The Washington Nationals went a little off the board this winter with the hiring of manager Matt Williams, a respected coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks and former All-Star who had a grand total of zero games of professional managerial experience.
That inexperience has shown all over the place, as Williams has demonstrated that he's in way over his head so far -- never more so than in his mishandling of the team's most talented player, Bryce Harper, who is now headed for surgery on his thumb and will be lost until at least early July.
Leaders do not make their points at the expense of their best subordinates, but that is exactly what Williams did when he chose to pull Harper from a game on April 19 because Harper didn't fully run out a routine ground ball back to the pitcher. Harper was coming off an injured quad and, from what I'm told, battling the flu on the day when he chose, wisely, not to run out a ground ball so routine that had the pitcher rolled the ball to first base he still would have beaten Harper by a few feet. Asking any player to run that ball out shows an emphasis on superficial, meaningless behavior over actions that actually increase the team's chances of winning a game. No one ever scored an extra run by showboating for the cameras, but that is exactly what Williams wanted Harper -- who was injured and sick -- to do.
Harper singled out
Williams' tirade on "lack of hustle," directed at a player who is hustle incarnate, was a low point for the Nationals this season, but Harper's injury, which came as he tried to stretch a double into a triple by -- wait for it -- hustling, is a new nadir.