WASHINGTON — Matt Williams doesn’t know what Bryce Harper could have done to avoid being choked by Jonathan Papelbon, but says the decision to punish both players for the dugout incident came from the organization.
Harper received the lesser of the two punishments for his involvement in a dugout fight with closer Jonathan Papelbon, in which Papelbon shouted at Harper as he entered the dugout before grabbing him by the throat and slamming him against the back of the dugout. Papelbon was given a four-game suspension by the team, while Harper was forced to sit out the next game, only.
Harper laughed when he was asked by a reporter what the team expected him to do differently in that situation.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s something that, if you’re in a bar or if you’re in the dugout, or if you’re anywhere, if someone grabs your neck your first reaction is to do what I did, I guess.”
When Williams was asked during his weekly radio address with The Junkies on 106.7 The Fan what, specifically, Harper could have done differently in that situation, he said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what he could have done differently.”
“The fact of the matter is that’s an organizational decision,” he said. “I don’t know. There’s no good that comes out of anything like that, right? A skirmish is something we don’t want. That type of behavior from Pap is unacceptable, a ll of those we talked about. So what could he have done differently? Don’t know. But he was involved and the organization decided to do that.
“It’s over. It’s done. We have a season to finish. And Bryce will have a fantastic career. I think he’s on the verge of something very special here, and we want to honor that at this point and say what a great season and many, many more seasons to come. So, differently? I don’t know. But right now it’s done, and it’s in our past and it will not define us, and Bryce will go on and have a fantastic career and lead this team for years to come.”
Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo said on Monday Harper “had some accountability in the issue,” while adding “you could see by the type of discipline that we placed on both players that we thought which was weighted the most, and we felt that they were both equal and equitable ways to handle the situation.”
This has been a failure of a season for the Nationals. Primed at the start of the year to chase another division title, and possibly more, they ceded the NL East to the New York Mets several days ago and may finish 2015 more than 10 games behind.
Williams was asked if he believes he will return as manager in 2016.
“I have not spoken to anybody in that regard because we have games to play,” he said. “We’ve got games to continue to play and finish out the season. And right now is not the appropriate time for those conversations, for questions, or any of that. Right now, we’ve got games left. We have to play those games.
“And, frankly, I concentrate on that. I can’t let anything else enter my brain, or the coaches can’t let anything else enter their brains, because we have games to play and we want to win those games. At the end of the season, decisions will be made and we’ll go from there. But right now, I don’t know. And I don’t want to know, really. It’s not a concern of mine right now, because we’ve got a game tonight and a game tomorrow.”
Williams shed his rigidity when asked a simpler question: Do you want to be back?
“Guys, I love this game,” he said. “I love the game. Of course. Of course. Of course I do. I mean I love this game. We’ve talked about this. It’s given me everything I have professionally in my life. And we have a good team. Yeah, we’ve dealt with a lot of injuries, a lot of things that have gone off the rails this year. Yeah, but yeah, of course. Of course I do. I love doing what I do. I love being part of this organization.
“They’re a fantastic organization. And everybody from the top down is supportive in every way of everybody. It’s a good situation. It didn’t happen well for us this year, but you know what? Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want to be back and take another run at it? I certainly do, and I know all of our coaches do.”
On when he will discuss his future with the club:
“For us, it’ll be an opportunity after the season’s on over on Sunday, and back from New York and back to D.C., and sit down and talk about what direction, what direction everybody wants to go in,” he said. “Not only for me or any of the coaching staff, it’s what direction they want to go in as a team and how can you get there.”
Burke & Herbert Bank “Fan Question of the Week”
Q: What has [Ian Desmond] meant to the organization? And do you see a scenario where he could return next year?
A: “Well, again, free agency, that’s Desi’s option. Again, these guys fight for free agency,” Williams said. “It’s an opportunity for them to test the waters and see what’s out there. I think Des has been fantastic for this organization. He’s so involved in the community. Albeit not being from D.C., he’s taken this community as his own. And special guys like that are important to organizations.
“The work he’s done with children and work he’s done with [nationals youth baseball academy], he’s been very involved. So that’s what he means; he means much more than the shortstop. He means much more than a guy who hits homers and steals bases. He’s part of the fabric for a very long time. If he chooses to move on, we want to make sure that we support him in that regard and we want to make sure that he remains in the hearts of fans in D.C. I know he will, because he’s been a very, very important part of it.”