Now, there’s no scientific way to demonstrate that Galette was accepted more quickly or more broadly than Papelbon. But a few easy measures — online comments, Twitter and sports-radio calls — showed many Redskins fans thinking Galette was worth the risk, especially on a one-year deal, and at a position of need.
Heck, within his first couple of days at training camp, Redskins fans were eagerly posing for photos with Galette.
Meantime, by those same squishy measures, many Nats fans were unhappy with Papelbon’s arrival: unhappy that it pushed Drew Storen out of the closer role, unhappy they would have to root for a bad-boy from the rival Phillies, unhappy their likable bullpen crew would be sullied by a man they were used to jeering.
Heck, Nats fans were so conflicted about adding an All-Star closer to their team that MASN color man F.P. Santangelo felt compelled to give a monologue during a game broadcast, virtually pleading with local fans to give the new guy a chance.
“He’s part of the Nats now and you have to welcome him with open arms,” Santangelo said. “Whatever you think, if he’s going to help you as a fan and us as broadcasters — and that ballclub, more importantly, in the first-base dugout — win a ring, then we all have to be all-in until we see differently. He’s a Nat now. Whatever’s happened before that, who cares?”
It gets weirder. The Redskins — a team that has seven total wins over the past two seasons, a team that has been riven by dissent and whose GM publicly promised he would not employ any bad-character guys — were judged a sturdy enough group to help reform Galette.
And the Nats — a team with two division titles in three years, and a bunch of veteran leaders who have been here for years — were judged fragile enough that Papelbon’s arrival might rip them apart.
“There remains enough dysfunction that the club could implode and flush another season of promise,” the New York Post’s Joel Sherman surmised, in a piece headlined “Nationals’ big pickup could be clubhouse poison — and lift the Mets.”
This all seems kind of odd, right? That a guy facing such serious accusations as Galette would be embraced — especially on a team that has no expectations this season, and no mandate to compete for a championship. And that a guy with a mostly silly past such as Papelbon would be resisted — even on a team that has the ultimate expectations this season, and likely will be staring at one of its last chances to compete for a title with its current core.
How to explain this? A couple theories. The incessant every-day rhythm of baseball can sort of hypnotize fans into feeling like they have an intimate relationship with their hometown players — even those in non-starring roles. (Remember the grief at Tyler Clippard’s departure?) So it becomes more important whether you feel good rooting for a guy whose face you might see 16 times in 18 nights, and whether you feel sympathy for a stalwart such as Storen when a new addition threatens his spot.
The once-a-week and helmeted NFL doesn’t encourage the same sympathies; guys such as Brian Orakpo, Barry Cofield and Roy Helu spent years in Washington, and Redskins fans stopped missing them long before their bags were packed. And, unlike in Storen’s case, there weren’t a lot of tears shed for Pierre Garcon when DeSean Jackson took his No. 1 job last fall.
Mostly, though, there seems to be a desperation in one fanbase that has overwhelmed all other instincts. It’s why it took about five minutes for Washington fans to embrace Jackson during his controversial departure from Philly. It’s why Redskins fans called sports-radio stations over the past week and argued that hiring high-character players hasn’t been working — never mind that the high-character 2012 team won a division title, or that the team experimented with troubled stars such as Albert Haynesworth and Larry Johnson to little effect. When you haven’t had back-to-back winning seasons in 22 years, the urge to win with honor ranks several hundred notches behind the urge to win.
The Nats — even with this year’s agonies — have baseball’s second-best record since the start of the 2012 season. Success is treated as a given, and the end of this run is rarely considered. If winning is seen as inevitable, character becomes a matter of choice.
And so many Nats fans appeared willing to take their chances with the likable Storen and his ragtag supporting cast, rather than rejoicing at what was essentially an upgrade from Sammy Solis to Papelbon, a clear and significant improvement. (Provided Matt Williams finds a way to actually get Papelbon on the mound.) And many Redskins fans had no problem slotting Galette in front of a couple of likable youngsters such as Trent Murphy and Preston Smith. A slow and patient rebuild sounds fine in April, but who wants to be slow and patient when a guy with 22 sacks over two years is available?
Papelbon will make his home debut this week; against all logic, he’ll likely encounter a more tepid reaction than Galette received in Richmond. That’s not because of what those men have done in the past. It’s because of what the Nats as a team have accomplished, and what the Redskins as a team have not.