The Washington Nationals need to fire Matt Williams, and they need to do it right now. Actually, they needed to fire him yesterday, immediately after the team’s 12-5 loss to the Phillies.
In the midst of an incredibly disappointing season for the Nationals, Williams has been on the hot seat for months. The team was expected to run away with the NL East title and contend for a World Series trophy. Instead, they drastically underperformed and will be watching the playoffs on TV.
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Of course, there are many reasons for the Nationals’ struggles, and very few of them can be directly attributed to Williams’ incompetence. But he’s definitely had more than his fair share of costly miscues this season, and there are several losses that can be traced back directly to strategic errors on his part.
Prior to yesterday, however, many still considered Williams to be the right man for the job. After all, he led the team to a division title in 2014 and was named the NL Manager of the Year. But after the events that transpired in the late innings of Sunday’s loss, there is simply no excuse for Williams to manage another game for the Nationals.
In case you were fortunate enough to miss yesterday’s disaster and have no idea what I’m talking about, our friends at Federal Baseball have you covered:
The skirmish happened in the bottom of the eighth inning. Harper hit a fly ball to left field and jogged to first base, before peeling off towards the dugout once the catch was made. Papelbon apparently took issue with Harper’s lack of hustle. The two exchanged heated words, and the closer lunged at Harper and grabbed his neck before teammates intervened and separated the two players.
The team’s controversial closer attacking the franchise’s most important player was undoubtedly the low point in a terrible season, and it was one of the most absurd things you’ll ever see at a baseball game. Almost as absurd as the brawl, however, was the fact that Papelbon was allowed to stay in the game and pitch the ninth inning. That decision is on Williams, and that is why he has to go.
After Papelbon lunged at Harper, he should’ve been kicked out of the dugout. Instead, he grabbed his glove and headed out for what turned out to be a disastrous ninth inning performance. Williams has made many poor decisions this year, but allowing Papelbon to even touch the infield grass yesterday tops them all.
What Papelbon did to Harper wasn’t just stupid—it was blatantly dangerous. By letting him take the mound, Williams might as well have said “I’m OK with it” and patted him on the back. When asked about it in his postgame press conference, Williams shrugged the skirmish off as a “family issue” and said Papelbon pitched the ninth inning because “he’s our closer.” Those comments alone should cost him his job.
The manager later claimed that he didn’t know the extent of the skirmish at the time of the press conference and would not have sent Papelbon out there if he did, but that’s hard to believe given that seemingly everyone knew about it well before the game ended. And if he really didn’t know, then the coaches who helped break up the fight went out of their way to not tell him, which would be a fireable offense on their part as well.
Papelbon’s behavior doesn’t belong in the game of baseball, let along in the dugout of a professional baseball team. He could’ve hurt himself, and he could’ve hurt Harper. That’s not a “family issue”—that’s a very serious issue that should be dealt with in a strict and swift matter.
Papelbon shouldn’t have been allowed to pitch the ninth inning. In fact, the Nationals should’ve terminated his contract immediately after the game. There’s no reason for him to ever pitch another inning in a Nationals uniform, and I don’t think he ever will.
Williams’ decision to allow Papelbon to pitch cost him the respect of Nationals fans, and it probably didn’t make Harper too happy, either.
Of course, nobody in the Nationals’ management team is blameless. After all, none of this would’ve happened if the team hadn’t traded for Papelbon. It was a gamble on the part of general manager Mike Rizzo, and it clearly didn’t pay off. At the time of the deal, however, it was a risk worth taking.
But now, the experiment has failed, and the time has come to push this team back in the right direction for 2016 and beyond. There’s a lot to be done, but it has to start with firing Matt Williams and Jonathan Papelbon immediately—not in the offseason, not next year. And if either one still has a job by the time the season is over, then there’s a good chance the general manager needs to go as well.