Supplanted as Nats closer by the recently acquired Mark Melancon, universally despised reliever Jonathan Papelbon was released by Washington on Monday, putting an end to a tumultuous tenure in the nation’s capitol that included last fall’s on-camera attempt to strangle teammate Bryce Harper. The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg explains that the boorish behavior exhibited by Papelpon in public might’ve been exceeded in private :
Maybe players don’t, or shouldn’t, care whether the home fans like them. If a Nationals player did care, though, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to wear a T-shirt reading “Obama can’t ban these guns” to his let’s-make-amends spring training news conference. Nor would he have, on multiple occasions, played a political anthem while reporters were inside the Nats clubhouse.
The ditty was called “Vote For Trump,” and it included promises that “the wall will get built by Mexico” and that Trump would “bring back country [and] get rid of rap,” also noting that “if you don’t like it you can all just kiss our ass.”
Should fans judge athletes on their political beliefs? Probably not, unless you’ve given up on the idea of sports-as-escapism. Should fans judge athletes on the lyrics of their personal musical choices? That’s a terrible idea, too, unless your goal is to be forever miserable. You could argue that there’s courage in standing for your political beliefs even when they won’t play well in your home stadium — and my impression is that the Nats’ fan base leans more left than right.
But it all contributed to the impression that Papelbon wasn’t particularly interested in reversing his local unpopularity. It’s an impression that didn’t change after he lost his closer role and was shown sunning himself in the bullpen late in a recent game. Maybe that was silly, too, but it all felt like a man completely indifferent to salvaging his reputation in the stands.