The job is relentless. Matt Williams knew that walking in.
The town is waiting. Still waiting. Forever waiting, that town. The injuries, like they do everywhere, complicate the plan. The kid, especially the kid, can be a handful. When the ballgame flexes, it brings a decision Williams has not made before, and there’s room on the top step for only one.
The job exposes a man. The team exposes a man. The schedule, too. Good or not so good, reasonable or not, accountable or not, there he is, alone. In the job, some very rational men have been reduced to behavior beneath them.
So it was with some curiosity that we got Williams, all of 111 games into this gig, not yet three-quarters through Season One, scolding reporters for a scrape – the kid, Bryce Harper, being demoted to the minor leagues or not – he created.
“It’s unacceptable. It won’t happen. Is that good enough for you?” he sneered at the end of his admonishment.
The Washington Nationals are in first place, with three games in Atlanta beginning Friday night. Should the Nationals sweep, the series could take the life from the Braves in the NL East. For six months Williams had been the picture of even-handed leadership. A popular guess to come out of the National League in October, the Nationals had started slowly but had found their game. Harper, 21 years old, had missed two months. Upon his return, he’d batted .218 over 118 plate appearances. His on-base percentage was, all things considered, a passable .325. But, still, .218. Better than him had returned to the minor leagues. So, yeah, when Williams called into his weekly morning radio show and didn’t entirely dismiss a speculative question, hey, this is a big boy’s game, this is a game of results, and maybe Harper could use 30 or 40 at-bats out from under the bright lights. There’ve been dumber opinions.
Matt Williams is going to be good at this job. His players are going to play hard for him, which counts more than any bullpen or lineup gripes that come with the job. His players will respect him, because he has stood in their spikes, and cares not only what they are but whom, and he will not forget how difficult it is to be somebody in this game. More, he is capable of being wrong, and recognizing that he is wrong, and making it right.
Stubbornness will take out a manager long before a lineup misstep or a strategic brain blip. Anymore, there’s no escaping the drumbeat of criticism, the daily dissection of who’s batting third and who’s batting sixth, and the examination of the methods in which his messages are broadcast and received.
So, the day after he told reporters, “I would caution everybody in this room: The minute you think you can read my freaking mind, you’re sorely mistaken. … I’ve had it. Don’t do it anymore,” and stomped out of a press conference, Williams sat before them again and confirmed he is entirely human and quite aware of it.
“One last thing,” he said after Harper had won a game with a walk-off home run Thursday. “I didn’t sleep much last night. So I wanted to apologize to the members of the press about my actions yesterday. I get passionate about these guys and their success and our wins and losses, but that was – my tact wasn’t real good. So, from me to you, I apologize for that. I’ll be better from now on.”
As he had the day before, Williams had his say behind a live microphone with television cameras rolling. We make mistakes. We say things we want back. It happens. What’s important is what comes next.
Good for Matt Williams. He’s going to be good at this.
Course, he’ll be better at it if Harper keeps hitting.
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