Manager Matt Williams of the Washington Nationals has always had a reputation for being a bit of a tough guy, and a gamer. From his early career, Williams was known for an edge and a sort of “in your face” persona that motivated himself, and sometimes the other team. Williams, in his first year as manager, made what appears to be a rookie mistake in benching his assumed, but not there yet superstar Bryce Harper after the sixth inning of a still competitive game.
Harper, who had been nursing a left quadriceps injury, “Cadillac’d” it down to first base on a weak ground to St. Louis Cardinals‘ pitcher Lance Lynn. The latter could have back-flipped to first, he was going to beat Harper, so Harper saved his legs and did not run it out. Now the old school in me wants to say good for Williams, but the pragmatist says differently. Players in the modern game are more fragile emotionally, and clubhouses are easier to lose. Also, Harper does have a legitimate owie that makes his lack of effort more understandable.
But perhaps the biggest problem I have with this is by Williams behaving so publicly, he makes Harper look like a child. This is how you lose a clubhouse and team. The modern player does not view himself so much as an employee but a contractor, free to play for who he chooses after a certain point, and is in no mind to be treated like he is in grade school.
The benching also backfired when in the ninth-inning mini-rally the Nationals mounted, it fizzled when Harper was not available to bat, instead handing over his spot in the order to Kevin Frandsen, perhaps being most famous for not being Bryce Harper. The Nationals lost, and Williams, in his effort to drive home a point about every play counting, forgot one other rule — so does every game.