Cities love to see their sports teams as reflections of themselves. So what does that make the Nationals? As it happens, pitcher Stephen Strasburg has been studying U.S. history flash cards prepared for the team by columnist George Will. Outfielder Jayson Werth has grilled Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke (yes, he has "Natitude," too) about quantitative easing.
Washington has apparently learned from the Nats as well. Reid repurposed rookie-of-the-year candidate Bryce Harper's eloquent postgame quip - "That's a clown question, bro" - in one of his press conferences. The other day, Bernanke cited the Nationals as a model for economic policy: They are successful now, he said, because they planned ahead and invested in their future during the team's lean years.
That's one theory. A more plausible one is that they were really bad for a few years, which put them in a position to draft Ryan Zimmerman, who hit .393 at the University of Virginia, and a pair of no-brainers in Harper and Strasburg.
The team wasn't exactly planning ahead when it let Strasburg start his innings-meter on Opening Day and allowed it to expire in mid-September. Nor was it looking forward in 2010, when it signed Werth, then 31, to a seven-year, $126 million deal. He was absurdly overvalued even then, and the Nats will be paying him $21.6 million in 2017 - when he is 38.
That's all right: The owner of the Nationals, real estate developer Ted Lerner, can afford it. He's worth $4 billion.
But wait. Why, then, did he balk when asked for a $29,500 deposit - a deposit! - to keep the Metro running when the team's games run late? For that matter, why did he leave it to the city's taxpayers to foot the vast majority of the bill for the team's $600 million stadium?
In a sense, you can't blame Lerner for his unwillingness to assume the risk. After all, Washington lost its original baseball team, the Senators, in 1960 because of a lack of fan support.
Not that much has changed since. In this historic season, the Nationals rank 14th in attendance in the major leagues - an improvement over 2011, when they were 20th, but pretty pathetic for a team with a new ballpark, two of the game's most hyped young stars, and a wealthy potential fan base. The Nats weren't even close to selling out for their clinching game. This does not bode well for future years, when the team might not be as successful.
Or maybe I'm missing the point. In Washington, it's not the size of the crowd that matters so much as whether the right people are in it.
Either way, here they are, baseball's feel-good team and, evidently, a model of smart, virtuous management. At this rate, manager Davey Johnson will soon be cast in bronze on the Mall. It will not be a particularly popular attraction to New York Mets fans, who watched Johnson preside over their enormously talented teams of the late '80s and produce just one championship.
For all the Beltway spin, this season's real baseball miracle is just up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles built a competitive team out of a collection of has-beens and never-weres.
I don't mean to begrudge the Nationals their success in bringing postseason baseball back to Washington for the first time since 1933. Just keep in mind that if you root for the Nats, you'll be siding with Washington's political and media elite.
So bring on the extended postseason. And somebody, anybody, please beat the Nationals.
Jonathan Mahler is a columnist for Bloomberg View.