. But then Teddy staggered to another defeat Saturday and Werth – who watched the race intently from the top of the dugout steps – threw up his hand in disgust, then stomped away.
So given the cranky state of the player who is supposed to lead this team from its misery, speculation grew that the Nationals would allow Teddy to win a presidents race. After all, with five last-place finishes in their six years here and with the current team already 10½ games behind the first-place Phillies, what would it hurt to let Teddy win at least once? The excitement over Teddy surged.
Further fueling the frenzy was a Sunday tweet from the Nationals on the @Teddy26nats account from which "Teddy" communicates with the fans: "Sooo close I could taste it today. I've got a good feeling about tomorrow."
Monday might have been the ideal day for the Nationals to permit Teddy to win. Werth's old team, the Phillies, was in town and it seemed as if Philadelphia fans had taken over the stadium. Of the 34,789 announced to be in the stands on a sweltering afternoon, a good 15,000 appeared to be from Pennsylvania. They taunted Werth mercilessly for leaving as a free agent, singing "Jayyyyyson, Jayyyyyyson" and chanting "Jayson Werthless!"
But in the end Monday was not Teddy's day. He never stood a chance as he staggered far behind the winner Abraham Lincoln.
It turns out Monday wasn't Washington's day either. Despite hitting three home runs off Phillies starter Roy Halladay(notes), last year's Cy Young award winner and the man generally accepted to be the best pitcher in baseball, the Nats lost again. The defeat dropped them eight games under .500.
"There are no moral victories," Riggleman said later.
Just more losing; for his team and for Teddy.
Apparently some things never do change.