Monday, September 28, 2015

Natitude Is What's Wrong With Papelbon, Washington

Updated: The Nationals have suspended Jonathan Papelbon for the remainder of the season. LaTroy Hawkins likely has an issue with this.
I realize this is a Twins blog, and venturing into the National League is far off course, but what transpired on Sunday in the Nationals clubhouse begs for attention. For a team that was all but given the keys to a World Series title when the 2015 season kicked off, the departure into the abyss couldn't be more depressing. That being said, Jonathan Papelbon seemingly put a cherry on top of what was already a colossal disaster with his actions on Sunday.

In the bottom of the 8th inning, tied at 4, against a hapless Phillies team, Bryce Harper hit a pop up. The expected National League MVP sent a can of corn to left field, the ball was caught and that was that. Harper slowly trotted to first base, as would be customary on that type of hit. Disguted with the outcome of his at bat, he watched it a bit out of the box, got to the base as the ball was caught, and headed to the dugout. That's where he was greeted by his team's closer.

Papelbon, a major league veteran of 11 years took issue with Harper's hustle. After jawing back and forth, the veteran escalated the situation by choking Harper and slamming him into the dugout. Harper was removed from the game, while Papelbon came back out to allow five runs and blow the game. A non-issue, had become a spectacle and put a fitting end to an underwhelming collapse.

Opinions have come in from all over the place. Those defending Papelbon on the basis of Harper not hustling, and those wondering how you can excuse choking a teammate for any reason. Each opinion seems to evaluate the situation from one side or the other however, rather than with the context as a whole.

Bryce Harper is a guy that has played in 148 games of his 155 (or 96%). He was generally criticized early in his career (early being relatively in that he's just 22) for sprinting out ground balls. Harper has also amassed a ridiculous .336/.467/.658 slash line with 41 home runs and 37 doubles this season. His production is hardly that of a player looking to dog it or cut corners.

If Papelbon is going to take issue with how Harper hustled (or didn't) on one play, he almost assuredly has some ground to stand on. What is it though? Is it that he's been called upon to work in just 59 games (38%)? Or maybe, it's that he ran to first base once during batting practice (Papelbon has played in 652 G and never had a plate appearance)? Maybe he's relying on the 11 years of time he's put into the game, and that gives him his right. Regardless, does that excuse going after, and choking your best teammate?

For some, it would seem so. As mentioned, opinions ranged from all over the place, and other big leagues weighed in. LaTroy Hawkins was extremely supportive of Papelbon, and let national writer C.J. Nitkowski know that it's entitlement that makes choking someone ok.
In taking issue with Hawkins stance, I questioned how a guy who's asked to perform so little, has place to question a position player's effort.
Then Hawkins takes it a step further, making even more of a ridiculous point. Looking at his total games played, 1,040 over 21 seasons (31%), the Blue Jays closer suggests that as reason enough for the action to take place.
So, after a terribly unnecessary situation in the Nationals dugout thanks to a hot-headed closer, we have another closer arguing because he's played in over 1,000 games, he has right to choke a teammate if he gets upset at him. The Nationals season was coming to a disastrous end well before yesterday's game. Papelbon put a bow on that, and coming to the defense of the action is even more mind boggling.

For Harper, he's concerned on the next six games and putting a bow on his MVP winning season. While his team may have nothing to play for, he absolutely does. However, Harper best watch out, because he's always at the mercy of being choked out by a big league vet who works a third of the time if they deem he's not doing it the right way.


  1. Good column. I tweeted my displeasure of Hawkins' stance directly to him, and he responded by attacking me and getting his twitter followers to attack me as well. He sounds like such an upstanding individual - he, Nitkowski and Papelbum deserve one another.

    1. It's an unfortunate thing that it's boiled down to old vs. new school. There's zero place to choke a teammate because you disagree with their effort level. Especially when Harper has displayed an effort level high than 99% of his peers over the course of 150+ games this season.