FT. LAUDERDALE, February 18, 2016 – Spring Training is finally here, and many of the story lines from last season will bleed over into the first part of the 2016 season. Unfortunately for the Nationals, many of those are developments that they would rather forget.
Perhaps the most unpleasant of these involves their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, and the unfortunate altercation between Bryce Harper and Papelbon. After hitting a routine fly out to left field, Harper jogged to first base and then walked back to the dugout.
After being chastised by Papelbon for supposedly not running out the play, things got heated when the two began arguing.
This ended with Papelbon charging at Harper, trying to choke him out before they were both separated.
Altercations among teammates like this are known to happen from time to time, but are rarely visible to the fans during a game. What made the situation unique is the context in which the scuffle occurred. Not only was the fight witnessed by thousands of fans attending the game and many more watching at home, but it happened between two players who were already viewed in very different ways.
Haper was already a lock for NL MVP and endearing himself to Nats fans over the years for his hustle and exciting brand of baseball. Papelbon, on the other hand, was a mid-season acquisition with little standing among his new teammates, lackluster production in Washington, and a reputation for being somewhat of a problem child in the clubhouse.
All of these factors would seem to add up to one of the most intriguing stories of 2016.
While the other players have probably gotten over it, it is no secret that Papelbon probably won’t be given a hero’s welcome the first time he comes in to save a game. In all likelihood, he might get booed out of the stadium in the same fashion as Alex Rodriguez or Jose Tabata.
But how long might this last? This is the fascinating part of the story. While it is not unheard of for players to be booed by their own fans on a regular basis, those situations are generally reserved for the most brutal fan bases such as New York or more famously Philadelphia, Papelbon’s last stomping ground.
All of this is brand new territory for Washington even if it isn’t for Papelbon.
Papelbon is likely to be the first player in Nats history to not only be disliked, but truly despised by the hometown fans. Most players who are booed by their own fans have that happen due to performance or lack of effort.
Washington fans, however, loath Papelbon for his character. It is highly unlikely that good performance will land him back into the good graces of the Nats Park seat fillers.
It is said that winning cures everything. One might believe that if Papelbon has a career year and Washington goes on a deep playoff run that all might be forgotten.
As I stated last month, I believe that Papelbon is headed for a statistical regression and is unlikely to put up all star numbers. But even if he proves everyone wrong with a sub 2.00 ERA and 50 saves, it is doubtful that he will ever find favor with Washington fans again.