Some Thoughts On Papelbon
Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers will report in 16 days and it seems more and more likely that Jonathan Papelbon will be among them. While that isn’t altogether unexpected, it has to be considered a disappointment. Especially for those fans that didn’t care about the baseball or financial aspects and wanted Papelbon dropped like a hot potato.
Most of the offseason I and many others were waiting for the Nationals to trade Papelbon as part of their massive bullpen overhaul. However, with Jake McGee getting traded to the Rockies leaving only Tyler Clippard among available closer quality relievers I now believe such a deal is extremely doubtful. Never say never when it comes to Mike Rizzo making a trade, but all signs point to Papelbon staying. And looking back on this offseason, it doesn’t seem like the Nats were ever putting in a strong effort to deal him. So how did we end up here?
To some extent I think fans and some in the media have projected their feelings on what happened on the players and league at large. It can’t be said enough that the league does not care about the incident, in fact many players gave kudos to Papelbon for what he did. And the Nats clubhouse doesn’t hold any animosity toward Papelbon either, at least not over that incident. James Wagner just had a good post on how the Nats organization and most importantly, Papelbon’s teammates, have forgiven him for his transgression. Those quotes aren’t being given and that article isn’t being written if that’s not true. No one gives an anonymous quote that contradicts their real opinion. Everything that’s come from players has been a variation on “that’s baseball, this kind of stuff happens, most of the time fans don’t see it.”
In fact, Papelbon himself when he commented (note I don’t say apologized) on the incident said "My mistake was doing that in the dugout in front of a camera." This may seem innocuous, but to me it sounds pretty much exactly like the excuses you hear to justify domestic violence or other types of serial abuse. Of course, these aren’t the exact same situations, but I cringe when I hear someone try to excuse violence by focusing on it being the one time it was seen. Violence that goes unseen is just as unjustifiable.
Baseball isn’t nearly as special as it thinks it is. I really do not see a reason why a baseball clubhouse should be different from the typical office and if the typical American office wouldn’t tolerate two employees hashing out a minor dispute with their fists, I don’t see why a baseball team should. It shows a distinct lack of critical thinking to continue to justify abhorrent behavior with “that’s how it’s always been.”
At this point I don’t care as much about Papelbon the player as I do Papelbon the symptom of a much larger problem. And even then I’m unsure of how much I really care since I’m still going to be a diehard Nationals fan and I’m still going to hope Papelbon can be a positive contributor for them. How critical of the Nats ignoring the issue can I really be as I actively do so myself? I’m not giving them much incentive to take a stand, but I also don't think it should be my responsibility to harangue a person or entity into not being awful.
That said, the Nats aren’t idiots, they know that fans want Papelbon gone. Why do you think all of those quotes were given to Wagner anonymously? No player wants his name attached to a lead balloon like that. But it remains true that if the Nats really wanted to get rid of Papelbon they could, either by eating $11 million for a season or by trading him for some organizational filler. The Nationals had a prime opportunity to both appease their fans and take a strong stand against the culture of violence in baseball and they cowardly doled out a show penalty and then embraced him again.