Papelbon’s apology amplifies the Nationals’ unreality

Papelbon's choke attempt . . .

Papelbon’s choke attempt . . .

Jonathan Papelbon struggles with at least two things off the mound, apparently. He isn’t as good as he thinks with public apologies, and he’s no historian of Washington baseball. He showed both when he faced the press at the Nationals’ Space Coast Stadium spring digs and owned up over trying to choke Bryce Harper in the dugout on last September’s Fan Appreciation Day.

It may have been nothing compared to the Nats themselves showing how out of touch with things like reality they may well be.

“I want to apologize to the fans and the coaches and everyone included. I think that with what happened last year, I was in the wrong. Should have never went down that way, and I understand that,” Papelbon said to begin. So far, so good.

“I had a lot of time this offseason to reflect on that,” the combustible relief pitcher continued. “I’ve had three months to think about it. I’ve done a lot of reflecting, and I think sometimes in life, good things can come out of bad situations.”

Papelbon tried choking Harper in late September. It’s been five months since. What was he doing the other two months? And does he really believe the bad situations from which the good things come normally include attempted manslaughter? But wait. There was more.

“I think the fans will see from me that I play with a great deal of pride,” Papelbon went on to say. “And with that pride comes . . . I’m not a perfect human being. I’m an imperfect person living in an imperfect world. I don’t claim to be [perfect]. So for me, I realize that what I did was wrong. And the fans see that. And I see that. But my whole point is that good can come of this. I can redirect this, and we can go out and win 95 games this season and go into the playoffs and be hot and go win a world championship still. That does not deter from that.”

"Maybe some good'll come out of me trying to choke the living shiznit out of the National League's Most Valualbe Player . . . "

“Maybe some good’ll come out of trying to choke the living shiznit out of the National League’s Most Valualbe Player . . . “

Rough translation according to some: If you gotta choke somebody to get us to win 95 games and be hot and win a World Series, well, I’m human enough to admit it. What does that mean for assorted commentaries suggesting Papelbon and Harper put the choke heard ’round the world behind them at once? For suggestions that Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo “entertained offers” for Papelbon during the off-season without turning one into an addition-by-subtraction deal to get Papelbon out of town?

What Rizzo did turn was a deal to send Drew Storen to the Blue Jays for Ben Revere. Storen, the reviving closer in the middle of a lights-out revival when Rizzo was fool enough to deal for Papelbon last July. Storen, who was thus bumped out of the job he’d busted his fanny to re-earn and turned into a mess down the stretch—partly because then-manager Matt Williams was too wedded to his Book to use both Storen and Papelbon according to immediate game needs and not just their pre-determined hours—and probably left wondering what short of murder he had to do to prove himself again.

At the Nats WinterFest event in December, a few players addressed the incident. The theme was probably isolated best by Jayson Werth: “There’s going to be some disagreements and fights happen, even brothers fight, so I don’t think it’s as big a deal as everybody thinks it is. I think it will be fine and the bottom line is we’ve got games to win. So little, petty little fights and stuff like that that happen they don’t last real long. in our minds.”

Brothers fight, shiznit happens, think nothing of it, time to move on, attempted manslaughter is just such petty little stuff compared to games to win. How removed from reality are these people? Where were they when the winter winds blew in such messages as that most of the winter’s free agents and their point men were in no big hurry to put the Nats on their call lists? (Reality check: it wasn’t just the Nats’ court battle with the Orioles over local television rights and fees that kept free agents from casting their eyes to the capital.)

Not even with Matt Williams cashiered as the team’s manager, the Papelbon-Harper incident only exposing him further as a man completely out of touch with his own team and clubhouse. Not even with Mr. Clubhouse, Dusty Baker, brought aboard to succeed him. Not even with Harper himself taking the higher road and reaching out to Papelbon when it should have been Papelbon moving first and fastest.

That Papelbon took the initiative to apologise again as the Nats kicked into spring training is laudable. That he, his teammates, and maybe even their bosses are that oblivious to just how outrageous the Harper choke was in the first place—especially to the Nationals’ fan base—is grotesque.

That there are those who think Harper showed “leadership” by reaching out to Papelbon after last season ended is a sure sign that enough in and around baseball remain prone to blaming the victim—just as some so-called old-schoolers did in effect when they decided Papelbon only did what was overdue regarding a Harper who actually showed up to play the day after the Nats were eliminated.

(Is it wrong to ponder whether it was more than just a little coincidental—as I observed in the original aftermath—that Papelbon decided to teach Harper a dubious lesson just a couple of days after Harper publicly described as “tired” Papelbon’s throwing twice at the head of the Orioles’ Manny Machado, whose heinous crime was to hit a two-run homer off Max Scherzer that turned a 3-2 Nats lead into a 4-3 Nats deficit?)

Still, there was at least one moment over which to be amused. “I didn’t feel like I got to say and apologize the way I wanted to apologize to the fans and everyone the way I wanted to last year,” Papelbon added. “Because I think the fans will see that I come here for one reason. I came here to bring a championship to a city that’s never had a championship. None of that’s changed because of what happened with me and Bryce last year.”

I hate to bust Papelbon’s balloon any further, but Washington has had a baseball championship, albeit almost a full century old. Pay attention, children: The Washington Senators—defying their longtime image, “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”—beat the New York Giants in seven games in the 1924 World Series, with a legend securing the championship in Game Seven with four innings’ shutout relief. A legend named Walter Johnson.

The Senators actually won two more pennants (1925, 1933) before high tailing it to Minnesota for 1961. A second Senators franchise, known since 1972 as the Texas Rangers, didn’t get that lucky in Washington. The world last spring predicted the Nationals would go to and maybe even win last year’s World Series.

The world this spring isn’t sure what to predict for the 2016 Nats. Unreality wouldn’t necessarily be out of line.

11 thoughts on “Papelbon’s apology amplifies the Nationals’ unreality

  1. I don’t see how anything good can happen after choking a teammate. Papelbon is a powder keg about to go off at any time. He apologized to clear the air, but not even sure if his apology did that.

    Nationals need Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman to play more than the 263 games they played out of a possible 486 games in 2015.

    If they do then Papelbon should have more leads to protect in 2016.

    • One key to this year’s Nats is staying off the disabled list. Another is whether the bullpen overhaul, Papelbon to one side, solidifies. And a third: Dusty Baker rebuilding clubhouse cohesion and making sure it sticks should the Nats hit rough patches.

      Papelbon’s combustibility will remain an issue, though. I really can’t imagine why the Nats chose to cling to him. But then I’m the one who thought they were damn fools to deal for him in the first place when Drew Storen was having a bounceback season to envy before the trade. When your atmosphere is such that the only free agents willing to go with you are Daniel Murphy, Brendan Ryan, and Bronson Arroyo, something is missing.

      • The only good thing about Murphy playing second base is that Dan Uggla is no longer a National and Murphy’s presence enables Danny Espinosa to move to shortstop, which was vacated by unsigned free agent Ian Desmond.

        Brendan Ryan is not a hitter, in the loosest sense of the world. Bronson Arroyo is a huge question mark, so can’t get excited about him joining the Nationals.

        • Ryan was once considered a possible top fielder until injuries hit him. The Nats may have taken him on along one or two lines—-a possible revival which would give them defensive depth; or, organisational depth in the event of a possible future deal.

          The Reds actually wanted Arroyo back, but Arroyo wanted to reunite with Baker and Baker wanted him in the Nats’ camp. They’re probably looking at him for two things: eating innings if he’s healthy, and mentoring younger pitchers, at which he’s said to be very good. If he’s healthy he may have one or two solid seasons left, and if he’s that good with the Nationals’ younger pitchers they get their money’s worth from him and then some.

          • Ryan is beyond bad as a hitter. His batting average has ranged from .167 to .229 over the last 4 seasons. He has hit under .200 in 3 of those seasons. He stole 4 bases in 2013, but didn’t steal a base in 2014 or 2015. He walked 9 times in 227 plate appearances over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Has had only one season with a OBP of .300 or over since 2009, so isn’t an on base guy.

            Interesting sidenote about Ryan is that he had 19 doubles and 3 triples in 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. He is actually a better pitcher than hitter pitching 2 scoreless innings for Yankees last season for a 0.00 ERA.

            His .938 fielding percentage as a second baseman in 2015 shows he is not that great of a fielder, since he made 4 errors in 64 chances. He had made 1 error in 76 chances in 2014 as a second baseman for a .987 fielding percentage.

  2. Makes you wonder if the Nats might ponder converting Ryan to pitching. (If they do, they’ll have to work with him on a strikeout pitch: he didn’t strike anyone out in those two innings he threw last year, but the good news was he surrendered two measly singles and didn’t walk anyone and he seemed to know what he was doing in terms of pitching to his defense.)

    He wouldn’t be the first infielder to have that happen to him. Once upon a time the Dodgers had a shortstop prospect with a wounding flaw: he threw sidearm. So they converted him to pitching, and you could say he was somewhat splendid in that line of work. His name was Don Drysdale. (The punch line: Drysdale could actually hit, too.)

      • Drysdale never played a major league game at the position; he was converted to pitching in the minors. He didn’t get as large a signing bonus as Sandy Koufax did so he could be farmed out, avoiding the bonus baby trap of the time under which players signed to bonuses higher than $4,000 had to be kept on major league rosters for two years.

        That rule was modified a time or three and finally eliminated in 1965 with the advent of the amateur draft.

        Bonus baby trivia:

        * Of all the bonus babies affected by the rule from 1953-65, five became Hall of Famers: Koufax, Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline, Catfish Hunter, and Steve Carlton.

        * Three bonus babies never saw one day or inning of minor league playing time: Koufax, Kaline, and Hunter.

        * Four bonus babies ended up becoming Original Mets: the two Bob Millers (Bob G. and Bob L.), Jay Hook, and Johnny DeMerit.

        * Three of the bonus babies eventually saw time as major league managers: Steve Boros, Joey Amalfitano, and Tony La Russa. (La Russa signed when the rule was modified in 1962 to keep a player on a roster for one season rather than two.)

        * Four of the bonus babies eventually won Cy Young Awards: Koufax, Hunter, Carlton, and Mike McCormick.

        * One bonus baby won the Heisman Trophy: Vic Janowicz.

        * Janowicz was one of eight Pittsburgh Pirates bonus babies—the most bonus babies under the rule to be signed by any team during the life of the rule.

        * The least number of bonus babies affected by the rule to be signed by any team: 1. (The Dodgers signed Koufax; the Indians signed an infielder named Kenny Kuhn, who played parts of three seasons before disappearing.)

        * Only one black player was ever signed to a bonus large enough to count as a bonus baby under the rule: Willie Crawford.

        * Two brothers became bonus babies—and with the same team: pitchers Lindy McDaniel (’55 Cardinals) and Von McDaniel (’57 Cardinals). (Von McDaniel didn’t last past two major league seasons, but he’s this footnote in Cardinals history: the last man to wear number 45 before Bob Gibson.)

        * There was one protest over one bonus baby when the Kansas City Athletics traded him to the Yankees days after he finished his bonus time and could have been farmed out: Clete Boyer. The other American League clubs filed protests hoping to block the deal but the deal was allowed to stand.

        * Name the bonus baby who a) served in the U.S. military during the 1961 Berlin crisis; b) hit the first pinch grand slam in Mets team history; and, c) caught Tom Seaver’s first professional game. (Answer: Hawk Taylor, catcher, ’57 bonus baby with the Braves.)

        * Name the bonus baby who was major league baseball’s first Little League alumnus. (Joey Jay, ’53 bonus baby with the Braves.)

          • Von McDaniel looked like a comer in his rookie season at 18 (3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.18 fielding-independent pitching, almost impossible to hit the long ball off), so much so he was nicknamed “Mr. Vonderful.” It didn’t hurt that he went from his class valedictorian speech to throwing a two-hit shutout against the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the only National League pitcher to throw a two-hitter and a one-hitter that season. Or that Stan Musial was comparing him to Robin Roberts.

            But the next season he lost his control inexplicably, sank to the minors never to return, tried and failed to convert to infield play, and left baseball. Apparently, the source of his problem may have been the Cardinals telling him to rest up after his rookie season instead of continuing to work out and throw; his money pitch was off speed stuff but he lacked the arm strength to keep it up after that winter’s rest, by his own admission. (Warren Spahn observed during McDaniel’s hot rookie season that he already threw like an old man—an ominous warning.)

            McDaniel retired in 1966 and went on to a life of farming, accounting, and occasional preaching until his death in 1995 of a stroke and heart attack. Brother Lindy, of course, went on to make a long distinguished career as a relief pitcher, including being the first-ever winner of The Sporting News‘s Relief Pitcher of the Year award and eventually breaking Vic Raschi’s American League record by retiring 32 straight batters in 1968. (Steve Busby eventually broke McDaniel’s record.) He became a minister after his playing days, and still is at 80. He had such a reputation for combining competitiveness with gentleness that Joe Garagiola once cracked, “Lindy McDaniel’s the only preacher I know with a great knockdown pitch.”

          • I tend to think of Von McDaniel and Karl Spooner as being alike. Spooner threw two complete game shutouts in his only starts of the 1954 season, while striking out 27 in 18 IP.

            Spooner was 8-6 in 1955 and pitched his last major league game that season at the age of 24. He made his major league debut on Sept. 22, 1954, and pitched his final game less than a year later on Sept. 17, 1955.

            Shoulder problems ended his career early.

            Roy Campenella called Spooner the best young pitcher he had ever seen. He died at the very young age of 52.

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