When Matt Williams is fired at the conclusion of this uniquely miserable Washington Nationals’ season (and it is, now, an inevitability. He will be fired), the announcement will be accompanied by an unspoken memo dated September 27, 2015. The title—unwritten but visible for all—will read, THE DAY I RUINED MY BASEBALL CAREER AND GUARANTEED MYSELF A FUTURE OF EITHER RUNNING A COFFEE SHOP OR PRIVATE TUTORING 8-YEAR-OLD BASEBALL BRATS AT A HITTING CAGE IN TULSA.
You’ve seen it by now, of course, the dugout fight between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper. Which, while entertaining and great video (especially considering the dull-as-dirt Nats have offered little in the name of entertainment these past few weeks), was hardly unique or special or even overly eye-catching. As long as there have been sporting events, there have been fights between teammate and teammate, teammate and manager, teammate and coach, teammate and owner. Hell, take two seconds and read this article from 1985, when a Yankee pitcher name Ed Whitson broke his manager’s arm in a bar fight. Or watch this fine video of Darryl Strawberry going after Keith Hernandez on 1989 New York Mets team photo day. There are hundreds of other examples, ranging from high school to college to the pros. Brawls happen, brawls fade, all is forgiven.
What is not forgiven, however, is
managerial ineptitude. Wait, actually, scratch that. Managerial ineptitude is forgiven (See: Gibron, Abe). What isn’t forgiven is managerial ineptitude and meekness when your best player and the future of your franchise is being grabbed by the neck and slammed against a wall by your eminently forgettable and unlikable has-been closer. There were 101 different ways Matt Williams could have responded to yesterday’s fracas, and 100 would have been perfectly fine. For example, he could have …
1. Kicked Papelbon out of the dugout.
2. Kicked Papelbon off the team.
3. Kicked Papelbon in the left eyeball.
4. Kicked Papelbon in the right eyeball.
5. Kicked Papelbon in the groin.
6. Kicked Papelbon in the skull.
You get the idea. The one thing he could not do—like, absolutely could not in any possible way do—was insert him into the game, then admit afterward that he had no idea the fight even happened. I mean, Matt Williams basically stapled a neon flashing sign to his head that read I HAVE LOST THIS TEAM. Or, perhaps, I AM INCAPABLE OF HOLDING THIS POSITION. Really, just FIRE ME NOW AND END THE NON-SUSPENSE.
It’s a bummer, because everyone likes Matt Williams as a person, and nobody seems to much care for Papelbon. But, ultimately, yesterday’s actions (and inaction) won’t merely cost Williams his job with the Washington Nationals.
It’ll likely rule him out from ever managing again.