Teddy finally wins Nationals Presidents Race, ending 538-race drought

The seven-year streak of lost races by Teddy Roosevelt, the bobble-headed racing president known for his permanent smile and ability to lose in creative fashion, ended Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park in the final game of the regular season. The streak was 538 games old.

Wearing new neon yellow shoes, Teddy started Wednesday’s Presidents Race in last place. But the three other racing presidents, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, were knocked down by a slimmed-down version of the Phillie Phanatic. As Teddy crossed the finish line, stubby arms raised high, the Nationals Park crowd roared and chanted his name.

Born July 21, 2006, in the middle of the fourth inning at RFK Stadium, the streak quickly became a fixture in the midst of the Nationals’ string of disappointing seasons. The first postseason berth by a Major League Baseball team in Washington since 1933, as the Nationals won the National League East pennant earlier this week, proved fatal to the streak.

The Nationals’ clubhouse welcomed the news, weary of the streak’s attention.

“I was so glad Teddy won,” upbeat third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, “so we can stop talking about it.”

The streak’s sudden departure provoked fear of a curse among some Nationals supporters. Within hours of Teddy’s triumph, a petition appeared on Change.org begging the Nationals to invalidate the victory, in hopes of extending this year’s success into the postseason and not inciting the “wrath of the sports gods.”

Rumors of the streak’s demise floated through Washington in recent days. But until Wednesday, the streak always found a way to prevent Teddy’s 9-foot frame from crossing the finish line before his fellow racing presidents. Conspiracy theories spawned. At each home game, eyes fixed on Teddy’s gold-rimmed glasses perched on his novelty-sized nose and mustache that could double as a push broom, eager to see what calamity would keep him from victory.

“Will Teddy ever win?” Teddy’s biography on the Nationals’ website asked. “Pundits agree: Teddy will win. When Teddy decides to win.”

The streak used a variety of methods to remain alive, from repeated disqualifications of Teddy for breaking the race’s vague rules to a series of calamities that turned Teddy into the stadium’s clumsy, buffoonlike punchline. The website, LetTeddyWin.com, chronicled several of his foils, including a panther with a red T-shirt that read “That Cat,” in addition to dogs, lobsters and monkeys.

This season alone, the streak continued thanks to a shark attacking Teddy, a popsicle luring him off the prescribed course on a 103-degree day, his motorcycle running out of fuel, running the wrong way, stopping to peer skyward at the space shuttle Discovery, fixing his glasses and distraction from heckling Philadelphia Phillies supporters, as tracked by the website.

The streak’s death-grip on Teddy prompted intervention from Nationals right-fielder Jayson Werth in September 2011. Frustrated with the results that seemed fixed, Werth organized a party of several Nationals to block the three other presidents in an effort to assist Teddy.

Werth, as it turned out, crossed the finish line before Teddy and was declared the winner, in addition to his violent hit on Jefferson.

“When you stage a coup, it’s better to keep it quiet,” Werth said following the incident. “Well, if Teddy can’t win, then no one wins in my book. I’m the last remaining member of the Bull Moose Party, I guess.”

On Wednesday, Werth sighed and adopted a serious tone when he considered life after the streak.

“I think I said last year that it’s going to be tough to win without Teddy winning,” he said, “but I guess he was waiting for us.”

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