Retired Numbers: Washington Nationals

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

We have no idea what category to put the Washington Nationals in. When other teams have moved in the past, they brought their franchise history along with them. The A’s bounced from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland, but they were always the A’s. The Minnesota Twins used to be the Washington Senators, and later the new Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers, and in both cases we accept that the franchise has just changed names.

The Nationals are in a different category, though, as the only MLB team to relocate in the past four decades. On top of that, the Braves and the Giants are the only other franchises ever to move after having retired numbers. The Braves and Giants stayed the Braves and Giants, though, while the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals and the team decided to kind of pretend the past never existed.

For that reason, the Nationals do not have any retired numbers. The Expos had retired three numbers for four players, but all three numbers were put back into circulation when the team moved to Washington DC in 2005. So while these numbers are no longer retired, we refuse to contribute to the whitewashing of history, so let’s talk about them.

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Gary Carter, 8

Carter played 12 years with the Expos, winning three Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers and making seven All-Star teams. He then moved on to the New York Mets, where he made four more All-Star teams and helped the team win the 1986 World Series.

For his career, Carter batter .262/.335/.439 with 324 home runs and 1,225 RBIs. According to Jay Jaffe’s WAR system, he is the second-best catcher in baseball history, behind only Johnny Bench. He had to wait until his sixth year on the Hall of Fame ballot before he was elected in 2003. His plaque has an Expos hat on it despite his stated preference that he be inducted as a member of the Mets. No one wore number 8 for the Expos after Carter; it has been worn by five Nationals since they unretired it.

Rusty Staub, 10

Staub had a good career, but it wasn’t great, and only a little more than three years of it happened in Montreal. But he was the Expos’ first star, batting .302 with 29 home runs in the team’s inaugural season in 1969, and he and the city of Montreal embraced each other in a special way. Staub learned French after being traded to the Expos in 1969, which endeared him to the French Canadian fanbase of the team. He was nicknamed “Le Grand Orange,” giving Daniel Joseph Staub a second nickname based on his red hair.

From 1969-71, Staub batted .296/.404/.501 (151 OPS+) with 78 home runs and 270 RBIs for the Expos. The Expos traded him to the New York Mets in early 1972, then brought him back for another half-season in a trade with the Tigers in mid-1979.

Staub retired in 1985, and the Expos retired his number 10 in 1993. He spent seven years on the Hall of Fame ballot before falling off with 3.8 percent in 1997. Between Staub’s two stints with the Expos, his number was worn by Jim Cox. When Staub came back to the team in 1979, the number was being worn by future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.

Andre Dawson, 10

Dawson played 11 seasons with the Expos and was the second player (after Carter) to have an Expos hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. Dawson had 225 home runs and 253 stolen bases with the Expos, won the 1977 National League Rookie of the Year Award, and finished second in the MVP voting twice. He also won six straight Gold Gloves in Montreal and made the All-Star team three times.

Dawson’s best season came in 1987, when he hit 49 home runs and drove in 137 runs in his first year with the Chicago Cubs. Home run totals were high across the league in 1987, and it was the only time Dawson ever hit more than 32.

Dawson retired in 1996, and the Expos retired his number 10 in 1987. (It had been retired for Staub four years earlier.) Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010, his ninth year on the ballot. No one wore Dawson’s number for the Expos after he left; five Nationals have worn it since it was unretired.

Tim Raines, 30

According to JAWS, Raines is the eighth-best left-fielder in baseball history, surrounded on both sides of the list by Hall of Famers and Hall of Fame-caliber players. The problem is that he was a contemporary of Rickey Henderson, who played had basically the same skill set but better and is the third-best left fielder of all time.

In his 23-year career, Raines batted .294/.385/.425 with 808 stolen bases and 1,571 runs scored. He led the National League in stolen bases four times and in runs scored twice. In 1987 he was limited to 139 games (for an explanation of why, see the introductory paragraph to the video below), but he got on base 269 times led the league with 123 runs scored.

Raines retired in 2002, and the Expos retired his number 30 in 2003. He received 69.8 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 2016, so he looks likely to be elected in 2017, his final year on the ballot. After Raines left the Expos in 1990, his number was worn for four years by Dustin Hermanson.

In 1987, MLB owners colluded to keep the prices of free agents down, and Raines ended up re-signing with the Expos a month into the season. In his first game of the year, on May 2, he had two singles, a triple, a walk, and a stolen base. He then came up in the top of the tenth inning with the game tied, 6-6. This happened:

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