The greatest controversy of this Washington Nationals season, the issue threatening to embroil a now-furious fanbase, and that could shave away the calm of their largely uneventful spring, involves a Jumbotron, a shortstop and a nearly incomprehensible beard.
First, some backstory, because an issue this tangled does not grow overnight:
Before Danny Espinosa was the Nationals’ starting shortstop, the homegrown infielder established a tradition. He would cultivate some noteworthy arrangement of facial hair — like the 2014 Yosemite Sam-esque Fu Manchu, for example — and carefully preserve it until late February, when the Nationals held their official picture day. Then he would shave it off, leaving himself more clean shaven for the season. That way, his official headshot, the picture that appeared on the giant screen in center field at Nationals Park (and sometimes, elsewhere) would show off that facial hair. Its legacy would not die.
This spring, Espinosa arrived at spring training with a beard darker and shorter than Rip Van Winkle’s, but more substantial than Lincoln’s, one that seemed to come straight out of the mountains and straight into legend.
During last weekend’s exhibition games, and initially when the Nationals returned home last week, Espinosa’s picture on the jumbotron included that beard. Suddenly, Monday evening, it did not.
Danny Espinosa deferred comment on the issue before Tuesday’s game.
“All I’ll say is it wasn’t my decision,” said Espinosa, smiling. A Nationals spokesperson initially declined comment. Later, realizing the hairy situation was escalating quickly with media inquiries and Twitter outrage, the Nationals issued a statement from General Manager Mike Rizzo.
“This was my decision. I reserve the right to choose the player photos we use on the scoreboard during the game,” said Rizzo in that statement.
Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and others sport beards, on the field and in their pictures. None of those beards, however, rivaled Espinosa’s. Perhaps, for those razor-sharp conspiracy theorists out there, Rizzo is just taking the hit for others in the organization who favor less ridiculous pictures. Perhaps, he did not want the hilarity of Espinosa’s beard — and frankly, it always inspired a few laughs — to overshadow professionalism. Perhaps it is a testament to these 2016 Nationals that the greatest controversy of their season surrounds a Jumbotron picture, clean-shaven now, destined to be remembered forever.