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Why Harper was punished

Sep 28, 2015, 4:49 PM EDT


Nationals superstar Bryce Harper, the likely NL MVP when the 2015 season is over, took the brunt of an ugly altercation between he and closer Jonathan Papelbon, one in which Harper was grabbed by the throat and forced into the backwall of the team’s dugout on live television.

He was physically assaulted, essentially, for all the world to see, and it was done by a teammate. Harper was the victim in the situation, that there is no doubt.

And after all of that was established, Harper was punished by the team for his involvement. Papelbon got the worst of it, a four-game suspension without pay from the Nats, but Harper also got hit. He was out of Monday’s lineup against the Reds for playing a role in the fight.

Manager Matt Williams explained exactly why that decision was made in his pregame press conference.

“Well, I can tell you from my view of the incident, he said something to Jonathan. And he played a part in the incident. So that being said, we reflect that within the punishment to Jonathan and his aggression. And we also reflect that with Bryce being out of the lineup today,” Williams said.

Harper was expected to be given a day off for one of the Nationals’ remaining seven games. Which game he would take off had not been determined before Sunday’s incident, Williams said.

“We had planned a day off in the next couple of days and we decided that today would be the day that he would be out of the lineup.”

Williams, in fact, wanted to take Harper out of Sunday’s game so the fans could acknowledge his historic season for a final time. That did not go as planned, obviously.

“Our original plan was to give him the same opportunity we gave [Ian Desmond] yesterday. But it happened and he wasn’t going to go out for the ninth inning, anyway. My hope was for him to get a basehit and we could do the same thing,” Williams said.

“It’s disappointing in that regard, but he’s provided everybody great moments this year. We’re very proud of Bryce and the fact he’s had such a great year.”

Harper, really, is fortunate he didn’t get seriously hurt in the fight. He was slammed into the dugout’s wooden bench and wall. He was wearing a batting helmet, as he had just finished his fourth at-bat of the afternoon. If he wasn’t wearing a helmet, who knows what could have happened to him, what type of injury he could have suffered.

Williams and the Nationals understand that, but felt it was important to implicate Harper as part of the confrontation that escalated to a point that no one ultimately intended it to.

“I don’t know what he could have done differently, but he was involved in it,” Williams said.

Harper spoke after Sunday’s game about the fight, but declined to comment further when asked on Monday morning.

  1. janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 4:53 PM

    Jeez Louise. Pap said it FIRST and went after him. What was Harp supposed to do? And what could anyone say that would warrant someone leaping to your throat? This is crazy. Totally misguided. Cop to he was supposed to be out of the lineup. Cop to a “suspended day” means he doesn’t have to come to the clubhouse today But don’t lie about it and add blame where it’s not called for. It’s horrible management. At all levels

    • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:23 PM

      I agree.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:54 PM

      Also agree.

  2. natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:08 PM

    Have totally lost respect for the Nationals. Rizzo has to go too. What a FUBAR.

    • futureme4 - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:45 PM

      Yes. Brilliant. Let’s fire one of the best GM’s in baseball for this ridiculously overblown incident. And for the convenient narrative it has given to moron sportswriters.

      Hey, you can fire Rizzo and hire Jack Z? formerly of the Mariners. He’d get guys who were “strong leaders” and showed “grit”. That’s a much better way to build a team than something as useless as talent or athleticism.

      There are plenty of targets, lay off Rizzo. He’s more important to the continued success of this franchise than anyone not named Bryce.

      • natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:13 PM

        Well at least he didn’t trade for Papelbon the thug and ruin a pretty good team. But I guess that would be brilliant. But I guess I’m stupid and can’t see the obvious like you. I will call them as I see them no laying off.

      • Karl Kolchak - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:27 PM

        Rizzo is number one to blame for this year’s disaster–to say otherwise to is be a blind fool.

      • futureme4 - Sep 29, 2015 at 10:16 AM

        You are soooooo right. Papelbon this totally nasty thug ruined the delicate chemistry of the team and that’s why they lost the division. What are you 5 years old! That’s the laziest analysis possible.

        23.2 IP 3.04 ERA 1.099 whip Yep looks like that’s why the Nats cratered. What an awful line.

        And wait just one minute. Doesn’t Papelbon the thug have something the Nats want? Oh yes, A World Series ring which I believe he threw the final pitch. Hmmmmm. A team won the title with Papelbon the Thug on it. I thought that COUL NOT HAPPEN. He DESTROYS team chemistry. Any team with Papelbon the Thug on it CANNOT WIN.

        Yes, its a stupid argument, just like the stupid argument of trading for one guy ruins a team. Rizzo got Papelbon, a quality reliever, at a time when the bullpen needed help for next to nothing. The fact that the team cratered is neither his fault nor Papelbon’s no matter how convenient the narrative is for you simple minded folks.

        Again, Mike Rizzo is in the conversation for best GM’s in the game. Dumping him for this would be a joke and consign this franchise to years of mediocrity.

  3. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:28 PM

    “I don’t know what he could have done differently, but he was involved in it,” Williams said.

    Good lord. If I’m Bryce Harper (or Scott Boras), I’m going to remember this sentiment for a long, long time.

    • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:42 PM

      Williams is a clueless embarrassment. What Bryce could have done differently is retaliate with a kick to Papelbon’s you know whats. But he didn’t. He walked away. He was the adult!

  4. JamesFan - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:31 PM

    The two Williams press conferences–yesterday and today–were a mumbling, bumbling jumble that was an embarrassment to the organization. He didn’t know his best player was in a fight 10 feet from him, his coaches apparently did not tell him, Harper needed to be punished for defending himself when attacked…..Williams should have been fired on Sep 1 when it was clear to anyone watching that he had lost the team and the season was going over a cliff.

    Because he has built a solid team, I give Rizzo a pass for now, but the decisions to hire/keep Williams, to dump Storen in favor of Papelbon and the absence of a bullpen are serious concerns. Need to fix this mess quickly.

  5. letswin3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:36 PM

    “He was involved in it” .. do you mean like the USS Arizona was “involved” in that Pearl Harbor thing on December 7, 1941?

    • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:43 PM


    • npb99 - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:58 PM


      • Guapo - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:30 PM

        Perfect. Well done.

  6. DaveB - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:52 PM

    Come on folks … Harper obviously said something nasty after Paps’ initial rant that caused Pap to physically go at him. No reason for MW to repeat it (but he could have come up with something better than that lame comment)

    • fpa4356 - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:14 PM

      I disagree. Nothing Bryce said would or could justify Papelbon’s assault. The evidence shows that Papelbon started the ‘initial rant’; was Bryce supposed to simply take it with no response ? Would or could you do so ? Hell, some people on this blog cannot lay off nameless faceless blog replies, much less the in-your-face abuse that Papelbon gets away with because it shows his ‘fire’, his will-to-win or somesuch excuse. There simply is no coherent defense of Papelbon’s actions, and any attempt to articulate one is enabling further future abuse. And spreading the blame to Bryce is an idiotic smear on Bryce’s reputation and honor.

      The kid has done everything asked of him and so much more, including bringing thousands of fans to the Nats. He deserves alot better treatment from the people making a fortune on his accomplishments.

      • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:43 PM

        Exactly right.

    • Karl Kolchak - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:28 PM

      Whatever Harper said back to Papelbon isn’t half as bad as what that a$$hole deserved.

    • Guapo - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:31 PM

      Sticks and stones, yo.

      If players are going to start being suspended when they say nasty things, it’s going to mean a lot of call ups from Syracuse.

      The reason Harper was punished is simple. Matt Williams is a fool and not competent to manage a major league baseball team.

  7. Sam - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:23 PM

    Papelbon started it. Harper threw gas on the fire and provoked Papelbon. This isn’t a third grade game of “he started it.”

    I’m a Nationals fan and Harper fan like the rest of you, but just because we want him to be the golden, can-do-no-wrong child doesn’t mean he is. He is guilty here as well and deserved some kind of punishment. If, for nothing else, the punishment should at least convey the message, “We aren’t going to put up with this crap here.” And the logical next step is to dump Papelbon, however difficult that may be.

    • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:12 PM

      What “crap” is that? That in a meaningless game you jog to first on a lazy fly ball and would be safe if it’s not caught? How anyone can even hint that Harper is as much to blame as Papelbon just boggles my mind.

  8. ehay2k - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:28 PM

    Harper needs to be disciplined if only to tell him that he can indeed do wrong. He needed to ignore Papelbon, or laugh at him – a reliever calling out an everday player? Puhleeeze.

    Or, just say – could I have made it to second? Then no reason to run, right? But schoolyard back and forth requires two children. Bryce needs to rise above that.

    As for Pap? He will be gone gone gone next year, along with MW.

    • natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:36 PM

      The issue is that Papelbon should never have been acquired in the first place. Given his history he should never have been acquired. All he has done has torn up the chemistry of this team. Who was the person who thought this trade was a great idea? Rizzo!!!! Rizzo!!!!! Rizzo!!!!!. He needs to go. Beating on Harper and pissing him off has just made things worse.

      • ehay2k - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:42 PM

        Natsguy, would you rather have Amaro as our GM? You can’t just sack Rizzo without offering up a better alternative. Papelbon was a mistake, but I bet Rizzo doesn’t repeat that again. It’s also hard to know what his budgetary and trade constraints were put upon him. I’ll let this screw-up pass because of all the good things Rizzo has already done. (Remember how so many experts thought Bryce was a hothead risk not worth the number one pick?)

  9. texnat1 - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:35 PM

    Williams has made it his goal to put Harper in his place since he was hired.

    How’s that treating ya Matty? Good luck ever managing another game in the majors after this year, dipstick.

  10. rmoore446 - Sep 28, 2015 at 6:55 PM

    Listening to Rizzo, I came away with the impression that he will bring back Williams for 2016. Maybe I’m wrong but I think he will let the season end and let the tumult die down and then announce MW will be back for another year.

    • Guapo - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:34 PM

      He can’t do that and retain an once of credibility with media, fan and the clubhouse.

      Williams has mishandled this ball club all year. The only reason he’d be brought back is because they are buddies, a respectable GM can’t operate that way.

  11. natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:01 PM


    No I wouldn’t have Amaro as our GM. Unfortunately, the mistake Rizzo has made with Papelbon has torn up this team since July. They were WS bound and he made a trade he didn’t need. It has been a huge mistake. I would forgive that until today. When Harper was punished that was it for me. I suspect that is it for Harper and Boras too. You can blame today’s decision on Williams but Rizzo had to approve it. To punish Harper for what happened is shameful.

    • npb99 - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:18 PM

      “They were WS bound”? They were maybe NL East bound. Anything beyond that is guesswork.

  12. IsawTeddywin - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:25 PM

    I don’t think people here are quite getting it on the Harper “punishment”.
    Far as I can tell, Harp definitely said:
    “You want to go, let’s go”
    So anyone, especially a players union rep, could claim he helped move it along.
    So Nat’s management is claiming a day he was going to be off anyway!! Is punishment , (wink, wink, nudge, nudge,) for his part of the altercation.
    I think it’s brilliant, myself.

  13. natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:54 PM

    Was at the game and away from the web, but Harper being punished for his part? That’s tired.

  14. Candide - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:12 PM

    There is almost nothing Harper could have said that would legally have justified Papelbon’s physically attacking him. The concept of ‘fighting words’ as justification for attacking someone is almost impossible to legally justify.

    As such, Harper had NO responsibility for the fight – none. Even saying, “Let’s go” doesn’t do it.

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:47 PM

      Agree. “Let’s go” is essentially saying shut the F up.

      I’m so demoralized about this decision to only suspend him and not actually fire him. And then ti pretend Harp was wrong on top of it. Who ARE these people? That’s the most demoralizing part of all. I thought the management and owners were grown ups. It’s depressing.





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