WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Jayson Werth #28 and manager Jim Riggleman #5 of the Washington Nationals watch the game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on April 28, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Remember when people were making a big deal about the Washington Nationals doing traditional defensive drills (infield practice) before games on the road to the amazement of just about everyone who saw them.
Even current Current news anchor Keith Olbermann added a postscript to an article about future Nats' outfielder Bryce Harper entitled, "Bryce Harper: "I Want To Kick The Crap Out Of You", in which the former ESPN and MSNBC announcer marveled at having seen then-Nats' bench coach John McLaren and Jim Lett leading the Nationals through infield (and outfield) practice, which he said was an "almost-forgotten pre-game ritual... which may have gone out with Earl Weaver,":
"The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. "But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!’" It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team [took] infield on the road..."
According to Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo, the Nationals are no longer one of the few teams that partakes in this antiquated "practice"...
....as he writes in his weekly Sunday column, "Baseball Notes", that the, "... only teams that consistently make their players work hard on fundamentals before games are the Twins, Angels, and now Orioles." Why did the Nationals stop? Mr. Cafardo's sources tell him that, "... when general manager Mike Rizzo would ask manager Jim Riggleman to do pregame drills to shore up some fundamentals early in the season, it was met with strong resistance from some veterans,":
"The most outspoken was Jayson Werth, who hit .232 on the year after signing a seven-year, $126 million deal. Werth was one of the more vocal opponents in criticizing Riggleman for making the team do drills.
"But Werth wasn’t alone. Other veterans piped up, creating a pretty uncomfortable situation."
This of course just adds more fuel to the "Jayson Werth-wanted-Riggleman out" fires that began with his, "things need to change" speech, in which many assumed he was referring the team's skipper. When Riggleman was asked about the comments back in June, he told reporters he didn't think the comments were aimed at him. "I guess the short answer is, 'No,'" Riggleman said at the time, "but the long answer is...you know, 'changes'? That we've got to start winning ballgames. The losing that's taken place here [for] a couple years, that's got to change. We've got to change some things that we do, how we play and whatever, and that's about as long as I'll get on that I guess. But, to answer your question, no."
Werth's comments after Riggleman's resignation only added to the perception that the Nationals' $126M dollar outfielder and second-year skipper hadn't seen eye-to-eye. As an AP reporter noted in article on Riggleman's resignation at ESPN.com this past June, the move shocked most people in baseball and, "All expressed varying degrees of surprise and disappointment, although Jayson Werth tried to make it sound as if it didn't matter,":
"'It's not going to change anything in here," Werth said. "We're the ones that have been making the pitches and hitting the balls and winning the ballgames, so we're going to keep going.'"
This is unfortunately the sort of thing that cropped up with Werth throughout the season. There was the time a reporter's question about a two-game winning streak set the veteran outfielder off on a tirade about changing the culture in Washington. The time Werth and Nyjer Morgan clashed in the clubhouse during Spring Training, an incident Morgan believed led to his departure from the nation's capital. There was the odd involvement in the Presidents Race which started with offhand comments about the predetermined results and eventually led to the player's onfield involvement in a Presidents Race insurrection.
I'm sure everyone involved, including Werth, will be a lot happier if next year the story isn't the Nats' outfielder's clashes with management, fellow players and big headed presidents, but instead the way in which he bounced back from a .232/.330/.389 season in the first year of his seven-year/$126M dollar deal.