Today’s news that Tyler Clippard is now a Diamondback and that Craig Stammen is now an Indian, albeit in Stammen’s case on a Minor League deal, hammered home yet again how today’s Major League Baseball is so different from the game we older (anyone who, like me, remembers rooting for either version of the Washington Senators falls into the “older” category) fans grew up with. Player movement was much more limited in the earlier times, and it was relatively uncommon to see a fan favorite return to take on his old team while wearing another team’s uniform.
With free agency and player movement now as much a part of the game as fastballs, foul lines and 6-4-3 double plays, fans today realize that it is highly likely that one time hometown favorites will be coming back to town in opponents’ uniforms. The Nats will face such a situation in May 2015 when Jordan Zimmermann arrives at Nationals Park with his new teammates from the Detroit Tigers (here’s hoping that Zimm starts the day BEFORE Detroit comes to DC), and may also have to deal with Ian Desmond returning to Washington to face the Nats instead of leading them into battle.
Zimm and Desmond (if he signs with a team that faces Washington in 2016) won’t be the first former Nats to return to DC, nor will they be the last (please, let’s hope we never see a certain ultra-talented outfielder who wears #34 play in Washington wearing anything but a Curly W cap). Here’s a look at my choice for the five former Nats I least enjoyed seeing in opponents’ colors while facing Washington.
5) Brian Schneider
Schneider was the Nats catcher in their first season in Washington in 2005. He caught the first pitch thrown out by President Bush in the team’s home opener on April 14th of that year, and helped the Nationals surge into first place with a season best 19 games over .500 record by hitting a dramatic game-winning homer against the Cubs in Chicago on July 3rd. The reliable backstop played three years for Washington and while he was not a star, he gave Washington a solid if not spectacular option behind the plate.
The one time Nat faced Washington 16 times after he left DC, 10 times with the Philadelphia Phillies and six times with the New York Mets. Schneider had only 11 hits in 46 at bats with three doubles and three RBI against Washington pitching in those 16 games.
4) Nick Johnson
After being the Nats’ starting first baseman in the team’s first year in Washington, Johnson looked to be blossoming into a star in 2006 when he hit .290 with 23 homers, 46 doubles, 77 RBI and 110 bases on balls. Unfortunately the often out of commission Johnson suffered the worst injury of his star crossed career late in the 2006 season, and was never the same over the rest of his days in Washington. That being the case, Johnson still put up respectable (.280 average, .867 OPS) over his four plus seasons wearing a Nats’ uniform.
Johnson faced Washington as a member of the Florida Marlins (eight games) and Baltimore Orioles (five games) over the last years of his career. Johnson had 10 hits in 34 at bats (.294 average) with five RBI and nine walks (against only two strikeouts) in those contests.
3) Adam Dunn
The Big Donkey played two memorable seasons in Washington, hitting 38 home runs in each of those campaigns and bringing the type of power to Washington that we had not seen since the days of Frank Howard when the “Capitol Punisher” was the mainstay of the Senators’ lineup.
Dunn ended up in the American League following his departure from DC, and played in only a handful of games for the Chicago White Sox against the Nats over the 2011 and 2013 seasons. Dunn went 3 for 23 in his at bats against Washington, with 11 strikeouts and no home runs.
2) Livan Hernandez
Along with closer Chad Cordero, Livo was the face of Nationals’ baseball during the team’s inagural season of 2005. From starting and excelling in the team’s home opener to leading the team to its improbable perch atop the National League East at the midway point of the year, #61 in red and white was both a National League All-Star and a virtual rock star in his first season in the Nations Capitol.
Of all the former Nats who went up against Washington as an opponent, Hernandez was probably the most successful. After losing his first game against the Nats on 9/2/06 as a member of the Diamondbacks, Hernandez would win his next eight starts against Washington (three for Arizona, one each for Minnesota and Colorado and three for the Mets) as he baffled Nats’ hitters with his array of pitches.
1) Tyler Clippard
Tyler Clippard in a Mets uniform during the 2015 pennant race was an abomination of the highest order. After all, we Nats fans were used to seeing #36 in Nats’ red confidently stride in from the bullpen time after time over his seven years in DC to set up another Nationals’ win or, in the case of the 2012 season, end the game by recording one of his 32 saves that year. The 2011 and 2014 National League All-Star looked very odd in Mets’ blue, especially when he was facing his former teammates.
Over five games last year, Clippard went 1-0 with a save in 4.2 innings pitched against Washington. The only run he surrendered was on a laser blast solo home run by Bryce Harper in a game the Mets led comfortably at the time. Maybe it won’t hurt as much when Clip comes to town in Diamondbacks’ colors, but it will always be bizarre to see him enter a game from the left-field bullpen instead of from the right-field side.