We all have these little creatures inside of us. They're part of us in a sense, but we would no doubt disavow associations with them. They're like immoral independent contractors.
I don't know anything about psychology---no joke, my freshman year survey professor didn't teach us about Freud because he was uncomfortable with teaching the stuff. He didn't mind testing us on it, though, and my performance on the final exam probably reveals why I don't know if I'm talking the unconscious, the id, the superego, or the see id.
I'll call them internal schadenfreudes.
They're sort of uncontrollable, automatic responses when something happens to someone else, reactions that border on inappropriate or vile, and consequently are reactions that must be repressed. But they're there, inside us, even if they weren't inserted there by our own volition and, at any rate, we'd hardly admit they exist if the issue were a matter for our own volition.
Perhaps I am being overly cynical, but I cannot help but think that one of those creatures entered Frank Robinson during last night's disheartening loss to the Yankees or, almost certainly, when he read Thom Loverro's column in the Washington Times.
Charged with a 5-3 heading into the eighth inning, the bullpen couldn't hold the lead. Faced with a 5-5 deadlock heading into the ninth, the bullpen couldn't maintain the tie. The bullpen blew it. The same bullpen that Robinson bemoaned to the extent he fired its coach, John Wetteland, blew it. And the two relievers most associated with Wetteland's antics and alleged lack of focus, Gary Majewski and Chad Cordero, blew it.
Please understand that I am not suggesting Robinson was pleased by the result; clearly, his reaction displayed anything but pleasure---and I wish to be clear that I don't for a second think Robinson would accept defeat under any circumstances. Say what you about his managing, about his strategy, and about his perceived relationships with certain players, but this grand game has likely never seen a figure more determined or steadfast.
Yet, those little creatures inhabit all of us, and while we can smite them with admirable speed, they still manage to wiggle around for at least a split-second. If one of those creatures popped up after the bullpen implosion, it's through no fault of Robinson personally or professionally.
They fired their bullpen coach, John Wetteland, in the middle of the season. Do you know how bad things have to be when you fire your bullpen coach? And how much of a fool do you have to be to get fired as bullpen coach?
We are talking about the last guy on the staff. Most fans couldn't identify their team's bullpen coach. Robinson said he spoke to Wetteland this year more than he ever had to any other bullpen coach in his 16 years as a major league manager.
Quick, name last year's bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals? Take your time.
No time needed, Thom. It was Bob Natal, who didn't survive the December coaching staff carnage, sacrifices that, one supposes, represented Robinson's consideration in a bargain to enable him to remain on as manager. If such a bargain was executed, Robinson clearly had reservations at the time:
"Absolutely it's a point of concern," said Robinson, whose one-year deal was worth $650,000 according to MLB.com. "Any time you have a staff together and you feel like you work well with your staff, and you get results, it's a concern. You'd like to keep your people together and grow with them. This certainly is a big hit, that many coaches from one offseason. What we'll try to do now is try to recoup and put the best staff together."
More than a month later, Wetteland became a member of this new staff. Upon hiring the former big league closer and roving pitching instructor for the Texas Rangers, Bowden remarked:
According to Robinson, Wetteland was particularly ill-equipped for the task. Keep in mind this would be no small disappointment for Robinson, who: (1) is obviously quite keen on focus, attention, and a minimum of distractors (to the extent that he---unnecessarily, some appeared to claim---banned music in the clubhouse late last season as his team wilted); and (2) took tremendous pride in his bullpen last season. The bullpen has faltered at important times this season. I don't know how much of the cause is Wetteland himself, or unfortunate circumstances (Luis Ayala's injury---perhaps attributable to overuse or perhaps attributable to the negligence of the Mexican WBC coaching staff), or decisions within Robinson's own control (such as reliance on Joey Eischen to the bitter end). Or maybe it was merely inevitable owing to all of these reasons or no reason in particular.
Whatever the case, Loverro's column captures Robinson's displeasure with the state of Wetteland's 'pen:
Apparently, the Bowery Boys were upset their leader had been canned. When asked if he had heard of any reaction from the team regarding the move, Robinson said, "I'm not wearing this jacket [a Nationals warmup jacket] today because the weather's cold out there.
"The players that were most affected by this, out in the bullpen, know exactly how many times I had to talk to them and to John about situations down there," Robinson said. "It was not something that happened one time, or just a couple of times, and they are fully aware of that situation. ... If they want to be professionals or men about it and understand the situation, they'll go out and be positive about this and go about their job and try to be a little more consistent out there and a little bit more professional out there."
And so, Robinson exercised whatever control he retains over this organization and, fewer than five months after he was hired, Wetteland is gone, replaced by an individual of Robinson's choosing. And, in the team's first game post-Wetteland, the residue of the disposed bullpen coach remainded. That's the story, at least. That's Loverro's column.
In the same column, Loverro chronicles the bizarre behavior exhibited by utility man Damian Jackson. Apparently, Jackson---who seems to have a ready excuse for every failure and recently, um, interacted with a fan near the dugout---has a habit of ducking out right after the game concludes, including after Thursday's game, when teammates apparently had to restrain him from leaving. (Among other things, it is a considered a courtesy for players to remain in the clubhouse for a time to field questions from reporters.) There appears to be some dispute as to whether Robinson has fined Jackson for this behavior in the past.
All of this leads Loverro to observe that Robinson "appears to have [been] reduced . . . to the role of kindergarten teacher, rather than manager," having to play the good shepherd to "grown men being paid substantial amounts of money," consigned to the task of guiding them away from "ridiculous" behavior.
There must exist some hyperbole here; I mean, Major League Baseball is not exactly evocative of military discipline (unless you consider Tom Runnels, who actually drove around in an Army jeep and actually wore fatigues during spring training while managing the Expos, in any way representative of the game's culture). Baseball legend is replete with goof-off stories, and ever since Ball Four, a big league bullpen has been largely synonymous with zaniness. (You don't hear it much anymore, but there was a time when a particular mindset was deemed fitting for a bullpen, especially in nutty lefthanders.) Moreover, it is not as though the July-September 2005 Washington Nationals were a model team, either on the field or in the clubhouse.
But it is unavoidable to note that Loverro's column isolates Wetteland and Jackson---two guys who were, presumably, brought in against Robinson's will. Clearly, although Robinson ultimately figured Natal expendable, the skipper wouldn't have relieved Natal if he were in a different organizational posture. Moreover, Jackson in essence replaced Jamey Carroll, who was an ultimate Robinson favorite, willing to do everything and anything (within his rather meager abilities) to aid his manager's cause.
In fact, I return to Loverro's column and note a particular characterization of the bullpen: "Bowery Boys." A reference to the Bowery Boys, yes, but I also wonder if Loverro intends a certain double-meaning.
You know, the Bowery Boys.
At any rate, Wetteland was a Bowden hire and Jackson, like half of the people in the organization, was with the Reds sometime between 1992-2003. We can say with some assurance that, whatever they were, they weren't Robinson's boys.
But now Robinson has a new boy in the fold, Knorr. We'll see if the team's professionalism can reverse course from kindergarten depth. And we're not talking Billy Madison-style.