It should have been the last straw.
The Washington Nationals lost another embarrassing game to the Houston Astros Friday night and are now 0-5 on their current road trip. Two players, Nick Johnson and Willie Harris, were thrown out at home plate.
Up a run in the 8th inning, Nick Johnson tracked a Geoff Blum foul ball into foul territory but lost sight of it when the ghost of Harry Houdini caused it to disappear. It eventually returned from the ether and fell safely to earth and Blum, given new life, got on base and scored the tying run.
Damn you, Houdini.
The 9th inning was not as dramatic. Mike MacDougal, who replaced Joe Beimel, walked one batter, intentionally walked another, threw a wild pitch and allowed a game winning single, again to Geoff Blum.
The Nationals, as they had 59 other times this season, walked off the field in defeat and slinked into the clubhouse for showers and snacks. Manny Acta spoke to the press after the game and said in the calmest, most controlled tone that he could muster, “…overall I feel good. The guys played very hard, we battled back up until the end."
An hour or two later, a shiny motor coach with supple leather seats and multiple video screens whisked the team away to their plush hotel where soft beds and warm milk lulled them into a deep sleep full of happy dreams and never ending stories.
That’s what happened, but that’s not what should have happened.
After that game winning single, the players should have stomped off the field, throwing their hats, bats and gloves at the back wall of the dugout. Once inside the clubhouse, they should have overturned the buffet table, ripped the partitions out from between the lockers and pulled the urinals out of the wall.
And the toilets should have been thrown onto the field. That would have reeked of symbolism, don’t you think?
The players should be angry. They should be seething. They should understand that they are worse than they were a year ago when they were the worst team in all of baseball.
At some point, they must collectively turn into anchor Howard Beale from the movie “Network” and scream “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!!”
But see, here’s the problem. Let’s say that firebrand reliever Joe Beimel screams at his team, blames Nick Johnson for dropping that foul ball and throws a water cooler through the window in the manager’s office.
In a matter of moments, manager Manny Acta would sit Beimel down in his shard-covered office, reach into his desk and pull out a self-help book that covered anger management and read in a soothing voice the first chapter of the book entitled “Why I’m loved.”
The Nationals are a stick of dynamite waiting to explode but can’t because there isn’t a blasting cap in site. Manny Acta runs around the clubhouse after games with a squirt bottle full of happy water putting out the fires so that the team remains a male version of the Stepford Wives.
Look, I love the Nationals, but the time has come. Forget about freeing Tibet. Let’s free the team so they can act like baseball players and take their frustrations out on inanimate objects. They have 60 losses worth of frustration to get out of their systems, but cannot because of Manny’s “it’s all good” attitude.
Can you imagine what might happen if the team destroyed a visiting clubhouse with all the aplomb of a rock-n-roll band in a penthouse suite while Manny Acta is in the next room playing an Anthony Robbins CD and telling the press that he liked his team’s effort that night?
I hate tempers. I am the chief temper cop in my home and patrol diligently looking for offenders. But a baseball team isn’t like my house full of children. Nothing is more cathartic than beating to a pulp some intimate object that can’t defend itself. And found in those broken pieces of towel carts, wall clocks and shower heads are the exorcised demons from a bad year.
But as long as Manny Acta continues to see progress, improvement and hope, the players will be relegated to bowed heads, quick showers and a recurring mantra of “We’ve got to stop making so many mistakes.”
Right now, Manny Acta is like a closet door that's about to burst open because of the pressure of all the stuff inside. Acta is desperately trying to keep the bowling balls and hats and fishing rods and snow boots from shooting across the living room floor.
But he has to let go. He has to let the anger, the pain, the embarrassment and the reality of another bad season play itself out. But he has said many times that he’s not going to change who he is no matter what.
Let him be who he is at home. Let’s find someone who expects his players to break things when they lose more often than Adlai Stevenson.