A lesson on being on the team.
By now, just about anyone with a modicum of interest in baseball has at least heard about the fight between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, if not seen the video. I won’t resort to calling either of them names (In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been a fan of Papelbon from his days on the Red Sox. I’ve always hated the faces he makes on the mound and the way he pumps his fist while making those stupid faces. Basically, I don’t like his face) but the whole thing was completely idiotic. Papelbon’s the next day was something along the lines of “I grew up with brothers and Bryce grew up with brothers and sometimes brothers fight.” Papelbon said he was wrong. Not because his actions were wrong but because he should have done it back in the clubhouse and not in the dugout for everyone to see.
I didn’t have a brother growing up (I have an older sister, and while we fought some, it was rarely physical), but I do have two boys, 8 and 10, who fight almost constantly, so I know there is some truth to Papelbon’s statement. However, he was clearly in the wrong.
Can Bryce Harper be annoying? Sure. Between the “It’s a clown question bro,” the ridiculous eye-black and the hair-flipping, I totally see how he can get on people’s nerves. Nobody has ever really questioned his hustle, and it’s probably similar to how I’m sure some people viewed Pete Rose. But if there’s one thing the 22 year-old Harper has earned, it’s the benefit of the doubt in not running out a routine fly ball to left field in the eighth inning of a game after having been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Harper is not only the best position player on the Nationals, he is one of the best young players in the entire league. While he may rub people the wrong way, and some may view him as a problem personality, his effort is generally beyond reproach. Their season was a colossal disappointment, and I’m sure it has not escaped Papelbon’s notice that the team was in first place by two games when it acquired him and now? Not so much.
Papelbon was frustrated, Harper was frustrated, and what transpired as a result of Harper’s moment of non-hustle was pure entertainment for those of us who have no rooting interest in the Nationals.
Now, I didn’t play baseball competitively past eighth grade (maybe it was sixth grade, I don’t remember), so I have never been in a dugout in a similar situation, and most of America hasn’t either. That said, let me frame this in a context most of us will understand: Fighting brothers. Papelbon is my 10 year-old, Harper is my 8 year-old and they are playing basketball in our neighbor’s driveway (which, by the way, my boys were banned from for a whole week because my neighbors were sick of hearing them fighting every time they played one on one).
Harper (age 8): You fouled me, my ball.
Papelbon (age 10): No I didn’t, it’s my ball.
Harper (8): (long winded soliloquy on rules, etiquette, equity, fairness, the gross national product of Belize, Lebron James, Rubik’s Cube algorithms, etc)
Papelbon (10): (Shouting) FINE! You can have the ball again.
Harper (8): (drains long range shot, puts arms in the air and poses, talking trash) Oh yeah, how’s THAT! I’m so much better than you and you’re older. Daddy, did you see that? I hit that from like 100 feet away…
Papelbon (10): (sick of his brother, grabs brother’s arm and twists as hard as he can) Shut-up!
Harper (8): (now crying and in a murderous rage, younger brother picks up ball and chases older brother until he’s close enough and throws basketball at his head) AAAAAGHHHHHHHH!
Papelbon (10): (not content to let younger brother have last word/perceived possible upper-hand, proceeds to squeeze younger brother in a very sensitive area)
Herper (8): (now crying even harder) Daddy, Papelbon squeezed my weenie!
I don’t know how Matt Williams mishandled the situation so badly, but he managed to miss the boat entirely. In the above scenario, after yelling at older brother first (because he’s older and should know better and was the first to initiate physical contact), I would send them both up to their rooms to sit on their beds, or in the alternative, make them sit on opposite sides of the lawn (“Daddy, I’m hurt and you don’t even CARE!” “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” “No.” “Then you’ll be fine.”). But the first thing I always do is ask what happened.
Somehow, though, Matt Williams pled ignorance, sent Harper to his room and Papelbon back out to pitch the ninth inning. Maybe Williams’ decision to send Papelbon out was some evil genius way of punishing Papelbon by making him pitch and therefore embarrassing him in front of a live audience, but I doubt it. Williams said that he did not really know what happened until after the game, which is pretty bad considering how small the dugout is. He must have been doing the baseball manager equivalent of looking at his iPhone updating his Facebook status while his kids try to get his attention by hanging upside down by one leg on the monkey bars while juggling steak knives, because he somehow missed a now journeyman closer physically assaulting his best position player brouhaha in which many other people were involved. The season’s over, so as soon as he realized there had been a fight, both guys should have been sent back to the clubhouse with one of the other coaches (to make sure they didn’t keep fighting). “That’s it, up to your rooms (into the clubhouse) and sit on your beds (in front of your lockers), BOTH of you! And I don’t want to hear even one word from either of you or you BOTH lose screen time (beer on the plane) for a week (the rest of the season)!”
However, unlike when real brothers fight, with Harper and Papelbon one or both of them can be sent away to fix the problem. One thing is for sure: I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if any other team even wants to sign him, Papelbon will call a different stadium home next season.