Winning with Papelbon is one thing. Losing with Papelbon, while he attempts to choke out the team’s most popular player, is quite another. And so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many Nats fans reacted with extreme disgust when the closer went after Bryce Harper this week. More surprising, perhaps: that they began pledging money to charity if the team rids itself of its best reliever.
This began Monday morning, when 28-year old Johann Tiamson of Fairfax tweeted at the team, promising $100 to the charity of the team’s choice if it expunged Papelbon from the roster.
Why did he do this? He wasn’t trying to start a movement, nor was he trying to get media attention. He really wasn’t trying to do anything but express his frustration.
“I didn’t expect anyone else to see it or even to reply — it was just something I felt,” Tiamson told me on Monday. “I just feel like he shouldn’t be part of the organization anymore. He proved it. It’s kind of self-explanatory. I know it would be hard for the team to do, and I know it probably won’t happen, but I just wanted to illustrate how I felt about the situation: I would be willing to donate my own money to not see this guy in a Nats uniform anymore.”
His note, though, struck a chord, and soon other fans promised to join in. Someone pledged $300. Someone else pledged an entire paycheck. Many people pledged $100, or $20, or whatever amount occurred to them or they could afford. Within 24 hours, the pledges amounted to well more than $9,000, with still others continuing to trickle in.
Why were Nats fans — famous for not wanting to boo the home team — offering real money if the team jettisoned one of its players? I asked some of them.
“I still am not able to process what happened [Sunday]. I have two Masters degrees in psychology, and I can’t process that behavior,” said Jocelyn Dorfman, 27. “I think [Papelbon] is just horrible, and I think he will have a despicable impact on this team. There’s no way they can recover if he’s still there next year.”
“I’m just so appalled at Jonathan Papelbon being a member of this team,” said Matt Roman, 36. “From day one it was just a mistake, and I feel so strongly about it that perhaps giving money to a good cause is a good way of bringing attention to the fact that the fans are not accepting of the situation.”
“I thought what he did [Monday] was completely out of line, totally toxic, and the whole boys-will-be-boys response to it was really disturbing to me,” said Angela Halsted of Arlington.
Patty MacEwan, a full-season planholder from Alexandria, already told her ticket rep that she won’t be attending games she already paid for next season if Papelbon remains on the team.
“The last two-and-a-half years, I’ve missed two home games,” she told me. “I will go to zero games next season if he’s on the roster. We don’t need a player like that on the team. That was assault, I don’t care what anyone else says.”
Now, other fans will scoff at responses like this, saying athletes are competitors, not choir boys. And it’s nigh impossible to accurately gauge the opinions of an entire fanbase just by talking to a few people who are vaguely friends of friends. I also don’t want to differentiate Nats fans from other D.C. sports fans entirely, because there is so much overlap with all these organizations. Still, my impression is that many Nats fans have enjoyed feeling that they know and appreciate the team’s players as people, not just ballplayers. They do not want to root for men they do not like.
“I think the Nationals as an organization have always prided themselves on having really good people,” Dorfman said. “They do amazing work. This is just so not in line with that, and they need to respond to that in a way that shows that they respect how we were all shocked by this.
“You brought in a cancer to a locker room that didn’t need a cancer,” Roman said. “It just does not fit in to what I, as a fan, would want from my baseball team.”
“I don’t want someone like Papelbon on that team,” Halsted said. “I want all our guys to be good guys.”
The team ended Papelbon’s season with his four-game suspension on Monday, but GM Mike Rizzo gave no indication that Papelbon won’t be back for 2016, and suggested he’s actually fit in fine in Washington. Fans who pledged money if he’s gone, including Tiamson, were not satisfied by that response.
“I think the Nats fan base is just very nice in general, and they want that to be reflected in who’s playing on the team, who’s running the organization,” he said. “That kind of reflects on why [Ian] Desmond is such a huge figure for Nats fan even though he’s struggled at times. He’s always good in the clubhouse, always good in the community, he’s always good with fans. Nats fans always want to be represented in a good way. And that’s the same reason people are agreeing with my tweet about donating. They don’t want a guy like Papelbon on this team anymore.”