When you follow a team that has a run of great years, and even wins a championship during that time, you know it isn’t going to last forever.
But that doesn’t make you feel any better when that day arrives.
As a kid who marveled at this guy the Virginia Squires had from the University of Massachusetts named Julius Erving, I still remember the sting of picking up the Virginian-Pilot in my hometown of Norfolk to read that the Squires had basically given Erving away to the then-named New York Nets. They weren’t going to be able to re-sign him, the story said, so they got what they could. Which was very little.
The sting wasn’t so much the team traded away Erving. It was the realization that the good times were over, and not for just a year or two. It would be a long time, everyone understood, before the team would be this good again, if ever.
Fast forward to 1981 when Joe Gibbs took over the then-named Washington Redskins. From 0-5 to 8-8 to playing in Super Bowls, it was intoxicating to know that every year Joe Jackson Gibbs was at the helm, there was a chance the team could be one of the last two playing each year. Every Sunday was a party as we turned on the television, turned the sound down, and listed to Sonny, Sam and Frank on the radio usher us through these heady times.
But driving back to the office from lunch one early March Day in 1993, I heard the news on the radio that Gibbs had decided to step down. And again, it wasn’t a feeling of loss for that year. The team had a lot of talent and in theory, elevated Ritchie Pettibone to the head job so there’d be continuity. It didn’t seem like they’d go from perennial winners to a 4-12 team overnight (although that’s exactly what happened).
I remember saying out loud in the car “I can't believe it, it’s over.” Gibbs was just a special talent who got things out of his teams others probably would not. I immediately felt that same pang of “its going to be a long time until they are this good again, if ever,” and as it turned out, the team hasn’t been back to a Super Bowl since.
So tonight, for the third time in my life, I’m feeling that old familiar feeling again. Max Scherzer and Trea Turner are gone, traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for four prospects: Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, Gerardo Carrillo, and Donovan Casey. You knew both being traded was a distinct possibility since both have contracts expiring soon, and the trades in and of themselves doesn’t mean the team will return to losing 100 games a season. The talk among baseball experts is that these are four really good young prospects that greatly enhance the Nationals' farm system.
But Max was a special talent. He not only performed well when he got his chance to pitch, he set the bar high by example in terms of his work ethic and his competitive spirit. F.P. Santangelo said on the broadcast of his final game as a Nat earlier today that Max didn’t just want to beat you. He wanted to beat your soul.
For teams to get over the hump and win a championship like the Nationals did in 2019, you need someone like Max to push himself, push his manager and push his teammates. The guy that says in Game 7 of a World Series “I don’t care how tired I am, Skip, if you need me for an inning or two tonight, I’ll be ready.”
He won two Cy Young awards, threw 2 no-hitters and played in six All-Star Games, but he also probably motivated 100 different Nationals to push a little harder every day and take the next step up from good to great. I mean, when you see Max at his age still running in 100-degree heat to stay in shape as hard or harder than most 20-somethings, you’re either going to put forth similar effort. Or at a minimum stay away from Max in the dugout.
Trea, personality wise, was a complete opposite of Max. He is young, fast, has surprising power, and seemed to me to be the kind of player who could be performing for the Nats for another decade if they could agree to contract terms. He played at N.C. State, is now living in Florida, and seemed like he could be happy the rest of his career in Washington. He is a player you can build around.
But now they're both gone. The trades symbolize the Nationals' decision to be in full selling mode (they traded away Brad Hand to Toronto earlier in the day, then right before midnight traded Kyle Schwarber to Boston and Daniel Hudson to San Diego), and there's no longer any argument that the wonderful ride that started back in 2012 when they broke through, won 98 games and made the playoffs…is over.
Like I’ve done before twice in my life, I’m going to tell myself this time is different. These new younger prospects, I've been told, could soon be in the majors, and in another year or two, Washington might be back in the thick of things. I mean, it could happen.
But it doesn’t feel that way at this very moment. Max and Trea were key parts of the magic carpet ride that culminated in a World Series title, which was one of the really good things to come to Washington sports in recent years. And as mentioned earlier when it comes to sports, all good things...must eventually come to an end.
For Nationals fans, today is the day they finally did.