Washington "Nat'l League"

From BR Bullpen

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Washington Nat'l League was a designation given to the 1974 San Diego Padres on baseball cards produced by the Topps company. In late 1973, it seemed to be a sure bet that the Padres would be moving to Washington, DC for the next season. The Padres' owner, multi-millionaire C. Arnholt Smith, was in serious trouble, as he had been forced to step down as chairman of the U.S. National Bank, because it had exceeded the maximum amount of loans permissible to a single borrower, who happened to be Smith himself; for good measure, he owed the Internal Revenue Service some $22.58 million in unpaid taxes and was under investigation for illegal campaign contributions. The National League ordered him to sell his baseball team, and first in line with an offer was Joseph Danzansky, owner of DC-area Giant Food grocery stores, whose plan was to bring the team to Washington. The deal seemed final when the other 11 National League owners voted unanimously on December 6, 1973 to approve the sale of the team to Danzansky for $12 million and also approved the club's move to Washington for the 1974 season. Danzansky made a $100,000 deposit on the purchase price.

Using this knowledge Topps produced its first run of baseball cards for its 1974 set with players in San Diego uniforms and marked with Washington "Nat'l League" in place of the words "San Diego" and "Padres". Things seemed so certain that the potential new owner had a uniform designed for the Washington Stars, as he wanted the team to be called, and had it modeled by Padres pitcher Dave Freisleben.

However, the approved sale never took place. The city of San Diego sued the Padres for $84 million for breaking their lease on San Diego Stadium. This was too much of a financial risk for Danzansky, and he stepped back. General manager Buzzie Bavasi, who ran the team with Smith considered a pariah, scrambled to find a new buyer. His first choice was Marjorie Everett, whose fortune came from the Hollywood Park racetrack; other National League owners were firmly opposed to a fellow owner with such strong ties to the horseracing industry and, thus, to gambling. On January 25th, Ray Kroc. fast food magnate and owner of McDonald's restaurants, bought the team with the intention of keeping it in San Diego. Talks of moving to Washington ended there and then. The cards with the original design, 15 in all, were quickly reprinted with "San Diego Padres", making cards with the Washington Nat'l League designation much rarer.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Maxwell Kates: "A Brief History of the Washington Stars", in Bob Brown, ed.: Monumental Baseball: The National Pastime in the National Capital Region, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 39, 2009, pp. 117-120.