After Monday’s loss, he was still blanched and more troubled than when I’ve talked to him soon after his own firings.
“This is not the way I wanted to go out,” he said. Pausing, he added, “It’s all about caring.”
Three key people in the Nats clubhouse explained the Eckstein problem in similar words. Sometimes a team has a great season, like the Nats did last year. You can’t explain exactly why, but everyone shares the joy. You’re in it together. Sometimes you have lousy seasons. That’s the game. Maybe the Nats are in one now, maybe not. But when times are tough, you act the same way you did in the glory days: everybody in it together, nobody quite sure why the bad is so bad — but no scapegoats.
The Nats will get over this, in part because Eckstein was typically classy, saying, “It’s the nature of the business. . . . I gave every ounce every day. . . . It doesn’t matter how hard I work . . . how good of a person I am. . . . It’s how well people do. That’s kind of a tough pill, but that’s the pill I chose.”
As context, big league hitting coaches don’t do much except endless grunt work. Every Nats hitter has been coached from 12 to 25 years before they ever met Eck. A coach who tries to blow up that foundation is a menace. You tweak, toss flip, break down film and cheerlead. Johnson says Eckstein was top-drawer. Close enough.
Once, ex-Yankees manager Stump Merrill was made a first base coach. His wife asked, “What does a first base coach do?” Stump said, “I pat the guys on the butt when they get to first base. So, honey, want to practice?”
The circus will move on. The Nats will make jokes like that again. Those who initiated or signed off on scapegoating Eckstein will make better decisions. And one bad day — when a frustrated franchise lapsed into a nasty little baseball cliché, the family sacrifice as motivation — will recede.
But this one will leave a mark, even if many fans won’t get it. For several years, the Nats have done wise things to set a winning tone and encourage good players to come or stay in Washington. Showing up the guy who was in the room eight hours before the national anthem isn’t one of them.