On Sept. 27, Washington Nationals pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon, attacked 22 year-old teammate and frontrunner for the 2015 National League MVP award, Bryce Harper, for not running out a routine flyball. So who was to blame?
Well, the majority of people say Papelbon instigated the fight and was in the wrong. But, if you know baseball, you’d probably agree that Harper got what he deserved.
Not often do two professional sports superstars get into physical altercations, let alone on live television. These are not just two replacement level players arguing in the clubhouse. These are two elite athletes which is what makes this incident so significant.
The background starts with Papelbon intentionally throwing at Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado on Sept. 23, for which he received a three-game suspension. Harper did not like Papelbon’s actions because he felt it made him a target. However, Harper did not end up getting hit.
Moving forward to the day before the incident, the Washington Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention after being the favorites to win the World Series at the beginning of the season. Tensions were unquestionably high.
The next day Bryce Harper, who now has no reason other than winning the MVP to play out the rest of the season, hits a routine fly ball, walks out of the batter’s box and hardly jogs halfway to first base. One of the first things you get taught in little league is to always run out a hit.
Papelbon started yelling at Harper from the dugout, and Harper shouted back. Papelbon lunged at Harper, grabbed his throat and shoved him into the wall of the dugout as other teammates pulled them off of each other.
There is no doubt that the situation could have been handled better. But this was a lesson that a veteran like Papelbon needed to teach Harper. Could he have taught it without choking him? Of course. But it didn’t happen that way and chances are Harper runs out every ball he hits for the rest of his career.
Harper is making $2.75 million per year to play baseball. And chances are he’ll be making upward of $30 million per year when he signs a new contract in 2019, when he’ll be only 27 years old. Yet he can’t run a flyball out?
Sure, his team isn’t going to the playoffs. That’s frustrating. Yes, a flyball out isn’t going to help his case for the MVP award. Also frustrating. But if the outfielder drops that ball and Harper is still on his way to first base instead of standing on second in scoring position with no outs in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning, Harper looks like someone who is no longer playing for the team.
Papelbon did the right thing. Unfortunately he did not do it at the right time or place. He was suspended for four games without pay by the Nationals in addition to serving the three-game suspension he received for throwing at Machado, effectively ending the season for him. Harper was held out of the lineup the day after the fight but was back the next day playing for himself and the MVP award.
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