By now, you’ve seen the skirmish between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, and if you’re like the overwhelming majority of people, you probably believe that Papelbon was in the wrong. After all, Papelbon initiated both the verbal altercation and the physical altercation. Case closed.
Well, not so fast.
Brandon Tierney believes a lot of people are having trouble separating performance and personality in this incident. What does that mean? It means that Harper is the likely NL MVP, so people are giving him a pass. Papelbon, meanwhile, is the divisive hothead and is automatically being positioned as 100 percent in the wrong. Thus, people are allowing the reputations of these two players to blur how they read the situation – and the situation, in Tierney’s eyes, isn’t nearly as black and white as people think.
“One-hundred percent,” FOX Sports MLB analyst and CBS Eye on Baseball co-host C.J. Nitkowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “That’s where people are. And as I watched this whole thing go down and seeing the play on Sunday and then seeing the comments on Sunday night via social media – and not just fan comments. You always have to take those with a grain of salt. But even media comments. I’m kind of watching them go across and I’m like ‘Wow, it is consistently across the board, everybody is anti-Papelbon.’ And as I’m watching, it almost seems like this is more based on his personality, because of his history, and I felt like people were not being objective to the situation and really digging into what happened right now. I understand when you have a reputation, maybe you’re going to go ahead and lean one way when something happens to the guy who’s been involved in other things in the past, but I think we have to be better than that. You have to be more objective.”
So Nitkowski was. He contacted more than 30 current and former MLB players to get their take on the incident.
Let’s just say the responses he got differed greatly from the reactions of fans and media.
“It was the complete opposite,” Nitkowski said. “It was unbelievable. One after another after another basically said, ‘The timing was bad, but it had to be done. I would have done the same thing.‘ (There was) a lot of that stuff consistently – and it wasn’t just from a bunch of old guys that don’t like Bryce Harper. They love him as a player. They know how good he is, but they really felt like the actions were justified.”
For all the people saying that Harper should be able to go to work and not be assaulted, Nitkowski can’t help but roll his eyes.
“All of that is irrelevant,” he said. “It is not the same thing. This is not your office. This is a completely different situation. Plus, there was some very recent history there. This was the one point that some people got, but not everybody. What happened a few days earlier when Papelbon hit Machado – which he probably shouldn’t have done. That’s a very debatable point. But when he hit Machado after the home run that Scherzer let up, the post-game comments from Harper were awful. He basically said Manny gets a home run, walks it off a little bit and someone has to hit him. ‘That’s tired.’ He didn’t say Papelbon’s (name). He’s talking about his opponent by name, but he’s not talking about his own teammate’s name. And so that’s what set it off.
“Now think about Papelbon,” Nitkowski continued. “(He’s) 34 years old, 11 years in the big leagues, and here’s a 22-year-old kid – a very good one and an impact player in this game – basically calling him out and saying what he just did was tired. Something was going to happen at some point between those two guys, and Papelbon saw his opportunity. Harper decided to bite back and ultimately they ended up scrapping. The way they scrapped was not a big deal. He didn’t choke him out. Nobody was hurt. I got so many people sitting here whining about the fact that he was choking him. At that point, all bets are off, and for a baseball fight as far as what happens in clubhouses, that was very tame. I’ve seen way worse and guys can tell you way worse stories about times when there was fights in clubhouses, on planes, on buses that got bloody – and I’ve seen them myself. This was very tame compared to what you usually see.”