My kids watch baseball with me from time to time, and there is usually a lot to explain about how the game works. It's not the simplest game in the world, but occasionally something exceptional happens which sparks conversation and excitement. One day a couple of years ago we were watching a game where a batter started arguing balls and strikes and was summarily ejected from the game. "What happened, daddy?" "He was thrown out of the game." "Why?" "He broke the rules, he yelled at the umpire, he was being obnoxious, and he was thrown out. That's what happens when you misbehave." Seemed like a great teaching opportunity, and I made it relevant for their age.
Enter Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon was suspended three games for throwing at Manny Machado's head in a game between the Nationals and the Orioles. He appealed the suspension, as baseball players always do, but he later dropped the appeal. Three days later his antics escalated. He attacked his teammate Bryce Harper, arguably the leading contender for the NL MVP, for failing to run all the way to first base on a fly ball. Harper found himself in the dugout with Papelbon yelling at him and grabbing him by the throat. To put the icing on the cake, Papelbon came into the game afterward and surrendered two runs in the ninth before being yanked from the game. Not that the results matter.
This behavior is so outrageous that it defies logic how he still wears a baseball uniform. I know the rules, the influence of the players union. I had to take a step back and ask myself, as I often do when I see crazy things in society, what can we learn and what can I teach my children from this. How would I explain Papelbon's behavior to my daughters if they asked? Here is what I would tell them.
If you lose, show respect to your competitor.
When you play better than the other team, you win. If your opponent plays better, they win. That's how games work. Getting angry at your competitor and retaliating in anger is what sore losers do. This guy Papelbon has lost perspective. Don't be like him. If you don't like losing, work hard to make sure you win. Even then you lose sometimes. Congratulate your opponent and try better next time. Trying to hurt your opponent is dishonorable and unsportsmanlike, and will only bring you disgrace.
If you get angry, never respond with violence.
Playing with passion is admirable. It inspires others to cheer you on. When your passion to win drives you to the point where you're trying to physically hurt someone, stop. Something is wrong. If I tried to throw a rock-like projectile at the head of my co-worker or grabbed him by the throat because he angered me, I would be fired on the spot. The same would happen to you, or worse. Many people sit in prison today for acting out in violence on another person because they were angry in the moment. If a boyfriend or husband ever did that to you, I'd tell you to get away from that person immediately and call the police. If you do it, you will ruin your relationships and lose the respect of your friends. The same thing is happening in the Nationals clubhouse. It's not worth it.
Don't take your frustration out on others.
Jonathan Papelbon had lost control of himself before Bryce Harper stepped to the plate. He was a hiccup away from erupting, and that fly ball was just the trigger. Nobody likes having someone not run out a play. It's not an excuse to grab them by the throat. If you're tempted to respond to frustration in disproportionate ways like that, stop. Go for a walk. Get a drink. Get help. But don't act on those feelings. Eventually, you will regret it.
If you do something wrong, fess up and apologize.
After the dust settled, Harper and Papelbon said they talked it out and they're good. You know what that means? It means they won't fight in public anymore. They were either told to say that or the bigger man - in this case, Harper - decided he was going to take the high road and act honorably. It says nothing about whether or not they made it right. You know what makes it right? "I would like to apologize for my behavior in last night's game. I lost my temper and my behavior was way out of line. I want to apologize to Bryce Harper for attacking him, the Nationals for the negative publicity I've brought to them, and to everyone who saw what happened for letting that kind of ugliness be part of a baseball game." Or something like that. It starts there. Making excuses, minimizing the impact of what you did, and saying you're "good" - everyone sees through that. Nobody thinks you're good. People may still be mad after you apologize, but most will forgive if you work hard to redeem yourself.
That's it. The one positive thing I took away from this is that the Nationals did the right thing. They suspended Papelbon for what is effectively the rest of the season. Still, seven games just doesn't seem to be enough for throwing at someone's head and attacking a teammate. Beanings and fights have always been part fo the game. Once upon a time, so was sliding into second basemen spike first. Baseball dealt with that, and they need to deal with this. It is a blemish on the beauty of the game.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row
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