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It's All About the Grays: Area, Homestead, Vincent

What this polarized world needs now is more grays, and here in the global capital of gray areas (we haven't even settled on the proper spelling of the word grey), we've got a wonderful confluence of grays that will make centrists feel all warm and goozhy inside:

Stay with me now as we wrap baseball, the law, D.C. politics and race into one little blog item:

As a big old New York newspaper with the initials NYT reported Tuesday, the Washington Nationals, desperately craving a monopoly on all the mishegas in baseball, now stand to lose their name, thanks to a legal battle with a crafty Cincinnati company that managed to file for control of the Nationals trademark way back in 2002, well before the Nats actually existed.

Back then, the company, Bygone Sports, apparently was hoping to make a buck by selling retro sports clothing and memorabilia harkening back to the midcentury period when the Washington Senators were widely known as (and for a time legally named) the Nationals. But if you follow the links on Bygone's site, you quickly begin to wonder whether Bygone exists for any purpose other than to make life miserable for the Nats, who are professional sports' finest magnet for misery. Bygone appears to be basically one guy, a lawyer, of course.

And last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Bygone owns the rights to sell merchandise with the Nationals name, and Major League Baseball does not. Not that merchandising rights are that important to MLB; nah, they responded to the decision by saying that they will move to strip the Nats of their name and try something different if they can't reach an amicable resolution with Bygone.

Bygone, of course, would be thrilled to be paid to go away. As The Post's Tom Heath reports in today's editions, at some point early on in the dispute, Bygone was willing to be gone for $250,000. What do you want to bet that sum now wouldn't cover even the lowliest associate's work on the trademark case? If there's one thing baseball doesn't traffic much in, it's amicable resolutions. So start thinking of new names--or rather, old names. Back to the Senators, anyone? Or my second favorite, the Homestead Grays.

It's hard to know whom to root for in this dispute. Fans who've come to cherish the Nats would hate to lose the name, and the odds against politicians coming to their senses about the rich history of the Senators name are not good. On the other hand, it's always heartening to see MLB get whacked for the owners' general greed and bumbling. But the sad bottom line here is that the inevitable result is the most depressing one: The lawyers will win and the fans will pay. Someone will settle with someone else and the ticketbuyer will foot the bill for all the new beach houses and Jags purchased with the winnings.

Baseball--and Gray--continues to dominate city politics, too. As WTOP's irrepressible Mark Plotkin reported Tuesday evening, D.C. Council member Vincent Gray, who won election to the Ward 7 seat in 2004 in good part on the basis of his opposition to paying for a new baseball stadium, will announce this week that he is running for the citywide council at-large seat being vacated by council chairman Linda Cropp, who is running for mayor.

Gray, you may recall, was one of the Switcheroo Quartet who flipped from anti-stadium to pro-stadium on that wild night earlier this month when the council approved the Nationals lease on the proposed ballpark along the Anacostia River.

Now, Gray seems to be calculating that he, like Cropp, can persuade voters that he is both for and against the baseball deal, that he deserves credit for saving the city from losing the Nats and that he should be thanked for getting the District a better deal than it previously had negotiated with MLB. It's pure hogwash, of course, but it's a campaign of some sort.

The more persuasive calculation is, typically for D.C. politics, racial. Gray sees Kathy Patterson, the only other major candidate in the at-large contest, as particularly vulnerable to a challenge because she is white. Patterson, the Ward 3 member of the council, is best known in white parts of town, and although she has gotten a nice lift recently from the success of her proposal to boost spending on school renovations, the consensus among black politicians in what is still a solidly majority-black city is that a strong black candidate beats a white candidate just about every time.

But don't start laying bets on Gray quite yet. The field may be far from finished in that contest. At least two of the mayoral candidates whose campaigns are thus far lagging--council member Vincent Orange (not Gray) and former phone company executive Marie Johns (very gray)--could well drop back and shoot instead for a citywide council seat. And that, by the crude racial calculus that too often passes for political strategy in this city, could revive Patterson's hopes.

Or, heavens forbid, the council race could turn on....issues and competence and vision.

Well, even in a gray world, we can hope, can't we?

By Marc Fisher |  February 22, 2006; 7:15 AM ET
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Posted by: ist | February 22, 2006 10:20 AM

Maybe we should just call them the "Gnats"
and have a guy in a black fly suit as a mascott. OK, I realise that this isn't New England and nobody in DC but a transplanted Yankee fan knows what a black fly is, but we still do have those pesky gnats here in the summer and the sports casters won't have to change their diction.

We could always resurrect the Senators?

Posted by: Ed Harris | February 22, 2006 10:27 AM

umm. how would even the most informed and conscientious voter determine which DC council candidate has competence or vision???

That's like trying to pick an Enron executive based on honesty.

Posted by: Dave | February 22, 2006 10:28 AM

Bring back the Senators! Bring back the Senators!

Posted by: Se Nators | February 22, 2006 10:55 AM

As Mark Plotkin once said, "You can't name a team after something you can't vote for!"

Posted by: Jacknut | February 22, 2006 11:29 AM

I believe the Texas Rangers own the rights to the name "Senators."

Posted by: Peter | February 22, 2006 11:39 AM

1. Since I'm resigned to the "Nationals", if MLB (SINCE WE DON'T ACTUALLY HAVE TEAM OWNERS) can work out a deal with the Trademark Squatters that won't affect ticket prices, so be it.

2. I'd love to see the "Senators" come back. My earilest MLB memory was Frank Howard knocking one out of RFK (I think. Memory is a funny thing; just ask my wife.)

3. If 1. and 2. are out, how about
a. the Sea Dogs
b. the Bullets

I'm pretty sure that those names could be acquired locally...


Posted by: bc | February 22, 2006 11:55 AM

Sorry for the misspell of "earliest", Marc.


Posted by: bc | February 22, 2006 11:56 AM

This has nothing to do with the Nats, but I hope Marc takes up the ports management issue in one of his columns. Setting aside the merits of the deal itself, what is really disturbing about all of this is how utterly clueless Congress is. Judging from their bloviating comments, it appears that our senators and representatives apparently did not know that a)the ports in question were already managed by a foreign firm, so the new situation would not be precedent-setting; b) contrary to many of the esteemed Members' hysteria-filled statements, port security was, is, and always will be handled by the federal government, and no one else. This deal would not change that in any way.

This is basic stuff, not policy minutiae. And where were these Members' staffers, anyway? Those press releases had to be written by staff. I guess they're too busy looking for private-sector gigs to do 15 minutes' worth of research.

These are some of the very same people, mind you, who have pointed out, correctly, that the government needs to spend more on port security. It is astonishing. And depressing. Don't they read?

Posted by: Caelummihisedesest | February 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Bygone Sports has a case precisely because MLB insisted on jerking DC around for two years. I hope they win (I think it's treble damages for TM infringement, so who cares if they change the name, Bygone will hit the jackpot). And as for a new name, they should go back to Senators: the Rangers may own the rights, but all MLB licensing revenue is pooled, so what difference would it make?

Posted by: LR | February 22, 2006 1:04 PM


So sorry, but I do think the Portland (ME) Sea Dogs might take exception to the use of that name. Howabout we call 'em the Beltways? Belts for short, natch... :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 22, 2006 1:23 PM

I always thought it would be cool if the team was the Washington Gray Sox. Unoriginal? Possibly, but it has a good ring to it.

Posted by: Sarah | February 22, 2006 1:28 PM

I think it would be terrific if the team were renamed the Washington Grays. DC is a majority-black city, and no other team in the majors honors the Negro Leagues with its name. And if baseball is going to survive as an American sport, it will have to find ways to engage young African-American athletes. This would be a great way to start. (Not to mention the appropriateness of Grays for a city populated by bureacrats and timid politicians; or the difficulty the City Council might have nixing the longevity of a team that explicitly honored some heroes of black sports history. . . .) For what it's worth, I'm a middle-aged white suburban female, and I'd be delighted to root for the Washington Grays. I bet I'm not alone.

Posted by: Joy | February 22, 2006 2:58 PM

Grays! Grays! Grays!

I actually think it would work; turn the Montreal M upside down and put a serif on the outside of that lower-case E, and you're in business.

And for that matter, rename the Potomac Nationals the Homestead Grays.

Posted by: Bigg | February 22, 2006 3:15 PM

Scotty, "Sea Dogs" was a reference to Abe Pollin's odd public "contest" a decade ago to rename les Boulez (as Mr. Tony calls them). The finalists as I remember them were "Sea Dogs" and "Wizards". I do recall someone pointing out the Portland Sea Dogs at the time.

Ya hadda be there. Or rather, here.


Posted by: bc | February 22, 2006 3:20 PM


I am here, but you're over there.

I'd happily root for the Grays... But how would we tell the home jerseys from the aways?? :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 22, 2006 3:30 PM

Light gray for home, charcoal gray away.

As long as there's enough contrast to be noticeable on a black & white TV, you've got the signal to steal home.


Posted by: bc | February 22, 2006 4:05 PM

Treble damages are only for willful infringement. But if Bygone actually had a ball team using the Nats name, then they could go for dillution damages too!

I doubt they'll win. There's likely no confusion between a historic team using one logo and a modern one using another, even if the name's the same.

Posted by: Mark | February 22, 2006 4:06 PM

I should have said: I doubt they'll win on appeal at TTAB

Posted by: Mark | February 22, 2006 4:15 PM

Just for the record, Joy: the Kansas City Royals were named in homage to the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2006 8:00 PM

I really hope that the team is not renamed The Grays. It's just an ugly name, and it I believe that it would be a wildly unpopular bow to political correctness. The Homestead Grays were primarily a Pittsburgh team, not a Washington team, so I see no reason that Washington should feel any moral obligation to "honor" them by rehashing a truly dreadful team name. The Senators is the obvious choice for an alternate team name, and I don't imagine the team would have any real difficulty purchasing, if necessary, the right to use it from Texas.

Posted by: Mike | February 22, 2006 8:15 PM

I agree with Mike. I've never understood what "Grays" refers to, if anything. Cincinnati is the Reds. Does there name refer to anything other than the color of their uniform? Was there a time in baseball when a number of teams had "color" names.

I don't know how much of the life of the Grays was lived in Washington vs. Pittsburgh, but, as a former Pittsburgher, I can say for sure that Pittsburgh thinks of the team as having been a Pittsburgh team. Homestead, which Marc refers to above, is the name of a Pittsburgh neighborhood.

Posted by: THS | February 22, 2006 10:39 PM

The Nationals trademark controversy, bad trades & lost free agents during the offseason, and lack of an owner all point to the same conclusion: If you give your money to this team, you are a sucker. And I say that as one of the suckers who went to 20 games last year. To reference Jaws, all a shark does is swim and eat and make little sharks, but MLB is even more single-minded. All they do is take our money.

Posted by: Miles | February 23, 2006 6:40 AM


The Cincinnati Red's name comes from 'Red Stockings' which was the original team name way back in 1869. They won their first World Series in 1919 against the infamous Chicago 'Black' Sox.

Posted by: Roger3 | February 24, 2006 2:25 PM

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